Wednesday was tough. By the end of the day, a stop for a drink was in order. The Irish pub two blocks from our new place happened to have all-day Happy Hour midweek. Done deal.
The atmosphere was a little more upbeat than the previous Saturday, and we made quick conversation with a friendly gentleman from Alabama whose travels during his career took him to Montana, which piqued my interest. He had spent some time in Missoula, and we spoke of Kalispell and Whitefish, among other wonders. We chatted in general fashion while we finished our first beers, and after we ordered our food, we made small talk for a few minutes.
On Ashley’s other side Jim took his seat, and he was halfway through his first bottle of beer before all three of us reacted lightheartedly to something on one of the fifteen televisions in the bar. That was all it took.
Jim was immediately likable, in a way you can only understand if you have met someone who has lived an entire life in a remote mountain outpost in northwestern Montana, and then traveled south to live another life in sweltering heat and semi-retirement.
We laughed about snow–going to bed during camping trips on July and August nights, and waking up to several feet of clipper-driven flakes–the kind Arkansans will never see. Per year, I had never met more than one person who had visited places in Montana, yet here was a second person within an hour.
Jim explained the process by which we might become to be known as Damned Yankees, as opposed to regular Yanks. “It’s the element of time,” he smirked. “Takes, oh, about four years, I’d say.” We made small talk about his family and ours, how it came to be that we were in the Little Rock area, and the easy kind of talk that bar patrons secretly love to share. I wrote a note on my phone to Tia, our bartender, discreetly asking to pay for his beer.
We finished our final pints and I shook Jim’s hand as we left. Tonight was his anniversary, and as we celebrated our three weeks together and the survival of our third official work day, Jim has four decades of marriage to toast.
Here’s to forty more, Jim. May these southern lake sunsets light the way to the mountains for you one more time.