Chapter 32 - "bar-church"
I think I’ve made mention of this fact, but just in case you’re wondering, these bars of which I speak are not a city-slickers club, they aren’t joints filled with degenerate drunks picking fights and peeing themselves in public. No, these are more like community hubs where husbands and wives go together to meet up with friends for a beer and a story. There is laughter, celebration of life, applauding, hugs of friendship, invitations to dinner, inquiries into your background and family lineage…you know, a little bit of what I imagine church is supposed to be like minus the offering plate and altar call. It’s a refuge of relationships sharing each other’s burdens and accomplishments. Like I said, church, without the distraction of the building.
We walked into the place and were greeted with a sea of smiles and gobs of good will. People were offering to buy drinks for us left and right wanting us to take a load off and sit down for some spirited convo’. I’m a conversationalist by nature, so this was just my kind of environment. We were fortunate enough to sit with a rancher who owned only God knows how much land—something to the tune of a hundred and some odd thousand acres—and countless cattle. He and his wife were in there 80’s, but no worse for the wear based on the way they carried themselves in this setting. They were telling stories like the craft of storytelling was the only mode of transferring news. It was a glorious thing to see people gather around each other and listen attentively as someone cleared their throat and started the next story.
The aforementioned 80-year-old rancher, who is nothing less than legendary in this small town, did a whole lot of the talking. He had a permanent smile on his face and he filled in almost every slot that would normally be occupied by a clever noun with the word “sonsabitches”. Whether he was describing fence posts or pig roasts or wedding toasts, that was his ubiquitous pronoun. I got so that I just took the liberty to insert my own discretionary filler pronoun. It was literary fun.
The bar we were at had pictures of this guy with his brothers pushing cattle with horses back in the 1930’s…thousands of them at a time. The hats, the spurs, the ropes, the boots, the chaps…he was the land’s legend and this town’s pride and joy. You could tell he loved his life and his wife. He spoke so highly of her and his family. He had a special affection for his community and for the people that crammed into that saloon that evening. He listened to Doug as he shared about selling his property and his eyes became thin with hurt. He told Doug that he hated seeing the land go to “do-gooders” and “tree-huggers”. People who had money but very little emotional currency-connection. People who saw the land only for investment purposes, but didn’t care about its hallowed history. People who never mingled with the lowlife locals and could give a rat’s rear about the state of Montana or the current state of the idyllic village of Augusta. These are the people that are snatching up land…and they aren’t viewed too fondly. They were unaffectionately referred to as “sonsabitches” by this legend. I sort of got his point.
We talked and talked. I told him where I came from and he was particularly interested in my All-American college soccer days. He asked about my family and the conversation fluidly flowed back and forth, one subject cracking open another rabbit hole to be explored.
I was pounding down root beers like a champ getting drunk on western tradition and small town conversation. I’ve found that I don’t need alcohol to get drunk. I’m buzzin’ any time I get a picture of heaven on earth. I’m high when people will sit still in a conversation, ask questions, listen actively, without give off vibes like they need to on their way. Most of the time in conversation I feel as though I’m in a chess match with a little timer forcing me to move every 15 seconds else I’m penalized. There’s this unspoken timer than makes you feel like you have to be fast, funny and fine-tuned or people lose interest and check out mid-sentence. Not in Montana…there’s no place to go, nothing else to do but sit there for as long as it takes for you to spit out what’s on your heart. I like that.
Sometimes you have to go to a bar to see the church.