Archive for March 26th, 2009

donkeyI’ve debated in my head whether to bring up the the subject of the Mule Farm in this blog for some time.  I’m sure my sister is reading this right now and  saying, “Oh, no…”  

You see, there are parts of everyone’s past that they  don’t want to claim but remain influences.  The Mule Farm was such a place.  I’m going to give to a quick version of it because I’m still not sure how much of its lore I’m ready to share with the general public.

For about 15 years, my father would go out on Friday nights to play poker.  Sometimes he would get home at 3 or 4 in the morning.  Sometimes 8 or 9.  Sometimes Sunday at 4 or 5 in the afternoon.  I remember huge piles of quarters and wads of bills when he won and big fights when he lost.  This was taking place in the ’60’s but there was a lot of money changing hands especially given the fact these were all blue collar guys.

All of this took place in a hollow in Pine City in a ramshackle house that was called the Mule Farm.  It was called that because its owner, Mike, had bought a group of donkeys (not mules, but the Donkey Farm didn’t roll off the tongue so well) in the late 50’s in order to start a donkey baseball/basketball business.  It never really took off so Mike just gave them the run of his property which ran up through a tight hollow.  So much so that there were stories of them coming in the house during the games.  

Mike was a jovial old soul, a powerfully built small man who had been a railroad man and a lumberman in his life, always willing to share a tale from his past and  who could speak on a surprising number of subjects, always with a pipe in the corner of his mouth.  His wife, Harriet, was an ex-stripper who at the time was in her fifties, a heavy set lady with sleepy eyes who chain smoked and had a penchant for wearing peek-a-boo, see-thru nighties at the poker table.  She said what was on her mind in very plain-spoken terms and outwardly professed to a dislike for women, although she always claimed to like my mother, probably because she, too, said what was on her mind in pretty straight language.

The games were legendary in their own time.  There was rotating cast of players including visiting players who had heard of the game and just wanted a glimpse of the place.  It was a shamble of a house.  Harriet wasn’t built for housework and if a visitor’s eyes drifted too often to a heap of dirty whatever, Harriet would tell them, with a long cigarette hanging from her lip, that if it bothered them they could get the hell out.  

There are too many stories to tell here and again, I’m not sure I wish to share them all.  Besides, being a kid I was only a sometime witness to the festivities so these tales are not mine alone to share.  But I will say that there were many real characters, some good guys and some outright skunks.  There were fist-fights and guns brandished.  There was an incredible amount of drinking.  When the beer and whiskey ran out, Mike’s homemade hard cider would be rolled out which never resulted in anything good for anyone involved.  There was a strong undercurrent of raw sex.  It was a very distinct place at a very distinct point in time.

It seems a million miles away from my life now but every so often I see a donkey and in my mind am transported back to that old farm in that tight hollow, all lit up in the summer night with the big cars of my youth parked in the yard and loud voices coming through a screen door that is barely hanging on.  What a different sensation such a scene brought then…

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