Mr. Favor and the Mule

Another lesson not found in books.

By Oliver Cummings

Mr. Favor was the owner and operator of a roadside tavern called The Curve Inn. It was literally on the outer edge of a sweeping curve in the highway near my home town, more or less across the road from the Turkey Farm. I am not sure what that juxtaposition means, but I like it.

Mr. Favor’s house and farm was next door to the tavern’s wide gravel parking lot, which wound around the tavern on three sides. The lot had to go around to the back of the tavern away from the road so some in the community could hide their cars from passersby when they stopped for a nip. The Curve Inn was infamous around home for having been the site of a shooting when I was a small boy. Mr. Favor was not convicted of any wrongdoing in the shooting.

Mr. Favor was in the market to buy a horse or mule to plow his garden with and it just so-happened that Dad had a mule that would fit the bill. Word got around and that led to Mr. Favor coming out to the house to look at the mule, Old Ben.

Ben was a fine-looking mule: big, well-mannered, and strong.

Dad hitched Ben to a drag and showed that he was well-broke to the harness; his red-tinged dark coat fairly glistened as his muscles rippled in the sun.

Mr. Favor asked a lot of questions, including whether Ben was balky at all. Dad answered every question fully. Mr. Favor liked what he saw and a deal was struck.

Early the next day we loaded Old Ben in our truck and delivered him to Mr. Favors’ barn-lot. Money changed hands and Dad and I got in the truck and left.

Back at home we had done some work on a tractor, stopped for lunch, and were back outside putting the three-point hitch on a disc that afternoon when Mr. Favor drove up our lane followed by puffs of dust from the gravel road. He stopped at the front of the house and walked briskly over to the shed where Dad and I were working.

The first words out of his mouth were, “Why the hell didn’t you tell me that damn mule was breachy?!”

Dad responded, “Well, Mr. Favor, you didn’t ask about that. You wanted to know if he was broke to the harness and if he was balky; and he is as good a mule in those respects as I have ever owned. But, if you don’t want him, I’ll buy him back from you.”

Dad’s even, unflustered tone and his offer to buy Old Ben back served to calm Mr. Favor down a little. He went on that, “It hadn’t been an hour after you left that that mule jumped the fence and was on the side of the highway picking. It’s just a good thing he didn’t get run over.”

“All the while I owned him,” Dad responded, “the only time he jumped a fence waswhen I had him penned up in the barn lot. If he could run in the field, he seemed content to stay put. But, like I said, if you would like me to, I will buy him back from you.”

Mr. Favor looked at the ground and I could see the muscles flex in his jaws as he mulled it over. Finally he said, “No, I guess I’ll just have to hobble him. I saw how he handles and I reckon that’s good enough.”

Mr. Favor left, and often when we would go past the Curve Inn after that I would see Old Ben in the barn lot, a collar on, with a long pole hanging below it and trailing back between Ben’s legs. If Ben tried to jump the fence, the pole would poke under the fence and stop him from rearing up to make the jump. Mr. Favor made several good gardens with Old Ben in the succeeding years.

Dad always contended that he would rather have a breachy mule than a balky one. While a breachy mule might jump a fence now and then, if he was a good worker you could get a lot done with him. With a balky mule you go nowhere, get no work done.

I found over the years that some employees can be a little like mules. Some are balky and some are breachy, but for good work over time, my money is on the breachy one. I would much rather have an employee “jump the fence” to try something new, to implement an improvement, to test out a new idea, than to have one who is stymied or stubbornly does nothing when they come up against a little barrier.

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