Saturday, August 29, 2015

Camellias and Roses

Camellias and Roses

My father was a passionate person with many interests. When he became enthusiastic about something he would do everything he could to learn all there was on the subject and pursue it with his whole heart until he lost interest, which was often, and then it was on to new quests. Take for instance,
He loved flowers.

Camellias and roses were his favorite.
 I remember him sitting in the living room nightly perusing magazine after magazine, learning the best way to plant, prune, and water them. He learned how to grow bigger flowers and how to graft them to create new species.


  My dad decided one day that camellias would be the perfect plant to place around the yard. So we soon became the owners of 300 camellia plants with such names as Alba Plena, Angel, Apollo, Candy Stripe, and Finlandia variegated. These were placed along the edge of the yard next to the pasture lane (what is now Mohon Street in Alexandria). Others were placed around the house, and in beds in the huge back yard. Daddy even created a grassy walking path that wound around a part of the yard like a maze, all lined with camellias. I remember many an afternoon placing protection around prize flowers and coddling them for a flower show or arranging covers over prize plants when the weather might destroy a particular bloom. Many weekends in the fall we would be up early cutting the prize blooms and transporting them to camellia shows.

One ot the perks with having camellias was that once a week I got to bring a single flower to each of my favorite teachers at Cherokee Elementary: Mrs. Caillouet, Mrs. Maxa Salter and Mrs. Ward-Steinman .

In the summers when the weather was really hot it became my job to water the 300 bushes twice a week.

  I was given a stop watch and the hose and told to place the hose at the base of each plant and water them for 5 minutes each. Can you imagine how many hours that took?  Do the math. I watered camellias 6 days a week all summer long. I would set the stop watch and play until it went off before moving the after day. That was a boring summer.
After daddy conquered camellias he discovered Roses.


 Again, night after night we talked roses around the supper table. Books and magazines on cultivating roses were soon growing in piles around his chair. It wasn't long before he made a trip out to Forest Hill to purchase rose bushes.

Not just a few rose bushes, oh no. He planted 3000 bushes. 3000 glorious bushes of roses planted in rows, like those in Colombia, South America, just to the left of our pasture lane. 3000 rose bushes of every color you could imagine. 3000 roses that I feared would be my destiny to water forever tethered to a garden hose.
  Thankfully, daddy installed a watering system.
  I loved these roses even more. My favorite escape would be to visit that aromatic hide-a-way late in the afternoons when the sun was getting tired of its day; when chores on the farm were finished and the sensation of the rich soil was cool to my bare feet. I remember silently lying down in that soft dirt and just taking in all the colors that were glistening above me - sometimes against a blue sky or a sunset that competed with the roses and sometimes against those cumulus clouds that beckoned me to cavort among their billowed mountains. There, I might wander to far off places of adventure or meander on a creative rendezvous with my muse, occasionally lulled to sleep by the perfumed bouquet. This was my liminal moment before “heading to the barn”.

One of the reasons I loved these roses was daddy's generosity toward people. He found a way to have a new passion and still keep his current one. Daddy decided to deliver roses to people in hospitals (Rapides and Cabrini). Now in order to do this he needed a plan. First he contacted the hospitals and determined the number of rooms in each, then he bought two vases for each room. Why two, you ask?  Well, one to put the flower in and one to bring home for the next delivery. Then he collected wine boxes with the neat little compartments to put the vases in. Of course he had to have a container to hold the boxes so he devised a wooden crate that fit in the back of the station wagon (the back of the truck would cause damage to the roses).

The next Saturday, I was awakened by his shrill whistle at dawn. “Get up, son,” he said, “we need to cut roses.” After filling the vases with water we began to cut the rose buds and carefully placed each in a vase and then into the car. Then we transported them to the hospitals. Now, here is where the story becomes more interesting. Daddy had this fear of hospitals. Would not step very far into the them. I never understood this. Here was a man wanting to deliver joy and happiness to people in need, and he was afraid to do so himself. It was my job, now, to visit the rooms. So off I went visiting each room on each floor, placing a vase of roses in every room and picking up the old vase. Sometimes stopping to chat with a person or two. I loved those days because I got to receive all the praise for such a thoughtful gift from people I didn't know. Daddy had no idea what joy he was missing...or maybe it was his ploy to develop a caring attitude, in his son, toward those in need...who knows. I just know that I loved my Saturdays and delivering roses to people in hospitals.
Cudos, daddy. Thanks for this memory.

