I am hiking a trail in the North Floridian woods. My dog is beside me. The longleaf pines go on for miles. I am here to walk my dog, take in the fresh air, and, God-willing, pull a hamstring.
The weather is cool and dry. The sky is so clear you can touch it.
A young couple is ahead of me. I have been trailing them for a mile and I have formed some opinions about them.
For one: they are in love, I can tell by the way they hold hands and lean onto each other.
Second: they are in fantastic shape—I have been trying to keep up with them and I am exhausted.
My dog and I pass a swamp. There is a sign beside it that reads: “Beware of alligators.”
I pause to observe. After a few minutes, I see something in the water. It’s a dark shape that sort of looks like a shiny log.
We keep walking.
Gators don’t scare me. Once, I lived in an apartment that had a pond behind it—actually, it was more of a drainage ditch. There was a hand-painted warning sign next to it that read:
“YALL MEMBER BOUT THE GATORS.”
Rumors claimed that a gator once crawled out of the pond and ate a Yorkshire Terrier named Izzy. Everyone in the apartments retold this horrific story, but nobody knew if it were true.
Until one day, when my uncle came to visit. I came home one evening to find him out back, sitting on an upside-down five-gallon bucket, holding a fishing rod with a raw chicken breast hooked on the end.
“Are you outta your mind?” I said.
“Ssshhh,” he said. “I wanna see if there’s really a gator out here.”
There was. After an hour of tempting fate, the thing came crawling out of the water faster than a Chevy Impala.
My uncle dropped his pole and scaled the gutter pipe all the way to the third-floor balcony that belonged to elderly Miss Johansen.
Miss Johansen happened to be standing on her balcony in hair curlers, smoking a Winston.
“Hey, big boy,” she said to my uncle. “Are you just gonna stand there, or are you gonna buy me a drink?”
And they lived happily ever after.
Anyway, my dog and I hike ahead until we see the young couple again, they stand so close together they look like one person with four legs.
When the girl sees my dog she becomes excited. She turns around and heads straight for us. People cannot resist Thelma Lou. Many have tried; most have failed.
“Oh, look!” says the girl. “A dog!”
Soon, their hands are all over Thelma Lou, who is getting a full-body massage, free of charge.
And I learn a little about them. They are newlyweds. They just met in February, and were married after only six months dating.
I ask why the quick engagement.
They exchange a look.
“Well,” she says, “I have a kinda… A problem…”
“She was sick,” her husband interjects. “We didn’t think she was gonna…”
“We wanted live to the fullest,” she says.
Their words hang in the air.
“You know,” he goes on, “we figured: why wait to get married, right? You never know about tomorrow.”
No, I guess you don’t.
They ask about my dog, and it’s nice to have a change of subject. I tell them a little about what daily life is like with a bloodhound.
It’s not for the faint of heart. Yesterday, my dog destroyed a sofa, stole a rack of ribs from my neighbor’s grill, and peed on a pile of clean laundry I’ve been meaning to fold for a few months.
This makes them laugh. I enjoy seeing them laugh. So, I go for two and tell them the story about my uncle, a gator, and an elderly temptress in hair curlers.
Finally, the girl says to her husband, “I want a bloodhound.” And she sounds resolute when she says it.
“I’ll start looking tomorrow,” her husband says.
These people don’t waste time.
Before they leave, they give Thelma Lou a few more belly rubs. The girl hugs the oversized bloodhound with her eyes closed.
She tells me, “The doctor told me I was in remission this week, and it was like getting a second chance at life. I think I just really needed to pet a dog today.”
I could ask more questions, but it’s none of my business. I shake their hands. They disappear on a long and winding trail.
Life is short. I sincerely hope you enjoy every minute of yours.
Just watch out for gators.
Dolores S. Fort - January 7, 2019 7:01 am
Life is short and not guaranteed to anyone. Live life to the fullest every day. Tell those you love that you love them. Don’t wait until tomorrow, tomorrow might not come. Thank you, Sean, for the reminder.
