Note: This eulogy for “Tone” Vigil was delivered on the occasion of his interment – November 17, 2020. The photo above is of Antonio Jose Vigil, Tone’s father, and great uncle of the eulogy author, David Maes.
My last meeting with “Tone” – as we knew him – was about 6 weeks ago. I delivered him a box of apples which I had just picked from my orchard. The apple visit had become an annual ritual: I would drop by his house, deliver the apples, and we would sit on his porch or around the kitchen table and visit. Tone wore his feelings “on his sleeve” as the saying goes. He was warm and friendly, but more to his nature he was genuine, unpretentious and sincere. I always felt welcomed in his home; that he was glad to see me. Tony would always offer me something to drink and eat. Maybe it was cookies, tortillas or whatever he had on the stove. During one of my visits – when Tony’s wife Francis was alive, I walked away with half a cake. They offered me the whole cake, but I felt guilty taking all the cake. The practice of inviting a visitor into your house and offering something to eat was a common custom, a cultural tradition, of the “old Taos” or in our case, the “old Ranchos.” That was the social norm when Ranchos was a small, tight-knit community where everyone cared for and shared with each other. This was the world into which Tony was born. Even as the world around him changed, Tony continued to live and practice those old values of community caring and sharing. I was fortunate to have been born early enough to have lived in the waning years of those “good old days” and I miss them and I miss Tony. Even though we were separated by many years, and were technically only second cousins, I enjoyed a close, brotherly friendship with Tony. He was more a “big brother” than a distant cousin. Our relationship grew from familiarity to brotherhood after I retired from the Coast Guard in 2007 and returned to Taos.
That was the year that my dad Abiguel, Tone’s first cousin, passed away. Theirs was truly a “brother” relationship. Especially during their retirement years, Tony would frequently drop by our house to visit with my Dad. They would sit on my dad’s porch and talk for what seemed like hours. And, they would laugh. Oh, would they laugh. Belly-roll laughs. They would remember the “old days” and recall humorous events. I remember one conversation when my dad described Tio Antonio, Tony’s father and my Dad’s uncle, climbing onto his white horse and riding off to perform his duties as acequia mayordomo. Tio Antonio was a big, husky, heavy man. The horse was old with wobbly legs. The horse would sway from side to side and occasionally stumble as he trotted down the road. They would laugh and laugh remembering the scene. The brotherhood relationship was real. My Dad actually lived with Tio Antonio and his family for several years. My dad’s mother, Fidelia, and Tio Antonio were brother and sister. In 1932, in the middle of the great depression, my dad left his native Saguache, Colorado, and came to Taos in search of work. My dad was 20 years old and had recently graduated high school. He had been working as a sheep herder and a farm hand in southern Colorado. My grandpa Herman Maez urged my dad to leave Saguache, go out into the world and find a better life. That’s how my dad came to Taos. He was received into Tio Antonio’s family which included Antonio’s wife, Higinia, and 7 children. A few years ago, there was a buyer interested in purchasing the old Vigil house. He wanted to know about the history of the old structure. I introduced him to Tony who graciously gave us a walk-through tour of the house. The long portion of the house had only 3 rooms – the zaguan, a bedroom and the kitchen. Tio Antonio and Higinia’s bedroom was perpendicular to and off the kitchen. That meant that all the 7 children plus a visiting cousin from Saguache slept in one bedroom.
“Where did everyone sleep?” I asked Tony.
“Oh, we managed” Tony replied.
Tony used the word zaguan instead of “sala.” It is an old Spanish word for “receiving room” similar to a foyer. Tony explained that the room was often used for holding community events. Frequently, the Vigil family would host weddings, baptisms, and funeral receptions at their home. Folks from the Ranchos neighborhood would gather in the zaguan to celebrate the event. Food would be served and there would be music and songs. The Vigil house was constructed on a strategic location, on the “ceja de la loma”, or brow of the hill. It overlooks the location where the Miranda canyon opens into the Ranchos Valley. This was the route that the Comanches used to enter the Valley during their raids throughout the 17 and early 1800s. In the early 1700’s, the Spaniards who settled the Valley, our ancestors, lived in small haciendas scattered along the Valley floor, next to the river. Due to frequent, deadly, Comanche attacks the settlers eventually constructed and moved into the Ranchos plaza-fort, with the Church at its center. Over time, the Comanche threat lessened, but was not totally eliminated. Even as the Spaniards moved out of the plaza-fort, they kept their guard up. Evidence of this is the torreon next to the Vigil house. The location of the house and the torreon support the fact that the Vigil house was one of the first homes constructed outside the walls of the Ranchos plaza, in the early 1800’s. Tio Antonio’s grandfather was likely the builder of the Vigil house and the torreon. Tio Antonio’s father, Miguel, was the second generation to live in the Vigil house. Tio Antonio and his family were the third. My dad once showed me a picture of Miguel Vigil, Tio Antonio’s father. He had a handle-bar mustache and wore a tall cowboy hat. He was a territorial judge during the years that New Mexico was a territory of the United States.
