It is during this horseracing “season” of the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness that we’re interested in horseracing. It’s the only time of the year we are. We laugh at some of the horses’ names and lean into the TV as the gates open, our excitement reaching a crescendo as the horses reach the finish line. Other times of the year, we hardly know the sport exists.
My wife Arlene’s interest comes from memories of her mom’s interest in horseracing and growing up in Havelock and of the Colonial Grocery or A&P Food Store. She can’t rightly remember which one. Maybe one of my readers can help her recall.
Arlene remembered her mom watching the horses parade into the starting gates and saying “Oh, she could win because of her long legs” or “he could win because of his broad chest” and then standing in front of the TV jumping up and down, her fists raised in the air encouraging her selected “winner” to win.
She also remembers that instead of S&H Green Stamps being given away at the Colonial Grocery nearby Bob Clark’s on US 70 (or it could have been the A&P that followed after the Colonial closed—she can’t remember which one because that was way back in the early 1960′s), with your receipt the food store would include a picture of a horse labeled with its name. When on Saturday night the horse race was televised, her mom would be in front of the TV, excitingly bouncing up in down on the couch, imaginary reins in her closed fists, egging her horse on so she could win some china or cutlery from the food store if her pictured horse won the race.
On the other hand, my modest interest in horseracing comes naturally, even if I don’t honor it by more than a passing interest. Horseracing is in my blood.
My paternal grandfather Joe Fetzer was a horseman. He raised and raced thoroughbreds and, through his feed store, sold horse feed, hay, and hardware to the multiple race tracks near Bedford, Ohio, … Cranwood, Randall, Thistledown and Ascot Park … from the 1930s through the 1960s. As a kid I remember visiting the racetracks with my grandfather and the pungent sounds and smells wafting from the stalls.
Joe’s wife, my paternal grandmother Mary, was no fan of horsemen even though she was married to one. A woman who preferred to my knowledge no specific religion, Mary leaned toward Jehovah’s Witnesses, often inviting their missionaries into her home for spirited discussions about Hell and damnation, which in her opinion also wafted from the racetracks.
In 1933 at the age of nine, my dad wrote in a diary words that so clearly came from his mother, Mary, that it’s as if she is standing here right now, wagging her finger, and proselytizing herself. Dad wrote, “My dad (Joe Fetzer) sells feed to the men at the race track who are the scum of the earth. I go with my dad some times and the men at the tracks are on the devil’s side because they swear and curse. A great war Armageddon is coming and I pray every night that I will be saved and I try to be on God’s side.”
Pretty heavy stuff for a 9-year-old. My dad never burdened me with such fire and brimstone but my grandmother must have been raising him to fear racetracks, or at least the people working there.
And she succeeded. I never saw an ounce of interest in horseracing from my dad, although he never forbade his dad from taking me to the tracks. I’m sure Mary must have found the men at the track boorish, rough, ill-bred, uncultivated, tasteless, and vulgar... the hoi polloi of Bedford, Ohio...with whom she wanted nothing to do. Except for one small exception that she bred two sons (including my dad) with a member of that hoi polloi, her horseman husband and my grandfather.
There used to be a British TV comedy show called, “Keeping up appearances” about a woman who tried to publically portray a higher position in society than she actually had attained. Maybe that was my grandmother. Still, I remember her as a good, loving woman who must have tempered her harder edges by the time grandkids came along.
Apparently, sailors have nothing on horsemen in the cursing department and I do remember some very ripe language (as well as odors) when I accompanied Joe Fetzer to the racetracks as a kid just as my dad had done with his father thirty years earlier. With my grandfather temporarily out of sight, I got my first (and last) taste of plug tobacco as a 9-year-old boy from one of the “uncultivated” men there. I chewed it, swallowed it, saw stars, and promptly threw up to great guffaws by that “scum of the earth”.
So between Arlene’s memories in Havelock and mine at the race tracks in Bedford, Ohio, we celebrate the Triple Crown, our heritage of horse racing lovers, the beautiful animals that race, and the hoi polloi from whom I’m bred that make these races possible.
Barry Fetzer of Hubert is a Tideland News contributor.