I was in the third grade, back in the early 1950's, when life was tranquil, and Daddy decided we needed to move. He announced that living with too many neighbors was making him claustrophobic. There was a neighbor on each side of us, one across the street and three more down our lane. That was fine, really, but when more houses began to be built, on some land behind us, that was too much. We had to move. He bought some land on the outskirts of Alexandria, Louisiana, on the other side of the Red River, that was still considered country, and began plans to build the house we would live in until I went off to college. It would be a huge brick ranch house with plenty of room for all four of us kids, in fact, the fireplace, itself, would be large enough to build a small house, he told us. There would be plenty of room to roam. “I would have enough land to raise some crops, have cows to milk and horses to ride and no neighbors, except one on each side of us.
“But we already have cows to milk and a horse to ride, and a neighbor on each side of us,” mama said.
“But others are building around us and we are getting crowded out,” was his reply. “The neighbors, at the new place, are farmers. The one on the left isn't and just has a small parcel of land. I could live with that,” he said. “It's just the size to have a small farm, and the kids can each have their own animal.” He was on a roll, and Mama knew that once he made up his mind then that was that and there was no need to keep arguing. The plans were in place, and we would just have to get used to it.
I was apprehensive about moving. I enjoyed our two story house in the Paradise community that I had lived in since I was four years old. I really didn't remember any other house. I enjoyed our little shed of a barn with chickens roaming about and the cow and horse we owned. I loved the house. I started school from this house. I didn't like changes. I even loved the bed room I shared with Bobby, on the second floor that was next to a screened porch where we kept our collection of white mice and where we slept on hot summer nights. So what if Mama and Daddy had to cross through our room to go to the main upstairs bathroom. That wasn't our problem.
We weren't going to be moving into a ready made house either, I found out. We were going to build this house, something Daddy always wanted to do. He wanted to have his own house as long as he could remember since he grew up as a sharecropper's son.
That glorious brick ranch house, with the too many bricks in the fireplace, was built and we moved in the summer I turned nine and Bobby five. Becky was ten then and Jane only three. That summer we discovered it wasn't all that bad after all. We had the freedom to roam all over the place. There were no houses around us except our two neighbors. Just land and woods and things to explore. We became free range children.
The first thing Daddy did, after the house, was build a barn. After all, our cows and horses needed a place to be. He spent his evenings planning and drawing and thinking how the barn should look. Daddy consulted his architect friend, Claude Boutte. Plans were drawn up. It was a simple tin barn with a hay loft upstairs and stalls on each side of the open space below. Daddy's hunting dogs even got a place next to the barn. They each had their own dog house and an area to roam, complete with a tree in the middle. We loved playing among the rafters and spaces as the barn was being constructed having no idea how much this barn would become a huge part of our memories years down the road, good and bad. The stories that barn could tell of the Blair children and their escapades, thankfully, may never come to light....well, the bad ones anyway, not on my watch.
This was the life the four of us enjoyed. There were trees to climb, horses to ride, woods to explore, secret places to hide under the canopy of pines telling secrets. These were the carefree days without cell phones and indoor distractions. We made caves from the hay bales and hid in the barn reading books or listening to rain on the tin roof on rainy days. Of course we had chores to do, too, but the freedom to be ourselves and explore was priceless.
Life just couldn't get any better for a boy and his brother who spent practically every waking moment riding horses and making forts in the tiny strip of woods nearby. Jane was still too small and Becky, well, Becky read books, hiding in the hay.
I'm not sure we noticed that Alexandria was growing, especially out our way. Sure our street began to have more houses, but they were few and far between. There was still plenty of farm land all around us all the way to Twin Bridges road. But progress was moving our way like a black cat sneaking up on a mockingbird. When I turned twelve and Bobby eight, one of our first sub divisions began to be developed. Plantation Acres. It was on land on the other side of our farm neighbors on the right. There was even a part that bordered our property. Houses went up. Street lights and cars showed up, and people and dogs and snotty nosed children with bicycles moved in. Our little freedom of riding horses and roaming our property was spied upon by the suburbs. Children stood on the other side of the fence gawking at us and our country way of life. They threw things at our animals;we threw cow patties back at them. We were thrust into a modern day range war. Our free range suburb neighbors were causing problems for these free range country children and our land, and we didn't like it one bit. The Plantation Acres gang cut sections of our fence down so they could roam at will, riding bicycles and making ruts in daddy's cotton field. We put dead snakes at the entrance where they cut the fence with a note: “This this could be you.” It got ugly.
In time,Daddy repaired the fence, and the war settled down. One day, Bobby and I were riding the fence row, checking for breaks when some of the Plantation Acres gang asked if we would let them ride our horse. How dare they, we thought. We told Mama, knowing she was unaware of most of the meanness we threw back at those snotty nosed instigators. She said that as nice little Christian boys we should let them ride. We could be good neighbors, and perhaps they wouldn't cause so much trouble. “You boys could hold the reins and let them walk around with the horse; they probably never rode one before. It would be a very nice thing to do.” We said we would think about it.
Two weeks passed before Bobby concocted a scheme. “Sure we could let them ride, for a price,” he said. “We can use Sheba, the biggest horse.” I agreed, after all Sheba was so huge that I could lie flat on my back, feet outstretched, with room to spare. We decided we would charge a nickel a ride and put seven or eight on at once. The arena they could ride on was plotted out on the edge of the cornfield near where the gang crossed our fence, and put ruts in Daddy's cornfield. The rule would be only one ride around the area mapped out, per child. No exceptions. If they wanted a second ride they would have to pay again. We built a step so they could mount the big horse. We took the saddle off so we could squeeze as many as possible on that dear horse's back. We opened our piggy banks so we could make change. We told the gang our plan. To our surprise they thought it was wonderful. Our business began.
It was summer time and Daddy was in Baton Rouge every week on business since the legislative session had begun. Our devious minds knew what we were doing. The first morning, the children lined up on their side of the fence as I collected their money and helped them mount. Then Bobby would take the reins and walk them one time around the area. We thought we were the most clever entrepreneurs around. Word spread that we were giving rides. More children came. Our revenge on these suburb children was paying off. A month went by. We were raking in the money.
Oops. Daddy came home early one Friday and caught our little enterprise. We were busted. He made us give the children back the money we collected that day. After the children left, he wanted to know how long this had been going on. Bobby said we had just started. I kept my mouth shut. Hey, I was twelve. Bobby eight.
© Nippy Blair 2015. Posts and pictures on this blog cannot be copied, downloaded, printed, or used without the permission of the blog owner, Nippy Blair.