A few days later, Pat Haley called me from Ashland with news that Mona was visiting. This was a new development: Pat and Mona were apparently patching up some of their differences. Pat knew I would want to speak with Mona and, in spite of whatever hard feelings existed between them, she was willing to give me access to her.
When Mona took the telephone, I told her about getting the new copies of Ed’s recordings. She immediately began to talk about her father making them.
“I was only about fourteen, fifteen,” she said. “I didn’t pay much attention. My oldest brother made the records, him and his wife.”
The whole thing took place around the dining room table.
“You know, they were made on plastic,” Mona said. “And they would brush the plastic strips away as the thing would cut the records. It was kinda tedious, I do remember that.”
Mona said Ed sat about three feet across the table from the recording machine, while Ella was a little closer.
“It shows in the records, don’t it?” she said. I didn’t want to say anything but I totally agreed.
She remembered that Ed listened to each record after it was made and liked what he heard.
“He was talking mostly to my oldest brother,” she said.
I had other questions for Mona, mostly dealing with her general childhood memories. I asked, “Do you remember the house being dark when you were growing up, because obviously they didn’t have any need for light.”
“We had gas lights at home, and after that we had electric,” she said. “Not overly dark, no. We had plenty of light. Always except bedtime, and then my mother would get her big New York Point books out and read to us in the dark.”
“Could your dad see any light at all?” I asked.
“No,” Mona said. “They were both completely blind. My mother said the only thing she remembered was daylight. And I don’t know how old she was when she went blind, but it was infancy, toddler, something like that.”
Mona seemed to be in a particularly talkative mood, so I pressed her for clues about Ed’s music. I asked her how her father’s eyes appeared when he played and she said, “He looked straight out. He never slouched unless he was drinking and then he put one leg behind him and one in front of him.”
Mona said Ed was not a short bow fiddler.
“Long bow, except where it was needed. But he always played that bow to the end,” she insisted.
She didn’t remember her father “rotating” the fiddle at all, although Lawrence Haley (and others) had sure made a big deal out of it. She said Pop always rosined his bow up “real good” before playing but never had any caked on the fiddle. She thought he used Diamond steel strings, which he bought in a local music store named Wicks. He patted his foot in what I call two-four-time when fiddling but “it didn’t override the music.”
I asked Mona if Ed was a loud fiddler and she said, “Oh, yes. You know his voice was strong, too. I’ve been around places with Pop and Mom and people would hear him from far off and come to him. You know, like in the workplace. He always had a crowd around him — always. Always when he played on the street or at the court house square or when he played at the Catlettsburg Stock Market.”
I asked if she remembered Ed playing on trains and she said, “Yes, we’d get in the backseat longways the width of the train and he’d play.” People sometimes gave him money but he mainly played for himself. “Just to pass time,” Mona said.
I was very curious about Ed’s mode of travel, especially considering his blindness and the great distance of ground he covered in his lifetime. I asked Mona if her father hitchhiked a lot and she said, “I don’t think he did. I think he walked more than he hitchhiked.”
Did he sing or whistle while he walked?
“No,” she said. “My mother did that for our benefit, you know. To pacify us, I guess.”
Mona said Ed loved playing for dances because he “enjoyed hearing people dance” and preferred it to the street “a hundred percent.”
I told her that someone said Ella didn’t care a whole lot for playing on the street and she said, “I never heard Mom complain about nothing except Pop drinking.”
I wondered if Ed drank on general principles.
“Whenever he felt like it,” she said. “Whenever somebody brought him something and asked him to take a drink, he would. And there’s times he has gone out and got it, too. Aw he’d cuss real bad. He’d say, ‘god almighty goddamn,’ like he was disgusted with the whole world. We lived down on Greenup Avenue between Greenup and Front and trains went by. His bedroom was in the front, and he cussed one time. I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘Them god almighty goddamn trains just act like they put their damn whistles in the window and blow.'”
I said, “Let me ask you this. In their relationship, was your mother or your father the dominant one, would you say?”
Mona surprised me a little bit when she said, “I’d say my mother was the dominant one until Pop was drinking.”
Ella was also the disciplinarian.
“Mom, she’d pinch a piece out of you, buddy,” Mona said. “She wouldn’t make a scene in a store or anything but she’d just grab you and pinch you and say, ‘Quieten down.’ She did it to me.”
Just before I hung up with Mona, I told her some of the things I’d found out about Ed’s genealogy on my recent trip to Harts. She listened quietly, then said, “Well see, the story I got was that Green McCoy shot this lady. And that’s the story that Pop told me, that I understood. Now, it may be wrong. My memory might be wrong or maybe I didn’t want to believe it the other way.”