Appalachia, Ashland, Calhoun County, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddlers, fiddling, Grand Ole Opry, history, John Hartford, Kentucky, Logan County, music, Nora Martin, Rosie Day, U.S. South, Ugee Postalwait, West Virginia, writing
I got my fiddle back out to play more for Ugee. When I finished “Going Across the Sea”, she said, “I’ve heard that. ‘Blackberry Wine’, that’s what he called it. They got ‘high’ on it. Dad and Ed would play it and say, ‘Boy you got a little high on that wine that time, didn’t ya?’ That meant they was getting smoother on the playing.”
I played more tunes for Ugee, who said, “You’re better on that there ‘Ed Haley playing’ than what you was the last time I heard you.”
A few tunes later, she said, “That makes me think of Dad’s fiddling.”
Harold said, “You ought to hear him play your dad’s fiddle.”
I said, “Do you want to hear me play it?”
Harold disappeared into another room and returned with Laury’s fiddle. It was in great condition. I tuned it up and played for Ugee, who just sat there quietly. I could see her emotions churning as she thought back to happy memories of her father. She was almost in tears.
“I didn’t know I’d ever hear my dad’s fiddle played again,” she said. “Last time I ever heard it played was in my dreams.”
I played Ugee a few tunes on her father’s fiddle and she said, “You like to play the fiddle. It’s hard to find good fiddlers. But since you went and loosened up on that bow down there, you’ve really got better on that. I don’t know music, but I can tell it when I hear it ’cause I was raised in a house where Dad played the fiddle, and Ed Haley.”
I played another tune for Ugee and she said, “Can you picture two fiddlers playing like that on the porch? Maybe play all day. You couldn’t play an old tune that I haven’t heard my dad and Ed Haley play ’cause they knowed them all. And it didn’t take them but a second to learn them. I’d have to learn the words to sing a song and Dad — maybe I would sing it to him about twice — and then we’d go someplace and he’d sing it. Now that’s just how quick he could catch on. Then he’d sit down and practice and smooth it out.”
Ugee told me about Laury’s final years. She said when he started feeling ill, he visited his sister Rosie Day in Ashland and his niece Nora Martin in Logan. It was his farewell tour, in a way. Ugee said he located Ed at Nora’s in what was maybe their last visit together. Once Laury made it back to Calhoun County, he slept in a chair because he was afraid he might never get up from bed. Eventually, though, he “took to his bed,” where he remained for a few years. He didn’t have a lot of company — he didn’t want Ed to see him in such poor condition. He purchased a radio and listened faithfully to the Grand Ole Opry. Every now and then, he’d get inspired to play.
“Ugee, come here,” Laury said during one of those times.
“What do you want, Dad?” Ugee answered, walking in to the room.
“Get behind me,” he said. “I’ve got to set up.”
“Okay,” she said, getting behind him.
“Now hand me the fiddle,” he said.
“I can’t and you there leaning again’ me,” she said.
“Ida, bring me my fiddle,” he told her.
Ugee said he sat there and “see-sawed and played that fiddle for me. I never got so tired in all my life. I thought I’d die.”
“Honey, I know I’m heavy on you,” he said.
“It ain’t hurting me a bit Dad,” Ugee fibbed.
When Laury was done playing, he looked up and said, “I want this fiddle give to Harold. I want Harold to have my fiddle.”
“That was the last time I seen him play the fiddle,” Ugee said. “He told me, ‘Wait till I get better and we’ll have some good music in the house.'”