Everyone has their place, their watering hole, their very own Cheers where they feel safe and it's filled with familiar faces. One of my favorite places is downtown favorite The Tap.
It's funny, because I basically inherited the place. I went there as a child with my grandma, Ita and spent a lot of time going back and forth between the jukebox and peanut machines perched on the bar. It was my favorite bar because of the Budweiser sign that had the Clydesdale horses behind the bar. (Now, it's above the new jukebox.) My grandma worked there for many years before I was born, so when we went to watch the fight, hang out, whatever, she always knew lots of people.
As an adult I only know a few people: Jasmine the waitress who greets me and the people I'm with every time with a familiar smile. Veronica, who I call Vaca who's like an Aunt to me. She became a part of the family long before I was born. A friend of my grandma's who became a friend to my mom and uncle. Who now my sister and I introduce as our Aunt. (I have black and white pictures of her from the early 70's in bell bottoms when she was young and we laugh whenever we see them, she was funkadelic.) And last, there's Justo. Justo was the door man, sometimes bartender, bar back, all around The Tap guy. He was a broad man with black rimmed glasses and a grey crew cut who often wore jean overalls. Justo also died three days ago.
Now, I didn't know Justo well. When I moved back to El Paso, Vaca reminded him of who I was, "Es la neita de Licha," and he stared trying to remember the little girl version of me with a long black braid sitting next to my Ita vodka tonic in hand. I didn't remember Justo well either, but he remembered my Ita and because of that we both came to a mutual agreement. From then on when I went to The Tap we greeted each other warmly. If I needed to get Vaca's attention while she was busy he yelled out to her over the noise. If he saw I was waiting a long time he'd sneak me my order. When Vaca told him about my story "The Pink Shoes" being published in BorderSenses he wanted a copy of the magazine. He was interested in my writing and asked what I wrote about my Ita, about The Tap. I think he hoped he would make an appearance as Vaca had in other stories. Justo had a serious, no nonsense face, I assume from working in a bar atmosphere for a long time but with me he was kind. His eyes softened a bit. He'd greet me with a,"Hola mija."
Even though I didn't know him well it still saddens me. I know that Vaca is extremely sad, and that in itself makes me even sadder. Justo seemed like an extension of my grandma. His memory of her lived on and therefore gave her another life, and now that he's gone that life, along with his is over. After we die it's the memories we leave with others that allow us to live on, and I suppose that's why I'm writing this, to have Justo live on. With as many years as The Tap has been around I know that there are others outside of family and close friends who have memories of him. I hope that this jogs memories. When it's read people will think, "Oh, Justo. I remember him. How sad." or "I remember him he..." and it will trail on into a story as mine as.