“Now I trust you two with this chore,” he said to we two boys. “Don’t let me down.”
With that he climbed into the cab of his pick-up and drove off. He was nothing but a trail of dust before either of us moved.
We looked at each other and then around at the camp with its little line-shack and barn. We could hardly believe our luck.
We had jus’ be left in charge of the small spread for the next two weeks. It was only a few acres, but it felt like the all of Texas to us.
“Yippee!” I cried out as I flung my cowboy hat into the air.
Uncle had just left me and my cousin to our own devises for the next fourteen days. It was like summer camp without the adults.
We knew we had chore to do like feed and exercise the eight mules. We also knew that we had to muck out the stalls, but that was nothing compared with being left on our own.
“Lets grab our fishing poles,” my cousin called out as he headed for the line-shack.
After a couple of hours of teasing fish with drowned worms, we set about completing our nightly chores. Each of us mucked out half of the barn.
Then we worked together to grain and hay each animal’s stall. Lastly we threw back the doors to barn and in came the mules all by themselves.
“See, no herding,” my cousin said, adding, “Jus’ open the doors and add the mules — easy.”
This went on for three days. The routine was quickly becoming monotonous and we started looking for other ways to entertain ourselves.
That’s when my cousin came up with the idea. He climbed up on the door frame with a pitchfork.
And as each of the eight mules entered the barn he lightly poked it in the rump. Both of us boys laughed as the mules scurried after the tines touched them.
The fourth day was more of the same routine — a little fishing, mucking and graining followed by the delight of poking the mules in the rear. My cousin and I laughed at it over our supper of trout that evening.
By the sixth day my cousin had grown bored with getting on the door frame and lightly touching the stubborn, flop-eared beasts in the buttock. Then we roared with laughter.
“Did you see that?” I said.
My cousin was too busy laughing at the sight to answer. Each mule lowered itself down so that its belly nearly touched the ground.
Each one was avoiding being poked in the backside. They did this without being prompted.
The same thing happened the next day and the next — much to our delight.
“You know,” my cousin stated, “Dad’s going to beat us to death when he sees this.”
It was a sobering thought neither one of us had bothered to think of the last couple of days. Then before we knew it, the two-weeks of running the line-camp were up.
We could see the stream of dust lifting high into the air as the pick-up approached. It was early in the morning and all eight mules were out in the holding pen being run through their paces as the truck pulled to a stop.
Uncle got out of the truck and greeted us.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“Great,” was the resounding response from us.
With that he headed for the shack.
Uncle seemed pleasantly surprised at the general upkeep that the two young men had performed. The loose slat on the outhouse was nailed down and the barbwire fence was re-hung and there was even a mess of fish in the cooler waiting for a nighttime meal.
“You boys done alright by yourselves,” Uncle finally said.
This made us smiles widely. We still had yet to tell him about the mules and the doorway.
We agreed that we would wait until later, when we put the mules in the barn to say anything. Besides my cousin had already concocted a story for when the time came.
Without any warning Uncle walked over to the barn and threw back both doors. The mules responded to this by turning and marching single file towards the door.
That’s when my cousin spoke up, “Dad, there was an old owl in the barn about a week ago…”
His voice trailed off.
His father wasn’t listening anyway. He was too busy standing near the barn door watching with his mouth agape as each mule belly crawled its way into the barn.
“What in the world did you do to my mules?” Uncle exploded.
“Nothing,” I replied.
My cousin continued with his concoction, “We think it was an old hoot owl that got them spooked and ducking down like that.”
Meanwhile his father stood there with a very puzzled expression his face, wiping his forehead with a blue bandana.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said mostly to himself.
We jus’ looked at each other.
It was very quiet that evening during supper. Uncle was busy worrying about how to break the mules of their newfound habit and we two boys were busy worrying that the older man would find out what we had done to cause it.