Dusty Old Books, or How the Mule Chased the Man

April 21, 2009

posted by Caroline Picard

I came across this book last weekend, browsing shelves of old books in a bookstore in Wrigleyville. It’s a modest book, not too thick, but full of collected stories and some critical essays about African Americans. For selfish reasons (or in Toby’s detested vernacular ‘personal reasons’) I’m interested in these kinds of stories because they are essentially humble and human. I’ve been thinking more and more lately about the idea of Delight and how, striving towards delight might actually create a significant context for tragedy–such that a reader might actually walk away with a better sense of how to manage his or her own present experience.zora_neale_hurston_nywts

I feel like this is kind of a great example of that, in as much as the story is dealing with a horrific cultural context. At the same time that context is not The Point. At least not exactly.

A little about Hurston ((as taken from the introduction), also fyi, from what I gather the book is almost entirely about Florida):

“The marker Alice Walker erected at Zora’s grave in Eatonville, Fla., in 1973 says:

ZORA NEALE HURSTON

1901 – 1960

Novelist   Folklorist

GENIUS OF THE SOUTH

“Now there was a woman who worked. Waitress, manicurist, librettist, lecturer, secretary/companion, producer, scenarist, domestic, novelist, drama coach, file clerk, storyist, traveloguist, playwright, cook….” and so it continues…You can read more about her by going here.

mule

DADDY MENTION AND THE MULE

by Zora Neale Hurston

excerpted from “The Sanctified Church”

pub. Turtle Island Press, 1981

“Daddy Mention git a long trip to Raiford Once. Dey wuz a lot of people workin’ on de Canal near Ocala, an’ they wuz makin’ good money. Daddy Mention, he was makin’ better money den dey wuz, though. You see, he wa’nt workin’ xacly on de Canal’ he wuz sellin’ a little wiskey on the side to dem day wuz.

“Dey didn’t let the Ocala police arres’ nobody on de Canal. De county cops didn’ bother you much, neither. Dere wuz some special men could bother you, but ef you didn’ raise a ruckus, de wouldn’ care.

“But Daddy Mention uster have to go to Ocala whenever his liquor run out. He wuz smaht, though; he uster git one of de white men on de camp t’ drive him in an’ bring him back. Dat-a-way de police in Ocala didn’ had a chance to git him.

“It uster make de cops mad as a stunned gopher to see Daddy Mention come ridin’ right into town wid dis yere white feller, den go ridin’ back to de Canal agin, an’ dey couldn’ git dere han’s on him.

“But one time Daddy Mention done jes git his little load o’ likker an’ dey had started back when de white feller he see somebody he knowed. So he git out o’ de truck an’ tole Daddy Mention to wait a minute.

“He didn’ have to tell him dat; de cop came an’ put Daddy Mention where he kin wait a long time, real comfortable. De policeman he wait a long time for a chance to lock Daddy Mention up. So he think he would have a li’le fun wid him. So he stahted pretendin’ to joke with Daddy Mention, an kinnin’ him about allus ridin’ in to town wid dat white man: ‘You mus’ t’ink you as good as white folks,’ he tole Daddy Mention, an’ laugh.

“Daddy Mention he think de cop wuz really playin’ wid him, so he stahted tellin’ stories. He told him ’bout how de Lord wuz makin’ men, an’ put all de dough in de oven. ‘He take out de fust dough,’ say Daddy, ‘an’ it wa’nt nowhere near brownn; it wuz just yaller. So he set it aside, an’ later it become all dem folks what lives in foreign countries, dem Turks an’ all. Den He take out a real brown batch uf dough.’ Daddy Mention he laugh as hard as he could, an’ de policemans dey laugh too.

“I don’ know ef de jedge done laugh, though. He give Daddy Mention two years de nex’ day. Dat’s how Daddy git to Riford an’ git to know Jinny.

“It take Daddy Mention a long time to figure out he really in de Big Rock for two years or beter. When he finally git it through his haid, he begin tellin’ folks he wouldn’ stay dere no two year.

“You can’ beat Cam’m Champan’s Jinny, dey try to tell him. But Daddy Mention he laugh; he ax em how, ef he done drown houn’ dogs in de swamp an’ done dodge guards wid double-barrell’ Winches’ kin a mule stop him?

“Lotsa other prisoners dey try to tell Daddy Mention, but he wouldn’ have it no other way but he mus’ try to escape an’ make it to de Okeenokee Swamp up de other side o’ Olustee.

“So one mornin’, soon as dey let us out in the yard, Daddy Mention ups an’ runs. He wuz in good shape, too; he beat dem shot guns a mile.

“When he git a chance to look back over his shoulder he sees one o’ de guards put his finger in his mouth and whistle. But didn’ no dog come; out come trottin’ a li’le, short, jackass-lookin’ mule, an’ she back’ into a li’le drop-bottom cart wid nobody teachin’ her.

“It don’ take but a minute to hitch dat Jinny into dat cart, an’ by de time de harness wuz on her all uf de dogs wuz in de bottom uf de cart an’ it was flying down de fiel’ after Daddy Mention.

“Daddy Mention wuz smaht; he stole one o’ de other prisoner’s shoes befo’ he lef’, so when he git to de woods he take off his shoes an’ put on dese. Den he throw his shoes in de ditch, to fool de dogs. An’ it done fool em too. Daddy had time to fin’ hisself a good big oak tree an’ kivver hisself in it befo’ de dogs come an’ lost his trail. So he wuz doin’ a lot of laughin’ to hisself when dey went on across de ditch an’ kep’ on barkin’ an’ runnin’ furder away. De cart that Jinny wuz pullin’ de dogs in wuz standin’ a li’le ways off fum his tree too.

“Daddy Mention he wuz busy watchin’ de dogs an’ figurin’ when could he come down and hit it fer de swamp, when he feel somepin grab at his pants. Befo’ he kin figure out what is it, it had tore de whole seat out of ’em, an’ maybe a li’le bit of Daddy Mention too. Den he see it wuz Jinny. She have two feets on de bottom of de tree an’ wuz reachin’ for another piece of Daddy Mention’s pants. He try to hurry up a li’le higher, an’ one of his feets slip’ down and li’le. Dat when Jinny show him she et leather too.

“Daddy, he didn’ know what to do. He go round to de other side o’ de tree, an’ jump down to run. Jinny she come right on behin’ him. He have to keep goin’ dat samw way, cause de dogs wuz still runnin’ roun’ de other way.

“Befo’ Daddy knowed it Jinny had doen chase him right back to de prison fence. But he think even gittin’ back inside’d be better’n git et up by dat wil’ mule, so he lit out fer de top o’ de fence. Den jes as he git almos’ over, Jinny bit agin. Dis time dere wan’t not pants for her to bite, so she jes grabbed a mouthful o’ Daddy Mention.

“An’ dat’s where he be when Cap’m Chapman come; right dere, wid a good part o’ him in Jinny’s mouth. It wuz a long time befo’ he kin sit down to eat. Dat don’ worry him so much, cause in de box where he wuz you don’ eat much, anyway.”

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