By George Brown
When I was in the first grade I attended a one-room schoolhouse. We didn’t have bus service so all the kids walked to school; all that is except a boy named Harvey who rode a white mule to school every day. The story of how this came about is worth telling.
For more years than Harvey was old his dad had been using the mule to pull a single furrow plow. One day he pulled the mule to a stop for a lunch break under a big sycamore tree at the edge of the field he was plowing. As he sat down in the shade of the tree, he was completely unaware of a hornet’s nest hidden in the low lying branches directly above the mule’s head. Harvey’s dad unwrapped a sandwich and was about to take the first bite when the mule snorted and reared its head just enough to brush against the hornet’s nest. That was all it took for the hornets to go berserk and start swarming the mule and Harvey’s dad. He jumped to his feet and started unhitching the mule but the hornets were coming so fast he had to leave the mule to fend for itself, as he took off running across the field toward the barn, managing to escape with only a few stings on his backside.
Unfortunately, the mule, still hitched to the plow and unable to move from where it stood, did not fare so well. By the time the hornets got through with the mule it had swelled up like a huge white blimp with legs, a head, and a tail.
After the hornets had spent all their stingers and cleared the area Harvey’s Dad came back to see about the mule. He managed to get the poor beast back to the barn and soothed its wounds with a soupy concoction of mustard greens, wild onions, some tar pitch, and a juicy wad of chewing tobacco.
In a few days the swelling had gone down so that the mule looked like a mule again, so Harvey’s dad hitched it to the plow to finish the field; but instead of cutting a straight furrow, no matter how hard Harvey’s dad pulled on the reins, the mule pulled even harder to the left and went in circles. It was then that Harvey’s dad realized the mule had been stung in its right eye so badly it had gone blind. He would have put the mule down but Harvey pleaded to let it live. Finally, his dad relented and said he could have the mule if he would do extra chores to pay for its keep, which Harvey was glad to do.
Somehow or other Harvey figured out that by putting a patch over the mule’s bad eye it could walk as straight as a rail. He offered to give the mule back to his dad but his dad said a deal is a deal, and, besides, he had already purchased a new mule for plowing. So that’s how Harvey came to be riding his white mule to and from school each day.
And so it was that, as I and the other kids were walking to school on a cold wintry day in January of 1952, along came Harvey riding his white mule. The wind was picking up and it began to snow as Miss Harris rang the bell for school to begin, but there was no reason to suspect we were about to be hit by one of the biggest snowstorms of the century.
By morning recess the wind was howling and snowflakes the size of silver dollars had begun to fall but we went outside anyway. At lunchtime Miss Harris asked one of the older boys to carry an extra bucket of coal in to keep the potbellied stove stoked, and she kept us inside, except for letting everyone take turns running to and from the outhouse. She had John, the biggest boy in school, walk each of the younger kids to the outhouse, as we took our turns.
By the time afternoon recess arrived the snow was well over a foot deep and beginning to blow into deep drifts around the schoolhouse. We could all see the expression of concern on Miss Harris’ face before she spoke. “Children, I know your parents will be worried. I’m closing school for the rest of the day and sending you home right now. Hurry and get your things together.” We all grabbed our books and quickly put our coats on, then headed out the door and began wading through the snow toward our respective homes.
“Come on, George,” I suddenly heard a voice call my name. It was Harvey sitting astride his white mule. He reached down for my hand and with a hard pull lifted me, and my knapsack with a half-eaten apple and my Dick and Jane reading book, onto the mule’s back behind him.
Harvey lived in the next house down the road from ours but had never paid any attention to me because he was in the sixth grade and I was only in the first. I sure was glad he decided to pay attention to me that day because I’m not sure I’d have made it home by myself. Thanks to Harvey’s one-eyed mule being able to walk a straight line through the blinding snow we made it home in no time at all.
My family moved the next summer so I don’t know what ever happened to Harvey and his white mule but the blizzard of ’52 is a school day I’ll never forget.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Yvonne, live in Jackson Township.