She’s spent her life wondering. She wondered what color of hair he had, and what his parents named him. What kinds of foods he liked. And which sports.

She wasn’t a bad kid. She was seventeen, an all-American girl, pretty, the daughter of a Baptist pastor.

She got pregnant.

It happened so fast that it confused her. She thought she was in love. She wanted to marry him. She envisioned a small house, a decent neighborhood, shutters, hanging ferns, and a swing set in the backyard.

He told her he wanted to to have the pregnancy “taken care of.”

It broke her heart. She wanted to keep it. He pleaded with her to end it. She refused. He pushed.

He drove her to the clinic in a bad part of town. They sat in the car. She cried.

“I can’t do it,” she said.

“You HAVE to do it,” he said.

And so it went.

A big argument erupted. She jumped out of his car. He sped off.

She never told a soul about the baby.

In fact, she even managed to hide her pregnancy from her parents that summer—she left town to live with a friend and worked a summer job.

She went into labor one July night. She remembers it

like yesterday. She drove herself to the hospital.

It was a boy.

“Soon as I had him,” she said. “I wanted so bad to touch his face. That was an instinct, I think.”

But she wouldn't. She told nurses to take him away, or else she'd never say goodbye.

She called an adoption agency. She signed papers. They took the baby. She left the hospital the same way she came. Alone.

It was the hardest thing she ever did.

She grew up. She went to college, she pleased her parents. She got married to a man who loved her. She had three kids. She drove an SUV. She lived her life.

And it was a good life, she should’ve been happy.


“I always hated myself,” she said. “I mean, how can anyone give up a…

And this morning’s traffic—if you can call it that—is sparse. I don’t often get to count cars anymore, but when I do, I wave at people who drive them. I like to count how many people wave back.

I’m on a cousin’s porch this morning. A puppy is in my lap. I am watching traffic roll by.

And this morning’s traffic—if you can call it that—is sparse. I don’t often get to count cars anymore, but when I do, I wave at people who drive them.

I like to count how many people wave back.

People don’t wave like they used to. It’s a dying art, waving. Not long ago, you’d wave at folks and get waves in return. Things have changed.

A red truck rides past. A man wearing a cowboy hat is driving. I wave. The old man waves.

You can trust old men in cowboy hats.

The first cowboy hat I ever had was not a true cattleman’s hat. It was a construction hard hat in the shape of a ten-gallon one. It was my father’s.

My father wore a hardhat every day of his professional life. And like most ironworkers of his day, his everyday hard hat was covered in stickers. I remember those stickers.


are some things you don’t forget.

My dog Thelma Lou is snoring while I count cars. This dog is pure adrenaline. I have only had her for six days, and I haven’t slept but a few minutes all week.

She wakes at odd hours with hellish insanity in her eyes. She chews anything within a nose’s-reach—including her own body. I love her.

I took Thel for a walk at 4:34 A.M. I haven’t been able to go back to sleep since.

Another car passes. It’s an old Chevelle, a ‘69 or ‘70. Kelly Green. Pretty. It’s full of high-schoolers. I wave at them. Nobody waves back.


My uncle John used to drive a ‘73 Chevelle—Periwinkle blue, with Redneck Rust on the hood. I learned to drive stick in that thing.

A man is walking his Labrador…

He retired from work. He moved out of his old house and bought a new home. It wasn’t a nice place, but it was in a decent neighborhood. And the house had a detached garage apartment.

I’ll call him Sam, but he was more than just a Sam. He was special is what he was. On his outside, he was a fella with gray hair, a drywall man, a widower.

On the inside, he was a giant.

Long ago, his wife died from cancer. He thought his life was over. He gave up day-to-day living and stayed in his bathrobe for months. He ate cartons of ice cream, he quit doing laundry, stopped shaving.

He retired from work. He moved out of his old house and bought a new home. It wasn’t a nice place, but it was in a decent neighborhood. And the house had a detached garage apartment.

That’s where it all happened.

