The pines are flying past my truck window. Tall pines. Port Saint Joe pines. The sky above them is wide. And high.
They say Texas has nice skies. I’ve been to Texas. I got so lost in Texarkana I had to spend the night in a police station.
I prefer Port Saint Joe.
The woman in my passenger seat is sleeping. We’ve been together a long time. Long ago, on our first unofficial date we drove this highway, under this same Port Saint Joe sky.
That night, I hadn’t meant to drive so far, but we couldn’t stop talking long enough to figure out what else to do.
Before we married, the girl and I came here on vacation. A beach cottage. Her family made me one of their own. Her brother took me fishing. Her daddy cooked.
The girl’s mother made me sleep upstairs in a locked bedroom. She made the girl sleep downstairs, fully clothed, wrapped in chains, King James Bible strapped around her heart.
After suppers, we took beach walks. We held hands. Kids were catching hermit crabs with flashlights. The stars did their thing. We talked. And talked.
We talked on this same beach after our wedding. On birthdays. Holidays.
After my back surgery, too. My backside bore an eight-inch scar and bandages which she changed every few hours.
We came here after her father died. She did more crying than talking.
And after I graduated college as an adult. We stayed in an economy room that smelled like expired Gorgonzola and cat poop.
We talked until sunup.
I wrote my first novel here. I wrote my second novel here, too. They aren’t good novels, but they’re mine.
I worked on them from morning until dark. I survived on Conecuh sausage, Bunny Bread, and Budweiser. I had the time of my life.
Me. A man who laid tile, hung sheetrock, threw sod, and played bar music. Who’d never went to high school. Writing novels.
She has that effect on me.
My wife was the first to read them. It took her a full day. When she finished reading, I found her crying.
“Was my book that bad?” I asked.
“I’m so proud of you,” she said.
This town is where we bought our coonhound—which seems like a lifetime ago. We named her Ellie Mae. She is our daughter. Today, she has white on her snout. She makes us a whole family.
I wrote my very first column here, four years ago. God. Has it been that long? My wife is the one who talked me into it. It was only a fleeting idea. And it changed my life.
So, I’m driving past the place where my wife and I started a conversation fourteen years ago. Or was it fifteen? I’ll have to ask her when she wakes. She knows everything.
Anyway, someone once asked me how I knew she was The One.
Well, I can’t answer that. Because the truth is, it was blind luck. I’m not smart enough to know things like that.
But I do know that this girl and I have always had good conversations. Really good ones. And that’s not something you find every day.
I’m grateful for that. For these pines.
And for the privilege of loving you, Jamie.
Happy anniversary, darling.