It was below 20 degrees in Illinois. And it was snowing. The library was closing for the night. The last of the runny-nosed schoolchildren had left the building, and all the hardbound books were fast asleep.
Elderly Martha was about to lock up when she found the cardboard Frito-Lay box beside the front door. The box was making noise. Whimpering noises.
The old woman edged in closer for a better look. She opened the flaps.
There were seven puppies inside. One of the pups was cotton white, the rest were copper red. Their tiny bodies were cold, and she wasn’t sure they were all alive. The creatures were huddled together so tightly she could barely wedge her hand between them.
Martha lifted the box into her arms, carried it inside, and she yelled for Juan, the custodian.
Enter Juan. Juan is 68 years old, with silver hair, a wizened face, and a five-foot frame. His English is weak, but his heart is extra-large. His name tag says “Jonathan,” but nobody knows why it says that.
The truth is, nobody knows much about Juan inasmuch as he only has a five-word vocabulary. Rarely does he say anything but the word “yes.”
“Help me, Juan,” said Martha. “I need your help.”
“Yes, yes, yes.”
The old man rushed to the basement and retrieved space heaters from storage. He brought several clean towels and a few pillows. Soon, Martha and Juan were tucked in the corner of the library, poised before a semicircle of heaters.
They wrapped the animals in swaddling rags, and massaged the puppies to keep them warm.
The solitary white puppy was not moving. So Juan held this one against his chest and kissed its little head. The old man closed his eyes and offered prayerful words to the ceiling.
Martha wanted to tell the old man that this would do no good, she was certain the animal was dead. But Juan continued to mutter beneath his breath.
“Padre nuestro, qué estás en el cielo, santificando sea tu nombre…”
“What’re you saying?” said Martha.
“Yes,” said Juan.
“It sounds like you’re praying.”
“Juan, do you understand anything I’m saying to you?”
“Juan, do I look exactly like Raquel Welch?”
So at least his eyes were good.
Martha watched the man with the unmoving animal. His small, leathery hands clutching the puppy against his chest. His feeble voice, speaking sincerely to the sky.
And the creature began to move.
“Juan, look. It’s alive.”
Juan wore a watery smile. “Yes, yes.”
Throughout the evening, they remained with the puppies. Two hours led to three. Three became four. Finally, Martha realized they hadn’t eaten supper and she knew her husband would be terribly worried about her.
“Juan,” she finally said, “I have to go home, and so do you.”
“Yes,” he said.
But he was not moving from his spot. Neither was he releasing the white puppy.
“No, you don’t understand, Juan.” She was speaking in fluent hand gestures now. “I go home. You go home. We all go home. Bye, bye.”
She was like a Dick and Jane book coming to life.
But Juan was not getting the picture. So Martha did what all strong, independent Illinois women would do. She texted her husband and told him to bring dinner.
In a little while, her husband appeared carrying a warm Pizza Hut box and a bottle of Pepsi.
“We’re back here!” hollered Martha when she heard the door open.
Her husband meandered through the dark library, past the fiction, the non-fiction, the books on horse racing, pastry dough, rose breeding, the Titanic, and manure composting. He found our heroes nestled near the biography section.
The small cluster of red puppies sat positioned before a flock of space heaters, all cranking full blast, like a fire marshal’s most visceral nightmare.
They all ate pizza. They took turns cuddling puppies. And although Martha could not understand most of Juan’s words, she felt a kinship with him somehow.
After supper, Martha tried to communicate to Juan that it was time to go home now. She told him she would take the puppies home with her. But Juan was obviously not going nowhere.
And so it was, the next morning, when Martha opened the library, she found Juan in the corner, head against the wall, fast asleep, with seven puppies scattered around him. The white one was still in his hands.
Later that afternoon, the local rescue shelter arrived to take the puppies, but Juan decided to keep the white one for himself.
“He never puts it down,” Martha said.
During our phone interview, I asked Martha whether she knew what Juan decided to name the white puppy.
“Well,” Martha said, “I feel very honored, but he actually named the dog after me.”
He named it Raquel, she said.
Kathleen Jun Magyar - January 31, 2022 6:28 am
OK, I applauded this one. Great ending!
Peggy ALEXANDER - January 31, 2022 6:38 am
I LOVED this one. I love animals and they must love me 🤣 I have around 8 Big strays Healthy cats. Must be great hunters. Eat my scraps and sometimes I buy them food. Don’t know what I am going to do if they multiply more. I don’t want them to starve though. Especially vin this 🥶 weather. Thanks to the Library people 🙏
Peggy ALEXANDER - January 31, 2022 6:43 am
I loved this. Thank Hod for people who love animals 😊🙏
Sara Jane Howland - January 31, 2022 9:57 am
So sweet, and so dang funny. I love your angels!
Nell Thomas - January 31, 2022 10:21 am
This was a hit. It is 4: 15 A.M. Been up since 3:15 A.M. Why? Duty calls. —- Sweet fur babies. Now they are sound asleep and I am enjoying your story and all the comments.
marisastewart - January 31, 2022 12:07 pm
Love it! Your stories may sometimes hold a tinge of sadness, but they never fail to make me want to be better!!
Lisa - January 31, 2022 12:12 pm
This one is for sure going in my Sean of the South keepers file. Love it & thank you!
