By the mid-1990s, after several years of research, word had begun to leak out about my interest in Ed Haley. Around the first of 1995, Bluegrass Unlimited ran a story that prompted Bob Hutchison, a musician from Alledonia, Ohio, to write me.
“I played with an old fella down in Athens county (Ward Jarvis) who had played a lot and learned a lot from Ed Haley,” he wrote. “He played banjo with Ed and learned a lot of his tunes when he was a young man. He said Ed was the best he’d ever seen. Ward was in his 70’s when I got to know him and he was no slouch himself on the fiddle. He said Ed was big on different tunings on the fiddle. I learned the Icy Mountain tune from Ward that he had learned from Ed. Other tunes I remember him crediting Ed with were Camp Chase, Jimmy Johnson, Three forks of Reedy. Banjo Tramp was another of Ed’s. Ward has been dead for several years… Ward was originally from Braxton Co. W.Va.”
Ray Alden offered more information about Jarvis.
“In 1972 I went to Amesville, Ohio to visit instrument craftsman Ron Chacey,” he wrote. “Ron, on a very foggy night, brought me through some hilly back roads up to see Ward Jarvis, who had moved to the area in 1943 from Braxton County, West Virginia. Ward was 78 years old. I remember that special evening in which Ward played many unusual tunes, such as ‘Icy mountain,’ as well as a Kenny Baker Tune he had just learned from a record. It was lucky, since I didn’t have a tape recorder that evening, that Richard Carlin later went to tape Ward Jarvis [in 1976]. Old time musicians Dana Loomis and Grey Larson joined Richard and accompanied Ward at that session. Ward’s source for ‘Banjo Tramp’ was Ed Haley, who had a substantial influence over the Ohio River Valley Musicians in Ward’s younger days.”
Ray Alden’s statement about how Ed influenced a number of “Ohio River Valley Musicians” made me realize that thinking of him as a “Kentucky fiddler” or even a “West Virginia fiddler” was inaccurate. Early on, I’d dismissed the “Kentucky” label used on the Parkersburg Landing album, since he was born and raised in Logan County, West Virginia, and spent a great deal of time in central West Virginia, a hub for great musicians. Also, Lawrence Haley once said that he preferred to think of his father as a West Virginia fiddler because of how he was treated in Ashland. But I had to think, especially after reading Ray Alden’s statement, that it would be best to refer to Haley (in geographical terms) as a middle Ohio River Valley fiddler (or maybe even a Guyandotte-Big Sandy Valley musician) since his sphere of influence wasn’t limited to a single state.
Sometime in the middle of January 1995, I met Ugee Postalwait’s son at one of my shows in Birmingham, Alabama. It was my first encounter with Harold Postalwait, a rather robust man — clean-shaven with a beer gut and decked out in a snap-up shirt, cowboy hat and boots shined to perfection. He showed me Laury Hicks’ fiddle and some old family photographs.
After hanging up with Pat, I called Ugee Postalwait — Laury Hicks’ daughter in Akron, Ohio — to tell her about getting the picture of Ed from Maxine McClain. Ugee was full of energy. Her memory was obviously working in overdrive.
“I used to know all of them,” she said of the old musicians in her part of the country. “They was all to our house. They’d come from miles around to hear Dad play, especially when Ed was in the country. Maybe they’d stay two or three days at our house. I’d get up of a morning to look see who was in the house asleep and who all I was gonna have to cook breakfast for, when I was a girl growing up. The young men would sleep in the boys’ room and they’d sleep in the floor. Then they’d sleep four crossways in the bed, too. As I get old, I get to thinking about all of them and wonder how in the world my dad ever fed them all. I been a cooking ever since I was nine years old for workhands and people like that. One morning — I never will forget I wasn’t very old, then — got up and got breakfast. We’d had cabbage the day before for supper. A big pot of cabbage. And Ed and Ella was there. I never put cabbage on the table for breakfast. Ed looked at me and he said, ‘Ugee, what did you do with that cabbage last night?’ I said, ‘It’s in there.’ ‘Well why didn’t you put it on the table for breakfast?’ I said, ‘Well who eats cabbage for breakfast?’ He said, ‘I do.’ Now I never seen anyone eat such a mess of cabbage for breakfast. Him and Ella did. Ella said, ‘Oh, we always eat the same thing we had for supper.’ I never will forget that. From that time on, whatever was left over from supper, I’d warm it up, you know, and fix it for their breakfast ’cause they would eat it. They liked cabbage or kraut.”
