Appalachia, Ashland, Harts Creek, history, Jack Haley, Joe Mullins, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Liza Mullins, Liza Napier, music, Pat Haley, Sherman Baisden, Stella Mullins, U.S. South, West Virginia
Later that night, Lawrence, Pat and I talked more at the kitchen table. For reasons I cannot remember — but possibly because I was so determined to get at the root of the music — our conversation kept returning to the subject of Ed’s childhood and birthplace in West Virginia.
Pat said she first went to Harts Creek with Lawrence, Jack and Jack’s wife Patsy in the summer of 1951. Noah and his wife Janet also made the trip.
“We went up in Jack’s Packard,” she said. “Three in the front and three in the back, plus Beverly and two babies. It was a horrible ride and it was at night and all the way up there the boys was telling us what to expect. They was telling us that you better be careful because going up to Harts like that at night — strangers — they could shoot you in a minute. They told us there was a headless horseman that rode up and down that hollow and a screaming banshee and they told us if the creek was up we’d have to walk it. Patsy and I was scared to death.”
I asked about Aunt Liza, the lady who raised Ed.
“When we went up there the first time, Aunt Liza was living in the old log homeplace,” Pat said. “Aunt Liza, Little Liza, Joe and Stella lived there.”
Aunt Liza was Ed’s aunt, Lawrence said, while Joe was his first cousin. Joe was married to Stella and was a close relative to Little Liza.
The Haley trip was a real experience for Pat and her sisters-in-law.
“When we went up there, Joe had a couple of kids,” Pat said. “One was about two maybe and it was wearing a little gown and had this beautiful blonde curly hair. I picked it up and said, ‘Oh, what a beautiful girl you are,’ but when I raised it up I saw that it didn’t have a diaper on and was a little boy. Aunt Liza said Stella had just had a baby the day before and was ‘feeling puny.’ That was a new word to me. Oh, we asked to see the baby and they said it was in the bed. Well, we couldn’t find that baby because it was down in the feather bed. And what surprised us was that Stella was up and about.”
Pat remembered the trip fondly.
“They were very down-to-earth people and I’m assuming that very little had changed from the time Pop grew up there,” she said. “It was like the cowboy movies where they cooked on those wood stoves and the way they served it at that great, big wooden table. Little Liza and Aunt Liza cooked us a meal. The food was good.”
Pat said she and the rest of the Haley wives probably made a big impression on Aunt Liza and company as well.
“We were outside on the porch and Aunt Liza said she’d never seen anybody dressed like us,” she said, laughing. “I guess we looked like painted jezebels. We had make-up on and modern hairdos. Janet was wearing a white blouse and a black skirt. I had a short-sleeved yellow dress on. Patsy’s was blue. Patsy used to wear a lot of make-up, always painted her fingernails. Janet didn’t wear too much make-up but she always dressed nice. She loved to wear those silk blouses, and they tied at the neck. I think something else that fascinated them: we weren’t smoking a pipe. Aunt Liza smoked a pipe.”
At one point, Pat said she was standing outside with the girls when this “funny boy” came up and scared them nearly to death. “We were outside when this boy came up through the yard making funny noises,” she said. “He got so excited — moreso than when we saw him — and touched Janet’s shoulder and she screamed bloody murder. Poor old Aunt Liza didn’t know what happened. And of course, Jack and Larry thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard.”
Pat made another trip to Harts a short time later with Jack and Lawrence.
“Jack took a movie camera and filmed everybody,” she said. “It seems like Jack took some pictures inside the cabin but I’m not sure. I know he was taking pictures outside of Aunt Liza and Little Liza and Liza’s daughter. I believe they thought he was just taking pictures. When he got back to Cleveland, he had the film developed.”
Later, in 1956, Pat made another trip to Harts Creek with Lawrence, Jack and Patsy. At that time, Joe Mullins was living in the old log cabin and Aunt Liza had moved into her daughter’s home just down the creek. Next door was an old log home covered in dilapidated paneling, which was supposedly built by Ed’s father, Milt Haley.
“And then when we went back the third time, Jack had brought the film from the previous visit,” Pat said. “I can almost hear him now saying, ‘Now Aunt Liza, I’ve got something I want you to see.’ They put a sheet over a mirror that was on the side wall and when the movie started Aunt Liza got real excited and started pointing toward Little Liza and saying, ‘There’s you. That’s me.’ You could see their lips moving in the movie but there wasn’t any sound. And Little Liza got excited too.”
A highlight of the trip occurred when Pat found herself in a conversation with Aunt Liza. “I suppose listening to Aunt Liza and Little Liza and me trying to talk was like a foreign language. Old Aunt Liza was telling me all about her property and I’m talking to her and I’m thinking she is talking about land but she isn’t. She’s talking cattle, dogs, and the oxen. And Little Liza was talking about her daughter going to school. And we got on the subject of the meals and what did she take for lunch. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘she takes her lunch in the lard bucket and she put biscuits and cornbread and different things in it.’ And I asked her about her husband and she said, ‘We’re not certified,’ and I wasn’t really sure what that meant so I said, ‘Oh, Lawrence and I aren’t, either.'” On the way home, Lawrence asked her if she knew what she’d meant to say because Little Liza had meant that she and the girl’s father weren’t married.
Lawrence could tell that I was really interested in his father’s birthplace so he asked me if I would like to see it. I said I would love to — and was more than happy to provide the car and gasoline for such a trip.