The little redheaded boy found his grandfather on the porch swing, late at night. The old man was whittling basswood, listening to a ballgame on the radio. The kid let the screen door slap behind him. The boy wore Evel Knievel pajamas.

“What’re you doing up?” said the old man. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“Had a bad dream.”

The old man patted the swing. “Step into my office, Kemosabe.”

The kid climbed onto the swing and leaned against the old man who smelled like burley tobacco, Old Spice, and sweat. The crickets were singing their aria.

“I’m scared, Granddaddy.”

He resumed carving. “Hush now. Ain’t nothing to be scared of. Just a dream.”

The ballgame droned in the background. The Braves were playing the Cardinals and getting shelled.

“What’re you carving?”

The old man held up the block of basswood. “It’s a dog. Hunting hound. This is Shelby.”

The boy looked at the crude canine figurine. It looked more like a deranged ferret than a dog.

“I know it ain’t pretty,” said the old man. “But she ain’t done yet.”

“Who’s Shelby?”

“My old dog. I got her when I was a little older’n you. I found her. She was caught in a mess of barbed wire in our east field. Nobody knowed where she come from so I took her home and kept her.”

“That was a long time ago?”

“You have no idea.”

“Was she a good dog?”

He inspected his wooden handiwork. “She was.”

“Tell me about her.”

“Well. Old Shelby came ever’ where with me. One time I took her to a church dinner on the grounds. She embarrassed me so bad when she jumped on the table where all the fancy dishes were. Looked like she was surfing. Broke ever’ piece a china.

“I had to work a custodian job at the church that summer for punishment, sweeping the floors, touching up the pews with wood stain.”

The boy watched the old man man’s hands move like an artist’s with his butter yellow Case XX knife. It was witchery watching him work.

“‘Nother time, me and Shelby was walking through town, and I’s talking to this pretty girl, and Shelby—she was a jealous dog—got right up between us and knocked that poor gal down. Got dirt all over her dress, I thought that girl’s mama was gonna gut me. Had to pay for a new dress.”

The old man laughed.

“Shoot, in some ways, that dog didn’t do nothing but cost me money. But she was a good animal. Best animal you ever saw.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, when the hard times came, when ever’ body lost their jobs, when people was standing in breadlines, my family was about to starve. My daddy was dead, we didn’t have no food. Know what Shelby done?”

The boy shook his head.

“Mama would look out the window to that east field in the evenings and see old Shelby come walking up, carrying a rabbit in her jaws, or a raccoon, or a squirrel. Sometimes even a chicken. Shelby brung it right to the porch.”

The old man pointed his knife at the boy. “She fed us.”

“Are you for real, Granddady?”

“Am I for…?” The old man held his right hand upward like a Boy Scout. “Have I ever been known to lie about anything except fishing and taxes?”

The little boy shook his head.

“Few years later, along came the big war. Your granddaddy got called up. We all got called up. We had to go fight and…

“Tell you the truth, we were all real nervous. The day I boarded the bus to go to Amarillo Air Field, Mama, my brother and Shelby was there at the station to say goodbye. Know what happened?”

“What?”

“Shelby bolted onto the bus with me and sat beside me, she was gonna go with me to basic training. All the fellas were laughing and cheering. But I had to tell her to go on home. ‘Go on, Shel,’ I told her. ‘Go on now, watch over Mama for me.’”

“Then what happened?”

“First time in my whole life that old dog listened. She got off the bus and sat beside Mama, and watched me drive away. Looked to me like that dog was crying. Wouldn’t have blamed her. I know I wanted to.”

The ballgame rose to a crescendo. The crowd roared through the tweed speaker. The old man briefly paid close attention to the radio.

“I was so scared over there in France, you wouldn’t have believed how scared I was. Then I got shot.”

He raised his left arm. “Took a bullet right here.”

The boy inspected the scar. “Did it hurt?”

“Use your imagination.”

“Did you cry?”

“Well, I sure as hell didn’t laugh, if that’s what you mean.”

“What happened to Shelby?”

