Old Ves Carter had a mule and a wagon. On the back of the wagon he carried his plowing implements. Ves would come riding down the road, sitting high upon on his old buckboard, reigns in hand, and barking commands at his old mule, “GEE! HAW! WHOA! YA!” on his way plow-up a garden or field for one of the townspeople. A buckboard, for anyone who has never seen one, is an open four-wheeled, horse-drawn wooden wagon with the seat attached to a flexible board between the front and rear axles; hence the name, “buckboard”. The flexible board acts as a shock-absorber for what, most assuredly, would have been one hell of a rough ride without it. Old Ves directed the mule with a booming command of, “GEE!” which meant to go right, or a haughty “HAW!” which meant to go left. A command of, “WHOA!” meant to stop and “YA!” meant to go forward.
The sight of the old wagon being pulled down the paved streets by that old mule, with his hooves striking a rhythmic, “CLIPPITY-CLOP! CLIPPITY-CLOP!” Against the gravel and asphalt road and with Ves riding high, was a splendid sight, as well as an anachronistic one. Especially! considering that the time was the early 1970’s and buckboard wagons and mule-pulled plows had long since been replaced by cars, trucks and tractors. Ves Carter, his old mule, and his wagon and plow, were an image out of time and place, as well as a boundless source of exuberance and excitement for all of the children in our neighborhood.
“Old” Ves Carter was, indeed, old. I heard that he was so old that he had a hand in the plowing of the “Garden of Eden”. I never knew exactly how old he was until he’d been dead for a long time. As a matter of fact, until I visited his grave at Mitchell Grove cemetery and read his tombstone, I didn’t know that “OId” Ves was almost 100 when he died. I do believe he plowed that old mule and rode that old wagon right up until the day he died. However, riding down the street on his wagon, he appeared ageless and timeless.
Another group of men who used mules to ply their trade, were the Circuit Preachers of old. These Preachers traveled from church to church on a mule or horse, earning them the name “Circuit Riders”. In sparsely populated areas of the United States it had been common for the clergy, in many denominations, to serve more than one congregation at a time, a form of church organization sometimes called a “preaching circuit”.
Once, I heard tale of a very special mule. In this tale it’s told, that a salesman was traveling down a country road when he saw a large group of people outside of a house. He stopped and asked a farmer standing about, why the large crowd was there. The farmer replied, “Joe’s mule kicked his mother-in-law and she died”. “Well”, replied the salesman, “she must have had a lot of friends”. “Nope”, said the farmer, “we all just want to buy his mule”.
The Bible tells a tale of a man named Balaam, who also had a mule. In the Biblical account, Balaam’s mule saved his owner’s life. As it happens, Balaam was riding his mule on his way to do something that he wasn’t supposed to do. God had told Balaam to GEE! But Balaam decided to HAW! So, God sent an Angel to block his path but Balaam couldn’t see the Angel. However, Balaam’s ass could see the Angel and refused to go forward. Balaam beat his ass, cussed him and told him to YA! But, his ass refused to go forward! Fortunately for Balaam, the mule didn’t YA! For if he had YA’d, the Angel would have killed Balaam. Balaam’s ass saved Balaam’s ASS!
There is a good lesson in the story of Balaam and his ass which is: If God tells you to GEE! You’d better GEE! And if he tells you to HAW! You’d better heed his command. If God tells you to WHOA! Don’t just slow down; STOP! And when He says YA! Get off your ASS and YA!