Horse With No Name

“You must be Sheen,” said the old man, extending his hand. “You here for the lawnmower?”


We were somewhere outside Andalusia. I was young. I was there to buy a used lawnmower from the Thrifty Nickel ads. I was in kind of a hurry, so the quicker we cut bait the better.

The old man had a firm handshake. “Was it a long drive, Sheen?”

“Couple hours.”

We stood in a rural Alabamian field, 40-some miles from the Florida line. The man wore jeans and scuffed Double-H boots. He was mid-70s. Lean. His summerwear cowboy hat was hard, like plastic. He reminded me a little of my late father. Only older.

I released his hand and clarified. “My name isn’t Sheen, it’s Sean.”

“But the way it’s spelled…”

“You’ll have to take that up with my mother.”

My Irish name has long been a source of confusion for the elderly, who find the name too modern for their sensibilities. The truth is my name is the ancient Gaelic version of “John,” which was my father’s name. And it is all I have left of him.

Also, not to be picky, but my name dates back to 1066, predating most of today’s modern names, such as, for example, Larry.

“Name’s Larry,” said the old man.

I told Larry I was in a hurry, and I needed to buy the lawnmower and skedaddle.

He beamed. “Okay then, let’s go get your mower, Shantell.”

We started walking to his barn, when he gestured to a green pasture and said, “My granddaughters are out riding today.”

As if on cue I could hear horses before I saw them. The bass notes of heavy hoofs fell hard upon the earth. I felt the vibrations beneath my boot heels.

Next, I saw two young women on horseback, in the faroff, moving at full gallop. One rode a buckskin; the other rode a chestnut. The girls were maybe 14.

The old rancher slapped a saddle slung over a nearby fence rail. “You ride?”

“No sir.” I touched the scar on my lower back where a neurosurgeon once mistook my spinal column for a broiled lobster tail. “But everyone else in my family did.”

I come from cattlemen, farmers, and men who stocked grain silos. I was the only English major in the bunch.

But my father’s ancestors were, among other things, beef people who rode the literal range and shouted words like “Yah! Yah!” without being ironic.

The last man in my father’s family to cowboy was his elderly uncle who, when forced to part with his last few head, nearly died of a broken heart.

“Would ya just look at them go,” said the old man.

The two granddaughters were arrestingly skillful in the saddle. Blondish hair streamed behind them in the early evening sunlight. I was transfixed. There was something so incredibly American about the image before me.

The old man soon forgot all about my lawnmower while watching Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane give chase in the pasture.

Whole minutes passed. I could tell this glimpse of his grandchildren was making the man dizzy with pride; he looked like he’d just discovered teeth. And I was right there with him.

We watched the animals extend their muscled bodies like warbirds in mid flight. The sound of eight beating hoofs was like the drum solo to “Wipeout.”

Soon, the girls were really chasing each other.

“By gaw,” the old man hollered. “They’s racing.”

Both girls leaned against the wind in forward crouches. Smiling. They whipped past us like Seabiscuit-colored streaks and the hoofs got louder. And louder. And if there has ever been a more breath-stealing portrait than the one I observed that day, it’s hanging in the Louvre.

He turned to me; bright, wet eyes. “Did you see all that, Sheena?”

I smiled.

When the horse race concluded I was no longer watching the animals. I watched the man. His proud gaze was focused on his kin, and I was wishing someone would look at me that way.

When the girls caught us glancing their direction they waved their hats at us. We returned salute. Then the horses wandered toward a distant treeline before disappearing.

The old man seemed lost in a time warp. His profile looked like a line-drawing from a Louis L’Amour book (illustration on page 301). I found myself wondering whether the man I was named after ever thought of me so fondly. I hope he did.

The old man finally released his fence rail and was jolted back into reality. A reality where all men age, where youth evaporates, where people don’t live forever, and where no matter how much skin moisturizer you apply a turkey-wattle neck awaits you.

“Well, look at the time,” the man said, clapping my back. “I keep forgetting, you’re in a hurry. Guess we’d better have a look at that lawnmower, Shania.”

Shane, Sheen, Sean. To me they all mean the same thing.