Ugee really laughed telling about that, then started in with another tale.
“One time they was some Baileys there and I believe they was some of them McClain boys, and I was peeling tomatoes for supper — you know, slicing them and putting them on the plate — and I had a plate on one end [of the table] and one on the other end. And Manuel Martin was there too, and Commodore Cole. And I looked in both places and them tomatoes was gone. ‘What in the world? Some of them’s come in and hid my tomatoes.’ I looked out and Ed was standing there sitting on the walk — I never will forget — a laughing, and he said, ‘Wait till she finds out.’ I said, ‘Ed did you get them tomatoes in there?’ He said, ‘We ate every one of them.’ I said, ‘If I could find the plate, I’d break it over your head.’ That Commodore Cole, he said, ‘You wouldn’t dare do that.’ Ed said, ‘Don’t dare her too much, Commodore. I know her.’ And they was a eating them tomatoes as fast as I was a peeling them. Them ornery birds, I never will forget that.”
“The last time I ever seen Ed was at his house,” Ugee said. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Ugee, can you still make a rhubarb pie?’ I said, ‘Why lord yes, I reckon I can. Why?’ He said, ‘Well, I want a rhubarb pie.’ And I made four and I never seen no such eating as he done that evening, him and Ella, on them rhubarb pies while they was hot — with milk cream over them. I can see them yet. I went down to Ashland, Kentucky. They lived on 45th Street.”
A few weeks later, I called Lawrence Kirk, whose ancestors had played various roles in the story of Milt Haley’s death. I hadn’t spoken with him for several months. We talked more about Milt Haley’s murder.
“Back in the old days, these people’d get into trouble here and they’d run backwards and forwards across that Tug River,” he said. “That was the state line and the law didn’t bother them. If you crossed the state line, you was safe. But they got the papers out and went over there and got Haley and McCoy. Inez is where they went to and got them. Yes, sir. They either came up Jenny’s Creek or Marrowbone Creek. See, they had horse trails all through these woods back in them days. They come right across Twelve Pole and down Henderson up there in the head of main Hart. Come right down and up what they call the Bill Branch — some people calls it the Hugh Dingess Branch — right down Piney Fork. It’s a straight shoot through there. I’ll tell you what. Come up sometime when you’ve got a day or two and we can drive right through there.”
Boy, that sure sounded good to me.
In the meantime, Pat kept me up on everything. She said Mona was helping her look after Lawrence and had even spent the night. Clyde had come in for Christmas.
“They had a red hat on him and a great big sign across the front which said ‘Clyde.’ They had a pair of pants that was rolled over about three times tops, the shoes was way too big, and, I mean, it was sad. The hat was red, his sweater was blue, and his shoes was white. Mona said they got half-way home from Cincinnati, and he was just talking away, you know, about things that had happened in their past, and then he began looking out the window and all of a sudden he turned around and he said, ‘Who in the hell are you?’ And she thought, ‘Uh, oh, it’s gonna be good.’ Larry was very happy to see him.”
In one of those “passing the torch moments,” Lawrence reached the telephone to his sister, Mona. I told her about Milt Haley being a fiddler, and she said, “Really? Well we didn’t never know that.”
I figured that Ed had kept all of the details about Milt hidden from his kids, but Mona said, “Well, he talked about it some, because I wouldn’t know what I know about it if he hadn’t. You did find out what I told you was true, didn’t you? It wasn’t my dad’s mother that was killed, the way I heard it. It was one of the Hatfield women. Got half her face shot away and it killed her. That’s why they retaliated against Green McCoy and my grandfather. That’s only hearsay, but it had to come from Pop. I do remember him saying that.”
Pat seemed pleased that Mona was visiting Lawrence.
