by bj max
According to Floyd’s fancy built-in thermometer on his new GL1800, the temperature is thirty-six degrees. Now for you good people up north, thirty-six degrees may sound downright balmy but here in the South, where water freezes at sixty degrees, thirty-six degrees is considered life threatening. But, despite the frigid weather, we have important doings today so fifteen hardy souls bundle up and saddle up for a run to Columbia, Tennessee to celebrate the magnificence and splendor of that lowly work animal, the common everyday mule.
Francis the talking mule, star of stage, screen and television, once said that the only thing sillier than a talking mule is a talking man. If you read this column regularly you will no doubt agree that Francis hit the nail on the head. Francis would have felt right at home at this years Mule Days celebration in Columbia where everybody and every mule was welcome. Columbia, home of two-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin, has hosted the Mule Days Celebration since 1840. MauryCounty’s annual salute to this unpretentious equine hybrid saw more than 275,000 visitors this year and raked in more than forty grand. Thirty-three states, Australia, England and the Happy Bottom Riding Yachting and Snipe Huntin’ club were represented.
The whole Mule Days thing has a county fair kind of atmosphere. There’s food tents everywhere and music blasting from every nook and cranny. There’s a Ferris Wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl for the young ‘uns. Folks are strolling the midway, licking ice cream cones, grazing out of popcorn bags and gawking at anything and everything, but mostly at each other. After an hour or so of milling around in this chaotic ant hill, it suddenly dawns on me that I ain’t seen no mules. There’s all kinds of evidence laying around that mules have frequented this area recently, but I still ain’t seen one yet. And I needed a good mule snapshot, so I went looking for a photogenic mule.
Honey Bunny Sugar Booger (my better half) and I strolled down the dusty midway, past hot dog and hamburger stands, tee-shirt emporiums and funnel cake vendors. Then she spied this great big ‘ol sign that said “Crafts”. Well, I knew where we were going next. She loves crafts and there would be no holding her back so we ambled on in. First thing I did was speak to this lady who seemed to be in charge. “‘Scuse me ma’am, but do y’all by any chance have any mules in here?” She was a happy soul with rosy cheeks and one of them jolly dispositions. She smiled real big and said, “Nawww. We don’t have no mules in here you silly goose.” Then she turned and waved her arm in a long sweeping semi-circle indicating the contents of the huge circus size tent. “But we got just about anything else you can think of.” Well, that was sure the truth. Like a flash, Honey Bunny Sugar Booger disappeared in amongst the What Nots and Bric-a-Brac. Took me a solid hour to drag her outta’ there and then only after I paid for a wooden cow that mooed the “Milk Cow Boogie” when you tried to milk her. Udderly ridiculous.
After leaving the crafts tent, we hadn’t gone far before we came to a crossroads in the midway and right in the middle of it was Bahama Mama’s, a fruit drink stand. They were playing loud Hawaiian music with lots of bongos and tom-toms. The drinks were served in tall skinny flower vases and they looked delicious. I walked up, peeked behind the counter and yelled over the deafening music, “Hey. Have you got any mules back there?” A man sportin’ a Hawaiian shirt sat in the floor fiddling with a disassembled stereo speaker. “What?” he yelled. I yelled louder, “I said, have you got any mules back there?” “Naw, no mules.” he screamed. But we got some real cool drinks.” They were also real expensive. Five bucks if I remember correctly. But Honey Bunny Sugar Booger seemed to enjoy it.
As Honey Bunny Sugar Booger sipped her fancy high dollar punch we strolled on around the midway. There were some new Toyota Trucks on display under an awning so we ambled over to check ’em out. We ducked in and I stood there a minute with my hands on my hips looking around then asked the fellow that seemed to be guarding the trucks if he had any mules in there. “Nope. Ain’t got no mules.” “Just what I thought.” I snorted. “But hey,” he said, ” I do got this here fancy gas grill that we’re gonna’ give away after ‘while.” He slipped us a slip of paper. “Fill at ‘tare piece of paper out an’ drop it in ‘nat box over ‘air. You might win yourself a fancy new grill.” He grinned. “No mules though?” I repeated. “Naw, ‘fraid not, neighbor.”
What kind of mule show is it that don’t have no mules? I mumbled this as we shuffled on down the midway. Just look at all these stupid people. Come up here by the thousands and pay good money to celebrate the majesty and splendor of mules and there ain’t a mule in sight. What a rip.
I stuck my head inside this big tent where these four black ladies were laughing and carrying on as they stood over two large cookers. “‘Scuse me ladies” I said politely, “but do y’all happen to have any mules in here?”
“Naw. We ain’t got no mules in here you ignorant white boy, but we got some mighty fine catfish.” She forked a fish steak and pointed it at me and smiled. “Why don’t you and your lady friend there come on in and try some?”
“Well.” I said and turned and asked Sugar Booger if she was ready to eat. She said she was always ready to eat catfish so we took a seat and dug in.
As I polished off the last hush puppy, I asked one of the ladies if she had ever seen a mule at Mule Days. She said, “You know, come to think of it I don’t think I have. I’ve seen some horses and a few ponies. I even seen a gee-raff once but mules? I don’t think so. But then I ain’t really interested in mules. I’m more interested in money, honey. You unnerstan’ what I’m sayin’?” If I didn’t then, I certainly did when I paid the tab.
We waddled back out onto the midway and moseyed down towards this big arena. I glanced at my watch. One PM. If I’m gonna’ get a picture of a mule I’d better find one pretty soon ’cause we’re supposed to meet the group in an hour. Later, just as I was about to give up my quest, we rounded a corner and from out of nowhere came two teenage girls riding the biggest mule I’ve ever seen in my life. Had to be sixteen hands at the shoulder. Desperate for a picture, I jumped out in front of that huge animal waving my arms like an idiot and yelling and hollering at the top of my lungs, “Whoa mule, whoa mule, whooooa mule!” This was the first mule I had seen here at mule days and I wasn’t about to let him get away. Seeing the camera in my hand the girls reined up and when I aimed it in their direction they smiled and lit up like light bulbs. Got it!
I was happy now. I had my picture. We met our group near the main gate and ambled on out to the motorcycles and saddled up. This place was getting too dang crowded. I wondered why was this event so popular. Mules are treated with such reverence and adulation in the south that it borders on a cult following in some quarters. One high school has gone so far as to name its football team the Poplar Bluff Mules. I think the main reason for all this praise might be the role mules played in building America so many years ago. They worked right alongside us, did most of the grunt work, and if you can believe the Democrats, they did most of the thinking too. Mules and Americans….pulling together.