  1. Eileen - April 13, 2021 7:39 am

    My name is Eileen, also an Irish name. Though nobody in my immediate family claims Irish ancestry, researching the meaning of names many years ago, I discovered my name is an Irish form of Helen. Helen was my grandmother’s name. I am proud that the only grandparent I ever knew was Helen. And I loved her so.
    Yes, my name too has been mispronounced and misspelled so many times. In high school I finally gave up correcting the teacher that changed my name during roll call every single day. Elaine, Irene, Ellen, Alene, Ilene, Ilean, Aileen…and that was just my first name. She also massacred my last name.
    When I submit anything for publication now, I just use my initials in the hopes of one day becoming famous like a certain Harry Potter author. High hopes. I’m a dreamer.

  2. Brewer McCarty - April 13, 2021 9:19 am

    One of my favorite articles I’ve read from you, Sean. Very nice.

  3. Dean - April 13, 2021 10:40 am

    Enjoyed it column as always.

  4. Leigh Amiot - April 13, 2021 11:36 am

    Lee, Lei, Lie, Lynn, Liz, Lisa…My Leigh is lee. And the last name I received upon my marriage is am-ee-oh. Am-ee-ott is how most people pronounce it, but if folks know about the silent t in Chevrolet, I figure they can learn Amiot. Rhymes with cameo, I often explain. And a woman once then referred to my father-in-law as Mr. Cameo. I imagine, Sean, you have about five or six pronunciations of your last name as well. Anyway, the word portrait you painted of the youthful blonde hair flowing and time passing an old man was lovely.

  5. Debbie g - April 13, 2021 11:42 am

    Another Norman Rockwell painting !!! You are an amazing writer I am there with you watching this scene thanks for beautiful picture in my head for today Love your stories as always ❤️❤️

  6. Karen - April 13, 2021 11:53 am

    Some days you really crack me up, Sheena!

  7. James e inman - April 13, 2021 12:31 pm

    I can see em! What a great portrait of Americana, you can’t help but to grin and be proud. Beautiful.

  8. Katy - April 13, 2021 12:51 pm

    May be the finest sentence you’ve ever written, Sheen- “we watched the animals extend their muscled bodies like warbirds in flight”.

  9. Phil (Brown Marlin) - April 13, 2021 12:53 pm

    Another great story, Shawn. I know you won’t have grandkids, but come see me, and I’ll tell you all about mine, complete with pictures. They range in age from 5 to 22. They don’t ride horses, but they ride bikes, a golf cart, a couple have their own cars, and one has a husband who has his own car, too. Another drives a pickup truck. Some live a stone’s throw, others a good distance away, but they are all mine and all good, thanks to the Good Lord and their parents.
    If you ever need a used lawnmower, I can help you with that, too. Just drop by anytime, Shern.

  10. Dr. Dennis Stalvey, aka Preacher Dennis the Storyteller - - April 13, 2021 1:05 pm

    “O Sean-e-Boy, the pipes are calling…” WOW! You described that race better than the announcer at the Kentucky Downs! My wife and I grew up together in the same church. Her name is Jerita, pronounced like the bread, Merita. A few years back I was doing a program for a church in our home town and a lady said to me, “I am named after your wife. My name is Jerita.” I said, “Does your husband have to tell people like I do that your name sounds like Merita Bread, but with a “J”? The lady said, “My husband works for Merita Bread.” Go figure…keep em coming, whoever you are.

  11. Richard Owen - April 13, 2021 1:23 pm

    Being a photographer, your words just about always conjure up images in my mind. I can see you and that grandfather watching two teenagers blasting across the fields hell bent for the finish line. Thanks for the image, Sean.

  12. Jayne Harper - April 13, 2021 1:52 pm

    Love this story Sean! You had me at calamity Jayne! A very dear friend use to call me this! Thanks for making my morning! ❤️

  13. Carol Reese - April 13, 2021 2:08 pm

    I once was that girl, fearless and riding bareback on my mare Diamond. We explored every foot of ours and the neighboring farms throughout all the seasons, seeking out dewberries, muscadines and persimmons or trying to discover just where the creeks began. She would swim across ponds with me helping to kick as I clung to her mane, my skinny tomboy body still over her dark back like a pale floating frog.
    I would be spanked if not home before the dusk security light between the house and the barn came on. I’d ride as far as I dared in the late light, then turn her toward home and let her fly. Being on the bare back of a swift horse at full speed is as close to silken flight of a wild animal as I’ll ever get. I’ll be 70 this year, but I was that girl.
    Thanks for that memory.