“He asks for her a lot,” she said.
I wanted to know more about Lawrence’s condition.
“He sits with his eyes closed and he found a pair of sunglasses that look exactly like the ones his daddy wore,” Pat said. “These are a pair that one of the kids bought. They were laying on the dining room table and he picked them up and said, ‘There’s my glasses.’ He insists on wearing them and you would think it was Ed Haley back many years ago. He talks about horse and buggies a lot. He sits with your book constantly. He does not like to look at the picture of his mother’s tombstone. What keeps you in his mind a lot, he listens to the tapes and he knows he gave you the records. Beverly was here this past weekend. He knew who she was but he was still talking in riddles. But today he’s pretty much himself. He got up and got dressed about 5:30 and he’s been roaming ever since.”
I called Lawrence and Pat to tell them about this new discovery. Pat put me on the telephone with Lawrence, who seemed to be doing better. I asked him why he thought none of the Haley kids ever learned the fiddle.
“I think Pop took interest in us as far as he knew how to take interest in us,” he said. “Whatever he could’ve taught us he most certainly would have. But we’d ruther be out running in the woods than sitting at a table trying to learn ‘Forks of Sandy’ or something like that. He would ruther teach it to the ones who could and who showed interest in it, and let it go at that. Pop never did try to get me to learn the fiddle because I was left-handed. I guess he figured that would be too much of a challenge for him even, to try to teach violin to a left-handed violin player.”
I told Lawrence he knew more about the fiddle than a lot of professional musicians and he said, “Well, I guess I learned just about as much of it as he did. I appreciate any good words that can be said about me and the violin. My sister’s here and if you could get her interested, she might be able to tell you as much about it as I can. She took more interest in the music of our mother, I know that. But she could pick up the fiddle and play the fiddle and play the mandolin and the piano and other instruments.”
Lawrence said, “Now if you want to talk to my sister a minute, maybe she can tell you something. If she can’t, I don’t know who else to tell you. She could probably tell you as much about it as any of us.”
Around that time, I received a very important letter in the mail from Brandon Kirk, the Harts genealogist. “Here are some documents pertaining to your research which I found in the F.B. Lambert Collection here at Marshall University,” he wrote. “There is a good chance that there may be more references in the collection regarding old time fiddlers.” Along with Brandon’s note was a single photocopied page of an interview with someone named Sam Vinson Harold on February 22, 1951. “Ed Haley was originally from Kentucky, about Ashland,” Lambert wrote. “I think he is living yet. Milt Haley, Blind Ed’s father, was a great fiddler. Some one shot him, on his porch, at mo. of Green Shoals.” Harold claimed to have penned the tune about Milt Haley’s death, “The Lincoln County Crew”, with someone named Tom Ferrell. This interview — while small in content — was a great find because it was the first solid reference that Milt was a fiddler, which meant Ed would’ve had music around in his childhood and could’ve possibly even begun learning to play by watching him.
I gave Pat a call to check on Lawrence, who was back at home in Ashland. Pat said Mona had been a frequent visitor since Lawrence’s heart attack and was starting to open up about her painful memories of Ed.
“Mona said her father was the cruelest, most horrible man to her,” Pat said. “Even her mother was not the mother to her that she was to Lawrence. And she said Lawrence was always the favorite. And I said to her, ‘I didn’t see any of the ugliness of your daddy or your mother,’ and Larry has never ever said anything about his father except he’ll tell you he got drunk or he’ll tell you he was mean to Mom once in a while. But he has told me he never did see his father strike his mother. Mona said she has heard them and said the things that her daddy has said to her mother were just too horrible for her to repeat. She used to put her head under the covers to keep from listening. But Larry has none of these memories. Memories he has of his dad were always good memories. But Mona will agree: there was two out of all that were the favorites: the oldest boy Ralph and Lawrence. Mona says she is very sorry that in the last years of her mother’s life she did not help me any more than she did. I was very young when his mother passed away and I had three small children.”
Pat said Lawrence was starting to act a great deal like his mother.
