Late last week, I was forced to cut my motorcycle trip through Montana short. The weather was so cold and rainy (and forecast to get far worse) that riding a motorcycle through it was miserable and getting a little unsafe. As I viewed the forecast the following day which was Sunday- it looked like my only shot at getting out of there. Sunday's high was supposed to be 61 and that looked a lot better to me than the 50 degree highs for Monday and Tuesday. As it happens, it snowed in Butte on Tuesday. I doubt Butte ever saw 50 degrees that day.
I left Butte right around 11 a.m. on Sunday and figured I'd stop in Dillon which is about 70 miles south. About 30 miles south of Butte is a little town called Melrose. Melrose has always been a mystery to me. Montana is full of towns like Melrose- towns that blossom with some possibility of becoming important social centers and then ultimately- they yield to obscurity and survival at some subsistence level with people who are determined to stay. I always wonder how people make a living in places like Melrose.
I decided that I would take the Melrose exit. I cannot remember the Melrose of my youth but common sense tells me that I must have been there. Maybe some memory would come flooding back.
The main drag has a few buildings, a fly fishing shop, and some sort of restaurant/bar at the very end. All in all, it's maybe 3 or 4 blocks long. Across the way is a little plat with 6 streets running east to west and two streets running north and south. I pointed Elvis in that direction and found myself on the second street named "Hecla" which I have always associated with mining. All in all, there are maybe 40 homes in Melrose, some vacant. I can't imagine that more than 100 people live here.
The real attraction in Melrose is the Big Hole River. It is a world class fishing venue. Folks in Montana live in Montana because of places like the Big Hole. I fished it a few times as a kid. Back then, I took fishing for granted. I had no idea as a child that Butte sits near the heart of four or five of the greatest blue ribbon trout streams in the United States and that one day- it would attract so many sportsmen. The banks of the Big Hole River in my youth were largely vacant and undiscovered. Judging from the number of RV's, campers, trucks and trailers at the local boat ramp on the edge of Melrose- I realize that has all changed. I pointed Elvis in that direction just to get a better look at the river.
That's when it happened. Something so simple that it just never happens anymore. A time machine moment.
As I was approaching the river, there was a young boy walking along the side of the road. He was a tall, skinny kid, no more than 11 or 12 years old. He was wearing jeans, a short sleeved shirt, and he was carrying a fishing pole and a tackle box. As I passed him he turned and looked directly at me and he smiled and waved. He caught me completely off guard. His hair, or more precisely his bangs, were uniformly covering his forehead. And for a brief moment in time, I actually thought that kid was me. That is exactly what I would have been doing. That is exactly how I used to look. And acknowledging someone else's presence with a polite smile and a wave is exactly what I might have done 40 years ago. But not today.
As I arrived at the boat ramp, I noted that it was unpaved. I swung a u turn on the paved part of the road to avoid adding a layer of dust to Elvis. The parking area was full. As I turned to exit the area I drove past the young boy a second time. He glanced up at me but did not wave again. Having been caught off guard the first time, I nodded and waved as I drove past him.
Standing between Melrose and Dillon is 40 miles of road. On a motorcycle, there is just you and your thoughts. That's why I love to ride.
When was the last time that I was anywhere, where a young boy or girl was not completely distracted with some electronic gadget? What kid makes the effort to smile and wave at a stranger? When was the last time some strange kid smiled and waved at you? Who does that anymore?
That kid in Melrose does.
I went to Melrose thinking that I must have been there before. Truth is, I have absolutely no memory of the place. But I remember that kid. I remember being polite to people. I remember acknowledging someone else's presence and making the little effort that is required to smile and wave at someone. I quit doing that and I can't tell you why. The world was a kinder, gentler place back then and I miss it. The Montana of my youth might still be alive in places like Melrose. Wouldn't that be cool?
I hope that kid caught a few fish last Sunday. Maybe even a big lunker.
As many of you know, you can edit and write entries on Wikipedia. While working on this piece, I searched and found the Melrose, Montana link. You can tell that someone with a great fondness for Melrose landed here. Only a resident or local historian could have written this and I loved it. It's a little campy. Who names their daughter, Melrose? If you've got a minute or two. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melrose,_Montana