It’s nighttime. I am writing you from your favorite beach, Sweetie. The sands go on for miles, the purple sky is cloudless. The Gulf of Mexico is so vast it hurts.
Fort Pickens National Park looks magnificent tonight.
This was our beach. At least, that’s what I’m calling it. It wasn’t literally ours. It belongs to everyone in Pensacola Beach, Florida. No, it belongs to everyone in America.
Well, actually, if we’re getting technical here, this beach belongs to the National Park Service, which is overseen by the United States Department of the Interior and is henceforth property of the U.S. government.
But, since the government uses citizen tax dollars to maintain this federal land and pay its staff of allegedly friendly park rangers a salary with benefits, yeah, this beach is basically mine.
Anyway, I’m getting off track.
When we first met, you were a bloodhound, with crooked teeth and droopy eyes. I loved you from the beginning. And this beach was your favorite place on earth.
For many years, every weekend I’d travel to Pensacola to play pitiful bar music at local dives. I didn’t earn much money, but every little bit helped. You traveled with me.
By day, I worked menial jobs. And at night I played music for people who held brown bottles and wanted to dance to “SOMETHING FUN!”
That’s what all drunken dancers say. “Hey, you with the gee-tar! PLAY SOMETHING FUN, DUDE!”
Then some guy in the crowd raises a beer and shouts, “‘Freebird!’” and laughs until he loses all bladder control.
You and I would spend the weekends camping at Fort Pickens for only sixteen bucks per night. We’d stay here together. And we’d rough it.
I cooked meals over a propane burner, and washed our plates with a waterhose. We bathed in public showers, and I did laundry in the Gulf of Mexico with a bottle of detergent. This was our place. The price was right for a poor man, and you couldn’t beat the view.
In the evenings, we left the campsite and went to gigs. You rode shotgun. And while I would be in some beer joint, playing “SOMETHING FUN!” with a band of talented musicians who all pretty much lived with their girlfriends and drove their moms’ minivans, you slept. You would curl up in my passenger seat. Windows rolled down.
On my breaks, I would visit my truck only to find cooks, waitresses, and dishwashers, smoking cigarettes around my vehicle. They were running their hands along your silky coat.
You had that effect on people.
“I dig your dog,” a cook said once. “What’s her name?”
“Does she like bacon?”
“Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?”
I’d finally get off work at 2 A.M. The cooks would send us home with two Styrofoam boxes. Spaghetti for me; double-decker hamburger for you—extra bacon.
We’d eat supper together on this beach beneath the stars. We’d stare at the moon. The sound of the waves would serenade us.
Then, we’d return to our campsite, fall asleep, wake up at noon the next day, and do it all over again.
That was our life. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was ours.
I can’t visit this place without remembering how much you loved it here. The way you sprinted across this sand. Your mouth slung open. The way you would swim in this water.
The way we fell asleep together. Your head on my pillow. You snoring. You sleeping on top my head. You, producing smells that could make hardened Baptists take the name of Bill Gaither in vain.
It all seems like a fairytale now, the way I’m telling it. The truth is, it probably wasn’t nearly as beautiful as I remember.
To the rest of the world, we were just some broke guy and his dog. But to me, we were really something. You guided me into adulthood. You loved me. You made me feel important. That was your gift to me.
For my whole life, you see, I’ve felt unimportant, and overlooked, and orphaned. Confidence was a finite resource. Family stability was a myth. I’m not complaining because life made me who I am. And life also led me to you.
But tonight, I am on your beach, looking at your stars, and I miss you. I can hear a loud guitar coming from a beach bar, miles away. I’m glad I’m not the one playing it.
Maybe one day we’ll be together again. Maybe in a place with permanent daytime, where nobody asks the band to play “Freebird.” Where a man and his best friend can run the Shores of Eternity for ten thousand years, only to find out they have no less days than when they first begun. I’d like that.
It’s getting late. I’d better get inside now. I enjoyed talking to you again.
Goodnight, Ellie Mae.