Debbie Phillips Hughett - January 7, 2019 11:41 am
A smile I desperately needed.
LeAnne Martin - January 7, 2019 12:07 pm
Oh my, Sean. Beautiful and funny. Thank you!
Bill - January 7, 2019 12:09 pm
One of ur best
Karen - January 7, 2019 12:30 pm
Such a lovely, happy story. No one really understands how short life is until it changes unexpectedly for them. I have heard more than one widow tell me that they just want to go back 24 hours. Thank you.
Barbara - January 7, 2019 1:43 pm
I usually smile and cry after your posts. Thank you, they are reminders of Life! ❤
Connie Havard Ryland - January 7, 2019 1:54 pm
As someone else already said, I usually cry and laugh when I read your column. Thank you for sharing with us. Have a lovely day.
Jess in Athens, GA - January 7, 2019 2:12 pm
I try to find something good about each day……waking up is always a good to start a new day. Reading some Sean Dietrich adds to the goodness of each day that I do wake up. Thanks, Sean.
Dale - January 7, 2019 2:20 pm
Hey Sean, thought you had two dogs? Everyone who loves dogs needs at least two. One to drive and the other to navigate. O.k. We have two jack russell terriers. Spoiled. OK keep up the writing. Look for it every morning. It is better than TV. Dale
Jack Darnell - January 7, 2019 2:47 pm
Yep, Life is like that. It pays to be ready to get onboard when the chance passes by, or you may miss the best moments.
Phillip Saunders - January 7, 2019 2:51 pm
Great story, Sean – a fine balance of humor and emotion. I have said a prayer for the young lady to be healed. And to you: “‘Member ’bout the gators.”
Peggy Savage - January 7, 2019 3:11 pm
Shelton A. - January 7, 2019 4:08 pm
May God continue to bless the young couple and God help them with a dog in the house. I’m looking, too and I’ve had them in the house. This proves I am crazy.
Jill - January 7, 2019 5:16 pm
I try not to unleash tears when I feel that ache behind my eyes. Sensitively poignant, Sean. I have wanting a bloodhound myself.
Jennifer Whisenant - January 7, 2019 7:38 pm
Going to change the name of Hurricane Michael to Gator! Bet you could write a lot of stories about Hurricane Gator. He was a humdinger. Today the insurance company almost agreed to pay for new roofs. They are having trouble paying for the metal roof on the storage shed/pool house/surfboard storage. The squirrels just destroyed two of my son’s cherished surfbags. Made a hole in two. Took stuffing from one to put in the hole in the other. Squirrels are obviously very picky about their bedding. Anyway my son just moved to Newnan GA for a job making mattresses. Just think what he could have provided these squirrels for bedding if they had not made him so mad.
Pamela McEachern - January 7, 2019 8:29 pm
Thank you for this beautiful story, prayers to everyone dealing with life changing situations. I may be wrong but isn’t Otis Jamie’s baby. She has to get one of them! I hope the New Year is being kind to all and BAMA rolls into history tonight!
Peace and Love from Birmingham
Stuart - January 8, 2019 5:22 am
They rolled into history alright. Go! you hungry tigers.
Mary Calhoun - January 7, 2019 9:37 pm
My Daddy’s favorite outdoor chair was a bucket. Your uncle and he had a lot in common.
Jack Quanstrum - January 8, 2019 12:39 am
Wonderful story. Yes life is short!
Edna B. - January 8, 2019 2:57 am
Such a beautiful, warm story. Life really is too short. Every morning I wake up is a gift that I cherish. May the angels watch over that young girl. Sean, you and Thelma Lou have a fnatabulous evening. Hugs, Edna B.
p.s. I just finished reading one of your books. Awesome!
Debbie Britt - January 10, 2019 8:30 pm
Carolyn Kelley - February 8, 2019 12:11 pm