Text and photos by Rosalie Tirella
Yesterday was Memorial Day. So I visited my ol’ pal Tony Hmura. You know all about him, if you’ve been reading my columns these past 16 years. Tony – despite being a septuagenarian when I first met him – is one of the true rock ‘n’ roll guys, along with the OIF and “Just Joe,” my first serious beau (only 3!😢😢). By that I mean Tony embodied the spirit of rock music his whole life: sex, freedom, an unfettered mind and body. Three-somes? Tony had them! And showed me the pictures! A juicer? Tony was concocting his own health potions years before the hippies mashed their first soy bean. He loved animals – especially cats…
… but he was suspicious of people, society. He was a gun guy. A few months before he died I found a pistol – new, silver, angular, heavy, loaded – under the seat cushion of his Lazy Boy while cleaning his living room. It was hidden under his blanket, next to an old Play Boy magazine. His easy chair (along with his gun) was strategically placed before his TV set – and front door. He watched his Humphrey Bogart movies – and front door – in Boggey style.
Tony did not give a shit what anyone thought about him. He did as he pleased, often living outside the law. He carried razor blades in his pants pocket at all times and once suggested that I do the same. He gave me a lesson in how to use a razor blade – cut up and fast. Like this, like this! he kept yelling at me. “God, Tony!” I said. “Put that away!” He didn’t. He showed me his three-some photos right before Christmas! He always carried them in his shirt pocket. The good old days. “Put them away!” I’d yell at Tony, alarmed. Yet fascinated. So Mick Jagger …
Tony surely went his own way, a loner dancing to his own crazy beat. But he always had – not at all obvious to most folks – his own wild moral compass. I recognized it early on, which is why we became friends. Like me, he grew up poor in Green Island, and his childhood haunted him. Through grit, pluck and smarts Tony pulled his entire family out of poverty – as a kid! He eventually made himself and his sons rich. But he always carried himself like a little sewer rat – same as me.
And he never forgot his roots. Giving money to every poor South Worcester guy or gal who crossed his path with a sob story. And, like me, his psychic pain roared unabated. No matter how good things were. We got each other on a deep level – often with just a phrase, or a sigh. I miss that.
Tony was a gunner in a bomber plane in World War II. He was a gunner because he was a little guy and gunners had to be small so they could crouch in the small sides of a fighter plane. Tony flew a ton of missions – the U.S. military kept increasing the number of missions the guys had to fly as the war dragged on. He was shot down twice and survived because he was so brutally smart. A SURVIVOR like I have never known! You felt it buying a cup of coffee with the guy! (no sugar, cream and two ice cubes, for Hmura!) He served his country with a tough grace that most people just don’t have. No judgements. It’s just a fact.
So yesterday, Memorial Day, when I went to his grave and saw his tombstone adorned with just that one classy beige cross AND ZERO AMERICAN FLAGS, I knew I had to get busy! I drove to the Dollar Store and bought a bunch of American flags, stars and plastic flowers – for Tony. For Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
I really did it up for Tony!
Sure, it’s not the most artistic looking tomb in the cemetery, but it’s what Tony would have loved: bold, in your face, colorful, red white and blue and a mess of Old Glories! The gaudiest, freakin’ most patriotic tomb stone in the whole cemetery!!
Just what Tony – a Type A personality all the way – would have loved!
And I put a red plastic rose on his stone so he’d know it was me, Rose.
See? There’s his plane – a perfect replica – etched onto his tombstone.
And in back his birthday. He lied to me about being born on the Fourth of July! But that’s ok – the lie was out of love for country!
I like how Tony’s death date isn’t engraved onto his tombstone… It’s like he hasn’t died! Or refused to go!
Keep rockin’, Tony! Keep flyin’ above the clouds!💗💗💗💗💙🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