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Finding Charlie

January 23, 2009

Charlie, originally uploaded by IrishFireside.

Liam says…Today was a very special day for me; we were going to the town where my dad worked back in the 1930s. He talked about that time of his life often and fondly, so I’ve been looking forward to this stop since the trip began. Bit started us off with a delicious breakfast of eggs and bacon and scones and tea. Then she and her son Zack took us to meet her parents…they were so warm and welcoming…and let us pick fresh oranges and tangelos from their backyard. Mmmmmmm.

Then we headed to Ajo. None of us realized it would take a couple hours to get there…it looks so close on the map. For someone from the midwest, this was a very beautiful trip with a wonderful desert and mountain backdrop. We spotted hawks (well, Bit always seemed to spot them first) and lots of cacti and just a gorgeous landscape. We saw a lot of Border Patrol vehicles, and at one point Corey spotted a group of people scurry across the road which quite likely were people coming into the country illegally or trafficking drugs. It’s quite a difference from along the Canadian border where we grew up.

Like Ireland, there were many roadside crosses and shrines and grave markers and even prayer trees with decorations tied to them. The Irish and Mexican culture share some distinct similarities.

We finally arrived in Ajo. The town has improved a bit since when I was there last. It just looked tidier and nicer…and even has a Pizza Hut. We stopped at the enormous open pit mine viewing area. I had been here in the 80s when I brought my father back to visit his best friend Charlie Corella and the pit hadn’t changed much.

Then we visited the Historical Society Museum. A few steps in and I spotted an 8×10 picture of Charlie on the way commemorating his service in the military. My heart skipped a beat…there was a very young Charlie…he was in his 70s when I met him years ago.

Just above Charlie’s picture, there was the Roll of Honor noting all the Ajo residents who served in the Armed Forces during World War II. There, among the H’s was my father’s name “Eugene Joseph Hughes.” I did not expect to see his name there and memories of him came flooding back. He had so many stories about Ajo and the mine. As I walked through the museum with damp eyes, I was reminded of the characters and places he used to tell us stories about…Curley, Greenway, Tabletop Mountain, Phelps Dodge Co.,

Since my father died five years ago, I have missed him every single day. Today, I was reminded that his was still with me, right by my side.

After the museum, we went to the cemetery hoping that on a whim, we might find Charlie and his wife Carmelita’s gravestone. The cemetery was quite large, but I headed to the newer section. One section was filled with Irish names and the next section had many Hispanic names…I figured that would be where I might find Charlie. Would you believe that among all those tombstones, I found Charlie’s? What surprised me more was that it looked as though his wife Carmelita was still alive.

We stopped in a cafe for a late lunch. The tacos there tasted so much like the ones my parents used to make…my dad, after all, brought the recipe back from Ajo. I think we were the only family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the 1960’s enjoying tacos on a regular basis.

While at the cafe, Bit asked a woman at the table next to us if she lived in Ajo long. The woman, Susie O’Connor, had taught school here for 40 years before retiring in the 1980s…and not only was she “about as Irish as you’ll find in Ajo,” she also knew Carmelita. As far as she knew, Camelita was still alive and in an assisted living home with her sister in Tucson. My heart skipped a bit knowing this woman I met so many years ago was still alive. Unfortunately, I will not have time this trip to look her up.

This was such a wonderful day.

In the evening we went to Bit’s favorite Honky Tonk bar where we enjoyed the Thursday Special…$9 steak dinners! And they were very tasty and I even took to the floor for some two-stepping with Bit.

Then it was back to Bit’s for ice cream and scones, good conversation and some of Bit’s insight into the connections between Irish and Cowboy music…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynn permalink
    January 23, 2009 11:00 PM

    Hey, guys!
    Pat and Mom are going to bingo and she was talking about your trip. I justed started looking at the blog. Sounds like you’re having an amazing time!
    Safe travels…….love you!

  2. netta permalink
    January 24, 2009 5:24 AM

    Liam, how great is that, you get to enjoy those fond memories of your Dad. He was quite a charactor, you are so cut of his cloth! I feel better that HE is on this journey with you and Corey…. love,netta

  3. Kristen permalink
    January 24, 2009 10:36 PM

    Oh shoot. Now I need a tissue. You HAD to talk about Grandpa and make my eyes leak.
    Sounds like an amazing trip. Love you both!

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