The first person to live in the apartment was a young man he’d met at a diner. The kid was a waiter. He was covered in tattoos and piercings. They started talking.

As it happened, the kid was late on child support, behind on taxes, and homeless.

It broke Sam’s heart.

So he let the kid live in the apartment, rent free. After only a year, the kid had saved up enough money to make child support, and get onto his feet.

The second person to live in Sam’s garage apartment was a young woman with three girls. Her husband was injured in a work accident—it crushed his ribs and spine.

Sam let the woman live in the apartment while she visited her husband’s rehab every day. Sam even babysat her girls. When her husband got released, the family lived in that one-bedroom place for two years.

The third person to live in the apartment was an elderly man who was legally blind. He’d lost eighty percent of his vision and couldn’t live on his own.

Sam opened his door.

On the day the man moved in, Sam gave…

And I was privileged to see Thel spend her first few minutes in the bay water. She only made it up to her chest, but we’re getting there.

I took a puppy named Thelma Lou fishing today. It was her first fishing trip. We fished at a secluded spot that I’ve been fishing at for a long time.

I’ve never told anyone where it is. Not even my wife.

To tell you the truth, it’s not really that great of a spot. Actually, it’s terrible for catching fish. But it’s quiet, and that counts for a lot in my book.

Little Thel and I hiked to the spot around lunchtime. She followed close behind my heels until she got tired. Then, she rode in my bait bucket.

Right away, I could tell fishing with Thelma Lou was a bad idea. This is because the only skills this seven-week-old puppy currently has are:

1. walking
2. pooping

Plus, she doesn't know how to sit still for more than eight seconds.

I finally gave up fishing and ate lunch. I’d brought a Thermos of coffee, a sandwich, and a jar of peanut butter. The

coffee and sandwich were for me. The peanut butter was for Thel.

My late dog loved peanut butter. I used to buy it by the case. You’ve never seen an animal go so crazy over peanut butter. I’ve still got dozens of unopened jars in the pantry.

Last night, I discovered Thel likes peanut butter, too. She was whimpering at the table, so I dipped my finger into a jar and gave her a taste. She drew blood.

One taste turned into another taste. Then another. And another.

It was almost too much culinary delight for one puppy to bear. She got so excited that she made a Tootsie Roll on the kitchen floor.

So, back to fishing.

After lunch, Thel fell asleep in a peanut butter coma. While she snored, I fished. She only slept for twenty minutes. When she awoke, she started…

They pile into the man’s Honda, which looks like it’s rusting apart. The man weaves through traffic, and drives into a nice neighborhood. He drops the kid at a three-story house.

He is young. He is wearing a red shirt. A cap. He drives a Ford pickup that has seen better days. The roof is rusted, the wheel bearings are in bad shape.

The kid is on lunch break, parked in a grocery-store parking lot. He is eating bananas because fruit is cheap and he has a light wallet.

His windows are rolled down. He’s only got ten minutes before he’s expected back at a jobsite, to hang gutter on a three-story house.

It’s god-awful work. He’s not afraid of heights, but he certainly doesn’t love nine-hundred-foot ladders.

The kid finishes eating. He tosses a banana peel into his flatbed. He tries to start his truck. It makes a coughing noise. He tries again. The truck sputters. The kid cusses.

The old Ford has crossed the river.

These are the days before cellphones ruled the world, there’s no way to call the kid’s boss. His boss is already at work, probably glancing at his wristwatch.

The kid sits, wondering what happens after he gets fired. He could always join the circus and clean up after

the elephants.

Across the parking lot: a man. He’s short. Gray hair. He asks if the kid is having engine trouble. The kid hardly understands him beneath his thick Mexican accent.

The man pops the hood. He leans inward. He tells the kid, “Try it now!”

The kid turns the key.

The gray-haired man winks. “I know what is thee problem,” he says. “We can buy part in town. Come. We take my car.”

“I can’t,” the kid says. “I’m supposed to be at work.”


