In case you have not noticed, men and women are different when it comes to maintaining friendships. While women regularly write, telephone or email their friends who live in other communities, we men go months without ever even acknowledging our existence with men we count as close friends.
I found myself thinking about these differences a lot as I visited my “best friend” George Constantin, who lives in the wilderness of northern Montana, 10 miles from the Canadian border. Many would say George lives in the “middle of nowhere,” but I think that’s an overstatement. While it is true he lives in a small cabin in the mountains, uses his TV only to play DVDs and can receive phone calls but can’t call out, he does have Internet access, and he can use a cellphone to call his neighbors. However, during the week I visited him, my cellphone was useless. Thanks a lot, AT&T.
If he were truly a hermit seeking to get away from it all, George would not have a cellphone or a computer. Thus, instead of being a true hermit, he is just someone who has simplified his life. For that, part of me envies him, but not so much I would choose the lifestyle he has chosen.
For one thing, I like women, and during the week I was there, we had to drive 10 miles to the big city of Eureka, Mont., population 1,037, to see a female. Of the six families living on the remote private road where George resides, all but one of the women have picked up stakes and left for greener pastures and more companionship. I never met the one wife still living on the road, but George said she is “just an old hippie.”
Thus, while I loved my week in the mountains, I am fairly certain my wife would have been bored stiff. That’s why she visited her family in Nebraska while I was in Montana.
George grew up in the New York City area. I believe it was in the Bronx, but I may be wrong about that. Nevertheless, it was a place with far too many people, as far as he was concerned, and he has spent his entire adult life trying to get further and further from people.
As I said in last week’s column, I met George when he and his former wife rented our pasture outside of Gallatin, Tenn., for their horses. George was the new director of the respiratory therapy program at the local community college. They moved to Tennessee to get away from all the people in the big city.
Unfortunately for George, during the nearly 25 years he lived in Sumner County, Tenn., it grew by leaps and bounds and became nearly as crowded as the Bronx. Thus, years before retiring, George began to talk about moving out West where people were few and far between.
Well, he’s done it. I can’t imagine anywhere in the continental United States more remote than where he is living, and George said if it ever gets too crowded where he is, he’s picking up stakes and moving to Alaska.
As I was preparing to spend the last week of March in northern Montana, my friends in Ashland warned me I would “freeze to death.” But I didn’t. To me sure, I was expecting cold weather, but for most of the week I was there the daytime temperatures were in the low 50s. In fact, I was there for the arrival of spring, which the folks in the mountains call the “muddy season.” While that were probably 5 or 6 inches of snow on the ground when I arrived, by the time I left most of it had melted and turned the ground to mud. My primary task was to help George do the things on his property he could not do alone. For the most part, I was his “grunt labor” that helped him clear his property. I loved the work, but I didn’t like getting so muddy.
Just as I didn’t see many women during my week in Montana, I saw even fewer children. In fact, I think the two young girls I purchased Girl Scout cookies from when leaving the local supermarket were the only children I saw.
When not having a meal at a restaurant in Eureka, taking dogs at the local animal shelter for walks and sprucing up George’s property, we watched movies on his DVD player and just enjoyed each others’ company. (One of the movies was “The Jackie Robinson Story” which starred Jackie Robinson as himself. I am glad I saw it again before I saw “42,” the new film about the player who broke baseball’s color barrier.)
Now that I am back home, George and I will continue to call each other two or three times a year, send Christmas and birthday cards and do little else to maintain our friendship.
And the next time we meet, we will pick up the conversation just where we left it. That’s what men who are good friends do.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at email@example.com or at (606) 326-2649.