The working mule who ate too much

Background: The informant was born and raised in Western North Carolina. He has lived in North Carolina his whole life. He wanted to share some Western North Carolina stories. He explained that this is just a silly joke story that “you’d be setting around and talking to folks maybe after game of golf or tennis, you might even be out hunting, having a coke or something and talking and people would throw out things like [this]. Just Western Carolina country humor.”

“A fellow had a mule that was a great worker but he ate too much.  Giving this some thought, the fellow figured the mule was dumb as a rock, so he decided to just cut back on his hay to see what happened.  So he cut the portion in half and mule didn’t seem to notice. Being pleased himself, for the next several weeks he kept reducing the amount of hay.  Finally, just when he got the mule where he could work without eating, the durn fool died.”

This basically just means if it ain’t broke don’t fix it or why try to mess with something good?

Context of the performance: This was explained to me over FaceTime.

While the informant described it as just a silly joke tale, he supposed it had the above meaning. It could also mean that you shouldn’t cut corners, you should do everything fully. The extended metaphor reflects a local attitude and reflects the relationship between culture and folklore, especially as this idea is expressed in a vernacular and metaphor largely exclusive to the region, perhaps demonstrating the historic-geographic method of looking at folklore.