Bobbye's Writing Samples
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DOES SIZE MATTER?
by Bobbye Hudspeth
When you go shopping for shoes, or clothes, car engines or hats, you know exactly what size to ask for. We also know the exact measurements of a sheet of paper, car tires, paperback novels, cups, and tablespoons...and yet no one can come up with a universal size for soft drink cups!
I went to one fast food place and ordered a small drink. It came out to me in a cup that looked suspiciously like a specimen cup from the doctor's office. It was empty in just a few sips. A few hours and miles down the road later, I pulled into a different fast food place and, having learned my lesson last time and running out of drink before finishing up my burger, I ordered a large drink with my meal. It came out in a cup I could have used to water my horses. Seriously the thing was like a five gallon bucket, it wouldn't fit in my cup holder and I couldn't hold it with one hand, so I had to wait until the car was stopped before I could drink. A medium from the next place I stopped held almost as much as the large I'd ordered last time. That night, I ordered a margarita at a Mexican restaurant and it came in a glass that looked more like a Barbie swimming pool than a glass (not that I complained).
Soft drink sellers of the world, unite! Come up with a universal cup size. Let us know when we order a small we will get x-ounces and won't get a bucket unless we ask you to super size it.
It's not just soda cups either. While we're asking for standard sizing, let's talk to the clothing industry too. I find it hard to believe that people have now started coming in a miniature size, like poodles and schnauzers. When I was in high school (and no, we didn't have to drive our covered wagons there or park our dinosaurs on the football field so they could graze) the smallest girl in my class wore I think probably a size 6. Now, boutiques quickly sell out of size 1? And 00? Going by the sizes from 25 years ago, there wouldn't be room in a young adult's body for adequate organs in a size 1 dress. Where would you put her liver? And if she drank a medium soft drink from some places, her kidneys would explode.
While on the subject, once and for all let me make it clear, One Size Does NOT Fit All. It may fit some, it may fit most, but I have tried on many items of clothing with the clever OSFA instead of SML and they in fact did not fit me. And I am one of "all." (If you prick me do I not bleed, etc. etc.?) I'm also not the biggest woman in the world I am pretty sure. I see pictures of women much larger than me on the front page of the Inquirer giving birth without knowing they were pregnant or having to be cut out of their homes when they have a heart attack and EMTs can't get them through a door. My wedding dress was a size 11. If I weighed now what I weighed then, taking into account the shifting of body parts thanks to Newton's law, I would be in today's size 16 at least. (Not that I've gained that much weight since high school. Don't be jealous, but I can still wear the same earrings I wore back then.)
Size comes into play when you're talking about cars too. Have you ever noticed that the tiniest little soccer moms drive the biggest SUVs and vans? And you see big tall lanky men unfold themselves out of the economy minis and racy convertibles?
As far as what you thought this was going to be about when you read the subject line, I will say that in that case size actually doesn't matter. As I heard one of my cousins whisper to another long before I understood what they were talking about, "It doesn't matter if you're hung like a needle if you can move like a sewing machine." Exactly. It ain't the size of the pen, it's how purty you can write with it.
I don't care what rule of measurement we go by. I just want some sort of standards for all industries to agree to adhere. If I buy a large drink I want to get exactly X-ounces. I want to be able to buy a size X dress online and know it's going to fit. And to avoid any misunderstandings later I'd like to see a handwriting sample from all the guys that answer my dating profile.
Those who follow the sport of mule pulls believe it should be ranked right up there with mom’s apple pie, NASCAR and hot dogs as being a true American pastime. If you’ve never been to a mule pull you may roll your eyes at that statement, but all it would take is one sunny afternoon spent watching these massive beasts use their brawn and their heart to pull loads that would make the pistons chug on even the largest of tractors, and your mind would be forever changed.
