Saturday, May 25, 2013

Mule Day

On the first Saturday in November, residents from Grady County flock to the tiny hamlet of Calvary, Georgia.  Located right on the state line, the usual population hovers around two hundred but come Mule Day, it swells to a staggering sixty thousand.  As a young girl, my anticipation for Mule Day was eclipsed only by Christmas and even then, I had to admit Santa would have been greatly improved with the addition of some mule ears.

We parked far away from the main action because my father's burnt orange 1977 Cadillac Deville was a beast to squeeze into a normal parking spot.  Walking closer, I heard the sounds of the people, the cacophony of gossip and excitement all rolled up into one.  I always insisted on stopping at the booths first to purchase my favorite memento of Mule Day: a straw hat with mule ears stapled to its brim.

My hat firmly on my head, we wandered through the grounds, stopping to admire the handmade crafts from fine Southern women and the dizzying array of jams, jellies, and pies.  Finally we headed over to the main attraction, the diving mule.  In retrospect it was cruel but in the 1970's, it was entertainment.  A man pushed a poor frightened mule off a platform suspended high in the air over an above-ground pool.  We all peered up nervously, waiting for the moment the mule would finally make the leap, and applauded with delight when he landed safely in the water with a thundering splash.

With a word of warning to my sister and me to behave ourselves, my parents would set us free, a crisp dollar grasped in our hands as we hurried over to the syrup making.  In Grady County, making syrup was a long and proud tradition.  At Mule Day, they honored the old days as mules walked round and round the grist mill, providing the power to crush the tough sugarcane into pulp.  I watched the resulting amber liquid drip down into black metal basins and then reveled in the scent as it cooked over the flame that magically transformed it into the sticky sweet goodness called syrup.  It was my own special piece of heaven right there in Calvary, Georgia.

Trading my dollar for a slice of sugar cane, I chewed on it, the sugary juices flooding my mouth, as I made my way to the stage in the center of it all.  Here, I watched with awe as cloggers, dressed in flouncy bright skirts, danced for us, their feet nearly a blur of perfect staccato rhythm.  Much too soon, my parents announced it was time to go and no amount of whining swayed them from this decision.

I wore my Mule Day hat for days after, until inevitably, one ear or both fell off, the staples holding them on too weak for the daily rigors of a child at play.  However, I knew, even when that happened, it was just one more year to the next Mule Day and I began the countdown once again.

*** If you're ever in Grady County come the first Saturday in November, be sure to stop by at Mule Day.  It's a truly Southern experience.

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