The Vigils were a very prominent family in Ranchos history. These folks were Tony’s ancestors. They are our ancestors.
When my dad moved in with Tio Antonio’s family, Tony was a 3-year old boy. My dad got along got along well with the other Vigil children, but he developed a very close, personal relationship with Tony. Perhaps it was a big-brother, little-brother bonding. The friendship continued after my Dad moved out on his own, all throughout their adult lives. After my Dad passed away in 2007, Tony continued coming by our house. We sat out on my porch and visited, just as they had done. I sat in my Dad’s chair, as it were. At times Tony’s conversation drifted into memories of past times, as if he were talking to Abiguel. I listened. I smiled and I understood. I felt honored to have moved into my dad’s chair, and inherit the warm friendship between Tony and my dad. When I recall those porch conversations, I remember one of Tony’s special mannerisms. When he was about to share a bit of mitote, or a joke, he would break into a mischievous smile, shuffle forward in his chair, and lean into you as if to tell a secret. Then he would spill the beans. That is the Tony I will remember.
Tony was born in 1929 to Antonio J. Vigil and Higinia Gutierrez. Tony was the 6th of 7 children, and the youngest male. All siblings have passed on except for Antonita who is a retired teacher and Dominican nun. She lives in a retirement home in Albuquerque. Tony attended St. Francis elementary school, with the Dominican nuns, here in Ranchos. He went on to attend and graduate from Taos High School. Tony served in the U.S. Army during the waning years of the Korean war. In 1948 Tony married Francis, a beautiful woman from the Ranchos area. They were very happily married 68 years and raised 5 children: Daughters Diana Gurule and Gloria Godina, and sons Joseph Vigil and Floyd Sisneros. One child, a girl named Dolores, died shortly after childbirth. Tony and Francis have 6 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.
Tony loved the outdoors and was lucky to have spent his professional life working there. His love of the outdoors started early in life. In one of our porch conversations, Tony described working long summer days in the Vigil fields, tending crops. Antonio Vigil owned extensive property extending northward from their home to a point around Este Es road. Young Tony would leave home early in the morning, spend the day working in the fields, and start the walk back home in the afternoon. The work was hard, but Tony learned to love being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. Tony spent his professional life working for the Forest Service, here in Taos. He was a squad boss for fire-fighting crews. Outside of fire-fighting season he served as a supervisor of work crews charged with managing the vast forest lands surrounding Taos. Tony retired from the Forest Service after 25 years of service.
Tony’s true avocation was carpentry. He was a gifted artist working with wood. In his shop next to his house, he would while away the hours creating fine pieces of furniture and wooden artwork. One of his finest pieces is the wooden Altar in our Ranchos church. The candelabro set that adorns the altar is also Tony’s work.
Perhaps Tony’s favorite pastime was hauling wood in the fall. Any true native Taoseno knows that wood hauling in the fall is not really work, but a fun tradition. Diane Taylor, Tony’s daughter in law, would frequently accompany Tony on wood hauling trips. Her favorite memory was spending the day “making a load” with Tony. Tony would cut and Diane would stack. Tony was a perfectionist. He required Diane to follow an exact stacking plan: stack the wood evenly, filling voids and stacking high in front. After the load was made came the best part of the trip: sitting down in the shade of a tree and enjoying the delicious lunch prepared by Grandma Francis. On the trip home, Tony would reach into his shirt and pull out a bottle of tylenol. He would take one pill and offer one to Diane. That was their routine. These are Diana’s fond memories of wood hauling with Tony.
I conclude my farewell to Tony with a memory of my own, entitled: “Tony to the rescue.” One morning I was out on my porch getting ready to do a few chores around the house. I was having trouble getting into my work boots. Perhaps I hadn’t loosen the shoe laces enough. I grabbed the top of the boots and pulled hard, trying to force my foot into the boot. Suddenly I heard a pop in my back and felt a bolt of electricity run from my lower back down into my legs. I fell to the ground and had no feeling from my waist down. I couldn’t feel or move my legs. I wasn’t so much in pain as I felt numb. I didn’t have my cell phone with me so I couldn’t call anyone. I lay there for what seemed like a long time. I thought I might lay there hours more until Margarita came home from work. Then I heard the sound of tires rolling over gravel. It was Tony, dropping by for a visit. What luck!! Slowly, very slowly, pulling and pushing, Tony managed to get me up onto a porch chair. From there I draped my arms over his shoulders and around his neck. He lifted me unto his back and dragged me into my house and then into the living room where he backed me unto my easy chair. He sat next to me and we laughed together at the comedy scene of an old guy dragging his younger buddy into the house. Tony offered to stay with me until Margarita returned home, but I told him I was fine. He brought me a glass of water, the TV remote and my cell phone. I was all set. I’ll forever remember that day – Tony showing up in my time of need, lending a helping hand, showing me love and support. That was classic Tony.
Rest in peace, Tone, mi hermano. David Maes
Featured Photo: The elder Antonio Jose Vigil at the Talpa Torreón courtesy of David Maes