Bob E - January 31, 2022 12:18 pm
Raquel and Juan are both beautiful people.
So are Jonathan and Martha.
Paul McCutchen - January 31, 2022 1:06 pm
There are always good people around to help. Who ever left the puppies knew there were people with good hearts inside.
Jan - January 31, 2022 1:31 pm
Hard to laugh and cry at the same time but this story made it happen. Thanks you Juan, Martha and Sean!
Robyn - January 31, 2022 1:53 pm
Sean – my day is only made after i read your column every day. Someday i want somebody to name a puppy Raquel after me!!!! You are the bomb!
Shelton A. - January 31, 2022 2:04 pm
What a wonderful story! That’s love taking action. Raquel has a good home for life. God bless Martha, Juan, and Martha’s husband (for understanding even the library has real emergencies)…and God bless you, Sean (and Jamie, and your lucky pups) for sharing this with us.
Peter A Grant - February 3, 2022 7:01 am
A wonderful story. Although I graduated from Clemson University and have a Maters degree in Marketing I still have difficulty reading. My point? I hung to every word of this story… so beautiful and so loving!!!! WOW! (My website is currently down for needed updates).
Elizabeth G - January 31, 2022 2:13 pm
Beautiful. My glasses have fogged up and I need more Kleenex. ❤
Marianna M Parker - January 31, 2022 2:28 pm
Great column, Sean! You made me laugh out loud this morning.
Ruth Mitchell - January 31, 2022 2:41 pm
I didn’t see that coming but laughed out loud when I read it. You are a master at combining tears of sadness and tears of joy to produce feelings of humanity.
Dr. Joan Kogelschatz - January 31, 2022 2:44 pm
Touched my heart..brought tears..Thank you for sharing stories of love and compassion. If we had more of these perhaps it could help heal our torn world.
Joy Voellinger - January 31, 2022 3:08 pm
Another absolutely wonderful story! Thank you.
AlaRedClayGirl - January 31, 2022 3:09 pm
Love this story!
Rita Weber - January 31, 2022 3:18 pm
This is so sweet, made me cry, made me smile. I’m a 76-year-old widow, and i just found you, Sean of the South. I’d ask you where you’ve been all my life, but, for a lot of it you weren’t even born. I’m just glad I found you when I did, on Face Book, where some lovely person posted your column about standing in line at the symphony. I was hooked, sought and found you online, and the rest is history, as they say. I read your email first thing every morning, smile, laugh, and cry in my coffee, thank God for you, and start my day with joy in my heart.
Thank you, Sean of the South, AKA one of God’s angels, sent to remind us that He is good, and that He remembers we are dust, but He loves His little dust people. Amen.
Sean of the South: All Creatures Great and Small | The Trussville Tribune - January 31, 2022 3:26 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Sandy Burnett - January 31, 2022 3:46 pm
Rhett Talbert - January 31, 2022 3:53 pm
Yet another, outta the park. Yes, yes.
Melanie - January 31, 2022 3:54 pm
@Lisa: same! This one’s a keeper ❤️ Sean – Will we get an update on Raquel and Juan someday? in a book 🤔 maybe?
Susan W Fitch - January 31, 2022 4:54 pm
DAVID A WILSON - January 31, 2022 6:11 pm
Being a farm boy animals are are favorite! Thanks for this writing with the happy ending!
Linda Moon - January 31, 2022 8:37 pm
So, I’m wondering if Martha the librarian REALLY looked like Raquel Welch or if she was just fishing for a “Yes”. And I loved Juan’s watery “yes, yes” for the creature. If I had to nest in a library it would be next to the biography section. I’d look for an an author’s name – Sean Dietrich – then spend my time reading a book or two. What an honor for Martha to have the puppy – Raquel – named after her! And, FYI…my two cats are named after the Great Smoky Mountains.
Becky+Souders - January 31, 2022 10:45 pm
Great story, Sean. Thanks. Again.
Sonya Tuttle - January 31, 2022 11:44 pm
Yes, yes, yes! ❤️❤️❤️
Karen - February 1, 2022 12:01 am
Suellen - February 1, 2022 12:33 am
I have a similar story. Mom was a beagle mix. Unknown father. I can’t remember how many puppies there were but it was a box full. My kids had them all named. There was one that was all white. They named him Sugar and Sugar just wasn’t quite right. He was slow to do everything. He couldn’t walk right. Now you have to understand that my older two kids were developmentally delayed. Some doctors said cerebral palsy. My oldest son loved that puppy. I finally convinced the kids that we couldn’t keep them and we put them in a box and the kids stood in front of K-Mart with them until they were all gone. It wasn’t until we were on the way home that I discovered that my son had tucked Sugar inside his coat.
Jo Ann Morley - February 1, 2022 1:59 am
Kudos to Martha and Juan. God’s angels for sure. I once saved a chipmunk from drowning in our pool. I gave him Chipmunk CPR. He was so thankful he bit my finger down to the bone. I called Poison Control. There were no rabid chipmunks reported!
Karen Snyder - February 1, 2022 2:37 am
Good, caring people and puppies! What’s not to love? ❤️
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 1, 2022 4:20 pm
Debbie Prewitt - February 5, 2022 11:47 am
First laugh of the day!!!! Keep going. Love your stories.