I am enjoying a rural Arizona morning. I am on the patio of a rental house. The birds are greeting the day.
Beside me is a dog. A neighborhood stray maybe. The dog is white, and he smells like a billy goat. I place my hand on his head. He is smiling.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
I’m good at naming dogs. It’s a gift. Show me a dog, and I’ll name it.
“You look like a ‘Duke’ to me. Do you like that name?”
He does not. He sneezes at it. And this is a shame because I’ve always thought Duke was a perfect dog name.
Next door is an old woman working in her backyard garden. I can see her through the fence. She is dressed in a nightgown, white-haired, she is barefoot, smoking a cigarette.
Arizona is a different place than I’m used to. People here talk differently, they dress differently, they do different things.
Yesterday, for example, I saw a young lady in a grocery store wearing a golden leotard with turquoise hair. Her husband was dressed like a wizard.
Even so, people are people, no matter where you are. Leotards and all. All humans have the same basic needs. To love. To be loved. And to eat lots of cheese.
The elderly neighbor woman is digging holes, planting things. Her son is helping, but she is not friendly to him.
“Mom, why’re you planting whole apples?” he says.
“Because I like apples, dumbass.”
“You don’t expect them to actually grow do you?”
“Then why plant them?”
She throws a shovel at him.
This is what I’m hearing right now.
On the street before me, I see a man in a cowboy hat, walking. On his shoulder he is carrying a lizard. A very big lizard.
Like I said. Different folks.
“Mom!” shouts the lady’s son. “Why’re you planting almonds?”
“Shut up and give me that shovel,” she says.
“Mom, let’s go inside, you need a shower. I’m worried about you.”
“Leave me alone you big piece of &@$%.”
I look at the dog next to me. He is as confused as I am.
I still need to find a good name for this dog. You can’t name a dog haphazardly. It takes thought. You might get away with naming a kid Billy, Dan, or Jimmy, but you have to be clever with dog names.
“You know,” I’m reasoning with the dog, “John Wayne’s nickname was ‘Duke.’ Not too late to change your mind.”
He is not buying it.
“How about Moses?”
He looks at me like I’m one brick short of a load.
Moses is a great name. I had a hound named Moses when I was a boy. One day, he was sleeping on a trampoline in the backyard. A storm kicked up. It lifted the trampoline and carried the thing an acre away.
Moses went for a ride and survived unharmed. He never slept on anything but concrete after that.
And again, the man with the lizard is walking by. He’s stroking his lizard’s chin, whispering sweet nothings to it.
I’m beginning to think I’m trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone.
“Hey,” I say to the dog. “How about Matt? Now there’s a good Gunsmoke name.”
The dog frowns.
He doesn’t like that, either.
“Mom!” shouts the man next door. “Stop hitting me!”
The old woman has really lost her temper now. She is swatting her son. She lands a fist to his chin.
He wraps his arms around her in a bear hug. She smacks him, but he endures each blow until she calms down in his arms. Soon, she is sobbing.
“How about Wyatt?” I whisper to the dog. “That’s a nice name.”
He seems to like this title. Who wouldn’t appreciate being named after a famous cowboy sheriff?
“Wyatt it is,” I say. Then I pat his head. “Good boy, Wyatt.”
That’s when I see a girl. She walks the neighborhood street. She is a teenager. Black hair. Sad eyes. She is holding a leash in her hands.
The girl sees Wyatt beside me. Her face lights up. She pats her knees, calling to him. She looks like she’s worried sick.
“Ven acá!” she says. “Ven acá!”
Wyatt’s ears perk up.
I overhear the old lady and her son again:
“I love you, Mom. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” she says, placing her arms around his waist. “I’m sorry I hit you and called you that. I’m not feeling like myself today.”
The white dog bolts for the girl. He races toward her and gives her a slobbery bath. She holds him and kisses his head. And if you’ve ever seen a child kiss a dog, it will make you believe in things. Things like sunrises. And good dogs. And the beauty of family.
The older I get the more I realize that love is everywhere I look.
“Duke!” the little girl says. “Oh, Duke! I was afraid I’d lost you!”
Why that little liar.
Barb - April 24, 2019 10:03 am
You weave ordinary observations around you into clever, entertaining and heartwarming events. I enjoy your stories daily. Just wanted to say thank you and God bless you. ❤️
Elizabeth - April 24, 2019 10:18 am
Oh, you got me!!!
Estelle - April 24, 2019 10:41 am
Dog stories are the best. Thanks Sean for writing them.
terry - April 24, 2019 10:52 am
Good medicine – heart and soul!!!
Suzanne Cahill - April 24, 2019 12:14 pm
Love this. Missing my good Lab, Jack, today.
Joe Patterson - April 24, 2019 12:18 pm
rhonda - April 24, 2019 12:23 pm
Love ya man. Mean it.
Jo Ann - April 24, 2019 12:51 pm
Yes, love is everywhere, thankfully. I’ve had 2 dogs named Duke. The Duke we have now will be 18 y/o this year. He’s still a good ‘ole boy & loves head rubs. We love them & they love us back.
