Looking for a Brown Mule

01 Looking For a Brown Mule 18x24

I am beyond proud of my uncle, Eldridge Bagley.

Uncle Eldridge is a professional artist. He paints in oil on canvas. Most of his scenes depict Southern rural life in the mid twentieth century. The picture above, from 2001, is entitled Looking for a Brown Mule. 

This picture speaks to me. Does it speak to you? Why? Why do you think he chose that title?

Now let’s have some fun. Use your imagination to write a sketch about this picture.

Your Turn

What kind of background do you give your characters?

Have your characters found worldly success after growing up in modest circumstances?

What is your favorite treat from your childhood that may be hard to find now?

41 Responses to Looking for a Brown Mule

  1. Ron Estrada May 2, 2013 at 4:01 am #

    I like to give my characters a background similar to my own. I’ve always said that my role in high school was “filler material.” I think most people can relate to that. My characters were nothing special. They weren’t jocks or potheads, just there. My characters tend to find success then lose it because of their bad choices. My current protagonist pitched one season for the major leagues before a barroom brawl broke his hand. He’s constantly reminded of his bad decisions by the throbbing that still exists in those fingers.

    My favorite childhood treat was my grandmother’s banana pudding. She was a southern lady who had a way with saturated fat. My mother has tried to make it, and does pretty good, but it’s never quite the same. I think grandmother’s are given a special ingredient by God that they are forbidden to share with mere parents.

    • Janet Ann Collins May 2, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

      I tried to invent my own recipe for banana pudding and exploded in the microwave. What a mess! Sometimes the old ways are best. :-)

  2. Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 5:11 am #

    Ron, thank you for sharing. I like what you say about your characters. As for banana pudding — I remember it well! I made some one time for my own family, and thought I had really done something special. But they didn’t like it! Guess I’ll have to wait until I’m a grandmother to get that real knack with saturated fat. I’ve already got the Southern credentials. :)

  3. Rebecca DeMarino May 2, 2013 at 5:46 am #

    Tamela, I am in love with your uncle’s paintings! Just pinned a couple and will add more! :o) I see an older couple who grew up with the proverbial silver spoon and have come to a point in their lives where they realize they’ve never seen a brown mule and wouldn’t know it from a donkey! They’ve requested their chauffeur to take them in search. My favorite special treat from my childhood is getting to ride in the tractor scoop with my little brother and our big, white fluff of a dog, Kima, tucked between us. Dad would take us from our house in Oak Harbor, WA down the road 10 miles to the 40 acres my mom and dad bought to build their dream on. The air was always chilly and damp and we’d cuddle into Kima. Once there, Dad would work moving dirt around while Mark and I ran through the woods, laughing and chasing. Dad was a navy pilot and we wound up moving to Guam for a couple of years. They sold the house and eventually the 40 acres, but when he retired he found his Anchor Ranch in Oregon and his little dream of a house. Thank you for taking me back!:o)

  4. Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 7:09 am #

    Rebecca, thank you so much for sharing! I called my aunt (my uncle had gone to town so he couldn’t come to the phone), and read her your post. We loved your trip down memory lane. :)

  5. Angie Dicken May 2, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    What an interesting picture, Tamela! I couldn’t help but think about my heroine, Leanna, having an affluent upbringing but her circumstances flinging her to the struggling life of a coal miner’s wife! As for my favorite treat from childhood–I grew up in England, so I have such great memories of their chocolate and candies! If I look hard enough, I can find some of it here in the States.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

      Angie: We like some German candy that is very hard to come by here in the States. We have to mail our daughter in South Korea lots of goodies she can’t get there. So we know what you mean!

  6. Susan Karsten May 2, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    I fondly remember smacking Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy against the radiator back in the 60s when I was a child. It came in banana, chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. It would shatter into hundreds of shards which stuck mightily to one’s teeth.
    My characters are either dedicated to walking with the Lord, or clearly being drawn by the Holy Spirit. The status of the believer is so fascinating — whether already saved, going to be, etc.
    Sketch about the picture: A financially successful man is returning to the hometown he scrabbled his way out of. He is being chauferred because he has been temporarily blinded. A new girl in town works in the store. Because though she is quite intelligent, no one ever looks past her gorgeous looks, and since he can’t see her, she can truly be herself.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

      Susan: Hmmm, banana taffy! Yum!
      Interesting storyline!

    • Ron Cram May 2, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

      I like your characters!

