That Darn Mule
By Vernon Garrison
While my brother Ralph and I were still in school my dad, Charles E. Garrison, Sr., went and bought a mule from Mrs. Bessie Bond. He wanted to farm some of Grandpaís fallow fields after Grandpa retired. I donít have any idea what he paid for that old mule, but what ever it was it was too much in the long run. I donít remember whether it was a jack or a jenny, not that it really mattered. I do recall that that old mule was small, smart and fast...oh how fast...and that did matter in the long run.
Now Ralph had a knack for farming. He could plow as straight and neat a furrow as anyone, Grandpa included. Where he learned or from who, I have no idea. I think he just could!
Anyway, he plowed good and I didnít plow worth a hoot. He enjoyed it and I could care less about plowing. I mean, who wants to plod along behind a muleís tail all day long?
So, we went to farming. When Dad was home from work he did the plowing and Ralph and I did the menials and followed orders. When he was at work he left instructions for us after school. Thatís when Ralph plowed and I did the menials and followed orders.
The first time Ralph plowed everything started out fine. The mule was doing itís thing and Ralph was doing his thing, and everything was going great. About an hour later, I guess, that darn mule mustíve decided that it had done enough of itís thing for the day. About half way down the furrow that darn mule turned and headed for the barn. It cut across that plowed ground, the plow cutting through the soil, with Ralph hauling back on the reins and yelling at that darn mule. When it got up to speed, something between about a trot and a half-run, Ralph just turned loose of the plow and gave his full attention to hauling back on the reins. Oh, he was a-sawing and a-jerking those reins, and all the time a-talking a mean streak to that darned old mule. Oh, it was loud, and it was blue, but that old mule seemed to run that much faster. Ralph had to quit dragging his feet and go to running. Fast as that darn mule was going, Ralphís running steps soon spread to four or five feet.
The plow was a-flopping up and down, doing cartwheels and such, while that darn mule bee-lined for the barn. Around the corner it flew, slinging the plow out to one side, Ralph all the time trying to stop that darn mule, or at least steer it. Another right turn through the corral gate and that darn mule threw on the brakes, slowed to a walk, and casually stepped into the stable.
I donít really want to go into what happened or what was said after that, but later Ralph and I unhitched the plow and unharnessed that darn mule, which looked like as if it hadnít even broke a sweat.
As it turned out, the tongue lashing Ralph gave that darn mule didnít affect its temperament or behavior at all. Another time, while running towards the barn pulling that bouncing, gyrating plow, that darn mule decided to take a short cut. Instead of following the trail around a ninety-degree turn, it ďcut the corner.Ē
Now Grandpa had always had a horror of the place growing up in weeds and sweet gum saplings...especially sweet gum saplings. This inside corner had tried to do just that so Grandpa took his bush hook back there and proceeded to clear them out. He was getting old and stiff, I guess, so he didnít cut them off at the ground but left stumps a foot or so high. Now hereís this corner with dozens of sweet gum stumps sticking up and a darn run-away mule who was only interested in getting to the barn in the quickest and shortest time possible.
So...through those stumps that darn mule drug that bouncing plow. Ralph had learned long ago to just turn loose of the reins and let that darn mule go or heíd be run to death. Anyway, the plow bounced up in the air, took aim, and paa-jing! It stabbed itself right into the base of one of those sweet gum stumps. Did that stop that darn mule? Nope. Well, just for a few seconds. It hesitated anyway. The singletree hook broke and that darn mule sped on to the barn, still wearing all the harness and dragging the traces, leaving the plow for me and Ralph to unplug from the sweet gum stump.
Ralph was becoming increasingly frustrated. He was all the time trying to think of a way to tame that darn mule. Now mules are known to be very smart. They arenít like horses who will let their owners work them to death. Most mules, on the other hand, will only work up to a point, and then just stop. No amount of verbal or physical abuse, in most cases, will make them go. Our mule had that same mindset. It worked and plowed good as long as it wanted to, but then, instead of just stopping, would take off for the barn. Now I didnít want anything to do with that crazy mule, and if Daddy had gotten rid of it to some unsuspecting stranger it would have been okay with me.
