The world was sepia-toned back then. A man’s mules were not just machines to work the fields. They were friends or enemies, members of the family you followed down the rows, piloting the plow with your strength and their strength over the years, to plant and tend the crops that were your life and their life.
The mules were named Judy and Mandy. Their ears were quizzical, their noses were soft, their teeth were large and they were apt to bite. If Judy and Mandy were put in the same stall in the old, run-down stable, they would nip at each other, whicker nastily, and fuss. If they were put in separate stalls, they would each kick the wall between them until it collapsed and they were together, to nip at each other and fuss.
In the photo it is early spring. The trees are just beginning to bud. It is time to break the ground for the plant bed, to sow the tobacco seeds and cover the bed with canvas. By May the plants are spreading small, flat green leaves. It will be time to break the ground in the field with the mules, and set the tobacco plants by hand, backbreaking labor.
The man is serious in this photo, sincere. He wears his hat on the back of his head, so his face is revealed, open. He wears worn overalls and a flimsy jacket. He wears a clean white shirt.
You cannot see his five children. You cannot see his irreverent humor, or how he loved to hear his coonhounds run, their bell-like voices bawling “oh-oh-oh” as they raced on the trail of their prey.
But you can see his hazel eyes if you look at me or my niece Judy. And you can feel his love of animals in the dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens his great-great-grandchildren love.