By D. Henry Garbade, Jr.
I was born in Savannah, Ga., on August 8, 1949, but left there as quickly as I could get back to my home on Chelsea Plantation which is divided by the Beaufort and Jasper county lines. My grandfather was a manager on Chelsea Plantation and insured that crops were planted, livestock fed and cared for and also that we had enough food for the family. Chelsea was what is known as a working plantation which means that it was self-sufficient and produced enough goods to keep it running.
My grandfather was an excellent gardener, as were most folks during those days. Most of them were young during the Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s and they remembered how difficult it was to survive and almost no one had as much to eat as we have today. We all worked in the garden and everyone who worked on the plantation or even lived near it was welcome to gather food from the garden. My grandfather plowed the garden with a mule and I would watch for hours as my grandfather talked to the old mule. As far as I was concerned, the mule understood English as well as any person I knew.
One day a new tractor was delivered to the plantation. It was a Farmall and it was as red as the fire trucks I had seen in town. It had a four cylinder engine and it was started with a hand crank. I tried to crank it once and I couldn’t even get the engine to move. I was mesmerized watching the dirt fold over itself as the plows did their work in the rich soil. My grandfather made it all look so easy. Being nearly 8 years old, I decided that I was old enough to drive the Farmall and do some plowing on my own. After all, I drove the old Jeep all over the pasture and I thought I was a pretty good driver.
That evening at supper, I announced to my grandfather that I could certainly help him the next day with the plowing and that I was also certain I could drive that tractor. He told me that I could drive the tractor as soon as I learned to appreciate it for the work it could do. It was a great improvement over the mule. He decided that I could drive the tractor as soon as I learned how to plow the garden with the mule.
The next morning, grandfather and I went to the barn and hitched the mule to the turn plow. It was the same kind of plow that I had seen working behind the tractor. As my grandfather fitted bridles, straps, single-tree plow hitches and finally the plow itself, I busied myself trying to remember just what went where. The farther along he got, the less I could remember. Soon it was time to begin plowing. Grandfather reminded me that if I wanted the mule to turn right I was to call the mule’s name, Sam, and then say “Gee.” If I wanted him to turn left, I was to repeat the process and then say “Haw.” I could barely see over the cross bar on the plow but I was determined to plow that garden so I could drive the tractor.
Off we went, Sam and I, with the reins hung over my head so I could get to them if I needed to help steer old Sam. I was having a very hard time keeping that plow upright and when it fell, I held on the cross bar. Sam never slowed up as he dragged me through the garden at his ever-steady pace.
As soon as I regained my feet, Sam started veering to the right so I yelled, “Sam, Haw!” Sam immediately turned left. He didn’t straighten up, he turned hard left and now I was plowing the backyard and the garden was behind me. “Gee, Sam, Gee!” Sure enough, he made an immediate right turn. This was not going as well as I thought it should have so I looked back at my grandfather for a little help. He was on his knees laughing so hard I thought he was not going to be able to breathe.
I left Sam standing in the middle of the garden, my grandfather lying beside the garden, the tractor was under the shed, and as far as I was concerned it could stay there, and I went into the house. I never did get to drive that tractor.
Beaufort Then & Now: This moment in Beaufort’s history is an excerpt from the book “Beaufort … Then and Now,” an anthology of memories compiled by Holly Kearns Lambert. Copies of this book may be purchased at Beaufort Book Store. To contribute your memory, contact Holly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.