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Friday, February 16, 2018

Wistful Reminisce in Jerome (revised due to a dropped paragraph that explains Bobbie's connection to Jerome)

I'm in the mountainside town of Jerome, Arizona, casting a reminiscing gaze over the expansive Verde Valley. Bound by snowcapped San Francisco Peaks to the north, familiar vermillion cliffs to the east, and Mingus Mountain to the west, Verde Valley holds a hoard of memories that range from happy to sad. But I've been coming to this area since before I can remember, and it feels as comfortable as a pair of old cotton sweats.
I reel in my focus to the town of Cottonwood below, just off the toe tips of my worn-ragged Crocks. Dad and Mom are buried in separate graveyards on opposite sides of town, thanks to a good man's life cut short by whimsical gods. Mom rests on top of "Chuck," a "too soon" husband/marriage following Dad's early departure. No "Everett," Chuck was a good enough man, except when he was given (driven?) to bouts of petulance by my "show grabbing" mom. He bore that "cross" as well as could be expected of any man, but not with the grace of my dad.  

Mom outlived Chuck, too, and likely played a contributing role if there is such a thing as being frustrated to death. Having grown up during "the depression," Mom pinched her pennies like they were gold. It was cheaper to share Chuck's grave than purchase a plot next to my dad, so that's where she rests. There is twisted irony that Mom chose to be buried on top of poor old Chuck—the man she drove half crazy—instead of next to Dad, the love of her life. Oh those jocular gods...

Bobbie, left, Mark, right. Mom and Chuck and brother, Dan, and wife, Elaine, centered.  Photo taken in front of the rock fireplace chimney Chuck and Mom built by hand. It took a year to gather all those stones from surrounding washes.  
Mom, on a camping trip to the Mogollon Rim area above the Verde Valley. Dad, Mom and I downsized from the 8 X 40 foot trailer (below) to live in the 16 foot Shasta travel trailer (above) for a year as we all went in search for God's Will. Not sure we ever found it...
Ready for Sunday service...

If one lives long enough, they come to realize that the boundary between fate and coincidence overlaps. In a whole wide world of improbable to impossible connections, the journeys of two meant-for-each-other souls intersect while they explore landscapes far removed from "home." They meet at an athletic club in a one-horse, one-stoplight Podunk town in southwestern Colorado, each awaiting finalization of their respective divorce proceedings. One of us asks the other (there is an ongoing discrepancy here) to go for a training run up the Black Canyon. The rest, as they say, is "history." Bobbie and I soon learn that we share a common past connection almost as dubious as finding each other, and it took place in Jerome, Arizona, of all places. 

It turns out Bobbie's mom, Doris, lived in Jerome as a little girl during the early 1920s. Doris's father, Carl Schmidt, was a traveling musician who played in the town band. One year, with a photo of Doris standing on the balcony of their apartment building in hand, we walked up and down backstreets of Jerome till we spotted the very same building and balcony. 

I can never resist a drive up to historic Jerome when we are in the locality of central Arizona's red rock country. It, and Sedona, were favorite places to go with mom and dad after they semiretired in Cottonwood to own/operate a second hand store. 

To me, Jerome had a certain "funkiness" in the 60's and 70's. All dilapidated to the point of falling down, it attracted kindred souls... artist types and such. The money didn't exactly flow, but they were determined to carve out a starving-artist life...the potters, the painters, the pot smokers and the whirligig merchants of polished rocks and pretty stone pipes to in which to smoke your dope.

Jerome has a stadium view of the Verde Valley. The valley rolls roughshod through a rugged, arid landscape, all the way to the horizon. A sluggish green Verde River, along with an attending forest of thirsty cottonwoods, snakes south through the valley floor. Eventually the Verde is joined by the well known Oak Creek, south of Cornville (yes, Cornville), on it's way to dry lawns and flush toilets in Hot-as-Hell Phoenix...5 million people, eating, drinking and pooping in a place where water use out paces recharge. Another "straw" goes into the already depleted Colorado River (sigh). 

