Friday, August 26, 2011

1957 Letter to Celebration Manager

* From "The Blue Ribbon", 1957


Dear Sam,

Save our box for the Celebration. Frances will send you a check when she gets to it. I reckon there have been some times when we couldn't afford the Celebration, but doggone, we made it anyhow.
Linda got our our Jimmy Richardson records, you know, our "Horse Show" records, on Christmas Eve so we have been kinda getting ready for the Celebration ever since. Of course, we have some other records. Sometimes we listen to Elvis, sometimes Little Richard, mostly right now Tommy Sands and Sonny James. But back to the Celebration.
Sam, I think I oughta tell how how this Clemmons family feels about the Celebration. You know, in 1947, just after I got out of the Navy, maybe six or seven  months, I first heard about the Celebration. Well, compared to Navy pay, the money I was making then was sure 'nuff amazing. So Frances and I hired a baby sitter for Philip and Terry, rented a plane, and flew up to Shelbyville. Planned on watching the show on Friday night and then flying on home on Saturday morning. The bug didn't quite bite us but it started gnawing. The next morning, instead of flying home, we figured we might as well spend another day. We had read the ad about "101 Walking Horses" so we called the number. I reckon the same thing has happened to countless thousands of people. We were picked up in front of the hotel in a Cadillac--I believe we stepped on a red velvet carpet to get in--and then the pitch started. We walked all over the pastures and actually didn't plan on buying a thing. Both of us felt kinda guilty though not buying anything after we had been given such royal treatment. Of course the next day, by mid-afternoon, Frances and I both had warmed up to the horse business. Saw a beautiful black mare. Decided we wanted her. Sam, remember how it used to be when some guy like me who didn't know siccum about horses would get right in the middle of a group of horsemen? I guess they just don't do it that way any more, but believe me it sure used to impress me when somebody would say, "Now this little mare is a half sister to the World's Champion Walking Horse." Sometimes it was an uncle or a great aunt or even a daughter, but it used to amaze me that the Champion could have so many relatives. Well, this particular day, Frances and I liked this mare. Forgotten how she was related to the Champion. Must have been feeling good. Had a couple of bucks. Wanted to buy a horse.
Well, one of my new found friends said flat footedly, "Now here's a mare that has real show horse ways." And we figured that was something pretty good so we bought her. Well, if "show horse ways" amounts to trying to paw down the barn, trying to hug you with both front legs every time you walk in the stall, snapping her teeth at you every time you got within twenty feet of her, that mare had "show horse ways." She didn't worry me too much when she bit Terry on the head, didn't worry me too much when she knocked Philip down, didn't worry me too much when she fell over backwards and broke Frances's leg, didn't worry me too much when J.A. Till  said he absolutely wouldn't ride her, but I'll tell you, Sam, the day she tried to paw ME I decided I better get rid of her. Traded her off by telling some folks she had "show horse ways."
Of course, color and age are always good selling points. If a man wants to buy a black horse, no matter what the color is now, that horse will be black by the times it's five. Or, if a potential customer wants a five year old, then every horse in the barn will suddenly oblige and have a birthday.
What do we know about the Celebration? I reckon with Frances and me, then Vera May, her mother who lives with us, Philip who is now fourteen, Terry twelve, then Linda age six, Jane age two, and now Hank who is just about a year old, the Clemmons family probably has attended as many years of Celebration as any other family. Sure, some of the old timers have us beat, but I'm talking about total years of family attendance. Our total time at the Celebration is fifty-four years. Of course, this counts one year that Linda attended before she was born and a year each that Jane and Hank were present before they were born.
Sam, I don't reckon there is anybody in the world who doesn't like something. Some folks may not like horses; but they may like athletics, they may like people, they may like food, they may like drama, they make like music, they may like fresh air and sunshine---and rain---sometimes lots of rain. They can get them all at the Celebration! And I swear they'll end up liking the whole shebang if they attend one time.
Actually, a horse show is an athletic event with a lotta color and showmanship. If there's an individual in the United States who can attend the Celebration on Saturday night---watch five or six great horses hit that ring about  midnight, watch 25,000 people act like crazy---and not be impressed---he better call the undertaker. He just ain't interested in living.
