Road Trip: Jack and Jessie's Story
Grandpa Garcia was born in Denver, to Pete and Elvira Garcia, on a cold winter’s day in 1936. He’ll tell anyone that if you look for the place he was born, you won’t find it. Due to a large birthmark on her firstborn’s forehead, Elvira refused to give birth in a hospital again, blaming the doctors for the baby’s spot. The remaining four children, including my grandfather, were delivered at home with the help of a midwife. That home no longer exists. It was eventually bought out and destroyed to build what is now known as the Auraria Campus.
Named Jack John Garcia, my grandfather is the middle of five children. He has an older brother named José (whom everybody called “Joe”), an older sister named María, a younger sister named Margaret, and the youngest boy, Anthony. His father Pete was in the army and my grandfather simply says, “He went to war, and never came back.” One might assume that he was killed in battle, but that would be wrong. He simply never came back. Elvira found a new man, Sergio Romero, with whom she had six children. Leroy, Daniel, Sergio Jr., Dorothy, Gloria, and Davy added to the original five to make eleven. Sergio and Elvira were together twenty years before they heard news that Pete had passed away. Now widowed, my great-grandmother could finally marry Sergio who had proven to be a wonderful husband, father, and step-father.
My grandfather can trace his roots way back…way back to Colorado! He claims to be of Spanish descent, vaguely recalling that somebody on his mother’s side had actually been born in Spain. He knows no dates, no places, no names; he just knows that the blood that pumps through his veins is Spanish. The oldest relative he ever had the pleasure of knowing was his paternal grandfather, who was born in Kim, Colorado. All of his extended family lives in various parts of Colorado, many near Denver or Trinidad.
However, a large portion of Jack’s life took place outside of Colorado. When my grandpa tells this part of the story, he casually mentions the fact that he “got into some trouble” that led him to cross state lines in search of a new life. His older brother Joe had already left Colorado and was pretty established in what was then known as South San Gabriel, California (now that portion of town pertains to Rosemead). Jack moved in with Joe, got a job, and in less than a year found the woman who would be his wife.
That woman was Jesús de la Natividad Gonzales. Born on the day all Christians celebrate the birth of the Lord and Savior, December 25th, Grandma Jessie was named after Jesus Christ. She was born in Alhambra, California and lived with 5 other siblings. Her roots are more easily traced. Her father was born in Aguas Calientes, México, which lies between the larger cities of Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Mexico City. The town is named for its many hot springs, and the friendly people refer to themselves as Hidrocalidos. Her mother was also a Mexican native, born and raised in the city of Chihuahua. The name is derived from the Tarahumara language and means “between two waters.” Chihuahua is very fitting, seeing as it lies between the Chuviscar and Sacramento Rivers.
However, the two lovers did not meet in México. They both left their soil with hopes for a better tomorrow, and met in Los Angeles, California. They were eventually married in Alhambra and that’s where they raised their family. It’s interesting to note that my grandfather would soon befriend their oldest son Pete, almost as if he was replacing one Pete for another; his father for his new friend.
Through a co-worker named Kita, Grandpa Jack came to know her cousin Pete Gonzales, who of course was the older brother of Jessie. The two would carouse around, picking up girls. My grandfather tells of a time when he and Pete had taken two sisters to a drive-in movie. The plan was to pair off and make out, but the girls sat together, leaving the two guys hot and bothered.
Now whenever the two would go out on the town in search of young women, Jack would come over to Pete’s house where he would sit and wait in the living room, while Pete primped in front of the bathroom mirror for hours. “He was very immaculate,” my grandpa remembers, “and had to comb his hair just right.” Being raised with a Mexican mindset, Jessie, being the woman, would wait on their guest as he sat twiddling his thumbs on the couch. She would bring my grandpa drinks and would sit and keep him company. Jessie was older than Jack by two years, and neither one saw the other through romantic eyes. However, as the regular waiting continued almost every weekend night, the two became good friends.
One night, Pete told Jessie that his car needed gas. He was the type of man to be obeyed, and Jessie was very obedient. She immediately grabbed the keys and headed outside to the car. My grandpa decided to join her, so at midnight in April of the year 1957 they found themselves driving up and down Alhambra in search of a gas station that would be open so late. While they drove, they talked. There came a point in their conversation where Jack asked, “Would you marry me?” Even more shocking than the sudden marriage proposal to a woman he had never dated was her response. “Yes,” she said simply.
When asked why he had suddenly decided to ask her hand in marriage, Grandpa Jack begins a windy explanation of how he had been drafted into war. He was going to be a soldier and he had to report in Denver in a week’s time. Wives of soldiers in those days were privilege to receiving a government check every month, and to make a long story short, he thought she could use the money.
