News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Liz Ciancone

September 27, 2011

LIZ CIANCONE: Uncle Ed’s mule Maud was faithful work mate

I like horses. Really! I do. I like them best seen from the windows of a car as they graze in a lovely spring pasture. I even like them on television as they do a parade lap before the start of a major race. But I draw the line at a second experience on the back of a horse.

A dear friend once persuaded me to go riding with her. I was assured that the horse allotted to me was gentle with a temperament bordering on the bored stiff. Alice gave me a few basic instructions on riding — something she called “posting” — and we were off.

We plodded along the path. Then Alice asked if I would mind if she galloped off ahead. I assured her that I was more than happy to continue plodding.

So, off Alice went. My gentle mount apparently concluded that this was a try-out audition for the Derby because we were off and running. I did my best to remember my posting lesson. I believe I may have hit the saddle once or twice in five furlongs. I still get blisters just thinking about it. I survived, but without any interest in becoming a jockey.

I did, however, fall in love with a mule. Maud belonged to Dad’s Uncle Ed and helped to work his farm down in Southeast Missouri. I understand that mules have a mind of their own, and Maud’s mind was fixed on Uncle Ed. If she had been a dog, she could not have been more faithful. I really believe that if Uncle Ed had had a daughter, he’d have named her Maud.

On one visit, Aunt Elizabeth sent me out to the well for a bucket of water. I opened the door, and there stood Maud. She had mastered the art of lifting the latch on the gate to the barnyard and had come to the house looking for Uncle Ed.

“Ed!” screeched Auntie, “Come in here and get your mule!”

Maud could be worked only at right angles to the barn. Led away from the barn to the field, she was happy to be worked parallel to the barnyard, but once she was turned back east, she was going home. Furthermore, she expected a snack and a drink of fresh water when she got there.

Late in life, Uncle Ed developed cancer of the larynx. I followed him to the barnyard one day where he threw his arm around Maud’s neck. She nuzzled him and, with tears in his eyes, he told her that he hoped she died before he did. He couldn’t bear to think someone might mistreat her.

It didn’t happen. Maud may have passed a few lonely years later, but she passed them in peace and comfort. Aunt Elizabeth insisted on it.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send e-mail to opinion@tribstar.com.

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