Ralph kept thinking on it, and one day came up with what seem like a great idea. Heíd hitch the slide to that darn mule and act like he was plowing. When that darn mule broke and ran for the barn heíd ride the slide like a sleigh, and chastise that darn mule severely all the way home. He grinned as he described how he would lash that darn mule relentlessly and make him run so fast that heíd forever forget that run-away business. So he did. He and the mule took off to the furtherest corner off the field with Ralph on the slide. I walked.
Ralph rode that slide up and down, up and down, as if he were plowing the perfect furrow. Heíd gee and haw, and cluck at that darn mule just like always. Everything was perfect for awhile. Then that darn mule woke up, realized where he was, and what he was doing, and decided that it was time to quit. As usual he headed for the barn.
Ralph was ready. He would teach that darn mule a lesson! He whipped that darn mule up to mach speed and away they sailed. I mean, Ralph was laying it on that darn mule. His ears was laid back (that darn muleís ears, not Ralphís), his tongue was hanging out (that darn muleís, not Ralphís), and his eyes were wide and wild looking (you know...the darn muleís). I was running as hard as I could and was losing out miserably.
Now that darn mule apparently decided to hang it all up and get to the barn promptly if not sooner. He decided to take the aforementioned shortcut...right through the sweet gum stumps. The slide didnít even get by the first stump. Pah-junk! It went and stopped immediately, and as before, that darn mule didnít even slow down. It was running for the barn, the reins and traces flapping behind.
Ralph, on the other hand, sailed off that slide, right into them sweet gum stumps! He skint some of them up terribly as he sailed through them and finally wound up on the trail on the other side. Other than a few million skint places and a couple hundred gouges and ten million brier scratches, he was fine. By the time I got there he was up and plotting against that darn mule.
Ralph was some bent up and sore the next day, and he had some pent-up feelings for that mule too. After one look at Ralph, Dad decided that something had to be done with that darn run-away mule. He and Ralph put their heads together to work out a plan, short of killing that mule. That probably would have satisfied everyone, except that they didnít want to have to drag off the carcass of that dead darn mule.
So...one more time they hitched up that darn mule to the plow. Now you have to realize that by this time Daddy had given up on the idea of trying to farm with that darn mule. The field was a mess, scarred and chewed up and trampled, with new weeds coming up. The trail was a mess as well, with plow marks going every which way, and ever so often a gouge mark where that flying plow point had dug in and then been ripped out. Our one aim now was to tame that darn mule, once and for all.
So, once again, Ralph took that darn mule to the field and started plowing. After a few furrows that darn mule had had enough and took off for the barn. As planned, Ralph just turned loose of the plow and let it go. I guess that darn mule thought it had it made, because it settled down to a walk and stayed on the trail. It didnít even take the short-cut.
When that darn mule got to the corral gate where it was necessary to make a right turn into the corral it had to slow down a little. When itís head cleared the great big old gate post Daddy stepped out from behind it with a piece of specially selected 2X4 lumber and smacked that darn mule right between the eyes as hard as he could swing. Down went that darn mule, all in a skidding heap, all tangled in the harness and reins.
Ralph was much faster than I was so he got there ahead of me. When I finally came up he and Daddy were standing there talking to that darn mule. Now I thought that darn mule was dead, so I couldnít see any good coming from talking to a darn dead mule, except maybe to cool their temper.
Well, I figured that we were gonna have to drag off the carcass of that darn dead mule after all. We struggled and struggled to get the harness off and from under that darn mule. After awhile we finally got it off and hung up in the barn. Back outside, that darn mule got up, and wobbled into the barn looking for its feed.
That whole experience with that darn mule sort of took the shine off of farming for us. I donít recall if Ralph or Daddy ever tried to plow that darn mule again. Anything that stubborn, and with a head that hard, probably couldnít be broke anyway.
Daddy eventually got rid of that darn mule...to who I donít know. Maybe back to Mrs. Bessie. Something else I donít know, and thatís if he told whoever got that darn mule that it wouldnít plow worth a darn. ĽĽĽ
Vernon Garrison lives in Denham Springs, Louisiana, and is a descendant of James N. Erwin, Jr., who was the fifth child and fourth son of James and Agness Irvine (Erwin), our immigrant ancestors.
A mule is an offspring of a male ass and a female horse. On the other hand, the issue of a stallion and a female ass, is not, properly speaking, a mule, but a hinny. Thatís something that every rural farm boy knows. You could care less?... Iím hurt. -Ed.