Back in Ashland, Lawrence and I told Pat all about our trip to Harts Creek. We had some great photographs — including the one of Ed’s mother — and all kinds of new information. One of the first things Lawrence did was joke Pat about seeing “that funny boy” who nearly scared her to death forty years ago. I told her about Milt Haley’s murder, the possibility of Milt having been a fiddler and about our interview with Roxie Mullins. Lawrence liked the story about his father breaking a fiddle over someone’s head, although it kind of bothered me to think he would do such a thing.
At some point during the evening, Pat suggested showing me Ella’s postcards, but Lawrence quickly dismissed the idea. I could tell there was something in those postcards he didn’t want me to see, which of course only peaked my curiosity. It was clear by his negative response, though, that the issue was closed so I didn’t mention it again.
Instead, I pelted him with very specific questions about his father. I wanted to know how Ed Haley felt about different types of music.
Did your dad like the Blues? I asked.
“I guess he liked, uh, Joplin,” Lawrence said. “He liked a lot of that ragtime. ‘Sugar Foot Rag’, he liked that.”
What about something like Hank Williams?
“No, I don’t think he cared too much for that.”
“Well, he might have liked some of it.”
How about Dixieland Jazz, somebody like Louis Armstrong?
“No, not too much of that.”
How about bluegrass?
“No, he didn’t like that.”
How about Arthur Smith?
“That was a fiddler, and he had nothing for him, I reckon.”
“Well, I never have heard him mention him.”
How about Georgia Slim Rutland?
“I really can’t remember him ever mentioning that guy, either.”
Did he ever know about Benny Thomasson or Major Franklin or any of those Texas fiddle players?
“John, I wouldn’t say one way or the other,” Lawrence finally said. “It’s just like you keep asking me, did he play this tune, did he play that tune? I guess my best answer whenever you started that shoulda been what didn’t he play in the way of this old-time music. And that’s the same way, who didn’t he know if they was into that and they was around this area he probably found out about them.”
Early the next morning, Lawrence and I went to see Ed and Ella’s graves in Ashland. Along the way, I asked him if he remembered all the places where his father had lived in town.
“Aw, we lived in half a dozen different places,” he said. “All we did was rent. We lived in a couple down on Greenup Avenue, 10th Street, 22nd Street. Then we lived in one on Halbert and about three different ones on 45th Street and one up on 37th Street. That’s about it.”
None of Ed’s former dwellings were still standing.
Lawrence told me about the time his brother Clyde almost got married: “That’s one of those deals where I told you he was afraid of women. He was courting a lady up in Detroit or somewhere and she told my sister-in-law, Patsy — Jack’s wife — said, ‘He run off and left me practically at the alter. We had made all the plans and everything.’ Next thing we knew, he was working on a platform out in the Gulf of Mexico out of Louisiana. I don’t know where he was when Mom passed away.”
After we got back to the house, Lawrence explained why he’d ruled out showing me his mother’s postcards the night before.
“Some of the old postcards that Mom used to receive kinda had a flavor of real broken love,” he said.
They also revealed that Ralph Haley actually belonged to Ella by a previous marriage.
“I don’t know what his name was, her first husband,” Lawrence said. “Apparently it was somebody that she met either in school or after she come out of school and went back to Morehead. I think Ralph was born around 1914, ’15, somewhere along in there, ’16. He was approximately ten years older than me, twelve at the most.”
For the first time, I thought, Lawrence was opening up about his mother. He said she used to type letters to her friends.
“She had a friend, I guess she must have been pretty well Irish. Her first name was Bridget. I don’t remember her last name. She never married. She went into a home and kept people up at Hamilton, Ohio. Every time we went to Cincinnati, Mom wanted to go see her.”
I listened quietly before saying, “I wonder what happened to your mom’s letters? I bet they would tell a lot of history.”
Pat said, “They probably would but it would mostly be my mother-in-law’s. You know, her life.”
I said, “But women invariably talk about their husbands a lot,” and Lawrence agreed.
“Women can pass along more information between them in five minutes than two men can all day long,” he said.
Still, he never offered to show the cards so I just kind of left it at that.
Just before I headed back to Nashville, Lawrence reached me his father’s walking stick. “Here’s something I think you’d like to have,” he said. He also loaned me the four Library of Congress reel-to-reel tapes, containing over 100 recordings.