Port Saint Joe

I don’t know a thing about the nature of life, but I don’t think happiness is something a young man can whip up. I believe over time it grows on him, like algae.

Port Saint Joe is painted with late afternoon sunlight, and I am walking downtown with my wife.

The small Panhandle city is busy with pre-summer tourists. The storefronts look the same way they did in the 1950’s. The old theater marquee reads, “God bless Port Saint Joe.”

I love it here. Long ago, I wrote a novel here. Actually, it was more like a novella. It wasn’t thick enough to balance a wobbly table, but I’ll never forget the sense of accomplishment it gave me.

I didn’t think I could do it. I had almost no faith in myself. To write it, I had camped in a small sixteen-foot camper with my dog.

It was my pal, Lyle, who first encouraged me to do it.

He said, “If you don’t give yourself permission to do something you’ve always wanted to, then what the hell’s your life all about?”

So I tried it. I camped. I wrote for hours, then I ate oysters for supper and drank Red Stripe beer. My bloodhound could eat nearly as many raw oysters as I could.

My bloodhound was born in Indian Pass, just down the road from Port Saint Joe. When I first got her, she was the kind of pup who had saltwater in her blood. She lived for this water.

Throughout her life, we would visit often. I loved watching her run these beaches. She was a special dog.

Some of her ashes sit on my mantle, some ride in my truck. I also brought some of her on this trip.

I put a few spoonfuls of her ash into a Red Stripe bottle, with a cork in the top and rocks in the bottom. And there was a handwritten poem inside.

It was short:

“I love her, Ellie Mae,
Though she is now above,
May she rest forever on the bottom,
In a place she loved.”

It ain’t Shakespeare, but dogs don’t care how well you write. I lobbed the bottle into the water this morning. No tears. Only happiness for the thirteen years she lived.

I know I write a lot about dogs. And I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I am who I am.

Port Saint Joe is also where my wife and I came for my thirtieth birthday. We rented a little place, and we spent too much time on the beach.

We were here because it had been a defining year for me. That year, I’d given myself permission to do several things I’d always wanted to do. And it had changed me.

I finished college—finally. And I wasn’t doing construction work anymore, I was playing music in a local band. I was fishing more often. And I’d written a novel.

Me. An author.

No longer was I Heaven’s most lovable loser. My life was taking a turn for the better.

You should’ve seen me walk the streets of Port Saint Joe on my thirtieth birthday, my dog beside me. I looked like I’d just discovered teeth.

I don’t know a thing about the nature of life, but I don’t think happiness is something a young man can whip up. I believe over time it grows on him, like algae.

Take, for example, blue jeans. A few weeks ago, I bought some jeans from a retailer. They charged me an arm, a leg, and a kidney for them.

They were pre-worn, pre-faded, pre-washed, pre-approved, and pre-whatever. They were the nicest jeans I have ever owned. They fit better than any I’d ever had.

And I hated them.

Because that’s not how we used to buy jeans growing up. The jean purchases of my youth happened like this:

Mama took you to the store. She picked out a pair of rock-hard denim jeans that were stiff enough to sand boat hulls. She washed them, and you wore them every single day for the next sixteen years.

By the end of those sixteen years, you had a great pair of jeans. They weren’t the best, and they weren’t perfect, but they were yours, and you were happy with them.

My life has been pretty much the same way. It’s taken me a long time to finally get broken in.

How did I start talking about jeans?

Anyway, my wife and I weave in and out of stores in Port Saint Joe’s downtown. She tries on sun hats; I consider buying a fishing rod. We’re playing tourists today. And it’s nice.

We are about to go to dinner to eat oysters and drink Red Stripe beer. And I am smiling. I don’t know how this happened. I don’t know why.

Maybe I’m smiling because the weather is right. Maybe it’s because I had a good night’s sleep. Maybe it’s fate. Maybe all I needed was to give myself permission to smile.

Perhaps it’s because my late friend will forever rest on the Gulf’s bottom.

Or it could be that I’m just happy.

God bless Port Saint Joe.


  1. Ella Herlihy - May 4, 2019 7:00 am

    Sean we would be honored to have you join us for Blue Skies – the best thing to happen to Port Saint Joe since you and Jamie and Ellie Mae. We take twelve families who each have a child with cancer down to WindMark Beach in Port Saint Joe. About 70 volunteers raise rhe money for them to be able to come for free, because some people deserve a break. We welcome them with hugs and banners with their names on them. We set them up in their own condo with welcome treats and T-shirt’s. We fix lunch and dinner for everybody and throw a party with a fun theme every night. The local fire department and police come and drive around the square 6 times in a row so these kids can be I a “Red White & Blue Skies” parade. Each kid with cancer gets a medal, and each sibling too – because they are heroes. The families come worn and weary with the smell of hospital in their nostrils, and they leave rested and encouraged and floating on salt air. It is the best week of the year for my family. Our five kids would rather do Blue Skies than go on a fancy vacation. We are so grateful for the way a chance to love and serve others has, in the end, richly blessed our own family. Will you and Jamie come join us? http://Www.whereskiesareblue.org

  2. Meredith Smith - May 4, 2019 10:40 am

    God Bless Ellie Mae. ❤️

  3. Sandra Swindall - May 4, 2019 10:55 am

    I love this place, too. My daughter lives there and works hard each nesting season to make sure the sea turtle nests are marked and kept as safe as possible. She also speaks to schools, community groups, etc. about her work. Check out the new sea turtle center as well as an amazing sea turtle sculpture fountain going in near the George Core Park.