© 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.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Daddy never could stand to be too crowded. When too many neighbors began to surround us he would find new territory to pioneer. This was the case during the summer I finished the 3rd grade at Tioga Elementary. Daddy had purchased land in the country outside of Alexandria. We were to build our dream home. Our farm ran from Jackson Street Extension all the way back to Prescott road. There was a house on each side of us and that was it. The property where Brame Junior High is was our cotton field, Mohon Street, our pasture lane.
 We moved our cows, horses, Daddy's hunting dogs, our pet dogs, pet goat, the whole menagerie and all 6 of us to the country.

We built a barn and a lovely brick house whose fireplace had enough bricks in it to build a small house itself. It was heaven for us free range children.

I was old enough now to have my share of chores along with my brother. The main one was to feed the dogs daily. Since my brother and I never could get along peacefully, we devised a plan of taking alternate days to feed, which truth be told never worked out for us because I had to help him on his days because he was only 5.

Daddy had six hunting dogs. Next to the barn he built a pen with a six foot high fence. A tree was in the middle of it for shade. Each dog had his house. I could not tell you the name of any of these dogs except for one...Measles, a short hair pointer.

Measles seemed to be different from the other dogs. Measles loved to climb the tree and stretch out on one of the limbs like a leopard. Granted, we were not allowed to play with these dogs for they were trained to hunt, not be pets. But Measles seemed to be the exception. Maybe it was the fact that he loved climbing that tree. We made a habit of petting Measles whenever we fed the dogs. Bobby and I encouraged him to try to climb higher. This was probably the one thing my brother and I agreed on.

Among the animals we brought to the farm was a pet goat named Billy.
 We had begged daddy to get it for us when we lived in the Paradise community. We were going to train it to pull a small cart around the yard, we told him. Training never happened. The goat was too stubborn and was always getting into and out of everything. He was a headache to us. Billy just wouldn't be controlled. On more than one occasion we were butted by this monster. (Note that we, of course, were innocent as to why the goat became mean).

Billy goat was in the barn lot. The hunting dogs were protected by a fence. Everyone was safe. It was late in the evening, almost dark and I, again, had been sent to feed the dogs since neither one of us claimed it being his day to feed.

I had just finished feeding the dogs and had exited the dog pen when Measles wanted to play.

This was the day Measles paid attention to our teaching him to climb higher on the tree.
 He climbed higher, barking for our attention, then he climbed the limb that stretched over the barn's tin roof, jumped off, scurried across the hot tin and jumped into the barn lot. Bobby and I ran to get Measles. While we were playing with the dog, Billy goat ran, head down, butting position, and hit Measles so hard that he was thrown across the lot, knocking both of us down as well.
   Measles was dead.

Bobby and I were too scared and didn't know what to do. How were we going to explain why that dog had gotten into the barn lot? After all, we had never told Daddy that we had befriended the dog and certainly never told him we encouraged Measles to climb that tree. Like cowards we left that poor dog lying in the lot. I could hardly sleep that night.
Daddy was to find his precious hunting dog the next morning.

I feel ashamed and guilty now that neither Bobby nor I ever let Daddy know the real story behind his dog being found dead in the barn lot away from his pen.

Confession of an 9 year old farm boy.

© 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.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Dead Cousin

While working as an art therapist at Central Louisiana Mental hospital, I had the privilege of meeting John, who had been hospitalized for over ten years without any visitors during all those years. He had therapy an hour a week for over a year. John never said a word during any of these visits.

 I furnished him with crayons, markers and a piece of paper.

