I’m in a truck that hasn’t been cleaned in nearly two SEC championships. There is a coonhound in my passenger seat.
I stop at Chick-Fil-A. The woman at the window knows me. She knows my usual order.
“Morning, Ellie Mae,” says the girl at the window.
Other employees crane their necks out the window to greet Ellie, too.
We come here a lot.
We drive away and eat sandwiches while we ride through traffic.
Like I said, this truck is a mess. Ellie’s half-eaten jars of peanut butter are scattered everywhere. There are dog treats and bottle caps in the ashtray. Empty dog-food cans litter my floorboards.
A dog-food can sits in my cup holder—it holds pencils, pens, loose change, and a plastic-wrapped cigar someone gave me at an Ironbowl party five years ago.
On my dash: Ellie’s toy duck, a dog bowl, and a lasso—which I use for a leash.
This lasso was given to me by a five-foot Mexican man named Esteban.
I sold a lawnmower to Esteban—that’s how I met him. His wife came with him to translate. I noticed lassos hanging in the back of their truck. I asked about them.
In a few seconds, Esteban was doing rope tricks for me and Ellie Mae. Ellie liked this very much. She crouched low and barked. He twirled a flat-loop above her. She wagged her tail so hard it almost came detached.
She was a lot younger then.
Right now, I’m driving into a grass field. There must be two hundred acres of pasture before me. It’s not my land.
I’ve been taking Ellie here for years—long before I ever had permission.
I used to park at the edge of this field and hike over a fence. Then, I’d throw a plastic duck. Ellie would chase it into a small pond. And I’d pray I didn’t get caught by the landowner.
Eventually, I did.
One sunny day, a truck came rolling toward me. It was a white pickup with ten-foot tires.
“Can I help you?” were his first words. He was a giant. I could see my reflection in his sunglasses.
I stuttered. He stared.
And I wondered if they let inmates have dog-visits in county lockup. I apologized up and down, and promised to be his indentured servant if he’d exercise mercy upon me.
He only laughed.
As it happens, he is a nice man who loves dogs and law-flaunting redheads. He was gracious toward me and mine.
“Use this property anytime you want, son,” he said. “It just sits, empty.”
So we have. For a long time. Ellie runs through the high grass. She only spends an hour here, tops.
Today is a good day. I’m about to sing Ellie Mae a song and make her wear a pointy hat. And she’ll look at me like I’m not right.
I wonder if she knows.
I wonder if, within that brain of hers, she realizes that she makes me proud. I wonder if she understands love. I wonder if she knows what today is.
Happy eleventh birthday, Ellie Mae.