PURPLE CLOVERS AND CORN BOILS
Back around the beginning of the 1960's, Daddy decided that the farm on Jackson Street was getting too crowded and bought one hundred something acres out on highway 71 near LSU-A. We moved the animals there and commuted from our house on Jackson Street to the farm daily. By 1963, the year I went off to college, the family moved. I love telling people that when I went off to college my family moved from the place where I grew up and left no forwarding address. Thankfully they really did let me know. This farm is where all the Shetland pony business took place and where I spent summers painting fences. The house was originally close to the highway but was later torn down. They moved to a house further down the pasture lane that we once rented to a professor at the college. The shed for the cars was kept, however, and became The Old Gray Mule vegetable stand. Lots of traffic began to pass. Daddy held fort in this shed, chewing his tobacco, wearing old worn out jeans and tobacco stained shirts. He played the part of the sharecropper's son well when he wasn't in Baton Rouge. At the front of the vegetable stand Daddy kept a jar, with a sign, saying, “Get what you want and put your money in the jar” for people to pay in case he wasn't there when they came to shop. Politicians stopped by on their way back and forth to Baton Rouge. (This was before the Interstate 49 was built.) That vegetable stand became a place to kick back, sit on a hay bale, visit and talk politics. I remember on several occasions Daddy might be further back on the farm on his tractor and people would stop by to see “the senator” for help. If he wasn't at the stand, then they stopped by the house. Mama would just smile and tell them to head back down the pasture lane and they would find him. I watched as they would slow down when they got near the area, look around and not seeing “the man” would walk out to the tractor and ask the hired hand plowing, “I'm looking for senator Blair,” they would say and Daddy, if he didn't want to be bothered would reply, tobacco streaming down his chin, “No, sir, I ain't seen the senator today,” and keep plowing. I always thought this so funny. They never recognized him. I'm sure they were expecting some plantation owner type supervising the hired help in a nice truck or something. We always got a good laugh out of that.
So Daddy grew sweet corn and started a menagerie of animals like white tail dear, geese, goats, a donkey and a Llama. The donkey was gray and Daddy claimed that was the inspiration behind the old gray mule name. But we all knew different. The corn was delicious. We ate more than our share all summer long. People came from miles around for this sweet corn.
At the end of the season, Daddy held his famous corn boils.
All his friends were invited.
Preachers, priests, rabbis, politicians,farm hands, church members and raconteurs like Daddy all mingled under the stars sitting on hay bales enjoying lively conversation, fresh boiled corn, brisket and whatever was brought.
Dr. Larry Taylor, Bishop Greco and Rabbi Hinchin at a Corn Boil
It was a regular pot luck dinner. Laughter was everywhere. Children were playing in the nearby barn on the hay bales, sometimes a Shetland pony was hitched to a wagon for the kids to enjoy. Men gathered in a corner talking politics and women bustled over the plates of food making sure everyone was fed.
If the crowd got too rowdy, or too much drink was consumed, Mama sent them home.
During this time, Lyndon B. Johnson was President of the United States from 1963 to 1969. Lady Bird began her highway beautification project not long after they moved in. At first millions of flowers were planted in and around Washington, D.C. for the enjoyment of tourists and residents. In October of 1965 the Highway Beautification Act was signed by the President. It was nicknamed the Lady Bird bill. Several states began some highway beautification programs. My daddy took notice. He was in the state senate from 1960-1964 and again from 1966-1976. He never pursued any legislation, that I am aware of, concerning highway beautification, but he paid attention to what Lady Bird was doing.
In 1975 Daddy lost his re-election bid to the Louisiana State Senate and decided that after eighteen years serving in both the house and senate, that he would retire and return to his roots of farming. Daddy still maintained his Entomology business through the Blair Pest Control and checked in on that periodically. His raising and showing Shetland Ponies was slowly being fazed out. Farming was his true love. He paid more attention to the grass growing on the highway now. It was tall and seldom mowed by the highway department.
If you have ever driven down Hwy. 71, South then I am sure you have noticed the beautiful wildflowers that line the highway toward LSU-A. My father is the one responsible for that. Daddy ordered wildflower and red clover seed and like Johnny Appleseed set about planting wildflowers from the overpass near Alexandria all the way toward Lecompte.
People came from everywhere to admire this beautiful highway. The newspaper ran a wonderful article about the senator and his wildflowers.
The highway was beautiful until the highway department decided that they needed to mow them down. It was their job to maintain the grass along the highway they said. “This was public land,” they said, “You can't be planting flowers on public land.” They started up their mowers. Daddy stopped them by having a sit in. He sat in a chair, surrounded by hay bales, on the property directly in front of the farm refusing to let them mow. The head of the department for the parish came to visit. There were words. They threatened to sue. Daddy went to Baton Rouge and talked with the Governor and the head of the Highway Department. They, eventually, let him keep his flowers and the mowers moved on. All this caught the attention of Lady Bird Johnson and she sent a nice hand written letter thanking him for his beautification interest. He had it framed for a while along with a signed certificate by the president.
Daddy planted more seed. The flowers bloomed. However, the thistles were a great nuisance as well as the Johnson grass. His solution? He would take his hoe and clean the weeds. Daddy had someone drop him off near Lecompte and then leave his truck on the side of the road half way back home while he worked his way down the highway getting rid of the weeds. So here was the old gray mule, himself, in the middle of the highway, a bottle of water in his pocket, his hoe in hand, wearing his old faded out jeans, tobacco stained shirt and a straw hat that had seen better days, working his way back to his truck.
On one occasion he stopped to rest on a culvert, wiping the sweat off his brow. A car passed by and slowed down, the driver and his wife staring out the window. A few minutes later the same car passed again going even slower. On the third pass the driver stopped. Rolling down his window the man asked, “Sir, are you O.K.?” Daddy nodded and sat there ignoring the nonsense, eating his sandwich. “Sir, can we give you a ride somewhere?” Daddy kept eating. Finally after a long silence, the man said, “Do you know where you are?” Daddy said, “Yea. I'm sitting here on this culvert, stopping to rest so I can eat my sandwich in peace before I start hoeing again getting rid of the weeds in my flower beds.” The couple was concerned and got out of the car, cautiously, walked up to daddy, the woman clinging tightly to her husbands arms. Daddy looked like he had been homeless for quite a while and not to friendly so the couple kept their distance. Finally the man said, “Sir, do your children know where you are?” Daddy stood up using the hoe for balance and let that man know, in no uncertain terms, exactly who he was and what he was doing and that he had a right to hoe the weeds on the roadway if he wanted to. He held up the hoe and said, “Now go.” The couple backed to their car, embarrassed, making a hasty retreat. Good ole' Cecil. You can't keep a good man down.
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