At first he just sat there staring at the paper never attempting to draw anything, or communicate with anyone. After about a month, he picked up a black crayon and drew a single face that filled the entire page. In the area of the cranium, there was a black void. When he was finished, he got up and walked out the door. The next week, and all those afterwards, John would come in, sit in his chair and draw one face and leave. The cranium was always dark and ugly. In the rest of the face, there might be rakes or teeth or houses or people, or snakes or animals; things that were probably on his mind. John never talked. Just came in, drew and left.

One morning, after about a year, John came in as usual. Sat down and began drawing, as I had begun to call them, his self-portrait.   
 He began talking to himself. I had never heard him utter a single word before so I sat next to him and listened.

  “I came upon the dead yesterday. It was Tuesday, 8 PM. I had only a pair of undershorts on and no shoes. She called me on the phone. I don't have a phone, had to go next door. My aunt said that Bubba didn't answer and wanted me to check on him. He is old, lost most of his hair and has no teeth. He has teeth but don't wear them, not even to eat, afraid he will swallow them. They don't live together. He used to beat her up.
I walked down the gravel road. Didn't put my shoes on. The gravel hurt. I got there and had to knock on the door. Got no answer but I knew he was there so I climbed in the window. Had to get a bucket from the shed to reach it and then a board to break the kitchen window so I could get in the house. Scratched my knee climbing in that window. Got a little blood on his window. Had to look at that red blood a bit.

Oh, my Lord, he was lying there in the middle of the kitchen. He had heart trouble, went to the doctor a lot for that. I could tell he was dead. He had his hand up over his head like he was looking for something that might be under the house. His feet were crossed, the left one over the right. His left shoe was off and over away from him. He was cold. I could tell he was deadener a pecker wood. Had his face down on the rug and his hand up over his head like he was trying to see what was under the floor boards, or praying to Jesus, begging for mercy. Oh, my Lord, he was my second cousin, on my mama's side. The mama that put me in here cause she said I weren't right in the head. I ain't never come up on a dead man like that with his hand up over his head. He weren't looking for nothing cause he didn't have his glasses on. Must of been praying.

Used to go to the Baptist church in the 50's. When he was young. The one out there in the woods over by Jena. Taught me Sunday school. Taught me about Jesus and the 12 merry men that ate fish and loaves of bread.

Ain't teaching no more, stretched out dead on that floor like he was searching for Jesus.
I didn't know what to do. I yelled for help. I don't have no phone. Have no use for those things. The woman what has the phone, the Indian woman, she's pure Indian, came running. Married my daddy's cousin during the war. She ran next door and called for help. Some men came in a big old car with lights all a flashing. They took one look and started to move the man. I said I didn't see no need to move him to a comfortable spot cause he was deadener a pecker wood. Lying there looking like a statue. They moved him anyway and that arm stayed up over his head. Man was stiff. Been dead a long time, they said. I said, we could put a flag in his hand and stand him out by the mail box, he was so stiff.

They carried him out with his feet crossed and I began to quote the Bible. I said, 'I have come to prepare a place for you, so that you may be there too. Do not be afraid for the place I prepare is better than that cold floor you were lying on.' Jesus said that. Before they took him out the door, I grabbed my cousin and began to shout prayers at him. But he didn't hear me cause he was deadener a pecker wood. I was told to always pray for the dead. I sure did that. Yes, sir. I knew my aunt would want to know what happened to Bubba since she used to be married to him. I made them take a picture of me holding that hand that was searching for Jesus. Like we was praying together or something.”

John was quiet for quite a while after that. As John finished his self-portrait, he gave me a wink and said, “When mama sees that picture I took then she will know which one is crazy. Yes, sir. She will know it should of been her in here instead of me.”

John suddenly placed his hands over his ears, closed his eyes and shook his head, as if removing all the evil thoughts that haunted him, before standing and stretching. He looked at me for the first time and said, “Won't be back no more. Gotta go to a funeral.”

John walked out.

I looked at his portrait and the cranium was clear and not scribbled or colored in black. There were no strange drawings about the face.
Perhaps John cured himself.

John died one week later and was buried on the grounds with no family members present.

© 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.