Roxie seemed very interested in Ed Haley’s kids, saying, “I know now they was Mona and Clyde and Ralph and Jack.”
Lawrence said he was the “baby boy” and Roxie realized for the first time that he was Ed’s son…not me. She got real tickled and said, “I believe you was about four or five years old when you was at my house.”
He told her, “May have been, ’cause I came up here until I was about nine years old. Just about every summer, it seemed like, we come up here.”
Roxie wanted to know about the others.
Lawrence said, “Clyde is still living. He lives in California. When he quit running the country, he settled down in California.”
As for the other boys: “Jack worked as a millwright at a steel mill in Cleveland. Noah’s in Cleveland, too. They both went up there after they come out of the service. Had a depressed time just after the war. Jack worked for a while here but that little factory closed up so about a year and a half later he went to Cleveland and got on at a steel mill up there as an electrician and worked his way up as a millwright. They say he went into work that day and he punched his card, then he had to walk to his workplace — which was a pretty good ways away — and he hadn’t even got out of the time-clock building, and he just fell over dead. Massive coronary or something.”
Roxie thought Ralph had hung himself, but Lawrence said, “No, he was out picnicking and was kinda grandstanding. You know he could take a run-a-go and do a flip-flop and land on his feet — that kind of stuff. Well, somebody was gonna take a picture of him, and he got up on this tree limb and hooked his toes over it and he was hanging straight down from his toes and he was gonna let go and flip over and land on his feet before he hit the ground. But he didn’t make it: he hit the back of his head and broke his neck. He thought he was still a young man, you know.”
Roxie’s memories of Ed went pretty far back into his life — even before his marriage. She tried to describe him for me.
“He dressed nice. Man, Ed was as clean as a pin — wore nice, clean clothes. To be a blind man, he kept hisself just as clean as a pin. I never did see him dirty. Kept his hair combed pretty and neat. Ed’s eyes looked awful bad — he wore glasses over them. We never did talk much with him. He was kindly strange to us. You see, us girls was kindly shy. We weren’t used to him. He always had a big bunch of men around him. We just listened. He wasn’t no crazy fellow, I wanna tell you that. He was smart in the Bible. He told us all about the wars, Armageddon and stuff, and about these bombs.”
I asked Roxie if she remembered the first time she saw Haley play the fiddle. She said, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I was about eighteen years old when Ed and Uncle John played at our house. Then they left here and went off, you know, to stay awhile. They’d come back every now and then. Uncle John played a banjo and Ed played the fiddle. Boy, they could really play.”
I asked if Ed sang back then.
“Yeah, he sung,” she said. “Now, he asked Cecil… He said, ‘Cecil, I’d like to ask you something, but I don’t want you to get mad.’ He said, ‘I would like to know if you know the song about John Brumfield?’ And Cecil said, ‘Yes. I’d like to hear you.’ And Ed said, ‘All right.’ Ed played it for him. And Cecil’s daddy was the one they killed, but Cecil liked Ed. He knowed they’s just all drunk, you know, just like people now a getting dope and a killing each other.”
Roxie’s mind rolled back through the years, leaving Lawrence and I to just sit there listening to her stories. Each passing moment sent chills up the back of my neck. It was apparent that she’d known Ed very well.
“He stayed with us a whole lot, Ed did. Off and on, he stayed with Grandma and Uncle Peter and them. Grandma lived down there where Turley lives now. And they had a sheep in that field, you know? Ed kept going from Grandma’s house up to Uncle Peter’s and Aunt Liza’s house. They told him, they said, ‘Ed, that ram’s a going to kill you.’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I’ll take care of that ram.’ One day he started up through there and that ram went to bellering, you know, and run at him and butted him and he catched him by the head and slung him. He said, ‘If you don’t stay away from there, I’ll get my knife out and cut your head off.'”
Roxie laughed remembering the stories.
“Lord, he told all kinds of tales on hisself,” she said. “You woulda laughed till you woulda died if you’d heard him telling tales on hisself. He told about being at Uncle Peter’s and they was having a dance up at Jeff Baisden’s and he said he took a notion to go along in the night. He’d slept till about 9 or 10 o’clock in the night. Uncle Peter had a garden and a barn and had a lot of cattle laying out around that barn. And he went out there, he said, to that barn and aimed to climb up over a big high fence and jump out when he jumped out right astraddle of a steer. And said that thing jumped up and him on it backwards and took up that holler a flying, and said he hung right on to him till he got to the waterfall and said when he got to the waterfall, he fell off. Said he was drowning when he went on up there, and said they said, ‘Ed, what are you doing so wet?’ He said he said, ‘Well,’ said he’s riding and got in the water and couldn’t see it. He would’t tell them about the steer.”
Roxie implied that Ed took any mishaps or practical jokes in stride.
“Lord, he told all kind of tales on hisself, honey. They cut trees and put him in logs and would start him at the top of the hill and roll him into the bottom and bump to bump to bump to bump, you know, and man just skinned him all over. They played all kinds of tricks on him. Why, he’d just laughed till he died about it. He didn’t care.”