Inner Strength

October 14, 2008
By Alexis Magana, Quemado, TX

My mom's family wasn't exactly what you would call “affluent.” She grew up on an old farm in Meadville, Pennsylvania, with ten brothers and sisters. They got all their eggs, milk and meat from their livestock and for bread the owner of a nearby convenience store would sell it to them cheap after it expired. Nevertheless, all ten kids went on to college. Mom was the youngest and the last one to go to college, so in the summers prior to her “Edinboro Days” she earned the money for her education by going door to door selling books.

The rain pounded against the windshield making the surrounding brush a grey blur. It was an unusually cool day for it being summer-time, especially in rural, central Texas. But none of that mattered. I was sent down here on a mission- and it was not to gawk about the weather. I peered through the rear-view mirror and noticed the seven bibles yet to be sold.
"Don't worry," I assured myself, "I'll get the money to pay for a good university, just wait."
The road started to clear, but not fast enough. I took my eyes off the rear-view mirror just in time to see the turn I wasn't going to make. My driving reflexes kicked into overdrive and I jerked the steering wheel to the left and my back tires tail-gated on the slippery asphalt. I held my breath as a shock wave hit my gut and the car skidded off the road, careening into a shallow ditch. The next thing I remember when I looked out the window was that it had stopped raining and my hands, which were tightly clutched to the steering wheel, were trembling involuntarily. I stepped out to review the damage, and to my surprise a dented front bumper and flat tire were all that resulted from the wreck that should have stopped the world from spinning. I hesitantly climbed back into the driver's seat and started up the ignition. As I stepped on the gas, the tires rolled but the muddy trench made traction nearly impossible. I wasn't going to get out of this ditch - not without help.

After trekking a good half-mile down the road, I came upon an old, run-down farm that reminded me of home. I took in a deep breath as I evaluated what I was going to say to whomever opened the front door. As I walked up to the main house, I couldn't help but to look around. There were a few cattle, too skinny to use for their meat, many cats gallivanting about, a couple dogs too lazy to bark, and an unsightly brown horse. But the person who owned this farm was my only hope, and with any luck he or she would be kind enough to help out a stranded stranger. I knocked on the front door and waited patiently. After a few moments, a shabby looking man, roughly in his middle 60s, answered the door with a confused expression; apparently he didn't get many visitors.
"May I help you?" The man asked in a soft-spoken but bright voice.
"Umm," I began, "My car got stuck in a ditch about a half mile down the road...Do you think you could pull it out with a pick-up truck?"
"Well sure, I could," he answered, "But I don't have a pick-up truck."
"Do you think you could pull it out with a tractor?" I inquired apprehensively.
"I could... but I don't have a tractor," he replied.
"Well, thanks anyways," I muttered defeated, and started walking away.
"Well hold on there," he exclaimed, "I might not have a pick-up truck or a tractor - but I do have an old, blind mule."
And with that, he disappeared, returning a short while later with an armful of equipment and what I thought was an ugly horse.

When we arrived at the scene of the accident, the farmer harnessed the mule and hooked it up to the back bumper of the car. Honestly, I didn't think the old mule would be able to move the car a few inches, more or less out of a five-foot incline, but I got in the car anyway and tried to back up. At least this was better than doing nothing. Outside I could see the farmer steadying the mule with one hand. I waited for him to give up. To say that he was sorry he could not help me- that his mule was not what he used to be. Instead the man stood up straight and shouted, "Clyde Pull!" Nothing happened.
"Gus Pull!" he ordered, but nothing happened.
"Homer Pull!” Still nothing.
"Does this man not know the name of his own mule?" I thought to myself.
"Elmo PULL!"
He yelled with gusto, and the mule awoke from its dreary daydream coming to life in one swift movement. Muscles rippled under the mule's thin hide and the car was jerked backwards. The tires squealed excitedly as they reached out to grab dry the land. The mule tucked its head under and kept pulling. The car rose out of the dip, and reached the top, but the mule kept pulling. If the car slid forward the mule would only pull harder. Finally, with one last effort, the mule arched its back, dug its hoofs into the mud, and dragged the car till it was completely out of the ditch and onto the road.

I got out of the car and, for a moment, just stared at the blind mule. Who would have thought? I turned to the farmer and thanked him for all his assistance.
"Just one question," I asked, and the man looked up, "Did you forget the name of your mule back there?"
The man looked at me, and then at the mule.
"Who? Elmo?" he answered, "Oh, no. I've had Elmo for many years now and I'd think I'd remember his name."
"So then why did you say all those other names first?" I asked.
"Well," he replied, "The truth is, if he had known he was the only one pulling, he wouldn't have even tried."

I learned a lot of things that summer in Texas, but nothing compared to watching that blind, old mule do what we both thought was impossible. It was the farmer who understood what the mule and I did not - with the right motivation, his mule could do anything.

The author's comments:
My mom was a public speaker for quite some time,(and still is to a certain degree)and what I recall the most were her icebreakers. She would warm everyone up with stories that taught a lesson about life. One of my favorite stories she told was 'the mule story,' or so I called it.
When my English teacher announced that we had to write a narrative essay one of the given prompts evoked memories of those old icebreakers. And so I ranked my brain, forcing out details of the story and went to work on my newest assignment. When the essays were returned to us, my teacher recommended entering my story into an online website. So here it is, my first 'officially' published work..."Inner Strength."

The message of this piece lies deeper than the mule being able to pull the car out of the ditch. It's an extended metaphor to showcase the way most people respond to challenges; which is to give up before even trying because we feel overwhelmed. With the last line of the story, "...with the right motivation his mule could do anything," what I'm really saying is "With the right motivation 'we' can do anything."

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.


MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!