“There is so much that is coming back to me that was exactly like his mother,” she said. “For one thing, when I help him to the bathroom, he takes the same little steps. He goes with his eyes closed most of the time, just like he can’t see. And he’ll sit with his eyes closed. You know there is those little things, like he won’t ever eat with a fork anymore — he eats with a spoon. His mother always did. And he drinks a lot of water, just like she did. There’s just so many of his little mannerisms that remind me so much of his mother. He will call me ‘Mom’ a lot. I don’t know if I told you, but one night he was crying and I went in to him and I said, ‘Honey, what’s the matter?’ and he said, ‘Mommy, rock me. Rock me, Mommy.’ He was back in his childhood and it just breaks your heart John when that happens. He’d been talking, he wanted to go to Morehead.”
There was more bad news for Pat. Her daughter Beverly had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
Benjamin Wade Walker, the man who organized the Milt Haley burial party, was born in June of 1851 in southwest Virginia. He came to Harts when he was very young with his mother Marinda (Steele) Davis and a few siblings. The family settled near Green Shoal where Marinda soon married Baptist T. Fry. Baptist was the uncle of George Fry — at whose home the Haley-McCoy murders took place — as well as his closest neighbor in 1889. Walker, then, was a step-first cousin (and former neighbor) to George Fry, perhaps explaining why he was inclined to remove Milt Haley and Green McCoy’s battered corpses from his yard and bury them.
Around 1877, Walker married Juliantes Adkins, a daughter of Enos “Jake” and Leticia McKibbon (Toney) Adkins, large landowners at Douglas Branch. Julia was also a first cousin to Al Brumfield. Mr. and Mrs. Walker settled on Walker’s Branch at Low Gap near West Fork. About 1883, Hezekiah “Carr” Adkins sold them this property, 25 acres on Guyan River originally part of a 260-acre 1855 survey for Abner Vance. The Walkers raised nine daughters and a grandson.
In 1889, following Milt and Green’s murder, Walker risked harm by organizing a burial party for them. He reportedly buried the men on his property. A year later, in 1890, he was ordained a minister in the United Baptist Church. In 1898, he was a founding member of the Low Gap United Baptist Church, which met for over forty years in a school building that still stands near the site of the old Walker homestead. He was president of the district board of education in 1902, 1911, 1912, and 1914. He died in December 1917.
“Rev. B.W. Walker, one of the best known citizens of the county, died at his home at Ferrellsburg, on last Wednesday, after a lingering illness of dropsy,” according to a front page story in the Lincoln Republican dated Thursday, January 3, 1918. “Rev. Walker was a great worker in the Master’s vineyard and had been a consistent Christian for years. He is survived by his wife and eight daughters. Burial services were conducted at the Low Gap cemetery.”
At the funeral, Walker’s beard was full of snow.
Not long after my call to Wilson, I received word from Bruce Nemerov that he’d finished dubbing about a third of Haley’s recordings. He sent me cassette copies, along with an audio log (which gave detailed information about the records). I listened extra close to the Nemerov copies and noticed how Ed’s playing gave the impression of being very notey, as I had originally interpreted it. This was, I determined, somewhat of an illusion.
“I don’t think your dad played as many notes as he sounds like he’s playing,” I said to Lawrence by telephone. “It sounds to me like he’s putting so much into some of those notes that they sound like they’re more than one note.”
Lawrence said, “He might be doing that, I really don’t know. The only thing I’ll go on is what it sounds to me like. I’ve seen and heard some fiddlers that it just seems like they draw a bow completely just to get one little note. Pop could get a dozen or two out of a draw of the bow. It seemed to me like that his fingers was all the time moving. He was probably touching the strings so lightly a lot of people might not have even heard some of the notes. That’s just my speculation. Pop knew how to use that bow to get force whenever he needed it and when to let up on it and to let a general sweet note come through.”