Leslie in NC - November 11, 2018 6:47 am
Your story invoked memories for me too, Sean. I lived in Pensacola for 6 years and spent time at Pensacola Beach and Ft. Pickens although I never camped there and didn’t have a dog to keep me company. Still, the sugary white sand and aqua water cannot be beat! I’m happy you made such fond memories there with Ellie Mae and I have no doubt you two will meet again.
Pamela McEachern - November 11, 2018 8:34 am
Sweet memories that will surely stay with you…
Forever and ever. I miss so many of my fur-babies. They are so unique in their own ways.
Peace and Love from Birmingham
Edna B. - November 11, 2018 9:20 am
Wonderful story, Sean. I agree, one day we’ll meet up with our fur babies who have crossed over ahead of us. Today, though, I’m loving every minute with my little guy, Pogo. He brings so much joy into my life, and I just love him to pieces. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Amy - November 11, 2018 10:52 am
Nancy Rogers - November 11, 2018 12:09 pm
As my Minister told me 47 years ago when I asked him in my 10 year old voice (after witnessing my beloved dog get killed), did dogs go to Heaven? As he answered ( and I still believe so today) it wouldn’t be Heaven if they didn’t.
Keloth Anne - November 11, 2018 12:38 pm
wonderful words and remember all dogs go to heaven ?
Hugs and love from Ozark ?
Jean - November 11, 2018 1:10 pm
I will certainly say you have had an interesting life….not easy but it has caused you to appreciate the little things and made you the wonderful person and writer you are. Not sugar coated…just life as it is and was. Please say good nite to Ellie Mae for me too.
Rita Smith - November 11, 2018 1:19 pm
Our animal friends never fail to make us feel a wonderful kind of special. You have such an amazing gift…. Thank you ☺️
Heidi - November 11, 2018 1:21 pm
Beautiful story Sean. No wonder the grief when Ellie Mae passed….she raised you. She supported you in all you did. She did a great job. You’ll be with her again, I have no doubt.
Trina V. - November 11, 2018 1:22 pm
I am 100% certain the reality of those days camping with Ellie Mae were just as beautiful and “fairy tale” as the memories are. Some days I miss my sweet Bama so much it hurts. This morning is one of those days. He’d Be snuggled up next to me staying warm right now. I’m thankful we have our memories of our fur babies, and I can’t imagine Heaven without them.
Linda L - November 11, 2018 1:45 pm
Johnny Wheeler - November 11, 2018 2:05 pm
As a remorseful former player of pitiful music, I completely understand.
Shelton Armour - November 11, 2018 2:47 pm
You captured what the love and joy of a good dog can do for you. I am fondly remembering my Gabriel as I write this. Thanks, Sean, thanks.
Rene’ - November 11, 2018 3:09 pm
Buck, Sam, Buddy & Jake are enjoying her company and sorry, Sean – you’re of the South! Freebird is playing in heaven by the boys who created it so you will be off the hook, doll!
Bobbie - November 11, 2018 3:27 pm
You really touched my heart with this…thank you, Sean!
Charlu - November 11, 2018 3:28 pm
Good night sweet precious Pup??❤️??
Tim McDonald - November 11, 2018 4:43 pm
Thanks for making me cry again.
Penn Wells - November 11, 2018 6:38 pm
“Grief never ends…but it changes, It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith…it is the price of love.” Anonymous
BJean - November 11, 2018 6:50 pm
I miss my dog, too. She was pure love. She was really my son’s dog, but when he moved out, she stayed with me. I’m glad you had a friend to share that part of your life with.?
Sheila - November 11, 2018 7:04 pm
Pat - November 11, 2018 8:02 pm
No doubt Ellie will be waiting at the foot of Rainbow Bridge and you two will enter the Pearly Gates together!
Gloria Knight - November 11, 2018 8:15 pm
Any man who loves a dog is a good man. I mourned every dog and cat I ever had from childhood to adulthood. I was an only child and they were my special friends during childhood where I lived out in the country with no nearby playmates. Like you & Ellie, I hope we’ll be together again some sweet day.