Remember?  Carl Edwards used to come in on Big Man with Carl's head nodding every time Big Man's head nodded--the year that all horsemen kept gathering at the gate and adjusting their bridles---folks started calling it the filling station---Winston Wiser was so full of electricity sometimes you could see sparks---the time that Steve Hill and George Witt rode shoulder to shoulder and George was getting madder and Steve was getting smugger and we thought sure enough there would be a fight that night. But there wasn't. They were still friends when it was over.  Or the time that it looked to me like Vic Thompson was determined to make Winston Wiser's horse break and sure enough he did. Then they both laughed. Then both went to showing their horses.
The noise a coca cola bottle makes rolling down out of the grandstand. Big Tom Fulton on a big horse, showing that horse every step around the ring. Jack Darnell, an amateur, staying right in there with the big boys. Mr. Sanderson, always with a string of good horses. Skipper from Texas doing the flat foot walk. The smell of Absorbine, Jr. Country ham so salty you have to get up every hour all night to get a drink (of water). The night Bob Hughes did his own horse shoeing right out in the middle of the ring and then announced to the public in general that it took Bull of the Woods and Jack Daniels to hold up to this life. Bobby and Eddie Wiser, Doug Stubblefield, Doug Wolaver, Seline Garrett, showing ponies.
The lady in the box next to us with so many mink stoles and not objecting at all when Linda insisted on patting the fur with coke-sticky hands. Ed Ezell, Sr. dignified and honest. Carson Kidwell wearing a flat straw hat. Florida Queen Cigars. Beech and Go Boy Colts. Cadillacs. The Heinz girls. Celia Shruptrine and Judy Frost. Dr. Hardeman, senior citizen. The monotony of the special attraction by Friday night. Mud splattered faces all the way around the ring. Mud, mud and more mud. The Pachal front end on a horse. Zollie Derryberry who could make a mule nod his head.
The night the Tennessee Highway patrolman caught me for speeding and ended up selling me a horse trailer. The night the road horse got loose and everybody thought he would kill himself and lots of people. Clyde Tune in tune with everybody. Betty and Ed Ezell almost agreeing on a horse. White Star lapel buttons and the accompanying frenzy. The Texas cheering section. "Dixie" played by Jimmy Richardson. Mabron Magnusson still a bachelor. J.G. Walker built close to the ground.
White horse with the stars and stripes. A loose rabbit in the ring. Pocket knives and cedar wood. Tennessee politicians. Go Boy vs. Sun. Honest judges; sometimes blind, but  honest.  Harold Wise and Jack Warren, knowing they had the best mare in the world. The Murray Sale (every horse bred just like you like him and broke for a two-year-old girl to ride on a highway next to the railroad tracks)
The night I showed Lace and didn't get in the money but sure got in the mud. The night Frances showed her Fine Harness Mare;  mortaged horse; borrowed buggy; borrowed harness; and a hat that I paid forty-five bucks for. The year Philip and Terry had Mohawk hair cuts and got their pictures in the Nashville pater---Millions of other memories
Sure, Sam, the Clemmons family will be there. We'll load both cars with bicycles, makings for iced tea, baby food, disposable diapers, play pen, comic books, clothes for hot weather and clothes for cold weather, and raincoats, don't ever forget your raincoat 'cause one night it's sure enough going to rain. We'll get to the Sportsman's Motel Sunday afternoon before the Celebration starts. As usual we'll have cabins No. 1, 2, and 3. Ralph and Peg McAdams will be happy to see us. We'll be at the Celebration every day and every night. We'll eat country ham and hamburgers about every two hours. Every night after the show we'll congregate in one of the rooms, drink and little iced tea, and argue with Bobo, Dr. Taylor and Robert, Amy and Orval Willoughby, and our friends from Mobile, the family from Ohio, two couples from Minnesota will completely rehash the entire evening show. Then we'll sleep two or three hours and wake up bright and early so we won't miss a thing.

Yeah, Sam, we're coming to the Celebration and we're gonna stay in the horse business. It's the most pleasant way we know to spend a lot of money---or just to have fun!

Yours truly,

Lowell H. Clemmons, Sr., M.D.
Husband of Frances
Son-in-law of Vera May
Father of Philip, Terry, Linda, Jane, Lowell Henry, Jr, (Hank)

Office Hours 8-5 except during the National Walking Horse Celebration
Photography by John T. Morriss M.D.---my obliging partner who doesn't even know which way a horse is supposed to go

Tuesday, August 23, 2011