Rhody was a good mule as far as comparing him to what I know about mules. I have really only seen one other mule up close really. Don’t remember his name and we didn’t talk. I’d take ‘ol Rhody anyday.
One of my fondest memories is the sight of Pydog, a tall gangly man with a smile as large as gibbons moon and inspirational man in my youth and Rhody, a mule with with soft eyes and a strong will. As I remember the scorching, dry days of decades past, a few memories never fade: 10 acres of watermelons, 52 stacks of peanuts on the vine, the cloud of dirt road rolling towards our house as an unstoppable, tsunami of fine grit and heavy dust stirred by the occasional automobile speeding as if trying to escape the apocalypse, and Pydog and Rhody tied together by leather and a common goal.
On plowing days, my job was to hoe between the plants while the “team” Pydog and Rhody plowed the middles. The middles were the furrows between the rows. Breaking the crusty soil and bringing it around the base of the plant helped the roots grow deeper with less stress and brought any moisture closer to the plant. We all worked hard to do just that. I was eleven, my brother was nine and we each had a hoe handle that fit our, very temporarily, tender hands.
Breakfast ended just before the sun rose completely above the old hardwood trees standing as guardians of the dawn just over quarter of a mile away along a fence that defined the family land. As their branches reached skyward, you got the feeling, or at least, you hoped they had grown a little the night before so there could be one more minute of breakfast. Each day as you left the house for the fields, you were certain, in a foggy mist of memory from the day before, that you would only see the house one more time before night. Everyone was, each day, brought home for dinner at 11:30a. We left the house, headed back to work, at 12p. Thirty minutes to eat the best food you had ever tasted and…as much as you could eat.
Still, the mornings were my favorite time. The dew was still languishing on the grass, on the weeds and on the crops without discretion. Sometimes I envied the dew as it lay there peacefully and patiently awaiting its predestined assent thousands of feet above the earth to become part of an angry mob of water droplets aggressively building energy and, at some time in the late afternoon, raining down equally on the just and the unjust. No time for thought of travel far away though. The team, Pydog and Rhody, were moving out on foot to a destination sometimes three miles away to the field where they would start work. Pydog would sing a song of unintelligible words but with a relaxing rhythm that determined the pace of their walk. My brother and I, on the other hand, would climb in the bed of an old, brown pickup truck to arrive at our destination after several minutes of 40mph wind blowing on our faces whenever we leaned over the side.
The “team” would arrive some time later at the same pace I had seen them leave the house earlier and I have to admit, they seemed in better spirits as they arrived at the destiny to which they both had been assigned: decades earlier for Rhody and at least a half a century earlier for Pydog. As I think back on their demeanor, they both exuded similar traits: each would take pride in their labor, each would be patient with the other , and neither man nor mule would make the burden heavier. This was their destiny and they refused just be alive in it, they would live it. As they worked together, they would be tire together. The man’s shirt would fill with the sweat he expended to lessen the effect of the rising sun on his body’s core temperature. The mule’s sweat was temporarily waylayed from dripping to the ground by the coarse hairs of his coat fighting to keep the cooling agent in place if only for a little while.
One day, a poignant scene of their toil is forever and thankfully so, stored in a few honored cells of my brain. The mule, Rhody steadily pulled the plow to which he was harnessed at a slow steady pace. His head was down and he seemed to be gazing only slightly head of where his feet landed. The man, Pydog, had his head down in the same relative position staring slighty ahead of where the blade of the plow relentlessly upturned the soil which had long been dried by the sun. At that moment, I wondered to myself, what could possibly be in their minds? If Rhody even had a mind and surely he must not, what of his brain then, as they trudged the same relative path thousands of times with their only goal being keeping the plow between the rows until nightfall…except for the 30 minute lunch of course. I was to learn there was more going on than either had disclosed previously.
Pydog had a family. I had not known that even after being around him for several years. One fall, early in the evening, many years after I met Pydog, when my grandfather had some empty bottles to give him, did I ever visit his house. You could get a nickel apiece for bottles then. There were children, boys and girls, everywhere it seems. And dogs. Five at least. They were all running around laughing, barefoot and happy as we drove that same ‘ol pickup into the yard. When Pydog came out and saw us, he smiled his biggest smile. He seemed so relaxed and somehow especially content. We talked for a while and then we left. Only now, when my children are running around laughing, barefoot and happy , can I imagine how he must have must have felt. At age 14, I found out Pydog was a happy man in his destiny. Knowing that, makes me smile even today.
Rhody was a free spirit. Several years after he was retired from service, my grandfather still kept him around, fed him and gave him his own pasture. Rhody was old now. Maybe he was thirty and maybe he was more. Sometimes we would sit around the dinner table and talk about it might be getting close to time to put him down. After all, he was old and he seemed tired. My grandfather had, several years ago stopped farming, turned the land into pasture and, bought a hundred or so head of beef cattle. Half the cows were kept in a pasture near the house adjoining the pasture ‘ol Rhody claimed as his own. One day after dinner, a few of the family were sitting at the table sipping the last of our sweet tea and swishing the remnants of melting ice cubes around in our mouths when my grandfather let an expletive fly as was known to do. Our conversation stopped, we looked at him and then through the window to a an unbelievable scene in the pasture. Somehow Rhody had gotten into pasture with the cows and was herding them at full speed. His mane was flying his head was up and he was having some real fun. The cows weren’t enjoying the romp over hill and dale as much. They weren’t stampeding. I believe they were much too fat and out of shape, but clearly they didn’t seem happy about their aerobic workout. After the initial shock, we all laughed and talked about Rhody’s hidden spirit. Everyone was laughing except my grandfather. That spry ‘ol mule had been plotting for some time I expect and it was an uplifting sight to see. My grandfather, though, could only see pounds being lost as the cows expended so much energy. Lost pounds meant lost money. My grandfather didn’t like to lose money. After several unsuccessful attempts to corral Rhody away from the cows, he made a decision to get rid of Rhody. Rhody was old and wouldn’t live much longer. We knew that, but he had to go and we knew that too.
Not too many days after that decision, a trailer came to pick up Rhody. At that time, my brother mother and I were living in a house on a farm in a house of our own. Even though we watched from our yard 100 yards away, we didn’t go to see Rhody leave. We simply watched not knowing and not wanting to know. That next sunday, while we were on one of our aimless drives around the county, my grandfather brought Rhody up. He said “Boys, I hated to get rid of Rhody. Pydog will take good care of him though.”
Now my grandfather never lied to us. He didn’t believe in it. Pydog and Rhody together. That’s the way it should have been all along. Greatercolumbusga.com