Appalachia, Ashland, Beckley, Bluefield, Chillicothe, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Farmers, fiddler, fiddlers, fiddling, Gallipolis, Gene Goforth, Hazard, history, Jenkins, Jess Adams, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Lexington, Missouri, Morehead, music, Nila Adams, Ohio, Pat Haley, Pikeville, Portsmouth, Pound, Princeton, Shannon County, U.S. South, Virginia, West Virginia, Winchester, writers, writing
Ed Haley spent his young bachelor days just “running around all over,” Lawrence said. He didn’t know any specifics about that time in his life but I could fill in the blanks based on memories of myself at that age. When I was growing up in Missouri, Gene Goforth, the great Shannon County fiddler took me into some of the darkest dives I could ever imagine — real “skull orchards.” Those places were filled with hot-tempered, burly men who were mean enough to fight or kill anyone. Even though Gene and I felt safe around them because we played their type of music, there was always an unpredictable danger in the air. I bet Ed’s music at that time in his life was as exciting as anything I would’ve ever wanted to hear, but to stay in some of those old taverns to hear it would’ve been like being in a cave full of rattlesnakes.
I asked Lawrence if he had any idea about how far Ed traveled with his music and he said, “I don’t know where he went when he was single, running the country. The way people talked, he started out about the time he married my mother. Hell, he was going twenty years before that. When he married my mother was more or less his settling down time. Well, I know he’s been all the way south through Beckley and Princeton and Bluefield, West Virginia and all the way down into Pikeville, Kentucky and over into Pound, Virginia. I guess he’s been as far as Hazard and Jenkins, Kentucky and all those little towns. County seats mostly is where he played.”
Lawrence didn’t think Ed made it as far west as Lexington, Kentucky. “They say that he never was down through the Bluegrass, but I’m pretty sure he’s been as far west into Kentucky as Winchester,” he said. “And I know he’s been to Morehead and Farmers; that’s a little town just outside of Morehead, Kentucky. He’s been to Chillicothe and Portsmouth, Gallipolis — up in Ohio that a way. Now, I don’t think he ever made it into the Carolinas or Johnson City, Tennessee but if he did it was before my time.”
Lawrence said his parents supported the family by playing music on the streets, but would play just about anywhere money could be made. “Pop used to go down to Portsmouth to a steel mill. It’s closed down now. It was a pretty good sized mill. They made everything from steel plate down to wire nails and fencing and everything else in there. It was Detroit Steel or one of those. He used to go down there, and he’d go to the railroad YMCA, too, because there was all the time train men coming and going on the N&W train line. A lot of train crews’d come in there and stay all night and Pop and Mom used to go in there and play right in the YMCA building. They used to do it down here at the Russell Y.”
Lawrence told me more about seeing Ed and Ella play for dances. “I’ve walked Mom and Pop to Morehead down the C&O Railroad tracks to Farmers — that’s six or seven miles — to play at a home. They’d take any rugs and furniture out of a room and pack them in another room and then dance. It might have been seven to nine o’clock sets, but it seemed to me like they lasted all night. I’ve seen Pop sit one set right after another without really stopping. When he’d play a piece of music, he’d play it as long as the caller wanted to call. Pop’d play ten minutes on a piece of music if that’s what was requested. Them was awful long sets. I’d get up and we’d start home at daybreak.”
I asked how Ed was paid for a dance and he said, “It would be more or less passing the hat or somebody coming up and wanting a certain piece of music played in a set or something. I don’t think they ever contracted a certain monetary fee for anything. They just took it as it came.”
Lawrence obviously preferred to think of Ed and Ella playing at dances instead of on the sidewalks, probably because street musicians are often regarded as being little more than talented bums. It was surely more romantic to think of them at county fairs, courthouses or little country houses. No doubt, he thought his father was above the street scene and likely had strong memories of long hot or cold days spent on sidewalks with passersby throwing out nickels and occasional slurs.
Pat gave me a little insight into that facet of Ed’s life story when she asked Lawrence if he’d told me about his “winter coat.” Lawrence said no because I wanted to know about Pop — not him — but she said, “Oh, I thought that was cute. He was a little boy and he was with his mama and they were in Cincinnati. It was very, very cold and he didn’t have a coat. And they were standing — you know his mama was playing — and his mother had told him he would get his winter coat for Christmas and he said, ‘Santa Claus better hurry up, Mama, ’cause I won’t be here.’ His mother went that very day and bought him that winter coat so he got his coat from Santa Claus a little bit early.”
Those were clearly memories that Lawrence didn’t care to re-hash.
“Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was lean,” he said. “Apparently, Mom and Pop was making enough. They always kept some kind of roof over our heads. We didn’t have anything fancy. Mom swept her own floors a lot of times, and she swept barefooted, and that’s the way she knew her floor was clean. She felt with her toes and her feet.”
Pat said, “My mother-in-law was very, very particular. She couldn’t stand to feel the least little thing on her — it bothered her. And if she sat down at your table — even though somebody would say, ‘These are very clean people’ — she would put her hand in the cup or the glass and run her hands over the plate. And I’ve heard people tell that they had the cleanest clothes in the area because she scrubbed them on a board and she would scrub twice as hard and twice as long to be sure those clothes were clean.”
On occasion, according to Pat, Ella even hired out neighbors to work for her. “Aunt Nila Adams worked some for your Mom,” she said to Lawrence. “She did a lot of the big cleaning.” She looked at me, “And his mother paid them well,” seemingly in an effort to compensate for the “winter coat” story. “She paid better than the average.”
Lawrence said, “Well, people like Nila Adams and Jess Adams — he was a hard-working man. He just was uneducated and that’s all he ever knew was hard work. And a lot of times that ditch-digging and hard work wasn’t around, so I guess Mom helped Nila Adams. When she’d come clean house for Mom she was helping Nila Adams keep her household together, too, in a way.”
One thing was to be understood: Ed Haley and his wife were not bums on the street begging for money. They were professional musicians who earned a decent living and who raised their children as well as any one else in the neighborhood.