The dark russet of her hair, wiry, tickled the legs and her boney back made sore the tiny bottoms of my sparsely clothed butt. She was a tough ole girl still walk slow, proud of herself when we climbed on her back, you would swear the old mule would strut. Silver hair replaced the brown around her eyes and mouth, in her prime she pulled heavy plows and wagons, Soap Sticks was a genuine southern mule. She woke at four O’clock every morning with a braying that echoed off the bluffs above our home. Like a barnyard rooster, it was her way of telling everyone to wake up.
Her world in those days was filled with sunshine and all the oats that she wanted to eat, her long ears had finally gone dead, her sight week. Soap Sticks was wise, her senses distinct and she roamed familiar pastures by instinct. She inhabited brooks in the pastures nibbled on whatever the land would yield. Her love for children never changed, when I came next to her she would instantly kneel to the ground making it possible for her little girl to climb upon her back.
Climbing on her back leaving the pasture I would hold to her rough mane, she took me through the fields of cotton, corn and sugar cane where she would stop for me to break off a sweet piece of the sugar cane. She would go down into the brooks deep enough to let the water tickle my feet. On any given day, she would be the one that made the decision to give me these special treats. Unafraid, I knew that she would never bring any harm to me, when she tired of the ride she would slowly take me back to the farm where I would put her back into the pasture.
It was a brisk fall day that my daddy came into our kitchen to say that Old Soap Sticks had gone very far away. “Where” I screamed, he told me that she had suffered all night, she was very old and that about four O’clock she just closed her eyes and went to her final sleep. Daddy buried her in the pasture by the little brook she loved so much, close to the clear sweet water. I said a prayer over the tall mound where she would lay forever, I did not cry, as it was not our way.
I knew that Soap Sticks would not be old or alone, she would roam green pastures and drink from bubbling brooks, at last, she was truly home. She could now hear birds sing and see other animals around her. I do not know how old I will be before I go into that final sleep, but I know when I do Old Soap Sticks would come running, kneeling down to carry me to my final home.
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