As a college undergraduate in the mid-60’s, I taught myself how to play guitar. One of my favorite songs (probably because it was easy to play), was “Foolish Questions”. As an example of “foolish” questions the song included asking someone who was putting shaving cream on their face if they were getting ready to shave or asking someone lying at the bottom of an elevator shaft after falling five stories if they were hurt.
I can add another question to that list. Few days go by that someone doesn’t ask me, “Do you like purple?” My answer is usually, “No, I can’t stand that color!”, since the reverse is so obviously true.
I own purple towels and sheets, as do many people. My office appointments are purple and that is not so unusual. I also own four 4-piece place settings of purple dishware, a purple blender, purple ice cream maker and a purple microwave – fewer people are still in the “game”. More are eliminated when we go into the living room. And, I don’t know anyone who can stay in the “kitchen” when the “heat” includes a pair of handmade, full-quill ostrich, cowboy boots. Care to guess the color? So what is it about purple and me? Come sit on my purple leather couch and I’ll tell you the story.
My purple wearing “obsession” began in 1988 when I resigned from Louisiana Tech University and started training racehorses full-time. That was when I ordered over $4000 worth of nylon tack and equipment in purple with white overlay. That was when I started wearing a purple shirt almost every morning.
One day in 1998 I was teaching a “Racing 101” class at Sam Houston Race Park, and one of the SHRP employees asked the same question I had heard over a thousand times, “What is the significance of all this purple?” As in previous classes, I explained the practical reason I used purple tack and wore purple shirts while I was training full-time. But, that employee was not satisfied. “There must be more to it than that” she said. I thought for a bit a decided that I also wanted to know when and how I first “connected” with the color purple.
I spent two years of the early eighties learning Gestalt therapy from Dr. Doug Greve in Shreveport, Louisiana. One of the processes that Dr. Greve taught as a way of understanding feelings was to ask questions such as, “Have you ever felt this way before?” and “What is the earliest you can remember feeling this way?” After that Racing 101 class I found a quiet place and used those questions to “travel” back through my pre-1988 experiences looking for the color purple.
During the 15 years I was at Louisiana Tech University, I was adviser to Block and Bridle, an Animal Science departmental club whose colors are royal purple and navy blue. Block and Bridle was an important part of my life at both Louisiana Tech University and Louisiana State University where, as an undergraduate, I was Block and Bridle president for two years. Even though my experience of joining LSU Block and Bridle was a turning point in my life (but, that is another story), our club jackets were red.
I attended graduate school at Oklahoma State University and their colors were orange and black. I liked “Pistol Pete”, our cowboy mascot a lot, but never was a big fan of orange and black.
People that know I went to LSU figure that was where I developed my purple appreciation. While it is true that the shade of color that makes up LSU’s “purple and Gold” is the shading of purple I like, and while it is true that I wear LSU monogrammed clothing today, my time travel “pod” did not land between 1963 and 1967.
I attended 11.5 years of “prep school” at Woodlawn High School of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Our colors were purple and white and our mascot was a Purple Panther. I remembered liking our purple. It was the grape Popsicle Purple that I love today. I remembered how beautiful I thought our new football uniforms were when, after six years of wearing off white pants and white jerseys with purple numerals, our team ran on the field in purple uniforms with white trim. I loved my purple athletic letterman’s jacket, not just because it represented athletic participation, but also because I thought it was beautiful.
Everybody has “prep” school colors. Many people have college affiliations and proudly wear the color of their beloved college - regardless of whether they actually attended that college or how ugly that color might be. If that was the only reason I wore purple, then I was just another fanatic. I knew this was not some fanatical loyalty, so I had to travel farther back. Back before I played varsity basketball; before I played junior high football; before I played elementary football (the earliest I remembered putting on a purple jersey and liking the color); back to the winter of 1952 – ’53.