Edna B. - April 24, 2019 12:55 pm
I absolutely love going on these little trips with you. It’s fun to see things through your eyes. You’ve really brightened my morning. Thank you, hugs, Edna B.
Donna - April 24, 2019 12:56 pm
Connie Havard Ryland - April 24, 2019 12:58 pm
Sounds like the neighbor may have dementia. It’s a sad progression of slowly losing your mind and doing and saying ugly things that have no relation to the person you actually are. My heart hurts for her son. I speak from experience. And you are correct. We all need love of some kind to blossom, but the love of a child for their dog is a wondrous thing. Thank you for another good one today.
Mark B - April 24, 2019 1:31 pm
You’re starting to write like Steinbeck. For minute I thought I was in Tortilla Flat. My mom used to have days like that. I’d just laugh, she’d get madder, I’d still laugh and after she’d laugh and give me a hug. Good times man, good times.
Nancy Hall - April 24, 2019 1:39 pm
Love it… last line was a zinger!
Mary - April 24, 2019 1:57 pm
THIS ONE….this one is special.
Jan Overton - April 24, 2019 2:10 pm
Great one, Sean! Really enjoyed your “Duke” story!
MermaidGrammy - April 24, 2019 2:51 pm
Dear, dear Sean: You just weren’t his Duke! You’re very close to a terrific adoption agency in San Antonio: La Braza. Go check them out
Dru - April 24, 2019 2:54 pm
I hope Duke got a bath! One of your best.
Shelton A. - April 24, 2019 2:58 pm
Well, whadda ya think of that, pilgrim.
Debbie - April 24, 2019 3:05 pm
Hahahaha! So, Duke it was. Speaking of dog stories, where’s Thelma? Have I missed something?
Jan - April 24, 2019 3:09 pm
Love this story! Especially the ending ….
John - April 24, 2019 3:14 pm
Well done, Sean.
Chasity Davis Ritter - April 24, 2019 3:15 pm
Oh you got me with that one Sean. You really got me!! My dad has a dog named Duke. Well I It May have been my brothers to start. I bet that dog misses him as much as I do. Well I know his cat does for sure. His cat loved him the most. I didn’t write yesterday about Ellie May and Dexter. I was going to. I meant to. It’s been a hard week. My cat son Roman was killed by two big dogs last Monday. They were running loose. I don’t know what happened all together. A neighbor came to get me and tell me. I know cats torment dogs but these weren’t neighbor dogs. They may have just been out looking for trouble. We had a dog Daisy a beagle that died from cancer in January. Daisy was Romans’ dog. They loved each other. They’re together again now at the rainbow bridge and they rest together in my back yard just as they used to nap together on my couch. He had missed her too. Just like you said Dexter missed Ellie. I don’t know about all things. I know about love though. Love like you wrote about. Today I miss my dad. I miss my fur kids. I’m a big ole bawl bag right now and I’ve probably mistyped half of this. I love your posts about good things. Dogs and baseball. John Wayne. My dad loved John Wayne. Did I say that already? Maybe he’s met him up there already. I know he’s seen his mom and dad and sister and so many more. I bet he’s even seen a favorite dog or two and maybe even a cat. I’m sorry to go on. I guess I’m writing just for me. But that is love too. It gets ahold of us. It leaks down our faces when our hearts can’t hold it in anymore. Thanks for letting me ramble. Thanks for what you write everyday. Duke… little liar. Yeah I smile through my tears too.
Susan - April 24, 2019 5:10 pm
Thank you for the smile today.
Mary Grider - April 25, 2019 1:25 am
I absolutely love this! I share your love for dogs. The big and little ones, the old and young ones, also the clean and dirty ones! Thank you!
Curran - April 25, 2019 2:25 am
Like Chief Least Heat Moon said, there’s only three things in life that matter: love, babies and dying.
Becky Robertson - April 25, 2019 4:08 am
Oh my. That’s all. This really tore my heart up and put it back together way bigger. Love it. Thank you
Charaleen Wright - April 25, 2019 4:38 am
Emily - April 26, 2019 12:40 am
Oh you got me Duke. Well done.
Jack Darnell - April 26, 2019 10:12 pm
Ah ha, caught you, you made that up. They don’t plant apples in AZ……. Do they? Just checking, Glad Duke got back home!
Sherry & jack
Shannon McGee - May 24, 2019 12:00 pm
I had a dog named Moses ❤️ He was a Great Pyrenes and he herded my children into the house at supper time..It took us 10 hours to dig his grave in the backyard when he left us ? He was the sweetest thing ever! Names are so important, as we have to live up to them, so I name all of the children in my family when they are born ? It’s my gift ❤️
Toni - April 30, 2020 1:12 am
Thank you Sean for this blessed and ‘beautiful story, ‘beautiful’ and ‘blessed’ being code for so full of the heart of life and love with the pain and tears that are also part of life. Loved your neighbour’s boy who knew to hug his mama as her aging began to turn to dementia. My own beloved brother knew how to turn our mother’s suffering to laughter, and I loved her in my way that included taking her and my dog who she loved on long road trips and holidays.
My comment is about a year after this blog and I felt so full of love and tears and missing my mum that I wanted to express my appreciation. Thank you Sean.