It was clear to Lawrence and I that Roxie really knew her stuff. Her memories went back to the Bull Moose era — some twenty years before Lawrence’s — and while they were a little hazy they were clearer than anything else we had heard up to that point. I think Lawrence was satisfied with Roxie’s stories but maybe a little intimidated because she just knew things about his father that went beyond his years. He really wanted to keep everything we heard about his dad in this certain context and someone like Roxie could really just carry it outside of his realm of knowledge.
“John keeps asking me about my dad,” he said. “I told him I couldn’t tell him too much about my dad, because half of his life was over before I was ever born.”
That got Roxie going again.
“All of his fun days was all over. I know he played music right on, but I mean all of his fun — when he married, he laid down part of it.”
Roxie caught Lawrence and I off-guard when she said Ed tried to get a local preacher to baptize him one time. “He joined the church once down on the hill with Cecil. And Uncle Charley Curry said, ‘Ed, will you lay down your music?’ and Ed said, ‘No, Uncle Charley. That’s the only way I’ve got to live is my music, but I can just play sacred songs, good songs.’ And Uncle Charley said, ‘Now listen, you’re drunk. You go off and get sober and come back to me tonight. I’ll take you in but I can’t take you in like you are.’ Sure did. Ed shook hands with him but I don’t guess he ever went back.”
Lawrence said, “Well, that’s news to me. I’m not sure he was ever baptized. The only baptism he got was Milt Haley’s baptism, and that didn’t amount to much.”
That got us to talking about Ed’s father again. I really wanted to know why he was killed, but Roxie had no idea.
“I don’t know why they killed him, son. They was just all into it. Now, Aunt Liza coulda told you all about it.”
She looked at Lawrence and said, “You’re like me. You waited too long to come to talk to any of his people to find out anything about it. All the old people’s dead, you see, and gone. My mother, she was a Hager, and her mother went to the Western States and died there and was buried on the banks of the Wabash River. Uncle John told us — he was with her. He said she just lived there six months till she died. I know who my grandmother was — she was a Baisden — but I don’t know a thing on earth about my grandmother, and I don’t know nothing about Joe — that’s my grandpa — nothing about who he was, who his brothers was. Daddy died in ’40 and my mother died in ’42. I’m the only one that’s living. I can’t go ask nobody nothing. People never ask nobody nothing when they’re young.”
Lawrence agreed, “That’s right. That’s exactly why I didn’t find anything out. You’re just young, happy to be alive.”
Roxie’s mind was still on her father, Ticky George Adams.
“My dad could play the accordion,” she said. “He could play ‘The Golden Slipper’ and he could play ‘John Morgan’. He could play ‘John Henry’. He could play just anything he wanted to play and how he learned it I just don’t know. And ‘Old Joe Clark’, that’s another one he could play. ‘Nelly Gray’, that’s another one he played. He could make them ring.”
I asked Roxie if Ticky George ever played with Ed.
“No, he never played with Ed. He wouldn’t let Ed hear him play, I guess. He could really play and sing. He had a song he sung. ‘Nothing Between My Soul and Heaven’ is the name of the song. They was four verses to that and buddy he could sing every word of that, and how he learnt that I don’t know. He couldn’t read. He didn’t know his letters.”
Roxie told us about her uncle Peter, saying, “Uncle Peter, you know, was a crippled man. His foot was turned backwards. When he bought him a pair of shoes, he had to cut the toe off here and sew it up, and his foot turned back in here.”
I said to her, “And that’s the man that raised up Ed Haley?” and she said, “Yeah, he helped raise him. He stayed with Uncle Peter’s fellers and Grandma and Grandpa Jackson. See, she was married twice. When John Adams was killed, she married Andrew Jackson Mullins, and he kept Ed a long time, him and her. And he stayed with us. He just stayed with first one and then another. Wherever he wanted to go, he went. He was just his own boss.”
Okay, so the Jackson Mullins I’d heard about from Bum was Ed’s grandfather and the John Adams involved in Weddie Mullins’ death must have been a Jr.
I asked Roxie if she knew how old Ed was when he stayed with his grandparents and she said, “Well, when he was with Grandpa and Grandma Jackson, he was a young man. I guess he was twenty years old, maybe more. Grandpa and Grandma kept him a long time, and then he stayed with Uncle Peter and Aunt Liza. And he stayed with us some every now and then. He come and stayed with us two or three days at a time — with John and the boys. He musta left here about the age of thirty and went to Ashland, Kentucky. West Greenup, Kentucky, is where I wrote to them. I wrote to Ralph, Ralph wrote to me. Man he was smart, I’ll tell you that. Take anything you wanted to ask him about the books.”
Roxie bragged on how smart Ella was, saying she tried to get her to move to Kentucky with the Haleys.
“She graduated from college, she told us. She said The Pied Piper of Hamlin – they’s eight pages of it, on both sides. She’d beg me and Annie to go home with her and said she would learn us to play the piano. Man she could make that harmonica… Listen, she could put it in her mouth and she had things fastened under here. She didn’t have to have her hands on it. Man she’d just run that mouth over that the best you ever heard in your life. She played that mandolin right along with her fingers and then had that harp in her mouth.”
Right before Lawrence and I left Roxie’s, she asked my name again and said she’d be watching for me on Hee Haw. She said Roy Clark used to come through “back when he was a chunk of a boy,” but Violet said she was confused — that it had been Roy Acuff.
“That was back when he traveled through here some. He had some people or something that lived up on Buck Fork.”
To say that Lawrence and I were blown away by our experience with Roxie would be a huge understatement. Lawrence had never heard anything about his grandfather being murdered. Maybe Ed had wanted to distance his kids from that part of his painful past on Harts Creek.