Alaska, blind, California, Cleveland, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, genealogy, Harts Creek, Hawaii, history, Japan, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Liza Mullins, Louisiana, Milt Haley, Montana, New York, Noah Haley, Ohio, Pacific Theatre, Pike County, Scoffield Barracks, Virginia, World War II
I asked Lawrence if he’d heard from any of his brothers or sister and he said, “I’ve got one that lives in town now. He moved back from Cleveland, Ohio. He lives in town. Noah was a little bit… You might want to talk to him, I don’t know. But Noah, he went away, I guess, in 1939. He went in the service. He was at Scoffield Barracks in Hawaii when the Japanese… He was in all that Pacific Theater. I think he was wounded a couple of times. The Japanese bayoneted him one time in a bonsai attack or something. It left Noah a little bit shell-shocked or something. He gets a pension from it. He’s not together all there, I guess. You know, in a way, if you talked to him you’d never notice it. He was married to a woman of Hungarian descent and raised a family — a boy and a girl. He had a problem with the girl, too. She was having a problem with a boyfriend or something and her boyfriend was there at the house. Well, the boy had a pistol or some sort of a gun and she went and got that pistol and said, ‘If you don’t love me,’ or something and she shot herself. She committed suicide. I think it was non-intentional. It was just a bluff.”
I said to Lawrence, “Well now, aren’t your other brothers, they’re all kind of hard to get along with, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, a little bit odd,” he answered. “Clyde just moved out and took off and went his way, I guess. Followed the sun, I call it. We’d hear from him in Louisiana one year and the next year he might be in Montana or Upper State New York. He did hobo. Noah went to see him about ten years ago out in California and they started back and Noah was going to stop and get some gasoline. Clyde said, ‘No, don’t stop here and get gas. I’ll get your gasoline.’ He went over to this big church and told them he was on the road back to Ohio and didn’t have money to get there. I guess they give them a tank of gas and they come all the way back from California like that. Clyde was good at that. He did work and we’d get his W-2 forms. He never did turn in his income tax, I don’t think. He’d send his W-2 forms home. Some years he was out on an oil rig in Louisiana. Apparently during the time he was working for them they had rigs off the coast of Alaska.”
Hearing Lawrence speak of his brothers caused me to ask if maybe any of Milt Haley’s “stuff” — which I now presumed to be sort of bad — might’ve come down in their genetics.
“I don’t know, John,” he said. “I couldn’t say. They never met their granddad. I don’t think… My dad, if he’d been a sighted man, he’d probably been as gentle as a lamb. But he had frustrations in his own life.”
“Sometimes in a situation like that, sometimes a gene will come and it won’t get everybody,” I said, pressing Lawrence a little further. “Like it’ll skip your dad, and like skip you, but pick out a brother there and one over there.”
Lawrence totally disagreed.
“Well, I don’t think any of them… And I really don’t think my grandfather, from what I’ve heard of that tale… It was caused by hard times. I’m not trying to defend my grandpa because, hell, it don’t make any difference to me now.”
Milt in so many ways seemed like a critical character in the story: an ambiguous rogue — a key player in causing Ed’s blindness and inspiring his music, whose very genetic attributes or deficiencies might still live on strongly in his grandchildren.
I wondered if Lawrence knew where Milt came from before his settlement on Harts Creek.
“I think maybe over in Old Virginia or over in Pike County,” he said. “I understand there’s some Haleys in Pike County. I’d ask Aunt Liza, ‘Where’d Milt Haley come from?’ ‘Well, he come from over the mountain.’ Now, that’s as far as I could get from her.”
Lawrence thought his father had resolved his hard feelings toward the Brumfields in later years.
“Pop was supposed to have made the remark that if he’d had his eyesight he’d hunted down the people that killed his dad,” Lawrence said. “But afterwards, him and one of the Brumfield sons, they settled their trouble.”
I said, “Well obviously if your grandmother was at the Brumfields’ house the night she got shot, there was no animosity between her and the Brumfields.”
I was starting to understand how the tragedies of Ed’s early life, as well as the legacy of his father, had manifested itself into the pain, rage, and lonesomeness I’d been so drawn to in his music. I kept telling Lawrence, “We’re gonna have to go back up Harts Creek,” but it would be a year before we actually did so.