By DAN WHITTLE
I couldn't wait to ask fellow Middle Tennessee Mule Skinner Danny Fraley what possessed him to name a mule after Nashville banjoist/comic/entertainment star Leroy Troy.
For unlearned college-educated boys and gals, the term "mule skinner" means getting a mule to work calm and steady, not actually "skinning" the animal.
"Naming my mule Leroy goes back to when Leroy Troy and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band packed out the Arts Center of Cannon County for a record fifth performance," farmer Fraley frolicked. "Leroy and (the late) 'Lonesome' Lester, the jug man, served up so much 'corn' in their jokes, I decided the next time they perform, I'd bring my mules up to the Arts Center to eat.
"That, plus legendary Mule Skinner Lytle Hodge, who at age 95 reigns as the oldest Mule Skinner in our group, talked me into naming my farm's smartest mule after Leroy," Fraley added.
"What's your other mules' name?" mule man Fraley was asked.
"Lucky," farmer Fraley shared.
"Why is he named 'Lucky'?" next question.
"Because he gets to stand next to Leroy, who is real smart and named after Leroy Troy, who is smart and famous," Fraley confirmed.
On July 4, there I was, not bothering anyone, minding my own business and looking nice, the Whittle way, while "shucking corn" on our back porch in the early morning. Mule Skinner Fraley and I have an agreement ... he buys my books and reads my columns in the Cannon Courier while I fill my freezer and my tummy with his corn each summer growing season.
Shucking that corn reminded me of Daddy Whittle and his stubborn ol' mule named "Bert."
It was a big day in 1949, when Daddy judged Little Dannie Whittle big enough to drive our mules and wagon through the field as adults pulled corn off the mature corn stalks.
I recall my overall galluses bulging with pride as I sat tall up in that wagon driver's seat, making the slow-moseying mules go right and left between 'stops and goes.'
Prior to tractors, farmers in my youth were judged by how they treated their farm animals, plus how well they maintained their fences.
I recall one of the most unusual days of mule farming where I grew up. It happened when a neighbor's mule fell grave-yard dead while plowing their cotton crop that spring.
The fallen mule had been "paired" with a mule named "Sassy" for more than 15 years. Two days later, sad Sassy bolted out of the farmer's barn to run and stand on nearby railroad tracks.
As a crowd gathered, no amount of tuggin' and cussin' could make Sassy get off the tracks.
Sassy just stood there, and when the mail train ran over her that fateful afternoon, well, Sassy was no longer sad.
It was ruled "the worst case of mule suicide in town history" by our local constable.
It's one Dan's opinion, mules should be declared as our official national beasts of burden by those city-fied folks up in Washington.