Since I put up that picture of Eva Peron’s embalmed corpse yesterday, I have been thinking of my long-dead friend Hugo Ryan. He was from Argentina and it was he who first told me about Evita.
When I was a young boy, we often hosted Notre Dame football players and coaches in our home (following in the tradition of my great-grandfather). The first of these was Hugo, a Notre Dame athlete you’ve never heard of. We met at the hospital when I was nine years old. I was in for an appendectomy; Hugo was in for a torn tendon or ligament that finished his football career before it had even started.
Hugo was still on crutches when we picked him up on campus for Sunday dinner a week or so after we’d both been released. Funny what sticks in one’s memory after so many years: Frankie Avalon’s “Venus” was playing on the car radio. Hugo had become like a big brother to me in the hospital, and my heart was bursting with admiration for him as he got into the car. He was handsome and charming, and I was smitten as only a young boy can be to be the focus of the attentions of an older person whom I viewed as a hero who had chosen me as his best friend. The guy walked on water.
It was the first of Hugo’s many, many visits to our home, and I distinctly remember the day Hugo told me about Eva Peron. It was a rags-to-riches story that somehow paralleled Hugo’s own story and for me became the same story. He told me how the masses of poor people, the “shirtless ones,” had adored Evita and were devastated when she died. She had been a patron to the masses and created hospitals, housing, and other charities for them; Hugo was attending Notre Dame because he, too, had a wealthy patron, an Argentinean movie star. Hugo had been one of the millions who had thronged the streets for Evita’s funeral. Hugo said she was the patron saint of Argentina’s poor. She was only 33 when she died of uterine cancer. Without Evita at his side to beguile the masses, Juan Peron lost power when the economy faltered, and he became an exile in Spain.
After Hugo graduated, he married a beautiful Canadian girl who had been a French teacher at a private school in South Bend, and they moved to South America where he found a career with a mining or industrial company. We received word a couple years later that Hugo had been killed in a car crash in Brazil. He couldn’t have even been 30 years old when he died—another parallel that further entwines his memory with Evita’s.
I still have and cherish a book by Khalil Gibran that Hugo gave me more than fifty years ago, in which is written: “A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?”
Groove of the Day