Pretty Girl

May 6, 2014 | By | Comments (61)


Illustration by Jack Unruh

Illustration by Jack Unruh

To most, she looked like she didn’t stand a chance. But they looked at her and saw different.

Her name was perfect.

She came to them in the dead of night, in the cold. She was more than half dead, starved down to bones, her hair completely eaten away by mange. She had been run off from more than one yard when she finally crept into an empty doghouse in the trees beyond my mother’s yard. At least she was out of the wind.

They found her, my mother and brother, in the daylight of the next day. They could not even tell, at first, she was a dog.

“And it broke my heart,” my mother said.

They did not call the vet because she knew what the vet would do. She was too far gone to save; any fool could see that. My mama lives in the country and has to run off two wandering dogs a week, but this time, “I just couldn’t. She couldn’t even get up.” How do you run off a dog that cannot stand?

The broke-down dog had stumbled on two people who hate to give up on anything, even a month-old newspaper. They save batteries that have not had a spark of anything in them for a long, long time. My mother keeps pens that stopped writing in 1974. My point is, there is always a little use, a little good, a little life left in anything, and who are they to decide when something is done for good.

My brother Mark looked at her, at her tragic face, and named her.

“Hey, Pretty Girl,” he said.

It was like he could see beyond the ruin, or maybe into it. I don’t know.

Her hips were bad, which was probably why she was discarded in the first place, and her teeth were worn down. Her eyes were clouded. But they fed her, and gave her water, and bathed her in burnt motor oil, the way my people have been curing the mange for generations. They got her looking less atrocious, and then they called the vet.

The vet found she had heartworms. She was walking dead, anyway, at her age. It was then I saw her, still a sack of bones. It would be a kindness, I told my mother, to put her down. She nodded her head.

A month later I pulled into the driveway to see a beautiful white German shepherd standing watch at the front of the house. It was not a miracle; her ailments did not magically cease. But together, my mother and brother had tended her, and even let her live in the house. She ate people food, and drank buttermilk out of an aluminum pie tin. She was supposed to last, at most, a few weeks or months. She lived three more years—decades, in dog years—following my brother to the garden to watch for snakes and listen for thunder.

“I prayed for her,” my mother said. “Some people say you ain’t supposed to pray for a dog, but…” And then after the gift of years, Pretty Girl began to fail, and died. She is buried in the mountain pasture.

The hot weather will be on us soon. The garden is already planted. Some things were planted according to science, according to soil and weather. And some things were planted according to lore, the shape of the moon, and more. That is fine with me. There are things we cannot explain, things beyond science, like how a man could name a ravaged and dying dog, and have her rise inside that, somehow, to make it true.


  1. Donna Shepherd

    Writing is such a wonderful gift. It helps so many people to read these writings in so many different ways. It takes so much courage to write of personal struggles. Just reading of how someone dealt with their pain and struggles helps others to be Brave enough to try.

    May 31, 2017 at 6:40 pm
  2. Napedog

    Great read! Thank you!

    August 15, 2016 at 7:27 am
  3. lucy moor

    I’ve got to get copy of “All they ever had”. Probably not correct title.but you get my drift. That book reminds me so much of how my grandmother worked so hard in the mill in Gadsden and I think that is why she died much too soon…

    August 10, 2016 at 12:11 am
  4. Faye P. Calfee

    08/04/16 Faye Calfee
    Thank you for sharing your gift with the world.

    August 4, 2016 at 5:35 pm
  5. Leslie Cappiello

    I have finished reading All Over but the Shoutin’ for the second time. Chapter One about seeing your daddy and giving you the books is in the textbook that my college English Department adopted recently, and I read it to my English class this summer. It brought tears to a couple of the boys in my class, one in particular who said he hated reading but this story got him, and he had to read your book. I had to reread it again and I just put it down, a few minutes ago, my head swirling with all the pain and love that you lived through. So thankful that you were able to write it so we can live through it too, and see our own lives reflected. Though I was raised a Southerner too, I was raised middle class, but the shame of having an alcoholic father who left the family so my grandparents could raise us, created a long lasting shame that at 57, I am still working through. My validation has come through college degrees, four of them, and the last a Ph.D. in order to help me over the feelings of never being quite enough. Thank you Rick, for your heart and your gift of writing. I read a lot of your work in Southern Living and each story resonates within me in some way. The one about the dog does too, because I am always trying to heal a broken animal that always seems to wind up at my door.

    I am glad you found a way to live in this world and still be so loving and generous. Buying the house for your precious mother is the best thing a person can do.

    July 22, 2016 at 3:34 pm
  6. Judy Henley

    Rick Bragg, I just read your book about your Mama and your life. I know you have been told this numerous times but I have to say it to you again. I will hang on to this book forever because I feel I have met a kindred spirit in you. I grew up 1950’s West Tennessee with my daddy as a sharecropper who was an alcoholic, not a weekend one or a working one but a full fledged alcoholic. I felt your hunger, your fear, your low self esteem and I bonded with you through your book. Thank you for writing my story. I am 65 years old and just now getting through the problem with low self esteem. I can still briefly go back there but I recover quicker than I did years ago! You are my friend even though I never met you. My life mirrored yours or should say yours mirrored mine since I am older!

    April 4, 2016 at 6:14 pm
  7. Ed Tisdale

    Mr. Bragg. You won a prize for writing about your momma. You won my eternal admiration writing about your grandpa. If you never write anything else, this story should go on your gravestone.

    March 9, 2016 at 9:23 pm
  8. jalanemarie

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

    February 5, 2016 at 4:33 pm
  9. Charlene Stamps

    Sweet, sweet story. I can relate. I can see her eyes and the first tail wag for your mother and brother. I can see her beauty return as she heals. So happy God led her to loving and decent folks. You autographed a book for me at a Community Newspapers, Inc gathering many years ago and I treasure it a great deal. Happy writing! Charlene Stamps

    February 5, 2016 at 12:36 am
  10. Shyrll Jolly

    Great story. I love all of them.
    Shyrll Jolly

    February 4, 2016 at 10:15 pm
  11. Pam Young

    Great story!

    February 4, 2016 at 8:27 pm

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