My brother and I had not received our early wake up call from daddy, which consisted of him standing at our door and whistling shrilly, rudely waking us. First two notes (my signal) then three (my brother's). We learned to pop out of bed as he said, gruffly, “Out of bed, boys, time to hit the floor.” My brother usually made a very rude remark since he was a night owl and I, being a morning person, jumped up without a fuss. But this morning was different. He didn't come. I crept out of bed and walked down the hall toward their bedroom. He was still asleep and Mama was sitting on the bedside wiping his brow with a cold washcloth. My daddy was never sick! Never! Mama looked at me and whispered that Dr. Rozier was coming over and that I should go unlock the door. We found it really convenient having Dr. Rozier living next door...well, across from our pasture lane, anyway. He made many a house call for all of us through the years, except daddy. It was really weird to see daddy sleeping in bed, knowing the doctor was coming for him.
A few days later, daddy was still in bed and feeling rotten. Friends began to visit. One of his best friends brought over some magazines for him to read. Some of them were the National Shetland Pony Journal. Shetland ponies, originally from the Shetland Islands, are not miniature horses. They are taller, for one thing, and a breed all their own. This was a magazine devoted entirely to show ponies. Now, my daddy had a tendency to become totally involved in whatever really interests him. He will immerse himself in every aspect of his latest “hobby” until he masters it. Then he tires of it and moves on to new hobbies. We should have seen the signs coming about his new “hobby”since he read and re-read the journals, but we didn't. Maybe it was because he was sick and there were not piles and piles of magazines and books on the current subject strewn at his feet. Whatever the case, we had no idea that we were about to enter another adventure with daddy. Adventure? How about a whole new life style. When mama brought his breakfast the next morning, something she has always done...full meal, eggs, bacon, sausage, toast coffee and milk. Since they were married, she suddenly suspected trouble was brewing for he sat up in bed and started talking non stop about Shetland ponies. She cringed. Shaking her head, she knew in her heart that we would soon be owning, raising and showing Shetland ponies, if he had his way. Which he did. As soon as he was well, he set off for a show in Oklahoma with his friend and came home with two show mares. The adventure had begun.
So daddy bought Shetland ponies, not just any old Shetland, but pure bred ones. Ones with pedigrees and papers that made college graduates with doctorates look uneducated. You know, the more pure bred a pony the more expensive they were. Well, let me tell you, these were expensive ponies. We weren't rich. What did he do? Get a bank loan? We still don't know. Lucky that we had a hundred something acres on the old Baton Rouge highway near LSUA that we were farming, because houses were being built all around us on Jackson Street and our little pasture behind our house was getting boxed in by developments.
Mama wasn't sure where all this was headed with all these expensive mares pregnant from pedigreed studs wandering around in the pasture. She worried they would be stolen or hurt. She worried about all that money standing around eating hay. She worried where this was leading. She soon found out. That summer, Daddy built a wooden fence around the front acreage of the farm, up by the highway. My entire summer was spent painting that fence that year. Since it was creosoted wood it took several coats because the creosote would bleed through. I painted a coat of white on the fence. Then I painted two coats of aluminum, followed by two more coats of white. It took me two weeks to finish one coat and then I would begin again with the next coat. Of course, all this was in addition to all the other chores of taking care of feeding the cows we milked, helping bale hay and loading it in the barn. (I was the designated stacker because my brother deliberately messed up the stacks so he wouldn't have to do it. He got away with it too, but if I had done so, I, being the eldest son, would have to re-stack the hay). I also had to bush hog pastures and plant gardens, mow the yard. Oh, and of course there was always the chore of watering the camellia bushes...300 of them. I'm not sure if I slept that summer, come to think about it. When I complained about the extra time painting the fence, Daddy explained that this fence was needed so the now Camellia Shetland Pony Farm would look outstanding. Wait a minute. He said, “now” Camellia Shetland Pony Farm? Mama had a look of total resignation. Trucks and horse trailers were painted with the new logo. The barn was cleaned up and stalls installed to house the ponies. A training ring was built right next to the barn. (It needed painting, too, and yes, my brother got out of it by spilling paint and doing sloppy work). A horse trainer was hired. Our colors were decided.
We were in the business of training and showing Shetland ponies.
Our time now consisted of grooming the ponies, feeding and mucking stalls, preparing them to show. We began traveling around the country to Shetland pony shows....Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas. We entered shows, won ribbons and became well known in the Shetland pony world.
Meanwhile, Daddy became tired of traveling back and forth to the farm on the highway. We had already sold the back portion of the Jackson Street land and Brame Junior High was built where our cotton field used to be, off Prescott Road. That should have been a warning. The next thing we knew, we sold the house on Jackson Street and moved to the farm. But that wasn't all. Yea, daddy was still in politics, still had his pest control business and still loved sitting on a tractor all day but he was still restless. He wanted more from his Shetland pony adventure. Daddy decided to accept the nomination to become the National President of the Shetland Pony Association. He won. During this time, we expanded the business. He and three other men bought a champion stud named C-Jo's Topper for $56,000. This was in the late 50's and early 60's folks. Mama cried. They retired C-Jo and put him out to stud at another investor's home in Crowley. Eventually daddy bought off the other investors and we brought C-Jo home. Meanwhile, he purchased several mares, one for $16,000 and another for almost that. Mama cried again. We bred them. Our diversification was paying off. We had lots of customers willing to breed their mares. We continued entering shows, winning trophies and ribbons. Everything seemed so rosy at Camellia Shetland Pony Farm.
Everything wasn't always rosy tho. Daddy was frequently gone dealing with state senate business and committee meetings in Baton Rouge, and unaware of the day to day problems because mama didn't want to bother him. So I was the hired worker. We had birthing problems, deaths, injuries but we didn't bother Daddy until he came home. One of our mares had trouble with birthing and seemed to neglect her colt. We ended up bringing that colt to the house and raising it in my bedroom. Mama took advantage here and wrote the popular children's books “Easter Pony” and “The Show Ring” from this adventure, which sold all over the United States as well as foreign countries. (That's a story all itself.) Another time a different mare was in trouble, her colt was coming out feet first and I was the only one around. I had to reach in and turn the colt and help birth it before the veterinarian arrived. I enjoyed that and felt proud because I had a part in saving this valuable show mare. When we had a death, we had to have an autopsy. Everyone on the farm would head for the hills before the veterinarian arrived. Not me. I would help hold the horse while he cut it open, examining and concluding the cause of death, while asking questions all the time. Maybe I should have been a vet. Ha.
There are lots of other adventures around these few years with the ponies, like the Shetland Pony ride we developed, or when Dr. Glen Bryant, our pastor at Emmanuel got interested and joined the pony business. But, those are stories to be told later. Let's just end this by saying that Daddy did eventually become tired of the Shetland pony business, sold off his ponies and moved on.
Ah, life as a Blair sure has been unique.
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