I grew up on our family farm (still in my possession and debt free) in Toombs County. I learned to plow a mule at a very early age. My first experience with plowing was “jo harrowing” corn with a mule drawn plow known as a “jo harrow.” I could hardly reach the plow handles. I remember how daddy laughed at me when I had to trot along behind the fast-walking mule to keep up.
Across the years on the farm, I did it all. I broke land with both a one-horse and a two-horse plow sometimes getting into the field on a cold winter morning just after sunrise when the ground was frozen.
Scrapes and scooters, middle busters, and mule-drawn harrows were necessary farming equipment. Mule-power instead of horsepower provided the muscle for our farm machinery. We had two mules: Ole Minnie and Pete. My brother rode Ole Minnie five miles to the nearest telephone to call the doctor on the Sunday morning that I was born.
Perhaps one’s greatest test of faith was farming with mules. Mule farming could either mold one’s character or ruin it. Nothing was more ornery than a cantankerous mule. I’ve heard my dad say that mules were the devil’s invention to make men cuss.
I knew a preacher who said that he grew up on a farm and plowed mules. He said that there was just no way to plow mules and not cuss. He said he knew that if he didn’t quit cussing he would never be saved and he was bound for a hot place. So, when a fire-eating evangelist came to their neighborhood, he got saved and went into the ministry on the same night. He said that he finally was able to overcome the cussing habit.
One of our farm implements was a mule-drawn riding cultivator; it beat walking and following a mule-drawn plow a country mile. On level ground when the mules were calm and cooperative, the riding cultivator did beautiful work cultivating peanuts, cotton and young corn.
My dad always wore a brown “cooter-hull” hat and if he was feeling good about things and the mules were peaceful, he would sing as he plowed the fields. I can remember seeing him riding that cultivator wearing his “cooter-hull” and singing Amazing Grace.
However, all of our farmland was not level. As a means of erosion control, dad, over the years, had terraced the land with huge dirt terraces. Plowing any kind of plow on a terrace bed was meticulous especially when a finicky mule had to be dealt with.
It was early in the growing season and dad was “siding” a beautiful field of corn singing as went. He finished one field and was ready to move to another. He was on the last “short row.” The wise thing would have been to plow out to the end of the field and go around the end of the high terrace bed and begin plowing in the new field. Ordinarily, I believe that my dad would have done that. That day, for some reason, he chose to drive the riding cultivator across the big terrace; that was a mistake. Instead of going straight over the terrace bed, he angled the team across. The down side of the terrace was steep and precarious. The crossing could have been navigated had not something, perhaps a small snake, spooked Ole Minnie.
Well, then is when began an incident that changed our farming history. Ole Minnie was spooked and when she got spooked she sorely unnerved Pete who didn’t have the slightest idea how to handle that spooked female mule. The mules lurched and the riding cultivator tilted and went over into the soft ground. Daddy’s head and cooter-hull buried up in the dirt. I saw it all from about a hundred feet away and ran to assist. Dad had been thrown clear of the cultivator and that probably saved him from serious injury to anything except his pride and ego in front of his young son. His cooter-hull was filled with dirt and when he got to his knees, he went to put on his hat and dirt covered his head and face.
Before I had a chance to respond in any way, he looked straight at me, shook his finger and said in a positively threatening voice, “Don’t you laugh at me; I’ll wear you out!” Honestly, laughing hadn’t crossed my mind but I did remember the time he had laughed at me when my short legs were having a hard time keeping up with the jo harrow.
Some of Dad’s remarks that day did not resemble anything from Amazing Grace.
In time, we got Ole Minnie and Pete settled and up-righted the riding cultivator and dad got the thing parked out behind our tobacco barn where it sets rusting today.