By Abe Villarreal
My hometown friend Tony passed away. I didn’t know it until I read it in the paper this week. For some reason, this one hurts more than usual. Tony and I had a connection that you only get from people who come from your same hometown.
We didn’t grow up together, and he’s 21 years my senior. A few years ago, I met him when I started volunteering each Saturday at the Silver City Gospel Mission. The first time I saw him, he was having some incredible back pains and walked with a large stick.
Soon enough, though, I experienced that Tony smile. Isn’t it funny how you feel an unexplainable connection with someone from your hometown? We’re from different generations, but, in some ways, we lived the same lives.
We know the same corner “changarrito” where you could buy snacks and the daily paper. We know the 8th Street Park where you could watch a little league game or enjoy the annual fiestas.
Both of us know about the same hometown characters you see pushing shopping carts. The kind of guys you say hi to because they are always hanging around grocery store parking lots. Every hometown has them.
Both of us know about the fun times you can have “across the line” on the Mexican side – the great food, the dusty roads, and the feeling that you could get away with anything.
Each Saturday at the Gospel Mission, I have the blessing of whipping up a meal, many times a traditional Mexican dish. Tony always walked in with that familiar sway, heads and shoulders above most in the room. He greeted me in Spanish and almost always asked if I had been to Douglas recently.
When I told him that I was headed down to the border, he would ask if I could bring him back some tortillas and queso from Agua Prieta, Mexico. A few times I did, and the times I didn’t, I always felt guilty on the next Saturday back in town.
Tony had an awesome smile and a great sense of humor. He reminded me that even in the toughest times of our lives, there was something to appreciate. I once asked him if he wanted to join me on my next weekend visit to Douglas, and he told him that he would have to wait a couple of years until he was allowed back.
We both laughed, and I remember thinking to myself that when those two years passed by, I would pull up to the Mission and ask him to hop in my car. It would be fun to visit our hometown and share memories from what it was like growing up during different times. And we could complain about how things just aren’t the same as they were when we were kids. Tony was a live by the moment type of guy.
And now, less than two years from our weekend getaway, Tony has gone on to a different journey, not to his hometown, but to his eternal home.
The next time I visit Douglas, I’m going to make a special trip across the line, pick up a dozen tortillas and a fresh package of queso. I won’t be able to give it to him, but I’ll use it to make a delicious Mexican dish at the Mission. One that we can all enjoy in his honor.
Rest in Peace Tony. My hometown buddy.
Abe Villarreal writes about life and culture in southern New Mexico. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.