Last October, my buddy Mary Beth, a nurse I’d worked with at Vandy, the pups, and I took a trip to Pensacola, Florida. It was a spur of the moment trip – she called on a Tuesday and said, “I’ve got a long weekend coming up, want to go to the beach?”
“Uh, YES.” I answered. My house was on the market and it was hard trying to keep it “show ready” with three pups, plus when I’m stressed I make stuff and I’d just found a new project. In October I was working with copper – which meant copper sheets, metal shears, metal punches, butane torches, fire bricks, and at least five hundred other things scattered all over my kitchen. I mean – it was so empty after I got rid of everything and had the first Open House. The countertops were the perfect place to make copper jewelry.
I needed to get out of the house before my real estate agent had a nervous breakdown.
The month before I’d been chased off Amelia Island by Hurricane Irma, cutting my month visit short by a week. I couldn’t believe my luck – another trip to the beach – this one with Mary Beth. Heck Yeah!
She called on Tuesday, I found the perfect house to stay in, booked it on Wednesday, and we were on the road to Pensacola on Thursday morning.
It was perfect, some wonderful things happened while we were there (but that’s another story for another day) and even though the pups weren’t allowed on the beach, they loved the fenced in yard and the chaise lounge on the deck. We had settled in, eaten tons of oysters and were ready to relax for a couple more days. Then we got the call.
Hurrican Nate was moving in fast.
We were being evacuated, thanks to Nate. Two hurricanes in two months, cutting two trips short. I couldn’t help but laugh, but I was bummed.
Mary Beth had a back up plan. She had something she wanted to show me, and since we were leaving a day early, we could fit it into our schedule, stay overnight in Alabama and use the refund due to the evacuation for our new excursion. Win-Win.
The ride through Alabama was great. She drove and I sat with Pearl in the passenger seat while Mary Beth gave us a tour. We drove by the house she grew up in, where her grandparent’s house – Mama Gladys and Big Daddy- used to live. Back before the tornado took it down. We stopped and Mary Beth took one of the bricks for a memento. That alone was worth the trip. We went to the family cemetery, drove past houses that brought back fun stories. Some I’d heard, and could hear a hundred times more, but plenty of new ones. I wish I could have met Who Mama and Joe Carson, her great grand parents. Her Aunt Sassy. Her Aunt Blanche and Uncle Gurley – especially Uncle Gurley, because I could have ridden his donkey with Mary Beth when we were kids. It was great to see the places where the stories came from and I thought the day couldn’t get better.
But I was wrong. She pulled down a narrow road surrounded by trees and kudzu on both sides. She kept grinning at me and I knew that wherever we were going was going to be good. I was not disappointed.
She knows me so well.
I couldn’t believe that the end of that narrow road, what felt like a path really, was a beautiful pavilion and one of the most well-kept cemeteries I’d ever seen.
The grass was cut short, weeds all weeded, bright flowers and crisp, new American flags at every headstone. Not a ragged one in the bunch. And the coins caught my eye. Pennies and dimes scattered at every grave. I had never seen a graveyard where every person buried there was so well loved and respected…
There were really expensive headstones, and handmade – heartbreakingly beautiful – ones.
We spent maybe an hour there, reading the names and inscriptions.
We signed the log book under the covered pavilion before we left and I wasn’t surprised to see that there had been two full pages of visitors that weekend alone.
Nothing compares to the love a person has for their dog, and the love that dog has for his person. Especially the love between a coon huntin’ dog and his person from Alabama.
When I got home, I had to read Where the Red Fern Grows for the second time. I loved it even more second time around after standing in a place that knows exactly what the story is about.