Lawrence seemed to think of his parents as traveling musicians leading exciting lives — always on the go meeting new people and covering a rather large geographical area. I wondered what affect such a lifestyle had on the Haley children.
“You’ve got to remember, we didn’t start going with them — or I didn’t — until I was about seven years old, and that had to be in the summertime,” Lawrence said. “Sometimes I’d go with my mother, sometimes I’d go with my dad and my mother, sometimes my dad would take off somewhere on his own. If some of his old friends or something come around and said, ‘Ed, I want you to go with me,’ he’d be gone a week maybe somewhere. And they’d go off and play here or there.”
I asked if Ella ever got aggravated when Ed took off and Lawrence said, “I don’t think so. You know, two blind people like that trying to raise kids, I guess Mom felt that she could just stay home with her children and be a housewife. She done her own cooking and sometimes Rosie’d be around. I call her Aunt Rosie, but she was no kin to me, see? She was a big old strong stout woman — just raw-boned. Rosie married Bill Day. I guess she met Bill Day by being down here with Mom and Pop.”
Bill Day, I knew from talking with Annadeene Fraley, was Jean Thomas’ second choice to role-play Jilson Setters — after Haley. He once lived a house away from the Haleys on Halbert Avenue (now Blackburn Avenue). I wanted to get Lawrence’s spin on the Ed Haley-Bill Day relationship.
“He was a left-handed fiddler and he was a ‘Mississippi sawyer,’ I guess,” Lawrence said. “Well, at one time they lived about a quarter a mile of us, I guess. But he was the one that Jean Thomas picked for Jilson Setters. See, this Jean Thomas was supposed to take Bill Day over and play before the Queen of England or something. I don’t think that ever happened.”
Pat said, “I know I’ve heard Larry’s mother tell that Bill Day was supposed to have gone to England and played for the king and queen. And my mother-in-law said, ‘That’s impossible for them to have gone there and back in that short of time.’ When I came over in 1949, it was eight and a half days on the ocean, so it would have taken seventeen back when he went.” Lawrence laughed, “He seemed to think he went there but I think she took him out on a trip down the river somewhere and back.”
That was a really funny image but I told Lawrence that Bill’s trip overseas was pretty well documented.
“Really, Pop didn’t have much for Bill Day,” he said flatly.
As I suspicioned, Haley didn’t think much of Thomas, either, and didn’t tell her “no” politely when she offered him the part of Jilson Setters. Pat told me about meeting her years later, long after Pop’s death.
“Larry and I went out there to see if we could bring the cub scouts through her McGuffey School. She was very nice to start with and then when Larry told her who he was and who his father was she didn’t want any part of him and she told him in no uncertain terms that Pop was a drunk and a blasphemer. She was very rude to Larry and Larry was very upset about it. He stormed out and told her to go to hell. He was deeply hurt by that. I was embarrassed.”
Lawrence said he had few memories of his father toward the end of his life because he enlisted in the Air Force in 1946 and was stationed away from the family for about three years. At that time, Ed was almost completely bald and “stretched back” a lot and shook his hands, probably due to heart problems.
“Every time I’d come home on leave or something, I’d get a fifth of whisky and me and him would sit there and drink whiskey and he’d play the fiddle for us,” Lawrence said. “I’d get him to cross-tune down that bass string and he’d play such pieces as ‘Old Sledge’ and ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ and ‘Lost Indian’ for me. And a lot of other pieces.”
So Ed would take a drink?
“Yeah,” Lawrence said. “Of course, my mother didn’t like Pop to drink, but I always tried to see that he didn’t drink too much — if I didn’t drink too much myself.”
“Uh oh,” I thought, well aware that drinking is one of the chief occupational hazards of a fiddler.
Between swigs of Jim Beam, Ed told Lawrence that music never stopped, that it went on forever into outer space. He even talked about Armageddon and had “visions of the hereafter.”
Lawrence said he was stationed in England when he met Pat. By the fall of 1949, Lawrence and Pat were married and renting a two-story home at 1040 Greenup Avenue in Ashland. Lawrence’s older brother Jack lived upstairs with his wife Patsy and paying a rent of forty-five dollars per month, while Ed and Ella lived downstairs with a grandson, Ralph Mullins, paying fifty dollars a month rent.
“Downstairs was a very small bedroom on the left as you went through the front door,” Pat said. “That was Pop’s. He had a little table in there where he kept his Prince Albert tobacco and he kept a Prince Albert tobacco can for a spittoon and his bed was like an Army cot. Mom and Ralph’s bedroom was at the end of the hall. And on the right, there was the living room and then there was the dining room. The bathroom was off of the dining room and then from the dining room you went straight into the kitchen. They were large rooms with high ceilings. Linoleum on the floor. Mom and Pop were big on radios. The Victrola was in the living room. Pop used to listen to the radio in the living room. He would run that dial up and down and cup his ear up to it when he couldn’t get what he wanted on it and cuss like the devil. But Mom had one in the dining room and she had a little one in her room. You could go to the upstairs through the kitchen or you could go upstairs through the hall. Jack and Patsy had a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom upstairs and Larry and I had a bedroom. It’s a used car lot now.”
Not long after Lawrence and Pat moved in at 1040 Greenup, Jack and Patsy moved to a little cottage on a farm outside of town. “When they moved from 1040 Greenup, Mom could not afford the rent for upstairs and down,” Pat said, so the family soon moved to 2144 Greenup. At that time Ed received sixteen dollars a month for a blind pension, while Ella received nine. Lawrence drew twenty dollars a week from the Air Force and was attending watch-making school.
“Mom was also going to Cincinnati to sell newspapers and pencils,” Pat said. “She’d ride the bus on Thursday and stay till Saturday with her brother Allie. If they had a falling out, she’d stay with Sissy. I can’t ever remember her taking an instrument with her. Larry would pick her up at the bus depot on Saturday night. Sometimes we would drive to Cincinnati and get her. If we picked her up, she always gave us money for gas. If we went to Uncle Allie’s in Cincinnati and they fixed us supper, Mom always paid them for it. But when they got back to the house, Mom and Larry would always go to her room and there he would count the money. And that was always their secret.”
At 2144 Greenup — today the site of a mental health center — the Haleys rented the downstairs of a place.
“When we moved up the street to 2144 the rent was forty-five dollars a month for the downstairs,” Pat said. “There was the front room, then we had the middle room, the dining room, Mom’s room was off of the dining room, and then through the dining room you went into the kitchen and Pop’s room was off the left from the kitchen. Mom had it fixed pretty nice. She didn’t have end tables with lamps — anything like that. They didn’t need anything they would stumble over. Their furnishings were very plain. I remember the winter of 1950 was very bad and Patsy was pregnant, so Jack and Pat came in from the farm and moved in with us. They turned the front room into a bedroom for Pat and Jack.”