The sport first began generations ago when loggers bragged about how much log-weight their teams of horses and mules could pull out of the woods. Someone always thought his team was bigger and better and they were willing to bet on it, so the competitions began. Over the years, loggers began removing their timber from the woods by horsepower under the hood of a tractor or skid instead of horsepower in the flesh, but the sport of pitting one team of equines against another has never dwindled in support or competitors. Today, hundreds (sometimes thousands at larger venues) of spectators line up around well-fenced arenas in rural areas and big cities to cheer on their favorite team of mules or horses or their favorite team of handlers. Sometimes the crowd gets together to cheer on the underdog; sometimes it’s overwhelmingly impressed by the strength, size and passion of the largest team. Whoever you are rooting for, you know you have something in common with your neighbor. A respect not only for the mules and horses that give everything they have to move a mountain of concrete blocks a few feet, but for the men and women who handle these massive animals to their victories…and still are proud of them and give them loving pats and hugs after defeats.
As one handler said “My grand-daddy used to take my daddy to pulls when he was a little boy, and then my daddy took me. That’s my boy out there now with his team. I hope I live long enough to see his sons out there with him. It gets in your blood and passes down from generation to generation.”
A lot of the same blood courses through the veins of several generations of the mules and horses they are handling too. Heads all around were nodding in agreement when one older gentleman decked out in overalls and freshly pressed checkered shirt told me “Once you find a good pulling mule or horse, you hang onto him. And if you’ve got his daddy or mama, you hang onto them too. Money may get tight, but you gotta get pretty hungry to let go of one of your best mules.”
Mark Speck and his son from Livingston, TN are veterans at mule pulls across the country. The season begins in Texas in the spring and ends at the Tennessee State Fair in September. In between, they hit as many pulls as they can, usually a couple a month, competing not only for the cash prizes, but for the bragging rights you get by being able to say your mules are the best of the best.
Mark says they never get their hopes up over a young mule foal. Blood and pedigree matter, certainly, but it’s the heart of the adult mule that makes the difference in whether he comes away in first place or twentieth. As veteran W. E. King of Columbia, TN states, “The strongest mule in the world ain’t gonna be able to pull a winning load if he ain’t got heart.” They are there, at the Ider Mule Day Pull to give their team another chance at proving how much heart they have before heading back to Tennessee.
You hear a lot of talk about that from the men and women in the holding area waiting for their mules to be called out to prove their stuff. Heart. They offer it to the animals in their care (as evidenced by the glossy hair, fat bellies and quivering muscle tone on the massive beasts) and they ask for it in return. And most of the mules that make it up into the final group of pullers obviously offer that back in spades. Heart. You can’t breed it, you can’t train it, it’s something that they’ve either got or they haven’t. And every handler there agrees that you can’t be sure until after a mule’s second, third or even fourth birthday whether he’s got enough to give what it takes.
During those years while they’re watching these hopefuls do these mules become family pets? Well, it depends on your definition of pet. If you are thinking about a cuddly, follow-you-everywhere kind of house pet, then, no they’re not. Most of the mules that make it to the top in their circuit aren’t good for much other than pulling…some of the owners say they pull wagons and garden implements for exercise in between weight pulls, but most don’t cotton to being under a saddle or being much of a buddy kind of animal. Mr. King says in his opinion, a lot of the mules that make it to the top can be just downright mean. If not mean, then at least high-spirited and definitely not house-pets for those inexperienced in dealing with cantankerous long-ears. Sometimes even for those that are. There are always exceptions to the rule though, and I saw more than a few mules being lovingly petted by the handler's wives and kids, as well as taking treats gently from outstretched hands.
Like a lot of old-timers, these mules don’t want to waste a lot of time or energy on extra-curricular activities. They just want to do their job, taking as long as it takes to get it done, then go home to a nice warm bed and a good hearty meal and sleep until it’s time to answer the call of duty again, without a lot of frills in between.
