I just crossed the border into New Mexico. I’m only three hours from Colorado Springs, where I’ll visit my father’s resting place.
And I am lost. Not poetically, but worse. Literally. My GPS quit working a few minutes ago. I’m running blind.
Still, after two days of driving across the eerily flat Texas dirt, it’s nice to finally see some eerily flat New Mexico dirt for a change.
My wife is asleep in the passenger seat. We are traveling with two dogs: my late bloodhound, Ellie Mae,—God rest her soul—her ashes are in a cedar box, riding on my dashboard.
And my other dog, Thelma Lou—a twelve-week-old bloodhound whose bladder is the size of a zipper pea.
Thel sits in my lap while I drive, staring out my windshield. We are wandering across the Middle of Nowhere. This two-lane highway is bumpy, and jagged. In front of me: prairie. Behind me: prairie. There are no cars for miles.
But I’m enjoying the drive. So is the puppy. And I’m remembering things.
Mostly, I’m remembering the dog in the box. She was the sort who rode shotgun. Always shotgun. Even when my wife was in the car, Ellie would sit between us. If you rolled down the window, she’d poke her head out. Her long ears would flap in the wind.
Ellie was my friend. She was born in Georgia, raised in the Panhandle of Florida. She loved all things that hounds love: pine trees, children, long walks on the beach, raw sewage, Lawrence Welk.
I think Ellie would’ve liked the West.
Thelma Lou certainly likes it. She is taking in the view like it’s the first time she’s ever seen earth.
She wears a look I can’t explain—like she’s thinking very, very hard. And all of a sudden, my vehicle smells like four-day old cabbage. Gurgling sounds come from Thel’s hindparts. She’s thinking all right.
She’s about to think all over the upholstery.
So, I pull over. I open the door. Thelma leaps into the grass and makes a stunning contribution to the state of New Mexico. Then, she runs toward the edge of the earth. God, does that dog love to play.
I am sitting on a dry rotted railroad tie, watching her.
Funny, I’ve driven a long way just to visit my father’s grave tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to seeing him. But he won’t even recognize me.
After all, I’ve grown a lot. I do things I never did when I was younger.
I wake up earlier than I used to, I watch the Weather Channel, sometimes I even fall asleep during football games. I entered adulthood without him.
A kid goes his whole life wanting a nod and a wink from his father. When it doesn’t get it, it changes him.
Thelma Lou interrupts me. She doesn’t want me to think. She wants me to play.
She jumps on me. So, I jog through the grass like the Little-Engine-That-Underwent-In-Patient-Back-Surgery. I’m a slow runner, but she’s just happy to have me moving. I get down on all fours. We roll in the dry dirt.
This is not the way a grown man should behave. It’s not how my father would’ve behaved. But this is me.
When she’s tired, she collapses in my arms. I pet her. I talk to her the way I used to talk to the dog in the cedar box. I tell her about my father, about my childhood, about growing up without much of either. I tell her about how alive I feel today. How happy I am.
She listens and blinks her eyes. She doesn’t care about the words I’m saying. She’s just here, with me. And this makes me smile.
Because even though I am wandering the New Mexico wilderness—a region I’ve never visited—even though I’m five hundred miles from a single car, a telephone pole, a person, or a cow, I sort of realize something.
I’m not lost.
Go empty your bladder one more time, Thelma Lou.
CaroG87 - May 30, 2018 9:57 am
This is an amazing story. I’m enjoying reading the travelogue. Wishing you continuing safe travels and the answers you seek.
Claudia - May 30, 2018 11:48 am
I live in Colorado Springs….. friend of Lyle and Sherry. Let me know if you and Jamie want company…. and Thel. We can walk in the Garden if the Gods. Claudia
Xan Morrow - May 30, 2018 11:48 am
Sean, thank you for taking me along on your journey. I think it resonates with everyone. I know it does with me. Godspeed!
Sue Cronkite - May 30, 2018 12:06 pm
Bless you. Keep telling your stories.
Eleanor - May 30, 2018 12:16 pm
If you can post a picture in your blog, I’d love to see Thelma and Ellie….
Pj Brown - May 30, 2018 1:02 pm
Bless your heart for loving dogs just the way they are. The way they were meant to be.
