What is a “stranger”?

"God's country"

“God’s country”

Montana has been described to me as “God’s country”; a place where the valleys are wide, mountains are tall, and the forests deep. How fitting it was then that in a place so perfect and grand, I encountered a rare adventure and learned a lesson of life I’ll never forget. Starting as only a walkabout through the woods of Montana, this small action soon grew into an adventure never expected, taking me clear across mountains and valleys alike.

I met Tom for the first time somewhere in the wilderness of Montana while wandering along a few muddy trails. This wasn’t like any other human introduction I had ever had encountered before. A typical encounter (like one of the thousands I’ve had in my life so far) would consist of a swapping of names, a handshake, and a smile to put forth a good face. This introduction was different from the start in that there was one question before all others that begged for an answer: “What are you doing out here?”. For me it was simple, “I’m just checking it out”. For Tom the answer seemed simple as well, “I’m getting myself an elk”. So our reasons for being there differed, yet a shared passion for the enjoyment of the outdoors fueled us to become friends. It was right after I left this part of the mountains that this friendship really began to lead me down an adventure of learning.

Tom was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette, a wonderful couple who lived all their long lives enjoying the peace and calm that comes from a life in the far Northern reaches of this country. For 80+ years, Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette both spent their days appreciating the place they called home. When life brought changes and times of strife, neither lost their passion for what Mrs. Ouellette called her “God’s country”. I knew this to be true the first time I met them on a cold October night in Hamilton, Montana late in 2014. A simple dinner invitation from two strangers to me in itself was an experience I wouldn’t soon forget; but right from the start, I saw the Ouellette’s unique form of kindness, generosity, and hospitality.

Going into that dinner, I believed to them that I was just some “stranger” their son met deep in the woods; but then I had a night of conversation with them. After a dinner invitation turned into an opportunity to do laundry, take a hot shower, and a warm bed for the night; I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. Listening to both Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette tell me the story of their lives, I quickly realized they both knew something I did not, and it took a few more months of reflection before I realized exactly why we met. They saw me that night not as a “stranger”, but rather as an untold story. The people all around us and the introductions we encounter are nothing but the beginnings of untold story’s. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s life will be a story of some type. The lesson I learned from this wise couple was to treat people exactly like that, and to me it’s quite obvious why I met Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette and their son Tom when I did. Never again will I let an untold story pass me by.

In Memory of Ben Ouellette (1928-December 2, 2014)

At the end of your life and the beginning of mine, you instilled in me a valuable lesson. A lesson that will forever be a part of who I am, thank you for this Ben.

-Warren Hylton

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Hamilton, Montana

 

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