The old man smiled. “When I got home from R-and-R, I’ll never forget it, I’s walking up the drive, I saw Shelby come running toward me. Her big ears looked like wings. She was old. Her snout was getting white, and she couldn’t see worth a dang, but she was my girl. I got down on the ground and we just rolled around together.”

The old man’s chin began to quiver. This grizzled veteran with the gunshot wound and the soft spot for creatures with collars.

“Shelby died that same year. She went peacefully. It was like she was just waiting for me to get home. I buried her in the east field where I first found her.

“You see, boy, once in every man’s life, he’s lucky enough to find special love. A true love that surpasses life itself. If he’s real lucky he’ll find that love twice. But once is enough. Don’t ever take it for granted once you lay holt to it.”

But by then I was already fast asleep.

42 comments

  1. Kathy Smith - January 11, 2022 9:35 am

    Sweet story, Sean…❤️🥰

    Reply
  2. Shirley - January 11, 2022 10:30 am

    Thank you Sean. My son Emery and his loving spouse Anne have 2 dogs and when I go over to visit I leave a better person. Gracie and Copper love me up for several hours and then I go home. Nothing like it anywhere in the world. Keep the wonderful blogs coming. You are a spiritual person in my life.
    Shirl

    Reply
  3. Leigh Amiot - January 11, 2022 11:48 am

    This.
    We have lost this in a world of 280 characters and “likes” and “hearts”.
    Do keep telling us these treasures, Sean.

    Reply
    • CherylW - January 11, 2022 2:05 pm

      Brilliantly intuitive, Leigh. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Cheryl Andrews - January 11, 2022 4:11 pm

        Beautiful! Nothing like a dog! Made me cry. I remember the cartoon in our local newspaper of Lewis Grizzard entering the gates of heaven and his beloved dog Catfish welcoming him. I cried at that too. Thanks for your wonderful writing.

        Reply
        • TerrieM - January 12, 2022 3:26 am

          Was that a Luckovitch cartoon? It made us all weep, Cheryl. Thanks for the memory.

          Reply
  4. Sheri - January 11, 2022 11:58 am

    Your blog this morning was timely. I have a 14 + year old Maltese that is quite sick. She’s been with me since she was 8 weeks old. She’s been a good buddy and a faithful companion. I love Cassie and she will be missed. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Jennifer - January 15, 2022 2:46 am

      We said goodbye to our 16.5 year old Daisy this evening. Your words assure me we will never forget her and the wonderful companion and family member she was to us. ❤️

      Reply
  5. sheilla - January 11, 2022 12:10 pm

    I really love your stories!

    Reply
  6. Pat Arnold - January 11, 2022 12:52 pm

    Can’t wait to read your stories Sean! They all warm your heart…ThankYou!

    Reply
  7. Paul McCutchen - January 11, 2022 1:38 pm

    Mine was a bulldog. I would sit on the couch and up he would come. He wanted to hear about your day, good or bad. His job, as he saw it, was to listen and, of course, to grab a pet or two…or ten.

    Reply
  8. Charles Mathers - January 11, 2022 1:38 pm

    Your best and truest story yet. Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Suellen - January 11, 2022 1:50 pm

    Our 9 year old dachshund is quite a character. He was supposed to be 6 weeks old when we got him at a garage sale but one of the little boys let slip what day he was born and we did the math and he was only 5 weeks. Too young to leave his Mama. We named him Johan because Johan Santana had a no-hitter for the Mets the night before. He goes through life full throttle. He wants everything NOW. He loves you up good and then runs off to get into the next thing. I fuss and cuss at him every day because he’s always into something. We found out in November that he has congestive heart failure. He’s taking 4 pills 3 times a day and time is limited to months instead of the years we thought we were going to have. It’s going to be lonely without this dog and his big personality.

    Reply
  10. Ellen Stout - January 11, 2022 1:51 pm

    I love this. Smiled. Remembered. Cried. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. JonDragonfly - January 11, 2022 2:08 pm

    Beautiful.

