Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Shetland Ponies

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.

© 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, June 1, 2016

Mama and the Governor's Party at the Heidelberg Hotel

The year was 1960. I was a junior in high school. Daddy was in the state senate and Jimmy Davis was the Governor. Although I had been down to Baton Rouge many times while the legislature was in session, this was the first time I went as a worker. I was daddy's Senate Page. It really isn't as glamorous as one might expect. Prestige yes, well, to those home, anyway, I guess. 

We senate Pages, mostly spent our days being the go-fers for whatever any senator needed. We would fetch newspapers, cigars, cigarettes, water, notes to other senators, lunches or snacks from the cafeteria, and on several occasions, I would push the yea or nay button for daddy, if he was across the room filibustering, when a vote was called. O.K. I confess. I got to do that only once and only because I had just delivered something to his desk and happened to be standing there. I don't even remember what bill I voted yea for.
Daily we sat in a room on uncomfortable folding chairs, in our white shirts and ties, name tags visible, waiting to be called for assistance. On two occasions I was sent to fetch a senator's wife from a hotel and once I delivered a steak from a restaurant across town. But, mostly, we sat in our own little room just outside the chamber waiting as if we were horses at a race at Louisiana Downs. A buzzer would sound, a name called and off we'd run with a smile on our face and our best manners on our sleeve. Rushing about being “boys” for the important people. I got to hear a lot of interesting debates from that room, though, and enjoyed hearing the ins and outs of daily proceedings. I walked taller as I bustled about the state capital building on my errands.

Being a senator's son and a Senate Page had its perks too. In the evenings, we'd visit expensive restaurants with lobbyists as they wined and dined daddy and other politicians, usually at the lobyists expense. On several occasions a fancy party or two was held. Which brings me to the parties. They were mostly boring and loud but usually became entertaining as the evening wore on and the drinks flowed. I remember one in particular.

It was a Friday evening, I had a date with Representative Munson's daughter and we were attending a party the Governor was throwing at the poolside deck of the Heidelberg Hotel. The weather couldn't have been more perfect. A cool breeze was wafting from the Mississippi river. The moonlight glistening over the water. Mother had come down for the event and everyone was having a grand time. The orchestra, from New Orleans, was gathered near the pool playing jazz. The men were dressed in tuxedos, the ladies in formal evening wear, expensive jewelry being displayed as if at a movie premier. Cocktails were flowing, people laughing. The Governor was in a tux and cowboy boots, entertaining guests with his stories while others were trying their best to get close enough to meet the Governor or pull him aside to promote their latest bill. Clusters of men were gathered in a corner discussing strategies or certain bills, smoke curling around their faces. The women were also clustered in small groups, some with noses in the air trying to out snob each other with their importance. My date and I were dancing in the moonlight, discovering we had absolutely nothing in common. 

Did I mention that cocktails were flowing? Well, they were flowing as fast as that Mississippi river was. As the evening wore on, the laughter became more raucous. People began swaying, not to the music but from the drinks. Suddenly, someone swaggered to the pool, placed a couple of hundred dollar bills at the end and shouted in his blurred speech, “Two hundred dollars to the first lady that will jump in the pool and swim to the opposite end.” My mother, who was not a drinker and was stone sober rushed to the pool side and with her floor length evening gown jumped into the pool, swam to the opposite end and grabbed the money. She then tucked the money in her bra and returned to her room. 

The laughter exploded as, suddenly, wives and escorts followed suit. Drunken women, wine glasses in hand, were splashing about in the water. One very inebriated senator tripped and fell face down into the pool, creating more laughter as he attempted to steal kisses. It was one glorious, bedlam moment. The attendants, working that night, began fishing everyone out and rescuing the cocktail glasses. Someone signaled the orchestra to begin playing again and the party went on as usual. 

When mama returned about an hour later, the band played “You Are My Sunshine” as she made her entrance, barefoot since she only had one pair of shoes, she said, and they were wet. People applauded. Later, I asked her, “Why?” “Why, indeed,” she laughed, “I can have as much fun as everyone else without even drinking. They didn't know the difference and, besides, most won't remember tomorrow anyway.” Which they didn't. Personally, I'm just glad the reporters were not there to record the fun and splash it all over the papers.

© 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.