Heeeere’s Mosby!Posted: December 11, 2007
We’d been hankerin’ to see Mosby — all five of us in our writers’ group, who’d been hearing “mule tales” for a year. So when our sixth member, Mosby’s owner, invited us to a Christmas gathering Sunday afternoon, we knew it was gonna happen. We drove a half hour south of town toward Columbia and followed the issued directions — turn right, bear right, go left.
Neil’s house out in the country is an expanded log cabin, built in the 1800s in North Carolina, disassembled, and moved to Tennessee. It was decorated for the holidays like something out of Country Living magazine.
The minute I spied the log cabin exterior through the woods, I began looking for the mule. I saw Jackson, the old horse, and then after a while, when the mule figured out something was going on at the house, he showed up. I learned that mules are a lot like dogs — they watch the windows, looking for their people, curious, keeping up with what’s going on.
When Neil rang the food bell, Mosby came running, eager to eat and eager for attention. He’s a tall, dark, handsome animal with shades of rich caramel brown on his nose. He looks a lot like Festus’ mule on the old “Gunsmoke” re-runs, except a lot more handsome. And maybe bigger. Mosby’s a hero in Columbia. First of all, he’s named after a Confederate General. Second, mules are just plain big down there. The town even has an annual Mule Day.
Now, I know a few things about mules because my grandfather always had one. He was a dirt farmer and used a mule to plow his fields back in the 1950s and early 60s. The first few mules he had, he named Dick. All of them. It worked, because he had a horse named Dixie, who lived to be thirty. But then he got one that he named Sam. I didn’t put it together until a few years ago, but that mule was named after his father-in-law, Sam Neal. Grandpa developed a relationship with Sam. He loved that mule … treated him like a person, talked to him like they were best friends. Sam was a good worker. He knew full well how to gee and haw, but every once in a while he would look around at Grandpa, get that look in his eyes, rock his ears front to back a few times, and then gee when he was supposed to haw, just to aggravate the old man. Grandpa would yell and cuss at him and call him a “frazzlin’ low down mule,” but Sam didn’t care. He kept on pretending he didn’t know gee from haw. He loved to rile Grandpa. He understood that they were just two old men with common footing, toiling together.
Sam loved watermelons. We’d all sit in the yard under the shade of the oak and walnut trees and slice up a big, round one, warm from the patch. Sam would bray and cry and paw at the ground. He’d dance to the left, then to the right, and nod his head. He couldn’t stand it. He wouldn’t quieten until we gave him a slice, or a rind. Grandpa kept him in watermelons. He’d hold a few out for Sam before taking the rest into town to sell. He looked out for old Sam.
Grandpa would ride Sam two miles up the dirt road to George Smith’s Country Store and buy him a beer. Then Grandpa would sit on the front porch in his rocking chair and tell everybody the tale about Sam and his can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and how that old mule loved to go up to George Smith’s on a Saturday night and have him a cold one with the boys. Grandpa told the whole story from the mule’s point of view.
I sure do miss those stories. I think Grandpa always livened them up a bit. But I reckon that’s what southern storytelling is all about. Anyway, that’s my legacy, and I’m standing on it.