Adeline Adkins, Appalachia, blind, Buck Fork, Connie Woods, Ed Haley, George W. Adams, Harts Creek, history, Jack Mullins, Joe Mullins, John Hartford, Johnny Hager, Lawrence Haley, life, Logan County, Louie Mullins, Milt Haley, music, Peter Mullins, Roxie Mullins, Trace Fork, Turley Adams, U.S. South, Victoria Adams, Violet Adams, West Virginia, Yellow Leg Spaulding
Connie suggested we go see her neighbor Turley Adams, who lived just down the creek near the mouth of a branch. She pointed toward a man working in his yard a few hundred yards away at his one-story white home. That’s Turley? We took off right away. As we approached the place, Lawrence mentioned that Turley lived at the same approximate location of Milt Haley’s old cabin. While the cabin was long gone, I noticed the front yard still had the same beautiful roll to it I had seen in an old picture at Lawrence’s house. I tried to imagine how the cabin would have looked in Ed Haley’s day.
Turley met us near the porch, where Lawrence introduced us and told our reason for visiting him. Turley was immediately friendly and, in his gruff voice, invited us inside. At first, our conversation went pretty slow. Then Lawrence said, “I never did get much about my granddad, Milton Haley. Joe said he’s buried down here somewhere in a graveyard and I thought maybe he was talking about down at the mouth of Trace somewhere.”
Turley’s wife Violet said there was an old cemetery just back of their house, although it had been in terrible condition for many years.
“Well now, they was some graves out there. Turley’s mom told me that some of them were Mullinses and some of them were Haleys. They was some babies and then they was some older people. All unmarked. They was sort of in a row and they was rocks up to them but by the time I married Turley they’d rolled down the hill so you couldn’t tell where the graves really were.”
Oh god. I could just imagine someone finding a Milt Haley tombstone (probably no more than a rock with “MH” carved on it) lying at the foot of the hill and just tossing it in the creek.
“Well one grave we could tell pretty well where it was at, the others we couldn’t,” Violet said. “It had all growed up so we started cutting the bushes and keeping it mowed and cleaned up but we still don’t know where the graves are.”
We walked outside briefly to survey the site.
“They’s eleven graves,” Turley said. “I used to help Uncle Jack Mullins keep them cleaned up a little bit.”
Was this little embankment with a sunken spot the final resting place of Ed Haley’s parents?
Back inside, Turley said he remembered Ed, which seemed to please Lawrence somewhat. He told this story about a local girl who danced to Ed’s music.
“When I was in high school, Ed was around my house and he said, ‘I’d like to fiddle for somebody to dance.’ And I asked this girl, Adeline Adkins from around here on Buck Fork, if she could dance and she said, ‘I can dance to anything.’ She danced three or four tunes and my dad come in. Ed said, ‘By god, John, she’s just like Yellow Leg Spaulding. She can hit ever thing I do on this fiddle. And Dad said that they was a guy that used to go with them and dance that he called Yellow Leg Spaulding.”
“Well I didn’t know whether we’d even find anybody up here now, except Joe,” Lawrence said. “I thought I’d come up and see if I could find him, maybe introduce John to somebody that could give us some information on my dad. I know they couldn’t be very many people old enough to probably appreciate his music.”
“He come to my mom and dad’s house one time and played music all night,” Violet said. “Robert Martin was with him. I guess they’d been drinking or whatever because they was gonna take him out to the toilet and instead of taking him to the toilet they took him into the chicken house. They didn’t pay no attention to what they was doing. But they played all night. I never will forget.”
I had never really considered the possibility that Ed’s cousins and neighbors played jokes on him. I saw him as this great musician — an elevated status that may not have been shared by many of his contemporaries. All of a sudden, I was flooded with images of this little blind orphan — alone in the world — victimized mercilessly throughout his childhood. How did he take it? And how would Lawrence react to hearing these kind of stories? In quick time, I had this latter question answered. Lawrence immediately countered Violet’s story about the outhouse with a tale that cast his father in a more triumphant light.
“Joe said when Pop was just a little kid he got to the point to where he could travel from this house over to Uncle Peter’s,” Lawrence said. “Uncle Peter kept cattle in the field out here or something — a bull or two. Well, the boys teased him. You know, he’d get about half way across that field and then they’d go to snorting like a bull — scare him — and then stand way back and laugh at him. Pop took that for a while and finally found a pistol over here at the old house and he went across the field and they started doing that to him. Well, he just pulled that pistol and, where that sound was coming from, he started shooting that pistol. I guess that broke that little game up.”
Lawrence was obviously determined to guard his father’s legacy, which was a perfectly legitimate thing to do.
Violet got out a few albums filled with old photographs of Ed’s kinfolk from up and down the creek, which stirred Lawrence’s memories.
“Seemed to me like we walked down here to Trace to go up the hill there and there was a store down there,” he said.
Violet said, “Turley’s dad run a store around on Hart at one time and Ewell Mullins had a store up here.”
Lawrence remembered Ewell’s store. “Yeah, he had a store up here, I know that. And then they was one on up and over the hill there where you could go and buy a nickel’s worth of brown sugar. We’d get one of them little penny-paper pokes full of brown sugar and we thought we was having a big time.”
Lawrence’s mind was starting to click in high gear. “I heard Pop talk about how he’d ride a horse up the hollow going up through there,” he said.
Lawrence asked Turley if he knew anything about a George Adams. Turley said his grandfather was named George Washington Adams but he went by the nickname of “Ticky George” to distinguish him from a cousin, “Greasy George.” Ticky George spent most of his life in the woods hunting for ginseng where he apparently acquired a great number of ticks.
“He didn’t have good mind,” Violet said later. “He just knowed enough to get by.”
Turley said his grandmother Adams was a sister to Ed’s friend, Johnny Hager.
“Well, there’s how Johnny Hager came into this,” Lawrence said.
Turley didn’t know much about his genealogy but said his aunt Roxie Mullins could tell us the “whole history” of the Hagers.
“She lives around there above Louie on Harts Creek there,” he said.
Louie Mullins was a grandson to Uncle Peter, making him a third cousin to Lawrence (at least by our count).
This was sort of a confusing moment. Names of people I’d never heard of were popping into the conversation and converging upon one another in seemingly irrelevant connections.
It was great.
There was an unmatchable poetry in it: Turley, Yellow Leg Spaulding, Ticky George… I mean nobody could make this kind of stuff up.