  7. Teresa-Rae May 2, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Hi Tamela – Perhaps your uncle named this painting “Looking for a Brown Mule” because he longs for simpler times. I know I do and that’s why it speaks to me. I googled his work and am now looking forward to reading Hounds Creek Chronicles if I can find it. My favorite treat from childhood was an oval shaped, individually wrapped vanilla cake, covered with chocolate, creme centered, with a half-pecan on top. I rarely got them, but my Grandfather ordered them at his country store and saved one for me when he knew we were coming to visit. Seeing this painting reminded me of my Granddad, his store, and how much I miss him. Thank you for sharing.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

      Teresa-Rae, I might be able to get you a copy of Hounds Creek Chronicles if you can’t find it elsewhere. Uncle Eldridge sells his books mainly through stores in Virginia, so they may be hard to find otherwise. Thank you so much for learning more about him and wanting to read his book. I feel certain he’ll be reading this blog and will really appreciate you!

  8. Jeanne Takenaka May 2, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    Tamela, what a delightful picture! Do all his pictures show contrasts like this? I love it!

    The first thing I thought of was a young woman who grew up in the area of this store. She found everything she thought she wanted when wealth found her, but nothing that truly satisfied her. She’s come back to this small town grocery store to find something or someone from her past. :)
    My characters have found some measure of success after coming from modest backgrounds, yes. They are ordinary people trying to figure out life and love, so to speak. Most have blind spots in their lives that they have to work through in the course of the story. I know, probably not uber-original.

    My favorite treat growing up was my grandma’s lemon meringue pie. The sweet-tart mix was amazing. She’d always make it for special occasions, and it was my first pick (even over chocolate) for dessert when it was available. I haven’t had that in years. Maybe I’ll have to track down that recipe and make some.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      Jeanne, why yes, many of Uncle Eldridge’s pictures show contrasts. On his way to visit us one Thanksgiving years ago, he saw a pair of McDonald’s Golden Arches looming over a Virginia forest. The sight inspired him to paint a picture depicting this. He has painted several where the city is encroaching on the countryside.

      Have fun cooking the pie! I don’t think I have ever seen cream of tartar used for anything except meringue. Lemon is also one of my favorites!

  9. Meghan Carver May 2, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    My favorite childhood treat was a 52c single scoop cone from Baskin Robbins. Impossible to find that now…the 52c part!

    I always look forward to your posts, Tamela, because they inspire so many ideas for me. Thank you!

    • Jenni Brummett May 2, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      Meghan, this makes me think about Thrifty ice cream cones. The circular ice cream scoop that put a few holes in the top was a signature of theirs.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      Meghan, thank you!

      Now I’ll have to treat you to a $4 ice cream cone. :)

  10. Ann Shorey May 2, 2013 at 9:35 am #

    Hi Tamela,
    Love this picture. It reminded me of a little backroads store I saw in Alabama. The sign painted on the building read, “Beer, Bait, Marriage Licences.” :) One-stop shopping!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

      Ann, I love it! If they added, “Midwifery and Funerals” they’d really have you covered! OK, bad joke. It’s after hours here. That’s my excuse. ;)

  11. Ann Shorey May 2, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    PS–Just noticed I spelled “licenses” incorrectly. Blush.

    • Ellie Whyte May 2, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

      Haha Ann, you have some Kiwi spelling going on there – that’s how we spell licence :-) But you’re right, a sign in Alabama would say “licenses”.

  12. Janet Ann Collins May 2, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    The lovely painting made me imagine a wealthy man longing for meaning in his life who travels to the place his grandparents grew up in hopes to find what he’s looking for. Of course he meets a local girl who hates city folks and … well, I don’t write romances, but you can guess the rest.

  13. Pat Iacuzzi May 2, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Hi Tamela–

    I’m a painter too; taught high school art before retirement and I LOVE this work! Not only because of the obvious skill, but because it elicits memories of where I grew up: Gray, N.Y. in the Adirondacks. A village–not a town or city.

    It’s a wonderful piece of work because its universal; can touch people on a lot of levels.

    Rebecca has a great idea–think I will pin some of his work too!

    • Janet Ann Collins May 2, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      Before you pin any images look at this:

      • Pat Iacuzzi May 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

        Thanks for this Janet! Wow! This is happening in England, but what ramifications it has for all of us. I “just assumed” that by letting Tamela know (and seeing Rebecca had done it) that it was o.k. But now I have second thoughts…

        Strange how these conversations can take another direction.

  14. Ellie Whyte May 2, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    My first characters imagining is similar to Janet Ann Collins – although mine is a 40-year-old man who has been brought up with a silver spoon in his mouth who has just discovered on the death of his mother that he was adopted as a child. Upon researching his biological background via a PI – coz he can afford it – discovers his ties to a small southern town and deceased biological grandparents who had left instructions for their “lost” grandson to find the brown mule if he ever discovered his true identity. Intrigued by this, he travels to this humble town in search of the brown mule that his grandparents speak of, not knowing exactly what he’s looking for or what he will find.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

      Cool, Ellie! Don’t forget your romance plot!