    Reply
  12. Donna - January 11, 2022 2:16 pm

    Wonderful! I was just writing about my Pappy today…he loved ballgames on the radio, served in WWI, and always told me stories. Now I am telling them to MY grandson. Thank you Sean!

    Reply
  13. Shelton A. - January 11, 2022 2:51 pm

    I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had three dogs like Shelby. Lucky, Gabriel, and now Roxy. Ashes almost made the list as well. God has blessed me with three great dogs whose love and devotion I never had to question. Lucky stood between me and my daughter when a stranger with no good intentions came to our door…First time I ever heard Lucky growl. Gabriel saved me from a mugger. Roxy is the sweetest dog I’ve ever had. I have been truly blessed.

    Reply
  14. Penn Wells - January 11, 2022 3:00 pm

    Go Dawgs
    That is all.
    FILM@11:00
    😁

    Reply
  15. Cathy M - January 11, 2022 3:49 pm

    You spoke to my heart today. My 10 yr. old rescue has a brain tumor and my husband and I are enjoying our final days with him. I brought him home and of course he loves my husband best. We are empty nesters with 8 grandchildren and a good life. This dog has been my best friend for 9 yrs. looks like Bengi. I have cried enough tears to fill a bucket and every morning that he wakes up wagging his tail I am thankful. I will not be selfish and when I detect that he is ready to go, I will make that dreaded ride to the vet’s office. Then, I will come home and cry for as long as I want. He will take a piece of my heart with him it I would do it all over again💙

    Reply
    • Jeannine Auth - January 11, 2022 6:19 pm

      Please see if there is an in home pet euthanasia in your town. We have used Lap of Love here in Florida several times and it is so much less traumatizing for both the beloved pet and the grief-stricken owner. Wishing you comfort and peace.

      Reply
  16. AlaRedClayGirl - January 11, 2022 3:58 pm

    Beautiful, love this story!

    Reply
  17. AnnInMobile - January 11, 2022 4:04 pm

    Dang, that Shelby was a good dog! And dang; that was a good story! Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  18. Harriet White - January 11, 2022 6:13 pm

    Max was my dog. My German Shepard. He loved me and I loved him so much. I can relate to this story. Max followed me everywhere all around the house. He died on my birthday in 2019. I had a dream about him a few months later. He was in heaven waiting for me, smiling, panting and sitting. Just waiting. I said Max, you go on and play, I will see you later on.
    Then he turned around and ran back into a field of white heaven.
    I know I will see Max again some day.

    Reply
  19. Stacey Patton Wallace - January 11, 2022 7:30 pm

    Thanks for such a sweet story, Sean. My husband liked it, too. And your drawing of Shelby was great.

    Reply
  20. Paula Thrasher - January 11, 2022 8:21 pm

    Gosh, Sean, am I wrong in thinking this column could be about congratulating the Georgia Bulldogs on their National Championship? Would have been classy, Alabama boy, would have been classy!🤣 Signed, Georgia girl.❤️🏈🐾🐾🏈❤️

    Reply
  21. Paula Thrasher - January 11, 2022 8:23 pm

    I hope you realize I’m just kidding. I LOVE your columns!

    Reply
  22. Paula Thrasher - January 11, 2022 8:30 pm

    Ouch! After reading all the previous comments, I’m feeling like I sounded callous. Never meant to.

    Reply
  23. Pingback: Sean of the South: Good Dog | The Trussville Tribune

  24. Jem - January 11, 2022 9:45 pm

    I’m not crying, you’re crying.

    Reply
  25. Becky+Souders - January 11, 2022 9:49 pm

    You paint some wonderful stories, Sean Dietrich. Thanks. Again.

    Reply
  26. Linda Moon - January 11, 2022 9:54 pm

    Some of this conversation I just read here could’ve been from a little redheaded boy and his grandfather on a porch swing. Right now, they’re conversing on the phone, but the grandson’s not little anymore and the old man’s still going strong. The old man has often said “lay holt to it” to our family about luck and love and lots of things…. and we usually did. I just finished reading “Good Dog”. I’ll be waiting for you, Author, to write us another book….about dogs, boys, and grandfathers!

