David Housel kept his eyes peeled for some mules.
It was, after all, a day fit for mules. Any mules would do, whether submissively pulling an old-timey wagon, or kicking and hee-hawing about in stubborn fits.
David just wanted to see some mules.
It was Saturday, June 5, 2021. The Mule Day parade was underway, drawing smiles, cheers and waves from all the good folks gathered along Main Street in the West Alabama town of Gordo.
Home of the Green Wave, and childhood stomping ground of David and myself.
We’d been invited to hold a dual signing event for our respective books, “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s” and “The Portable Creek,” inside Ruth Holliman Public Library, courtesy of Alabama ONE Credit Union.
Featured among other attractions during Gordo’s 33rd annual Mule Day / Chickenfest, the dual signing was being hailed as the “Biggest Literary Event in Gordo History,” and I came prepared to put my pen to work.
To my surprise, David prepared me to take part in the parade with him as well.
Riding in a stylish John Deere Gator driven by his younger brother, Raymond, David greeted and briefly conversed with the townsfolk who called to him. Exactly 56 years have passed since David spread his mighty eagle wings to soar from Gordo to the Loveliest Village on the Plains, where he’s now hailed as Athletic Director Emeritus at Auburn University.
I reckon after nearly six decades have gone by, folks got an awful lot of catching up to do. That’s certainly the impression I got as I watched people approach the steadily moving Gator.
No doubt, parades are great for homecomings. Not so much for long-winded conversations.
But the conversation – or inquiry – that most amused me was the one between myself and David, who turned his head to address me. I was riding in the back of the rumbling Gator, sitting on a wobbly fold-out chair I’d borrowed from the library.
“You see any mules anywhere behind you, Keith?”
David’s blue eyes twinkled with childlike yearning. Keeping a firm hold on the cab’s frame, I rotated and scanned all the attractions following us for any trace of a mule.
Turns out mules are superb competitors when it comes to hide-and-seek.
“I’m afraid I don’t see any, David.”
Perhaps it was simply due to the way he was sitting, but David sure appeared to deflate a bit upon hearing my report. For a moment, I considered assuring him that he’d been interacting with a purebred jackass in the back of the Gator all along. But, instantly, David perked back up as more spectators called out.
There was a lot to be happy about.
The dual book signing had gone well earlier that morning. Likewise, for David, the fact that it had been held inside the library that honorably bears the name of the cherished librarian, Ruth Holliman, from his childhood was extremely meaningful.
For me, the fact that the legendary David Housel and I were sharing the biggest literary event in our hometown’s history felt joyful and surreal. It was certainly nothing I could’ve remotely fathomed back when my 11-year-old self aimed to become a writer.
But there we were, riding through downtown in a Gator that sported the colors of the Gordo Green Wave, surrounded by family and friends…
And, indeed, mules. Those homebred rascals finally emerged on Main Street shortly after the Gator was parked.
Some things are just meant to work out.
Keith Huffman’s book, “The Portable Creek: Southern Nostalgia and Other Shenanigans,” is available to order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.