Updated: Sep 15
By T/Sgt. James Lee Hutchinson
Across the alley from our house were the wide fields and woods of Old Man Glover’s farm. Air Conditioning was far in the future and Dutchtown citizens of all ages sweltered in the summer heat. Mom saw the area as a park during the ‘dog days’ of summer when stifling heat was a problem. She would grab a book and take me, my sister and baby brother across the alley to cool off in the shade of a giant oak tree in the pasture. The temperature dropped a few degrees on breezy days and we were happy playing in the dirt under that big oak. Playmates often went along for the shade and summer breezes.
Other humid days, our destination was a grove of large trees in a ravine farther south. The journey ended less than five hundred yards from our house where clear water flowed from under a limestone outcropping into a natural spring of cold water and small pools before it gurgled its way down the hollow toward Leatherwood Creek. The spring was a perfect place to spend a hot afternoon. The deep shade of tall Sycamore and Maple trees surrounding the ravine lowered the temperature several degrees. Wading or splashing in the pools of cool water was a treat to beat the heat. Some days we took sack lunches with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a picnic. The cold spring was a great place to cool a jar of our favorite Koolaid.
Of course everybody’s dogs went along for drinks and a cool spot to flop and snooze. Four or five dogs added to the fun and they scared away any snakes that might be hunting for a cool spot. The sun’s rays seldom penetrated the deep shade and the spring was the coolest spot in the neighborhood for kids, dogs and adults on a hot July or August afternoon. However, our little Eden had one flaw which called for a temporary retreat from the spring. Old Man Glover didn’t mind our visits to keep cool as long as we gave his four big red mules top priority for fresh water. Mom called it ’the red mule rule’ and everyone in the neighborhood knew to move away from the spring when his mules came down for a drink. The big guys usually loafed in the shade of trees over on the far edge of the pasture where they could keep an eye on the barn in case Mr. Glover brought out some feed, but they headed for the spring when they were thirsty. Our dogs never bothered the mules but they barked to alert us when they heard them coming for a drink and we withdrew to the edge of the ravine. It was exciting to see the thirsty mules come trotting down the dusty path their hooves had carved through the woods.
One section of that path passed under trees our gang often climbed, because that’s what boys do. We sometimes sat up there on a limb so low we could almost touch the mules’ ears as they passed beneath us. One day out of the blue, Skinny said,
Hey, I gotta’ idea, let’s climb a tree and drop down on a mule’s back like the cowboys do it in the movies. We’ll draw straws to see who goes first!”
We talked it over and decided it was a daring trick we should try, but it had to be a day when we were the only people in the ravine. Such dangerous adventures didn’t need any tattle-tales reporting to our parents. I guess it wasn’t my day, because I drew the short straw to go first and that made the event much more personal. The big day came sooner than I wanted and I began doubting the wisdom of Skinny’s idea. However, we got up the tree and I took the lowest limb to get ready to drop on the last mule. The guys whispered encouragement and advice as the mules came clopping down the path for a drink Thank heavens at the last minute, I thought of a humdinger of an excuse to chicken out.
“Hey guys, I ain’t gonna jump on a mule’s back without a saddle! Besides, these ain’t cowboy horses they’re working mules that pull plows and wagons. Who wants to take my place?”