The White-Haired Guitarist: A Vignette

Experiencing fall in the midwest isn’t complete until you’ve gone to an apple orchard—so today Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I trundled out to an orchard in northern Indiana.

Admittedly, the closer you are to Chicago, the more of a racket orchards may be. Visit for apples, and if you’re not careful you’ll end up buying the entire “fall in Indiana” experience: moo-choo train rides (train cars painted like cows), a corn maze, the pumpkin patch, a taco truck, live country music, and even a petting zoo.

Goats aside, the band is something of an experience. They perform on a small stage lined with corn stalks under a massive (think semi-trailer shipping container) banner: Barnyard Jams. At least 50 picnic tables are lined up in front of the platform, with maybe 2 dozen people total scattered around (listening and eating—but mostly eating).

Better than the setup are the band members. All men older than 50 (so, young guys—you’re welcome, dad) and exactly what you’d expect for a country bluegrass playlist. One of the lead singers, also a guitarist, had an especially arresting appearance.

Wearing baggy old-man jeans, a black zip up hoodie, tan work boots, and a black conductor hat isn't anything unusual. His main feature was an untrimmed, untamed white beard reaching almost all the way to his guitar. His white hair stuck out wildly from under his hat.

If he were in one of my stories, playing in the band would be be fulfilling his lifelong dream. But he’d also be keeping a massive secret.

Mylem Drusky had played in small bluegrass bands since he was 15. It started with his cousin Ed and a few of the neighborhood boys, continued through college, and finally became the small back porch group Mylem initiated after he bought a house with his wife Ellie. Being in a band was always interesting, which Mylem loved. His job as an accountant, though comfortable, didn’t leave much room for character or personality—people don’t usually want you to be creative with their money.

So he kept the band going over the years. Eventually they had gained enough repute in the small community that people hired them on for birthday parties and other events. The yearly gig at the community orchard was their biggest crowd of the year, and they rode on the publicity wave for months.

The other members of the band didn’t know Mylem’s secret. Actually, no one in the community did besides his wife. Years ago, when his grandfather was dying, he called Mylem into his room with an important gift.

“I’ll only give it to you if you never let anyone know you own it.” Wheeze, cough, shallow rattling breath. “You can be an anonymous help to the community. When people know you’re rich, they treat you differently.” Mylem sat quiet for a long time, holding hands with the frail old man. Finally, he agreed.

“I promise.”

So, year after year, he ran the business disguised as a middle-aged, well-groomed businessman who lived on the west coast and only flew out once or twice a season to see how things were going. No one ever suspected, even when he did his yearly summer beard shave. After all, mild-mannered accountants don’t have secrets.

Mylem gave thousands of dollars every year to charities, let at least half a dozen non-profit organizations use his facilities for free, and donated each season’s leftover products to homeless shelters in the area.

And today, a cloudy fall day, none of his fellow band members or the 30 dining guests casually ignoring the band guessed his secret. They had no idea that the scraggly looking guy with the full white beard was actually a millionaire, and the owner of the orchard.