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My Opinion: In True Southern Fashion

Recently I read something by my good friend, Rick Bragg. Ricky says you “cain’t” be no “real Southern writer without you haven’t written something about a mule, some time or ‘nother.” I assure you, the grammar in his comments was flawless — I took what is called “literary license,” so it doesn’t count — against him or me.

I got to pondering on the mule thing, though, and I could not for the life of me come up with a single recollection of having penned any pieces about them and, not wanting to be considered anything LESS than a “real Southern writer” by y’all or Ricky or anybody, for that matter, I figgered I’d best get to thinking about mules. So I thought, and I thought … and I thought — here’s a brief synopsis of my lifetime accumulation of Mule Material:

Mama was from Grosse Pointe, Mich., and my Daddy was from Ethel, Mississippi. The dialect in both places requires that certain one-syllable words be pronounced with two. The only problem is they ain’t the SAME WORDS. Daddy would give two syllables to a brief greeting: hey-ey or hi-i, while Mama would mutilate other words. For example: MULE, pronounced by Mama as: mew-ul. It is a pure-dee wonder I ever learned to talk a-tall.

Uncle Pete Wasson had a mule named Shorty. The softest thing I have ever touched with my own personal hand was the nose of Shorty the Mule. I have no idea if this is a trait common to all mules or if it was peculiar to Shorty, but that was one soft nose right there, and he was mighty happy to have you rub it any time you took a mind to — a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

Whenever Daddy wanted to communicate to you that your current behavior was rendering you useless to him personally (whether you were merely absent when he needed you to be present or you were actually present, but not performing up to expectations), he would say, “Hmph, might as well trade you in on a mule.” Meaning by this that, if he were able to get himself a mule in exchange for you, he would then at least have something he could USE. I am not aware of any program, government or otherwise, that provides mules that can be traded for unsatisfactory humans, but I bet there would be a huge demand for it, don’t you reckon? I know a whole buncha people who’d rather have them a nice, soft-nosed mule than whoever they are currently married to or employed by, for example.

My seester Judy and I are possessed of a stubborn streak that does not surface all that often, but when it does, it DOES and we get muley — in our minds, we see ourselves sitting down in the middle of the road, ears back, jaws set. You’d best just make up your mind to do whatever it is our way, we ain’t budgin’ ‘til then.

Lastly, my whole life, I have heard Really Rich People described as having “enough money to burn a wet mule.” This is baffling to me. Why do they want to burn a wet mule? How did he get wet? How wet is he? What will happen if they don’t burn him? We are assuming this is a DEAD wet mule, yes? Can he not be flambéed by any other means? How did they manage to get all that money if they are stupid enough to use it to set fire to wet mules? How much money are we talking here? One thinks it would be nice to amass such a fortune, but forego the mule bonfire. Just have some folks over for ribs or something.


Jill Conner Browne is a multiple #1 New York Times® Best Seller.
Simon & Schuster published her latest book American Thighs: The Sweet Potato Queen’s Guide to Preserving Your Assets. She is featured regularly in national and international magazines and television shows. You can learn more about “Her Royal Highness” at sweetpotatoqueens.com.

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