“Of Mules And Other People: Remembrances Of Life On A Georgia Farm
“By Thomas (Tom) Ernest BUCKNER
“These events/remembrances took place on the Ernest Calhoun Buckner (1880-1958) & Lois Newton Buckner (1904-1991) Douglas County [Georgia, U.S.A.] family farm.
“You will likely find a variety, or should I say an abundance, of animals on farms. At least that was true when I grew up on a farm. Many were the domesticated versions of cats, dogs, cows, mules, horses, and perhaps chickens. I say ‘“perhaps chickens’ because I could never decide whether they should be called ‘domesticated’ when they were so hard to catch. And that reminds me of the tale of a farmer who developed a three legged chicken so he, his wife, and son could all enjoy a drumstick with their dinner by killing only one chicken. As the story goes the chicken was so fast on its feet it could outrun a speeding car. When asked ‘How good are the drumsticks?’ the farmer quipped, ‘Don’t know, never caught one.’
“Then there are the mostly undomesticated animals such as rabbits, squirrels, mice, rats, snakes lizards, toads and such, and I must not forget mosquitoes and flies. And that reminds me of the time the farmer, his wife, and son, not having succeeded in catching a chicken, went to town and ordered chicken at the local eatery. Upon finishing their drumsticks the farmer when asked if they would like dessert and having noticed a pie sitting on the counter answered, ‘Yes, a slice of that raisin pie would be nice.’ The waitress as she waved her hand over the pie remarked, ‘not raisin, apple.’
“Some of our animals had names. Dogs had names like Spot and Red (my favorite) and others long forgotten. Unfortunately, Red and Spot were destroyed by the county sheriff due to a rabies scare in the community. The sheriff would have quarantined them but they became suspicious and would not allow me or any other person to approach them. That left no choice but for the sheriff to destroy them. An act, for which my sister, Mary, never forgave him.
“We had cats which appeared from nowhere and proliferated at rates at which rabbit families would have been proud. If our cats had names I am not aware. That was my sisters’ domain. The cats were not allowed in the house. Keeping them out was no easy task for they would back up against the kitchen door like water behind a dam and spill in if the door was left ajar or not closed fast enough. Our dogs never had such expectations except Spot, who disappeared for several weeks one year and upon returning home would not take ‘no’ for an answer regarding house entry when it heard a loud noise like thunder or a gunshot. On such occasions it was hazardous to be between the dog and a door. If it succeeded in achieving entry it could usually be found hiding under a bed somewhere in the house. We surmised that spot had been shot because upon his return, his friendly wagging tail had drooped to the floor and never wagged again. Evidence of scarring near his spine attested to that theory.
“Our Mules were named but not just any names. They were named for family members such as myself and my siblings. I suppose their naming in such a way was because they were so much a part of the family, an honor reserved for hard working contributors to the welfare of the farm. Tom, Mary, and Joe got us through a number of years. I don’t know why we never named a mule Elizabeth or David, the youngest and oldest of my siblings, maybe because they already held special places of honor as the alpha and omega or maybe we just ran out of more easily articulated names before we ran out of mules or before we discovered we could have abbreviated them Liz or Dave; something that never occurred to country folk like us so isolated from such worldly nickname practices.
“All that about names brings to mind our last mule, Mary, who was replaced by a Ford tractor in 1949. Mary was an exceptionally large mule who was bought at a quite reasonable price because she was very skittish, and too, she had a slow-healing injury to a forefoot which required several months of treatment requiring three strong men to control her for daily treatments. Whether it was that experience or some other experience or inbred quality that caused her to be so nervous and skittish I’ll never know. Whatever it was contributed to a character that, to refer to her as ‘nervous’ and ‘skittish,” is an insult to an animal of such intelligence and spirit. Therefore; I will no longer refer to her in those terms which should become obvious in the upcoming discussion as well as why I keep calling her a ‘who’ rather than a ‘what’ or ‘it.’
“Hoof Beats in The Night
“Late many a night it was not unusual to be awakened by thundering hoof beats. They were barely audible as Mary galloped through the woods behind our farmhouse and then increased in volume as Mary came up the side yard finally reaching a crescendo as she pounded across the front yard, a sound which must have been reminiscent of Paul Revere’s midnight ride through the streets of Concord. It can only be imagined that Mary, like Paul Revere, was trying to warn us of some impending attack. Most likely; however, she, like many of us, would rather risk insults than be ignored.
“We soon learned that her efforts to warn us or, I suspect, merely gain some attention, need not require us to get out of bed and try to round her up. That response would prove to be an exercise in futility. When we would awake mornings she would be grazing contentedly in the yard or in a nearby farm field but never far away. One memorable occasion is illustrious of Mary’s personality.
“But first, a short tale I thought was a joke until I knew Mary.
“It seems a farmer had a mule which would not stay inside the fence. It would always jump the fence and no solution was found until the farmer learned that he merely had to release the mule outside the fence and it would jump in.
“A Memorable Occasion
“One morning after one of Mary’s typical ‘midnight rides’ I found her grazing in a field about a hundred yards from our house. Gathering up her bridle I approached her whereupon she stopped grazing and stood eyeing me sideways as I slowly approached. When I got within an arms reach of her she bolted, stopping a few hundred feet away. That behavior was repeated until we reached a neighbor’s barn whereupon she jumped over a six-foot fence into that barn lot leaving a few belly hairs on the top fence strand. Upon cornering her she jumped out and disappeared across the fields in the direction of the next farm about three quarters of a mile further away. When we reached that farm she had jumped the fence into that lot and at that time the chase had taken us about a mile from our barn. When cornered there, however, she easily cleared the fence and disappeared in the direction of our farm. Upon returning home we found her waiting in her stable with an ‘AHA! GOTCHA! WHAT KEPT YA!?’ attitude.
