I do know it was sometime in the 1960s and in a press box ... Starkville, Knoxville, Athens, Gainesville ...
We were both sports writers, Hunter in the big time at the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, me on a smaller stage, The Anniston Star.
I can’t tell you we were bosom buddies, but we became more than that when he left sports writing and showed up as the public relations director at the Talladega Superspeedway.
To put it another way, he showed up on our doorstep ... at home.
With Ann and the two kids remaining in Atlanta until school let out in the spring, he was lodged away in a Talladega motel ... and hated it.
That’s when he basically took up residence in Saks, for several months. And you do become close when a house “guest” becomes a family member.
Ann and Scott and Amy came in the spring, went to school at Saks with our kids, graduated there ... and Hunter and I played a lot of golf, he helped me cover football, prep and college, he coached youth football at Saks.
Those were wonderful times, family times, and more than a few in the Saks community still count the Hunters as “ours.”
On long drives home, from gathering darkness and sometimes into the morning hours, we talked a lot.
We talked about his Scott and his Amy, my Barry and my Roger ... and we talked about the only wives we'd ever had.
Some of that was like ...
"Man, you can't believe what she's on my fanny about ... and I told her ..."
But there were also the moments when we talked about how lucky we were to have them, his brunette, my blonde ... of what a trip life had been.
And we talked about having friends. Like real friends, the very few who might fill the fingers of one hand, the precious few who would stand in front of a wall for you, would take a bullet for you, would lie to your wife for you ...
A summons to Daytona and another step up the NASCAR ladder turned close into long distance, but not the friendship.
That endured ... but then there is the last time I saw Hunter.
It was back in the spring, the racing crowd was in town. On a Thursday morning, the phone rang.
It was Hunter with ...
“Put some steaks on. Coming out tonight. Scott’s coming with me. Wanta see you.”
We had a great evening on the patio, the same patio of a hundred other nights of steaks and friends and stories ... of wives sort of rolling their eyes at escapades they had not heard.
The next morning, just before noon, the phone rang again. It was Hunter ...
“Just wanted to tell you what a great time I had last night.”
There was a pause ... and then:
“Wanted you to know you're still one of my five ...”
Then we said goodbye ... for the last time. A best friend would be dead within a year of cancer.
Sitting here, looking at that last goodbye, that line from Hodding Carter to my boss Brandy Ayers runs through my mind:
“You know, Brandy, God doesn't make old friends.”
He does give you the caring heart and a hungry need to do that for yourself ... and leaves them with you for such a short time ...
George Smith can be reached at 256-239-5286 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org