My family moved to the farm on Doyle Road south of Baton Rouge (where my mother still lives today) in 1951. After some initial pasture cleanup and fence repair, my dad bought three Brahman-cross calves in the first group of cattle for the farm. Dad let us three older McLellan children pick one each and we named them Blackie, Brindle and Blondie. Blackie was mine and I liked going to the barn and petting him while he ate. One cool winter afternoon I decided to wear a new Woodlawn High School sweatshirt that Dad had bought in support of the athletic booster club. I loved the feel of that sweatshirt. It was soft and warm and had a puffed Purple Panther on the front. When I got to the barn Dad had already fed the three calves and Blackie was in the middle. I wanted Blackie to come out and play with me, so I walked up behind him and swatted him on the rump. I learned a lesson that day about the quickness of a cow and another about the power of a jab. As surely as I had flipped a switch and activated a piece of machinery, one of Blackie’s rear legs jabbed quickly backwards and nailed me in the chest. I vividly remember falling backwards in what seemed like slow motion. I remember thinking as I was falling, “so this is what it’s like to die”. I landed hard and the air was bounced from my chest, but I don’t remember any pain. Expecting to find out what angels looked like, I was surprised when I realized I was still alive. I felt a crying well up behind my cheeks, but decided not to waste the energy since there was no one around to hear me cry.
Along with a little dirt from the barn floor I swallowed that cry. As I regained my breath I did a “mental body check”, I didn’t feel any major pain. My head was a little rattled and my butt was a little sore, but no body part was out of place. And then “it” happened. The middle of my chest hurt and I looked down to the point on my body where I expected to see a big hole. What I saw was the mark of a small cloven hoof square in the middle of that puffed Purple Panther. I remember running a finger down each crevice of that “bruised” panther. I remember being glad I was alive. As a boy early in my eighth year, I didn’t think that the color of that panther was significant. Forty-five years later, however, when I traveled back in time to find my “purple connection”, this is where I “landed”.
Maybe I feel that as long as I’m wearing purple nothing bad can happen to me. Maybe I wear purple because I have a lot of good memories from my high school and college days when the schools I went to used purple as one of their main colors. Maybe I like purple because a significant part of my life revolved around Block and Bridle, whose colors included purple. MAYBE I wear a lot of purple because I think it’s a really beautiful color.
So now we have an esoteric understanding of my connection to purple. What about that practical reason?
Remember that $4000 worth of nylon racing tack I bought when I started training racehorses full-time? There were two main reasons for that purchase. Reason No. 1: I liked the color for the reasons we just discovered. Reason No. 2: I wanted to stand out. I wanted to have a unique “signature”. Jack Van Berg’s stable colors were purple and gold. Hoss Inman wore purple suits. But no racehorse trainer that I knew used purple bridles with white overlay.
At first my students at Louisiana Tech thought I was crazy. They could not believe that I was willing to spend over $4000 on tack that they knew was going to be ugly. For my “going away” party, those students decided to purchase an extra bridle so I’d have one I could use as a “race bridle”. Many of them had not seen the tack before I opened the box and pulled out their gift. I got the reaction I had hoped for and, frankly, had expected. Without exception each of them thought that bridle was the best looking racing tack they had ever seen.
During my seven plus years of full-time training, many of the people I trained with, vendors I bought supplies from, and fans in the grandstand may not have known my name, but they knew “the purple guy”. I expected my grooms to wear purple shirts to the paddock when we ran a horse, so I bought shirts they selected. When we led a horse to the paddock, people were going to know that the C. Reid Racing Stables was in town. Our runners wore that purple and white “gift” bridle. They were resplendent in purple paddock coolers, purple and white braid holders and purple silks with white trim worn by our jockeys. My owners showed up in purple blouses, shirts and ties. No other horses walked to the paddock with a custom-made purple bandana around their necks. We stood out from the rest of the group because of the color of our tack, so we were vigilant about our presentation. We wanted to look better than everybody else - no shavings in a tail, no dirty spot on a rump, no crusty noses – because people were going to take notice. Many times that first year fans complemented us with, “you had the best looking horse in the paddock”.
I tie this together for our employees (and for those of you that bravely persisted through this story this far) to make this point - Everyone has a “signature”. For a racetrack, its employees are its “signature”. Fans evaluate a racetracks performance based on their contact with those employees. After all, racetrack employees get to work at a place that many racing fans expect to be a fun place to work. Regardless of whether racetrack employees agree, our livelihood depends on those racing fans and the experience they have when they visit our racetrack. You can apply this same principle to your line of work.
Each person puts his or her signature on something at one time or another. Some practice for hours to develop a unique written signature. Some scribble something down that may or may not be legible to others. Still others make a mark that must be witnessed. Regardless of how a person signs his or her name or whether they were wearing purple when they signed it, their actions each day leave a “signature” that is remembered long after those written signatures have faded.
There’s a country song on the radio right now, sung by Randy Travis, that I think conveys the message of “my” color. "It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it’s what you leave behind you when you go.”