I've noticed most of the mules that I’ve seen at pulls are “horse mules” (male) although occasionally you’ll see a female (“molly”) in harness. When asked which sex mule they prefer to work with, handlers overwhelmingly say they prefer the boys. However, most will also grudgingly admit they have had a favorite molly mule. Mr. Smith gets a downright tender smile on his face when he talks about his Kate…36 years young now and was still pulling right up until she fell through the floor of his truck and hurt her leg. He says if she hadn’t hurt herself, she’d probably be out there still. Maybe not winning so much, but definitely still out there proving her heart. Mrs. Smith claims her now and it sounds as if Kate has become a pet after all. Certainly, she proved she not only had heart herself but also obviously stole the Smiths’ in return.
Looking around the holding pen and at the front row of spectators it seems that this is a sport filled mostly with animals and men that are a little long in the teeth although there are a fair share of women and teenagers that are drawn by the promise of a good show. Most of the mules that are actively pulling are teenagers, with several of them well into their twenties, most of them having not started their career until they were 8, 10 or even 12 years old. How long do they pull? That's like asking how long a gorilla can sit on your lap. As long as they want to. Most handlers are very in-tune to their animal’s needs and wishes and they recognize when it’s time to put an end to even the most illustrious of careers. Until that time? As long as a mule wants to pull, that owner will have them at every event they can scrape up the gas money to attend, and offer them the chance to do what they love to do best.
And it’s obvious that the mules do love it. Even those that will stand patiently, heads down, conserving their energy until their name is called, will, as soon as their harness is checked and they hear the cluck to get started, begin to prance, toss their heads and snort and get a certain look in their eye that says to everyone watching “I’m bigger than you, I’m badder than you, and you better not get in my way, I’ve got a JOB to do!” No matter how well trained these mules are, each one is an in-the-flesh definition for “chomping at the bit.” All of them anxious to get to work.
Getting these guys to do the job isn’t the problem; sometimes it can be getting them to stop. Most will try to keep going long after their load has pulled the requisite number of feet or they have dropped to their knees for lack of breath or traction. The job isn’t done until they’re told it’s done by someone they trust.
A few handlers work with their teams to teach them patience in settling in to their traces and waiting for the command to pull together, others allow them to stay almost out of control, then let them use that unharnessed energy in leaping forward as soon as they feel the weight of the chain hooked against their harness. If you have a team like the latter, and you’re the bidder (the guy out front who holds them in place until they’re hooked up) you need to be able to run fast and have some fancy footwork to stay out of the way of the thousands of pounds of animal and concrete that’s headed toward you in a rumbling mass.
Those almost-out-of-control teams tend to become crowd favorites as their energy is almost palpable; always a thrill for a crowd that's already high on funnel cakes, homemade ice cream and syrupy sweet tea. There have been surprisingly few accidents over the years at mule pulls, although almost every handler there had a horror story to share of someone who got a foot tangled up in a chain, or lost his footing beneath the mighty cleat-shod hooves.
While you see some matched teams, most handlers agree that while they may have a color preference, “color don’t pull weight.” When you see teams that are perfectly matched in color and you ask if that was by choice or chance, the handler will usually tell you they just got lucky. It’s impossible to plan from conception what mule is going to turn out to be good at pulling. Or even be positive what color the baby is going to be most of the time. So, as one handler said, "you take what the good Lord sends you," and you’re grateful if you put together a team that pulls well together and moves the load the farthest. Everything else is just eye candy.
Almost one hundred percent of these big guys are definitely eye candy for anyone who appreciates good horse- and mule-flesh. In optimum condition, with sparkling eyes and glistening bodies, these guys are obviously the cream of the crop. The best of the best. And the look they’ll give you when they’re “relaxing” waiting for their name to be called says it all…”You don’t believe I’m the best? Just sit back and wait and see!”
If you live in Northeast Alabama, check out Ider's Mule Day Celebration on Labor Day. These pictures and interviews were done there a decade ago, on a day that I will never forget. It was my very first Mule Pull. Needless to say, it was not my last.