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From sunup to sundown

Not a day passes when I’m working in my garden that I’m not reminded of the long, sweat-drenched days I spent in the fields plowing with a mule.   

My mule Tobe and I bonded when his plow lines and the handles of a Georgia stock were placed in my hands at age 11.  

He was a fast-paced Tennessee walker whose focus was seeing how fast he could get from one end of the row to the other. That suited me fine. The sooner the work was done, the better were my chances of getting to go fishing. 

When I’m struggling with a roto-tiller to prevent the weeds and grass from overtaking my garden, I’m reminded of how uncomplicated that task was when I was a plowboy. Tobe worked at the same pace from sunup to sundown, energized by eight ears of corn and an armful of hay three times a day. My roto-tiller has to be serviced periodically and is always subject to a breakdown. In addition, I have to supplement it with a hoe to keep the rows clean. 

Our two mules were key to the success of our farming operation. They worked long and hard almost every day from April to August. They were well fed, and their safety was of paramount importance. They rested from Saturday at noon to Monday morning, and we were not allowed to ride them during that time. 

A tractor was purchased for farm use when I was teenager; however, it didn’t replace the mules. It was used primarily to prepare the soil for planting.  

My father refused to add planting and cultivating equipment because our fields were on two hillsides, making tractor cultivation difficult.   

Land was rented from neighboring landowners to expand our farm operation in the late 1940s and early1950s. Most of it was located a half-mile to a mile from our farm. To reach it, we had to cross a 100-foot rickety wooden bridge with mules and plow stocks.  

That adventure was more than enough to put both mules and their handlers on edge.  

While no load limits were posted, school buses were not permitted to use it.  

The approach to the bridge was always made with apprehension. The mules would begin balking and snorting at the sight of the bridge, and we’d have to pause to get them settled down.  

With plow stocks hitched behind, they’d take baby steps until they got halfway across and then start running. We’d hang on, with plow bumping the bridge floor, until we reached the dirt road on the other side.  

We’d sit down and rest a bit before reminding ourselves we’d have to do the same thing again on our return trip home.