By the spring of 1997, Brandon and I were at a reflective point in our research efforts. We had begun to lose our edge. After all, how many times could we ask, “Now, how did Ed Haley hold the bow?” or “Do you remember the names of any tunes he played”? We decided to step away from interviewing people and focus on writing what we knew about Ed’s life and music. I spent long hours in Nashville at my dining room table listening to Ed’s recordings and working with the fiddle, while Brandon — in his three-room house in Ferrellsburg — transcribed interviews, re-checked facts, and constructed a manuscript. This went on for quite some time.
Eventually, Brandon came to visit and we decided to telephone a few people and ask more questions. Our first call went out to Edith Dingess, the only surviving child of Ed’s uncle, Peter Mullins. Andy and Dobie Mullins had told us about her several months earlier when we visited them on Harts Creek. Edith, they said, had recently moved from her home on Mud Fork in Logan to stay with a daughter in Columbus, Ohio. When we dialed her up, her daughter said, “She might be able to give you some information. Her memory is pretty bad. She’s 81 years old and she’s had a couple of real major heart attacks.”
I first asked Edith if she knew about Ed’s mother — her aunt — who apparently died in the early 1890s. Unfortunately, Edith didn’t know anything about her. As a matter of fact, she said she barely remembered Ed, who we knew had been practically raised by her father. She said he was a “nice person, likeable” who would “laugh and joke and go on.”
“I know Ed Haley used to come to our house with Mrs. Haley and they had a little girl. Might’ve had some boys — older,” Edith said. “I believe they lived down around Huntington. They’d come up home when my dad was a living and we was all home — I was young then — and they’d play music and we’d have company. We used to have some square dances at our house. We had some good times when he come up there.”
Edith said Ed’s children led him around, but he also got around using a cane.
Before we hung up, Edith gave us the telephone number of her niece, “Little Liza,” who lived with a daughter in Lancaster, Ohio. This was wonderful; I had first heard about Little Liza from Lawrence and Pat Haley in 1991. Little Liza had grown up in Uncle Peter’s home and was a featured face in family photographs. Prior to this lead, I wasn’t even sure if she was still alive.
When we called Liza, we first spoke with her daughter, Ora Booth, who gave the familiar introduction: “I don’t know if you’ll get too much out of her or not. She’s kinda forgetful and she repeats herself a lot. All I can do is put her on the phone and see what you get out of her. She’s seventy-six and her mind just comes and goes on a lot of things.”
I told Liza that I was good friends to Lawrence and Pat Haley, had heard a lot about her, and was very interested in Ed’s life. She said Ed used to stay a week or two with Uncle Peter — who she called “Poppy” — before heading back to Ashland. To our surprise, she had no idea exactly how Ed was related to her family.
“It’s been so long and you know I’ve been sick and everything and been operated on for cancer and stuff and I just don’t feel good,” she said. “When you get old, your mind just comes and goes.”
Just when I thought Liza’s memories of Ed had all but disappeared, she said, “I tell you, he was awful bad to drink all the time. Lord, have mercy. Anything he could drink, he’d drink it. That might have been half what killed him. He was a mean man. Just mean after women and stuff. I don’t know whether he could see a bit or not, but you’d get and hide from him and he’d come towards ya. I was scared of him.”
I asked Liza who Ed played music with when he visited at Peter’s and she said, “He just played with his wife. He didn’t have nobody else to play with. Lord, him and her’d get into a fight and they’d fight like I don’t know what.”
I wondered if Ed fought with his kids.
“Yeah, they liked to killed Ed Haley one time up there,” she said. “They’d just get into a fight and the kids’d try to separate their mommy and daddy and it’d just all come up. I had to holler for Ewell to come down there and get them boys off’n Ed Haley ’cause I was afraid they’s a gonna kill him. I didn’t want that to happen, you know? He got down there and buddy he put them boys a going. They was mean. I guess they took that back after Ed Haley. Yeah, he’d come up there and go here and yonder. After Mommy and Poppy got so bad off, people’d bring him down there and set him off and I had to take care of them, so Poppy just told him, said, ‘Ed, she has to wait on us and she can’t wait on you. You’ll just have to go somewhere else.’ He did.”
That was a horrible image.