Friday, September 14, 2012

For the love of mules......

 This weekend, our county is hosting its annual celebration-- The Clark County Mule Festival. It is our nationally known festival that draws visitors from every holler in the nation. And of course, they all bring their mules
     The Clark County Mule Festival was established in September of 1986 for the purpose of celebrating the mule.  Our county is considered the mule capital of the nation and those who started it hoped to draw other mule enthusiasts to our lonely spot on the globe.
 About a week before the actual festival begins, our town is flooded with campers and travel trailers of every make, model and year lining up at the fair grounds just east of town.  They begin vying for their spot on the grassy lots where they want to set up house keeping for the next week or so. The camping is on a first come, first serve basis, so if you want electric, you'd better get here quickly! I've heard they have a decorated camper contest, so the residents of "camper city" pull out all the stops and hang their Christmas lights, signs, and yard ornaments with great gusto.  The other sites, labeled "primitive" (basically, no electric), seem to go quickly too.  And, believe me, they take primitive seriously!  Little tents and campfires dot the landscape.  Some even sleep next to their mule, using their saddle as a pillow. At night, you can hear bluegrass music played by the glow of the fire.
    If you need some vittles or other supplies during the week, the mule shuttle bus runs constantly making trips to town from the campsite.
  The town gets excited about the mule festival as well, selecting this particular weekend to hold its all-town yard sales. The mule festival participants drive their pickups and mules into town to boost our lowly economy.  It's great fun for all.
     During the day the festivities take center stage.  They start the morning with prayer and a devotion read over the intercom.  Then, the games begin.  All Friday, Saturday and Sunday the arena is filled with people on mules playing different games, just for fun.  I got to sit in on a few of them and this is what I saw:
     First of all, the egg/spoon game.  Each contestant is given an egg and a spoon. They are required to be on their mule for the entire game and keep the egg in the spoon.  Sounds simple, until the announcer says "Riders, walk". So all the mules walk.  As the game progresses you hear them commanded to "canter", then "trot", then finally "gallop".  Each one is eliminated as the eggs drop.  The winner receives the cheer from the crowd and his name listed in the newspaper.

   The competition heats up in the team division of the egg spoon game. The bearer of the egg has to remain standing in the back of the wagon balancing the egg.  We all know the stubborn tendencies of a mule, and when they will only move when they are good and ready, leaving the standing contestant at a quandary as to when they should be ready.  Often the mule jumps at just the wrong moment, leaving the bearer of the spoon with egg on his face, literally.

     The next game was the back-to-back competition.  Contestants had to be sitting on the mule with backs to each other. When they are prompted, they try and trade places without getting off of the mule.  So, people are going over, under and around each other all on the back of a mule. 

    Of course, there were husband and wife teams, brothers, sisters, friends, all doing acrobatics on the back of a mule.  I wondered what the mule must have thought, not only having 2 riders on its back, but also being wrestled and kicked with cowboy boots. There were several times one mule tried bucking its riders off, and a few contestants fell off in the process.   The winners were a mother and daughter team that had obviously practiced a lot.  The mother would grab the little girl and swing her around to the front of her and then just turn herself around, much to the delight of the audience.
     The fair grounds are also dotted with food booths, flea market tables and vendors selling their wares.  There are buildings with booths of crafts, handiwork, jewelry, western decor and other items for sale.  The antique dealers set up their displays and the toy tractor retailers are there to make a profit.
     So, ya'll come out for the 27th Annual Clark County Mule Festival this weekend in Northeast Missouri. We will welcome you with open arms, though there may be no vacancy at the campgrounds.  You could rent a primitive site on my front lawn, though the landlord requests no pets, including mules........but you'll get that in a small town.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Only in the Country #2

     Would you know what to expect of you saw a sign like this?  We see them quite often on our rural roads. I can think of at least 5 different one lane bridges on country roads within 30 miles of our town.  Our roads are not very busy, so you don't often have to "deal" with them.
     The one lane bridge has become a greatly debated topic among county officials. I'm sure the original reason for the one lane bridge was to save money. Now, there is more concern for safety, and the time spent "waiting" at one of these bridges (like there's really that much traffic on them!).
     After passing the above sign, you will soon see this:

     The picture doesn't quite do justice to what a one lane bridge looks like. They are rather thin and are only wide enough to accommodate one vehicle width at a time. The sign does however give you the appropriate directions on how to respond to a one lane bridge. When we country folks approach one of these and see another car headed for the bridge from the other direction, we respond in a number of  different ways.  The daredevils will try and beat one another to the bridge, often playing "chicken" to see who will give in and slow down first.  The timid drivers will slow down, or even stop to let the other driver cross first. The polite gentlemen will sit patiently and wave the other driver across.  Neighbors will meet half way, get out of their cars and have a little chat on the bridge.  I heard once of a man and woman who met on a one lane bridge and stopped bumper to bumper.  The man hollered out "I don't back up for idiots!"  The woman immediately replied, " I do!"   and quickly backed up .....but you'll get that in a small town.