Melanie - November 11, 2018 10:59 pm
Jack Darnell - November 11, 2018 11:03 pm
Some folk will never know the thrill of living on the cheap. I never played a geetar, but we camped a lot. Mush cheaper than motels and hotels and the neighbors are good. Camping dogs are good, they don’t spen their time barking at every passer by. I like that.
Good one. Yep remembering is good!
Dianne Reagan - November 11, 2018 11:46 pm
I was camping at Fort Pickens last week and just left yesterday! Wish I had the opportunity to run into you. Keep up the great stories!
Jan Bruck - November 12, 2018 6:39 pm
Just beautiful! I am so sorry for your loss, Sean. What a special relationship you two had and what a gift you have to write about it so wonderfully! I especially loved and laughed at the end of this paragraph: “The way we fell asleep together. Your head on my pillow. You snoring. You sleeping on top my head. You, producing smells that could make hardened Baptists take the name of Bill Gaither in vain.” I’m a huge Gaither fan, don’t swear, and LOL at that one. Big, big hugs!
Mary Ellen Hall - November 13, 2018 7:32 am
BEAUTIFUL STORY Sean, about your PRECIOUS ELLIE Mae!? Our SWEET DOG’S have a way of STEALING OUR HEARTS!!❤
I had a SPECIAL Chocolate Lab named “Sundae,” that is no longer with me. I think of her SO VERY OFTEN, & I MISS HER MORE!!
However, I am SO THANKFUL for the years I had with my PRECIOUS PUP!!!?
Janet Mary Lee - November 13, 2018 8:55 pm
Kind of crying uncontrollably here…My dogs and a cat from the time I was born till now were and are such a part of my heart. They all remain my favorite “people” till this day and I thank God for Blessing us with them. I especially love the thought of spending time with them again and the time will not run out. You put that so beautifully.Here’s to Ellie and all the dogs we have loved before..and now. You are priceless!!
james leischner - November 15, 2018 6:20 am
Yah Sean I know the feeling and have many “best friends” waiting for me too. God bless.
Sil - December 4, 2018 10:20 am
Lovely. Moved me to tears. Fled Irma to your coast from FLL last year. Beautiful place. I miss my first dog, Daisy Mae, a wonderful being called a beagle. After 14 years without her, and not a single day went by that I didn’t think about her, I now am fortunate enough to be with another lovely beagle dame, my Elli. Another stubborn, faithful, and beautiful creature. Thanks for your story.
Gale Smith - January 2, 2019 11:14 am
My life is measured in the dog years of the dogs who were a part of it. I have never been without a dog for very long…..could not stand my life without a dog in it. I know I am a better person because of having them, and of course I want to see them all again in Heaven. Right now, Furby is beside me in bed. He is watching over me after I was gone to rehab 3 weeks for knee replacement.
I have never felt lonely or alone when I have the love of a dog in my home. They are more than just friends…..they are soul mates.
Barbara Bray - January 2, 2019 12:42 pm
Aww , Sean…what a way you have of bringing us into your world. …and I think it was as beautiful as you remember. You weren’t ” complaining.”….you were ” explaining” ( as I tell my husband from time to time ). You have a gift . Thank you for sharing it with us. Happy 2019….and may God bless you and yours.
Ceil44 - January 2, 2019 2:37 pm
Losing a fur baby is painful. Thanks for sharing your story with us. My fur baby is still with me but he’s getting older.
Brenda McLaine - January 2, 2019 4:46 pm
Thank you for being you!
Deborah Norris Collins - January 2, 2019 6:02 pm
Sean, I love everything that you write. I am also a dog person and was born and live in Pensacola. Thank you for sharing your life with us.
Cindy Godwin - January 3, 2019 12:29 am
Sean, what a beautiful tribute to Ellie Mae!! But then, I can’t imagine you writing anything less for a girl that meant so much to you. I have a few waiting for me too and I’m not in a hurry to leave, but I really look forward to spending unlimited time with them again one day. Thank you, Sean, for your beautiful heart!