“If possible, I would apologize to Mary for suggesting that she was skittish. She, like many of us, simply had a very sensitive nature. When hitched to a plow, wagon or other tool you might damage the appliance or destroy some crops if you spoke other than softly to her. A barely audible suggestion (not command) like a soft cluck to start or softly spoken whoa to stop was all that was necessary. Anything louder and her head would jerk back and you had better have a good grip on the reins and the plow or other tool to which she was hitched.
“All our mule stories weren’t about Mary although the most memorable were about her. I remember one event surrounding one of our mules when I was about nine years old. It involved a mule but it wasn’t about a mule. Me, my older brother, and two friends from a neighboring farm were playing in our pasture one fine Sunday afternoon. Momma and Daddy were away for the afternoon. In that pasture there was a gully about ten feet deep and fifteen feet across and hanging from a tall tree on the edge of that gully was a wonderful vine swing on which we swung across the gully pretending we were Tarzan. That afternoon we had tired of being ‘Ape Man’ and began to explore other avenues of excitement. It occurred to someone in the group we ought to be cowboys. Having no horse, the best thing available was one of our mules. My older brother and the older of our two friends bridled the mule and were taking turns pretending to be Gene Autry or some other notable cowboy. My brother, when it came his turn felt he ought to prod the mule into a gallop (a trot at best) because what kind of cowboy wouldn’t gallop. He, with some difficulty, prodded the mule to a trot and the area being wooded and rough it wasn’t long before he fell to the ground landing on a tree root. Upon hearing his cries we converged on him lying on the ground moaning and holding his arm. From the obvious distortion of his arm we guessed that his arm was broken or dislocated.
“The mule was hastily returned to the barn lot and because of an unspoken but perceived prohibition of riding our mules we concocted the story that the injury was caused by a fall from the vine swing and that is what we told our parents when they returned. The culmination of that lie led to the demise of our fine vine swing which daddy mercilessly chopped from the tree. If we had told the truth I don’t think daddy would have destroyed the mule and we would have still have had our swing. To my memory we never told him about riding the mule. I will never know what punishment would have been exacted had he known. Probably little, except a severe reminder, ‘stay off the mules, you might get hurt.’ In those days of little or no money any injury was serious if it cost anything. If a doctor was involved, it was very serious.
“Mules and Watermelons
“The major crop on our farm was home grown tomatoes, the next being large watermelons of a variety developed by my grandfather (William Ernest Buckner 1842-1923 a civil war veteran) and referred to as Buckner melons, the seeds to which have long been lost. They were developed for the local market and had a thin rind no thicker than about one half inch. The red, sweet meat extended from the heart to the rind and it was fabled at least by family that many grew as large as 100 pounds. We never thought to use our steelyard to weigh them, never occurring to us that scales used for weighing cotton could have been used to weigh watermelons. The largest and best of our melons were enjoyed by ourselves, relatives and neighbors because they provided seeds for next year’s crop. Needless to say because of their size and fragility they could not stand the rigors of bulk handling and long distance hauling in large truck loads. Daddy, in his old melon-laden beat up pickup truck, was pulled over by the Atlanta Police to buy a melon on at least one occasion.
“Depending on the variety and quantity of our crops we would make up to five trips per week to the Atlanta Farmer’s market but three was most common.
“On one occasion daddy had taken a load of produce to the Georgia Farmer’s market located in Atlanta leaving me and my older brother to haul a load of watermelons from the field in our two horse (mule) wagon. As we were loading the melons, our two friends of the mule-riding fiasco showed wanting us to go to the movies with them. We explained that we couldn’t because of the need of hauling the melons to the house whereupon they insisted on helping us get done in time to accompany them to town (a three-mile walk). Upon loading the wagon we chose to ascend a rather steep and rutted field road to save time. But the mule team consisting of Mary and Tom didn’t cooperate. Mary was high spirited and energetic but Tom was just the opposite. No sooner had we started up the hill when Tom decided he wanted to stop but with the load being too heavy for Mary alone progress halted. It was necessary for both of them to start together but that became impossible since Tom had to be lashed with the reins and yelled at to get him to move and as you may recall Mary insisted on a quiet cluck to start. I leave it to your imagination to describe the scene. The two mules alternately started and stopped in fits and jerks until finally the two lunged together in a mighty heave. The tail gate splintered with a crunch and an avalanche of melons spilled onto the ground. Rivulets of melon juice trickled down the ruts. I remember virtually nothing about the rest of the day except there was no movie that day. I don’t even remember daddy’s reaction when he returned that evening. Perhaps there was little since sometimes parents must just shake their heads and move on.”
Thomas (Tom) Ernest BUCKNER is a 5th cousin twice removed from me, the 2nd son of Ernest Calhoun BUCKNER (May 27, 1880 Cobb County, Georgia, USA – May, 1958 Douglas County, Georgia; buried Mount Harmony Baptist Church Cemetery, Mableton, Cobb County, Georgia) & Ernest’s 2nd wife, Lois NEWTON (Feb. 28, 1904 Georgia – June 6, 1991 Johnson City, Washington County, Tennessee; Mount Harmony Baptist Church Cemetery), daughter of Thomas Norman NEWTON & Emma Harriett (Hattie) ALLEN.
Ernest married 1st, Minnie Beatrice EASON (Jan. 24, 1883 Georgia – July 22, 1924 Cobb County, Georgia; Mount Harmony Baptist Church Cemetery), daughter of Nathaniel Manuel EASON & Sarah Ann SMITH.
A biGGG Thank you!, shout-out to Tom Ernest BUCKNER… 🙂 😉
1. Joel Barry Buckner family photo; used here with permission.
2. Thomas (Tom) Ernest BUCKNER; June, 2016.