      • Ellie Whyte May 2, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

        LOL Tamela, that would be the solo mum working behind the counter of the store the limo has pulled up in front of, who ends up unwittingly helping him out in his quest. Another young shop assistant who constantly daydreams her way out of town instantly develops a crush on the handsome newcomer the moment he walks through the door, despite him being far too old for her, but adds comic relief to the scene as the hero and heroine grow ever closer to each other as they grow closer to finding the “brown mule”.

  15. Peter DeHaan May 2, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    “They had everything they they’d ever need and most of what they wanted. All that was missing from their lives was as a ‘brown mule.’”

  16. Carole Lehr Johnson May 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    What an interesting painting. It reminds me of road trips my family took between Louisiana and California to visit relatives when I was a child. We would always see some of the most unusual sights. I’m dating myself, but it was before we had interstates and freeways! We passed directly through small towns which are much more colorful.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

      Carole, interstate highways get us places faster but they definitely lack charm!

  17. H Wright Tyndall May 2, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

    Cleopatra Jones has her fingers in more pies than Betty Crocker. When Billy Walden got twenty to life at the Pea Farm in Transylvania on account of the crystal meth lab he was running out of that rent house on State Street Ms. Cleopatra bought him out of his daddy’s gas and sip for the princely sum of one thousand dollars. Cash. Kept old Billy in menthols and cold drinks until parole time. Cleo upgraded the facilities- flourescent lights, celing fans, public restrooms and such- then she upgraded the stock. Out with the Hot Fries, in with the Doritos. RC Cola? Gone to make way for the Real Thing. Got a free Coke sign to seal the deal but she keeps it inside so it doesn’t walk off after dark. People take things in East Carroll Parish. Business just naturally progressed from there. Lotto tickets. Video Poker machines. She brought in her cousin Fat Willie to run the smoker out back and people come from as far away as Shreveport to eat his brisket and beans. I’ve seen ‘em fill up Igloo ice chests and peel outta here like fools hoping to make it back before everything spoiled. People love their barbeque in Louisiana. Forget that Mardi Gras foolishness.
    Sam Oleander owned Oleander Funeral Home and Crematorium over in Shiloh. His wife never did like him playing the video poker so twice a week he’d make the sixty mile round trip to Cleo’s where he proceeded to lose every nickel those old folks ponied up for pre-paid funeral plans. When people found out on account of that investigation by the state that Slick Sam had used the same coffin for the last forty two funerals and that those forty two bodies were buried in nothing but trash bags and their birthday suits his funeral business dried up and blew away. Sam tried to pay off his loan to Ms. Cleo with one well used coffin and a back hoe, but she was always smarter than anybody that tried to come at her straight on.
    She took the limo.
    Anybody in East Carroll, West Caroll, or Union Parish that gets hitched, gets buried or needs a ride to the prom calls Ms Cleo. Fat Willie is her driver and he has a little hat and everything. Makes more money with that fancy car than barbecue, potato chips and Coca Cola put together. Stop by sometime and say hello. If she’s in a good mood Cleo will even let you sit in the back of the limo and act like one of them big shot celebrities for a few minutes.
    Only cost you five bucks.

  18. Tamela Hancock Murray May 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    H. Wright, I think my uncle is very likely to read your entry at our next family gathering!

  19. Kristi Ann Hunter May 3, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    I went in a different direction. :)

    There’s a brown mule that’s found internet meme fame (sort of like angry cat) and the limo belongs to a big city marketing guru looking to put the mule in some ads. She’d had to stop at the country gas station to ask for directions.

    Of course, she’ll find a whole lot more than a mule when she meets the handsome, single mule owner… Gotta have my romance in there. ;)

  20. Pat Jaeger May 3, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    Your uncle appears to have wit and paints with a twinkle in his eye. Love it.

    Abner Crosby, multimillionaire disappeared one sunny autumn day. Long-time doctor and friend, Jake Elmsly gave him the news on Thursday and by Friday morning, Abner had hit the road. The past fifty years of seven marriages, board rooms, expensive resorts, spas, and ocean-side vacations only cemented the shallowness of his life. Three-to-six months, Dr. Jake had said. All right. He’d spend the rest of his days looking for someone who loved their life, who genuinely was grateful for what they had, and shared the little they had with those around him or her, in need. But first, he had a limo to trade–and this looked like the perfect place to get started.

    My favorite food was Mom’s homemade donut holes dipped in thin icing. The smell of them frying, the warm taste of them in my mouth–yummy!

  21. Tamela Hancock Murray May 10, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    Hi again:

    On the Pinterest question, I called the gallery and they said, “Fine!” They have a Pinterest page themselves.

    So please, do pin away!

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