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Boy, could her mare soar.
Rhetta Mountjoy, 98, remembers racing her horse — fresh from the racetrack according to her recollections — down to her family home on Wildcat Road about five miles from town.
“And then I had a mare that I drove to school,” Rhetta said. “She came straight off the racetrack. She could really fly.”
Born on Jan. 20, 1915, Rhetta’s never left Anderson County. She’s lived in two places: her mother and father’s home on Wildcat Road and her current home — her late husband William Mountjoy’s horse farm off Fox Creek Road after she married Billy in 1939.
Never moved out of the state. Never moved out of the county.
Never had a desire to leave Lawrenceburg, Rhetta said.
Although many of her photos and mementos are no longer around (Rhetta said there were four fires in five years on her property), she still has her memories, almost a 100 years’ worth of what life was like in Lawrenceburg.
After spending almost a century in Anderson County, Rhetta’s seen a distillery burn down and a real wildcat on its namesake road. She parched corn and made her own lye soap as a newlywed in the late ‘30s.
She watched her father drive their first car, one of the first automobiles that anyone owned on Wildcat Road, in circles in a field because he didn’t understand how to make the vehicle stop.
Every December the family brought up watermelon from the family cellar to eat on Christmas morning.
“Life was quite different than it is now,” she said.
As a child born just after the turn of the century and the end of World War I, Rhetta said she lived on a farm with her mother and father and five other siblings.
Rhetta’s mother raised turkeys, and Rhetta said she spent hours chasing them down. Her father was a carpenter, a school superintendent for Union School and raised corn, alfalfa, tobacco and sheep.
Her siblings held funerals at the burial ground for lambs that didn’t make it. Rhetta wrinkles her nose at the memory; she didn’t care much for sheep.
Rhetta remembers the Wildcat Road house fondly, a two-story home with a fireplace large enough that you could sit at the edge of the hearth. Rhetta said she still has the chair she used as a child.
Although surrounded by wildlife on Wildcat Road, Rhetta said she was very much an indoor girl. She hated killing hogs, for one.
“Oh lordy the work,” she said. “I just hated all that grease and things.”
Rhetta never learned to milk a cow; she preferred housework and would get 15 cents for every shirt she ironed for her brothers.
She said she’d ride on a sleigh pulled by her older brothers — Rhetta is the third oldest and the only surviving sibling of her family — to the Tyrone School in the wintertime.
She graduated to a pony and cart to school at Kavanaugh School, and would include a warm liner in the cart when the cold wind and snow came.
Once, as a girl, she rode bareback dressed in pajamas down to Tyrone, she said.
“My mother didn’t think that was proper,” Rhetta said. “But they were nice pajamas. They were blue with stars on them.”
As a girl she would ride the ferry from Tyrone to Woodford County across the Kentucky River all day long with her best girlfriend whose uncle operated the ferry.
She bought her first Coke at a store in Tyrone near the ferry.
“And we didn’t like it, so we carried that Coca-cola [with us] all day long,” she said.
Rhetta said she was once quite the artist. With the help of her daughter, she sketched a horse design to be made into a stained glass artwork for her living room wall along with matching horse lamps. She created posters for her high school, mostly to get out of class, she said.
Rhetta met her husband, William David “Billy” Mountjoy II through her brother. Billy was her brother’s best friend. According to Mountjoy, Billy kept pestering Rhetta to date him.
One day as Rhetta was leaving the livery stable where students kept their horses until school ended, Billy caught hold of the back of the buggy Rhetta was riding to try to stop it.
Rhetta said she died laughing at Billy.
They went with each other off and on for about 10 years, Rhetta said, until they finally married in Nov. 3, 1939. Almost got him on Sadie Hawkins Day, she said, when girls ask boys out.
Her husband took over his family business, raising saddlebred horses at one of the oldest breeding farms in Kentucky, in 1950. Her late husband and her son David Mountjoy, who still lives with her at the family farm in Fox Creek, were inducted into the Horse Show Hall of Fame this past August for their work in the horse industry.
Rhetta said she kept the books and is pretty skilled at counting in her head, even though she said she wasn’t too good at arithmetic in school.
Helping out with the Mountjoy horse business is one of the things she’s most proud of doing in her life.
“Well, let me see, I guess raising my children and them turning out so well and keeping books at the farm,” she said when asked what she was most proud of.
Nowadays Rhetta said she enjoys being kept “in the mix” with phone calls and letters from faraway friends she’s met through attending horse shows and selling horses.
For her last birthday, she got messages from friends all the way from South Africa and Australia.
She doesn’t know exactly where she’s going in the next few years, but Rhetta can tell you where she’s been.
“It’s been quite a life,” she said.