  4. Penn Wells - May 4, 2019 11:45 am

    “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” -Buddha

  5. Steve Winfield - May 4, 2019 12:31 pm

    I’m glad you’re happy. You are my friend now & I want all my friends to be happy. My dog Jack has been gone 3 years. I miss him every day. I probably will think of him every day from now on. Sad & happy at the same time.
    I’m about 2/3 the way through “The Other Side of the Bay”. My kind of stuff.
    I hope your weekend is great.

  6. Jess in Athens, GA - May 4, 2019 12:34 pm

    I have some ashes of my dog, Bailey, on the mantle. She was the best, sweetest dog I’ve ever shared my life with. She lived to be thirteen years old. I miss her, but my dear wife got me another dog about two years after Bailey passed. Her name is Belle and she’s now three years old; she’s laying on the floor next to me. Sean, keep writing about your dogs it’s good reading.

  7. Jan - May 4, 2019 1:10 pm

    God bless you, Sean!

  8. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - May 4, 2019 1:26 pm

    I love that you are a dog person and can tell such sweet stories about your Ellie. You make me wish I was on the beach with y’all!

  9. Megan Dixon - May 4, 2019 1:28 pm

    Never apologize for writing about dogs! They keep our souls happy. I’m so glad you love dogs as much as you do and I love reading your stories about them!

  10. Shelton A. - May 4, 2019 1:35 pm

    God bless you all (pups especially). I feel about dogs the way you do. Heaven ain’t heaven without my dogs.

  11. Doris Drake - May 4, 2019 1:55 pm

    We love that area, too. We love to eat at the Indian Pass Raw Bar. Best stuffed shrimp ever.

  12. Jack Darnell - May 4, 2019 1:58 pm

    Funny how people are turned. That was a term used by my mama on how one’s life goes. I have no idea where it came from, unless it is ancient like the potter’s wheel. Anyway I enjoyed the read.
    As soon as I read S of the S. I click ‘FORWARD’ enter ‘se’ my wife and friends addresses come up and I type ‘From Sean’ and hit send. Probably a better way to do it, but that is how I am ‘turned.’ She will read it, we will discuss it, we will delete it and you are gone. But I sign this comment Sherry & jack, ’cause she only ‘lurks’ and will not comment. just sayin’
    Good one, Sherry & jack.

  13. Lisa Campbell - May 4, 2019 2:32 pm

    I am so loving your stories about Port St. Joe, Indian Pass – one of my favorite areas in the US! Also love the dog stories ?.

  14. Joe Patterson - May 4, 2019 2:42 pm

    Thanks again glad you have found happiness

  15. Beth Peterson - May 4, 2019 6:53 pm

    I especially LOVE your blogs about your dogs. I usually cry…for yours and mine who have departed this earth. I am 72 and have had some great dogs. Thank you for your writing. If you’re between Nashville n Memphis on I 40 and need a place to rest your dog…my farm is between exits 93 n 87.

  16. Fran Hopkins - May 4, 2019 7:35 pm

    I love your dog stories- they almost always bring tears to my eyes because they remind me of one of the many dogs I’ve loved. Keep writing

  17. Jack H - May 4, 2019 8:22 pm

    Sean, I really enjoy your Panhandle tales! Keep it up.

  18. Edna B. - May 4, 2019 10:00 pm

    I love your dog stories. My precious little Pogo is thirteen years old now. I’m hoping for at least another thirteen years with him. You and Jamie have a wonderful evening. Hugs, Edna B.

  19. turtlekid - May 4, 2019 10:30 pm

    Thrift shops are my thing, and I have found some great buys at the one in PSJ. Love scrolling along that main drag!! You sure stir up some lovely memories.

  20. Charaleen Wright - May 6, 2019 5:00 am

  21. Tammy Moody - May 6, 2019 4:38 pm

    Thank you, Sean. Thank you so much! My cousin used to live in Port St Joe, where he was a Sheriff. I remember going to his house when I was young for a family reunion. We lived in IL at the time, and I just knew that a community like this was where I would live when I was all growed up! Thank you for sharing your life with us. Bless you forevermore! ♥

  22. John Allen Berry - May 6, 2019 6:30 pm

    I don’t think there is such a thing as writing too much about dogs. You can write about whatever you want, I’ll still read.


  23. Linda Gray - May 7, 2019 12:40 am

    Wise words from your pal, Lyle

  24. Jan Averett - May 7, 2019 1:50 am

    I just love this story. I guess I am a little strange. Sean and I think a lot of like. I wish there were more people like us. I believe this world would be a better place.

  25. Estelle - May 9, 2019 6:02 am

    I love your dog stories. I love small towns and the people you write about who live in them. I’m 77 and grew up in small town in the 1950’s. It was after WW II and people were thankful for peace. It was perfect for a time I’m sorry it is not that way now. Thank you for the memories.

  26. Steve Winfield - May 21, 2019 6:16 am

    I’m glad you were (are) happy. I think that is important. Do your best to stay that way. I will too. My family likes me better when I am. Love, Steve.

  27. Debbie - June 4, 2019 7:54 am

    Bend-In-The-Road moments, however slight, can change the trajectory of our lives.

    We are all the better for yours.

  28. turtlekid - June 4, 2019 1:26 pm

    Loving anything you write about the Forgotten Coast, and overjoyed about the love for a favorite canine. They only here for a season, but in our hearts forever.

  29. Mindi - June 4, 2019 4:26 pm

    Love your stories…cant wait till your new book comes out!!

  30. Robert Freeman - June 5, 2019 1:14 am

    Sean, I feel the same whenever I visit my family in St Joe.


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