Mona said Ed loved playing for square dances because he could have a few drinks. If he drank too much he “slid” a lot of screeching notes, seldom finished a tune and cursed like he was “disgusted with the whole world.”
Noah, who had been sitting quietly by, said Ed didn’t play “real good” when he was drunk — that he played “real slow.”
Lawrence said, “I was telling John that Pop could cuss a man all to pieces with his fiddle if he wanted to.”
Mona laughed, “Yeah, or with his mouth either. Pop could cuss the hat off your head. One time we lived there on 17th Street. The railroad trains went by and there was a crossing there, of course. They blew at every crossing. He’d get so mad sometimes, he’d say, ‘Them god almighty goddamn trains just stick their horns in these windows and blow as loud as they can.’ And that was his kind of talk.”
Mona had terrible memories of Ed mistreating her mother. It was a tense moment as Lawrence listened to her reminisce about a part of Ed’s life that he would have probably rather kept secret.
“That’s what I remember about him,” Mona said. “Not his music and not him — just how he treated Mom.”
I told her that I liked a man who wasn’t perfect and she said, “Well, he was far from being perfect. He was a perfect fiddler, I think.”
She looked at Lawrence and said, “He knows Mom and Pop was divorced, don’t he?”
No, I said.
“Well, they were,” she said. “What year was it, Lawrence? 1943 or ’44. We still lived on 17th Street.”
Lawrence thought his parents had only separated but Mona was sure that Judge Imes actually granted a divorce. Afterwards, Ed went back to Logan County, West Virginia, where he played music and saved up a whole change-purse full of money. After Mona had convinced him to come home, he rattled his change-purse to Ella and said, “I’ve got this plumb full of fifty-cent pieces and I’ll give them all to you if you’ll just let me sit by your fire this winter.”
“It was just pitiful,” Mona said. “I’m glad I took him home.”
I asked if Ed and Ella ever remarried and Lawrence said no, that there was a “bed and board” arrangement where Ed only slept and ate in the home. Mona felt her parents got along better after their divorce, implying some sort of reconciliation, while Lawrence remembered Ed giving young women small bottles of “Radio Girl” perfume he bought at a five and dime store.
Not long after Ed’s return to Ashland, he made the home recordings.
“Ralph made all those original records, you know,” Mona said. “I can see that now. He was cutting them and his wife Margaret was taking a brush and brushing that plastic off as that needle was cutting. He had to touch Pop on the shoulder when to start and when to quit.”
“I guess you heard me in some of those records, didn’t you?” she asked me. “I was strumming a flat-back mandolin. Mom was playing on accordion, Ralph guitar, Pop the fiddle.”
I asked Mona which tunes she liked the best from Ed’s repertoire.
“I liked those fast ones that Pop and Ralph played, like ‘Down Yonder’ and ‘Dill Pickle Rag’,” she said. “And there’s a lot of them not on record that they sang, like ‘Little White-washed Chimney’. He played ‘Kentucky Waltz’ and ‘The Waltz You Saved For Me’ and ‘Beautiful Ohio’. He played a lot of Irish tunes — jigs. ‘Humphrey’s Jig’ was on that album wasn’t it? He played ‘Sailor’s Hornpipe’. He played ‘Take Me Home Again Kathleen’ and sang it. And another one he played was ‘When I’m Gone You’ll Soon Forget Me’.”
Just as I thought we were about to get into some heavy music dialogue, Mona said, “Oh, I didn’t tell you about that time we went up Durbin Creek in the flood. Jack was home on leave from the Navy and it flooded up 37th Street and we went up Durbin to Manuel Martin’s. That’s Nora Martin’s husband. Lived up there then. We had to walk up the Big Sandy Railroad then over a mountain. Pop had brought some eggs from the house in his pocket and he fell down and broke his eggs and he just set there and cried. He said, ‘Oh god.’ And Mom just trudged along like a trooper.”
In Ed’s later years, he grew a beard and didn’t bath because “it was a waste of water.” He would seldom play the fiddle for Mona when she visited from South Point, Ohio. He was pretty bitter about music, especially what was broadcast over the radio in those days.
“Did your daddy like Bill Monroe?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
“He didn’t like too much bluegrass,” Lawrence said.
“Did your Dad ever talk about or listen to anybody like Roy Acuff or did he ever listen to the Grand Ole Opry?” I asked.
“I don’t think he’d have much to do with Roy Acuff,” Lawrence said.
Mona said, “He listened to the Grand Ole Opry some and he said that if he’d been a showman like Natchee the Indian — playing under his leg and behind his back and all that — he could’ve made it.”
“He didn’t much care for Natchee, did he?” I asked.
“No, he didn’t like Natchee,” Mona said. “He didn’t like the show-offs. He was a straight fiddler. But a lot of people thought he was great. That Jesse Stuart wrote that poem about him. I guess he thought he was great, too.”
Mona thought the last time Pop played was with Bill Bowler in Ironton, Ohio. He died not too long afterward at 2144 Greenup Avenue.
“When he was in the funeral home, somebody took Mom up to say her last goodbye,” Mona said. “She put her hand on him and she said, ‘Well goodbye, Ed. I’ll see you sometime, somewhere.'”
After Ed’s death, Ella gave their records, which had been wrapped and put in storage, to the children. Mona lost a few of hers when she sent them to Clyde, who was incarcerated at San Quentin in California (“he never brought them back with him”). Around 1956, she lost the rest after leaving them in a trunk at the home of a good friend Dorothy Bates in Ironton. She later came back to get the trunk but Dorothy had moved away.
“I was young and full of, you know, whatever,” she said. “Going here and there. Traipsing around the country and leaving everything. I lost pictures and I lost those records and I lost a lot of stuff by just leaving it here and there. I would have never sold mine, or pawned them, or whatever. I treasured mine, but evidently not well enough.”
I asked Mona if she thought Dorothy Bates had kept her things, and she said she doubted it because “she was flighty.”