Mule Headed Girls

A sweaty handful of us young rural farm kids are out by our corral watching my grandpa working at harnessing up our young green mule to our older, seasoned and well trained mule. He is having a bit of trouble with our young long ears. Best way to train an uppity young mule for plowing is to harness her to a calm and smarter older mule then lead this team, young and old, out to field for plowing. Young green mules never listen and are headstrong, just like us kids. Laying a switch to the backside of a young mule does not accomplish much, just like with us barefoot dirty face kids.

There are a couple of older boys standing inside our corral rails, standing and watching rather than helping, well, if those boys were helpful grandpa would have both over there working with him. He tells those two, "You boys go over there by the fence and stay out of my way." Those boys are from up the route, up there north of Eagletown where people live in tiny houses sitting on land not big enough for a garden. Grandpa says those two are lazy but he is nice to them anyhow. They come around now and then just to stand around and watch us work. I suppose they ain't got much of anything better to do.

A cousin is hunkering down outside our corral fence rails, he is fearful of huge mules. He is small enough to walk under a mule without bumping his head. Our old mule is a good sixteen hands and weighs a half ton, maybe more. Our young mule is not quite so big, around twelve hands and maybe eight-hundred pounds but she would crush a foot easily or kick your head clean over the moon. An aunt has a crescent shaped scar on her forehead from a mule kick, just about kills her. She won't go near mules these days.

I am the smarter of this bunch of us dumb kids and not afraid of mules, maybe I am not all that smart, maybe I am too dumb to be afraid of mules like I should be. I am straddling and sitting atop a fence post, best view around, at least I am smart about this. My pole is comfortable for my skinny little butt, I'm almost butt hole high to a sixteen hand mule. Grandpa says I have to be tall enough to look a mule straight in the butt before I can start plowing. I have grandpa check me a couple times a month, "Look, grandpa! I'm butt hole high, I get to plow!" I try tricking grandpa, he whacks my head because I am standing tippytoe like. Next time I try wearing my boyfriend's cowboy boots, make grandpa come around back of our mule and look. He eyeballs me, eyeballs our mule's butt, acts like he is measuring but never looks down, "Girl, if Billyray catches you wearing his fancy boots, he'll up and shove your head right into that mule's butt. You get those boots off and put away then get out there and pull weeds in our melon field."

This young mule, Belle, is somewhat trained. Kitt is our older well trained mule. Grandpa is working with Belle for several months. On plow days grandpa partially harnesses up his young mule then has her lead rope tag along behind while he plows. Grandpa outfits young Belle with blinders, bridle and plow collar along with a butt strap, just about all plow tack except for traces and chains. Most often he tethers Belle to his waist. Our older mule, Kitt, pulls his plow while grandpa pulls Belle along. Lately the love of my life, Billyray, is helping grandpa plow train Belle by following along behind grandpa while hand leading this young mule by her bridle. Grandpa hollers "haw" at Kitt to turn left, Billy begins tugging on the left side of Belle's bridle to have her learn verbal commands, "haw" for left, "gee" for right and time tested "whoa" for stop. Now and then grandpa and Billy stop their mules at our field fence line where thick blackberry brambles slither and snake out along fence rails. Those two gather handfuls of sweet juicy blackberries to feed to their mules as a reward for behaving. Mules are crazy about delicious blackberries, but cranky hornets living in those brambles can cause some problems like stinging the fire out of you or, worse, stinging your mule and making her bolt away, plow, you and all.

Grandpa is working there in our corral, we kids are watching with interest and learning. All of us will have our turns at plowing and our years of haw and gee turns beginning when we can look a mule's butt hole straight in the eye.

Cecil, my grandpa, is a tad bit ornery. Last time he checked my plow height he has me stand behind Kitt, she is gentle and calm and not prone to kicking. Cecil lifts her tail, "Get up there closer, girl, I can't tell if you are tall enough to plow." He pushes on the back of my head, "Closer, child". Darn him, just about has my face shoved into Kitt's butt, if she farts this is bound to choke me to death. "I reckon you're just shy of being tall enough to plow, I'll measure you again tomorrow." Somehow Cecil manages to keep a poker face while amusing himself with his mule butt hole test. Grandpa is a smart man although he never could attend school being a typical farmhand child.

This butt hole measuring has a child become comfortable with a mule's butt which is about all you see while plowing. Out there plowing five acres under a blistering hot Oklahoma sun becomes boring, quick. There are days grandpa takes me with him to plow, "Child, you done got spirit and a way with animals, you'll be a good mule skinner. Heck, someday you might get a job skidding logs for Weyerhaeuser over there in Arkansas." Grandpa was a logger back when he was a teenager and a young man, way back there, grandpa was born sometime around 1895 year. My Choctaw elders tell me Cecil is a legendary mule skinner, "Best McCurtain county ever saw. He could talk a mule into walking on water like that Jesus boy."