How "Gray Bones," Our Mule, Bested "Rowdy Yates"
is strictly for mule-lovers. The more sophisticated would say, lovers of mules. At any rate, this piece is dedicated to the mule that we shared in my early childhood. At 63, I still relive those amazing memories that the white mule gave me. Most people feel this way toward dogs or cats, and that is fine by me, but give me a mule if life has a perpetual circle and my soul is deposited into the body of a young farmer, 22, who plows his land with a mule, and I will be very happy.
I first met "Gray Bones," our mule, when I was about five years of age. I didn't know much and that was to be expected. My family and I lived (shortly) in that creepy, weather-beaten shack in very rural northwest Alabama in Marion County way outside of Hamilton, Ala., our county seat. Actually, I should have published this hub in a series of "poverty laden" childhood stories starring yours truly. I guess that I feared some might laugh at how I loved "Gray Bones," because honestly, and I am facing a "monster" in me not developing a positive self-image in this dump that we called a home. You may not believe this, but in my case of not having a positive self-image, this affliction stayed with me even today in 2017.
I am not alone. In the awful years that I am telling you about, in years to come I have met and became many good friends who had little or no positive self-image. And for these suffering the various reasons why they had such painful circumstances that bred a lowly walk in life, I hurt for them. Then and now. A non-positive self-image sucks. There is no easy or soft way to say it. And if you are one of those suffering (in secret) from a non-positive self-image? I pity you and reach out to you. I ain't kidding.
What does "Gray Bones"
our white, humble-hearted mule, have to do with me never having a positive self-image? Not much. But I can confess: many times in this God-forsaken time in my life, our mule made life a bit more bearable when I would steal away from my mom, a great homemaker, and visit with our mule who lived in the barn. Oh, here's a strange fact that has a lot to do with my environment and the greedy landlord: The barn that I just mentioned was in far better shape than our house. True. I know. I spent many hour sitting on the seat of my dad's antique farm wagon and fed our chickens and "Gray Bones" a very good amount of corn. Of course, I got yelled at when my dad came home from working on the Bridge Crew (in Marion County) whose job it was to keep those wooden bridges in working order in our rural "neck of the woods." (I've dreamed of using that rural phrase for years).
I've told you this once, but I will recap: when our greedy landlord scolded my dad for farming the land that he rented to raise corn and cotton, this greedy low-life said that the Fed's would pay a call on him, (the greedy low-life) and maybe arrest him for sharecropping. Fact: This greedy landlord was not only controlling, but stupid. I dare say that in 1960, the Fed's would not know how to get from Washington, D.C., to our scrawny patch of woods where we survived (not lived). So dad and the family hitched up that same antique farm wagon to "Gray Bones" and me with dad's plows and hoes and other farming things and set a course northward for greener pastures in the New Hope Community on Highway 29 out of Hamilton and settled in the Verta Dobbs Farm House--which was bigger, and the roof didn't leak. Just these two pluses caused us to call this rented house a home.
Enough of that story. And enough about Dobbs. Truthfully, she was also greedy, but not as much as Mr. Fikes, our greedy landlord. Plus Verta Dobbs knew how to disguise her greed better than Fikes for I watched Dobbs lay-out the massive farming plans to my dad and him by himself to tend over 100 acres of cotton and corn. Oh, she let my dad hire those neighborhood men (who didn't have jobs) to help him, my mom, and me to chop cotton and then later pick it as well as helping with the corn pulling tasks. Verta Dobbs loved Jesus, but even in my younger years, I wondered where He was when she was barking about farming more and more corn and cotton and expecting my dad to provide it. I may be wrong here, but isn't there a few scriptures in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians, where the Apostle Paul is teaching "masters" how to treat "slaves" and visa versa? Of course this now would apply to employers and employees. Somehow, Dobbs must have skipped this Biblical teaching.
Life was Like That in 1961
but you have to understand this part of my rant before I get back to the "money spot" of this piece. Verta Dobbs was married to a hard-working man, Zollie. He passed away leaving her several bucks in insurance money, a 1950 one ton Ford truck and a 1950 Ford tractor plus a huge Southern-type home and barn and 100 acres of prime farmland. She was no pauper by any stretch of the imagination.
In 1961, my sister who had just married a hard-working guy, came to our house and unloaded what I thought to be a TV. I was right. She and her hubby had bought (on time) a black and white Philco TV. I was near the gates of heaven. I could now watch those westerns that my sister's friends in school had told her about plus films with (that year's) heart throbs: Fabian; Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis to say nothing about Tab Hunter. And pro baseball on Saturday afternoons with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese calling the plays and talking about their sponsors: Schlitz beer and Dizzy Dean Charcoal, naturally. I believed that God had designed Saturday afternoons just for me.
But my celebrating was short-lived. My sister and husband just had to move into our rented home while a company (in this time) Jim Walter Co., was going to build them a brand-new home--two bedrooms, one bath and a love nest just made for them. But living with me, mom, and dad was not fun. My sister's husband was working at the 3M Company in Guin, Ala, (this factory is still in business in 2017) and I had to stay outside to let him sleep during the days for two reasons: He worked on the "graveyard shift" he had a terrible temper if someone or something woke him prior to him getting enough rest.
