I left a funeral. I was driving through the North Florida rain. My dogs were in the seat behind me.
It was a monsoon on the highway. I’m talking puddles the size of Lake Gertrude. Raindrops the size of Coke bottles.
Cars ahead had hazards flashing. Traffic was crawling. I held the wheel with both hands. A man in a truck sped around my vehicle. He almost amputated my side mirror.
The man’s tires kicked up a waterfall. I almost lost control. I couldn’t see. Horns honked. Tires squealed. I pulled onto the shoulder. I was rattled.
I loosened my necktie.
I don’t often wear neckties. But my mother would rather have her toenails removed with tongs than discover her son attended a funeral with an open collar.
My hands were shaking. My stomach was sick. I was lucky to be alive.
I spotted a dirt road ahead—off the main highway. A small pathway, running into the woods. Against my better judgement I took the forest road.
It ran me through the acres of pines, over bumps and rocks. There were deep ruts in the road. Ruts which had turned into miniature rivers of orange mud.
Thelma Lou (bloodhound) and Otis (alleged Labrador) sat at attention. They are like most dogs; they are connoisseurs of mud.
The desolate roads were unmarked, and I was in no hurry to get back on the highway. So I drove. And drove.
And it hit me: this was fun.
Furthermore, this was high-quality mud. Not that thin stuff that passes for mud on TV. This stuff was top shelf. I started smiling more than a grown man ought to.
That’s when I stumbled upon it. The Mother of All Mud Holes.
It was an empty lot, pristine mud, without tire tracks or obstacles. Only flat, sprawling soup. It called to me.
Thelma howled—which is dog-language for, “Do it, Daddy-O! Do it!” It is a well-documented fact that all dogs call their masters “Daddy-O.”
I don’t know what came over me. I’m middle-aged, with a back surgery and arthritis in my feet. Nevertheless, life is short.
I threw my truck into low gear. I hung my necktie on my rearview mirror. We zipped down a hill, then up another. Then we turned circles, like kids on a merry-go-round. A big, fast, Ford-manufactured, V6, fuel-injected, muddy merry-go-round.
I fishtailed, slinging mud. I whooped and hollered. Long ago, I did this very thing as a teenager. And I forgot how glorious it was.
Finally, I shut off the truck. I kicked open the door. My canine fugitives ran free. Two dogs bolted, full speed. And in only moments, they were covered in slop. A lot of wrestling happened. And laughing. I had the time of my life.
When I got home, my wife saw me step out of the truck. My nice clothes were covered in brown. My dogs looked like crud-covered demonic footmen. She almost had a heart attack.
“What happened to you?” she said.
“We took a shortcut,” I said.
I washed the dogs with a hose. My wife sprayed me with a hose. We ate cornbread and pinto beans for supper. We played cards.
I don’t know why I even told you this. Who really cares? So I played in the mud. Big whoop.
I suppose I am thinking that life is short. And one day it will be my funeral. And I know that on that day, people will probably attend with sad faces—like the service I visited this afternoon. Maybe it will even be raining.
But if you come to my last goodbye, do not cry for me. Because I will be in a big, muddy place. With my dogs. And loved ones. And my truck will have a new body, and a new transmission.
I am grateful for my family, no matter how small we are. For my wife. And for our little trailer home—with an antenna poking from the top, and a microwave that almost electrocuted me yesterday.
I am grateful for rain. And mud. And every miniscule thing I don’t always notice.
I am grateful for fun. For laughing. And for the way a simple feeling can be so good it makes you cry. You might be wondering what the point is to all this. Here it is:
Thank you for letting me live another day, Lord.
Also, do not wear a necktie to my funeral.