Honoring the Blackstones…
On May 13, 2019, Manatee County Agricultural Museum offered a post on their Facebook page honoring Faye Blackstone. This year the museum is celebrating their 20-year anniversary. As a child in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I lived on the Quarter Circle A ranch on State Road 62 seven miles east of Parrish, Florida. My memories of Faye and her husband, Vick, are captured in several chapters of my memoir, Growing Up Floridian:
From “Cowboy Hat,”
Being given a battered, sweat-stained Eddy Brothers cowboy hat would not excite a modern urban kid, but my first hat, many sizes too big, produced my most delighted grin. Vick Blackstone took the battered hat from a hatrack covering the wall behind his kitchen door and plopped what once was a creamy white straw cowboy hat on my head. The sweatband rested on my nose, obscuring my vision. The sweat stains and dirt smudges spoke of long hours of serious ranch work completed by Vick under that hat. Several fancy pristine Stetsons of white, tan, and black adorned that rack, his goin' to town or to a rodeo collection. A couple of other old well-worn work hats still hung from the bottom pegs.
"If you're going to live on this ranch, you have to dress like a cowboy, son. Let me show you how to make this hat fit."
He retrieved the lid, laid the hat on the kitchen table brim up, and grabbed several paper napkins from a kitchen counter. His gnarled, scarred hands spread the napkins out lengthwise on the table and began to fold each one into two inches strips over and over….
From “First Paying Job,”
In the summer of 1958, I worked my first paying job. I was seven years old.
A twenty-acre tract of land on the Quarter Circle A Ranch had been subjected to a controlled burn and bulldozed to eliminate small oaks, pines, myrtle bushes, thistle patches, and cabbage palms so Bahia grass and white clover could be planted for cattle grazing. A few isolated mature oaks and pines were left, creating islands that would offer shade for the cattle. Saw palmettos, the dominate growth on the acreage, required more labor intensive work than just a fire and uprooting of the visible trunks by a bulldozer. The fire would get rid of most of the fronds that had sharp teeth running down both sides of the stem, which could rip ragged gashes in skin, but the clumps of palmetto bushes had a root system that tied together adjoining plants beneath the surface and were hard to clear out. A tractor pulling a disc harrow plowed the field several times, cutting up the root system into pieces that could be removed by hand, after the bull dozer had cut through most of the trunks and pushed them into huge piles at the perimeter of the pasture. A lot of work remained before the land would be ready for grass.
The ranch foreman, Vick Blackstone, told my brother and me that he would pay us a silver dollar a day to walk along beside a flatbed truck and toss saw palmetto roots and trunk pieces up on to the truck bed. Vick's enticement, shiny new silver dollars, produced a visible bulge in his Levi's right front pocket. He pulled out a few to enhance his sales pitch.
"You can earn a handful of these by the end of the week," he chuckled as he winked at us.
My brother and I were sold….
From “Faye Blackstone,”
Until Smokey and I were invited into the Blackstone's house one afternoon for freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies by Faye, Vick's wife, we really didn't know how famous they were in the cowboy world. They had been managing the Quarter Circle A Ranch since the early 1940's, and we knew they both still performed in some local rodeos. A couple of pictures hanging on the wall in the kitchen of Vick as a young bronc rider caught my eye, and, as I walked closer I recognized a much younger Vick.
"Wander through the house, boys, and look at all the pictures if you want," Faye suggested.
The entire house was almost an art gallery or photo exhibit dedicated largely to the cowboy and his cowgirl. Vick and Faye had been photographed on horseback in many well-know rodeo arenas, standing beside beautiful horses, performing all kinds of rope tricks, and standing with many famous people. Action photos caught them as young rodeo performers at the top of their profession.
Faye, who enjoyed an audience, described how she and Vick met when they were both rodeo performers, and a picture of them getting married on horseback in 1937 was evidence she pointed out to back up her story….
Faye and Vick are also characters in the two volume novel, Natalie, A New England Girl with Cowboy Dreams and Natalie’s Dreams Take a Tropical Twist.
Chapter 6 August 1944
Natalie and Mary marveled at the Thursday evening crowd of cowboys and dude ranch guests assembled on the ranch house porch waiting to enter the dining room, knowing the hall could hold just over one hundred diners. "Howdy Ma'am," "Excuse me," and a few low-toned wolf whistles directed at the girls as they threaded their way through the doorway and past the overflowing lounge drew both smiles and blushes from them as the pair headed to the central table in the dining room that seated twelve. Frank pointed to the only empty chairs on opposite sides of a striking blonde woman wearing a cream-colored, snap-buttoned western shirt and a red cowgirl hat that lay atop shoulder-length hair and was held in place by a matching red drawstring hanging at her throat like a simple necklace.
"Let me make the introductions," Frank began as he stood and pulled Mary's chair out for her. "You girls, Natalie, on the left, and Mary, on the right, are lovely bookends for Faye Blackstone, trick rider and barrel racer extraordinaire. On the other side of you, Natalie, is Vick Blackstone, Faye's husband and famous five-event champion cowboy. Next to him is Susie Weyburn, our local barrel racing star. Then, we have Herman Linderman, another championship-winning cowboy who will give Vick a run for his money in most of the events. Next to him is Joanne Simmons, our rodeo queen this year. Then, we have Roger Babcock, our announcer, who will describe you as representatives of Ed Havey's Riding School up in New Hampshire when you start each performance of our rodeo presenting the flags with Susie. Callie Smith, the stunning redhead, is one of our rodeo queen's attendants as is the charming Betty Ann Carter. Now that everybody knows everyone else dig into the grub and get to know one another."
Natalie turned to Vick with a slightly puzzled smile and asked, "Can you explain what a five-event cowboy means, Mr. Blackstone? I haven't heard the term before."
Vick brushed a lock of black hair off his forehead and returned Natalie's smile. With a noticeable Texas drawl, Vick insisted, "I'm Vick. My grandfather would be Mr. Blackstone. Rodeo folk aren't real big on formalities. A five-event cowboy is one who competes in all the main competitions: bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, calf roping, and bulldogging. If a cowboy competes in all those events, even though each go-round may last only eight seconds or less, he's pretty whipped at the end of the day. Every event is a battle with an athletic animal that wants to get away from the cowboy or wants the cowboy to get off him."
The memoir and the two volume novel are available on Amazon.