Chewing the fat with a friend

By Mark S. Price - Contributing columnist
Mark S. Price -

I recently had the unique opportunity to sit down to a delicious gourmet feast at Alfredo’s on the square in downtown Clinton with a charming, new-found friend.

We talked about life, love and what drives us to keep going, among other interesting topics of discussion that stoked the embers of our constant chattering throughout the course of our scrumptious dinner.

It was a very interesting and enlightening conversation that lasted for nearly two hours while sitting at a secluded table in the front of the eatery surrounded by windows on three sides – a very private setting, indeed.

At one point during the delightful evening, it dawned on me that we had actually crossed paths years earlier when my dinner companion was just a young child in elementary school, a fact that had nearly slipped my mind.

Back in the spring of 2003 when I was the education reporter for The Sampson Independent, I was invited to speak to the students of Union Elementary School at their multi-cultural celebration.

I spoke to two different groups of students – kindergarten through second grade and third through fifth – about my disability and the need to accept others who are different than ourselves.

Unbeknownst to me, there was a certain 10-year-old fourth-grader named Alonso Olvera in the audience that day. He later became best friends with my nephew Michael West and, thereby, became part of the fabric of my family’s story.

Although he doesn’t remember that particular event, and we didn’t actually meet face-to-face, that was my first encounter with the now former U.S. Marine, a sweet and tender-hearted young man.

It wasn’t until our second meeting during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend of 2017 – 14 years later – that we met in person for the first time when my nephew brought him over to the house to say “hi” to my parents.

I remember thinking, “This handsome young man not only has a contagious smile and a pleasant personality, he is also very amicable and easy to converse with, someone I’d like to get to know better.”

I had heard all the stories of my nephew’s youth that involved Alonso, but I was finally able to connect all the dots when we shook each other’s hand.

During those intervening years, Alonso became one of Michael’s closest companions throughout their middle and high school years, cultivating their friendship on the football field as well as during summer vacations.

They still remained close friends when my nephew went off to college and Alonso joined the Marine Corps.

That’s when I met the audacious young man – toward the end of his stint with the military, after he had traveled the world and lived in 13 different countries.

I saw him a couple weeks later at the gym when he came up to me and commented on the grueling workout I had just completed. I was mortified that I did not recognize him at first sight. However, I remedied my lapse in memory by sending him a friend request on Facebook. We later became friends on Instagram as well and began to cultivate our own friendship on the social media networks.

It was several months later when I began writing my weekly column for The Sampson Independent again and posting a “daily blog” of sorts about the progress I was making with my weight training, that Alonso began to take a keen interest in me as I conquered my world despite a disability.

I received a text from him through Messenger in mid-April that brought tears to my eyes. He just wanted to tell me that he was “proud of the man (I) had become and was excited to see (me) take on life to the fullest, one day at a time.”

He continued by saying that it was “great to see (me) grow – from (my) physical goals to (my) short stories in the newspaper.” He also “hoped to see (me) continue to excel and reach (my) limits.”

In addition, he “loved reading (my) short stories in the morning while drinking coffee.” He commented that “the humanity within them (my columns) says a lot.”

Alonso hoped to one day sit down and share some stories.

That day finally came four months later as we were sitting across the table from each other at Alfredo’s.

The day before our dinner, my young friend laid out the parameters of the topics of conversation in which he would like to discuss – marriage, drive, my passion for writing and other advice I could give “a young grasshopper.” That was a tall order, indeed. I just hope I met his expectations and provided him with the answers for which he was searching.

We were able to keep up with each other and had the conversation going back and forth like a ping pong ball sharing little stories and anecdotes about our lives with each other throughout the meal, which he paid for by the way.

One thing is for certain, by the end of our time together I was overwhelmed with emotions that a young man who has traveled the world had a desire to sit down and break bread with little old me.

Just as Jacob imprinted on Bella’s daughter in the Twilight Saga, Alsono made a lasting impression on my soul.

I now have an open invitation to visit him in Rochester, N.Y., where he is attending college.

Now I’m looking forward with anticipation for my next adventure.

“Did someone say ‘Road Trip?’”

Mark S. Price S. Price

By Mark S. Price

Contributing columnist