OlJudeOl’ Jude the mule and Gran’Paw Sasser had everything in common. You could hear ’em down in the cornfield, both of ’em passing vociferous gas and exchanging insults.

“Damn you to hell, Jude! When I says haw I means haw!”

Paw, which is what I called him—he called me boy—spent most of his life looking at the behinds of mules in a freshly-plowed or planted furrow in the hot Oklahoma sun. Tough, ornery, as stubborn as the mules whose behinds he followed.

I envied the way he drank fresh well water from the quart fruit jars Maw and Mom brought down to us from the old house on the hill. Water overran his mouth and washed the dust off his chin before it made wet spots in the tilled soil and on his clodhopper shoes. He ripped off his old sweat-stained hat and poured what was left over his thick iron-gray hair and shuddered with delight.

When the sun turned red in the afternoon, Paw turned Jude toward the barn. He picked me up—I was about six—and set me astride Ol’ Jude and we trudged home, the three of us with our weary heads hanging, not speaking.

“Noisy creeks,” Paw always said, “run shallow. Deep water don’t a’ways hafta be a’bubblin’ an’ a’goin’ on.”

Paw never asked anything from anybody or anything. Not from any man, not from government, not from life.

Once, a “guv’ment man” came out to the farm to try to tell Paw how to run his business. Paw got his shotgun and chased him off. Ol’ Jude added insult to injury by braying the mule equivalent of a horse laugh.

The only time I ever saw Paw cry was when Ol’ Jude died. Paw stood there with a single tear carving a streak through the dust on his thorny cheek.

“What the hell you lookin’ at, boy?”

“The masculine heart needs a place where nothing is prefabricated, modular, nonfat, ziplock, franchised, on-line, microwavable. Where there are not deadlines, cell phones, or committee meetings…”

From Devoted to Fishing, by Charles W. Sasser. Available in paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or in Kindle.