On the eve of Cinco de mayo, the holiday that commemorates the Batalla de Puebla where the Mexicans routed their French occupiers, I think of Maximillian . . . not the ill-fated Emperor, but the name itself.
My high school Spanish class was the last class period of the day after P.E. I would dash in red-faced, hair flying, and plop in a seat in the back of the room next to my friend Tom: Ultra-cool Tom who drove a spotless Impala, rode horses, and had the quickest wit in school. One afternoon, Señora McCoy patiently explained Cinco de mayo to us and the story of Maximillian. The name caught our attention as nothing else had that afternoon. Tom looked at me with a blue-eyed grin and whispered, "Maximillian!" and I, sotto voce, quipped back, "You're welcome!" We dissolved in sheepish laughter, and from that day on, we had a new silly code.
A code to add to other sillinesses. Playing Beethoven's 8th while riding the Texas highways in Tom's dad's orange and white pick-up truck, singing harmony on "Do you know the way to San Jose?" dreaming of being background singers, antique shopping on a Saturday afternoon, and barely containing our laughter yet again in another Mexican atmosphere--when I pulled a tortilla de maíz out of its dish and it went somersaulting through the air and onto the floor as the dueña of La Tapa Tía Restaurant looked on, disapprovingly. Driving to the Dairy Queen just to order a "Dr. Pepper with a lot of ice" (pronounced "ass" in Texan.) Making more U-turns on San Francisco streets in one day than a TV cop.
Years pass. Inevitably. But friendship does not inevitably survive them, unless it is real. Last January, Tom and I sat side by side at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, just as we once sat through many a Methodist service in a small Texas town in our youth. The years inbetween have brought losses, great ones and small ones, to each of us. I have watched my friend weather tragic circumstances in a way that inspires me, always maintaining his courage and kindness. He, in turn, has cheered me on with bluntness and good humor in my darkest moments. But, best of all, we can still be silly together, the right kind of silly, and no matter how serious our conversations, sooner or later, one of us will make the other laugh, smile, or giggle in that hunched-up shoulder kind of way. Just as we did when we encountered our canine car friend on our latest SanFran ride.