blind, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddler, Great Depression, Green McCoy, Harts Creek, history, Imogene Haley, Lawrence Haley, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, music, Noah Haley, Peter Mullins, writing
We all met up with Mona later in the day. She acted surprised that I was even interested in seeing her again, joking, “I’m good for something, aren’t I?” She was extremely talkative and almost immediately took over the conversation in a way that gave me the impression she really knew a great deal about Ed and Ella’s music. It was quite a different presentation than my first meeting with her.
“See my brothers don’t know about music like I know about music,” she said right away. “They know the tunes and they know the keys and stuff, but I don’t think they listened like I did. I paid attention to Pop’s music because I love music. I always loved music.”
She told Lawrence, “You don’t have the ear for it like I do.”
It was the first time I had heard someone be so candid with Lawrence. He seemed a little put off by it, muttering, “Probably not.”
We told Mona about talking with Bob Adkins and she said, “Pop’s mother was supposed to had the whole side of her face blown away. Now whether she was killed or not, I don’t know. That happened on Harts Creek and that’s what made Milt Haley get in with Green McCoy ’cause one of the Hatfields shot my dad’s mother’s face away. Side of her face. Well now, that’s how I understood it. But I’ve heard it said about that sinkhole that fills up with blood where that Milt Haley and Green McCoy was beat to death — buried in the same grave — and every time it rains, the grave fills up with blood.”
Noah said of Milt, “Well, ain’t he the guy that shot the person that shot Pop’s mom in the face? I thought Pop’s dad shot and killed the guy that shot his mother in the face.”
Mona wasn’t sure about that but said, “I know that Pop said that if he could see, he would get the guy that hurt his mother. Shot her. Her name was Emma Jean.”
Mona was sure the measles had caused her father to go blind, not Milt or ice water.
“No,” she said emphatically, “Ice water wouldn’t make you go blind. He had the measles.”
She said Ed started playing the fiddle when he was small and never talked about learning from anyone.
“Did you know that he started out on a cornstalk homemade fiddle?” she asked me. “I heard that his uncle or somebody up in the hills made him a cornstalk fiddle. Musta been Uncle Peter, I don’t know. Uncle Peter was a crippled man. His foot was turned backwards.”
Noah said, “He was a mean one, too.”
Mona knew little else about Ed’s life on Harts Creek.
“I don’t know if I told you about him talking about… As a young boy he was sitting on one of those log fences that goes this way — zig-zag, I call it — and it was a bull pasture inside. And he always carried a pistol with him. For what, I don’t know. It was a bull pasture fence he was sitting on and he was playing his little cornstalk fiddle and somebody come back behind him and was playing a joke on him by acting like a bull — you know, making noises like a bull. So Pop pulled that pistol out and shot and missed him by about an inch.”
Mona was quick to mention Ella, pointing out that “she figures in a lot of this, too.” I agreed, of course, but hadn’t been able to find out much about her from Lawrence, who seemed to keep his memories of her to himself. Every time Pat brought her name up, he said things like, “John doesn’t want to hear about Mom — he wants to know about Pop.” He always said it in a straightforward way that I knew to basically avoid the subject, as did Pat.
Mona said her parents met when Ella came to one of Ed’s “concerts”.
“I remember a lot of things about Mom,” she said. “Me and Mom was close. She walked around to feel if there was dirt on the floor — to see if it was clean — and if it wasn’t heads would roll. And she could cook. I remember back, I guess, during the Depression, her making lard cans full of soup so she could feed the neighbors and she had big bread pans full of cornbread for the dogs. And she could type as good as any typist.”
Mona looked at Lawrence and said, “Remember that whistle she had for us? It was like a calliope whistle. It was plastic or tin or something. And every one of us had a different tune. Each one of us knew our tunes. Different note.”
Mona’s pride in Ed and Ella seemed a little more on-the-surface than what I had detected with Lawrence.
“If there was a movie made, then there should’ve been one made about that — two blind people raising kids,” she said. “I’m just in awe of them and how they took care of all of us kids. They kept food and they kept shelter for us and we never went hungry. And they kept clothes on us. And I just don’t know how they done it. We always had a stable home. They always kept us occupied. We’d sit around in the wintertime and they’d give us soda crackers and apples and tell us to take a bite of one of them and then try to say a tongue twister.”
Mona said, “And we’re all reasonably intelligent,” although she jokingly pointed out that there were “some rogues in the family.”
Noah smiled and said, “I don’t know but one rogue.”
Mona knew exactly who he meant, so she told me, “That’s my other brother Clyde he’s talking about. He’s a rogue, but he’s all right.”
She said she was probably the real rogue of the family.
“Mom was real strict with me, but I was pretty head-strong,” she said. “I was rougher than all the boys put together, I reckon. At least that’s what they told me.”