Jerome was an old booze, brawl and brothel copper mining camp. It tentatively clings to a bolt upright slope on the side of Mingus Mountain. I say "tentative" because the old jail-house now rests 200 feet downslope from where it was built. During mining "heydays" (1920's) as many as 15,000 people lived in Jerome. But out in the wild west "Booms" eventually go "Bust." The population withered to less than 50 after the mines shut down in the '50's. A fledgling resurgence took place in the 60's and 70's when "hippie" artists began to reoccupy tumbledown Jerome. Today it bustles withs shops, galleries, bars and restaurants...a diversion for Phoenicians eager to take a Sunday drive out of the insufferable summer heat that bakes the Valley of the Sun May through September.

Dad holds me on the hood of our convertible 1950 Ford at a rest stop on the way to Phoenix, our new "home."Arizona or Bust" is written in the dust.

Mom and Dad...just a couple years before he died.
My sister, Sally Jo. She would die at 23.
Sally Jo shows off her new "used" Oldsmobile convertible in our Papago Peaks Trailer Park's "front yard."  
Peace out,
mark and bobbie, on the road.
Now, more of Jerome...

Bobbie's carrot cake scone. Great baked goods at the Flatirons cafe.

Many of Jerome's side streets are still paved with stone...a natural resource :)

The old elementary school, now a library and City Hall.

Dropping down a "block," Bisbee style.


  1. You know how much I love your family reminiscing? Lots! And photos of Jerome are so much fun. Haven't been there in awhile. First trip for me was in July 1971, in a 1960 Ford Fairlane with my 4 little kids in the back seat. We drove up that hill, engine overheating, and tried to find water for the radiator. It was only for sale. My first ex and I were very broke, on the road looking for a new life somewhere, anywhere. But it wasn't to be found in Jerome, and for me it definitely wasn't found with him.

    1. Yes, thanks Sue.
      I can just picture you in that '60 Ford Fairlane, overheating while trying to make that grade up to Jerome in July !!!
      The "very broke, on the road looking for a new life somewhere, anywhere" part of your comment sure sounds familiar :)

  2. Been to Jerome so it was nice to see the photos. It's an interesting place even without personal history.

    1. Thanks Dawn...too bad "Blogger" dropped a key paragraph. It's revised to include it now.

  3. What a great post! Your word-crafting here with a bit of poetic cadence is so much fun to read. Smiled knowingly about all of Jerome's nuances you've described, even though I've never been there. And the love between your dad and mom, they look so in love and happy together. I've never had a photo like that of my parents. And Bobbie and your mom holding hands in that group shot, what a great photograph to smile about over the years. That was a special touching moment. Really enjoyed you sharing Jerome and your family history Mark, thank you.

    1. Terri, You are always so kind with your comments. Thank you.

  4. Mark where did you get your jeans, Sears or Pennys? They look real familiar.
    Love it when you & Bobbie get back to your roots and bring "the Good Old Days" of Americana life back to life for all of us :)
    Only been thru Jerome once a long time ago now, but it has both of us stomped as to where we were going at that time.
    Always love getting to hear about those very special parents of yours but it always leaves thinking there's a novel or a movie script in there somewhere but I think maybe a coffee table book about the BCB might be the hit.
    Stay thirsty and I'll meet you both on the trail tomorrow.

    1. Sonoma Doug,
      Funny you should mention that. I wanted Levis, but Mom, being a penny pincher, bought all my clothes at a discount store named Yellowfront. Kids at school often made fun of those jeans...so long that I had to roll up the bottoms a good 4 inches :)
      Thanks, mark

    2. Ah, it's clear to me now...why you always wear shorts. ;-)

    3. Suzanne,
      I threw a fit every time we went into Yellowfront!!! :(

  5. Good old Jerome. I have plenty of memories of that place in the 60's and 70's. I went to high school in Prescott and it was a "go to" spot for scoring weed. Later on there was the Spirit Room. Love those family photos.

    1. That's a long drive to get your "stash," and a pretty dangerous one at that. That we survived the 60s and 70s is nothing short of a miracle...

  6. Always love your old photos and childhood stories. How interesting that Bobbie's mother lived in Jerome in the 20s. Must have been quite a place back then!