So the Natural Choice
for me was to stay outside. This is where the trouble started. A trouble that to this day, I blame the black and white Philco TV and Saturday afternoon westerns such as: Wagon Train starring Ward Bond and Robert Horton, Maverick with James Garner and Rawhide starring Eric Fleming and Clint Eastwood. Rawhide is whom I chose to enjoy some imaginary games with me starring as "Yates," the short-tempered ram-rod who kept the drovers straight. Why not? I was put outside by my mom, so I had to do something since I owned no toys to occupy my time.
Rawhide had to be my all-time favorite western for it made sense. There was just the right amount of real-life emotions mixed with the drovers, when they reached a Cattle Town to sell "Mr. Favor's" cattle, they made a bee line for any saloon that was available to slug gallons of beer, lose their pay from the three-month cattle drive and take a pretty dance hall girl upstairs. It was a win, win situation.
But . . .there were these scenes in Rawhide, and maybe one or two on Maverick, where the star(s) of the westerns were running from the bad guys and went for the livery stable where their horse was having a great old time eating fresh oats, drinking fresh water and sleeping soundly like any horse of that time should sleep. Fact is, the horses in the livery stables (on the westerns) slept sounder than my brother-in-law without that snippy temper. The star would climb up on the horse stall and jump on back of his horse so he could have a fast get-away from those chasing him for whatever reason.
It Looked Easy--Even Sounded Easy
when I talked it out to myself. I was going to try this on "Gray Bones," my buddy and comrade-in-poverty and maybe get a spark of positive self-image going for me if . . .I could just jump from the stall where "Gray Bones" was sleeping, and ride her out in the barnyard, I would be as slick as "Rowdy Yates," and look almost as handsome as he was when he went to town with his drover friends on Rawhide.
Let me tell you that "Gray Bones" was not stupid. I had to con her back into her stall just by getting myself a piece of yellow corn and that way, her hunger would lead her into her stall and just when she was enjoying that corn, I would jump from the top of her stall and well, I would be Clint Eastwood even if it were just for a short time.
The Yellow Corn was
a stroke of genius. "Gray Bones" went for it mule, hand, and stall. Slowly and surely she followed me into her stall and I put her corn into her feed trough while I climbed on top of her stall. That worked fine. Even the jumping on her back was fine. I gently whispered to my buddy and said for her to giddy up, like most mules like to hear and she started walking outside of her stall out of the barn and I felt great. Really great. I was even beginning to feel like somebody with a positive self-image. Life was good . . .for a few minutes.
Truthfully, the best "Rowdy Yates" impersonators fail sometimes. And my failing was coming right at me. I took my heels and acted like I wore spurs on my boots and gently kicked "Gray Bones" in the sides and she let go like a wild animal charging for freedom in any zoo. I thought that she was playing the part of "Rowdy Yates" right along with me. But now she stopped galloping and started bucking like those horses do in TV rodeo's that I had watched and I was now terrified. I was holding her mane for dear life. Then in about two good bucks, I was sent sailing into the air and landing on my neck onto a big tree root that stood in a corner of the barnyard.
"Gray Bones" just said something like, "Hee, haw. I told you to leave me alone," but in mule language while I laid on the root watching her run away back to her stall to finish the corn that I had used to get her out of the barn.
Yes, I felt stupid. Very stupid. Depressed and now my neck was spewing blood. Uh. oh, I thought. My mom was inside the house cooking supper and my dad had not got home from working in the fields yet, so I had a little time to get the blood stopped or else my butt would be whipped with the leather belt that he loved to wear.
I found a handful of grass and made a make-shift bandage on the place where the tree root had cut in my neck. It worked. I had it made. Now to keep this embarrassing mule debacle all to myself and the coast would be clear. At least I did get to play "Yates" for a few minutes.
Before Supper I was Sitting
on our couch in the living room and my dad who had just returned home from work was enjoying a fresh cup of coffee. So far, so good. I had one more "Gray Bones" memory to enjoy all to myself. What luck.
Let me tell you that all children have been where I was at this time. My dad for some reason just sipped his coffee and his eyes froze on me and didn't say one word. Now remember, the cut was on the back of my neck at the top behind my head, so why was he staring at me? I asked to myself, so I just stayed cool and silent while pretending to read a book that belonged to my sister. Good Housekeeping, I think.
"did you bleed much?" my dad said almost angry. My heart rate hit the roof. Stay cool, I thought.
"do what?" I asked very innocently--and doing a pretty good job.
"bleed . . .when 'Gray Bones' bucked you off?" my dad said in a Perry Mason tone of voice.
"uhh, well, not much. I'm okay," I said truthfully, but I knew that my butt was next to bleed from the whipping by his leather belt.
"good. I won't whip you--that bucking you off was whipping enough," my dad said halfway grinning.
Parents. How did he know about my "Gray Bones" accident? We did not have a telephone.
I never asked. And he never said anymore. That was the end of me and my "Rowdy Yates'" impression.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery