I asked Mayme who her father’s favorite fiddler was and she laughed and said, “I suppose my daddy’s favorite fiddler was a man named Jupiter Fry. He married my daddy’s aunt.”
Billy asked, “Was he a brother to Durg Fry?”
“Yes,” she said. “You smart people. He went to New York one time and won a fiddling contest. He used to live down the creek here on the Laurel Fork of Big Ugly. My daddy used to go around there to Uncle Jupiter’s — they didn’t have much — and they would play poker all night long with just two or three pennies. They were very, very poor. Not many people were very well off. You wouldn’t think it by looking at this dilapidated place now but we had quite a bit. All the buildings are torn down. We had plenty — enough for us. We had some money here all the time. But Uncle Jupiter was the best fiddler in the country at one time.”
I asked Mayme if Jupiter was a right- or left-handed fiddler and she said, “Oh goodness, I don’t know. I don’t remember Uncle Jupiter. I remember Durg. He played some, too. He was right-handed. Durg would play and dance while he played. He did the hoedown. He did enjoy dancing.”
I asked Mayme if she remembered hearing any talk about Milt Haley and Green McCoy and she said, “Heavens, yes. Why didn’t I listen? Daddy talked about them. There was a great deal said but I just dismissed it from my mind. I didn’t try to remember it. Did Hollene Ferguson come in there in any way? She was a real kind person. I was there a few times. Incidentally, my mother’s daddy built that house.”
What was his name?
“John Wesley Berry. He was a riverboat captain and a carpenter from Guyandotte.”
I said, “I know Hollene put people up for the night and I’ve heard that Ed Haley had gone through there and stopped off and played the fiddle.”
“Well, Ed Haley frequented the place in this area,” Mayme said. “He’s been on this creek, too.”
She wasn’t sure if her father ever met Ed but she heard him talk about him.
Brandon figured they knew each other based on some interesting genealogical connections: one of Milt Ferrell’s uncles married Money Makin’ Sol Mullins’ granddaughter, while another uncle married a sister to Chloe Mullins (Ed’s grandmother).
I got kinda excited about Mayme confirming Ed’s trips through Big Ugly.
“Well see, we knew that he’d been to see Bill Duty a lot,” I said. “And we have found that Milt Haley, his father, was actually living in Bill Duty’s household at one time.”
“Milt Haley lived with Bill Duty before Bill Duty ever moved here, when he was still down in Logan County,” Brandon said, “and we think Milt may’ve moved up this way with Bill when he moved up here.”
“Well, I think maybe he did,” Mayme said quickly. “I think maybe he did. You’re awakening some old memories. I think he lived with them.
“Was there music in Bill Duty’s household?” I asked.
“I don’t know about that,” Mayme said. “Bill Duty married my daddy’s aunt.”
“Let me ask you a question,” I said to Mayme. “In the community back when you were a little girl did most people talk about the Haley-McCoy affair, or did they try not to talk about it for fear that somebody might hurt them or something?”
“I don’t think that there was any fear of being hurt,” she said. “They were not quite as notorious as the Hatfields and McCoys were.”
Just before we left, Mayme “made” me promise to come back and play for her in the fall.
I asked her for a favor: Could I go up into the old part of her house?
“Sure,” she said, “Just be careful.”
When I opened the door from the living room leading into the original cabin, I was so overwhelmed with sights and smells of the nineteenth century that it chilled me to the bone. It was dark, except for a little light streaming through a window, and everything was dilapidated, dusty, damp — and in most cases, ruined. A lot of the furniture had just rotted or collapsed to the floor and there were piles of papers everywhere at my feet. It was as if the people living there fifty years ago had just walked out, blew out the candles and never went back. Upstairs was the same. The whole experience made such an impression on me that I later began packing a picture of Mayme’s cabin in my fiddle case and eventually used it as a graphic on one of my albums.