We had stopped for gas at the small, north Georgia town of Greensboro. A headline on page 4 of the local weekly, The Herald-Journal, caught my eye, "Story About Horace The Mule."
Back on the road, I repeated the headline to Josephine who exclaimed, "Not OUR Horace." It turns out the tale (some say it's true) features Josephine's great aunt Fan Lamb, mistress of the family plantation, Greenfield, in eastern North Carolina.
The saga of Horace was told by a family friend and fabled North Carolina raconteur, the late Edmund Harding. For years it was a Christmas Eve tradition in Tarheel papers, but its good-natured commentary on life's surprises seems more appropriate as a greeting to the New Year.
HORACE THE MULE
Mrs. George Wood, now deceased, of Chowan County, had a mule, who was named Horace. On Christmas Eve she called up Dr. Satterfield in Edenton and said to him, "Doctor, Horace is sick, and I wish you would come take a look at him."
Dr. Satterfield said, "Oh Fanilamb, its after 6 o'clock and I'm eating my Christmas Eve dinner. Give Horace a dose of mineral oil and if he isn't all right in the morning phone me and I'll come out and take a look at him."
"How'll I give it to him?" she inquired.
"Through a funnel," replied the good doctor.
"He might bite me!" she protested.
"Oh, Fanilamb — you're a farm woman, and you know about these things. Give it to him through the other end."
So Fanilamb went out to the barn, and there stood Horace, with his head held down, just moaning and groaning.
She looked around for a funnel, but the nearest thing she could see to one was her Uncle Bill's fox hunting horn, hanging on the wall, a gold-plated instrument with gold tassels hanging from it.
She took the horn and affixed it properly. Horace turned his head, but paid no attention.
Then she reached up on the shelf where medicines for the farm animals were kept. But instead of picking up the mineral oil, she picked up a bottle of turpentine and she poured a liberal dose into the horn.
Horace raised his head with a sudden jerk. He let out a yell that could have been heard a mile away. He reared up on his hind legs, brought his front legs down, knocked out the side of the barn, jumped a five-foot fence and started down the road at a mad gallop.
Now Horace was in pain, so every few jumps he made, that horn would blow. All the dogs in the neighborhood knew that when that horn was blowing it meant that Uncle Bill was going fox hunting. So down the highway they went, close on Horace's heels.
It was a marvelous sight! First, Horace — running at top speed; the horn, in a most unusual position, the mellow notes issuing therefrom; the tassels waving; and the dogs, barking joyously.
They passed by the home of Old Man Harvey Hogan, who was sitting on his front porch, well "into the cups" as they say down east. He hadn't drawn a sober breath in 15 years, and he gazed in fascinated amazement at the sight that unfolded itself before his eyes.
Incidentally, Harvey is now head man of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Albemarle section of the state.
By this time it was good and dark. Horace and the dogs were approaching the Chowan River Bridge. The bridge-tender heard the horn blowing and figured a boat was approaching. So he hurriedly went out and elevated the bridge.
Horace went over the edge, straight into the river and was drowned. The dogs jumped into the water after him, but they could swim and climbed out without much difficulty.
Now it so happened that the bridge-tender was running for the office of Sheriff of Chowan County, but he managed to get only seven votes. The people figured that any man who didn't know the difference between a mule with a horn up his rear and a boat coming down the Intercoastal Waterway wasn't fit to hold any public office in Chowan County.