Dan-the-one-eyed-mule showed up in style at our acreage, standing tall and placid in the back of an old Chevy pickup.
At the wheel was Gale, a 78-year old retired farmer fairly well known in the area for his quick wit and friendly nature. Locals will know where he lives even if they don’t know him personally when I describe his house. It’s the one with a fire hydrant and a tree stump standing about 10 feet apart in the front yard. A sign by the hydrant reads “city dogs” and the one by the stump, “country dogs.”
After exchanging hellos and introductions, Gale walked to the back of the truck, boosted his bottom onto the battered tailgate, swung his legs up, and rolled to a stand– not bad for a stocky old farmer in bib overalls. From there he gently but firmly nudged past Dan, untied the reins from a bolt, and cajoled Dan to turn around.
The old truck rocked and the leaf springs groaned as Dan’s iron shoes hammered only inches away from Dale’s feet and peened another layer of dents into the rusted metal bed. In short order, however, the two managed a standing U-turn. Gale slackened the reins, stepped back onto the tailgate and exited with a kneel, turn, sit and slide to the ground. Dan tiptoed forward like a 1,000-pound high diver testing the spring of the board. He reached the edge of the straining tailgate and jumped effortlessly to the ground, kicking up the slightest splash of dust.
Dan, we soon learned from Gale, was a Missouri jumping mule, which are bred to hunt raccoons, an activity that requires an animal that can jump over fences. In their day, the two had spent many a night under a moon traipsing far and wide into the countryside following the distant howl of his coon dogs. “Dan’s gate is so gentle that I’d often nap in the saddle,” Gale said affectionately. “And he’s so steady standing that I can lay my rifle across the top of his head and shoot.”
Since selling the farm, they hadn’t hunted for a dozen years, but he still rode him from where he had him stabled into town for a seat at the local coffee klatch. He noted that it was legal to ride a mule in town, a bit of information that will come into play a little later in this story.
As Gale approached 80, he was finding it harder to keep up with Dan’s care and was considering, only considering, selling him. Gale brought Dan by to see if we wanted him but also, I suspected, to take our measure; his old friend had to go to a good home.
One of Dan’s most obvious and unusual features was the single eye patch he wore. Gale explained that Dan went blind in the eye as a colt, and if it wasn’t covered Dan would rub it until raw. Gale had tried various ways to protect the eye but all failed until he came upon the current combination. The base was a fly mask, a mesh hood put over an animal’s head to keep the flies off the face and eyes. A rough hole had been cut on Dan’s good eye side, and a large bump was duct taped over the bad eye. Closer inspection revealed the bump to be the cup from a jock strap.
Sabra asked to see the bad eye, and Gale removed the fly mask contraption to reveal an oozing orb half falling out of the animal’s head. Sabra responded with an “oh, gross,” but Gale countered with, “oh, it just needs to be dollied up.” At this point he reached into his back pocket, produced an old handkerchief and began poking at and into the socket. Dan stood motionless, oblivious to the crude abrading. After sopping up the ooze he pushed the eyeball back into the socket and beamed, “See, much better now.”
He blew his nose and returned the hankie to his pocket.
Sabra fell in love with Dan that morning, and Gale could see that she was a woman that would take very good care of his old friend. As he drove off it was with a much lighter truck despite a little heavier heart in the driver.