Friday, September 30, 2016


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.

© 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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Becky and Her Petticoats

It was the beginning of school in the late 1950's and Becky and I were together at Bolton High School. Well, together is an operative word that doesn't really apply here. We attended the same school would be a more accurate description. I was new to the school and had few friends from junior high and Becky had lots of friends. She was totally immersed in the whole high school thing and didn't want to be saddled with a little brother spying on her. I was too shy at that time anyway to be social. I know, you find that impossible to believe that moi could be shy but I wasn't until later that I discovered it wasn't necessarily a shyness. I was really just introverted. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Becky was a lot like daddy. She liked to have people around all the time. She was very social. Becky even belonged to clubs and hung out with the cool crowd at lunch time. She was a Bolton Booster and not just anybody could be a booster. I envied her for that. 

This was the era that petticoats were the thing to wear and saddle oxfords. Well, the saddle oxfords were really only worn by the boosters at football games but the petticoats were daily attire. The more layers the merrier. I believe Becky had five or six layers, which was probably the norm but I didn't make it a habit of finding out how many layers the other girls wore. Oh, I'm sure some guy kept tabs but it wasn't me. That amounts to about five yards of tulle for each petticoat. You do the math. The skirts stood out like the Egyptian pyramids...small at the top and very wide at the bottom. To watch one sit in those layers of clothing was a wonder to behold. One could never attempt to sit if their hands were holding books or something because it required both hands to press down on the skirt as they rear ended the chair because if they didn't then their entire body would disappear behind a mountain of tulle. I do believe that the school desks had that little shelf for us to write on solely to hold those layers of tulle in check. I remember seeing some girls popping out of those desks like a jack-in-the-box. They looked like a spring that had become uncoiled. Poof and all that fluff expanded as they stood.
Now, I realize that tulle by itself if gathered and sewn together properly will take up a lot of space and Becky did have the space to house these in her closet but I don't think they ever really saw the inside of that closet. Especially during the school week. I think these petticoats just stood at attention in the corner of her room each night like sentinels on duty. My brother would have loved to use them for cages for some of the pets he brought home. But that starch would have been noxious. 

Thankfully these undergarments didn't need to be washed on a regular basis because they were protected by the skirt itself but if they did need washing then Saturdays were the day she took care of this. We shared a bathroom and she had a standing reservation for the days of washing. Which meant that my brother and I were out of luck for using that room that day. Thankfully we were boys that lived in the country and knew how to take care of business when outdoors, you know what I mean? The room looked like a rainbow of clothes piled on the floor. Tulle everywhere in several shades of color. Becky hand washed each one of these in the tub and then ironed and starched them. Becky used Sta Flo extra strength. The industrial kind...undiluted. Honey, they were as stiff as some of the narrow minded Baptist women I knew at church. 

These were the years when Daddy was in love with camellias. He had seventy or so planted around the house and yard. The ones closest to the patio were again reserved by sister, Becky, for the drying of petticoats. There were more than enough for Becky to use, in fact, I'm surprised that she didn't invite all of the Bolton High girls to come share her daddy's camellia bushes on wash day. She could have had petticoat parties. They could have enjoyed washing and drying and starching and talking about boys and all the other girl stuff they talked about while they rolled their hair with those brush rollers secured by bobby pins. I can just picture a gaggle of girls sitting around the patio in their curlers with scarves on to keep the curlers from sticking their heads, sipping lemonade while they waited for their petticoats to dry. I think sister really missed a great opportunity. After she carefully washed and starched each one she took care to place each one on the top of the camellia bushes so they could keep their shape. She dared us to get near these as they dried in the hot sun. 

I'm grateful that she didn't invite friends because these were the same bushes that I was charged with watering. I spent my Saturdays with a hose and a timer, per orders from the Senator, watering each and every one of those seventy or so bushes, five minutes each. You get the picture. On petticoat days I made sure I watered those petticoat bushes after Becky had left the house with her friends or had her nose in a book. Oh, I know, I was only supposed to water the bushes at the bottom so as not to get the leaves wet in the hot sun for fear of scorching, but for some little reason those five or six bushes managed to get the total wash from head to toe.  I'm not sure if Becky ever realized that her starched petticoats were not as stiff as she intended but I know for a fact that they weren't. Thankfully all that starch didn't seem to affect the beautiful camellias. Even more, I'm thankful that Daddy or Becky never discovered about my watering habits.

© 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.

Saturday, September 3, 2016


It was the summer after the seventh grade and I was getting ready to go to the new Alexandria Junior High school. I was not happy. Becky, my sister, seventeen months older than me, went directly from the seventh grade to Bolton High School in the eighth. I would have to wait another year before I could go. I had looked forward to being in high school but now the new school was fouling up my plans. This was the summer that Becky started planning my life so I wouldn't embarrass her in front of her friends.

