Lulu the mule plows Porters Chapel garden
Willie Benard guides the plow as Lulu the mule pulls through Pearson Gay’s garden. Gay is pictured at top right. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)
[04/02/01] Pearson Gay is 80 years old, and he likes doing things the old-fashioned way. So does 70-year-old Willie Benard.
That’s why the two use a mule and a plow each spring when it’s time to ready Gay’s garden on Porters Chapel Road for growing summer vegetables.
The two, co-workers for more than 40 years, use Lulu, a 31-year-old mule that Benard says is mean-spirited.
“I don’t like that mule,” he said. “I can’t touch her. If I get near her, she starts getting all mad.”
But Gay and Benard don’t have any such problems getting along.
“He can do almost anything,” Gay said of Benard. “If I ever wrote a book, he’d be a main character, and I wouldn’t have to exaggerate or make up anything for him either.”
Gay co-owned Ace Electric Company in Vicksburg before he retired 15 years ago. As a young man, Benard worked for Gay at the electric company and soon began working with Gay in his vegetable garden. Through the years, they have sometimes used a tractor for their farming when their garden was bigger but quickly returned to Lulu.
Gay has grown his own vegetables next to his home since 1956. He said he continues the tradition because, as his wife, Ruth, said, “there’s no competition between fresh ones and bought ones.”
As their family grew up and moved on, the garden got smaller, but still produces a number of fresh vegetables. Silver queen corn, butter beans, snap beans, field peas, okra, tomatoes and squash are the staples.
Gay said he remembers a time when he and Benard planted so many butter beans they spent an entire day shelling them by hand and could fill up the back of a pickup with all they had.
Mrs. Gay used to can all the vegetables herself, but said the garden is small enough now that she just freezes the yield.
“I hope I never have to can again,” she said. “I gave away all my jars to make sure I wouldn’t get an urge to do it.”