    Reply
  27. Kathi - January 12, 2022 12:01 am

    Great story!

    I thought I was the love of my husband’s life till we rescued Reese. Long story short, the love of my life passed away about 1 year later. It took Reese almost a year later to get over my husband. He waited patiently at the back door every night for the sound of his F250 diesel. At bedtime he would lay on my husband’s side of the bed. I guess Reese finally sensed I was having a harder time than him as he now sleeps on my side. I got lucky!

    Reply
  28. KC - January 12, 2022 12:15 am

    Great story!!
    I thought I was the love of my husband’s life until we rescued Reese. Long story short…I lost the love of my life 1 year later. For almost a year Reese would wait for the sound of his F250 diesel till I would call him to bed. He would head to my husband’s side. Well I guess Reese finally figured that I must miss him more. He now sleeps on my side. I got lucky again!

    Reply
  29. MAM - January 12, 2022 12:23 am

    I’m a sucker for sweet dog stories. Thanks, Sean, you made my eyes leak as I anticipated the end, but then a chuckle burst out at your falling asleep!

    Reply
  30. Shirlea - January 12, 2022 1:02 am

    I’m reading you later today – I usually start my day with you right after devotions. I’ve never had salmon fillets mixed with tears. Thank you for your beautiful writing that keeps getting better …and better..and better…..

    Reply
  31. Nancy Brown - January 12, 2022 1:13 am

    Ours was a yellow lab named Hunter. She lived to about 13 years old. Her favorite game was for me to keep her in the house while my husband would go and “hide” in the yard,workshop or wherever. It didn’t matter to Hunter. As soon as I said. “Find David “, her nose went to the ground, she circled until she got the scent, and within 30 seconds he was found. We were both sobbing when we buried her. Thanks for the story. You are a wonderful writer.

    Reply
  32. Debbie Arnold - January 12, 2022 1:54 am

    I found out about you from a Rick Bragg book. I have no idea how I had missed you so far but am catching up quick on Kindle! Thank you for your positive attitude and reminding me how wonderful people mostly are!

    Reply
  33. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - January 12, 2022 5:17 am

    You always get me when you tell a dog story! That was a good one.

    Reply
  34. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - January 12, 2022 4:20 pm

    Reply
  35. Judy Riley - January 14, 2022 5:25 pm

    Shelby story made me cry. I’m 80 years and have loved many dogs……starting at 4 years old with a little black and white rat terrier my mother named Troubles…..she thought that’s all he would be. He was my first love. I now have two dogs and a cat which will probably all out live me……fortunately all my childten and grandchildren are animal lovers so I’m sure they will be loved properly. Thank you Sean for your great stories…they all touch my heart.

    Reply
  36. Melissa Mikkelsen - January 15, 2022 2:41 am

    I come from dog people. We have always had a passel of them. From hunting dogs to house dogs and yard dogs and every combination in between. I was talking about my grandaddy last night. He had a hunting club that I can’t quite remember where it’s at but I do remember being about 6 and Grandaddy would come get me. You see the hunting dogs wouldn’t all come back every time. Grandaddy would get in his old green truck and come get 6 year old little me. We would stop and get an orange soda at the little clapboard store and then Grandaddy would take me where they dogs where let out. And I would call them and here they would come every one of them. Still to this day I get dogs off the side of the road. Lost dogs always come get in the truck. Grandaddys ashes are spread at his hunting club. I need to ask Mama how to get back there, maybe there is an old store still. And a dog that needs to come get in the truck.

    Reply
  37. Debora Bettis - January 15, 2022 10:06 pm

    Thank you, Sean. This was quite timely for me, as I just lost my little second generation Jack-Chi (Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix) today. Mable was a feisty little girl with some age on her. I carried her around with me, wrapped up in an old towel throughout the morning and early afternoon, until she passed. Just swaddled her and held her. Anytime my puppygirls seem to be nearing their time, I keep them close. Because I want them to know, before they leave this world, that they are loved. You are loved, too. Because you bring love into our lives, by the stories you tell. Thank you and keep writing!

    Reply

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