COLUMBIA - A Maury County man took his first and last ride in the Mule Day parade last weekend.
The ashes of 83-year-old James "Kit" Carson were placed on a wagon pulled by "Shorty," the world's tallest mule in the Saturday parade, according to Sonja Rine, a recreation specialist with the Maury County Parks and Recreation Department.
"He was a trainer working with Tennessee Walking Horses and he worked with mules, too," Rine said Monday. "He'd said that if he were a younger man, he'd be riding in the parade."
Carson's wish and another were granted by folks associated with the parade. His ashes were spread across a training ring at a walking horse farm in Columbia, Rine said.
Carson died at the Signature Health Care Center in Columbia in May. It was his wish to be cremated, but after several months, his ashes were unclaimed at the funeral home which gave them to Signature Health Care Center Chaplain Doug Rutherford.
While caring for the ashes, Rutherford contacted Rine, asking if the Recreation Department might be able to spread the ashes at walking horse grounds it uses.
"While talking," Rine continued, "I mentioned that he loved mules and the chaplain said that Kit was such a fan of Mule Day and that he'd wished he'd been healthy enough to ride in the parade."
And so a black box with Carson's ashes was carried in the parade by a wagon driven by Paul V. Smith of Cookeville pulled by Shorty.
Stories in the Columbia paper, on the Internet and TV attracted attention and a woman called saying she is related to Carson and asking if she could attend the memorial service.
"We met at a farm, offered a prayer, sang a hymn and spread his ashes in the round pen where they work the Walking Horses," Rine said, identifying the relative as Teresa Bobo.
She said Carson had family "up north and she would tell them what respect was given," Rine reported.
During the parade, "People would see 'Shorty' and then realize he's pulling ashes and they'd stand and place a hat over their chest which really touched me since the Mule Day crowd is ... rowdy bunch ... but they were very respectful."
Rine says the story of Carson's ashes illustrates the camaraderie that animal lovers share.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.