Barbara - May 30, 2018 1:06 pm
Your posts always make me remember, smile, and sometimes cry. Thank you for your writings; I look forward to them and read them Every Day.
Bo Brown - May 30, 2018 1:13 pm
Sometimes the “pit stops” are better than the race. Good one Sean (another good one).
Edna B. - May 30, 2018 1:24 pm
Love the story. My little guy doesn’t care where we go either, just as long as he is with me. It’s called love. You have a super day my friend, hugs, Edna B.
Debbie Reynolds - May 30, 2018 1:51 pm
Thank you Sean, you inspire me and make me laugh! I love dogs too much to! Safe travels and praying for you as you visit your dad.???
Summer - May 30, 2018 2:00 pm
Driving across the Southwest is sort of a spiritual experience in itself. Thunderheads and rainbows, mountains and mesas, rose-colored desserts dotted with sage brush and mesquite, a smorgasbord of Americana along the way… everyone should do it at least once. And if you can do it with your true love and a puppy in the front seat — or in our case a 2-year-old watching Disney’s Cars in the backseat — even better! Y’all travel safe.
Jack Quanstrum - May 30, 2018 3:01 pm
Jack Darnell - May 30, 2018 3:01 pm
Yeah, New Mexico. Had engine trouble there and a Flat tire, but still enjoyed the scenery. I ain’t seen no bad places in this country of ours. Love it all!
Linda Bailey - May 30, 2018 3:06 pm
Sean I’d love to live in a world where everyone appreciated the smaller things like you’ve managed to do! We all need to slow down and “smell the roses” or 4 day old cabbage gas from a pup ?
Mark Bush - May 30, 2018 3:28 pm
I grew up in Montgomery and love reading your stories about my childhood home. My wife and I and 2 Irish Setters live in Colorado Springs now and love it here. Looking forward to reading about your time here in my new home. Safe travels.
Connie Havard Ryland - May 30, 2018 3:33 pm
I took a trip out west last summer with two teenagers who just graduated high school. We made lots of stops. Lol. I didn’t have a reason to go. We just went. We live in a beautiful country. I’m happy that y’all are making this journey to see your dad. Drive safely, enjoy the trip. I hope you know that your dad has been watching all this time. He knows you. Love and hugs to you and Jamie.
Pat - May 30, 2018 3:43 pm
I like that it doesn’t take much to make you happy Sean…I am the same. At this time of year when I see some green emerging from the ground, I am ecstatic, it’s like visiting with an old friend that has come to see you again! Safe travels, and, remember you can ask for directions!
Alan Brock - May 30, 2018 4:40 pm
Not sure if Pikes Peak is where you are headed but a little trivia about the mountain. It is the inspiration behind the song America the Beautiful written by Katharine Bates. She was inspired to write the words when she took a trip up the mountain. The mountain is special to me. In 2007 I ran from Austin, Tx. to the top of Pikes Peak and back down. It was 913 miles on foot in 40 consecutive days. So I averaged just under a Marathon a day. My final leg of the journey was the Pikes Peak marathon. They start the marathon every year by singing America the Beautiful. I probably ran where you are now.
Leslie - May 30, 2018 6:27 pm
You reach out and touch me personally so many times as I read your column, and I always feel guilty that I somehow never say “Thanks” in return. Following along on this trip with you has been especially moving. For all the times that you’ve told us this… know that WE see YOU, too, and hold you in our hearts as you make this journey. While it’s just you and “the girls” tomorrow when you get there, think of it as Louisville turned out for Muhammad Ali’s procession as you go… WE’RE with you and loving on you the whole way.
Jon Dragonfly - May 31, 2018 2:29 am
(music)”I once was lost, but now I’m found….”
muthahun - May 31, 2018 2:38 am
Lawrence Welk? I love it. Played Lawrence’s closing song as exit music at my mum’s service. Some of my friends told me, “I was doing OK ’til I heard Lawrence Welk.” Love that AND “The Little Engine That Underwent In-Patient Back Surgery”! Cracked me up. Safe travels, y’all.
Janet Mary Lee - June 26, 2018 12:08 am
Gotta love dogs!! (Big Smile!)