The whole summer seemed to be a totally messed up summer. My voice was changing, I had gotten a flat top that I hated and daddy decided I was old enough now to take on more responsibilities around the farm. I would rather day dream of being a trapeze artist or a bull rider. I would prefer going to the country club and swim in the pool all day or even better, spend hours watching our three year old television. I had discovered old movies. I was used to chores around the farm before but now I was a hired hand.

Daddy had me working from sunrise to sunset most days on the farm...granted, I still loved horses and didn't really mind being outdoors around my Trixie, but I did NOT like working in the fields all summer, baling hay or hoeing weeds in the corn field or picking cotton. It was hot, back breaking work with only a lunch break, at Tommy's Grocery Store, of honey buns, moon pies and R-ah C cola. While we worked, if I wasn't listening to Dave, who worked for us, or the occasional hired hands picked up from Samtown for day work, singing mournful and/or cheerful gospel songs then I spent most of my time day dreaming. I'd look at the huge cumulus nimbus clouds that gathered like gigantically soft pillows in the hot summer sun, dreaming of bouncing on them like a trampoline or falling backwards with my arms outstretched as if falling into a pool of refreshing water. If we were in the cotton field, I dreamed of the different things I could make with the open cotton bolls or how to make some floral arrangement with the cotton. When in the cornfield I thought of making corn shuck dolls. My daddy totally could not understand me. He came from blue collar people who were sharecroppers and worked with their hands. He had never been around artistic people much and for that manner, neither did I. I didn't quite understand my thoughts either. Mother did. She came from a long line of artistic people...artists and actors, musicians. I had not discovered that side of my family yet.

My weekends were free and were spent on my beautiful palomino, Trixie. I had trained her to rear up and spent hours riding. Sometimes I'd place her just under the garage roof and then climb and jump off that roof into the saddle, like Zorro. Or I would run up to her from the rear and leap into the saddle while pretending to chase the bad guys in black hats. Once or twice I would do a backward flip off the rear of Trixie. She was a gentle horse that put up with a lot. I often played cowboys and Indians by myself, because my brother was only eight and I was twelve, and he was too young to play with, nor was he interested, anyway. Becky spent all her time with her girl friends. Dear little Jane would have but she was only six. That was fine because I usually played best by myself anyway.

August was near its end and school would soon be starting. One Saturday, Becky decided that in order to keep me from embarrassing her, I needed a makeover. Mama and Daddy were both gone that day. We were alone. Well, Annabelle was somewhere around cleaning house but we, being free range children were left to our own entertainment. Becky pulled me aside, one of the few times she actually acted as if I existed, and said that several of her friends were going to peroxide their hair. It was the thing to do. “We should do ours too,” she said. I was reluctant but agreed, well, not really. Becky had a way of bossing me and I usually had no choice but to comply. “I'll get the supplies,” she ordered. “Meanwhile,” she continued, “you need to go wash your hair and put my conditioner on it. Just pat it dry with a towel. Don't use the hair dryer. It has to sit wet for thirty minutes. It works better that way. Go.” I did.

Becky gathered the peroxide and found some old towels. She got some cotton balls and a spray bottle. When I met her in the bathroom she said, “Now, I'm not quite sure how this works, but Marilyn said to use the spray bottle if we want to color our entire hair or to use the cotton balls if we want to do just a small part. She put streaks in hers. I'm going to do my entire hair like hers, but you with that flat top will look better just peroxiding the front. So I'll use the cotton balls on your hair. We're doing yours first.”
“Why am I going to be first?” I said. “Because, I'm doing it,” was her answer.

My hair was still wet so Becky had me sit on the tub while she carefully began peroxiding my hair. She took the cotton balls and wet the entire front. After that she made me go lie down on the grass in the full sun for thirty minutes. The hair began to change to an orange but Becky wasn't satisfied so she added more. By the time she finished I was showing a bright orange front on my flat top that I already didn't like. “Now, let's do yours,” I said. “I'm not doing mine now,” she said. “It's getting late. I'll do mine tomorrow.” We heard voices. “I better clean up,”she said. “Mama and Daddy are home.”

Mama hit the ceiling when she saw me. “Why?” was all she could say. “Becky did it,” I told her.
So I got in trouble for not standing up and saying no to Becky. I guess Becky got punished too for being bossy. At least I hoped she did.

The story doesn't end here. I was so mad at my sister for talking me into doing this that I took it out on our dear sweet, mostly black dog, Prissy. The first chance I got, I washed the dog and poured all the rest of the peroxide bottle and another bottle all over the dog covering her well. The next day after playing in the sun she began to change colors, strange, spotty and not so orange. Horrible colors.

Yes, I got punished again for my temper. Then mama informed me that since I had a fresh haircut when the deed was done I was not allowed to cut it again until it all grew out.

So I started Junior High with a peroxide streak against my coal black hair and no one else in the entire school had done theirs. I was alone and ostracized. Way to go sister! I felt you ruined my life...but then, you didn't really....after all, it was Junior High. We all ruined each others lives during those years.
Ah, the good old days of summer.

© 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.