Lawrence continued, “I guess that’s what helped him in his technique that nobody else seemed to a been able to master. They might have been seeing him make the notes, but how he was pressuring the bow they might not have paid that much attention. You would have to have, I guess, a camera of some sort on it so you could go back and study what was done. You’d hear a note then you’d watch the finger and then you’d go back and hear the note and watch the bow. Maybe the little change in the muscles in his fingers or hand or wrist or something. You’d have to watch all of that and just keep going back and just keep going over it and going over it. But he got them in there, I know that. All of them wasn’t exactly crisp and clear. You could probably hear it in some of the records. I wish you’d been able to have met my dad. I think he’d a liked you and I think he’d a taught you all he could — all you was capable of or all he was capable of teaching you anyway.”
Lawrence said, “I don’t know how many fiddlers that I wouldn’t even have an idea of their names that used to come around to watch Pop play. They wasn’t there all the time, I don’t think, for the entertainment. They was there to learn some of the stuff, too. We used to go out on Route 5 about eight or ten miles. They was an old man out there that played and he said, ‘Ed, come see me whenever you can.’ He had a boy that had polio or something — had a short leg. It was a typical Kentucky hillside home. It had a big banistered front porch. And we used to go out there and maybe spend the weekend with these people. They’d just sit out there and play on the front porch. I can’t remember their name. I remember seeing the boy — he was quite a bit older than me at the time. He was almost a full-grown man. He’d walk with his hand on his knee a lot to keep that leg from giving way. That’s about all I can remember. Course I was probably eating better than I was if I had been home. People out in the country like that have usually got a cow and a good garden or good canned stuff anyway. These people were good people. They liked my dad, too.”
I asked Lawrence how things were going in his family and he seemed a little down about Mona and Noah.
“Mona passes our house just about every day — at the foot of the hill down here — and won’t even stop by,” he said. “Noah, whenever he’s in town, he’ll usually stop by. He’s back in Cleveland and got him an apartment and he likes it back up there. See, Noah gets in trouble every now and then; he has to move. I think he gets in gambling debts. He got down in Newport one year — it might have been eight or ten years after he got married — and got down there on a three or four day drinking and gambling spree and they liked to beat him to death down there, I think, ’cause he couldn’t come up with his tab on his gambling. So I think he gets in that condition every now and then and he has to take off somewhere else.”
I asked if Mona was a gambler and Lawrence said, “Now Mona, she goes over in Catlettsburg and she plays Soda Rum or something like that and gambles on that. I quit gambling of all sorts before I was married. Whenever Noah and Clyde and Jack would come around and want to play nickel-and-dime poker, I’d say, ‘Well, Pat will give you a blanket. You guys go right on outside, spread it out on the lawn, and play your nickel-and-dime poker out there.’ I wouldn’t let them play it in the house.”
A few days after speaking with Lawrence, I received word from Pat that he’d suffered a massive heart attack. It came as quite a shock, even though his health had been failing since my last trip to Ashland. Pat said the doctors didn’t give him long to live.
I called Wilson Douglas a few weeks later, still blown away by Ed’s incredibly fast fiddling on the Holbrook recordings. I raved about it to Wilson — how it was like a “rush of music” — who showed no surprise that he fiddled with so much of what he called “drive.”
“Now, they’s another tune I thought about that Haley played, he called it ‘Dance Around Molly’,” he said. “My god, Haley could play that. It’s a real good tune. Got a lot of drive about it. ‘They’s so many tunes,’ Ed said, ‘a man can’t learn them all, but I guess he can keep trying.'”
I played Ed’s recording of “Fifteen Days in Georgia” for Wilson and asked him if he played that fast at Laury Hicks’ house.
“About the same, John,” he said. “He was a great hand to play a tune in whatever time it was pitched in. He didn’t overplay his notes. And he played the solid driving note. He didn’t skip over it like skipping over with a motor boat.”
Wilson said one of the tunes that Ed played at Laury Hicks’ grave was “Arkansas Traveler”.
I asked Lawrence about Ed’s friends — if he remembered any of the fiddlers who came to see his father.
