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Man, Mule and Mouse
By Curtis L. Johnson, Sr.

When I was growing up on a plantation in the Northern Mississippi Delta in the late fifties and early sixties, the masterful young worker and his mule were essential pieces of the farming puzzle. Though the mechanical cotton picker was in use, manual labor by hard working field hands was still highly utilized. Back then when cotton was king and labor was cheap, price and demand rules applied to cotton, but not to man and mule working hard in the fields.

All across those white fields of cotton in early fall, one cotton-filled sack at a time was lifted from the hands of human cotton pickers into the hands of the man on the mule. The sacks were often heavy and stacked high, and not once did I hear complaints from the mule. With cotton sacks firmly secured between man and mule, off they went to the weighing scales. I remember two young men, Bubba and Louis, balancing the load of cotton sacks on the mule by sitting or by standing. They were very skilled at their low-paying task, and they looked proud of their abilities. I tell you, it was a beautiful sight to behold.

Sometimes with ropes and a single plow, the mule would be used to cultivate the gardens. I can recall when just a little lad, I was taught how to plow a row or two. With my two hands holding the ropes and a single plow, I commanded a mule to walk straight, stop and turn, long before I learned to drive an automobile.

Quite often when it rained a lot, the mule was used to cut furrows in the fields to drain off the water. This sturdy animal would stop and stand upon the command of his most skillful master. (This was at a time when I never heard anybody talking about obedience training of mules, dogs, or any other animals. In my neck of the woods, it seemed that everybody and everything quickly learned their roles and played them well, even mules. In my home and my home town, it seemed that stepping out of line brought consequences that most were not willing to face, even mules.)

There is no doubt that times have changed and technology now reigns supreme. High tech now rules both man and beast, rich and poor, and just about everything else from sea to shining sea. The mule is no longer needed to carry heavy loads and plow the gardens. But what about the mule’s skillful master who once stood tall and balanced on the mule’s strong back? Man still stands tall and balances with talent and much training. Man has essentially retired that great beast of burden called the mule. Man now sits at computers, moving and mastering a little plastic mouse in the palm of his hand.

I have no doubt that were Bubba and Louis looking for work in this high tech job market today, they would be fierce competitors. There is no reason to think that having mastered a mule, they could not also master a little plastic mouse. If they could command the living brains of an animal, I have no doubt that they could also conquer and excell in operating an inanimate machine with “Intel” inside.

In this our brave new land of digitals and the new economy, we have points and clicks, man and mouse. Many years ago in the land of cotton, where sweat was plentiful and acquisitions of equity were hard to obtain, and before high tech and the internet, there were the man and the mule. Back then, if they had kept productivity ratings on Bubba, Louis, and their mule, I suspect the ratings would have been off the scales. There is no denying the fact that man and mouse working in harmony with the internet is one remarkable achievement; however, such an achievement will never erase my memory of a most beautiful sight in those long-ago cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. It was there that I beheld the orchestrated ensemble of man and mule operating at their finest.


Curtis writes to Ye Editor: “Growing up on the plantation in poverty, I never realized how rich I really was. As I look back on those days and develop the snapshots of my memory, I discover those golden treasures. Thanks for allowing me to share such treasures with others!”

Curtis Johnson, Sr., a native Mississippian, is a former pastor and presently owns a business with Barbara, his wife of 35 years. Residing near Sacramento, California, he is the proud father of 3 and grandfather of 6 grandchildren. He loves gardening and writing. Email address: cj8080

Read more stories by Rev. Johnson:
Mattson ~ A Place Unforgotten
More Than Race
Hello, Issaquena!
Missing Mississippi

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