“So, what’s the big deal about mules,” asked my grandson, as he skated in circles balancing himself on the heels of his wheeled tennis shoes, a new skill he was beginning to master.
We were trying to get ready to go to Columbia, Tennessee, for the annual Mule Day parade. Not that I’m crazy about mules, or anything else equine, but it was something different to do, and a chance to get away from the omnipresent computer games that consume a child’s mind these days.
We were running late again. We always seem to run late. It was further than we remembered and we didn ‘t know our way around town. The streets were closed for the parade and the police flaged us away. Finally, we followed a group of motorcycle riders that seemed to know where they were going and ended up about a block from the parade route.
At first my grandson ignored the endless procession of mules and wagons, still more interested in endless stretches of sidewalk where he could test his balance by doing wheelies in his tennis shoes. But eventually curiosity got the best of him and he turned his attention to the reason we were there.
We pushed him through a crack between people in the crowd, up to the front where a kid could see. Later on, I sneak through to the front myself and set on the curb where I snaped pictures and pondered his question, “What is the big deal is about mules?”
Mules are a big deal to the people that own them and apparently to a lot of other people too. About 125,000 people, from all over the South turn out for the parade and festival. Tennessee folks like things plain and simple and what could be less pretentious than mules?
Columbia is widely known in these parts for its celebration of everything associated with mules. In early times, the story goes, Columbia was a commercial center for the mule market trade. The mule, produced by cross-breeding a horse and donkey, has traits from both animals but cannot reproduce, which creates a constant market for mules by those who appreciate this animal. This mule market eventually evolved through the years into a week-long celebration.
Mules are as varied in type as horses, but show the donkey side of their breeding with their long expressive ears, donkey tails, and quirky traits. Mules are often believed to be stubborn, but those in the know believe they are actually highly intelligent. They sometimes arouse the ire of their owners who say to handle them they must first learn to out think them.
Mules have a strong sense of self-preservation and refuse to endanger themselves by continuing to work when tired, sometimes a source of great aggravation to owners. Mules are especially known for their great strength and endurance, which made them popular with pioneers and farmers in the early days before machinery took over agriculture and wheelies took over sidewalks.
My grandson was getting into the spirit at last and adjusted his baseball cap to watch as the mules clopped by. There were all types of mules, from miniature animals bred for their tiny size, to huge magnificent animals with fancy tack and flamboyant riders in dusters. The wagons that were pulled by the animals were decorated in their parade finery.
I don’t know how impressed my grandson was, but usually kids like almost anything that is outside of their usual routine of life. Amusement parks and computers are okay to a point, but kids need to see and do different things and to have a variety of experiences, especially in this time of electronic everything. At least that’s my theory.
However, my grandson was back to doing wheelies by now, whizzing across the asphalt, hands in his pockets and toes pointed upwards, carefully avoiding the deposits left in the road after the parade was gone.
“How did you like the mules?” I asked hopefully.
“They’re okay,” he responded, “Can we get pizza now?”
I guess kids nowadays just can’t understand a form of transportation that doesn’t do wheelies.