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.
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."|
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.|