“Worked like ‘barred’ mules…”

Two rows down…

Last Friday was one of the hottest days of the year by some accounts.  Depending on one’s source it was anywhere from 99 degrees to 103 degrees in the general area of Healing Springs, NC.  My sources ranged from weather.com to the car thermometer belonging to the barista in the coffee shop where I wrote the first draft of this blog post.

Four hearty souls from First Baptist Church in Elkin, NC came down to help set out about 800 sweet potato slips at the farm.  For a little perspective, that’s just over 3 rows 140 feet long and probably translates into about 1,000 to 1,400 lbs of sweet potatoes by mid October.

Seeking shade in an old mule barn.
More appropriate the we realized…

Our volunteers ranged in age from 15 to 71 and none of us within a decade of each other.  Neither youth nor older age kept anyone from putting in a good day’s work.  After disking a portion of the field earlier in the week, the five of us hoed hills by hand and strolled along in stilted rhythm with the shluuuurp sound of the self watering hand tobacco setter we used to plant the slips.  Despite the heat, with plenty of water, gatorade, and shade breaks — we worked like “barred” mules.

Two hard working machines!

One volunteer had explained earlier in the morning that “worked like a ‘barred’ mule” is one of the favorite expressions of his son-in-law – who is also a farmer in the Elkin area.  The farmer’s then fiance once asked, “What are you talking about…?” in response to his use of the metaphor.

He replied, “You know, you’d work a mule you ‘barred’ harder than you’d work one you owned.”

“Oh!” she said, “You’re saying ‘borrowed.’  All this time I thought you were saying ‘barred’” she replied, doing her best to approximate his pronunciation.

“Yeah!” he nodded, “…worked like a ‘barred’ mule!” not quite seeing, or hearing, the problem.

That old hand tobacco setter probably has more experience than all of us combined

No matter how you pronounce it, the five of us worked like “barred” mules in stifling heat last Friday.  There was an occasional breeze, but it was usually only enough to sucker you into a deep breath.  Of course, by the time you actually sucked in the anticipated refreshment of cool air the breeze would die and deliver only a chest full of searing humidity.

The two oldest workers seem to be the farthest ahead…

One of our co-laborers was an Iraq vet who recalled that the average temperature during his deployment was a dry 129 degrees Fahrenheit.  He didn’t hesitate when asked how much difference the humidity made.  No southerner will be surprised by his assessment that the humidity made that day’s work more torturous than anything he’d experienced in the dry desert sands.  Well, as far as the heat went. Let’s be clear – we weren’t being shot at in Healing Springs.

There have been casualties along the way though.  Looks like we’ll only grow potatoes this year at Healing Springs Acres.  Scheduling issues, equipment availability, rain and a few other complications conspired against getting the corn planted. We’ll save the seed and plant it in the spring.  Of course when I say, “we’ll only grow potatoes” keep in mind that we’re talking about several thousand pounds of potatoes by harvest.  We’ll have white ones, red ones, yellow ones and sweet ones. It will still be a bounteous year!

Worth the wait — and the work

Last Friday’s bounty for these hearty souls was a stop on the way back to Elkin for some Lexington BBQ — as had been promised to at least one volunteer as a reward.  That’s not, mind you, Lexington “style” BBQ as so many are wont to say.  That’s actual Lexington BBQ and it really is worth a days work in the stifling heat.  There are other things worth a hot day’s work.  One friend commented on facebook in response to a smaller report of our day’s work, “Your Big God is pleased, come winter you will be cooled and the hungry will be fed. That is doing church!

Amen Sister.  Amen.

5 thoughts on ““Worked like ‘barred’ mules…””

  1. Ronnie McBrayer told me about your farm and your community, and I applaud your efforts….demonstrating Christ instead of simply talking about him….Amazing Grace…keep up the good works

  2. Looks and sounds to me like the folks who will receive the bounty of this harvest aren’t the only ones who will have been “fed” through this process. A hard day’s work in extreme conditions can be good for the soul. Thanks for sharing the update!

  3. Wow, so glad I got to see this explanation. My husband, myself & family were all discussing this exact expression last night. I was telling my husband that I’d been working so hard that I felt like a Barred Mule. He laughed & said that’s not right. I told him I used to say Barned Mule. Then someone here in North Carolina corrected me & said it is pronounced Barred Mule. But really didn’t understand what that meant. Being from Connecticut it was hard for me to understand this. But thanks to you, I am now enlightened. 🙂


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