Last week at church, the children’s sermon was about the original Palm Sunday. The Biblical story was told of how a donkey was taken into service for Jesus to use, and the woman leading the lesson described it as a sort of parade into Jerusalem with Jesus riding the donkey. She compared it to a celebration in a neighboring town. Mule Day is coming up next weekend. There, she said, people also ride their donkeys, although they call them mules.
I told my husband that the teacher in me wanted to tell her that donkeys and mules are not the same thing. She was going to tell the same story in the second church service and I wanted her to get it right. But then I couldn’t find her after the service so I guess she misled another group of people at the second hour.
We used to live in Columbia, the “Mule Capital of the World,” so I do know just a little about these animals.
A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a mare, or female horse. And that’s the only way to get a mule, too, because most mules can’t reproduce. Something else you may not know (or ever need to know) is that a “hinny” comes from a stallion and a female donkey. And yes, they do look a lot like a mule.
Mule Day is a big celebration in Columbia. When we lived there, one of the community organizations I was involved with used to sell admission tickets to Maury County Park on Mule Day weekend. Most of the time this involved selling wristbands and making change for people who wanted to come into the park for the festivities: the mule show, the mule pull, the craft show, or any other activity that weekend. (Everything associated with Mule Day, except for the parade through downtown Columbia, was held at the park.) So you could see friends and neighbors, welcome tourists, or watch people as you collected admissions.
Working at “the back gate” to the park was a different experience, however. No first time worker was allowed to man the back gate. The back gate was where vehicles entered the park, not just the walk-in traffic like at the other gates. I thought it sounded silly to be such a big deal – and really, how bad could it be – that is, until I worked the back gate.
The circumstance that seemed to cause the most concern at this gate was the fact that one person could get in free for every mule that was in their trailer behind them. So if you had a truck with three people and only two mules, one person had to pay. And this was true only for mules – no other animals. If you had a horse, you had to pay. This did not make horse owners happy. Or truck loads of people with just a few mules.
The animals, thankfully, got in free, no matter what species they were.
Another concern was that people would often bring campers and spend the night in the park. Then they would trailer their animals to the parade and bring them back. If they forgot to get a pass to show they had already paid admission the night before, then we were supposed to charge them (again). This did not make these people happy, either.
When you were standing at the truck driver’s door and couldn’t see into the enclosed trailer behind the truck, you had to ask, “Is that a horse or a mule you have back there?” This would always be met by loud guffaws and taunts such as “Why she don’t even know the differ’nce ‘tween a horse and a mule! Wonder who raised her like that?” But I would just smile and say, “Well, I just can’t see from this angle,” or some such kindly reply. After several instances of this same situation and response, though, my words were a lot nicer than my thoughts.
My most memorable experience at the back gate was when a truck driven by a man, with his wife, drove up pulling a trailer of six goats (which I could see and also hear). When I asked for their admission payment, they said, “But we have our goats back there.” To which I replied, “Only people with mules get in free.”
The woman launched into a tirade about how these goats were the most entertaining part of the parade and they smelled better than the mules and whose idea was this anyway and she wanted to see the Mule Day manager. I listened politely and said, “All I know is that you need to pay me your admission to get in the gate.” My friend working with me thought this woman might have had a gun in her car, and she could see that she was getting riled up enough to possibly pull it out if she had one, and she was alarmed by the turn the conversation was taking. So my friend said, “For goodness sake, just let them in.” And I did. And I never worked the back gate again.
But I have to give mules credit for being very smart animals, not nearly as stubborn as some of the people who you may find associated with them.