“I may have met a bunch of them and seen more than what you’ve got named, but as far as knowing them by name I wouldn’t know them by name,” he said. “And I probably wouldn’t recognize 90-percent of them by sight, either. Well Ed Morrison, I know Pop knew him. I didn’t know he was a fiddler, though. I just knew he was somebody that’d come around Pop every now and then. It slowed down quite a bit in my teenage years when we moved down close to town. Now, I don’t know if that was because of his heart condition or what John, I really don’t know. I think Pop had got a little bit grouchy about some things. If it was somebody he appreciated and liked he might play with them, but a lot of times, ‘I just don’t feel like it.’ If they come, they come to get him to get him to go somewhere. It might be 50 miles away or it might be two houses away. That was usually the way it was.”
I wondered if there was a big difference in Ed’s fiddling as he got older.
“Well, not really too much in his fiddling,” Lawrence said. “You know he’d just get tired. He wouldn’t play quite as much a lot of times. I know the last time we took him anywhere my brother Noah wanted him to play for one of his friend’s wedding. I think it was just get-together afterwards — sort of like a reception — only these kids just had a bunch of friends and some beer and stuff. And Pop sat there and he played and played and played and finally — they was giving him beer, I think — and it must’ve worked on him and he just fell over asleep, almost in a semi-doze. You could talk to him and he’d answer you, but he couldn’t hold a bow up any longer. He just more or less sat there in a sleepy daze. And me and my wife took him home, and that was it. He’d play some, but he wouldn’t play much for anybody after that.”
I asked Lawrence if Ed ever just sat around the house and played by himself and he said, “Well, I’ve seen him do that. He’d sit out on the front porch… There at 17th Street, we had a great wide banister and he’d sit up on that banister and play. It was pretty wide. He’d sit on that banister where he could spit out off a the porch and chew his tobacco and play for his own satisfaction. He might’ve been listening to something on the radio and come out and try it a few times and maybe play something he thought he might’ve got rusty on or some of his own music that he thought he needed to practice up on. I’ve seen him do that maybe for two or three hours at a time. The last time I reckon I seen him out like that, he was playing the banjo, though. He wasn’t playing the fiddle.”
Lawrence reminded me that his father liked to chew tobacco.
“He usually carried a can around the house like a brown coffee can as a spittoon,” he said. “He’d go out to farmers he knew and get him a few leaves of tobacco and make him a few twists, you know. It was twisted up like a double roll and he’d cut him off a piece of that and it just dry as a bone and stick that in his jaw. He always carried a little plug of Brown Mule or something like that to kinda take the dryness out of that twist or put a little sweetening in it or something. He would cut him off a little bit of sweetener and use that dry twist he’d twisted up hisself. In fact, he had a little chest he kept most of his tobacco products in. He might have 50 or 75 twists of tobacco and, you know, other products of tobacco. He smoked a pipe too, so he would have crumbled tobacco in cans and things. And he would put slices of apple — certain types of apple — in with it to kinda flavor it and things, and he kept it all in this one chest he had.”
Wow — I’d never heard or thought about Ed having a chest (or really anything else) before. I asked Lawrence if Ed had many possessions and he said, “Not a great deal, John. Just his clothes and just his violin and just his dinner table and I guess a bed to sleep in. What really would a blind man want other than that? Pop carried a good sharp knife. Did his own honing of his knife and things like that. He would whet it on a concrete banister if he couldn’t find a regular rock. He might’ve had a rock in that chest, I don’t know.”
Back to Ed’s chest — how big was it?
“Ah, it was about the size of an Army footlocker,” Lawrence said. “Just a little bit smaller than that, only it was just made out of wood. It wasn’t made out of plywood. It was made out of tongue-and-groove board. It’s long gone.”
I asked Lawrence how many fiddles his father owned in his life and he said, “I really don’t know. I imagine he had four or five dozen somebody had give him, or he’d bought or ordered. The fancy fiddles with all the inlay and all that stuff, I don’t think he’d a cared for that at all. It wouldn’t a made a bit of sense to him to have that. If he could just get the mellow sound or the sound that he liked out of it… Now, I don’t know whether it was mellow he liked or what. It was kind of a harsh music he played, I guess. I know he could get mellow music whenever he wanted it and he could make a fiddle slur or do whatever he wanted to with it.”
