There are certain traditions that stick with you, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve done them. And for me, Good Friday and the pilgrimage up Tomé Hill is a tradition I’ve always enjoyed.
I’ve been looking forward to Easter weekend and spending it with my family for the past year (and by “year” I mean basically almost a decade, because I think the last time I was in town for Easter was 2011).
Our Good Friday, Tomé Hill Pilgrimage
Every year, since as long as I can remember, we’d wake up early on Good Friday morning and drive the 37-minute car ride to my Nana and Tia’s house in Tomé, New Mexico.
But this wasn’t any normal car ride, despite its common destination. My brother and I were always more alert on Good Friday; our eyes were wide open, and peeled to the side of the road. We’d spend that car ride counting how many people were making the yearly pilgrimage to Tome Hill.
We usually spotted the first person near Isleta, and then the amount would increase as we’d drive further south. We’d each have a side; I’d look to the left side (because I was left handed), and he’d take the right.
My dad drove slowly so we could get an accurate count; but also because the speed limit is awfully slow…we just didn’t realize that part back then.
Each year we’d each easily count into the hundreds. I wish we kept actual track so I could share some numbers with you, but it was always up there. People went out and walked miles in droves to get to Tome Hill.
This year I drove down with the girls, and (because of Covid-19, and the shelter at home order) we counted a total of 10 people walking…and it broke my heart.
A Sense of Community
Among the hundreds of people we’d count making the Good Friday pilgrimage to Tomé Hill, we’d also see locals setting up stands along the road, offering water and oranges to those making the trek.
Once we’d get to my Nana and Tia’s house, my brother and I would eagerly await my cousin’s arrival.
Slowly, but surely, they’d all show up, and then we’d take off making our own family pilgrimage up Tomé Hill.
The walk there was easy and mostly flat. We’d walk along the ditch bank and catch up on life.
Sometimes it would just be our family out there walking towards the hill, and sometimes we’d pass other families.
You’d never know we were part of a bigger pilgrimage until we emerged on Tomé Hill Road, and were met with hundreds of people.
The base of the hill is a gathering spot for family and friends, but in a solemn way—this is Good Friday, after all.
Making the Climb
At this point, my family would disperse; we’d all take the steep 1/2 mile hike up the hill at our own pace.
Despite the fact that people have been climbing the Tomé Hill for decades, its terrain is still rocky with loose rock fragments in some places, and one wrong step could mean a tumble down…taking everyone in your path along with you.
Luckily it’s not completely steep the whole way; there are a few flat stretches throughout the climb.
Why We Climb Tome Hill on Good Friday
I also loved catching the stations of the cross. There would always be a group reading the different stations along with some songs and prayers.
It’s a great reminder for why you are climbing on Good Friday in the first place.
People take the pilgrimage extremely seriously, and put so much dedication into it. It’s humbling and inspiring.
What I enjoyed the most was the solitude. I loved being out in the open air, climbing towards something.
Three crosses stand tall at the top of Tome Hill; my dad’s uncle carried them up by foot decades ago.
I loved reaching the top.
Of course, there’s the satisfaction of actually getting there, but once you’re there it’s the perfect time to reflect, pray, meditate, and feel God’s presence.
There’s something powerful about making the climb up on Good Friday, and then using your time to soak in your surroundings and thank God for your blessings.
Making the Trek Down
Besides meditating and spending some time with God at the top, my other favorite part of Good Friday and the climb up the Tomé Hill, was actually the walk back.
My dad always had impeccable timing, because after we’d make our way down, he’d be there in his car watching and waiting for all of us.
He’d be there with his window down, a giant smile on his face, and probably a thumbs up—indicating he was proud of us for doing it.
I’m not sure if he timed it out so he’d be there when we’d get down or if he’d drive around seeing everyone and saying hi to his friends along the way (I’m willing to bet my life on it being the latter), but seeing him was the highlight of my trek.
Of course, during my middle school and high school years I’m sure I was embarrassed he did that. But driving around today made me nostalgic for the past, and had me missing my dad.
After we’d walk back to my Nana and Tia’s house, we’d all be greeted with one of the best meals of the year: our Lenten feast.
Fish sticks, mashed potatoes, corn, macaroni and cheese, quelites, calabacitas, torta de huevo, alllllllll the red chile, enchiladas, and this delicious bread pudding dessert graced our tables and filled our bellies.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have that exact meal again.
Left in the Past
If I close my eyes I can practically make myself believe that I’m back there, nine years ago, experiencing Good Friday again.
But so much has changed since then, so in a way, maybe it’s better that it didn’t actually happen today.
My Nana and Tia have passed away, and my dad and his sister are also both gone; we also don’t gather at the same house anymore.
My dad isn’t here to give me a thumbs up after I finished the climb, and I would’ve had to either leave my kids behind (and listen to them be sad about not letting them go up with me), or taken them with me (and listened to them whine the entire time about how hard it was).
Maybe it’s okay to hang onto my memories of Good Friday from long ago until I’m ready to make new ones the next time we live here again.
I’m just thankful my aunts sent me home today with some of their Good Friday food, and that it tastes just as delicious as I remember. I’m also thankful I saw my family today…even if it was from six-feet away. It was good for my Good Friday soul.