My youngest brother Bobbie played the song “Sabor a Mi” on his cell phone. As my other siblings and spouses watched from our tables, my baby sister Nancy danced with my older brother Willie to my mom’s favorite song. We were on the patio deck of the Asylum Restaurant in Jerome, Ariz.
After the song, the waiter brought us desert with candles to sing Happy Birthday to our mom. It was Sunday on what would have been our mother’s 89th birthday. I started to sing but just couldn’t get the rest of the words out.
As my close friend Rosie so eloquently said, “The best gift you can give to your mother is to have all her children together.” Our mom, Emma, has been gone now for 56 years. Leukemia took her from my seven siblings when she was 33 years young. My sister Nancy was three months old and my oldest sibling Rachel was 17 years old when my mom died.
This October, my brother Willie had the idea of “the best gift” and getting all of the brothers and sisters to travel 500 miles to Jerome, my mother’s birthplace, to pay homage to her.
If you look up Bakersfield-to-Jerome on any travel search site like MapQuest, you will see drive time is estimated at about 7 hours and 50 minutes. Including my brothers and sisters and spouses, 11 of us traveled in one van together. All of us are grandparents now and as such, federal senior law mandates us to inspect facilities at most rest stops, restaurants or gas stations along the way. And like the fate of the Minnow on the 1964 television showb "Gilligan’s Island," the “a three hour cruise … a three hour cruise” lasted much longer. It took us 12 hours to reach Jerome. We all agreed that when we return to Jerome, we will rent a van with a bathroom.
It was the first time I can remember where my siblings and I were together as just brothers and sisters. We are all parents and grandparents but on this trip we were just brothers and sisters. And sister-in-laws Mary, Dora, Yolanda and brother in-law Ray mostly laughed and enjoyed sibling banter on the long drive.
Most of my mom’s family is from Jerome. According to historians, Jerome sat on the largest copper mine in Arizona and produced an astonishing 3 million pounds of copper a month. The town’s population was approximately 15,000 people in 1929. By 1953 when copper prices fell, the population was about 50.
Today, Jerome is a bustling tourist magnet and artistic community with craft people, musicians, writers, hermits, bed and breakfast owners and many of my family’s long forgotten history.
My brother Willie and his wife Mary had previously traveled to Jerome with several of my mom’s side of the family to get a general edification of ancestral history. Willie and Mary served as our tour guides.
Many of the beautiful and historic buildings in Jerome include the Holy Family Catholic Church built in 1896 where my mom, her brothers and sisters were baptized. Of all the places we visited, standing at the Holy Family Catholic Church altar with my siblings held the most emotional and significant feeling. I know this must sound strange to some of you but having my brothers and sisters standing together as we lit a candle in mom’s memory is when I felt the closest I have felt to my mom in a very long time. Having us all together seemed to bring the spirit of my dad, my brother Andy, my wife Susie and other loved ones we have lost to that small altar.
We spent our last night in Jerome in Willie and Mary’s hotel room. Willie brought dozens of black and white photos of us as kids. We laughed, cried and remembered as best as we could things that made up our childhood and paved the path for our journey to Jerome.
The best birthday gift you can give your mother and father is to have all their children together. To my siblings, Rachel, Willie, Espie, Ralph, Bobbie, Nancy and spouses, thank you.
I know mom must have been very happy.
Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work normally appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.