The man understands this word.

They pile into the man’s Honda, which looks like it’s rusting apart. The man weaves through traffic, and drives into a nice neighborhood. He drops the kid at a three-story house.

The boss is upset.

The Mexican man offers to stay and help hang gutter.…

I pulled over by the bay in a spot where Ellie used to swim. Once upon a time, Ellie and I would fish in this same place. At night, I would set pinfish traps. Early in the mornings we’d go fishing. Ellie would sit beside me.

Thelma Lou rode in the truck. She sat in a passenger seat that once belonged to a good dog named Ellie Mae. Chew marks and all.

Thelma is only pup. Seven weeks old. She’s not even big enough to climb honest-to-goodness stairs yet. But she’s ready to give truck-riding a shot. Baby steps.

Ellie Mae lived for rides like this. To Ellie, watching traffic through vehicle windows was the best life offered. Throw in a jar of peanut butter, a few pig ears, a swim in the bay, and Ellie was in Beulah Land.

Thel is too short to see above the dashboard. But she tried. She stood with her front paws on the dash, watching the windshield.

She stared out my passenger side. She wagged her tail at stoplights. She smiled at cars. She licked the window. She chewed upholstery.

This truck’s interior is well-loved by Thelma Lou’s predecessor. The zig-zagged snot traces on the window are Ellie Mae’s—I will never wash them. The ripped chair cushion is Ellie Mae, too.

So today was a

pretty day for driving. Thelma Lou had a lot to look at. Sun, trees, birds. There was almost too much to look at.

I went to the hardware store. I took Thelma inside with me. I carried her in my arms. Three employees wanted to hold her. One wanted a photo.

Later, Thelma and I stopped at a fast-food joint. She howled in a squeaky voice while I ordered at the speaker. It wasn’t a mature howl, more like a baby yelp, but Thel gets an “A” for effort.

The girls at the drive-thru window went nuts over her. They came outside to take turns holding her. Thelma Lou licked the makeup from one woman’s face, chewed the hair off another, and ripped the name tag from some poor kid’s shirt. Baby steps.

Still, I was proud of Thelma Lou. And I can’t explain…

We giggled. We made idiots out of ourselves. We formed a human-and-bloodhound-puppy sandwich—like we once did with the a good dog we called Ellie Mae. We kissed Thelma Lou’s bare belly. We let her chew our fingers.

Molino, Florida—my wife and I drove hilly roads into the sticks of the Panhandle. Molino is a place with livestock fences, horse trailers, old barns, goats, and Mennonites who drive cars without radios.

I watched the acres roll past our windows. I rubbed a penny between my thumb and forefinger.

This penny is special.

I’ve been carrying the penny since the best dog I ever had, Ellie Mae, died. The day after she passed, I was walking Seventh Avenue in Birmingham, wiping my eyes like a blamed fool.

That dog was thirteen good years of my life, wrapped in fur.

I saw a penny on the sidewalk. I picked it up—I never pick up pennies. I inspected it. Imprinted on the face was Ellie Mae‘s birth year. Coincidence? I don’t know. But I kept it.

I suppose I wanted to believe that wherever Ellie was, my best friend was thinking of me.

Anyway, my wife and I turned into a long dirt driveway. There were muddy trucks,

horse trailers, wide porches, and bloodhound puppies everywhere.

A man could raise a family in Molino.

And I saw her. A seven-week-old puppy, running through green grass. She tripped over long ears. I lifted her into my arms. She is heavier than she looks.

Her paws are too big for her body. Her breath smells like the Seventh Circle of Heaven. She bit my nose and made it bleed. She chewed my ear lobes. She licked my eyebrows.

Earlier this morning, my day was getting off to a bad start. I awoke to an empty and dogless house. I stumbled into an empty kitchen. Empty dog bowls sat on my kitchen floor.

I rubbed a penny while I made coffee.

I’m not used to emptiness. Every morning for the last umpteen years my mornings have been un-empty.

I would wake to a…