“You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.” —Charlie Chaplin
Face the unexpected with humor and optimism, and you always come out on top. That’s the theme of an election story that has been around for as long as I have, the one about Horace the mule.
I first heard the story of Horace some 40 years ago as an East Texas tale, although I’ve seen it published over the years with varying regional adaptations. Accurate origins point toward a storyteller by the name of Edmund Harding who first told it at a Rotary Club meeting in Asheville, North Carolina sometime in the 1940s. In any form, it’s a great story, one in which I saw an apropos connection between the election behind us and Veteran’s Day on Sunday.
A Monday deadline for publishing in the newspapers prior to my blog on Saturday means this was penned prior to this week’s big election. I note that to preface saying there was no current political intent with the story, simply an old election yarn with some humor—something generally lacking in politics today.
Horace was a widow’s farm animal and both were getting on in years. Just before an election one year, Horace was feeling droopy, and the widow was worried about him. “Doc,” she pleaded on the phone, “Horace is sick. Can you please come over and take a look at him?”
“Madam, it’s after six in the evening and I have already sat down to supper,” the good doc retorted. “Give Horace a dose of mineral oil. I’ll drop by tomorrow when I’m over in that neck of the woods and see how he’s doing.”
She inquired about how one gives a mule a dose of mineral oil, and the doc informed her on the technique of using a funnel. “But, he might bite me,” she objected. “Now, you’re a farm woman,” the doc reasoned. “You know about these things—administer it through the other end.” She pondered this advice for a few minutes, then headed out to the barn where poor ol’ Horace was in misery.
She turned up her lantern and searched for a funnel, but the closest thing she found was Uncle Jake’s old fox hunting horn hanging on the wall, a beautiful instrument with tattered gold tassels still intact. Nervously, she took it down and cautiously attached it to Horace’s southern-most end as the ailing mule lay prostrate with his nose pointing due north. Keeping a cautious eye on Horace, she reached behind her for the mineral oil, but mistakenly picked up the turpentine bottle instead and without looking, dosed ol’ Horace liberally through the bugle.
Horace’s “recovery” was instantaneous. His head jerked upright, and his eyes widened as large tears developed in the corners. He screamed like a panther, kicked down the barn door and galloped off down the road, pausing every so often to kick his hind legs in the air—an action that caused Uncle Jake’s horn to blow.
As Horace ran through the valley, hound’s ears perked up everywhere. They knew the sound of Uncle Jake’s horn meant a hunt was on, and Horace gained a following of baying hounds as he continued to kick and run.
Eyewitnesses said it was a sight to behold: ol’ Horace running, pausing to kick his heels, mellow notes issuing from the gold appendage, tassels flying in the breeze and every fox hound within twenty miles barking joyously.
Old man Johnson, who hadn’t drawn a sober breath in 20 years, was sitting on his front porch when the spectacle passed his house. Reports were he gave up drinking that very day and joined a temperance movement the next morning.
It was dark when Horace reached the river. The bridge tender, who was running for public office and considered by most to be an easy winner, heard the horn and thinking it was a boat, raised the drawbridge. Horace bounded up the bridge and off into the water with dogs still trailing right behind him. The hounds swam to safety, but poor old Horace drowned, and Uncle Jake’s fox horn was never recovered.
Come Election Day, the bridge tender lost garnering only seven votes: his own and six others from three close relatives. The assumption was that voters figured anyone who didn’t know the difference between a boat horn and a mule with a bugle in his behind wasn’t qualified to hold public office.
Regardless of your leanings on the election, try to maintain your humor and your optimism. And thank a veteran or current member of the armed services this Veteran’s Day and every day for keeping us a strong and free nation through our sometimes humorous history of election outcomes.