I traveled four states with a coonhound riding shotgun. She sat between me and my wife. She’s a big dog—four hundred pounds of fur, stink, slobber, and hot breath.
She gets restless.
I pulled over for each whimper. Ellie Mae would leap from the vehicle and leave her signature on Arkansas, Mississippi, and every pasture in Alabama.
We spend the night at a KOA, since Marriotts frown on hound dogs drinking from their toilets. Our small cabin is near a pond overrun with geese.
Don—KOA campground host and the man who gets to drive the golf-cart—says, “Better watch them geese, they’ll steal food off your table if you ain’t careful.”
A few kids feed the birds with white bread. Ellie notices them. She takes the opportunity to go introduce herself. Ellie reasons that any child who would feed geese, would certainly feed a malnourished canine.
I sit on the porch and let her go.
Don relaxes in his golf cart. He wears a yellow KOA T-shirt and Georgia cap. He reaches into a cooler. “You want a beer?”
You don’t get that kind of service at Marriotts.
Don is from Georgia. He and his wife travel the KOA circuit, working for peanuts and rent-free living.
He has a friendly face. And when he talks, he sounds like a trotline across the Coosa.
“Used to have a dog just like yours,” he says. “When I first seen her, brought back memories.”
Even though he’s smiling, I recognize the look he’s wearing. I’ve buried enough good dogs to know it.
His late hound’s name was Van. Her formal name was Savannah, but in this part of the world, dog-names are shortened to the fewest possible syllables.
Take me, for instance, I once had a Lab named Hurley Josiah. I called him Jo. He slept in my bathtub. A good boy. Hated thunder.
Another dog: Boone Bear. His nickname was Boo. I watched him take his final breath while he rested on my lap.
I cried for years.
“Van used to hunt with me,” Don says. “Made her happy, but she was a pitiful birddog. Never retrieved nothing.”
Still, he took her hunting. There’s something about pleasing a dog that makes men like Don feel successful.
“One day,” he goes on. “I left her in the backyard to chase the squirrels, she busted outta the fence, ran straight for the highway…”
He pinches the bridge of his nose and quits talking.
Ellie Mae prances toward his golf cart when he calls her. She drops to the ground so that Don can look at her underbelly.
When he rubs her, Ellie Mae is no longer present in body or spirit—she’s gone to be with Jesus.
“You’re a good girl,” he says to her. “I miss you every day, sweet baby.”
Every single day.
Rest in peace, Savannah.