Molino, Florida—my wife and I drove hilly roads into the sticks of the Panhandle. Molino is a place with livestock fences, horse trailers, old barns, goats, and Mennonites who drive cars without radios.
I watched the acres roll past our windows. I rubbed a penny between my thumb and forefinger.
This penny is special.
I’ve been carrying the penny since the best dog I ever had, Ellie Mae, died. The day after she passed, I was walking Seventh Avenue in Birmingham, wiping my eyes like a blamed fool.
That dog was thirteen good years of my life, wrapped in fur.
I saw a penny on the sidewalk. I picked it up—I never pick up pennies. I inspected it. Imprinted on the face was Ellie Mae‘s birth year. Coincidence? I don’t know. But I kept it.
I suppose I wanted to believe that wherever Ellie was, my best friend was thinking of me.
Anyway, my wife and I turned into a long dirt driveway. There were muddy trucks, horse trailers, wide porches, and bloodhound puppies everywhere.
A man could raise a family in Molino.
And I saw her. A seven-week-old puppy, running through green grass. She tripped over long ears. I lifted her into my arms. She is heavier than she looks.
Her paws are too big for her body. Her breath smells like the Seventh Circle of Heaven. She bit my nose and made it bleed. She chewed my ear lobes. She licked my eyebrows.
Earlier this morning, my day was getting off to a bad start. I awoke to an empty and dogless house. I stumbled into an empty kitchen. Empty dog bowls sat on my kitchen floor.
I rubbed a penny while I made coffee.
I’m not used to emptiness. Every morning for the last umpteen years my mornings have been un-empty.
I would wake to a faithful dog, licking my hands. Then, Ellie would lead me into the kitchen. I’d start the coffee, fill water bowls, top off dog food, and open the back door.
Ellie Mae would prance into the backyard, do her business, then kick grass behind her. When she finished, she’d bolt for me—travelling six hundred miles per hour.
Then, we’d go through our morning ritual, in which I would:
1. Love her
2. Kiss her
3. Ask her to marry me
But that’s ancient history now. The world has been empty since her departure. No howling, no morning-time affection, empty bowls on my kitchen floor.
But not today. Today, things are un-empty again. Right now while I write you, a puppy is sleeping on my feet. She snores. She twitches. She whimpers from a bad dream.
My wife and I have named her Thelma Lou. Thelma Lou is ninety percent ears, ten percent paws, and has a digestive tract faster than Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
After supper, my wife and I played with this puppy. We made strange noises. We rolled in the grass like teenagers until we pulled muscles in our lower backs.
We hollered things like: “Youaretheprettiestgirlinthewholewideworld!”
We giggled. We made idiots out of ourselves. We formed a human-and-bloodhound-puppy sandwich—like we once did with the a good dog we called Ellie Mae. We kissed Thelma Lou’s bare belly. We let her chew our fingers.
We played games like: “Come Here Girl!” and “Hey Look Over There!” and “No, Don’t Poop on That!”
We tossed pinecones for Thelma Lou to chase. We introduced her to our neighbors. We put a collar around her neck. We lined her crate with old beach towels. We watched her fall asleep.
And we talked about Ellie Mae. We talked about how a good dog changed our lives.
Tonight, there is a full water bowl on my kitchen floor, a puppy crate in my living room, a few dog toys scattered. Our life is not empty.
I wish dogs lived forever.
They will bury me with this penny.