Love at Valentine’s Day is a feeling usually associated with romance and the young. As single people get older they often have less and less hope that they will ever fall in love. It can happen though. George ran his own tree service, construction, and snow plow company in western N.C. He climbed trees, drove a bulldozer and backhoe, and plowed snow for a living. By the time he fell in love he had been married twice, had four grown children, and was in his early fifties.
Her name was Cathy. She worked as a drama teacher at a local college, was in her forties, divorced, and was raising two children when they met. On the outside they looked different. Cathy was a fashionably dressed college liberal arts teacher. George wore Cardinal work boots, jeans, flannel shirts, and a toboggan. He usually smelled like gasoline, had sawdust in his hair, and mud on his pants. Spiritually though they were much alike. George had a college degree, loved psychology, was a volunteer councilor, a voracious reader, and practiced yoga. George and Cathy connected right away and he fell head over heels in love with her. He described the connection to his heart as being almost at the “cellular level.”
After a time though George said he began to feel Cathy pulling back. Perhaps she just didn’t share his feelings or maybe she just couldn’t believe that someone could really love her unconditionally. George did all he could to win her heart. When her father broke his hip and Cathy had to go back to Florida, George dropped everything to drive down and support her. “I just wanted her to know I cared” he said. George wanted to marry her, but she refused. I remember him telling me about coming off the mountain driving his dump truck with tears running down his face. Finally, they broke up. It broke George’s heart and it got worse. A few months later Cathy learned she had cancer. It was terminal.
George described going over to see her later. Her mother had come up to take care of her. I remember the pained look on George’s face when he described what happened. She came out of her bedroom pale and gaunt. Cathy was in pain, but seemed genuinely happy to see him. They all sat and talked pleasantly catching up on family news and reminiscing until Cathy bit her lip and it started bleeding. George looked stricken when he told me about it. The treatments and cancer were destroying her. Her mother took her back to her bedroom and put her back to bed. It was the last time he would ever see her.
After she passed away she was cremated. I think not having a grave to visit somehow left George without a sense of closure. A year later he began dating an old friend and they moved in together. They were happy for a couple of years until one-night George laid his book down to go get something to drink. When he didn’t return she went to check on him and found him on the floor. He died in a few hours of a heart attack. I asked George once if he regretted ever having met Cathy. “No” he said putting his boot up on the plow on the front of his pickup. “Without Cathy I would never have known what all the songs and poems were about.” He had known love through his children, parents, sisters, and friends, but he never experienced great romantic love until almost the end of his life. George the tree climber had reached for the highest limp of all and fell, but he never regretted it.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “The tree climber’s love knew no regret” on Feb. 14, 2010