    • Larry Wall - April 13, 2021 7:45 pm

      Replying to Carol Reese – That is a very well described event(s) that conjured up a clear image of your wild, joyful experiences with your pony. Such happenings are sweet mental archives, indeed. As reader, I too witnessed your afternoon tours.

      • Carol Reese - April 14, 2021 12:53 pm

        Thank you Larry!

  14. Jonathan Machen - April 13, 2021 2:27 pm

    Good one Brother Sean!

  15. Frances Hartzog - April 13, 2021 3:07 pm

    Good one Shenia!

  16. Melodie - April 13, 2021 3:38 pm

    Best one ever! I hung on to every detail, Shane! 😉

  17. BeBlue - April 13, 2021 3:48 pm

    ” Irish name has long been a source of confusion for the elderly…” My resume will include a note about the ability to pronounce Irish names, like my work colleague “Kee lan” – Caoilfhionn. I’m still confused but I learned to spell Celtic….

  18. Christina - April 13, 2021 3:50 pm

    To be seen, with fondness and delight. That’s what we all long for, right, Sheena? 😉

  19. AlaRedClayGirl - April 13, 2021 4:37 pm

    This story reminds me of my two girls when they were younger and rode horses everyday…a lovely memory.

  20. Jewel - April 13, 2021 5:49 pm

    I dont comment nearly as much as I read but it has been a long time coming to say that I am so grateful for Sean’s Stories! In a world with so much negativity & news stories always reporting conflicts & calamity his stories are such a Godsend. Feom personal stories & memories, from mindfulness, life lessons & simple anecdotes that emphasize positivity it is always a refreshing and comforting escape & I couldn’t be more thankful.

  21. MAM - April 13, 2021 6:58 pm

    I, too, love the positivity of your stories, and you DO paint lovely pictures with your words. You use your talent for good! Thanks, Sean! We almost named our daughter Siobhan, but we decided no one would ever be able to pronounce it. Irish names are beautiful.

  22. Jan - April 13, 2021 7:06 pm

    Such a lovely word picture you painted … I could almost smell the grass and feel the wind on my cheeks. I could definitely see the girls with their hair flying behind them and huge smiles on their faces. Most of all, as a grandmother, I could see the look of pure unadulterated love and pride that their grandfather displayed as he lost himself in the beauty of that moment. Thank you, Sean.

  23. Linda Moon - April 13, 2021 7:35 pm

    Having anything left of a late father is a thing to be cherished. My daddy left his humor to me. Some folks might not always appreciate it and might describe it is as a smart donkey’s hind-part. But it’s ours….Daddy and me. Your ancestry of “Yah! Yah!” were beautiful word-pictures of your father’s people. I’m looking at you with pride right now…you just cant see it, S.E.A.N….Sean.

  24. Carolyn Luttschwager - April 13, 2021 10:54 pm

    Love this story.

  25. Bob Brenner - April 14, 2021 9:19 am

    Love this story of a grandfather’s joy in being with his granddaughters ❤️🐴!

  26. Melanie - April 14, 2021 1:26 pm

    I could darn near feel the sun, hear the horses and smell hay in a barn. Thank you for a moment of pure bliss. I ❤️ Horses 🐎

  27. Patricia Schwindt - April 14, 2021 10:14 pm

    Sean Dietrich, you amaze me every day. If I were dying tomorrow, I would get up off my death bed and crawl to my laptop so I could read one more of your posts before I go. But today, you blew me away. I call myself a “writer”, but you truly ARE. I hate to sound like a groupie, but God blessed you bountifully, and you bless people beyond count every day of your life. Thank you.

  28. Meg Widmer - April 16, 2021 3:25 pm


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