Lawrence paused and said, “I’m trying to tell you: a lot of stuff I don’t know about my dad. About the only thing that I really know, they was no fiddler around this area that could come any ways close to him that I ever heard. Other than that, he got out amongst his friends I guess and he came home with stories to tell and stuff, and I guess he told Mom if she wanted to hear them and if he didn’t want to tell her anything he didn’t tell her anything. Sometimes he’d come home with money, sometimes he might not come home with any money in his pockets.”
A few weeks later, I gave Lawrence another call. I wanted to update him on Bruce Nemerov’s work with Ed’s records. I’d heard some of the cleaned-up tracks and noticed that Ella’s mandolin was extremely loud at times. I asked Lawrence if it was because she was seated closest to the microphone.
“I’m pretty sure my brother did it all on one microphone,” he said. “But I guess it was placement of the microphone. She was just there to keep a good solid beat going. It wasn’t anybody trying to hog the music someway.”
I really bragged on Ed’s “Fifteen Days in Georgia” and “Over the Waves” — two of the “new” tunes from the Holbrook records. I played Ed’s recording of “Over the Waves” for Lawrence; it was an incredible, up-tempo version with Ella seconding him on the mandolin.
“Well you see, the record I’ve got of that tune she was playing the piano, so they had to be in a studio somewhere for that,” he said, after the recording ended.
“It’s amazing how fast he played back then,” I said.
Lawrence agreed, “Yeah, yeah, it sure was. That was a waltz, and you’d have to waltz the hall if you waltzed that one.”
Lawrence stressed that I had “a lifetime of stuff to study in there.”
I asked him if his father ever listened to the home recordings much and he said, “No, I think Mom put them up and left them up until Pop was dead and then she started dividing them out. You know, letting the kids come in and get pieces that they enjoyed. I had 45 or 50 records that I know of. One or two of them kind of got lost. I think I know who lost them for me. That’s the way things go, I guess. You can’t hold onto every little scrap of treasure all the time. It eventually goes. My mom used to have a whole library — I mean it took up quite a bit of space — ’cause these blind books, the letters had to be big enough to finger them, and they was pretty good size books. When I went into the service, they all left, and her mandolin left, and I guess her accordion went up to Aunt Minnie’s and got burnt up, and some of Pop’s stuff left. They just got rid of it, I guess, just stuff that was in the way for my brother Jack and his wife Patsy. Things like the mandolin and his fiddle I woulda kept.”
I got the impression that Lawrence was satisfied that he had told me all he could about his father, and that his father’s music would have to speak for itself. He was more in the mood to talk about his mother.
“I’m not sure, but I think they put her in school when she’s about four,” he said of Ella. “I think she come out of school when she was nineteen or 20 years old. They must’ve kept them segregated or something. You know, she was in with mostly girls. She had quite a few friends she made while she was at school. I guess they was times when she had bad times, too. Missed her family and missed her friends back at Morehead, Kentucky. She was pretty well-educated. She would read old Chaucer’s English. She’d come out with that on us every now and then when she wanted to really stress something to us. To let us know that she didn’t approve of what we was doing. I don’t know, she was just a wonderful woman to me. She’d sit down and read. You know we’d be laying in a bed in a room pitch black and she’d be a reading that story to us. It didn’t take long to put us to sleep like that. She read the whole Robin Hood stories and Jungle Boy. Stories like that she’d read to us. That was all we had for entertainment. It was a different life for the whole Haley bunch I guess from what most people would realize.”
“I know she had a bunch of friends,” Lawrence continued. “They was one — all I knew her name was was Bridget — and she come right out of school and went to a home-type thing that they had in Mt. Healthy, Ohio. Mt. Healthy is just more or less an outlying suburb of Cincinnati. When Mom would be down in Cincinnati visiting her sister or running her newsstand or something, she’d always go to Mt. Healthy to see Bridget. I think we’d ride a trolley bus or something out there. We’d spend the day out there with Bridget. It was a nice home — great big mansion-type home — plenty of grounds and things. And I’d get out in the grounds the biggest part of the time. I’d be out checking things out on the grounds — fishes in the ponds — and I’d check on Mom every now and then and find out when she wanted to leave or something. But we’d spend that day up there just about every time she went up there till I guess Bridget died.”