by Diane Sward Rapaport
Four years ago, my husband and I sold our home in Jerome, Arizona and moved to Oregon. Jerome had been home for 35 years.
Last May, while visiting friends in Jerome, I received an email from Barbara Beneitone, who lived in the house before the mines closed in 1953: “My Mom, sister brother and I are going to be in Jerome next weekend. Would it be possible to see the old homestead?”
We agreed to meet there. It was the first time I had been back to see our old home since we moved. The yard was full of foxtails and neglect. No one had lived there since we sold it. The Beneitones hadn’t been back since 1951.
Ninety-one year old Doris and I stood in the driveway. “The house was built in 1926 by Marguerite and Nikolai Domjanovich, my parents,” Doris told me. “They were Croats from Yugoslavia. They lived there with my brother, sister and I. When I married, my husband moved in with my parents, and we had four children. When my sister married, her husband moved in. We were one big happy family living in a little house.
“For the first two years, we had seven people and two dogs living here: my husband, a teenage son and toddler, my husband’s best friend, George and his son and George’s girlfriend–a hippie commune in a town full of them.”
The Beneitone men were miners. A decent job for them left a mountain of pollution for future residents to cleanup.
The apricot tree their family had planted was barely alive. “We buried our cat under it,” I told Doris. “My husband and I heard the ghosts of the house whispering, ‘Thanks for giving us a cat to be our companion. We’ve been wishing for one for a long time.'”
Doris smiled and pointed to a spot where her family grew beets, turnips, cabbages and carrots. “I made barrels of sauerkraut,” she told me. “The kids loved to eat pigs in blankets–sauerkraut and hot dogs.
“My father made copper railings and set them in iron pipes. It kept is kids from falling over the wall to the patio below.” The railings had tipped and loosened. Where my peace roses bloomed held the coal bin for Doris’ cook stove.
There we stood–two old ladies with uncommon histories, rooted by our memories. Neither of us had any desire to go down the steps. Lifetimes had passed, not to be measured in years.
We held in common our love of Jerome, the home that meant so much to us, and the memories of our children that scrambled the town’s craggy canyons like goats. We understood without words what it was to feel the tug back of Jerome when we left for life in another city and a different set of people and circumstances.
Jerome is a favored place on earth, and we shared an almost supernatural attachment. For us, this lovely town would always be home sweet Jerome.
Diane Sward Rapaport is author of Home Sweet Jerome; Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City, published in 2014 by Johnson Books, Boulder, CO. Rapaport is a published author in three fields of expertise: music industry, soil and groundwater contamination, and Taoist qigong and tai chi. She has a Masters Degree from Cornell University in Renaissance Literature.