Not only did she agree to be married, but she agreed to be married right away! They both knew that in California the quickest two people could be married was three days. Jack had heard that in Arizona, a couple could be married in a day’s time. That idea seemed perfect to the two and they quickly turned the car onto a route that would eventually lead them past California lines and into the desert that would await them in Arizona. Pete wouldn’t be getting his car back that night, or the next, or for a week for that matter. Jack and Jessie had unknowingly embarked upon the road trip of all road trips—one always to be remembered.
The trip was a bust from the get-go. Arizona had passed a law regarding marriage, and the process now took just as long as the process in California: three days. Jack asked Jessie if she wanted to go back, but she told him she didn’t want to go back until they were married. Remembering that he had to report to the Army in Denver, Colorado, Grandpa Jack suggested that they continue east out of Arizona, through New Mexico, and up to Colorado where they could be married.
They continued through Arizona without a problem, but it was in New Mexico that the real fun began. The pointer on the gas gauge steadily moved further and further from the F, and closer and closer to the E. They were running out of gas, and had spent the last of their money in Arizona on Lucky Strike cigarettes. Just outside of Socorro, New Mexico, the car stopped. Ironically, socorro means “relief” which they wouldn’t be getting in Socorro.
It was evening and as the sun began to set, the air grew colder. That night they had been sent by Pete to get gas neither one was wearing a jacket. Grandma Jessie’s life in sunny, southern California had not prepared her for the cold nights of New Mexico. She was freezing, so Jack took off his flannel shirt and gave it to Grandma. It wasn’t much, but it helped. The two walked along the side of the road, sticking up their thumbs whenever a car would pass—my grandpa in nothing more than a wife-beater; my grandma shivering with Jack’s shirt wrapped around her like a shawl.
Nobody picked them up that night. After walking for almost two hours they entered Socorro’s city limits and my grandpa attempted to ask money of his uncle through Western Union. The operator dialed the number and explained the situation to Jack’s uncle. “I haven’t seen that boy since he was in eighth grade and now he’s calling to ask for money?” he said angrily, “Tell him I don’t have any.” The operator was unaware that my grandfather had heard the conversation, and as she began to explain he just said, “Don’t worry, operator. I heard.”
The man who worked for Western Union took pity on the two and gave them five dollars so they could at least get enough gas to get their car into town. They were grateful, and headed back outside to walk once again to the car they had abandoned on the side of the highway. A red car passed, but did not stop for them. A half-hour later a highway department truck stopped and gave them a ride for about 25 miles before he had to turn off. As they continued their march, the same red car passed them. Suddenly it stopped, backed up, and a young couple rolled down their window and asked, “Are you the same kids we saw walking earlier? With so many farmers out here we thought you were maybe coming in from the fields. Need a ride?”
They were driven out to Pete’s car where Jack put the gas he had bought into the tank. The couple was nice enough to follow them all the way back to Socorro to make sure that they got there without any troubles. They still had gas so they decided to continue another 100 miles or so to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Once again they found themselves without any gas, and knowing they had no money, Grandpa Jack pulled into the gas station and confidently told the attendant, “Fill it up!”
If you were to ask my grandpa about this experience, he’ll tell you the same thing he’s told me. “I was so scared. I was so nervous. But I acted confident. He must have seen the California plates and thought we had money.” After the attendant had pumped the gas, Grandpa told him that he needed some oil as well. As the man left to retrieve the oil, my grandfather jumped inside the car and sped off. He had just stolen a tank of gas!
So on stolen gas they traveled on dusty roads under the blazing sun towards the lesser-known Las Vegas…Las Vegas, New Mexico. Jack knew that his mother’s father lived there, but he had never been to visit him. The plan was to borrow some money. In order to borrow money, they would first have to find him. In order to find him, they would have to ask at the local police station. With paranoid thoughts that he would be put under arrest the minute he walked in the door for his crime at the gas station, my grandpa very nervously approached the officer. Apparently they did not know about the gas, and they gave him directions out to my great-great-grandfather’s place.
Driving out to Las Vegas was by far their greatest idea. Not only was Jack’s grandfather delighted to see him, but he was more than willing to loan them the money needed. He didn’t have much, but he gave them every 50-cent piece he had. With this money, Jack and Jessie made it up to Raton, New Mexico where they once again attempted to get married. Jessie, being 22 years of age, must have suddenly felt silly for marrying a younger man. My grandpa was only 20, and therefore not old enough to be married without parental consent. He must either wait until he turned 21, or get his mother or father to be a witness.
His birth father, Pete Garcia, hadn’t returned to his wife Elvira, but he hadn’t left Colorado either. He was living in Trinidad, Colorado, just north of the New Mexico border. They drove to my great-grandfather’s house and explained to him that they wanted to get married, and needed his help. Putting the past aside, father and son reconciled, and Pete went back to Raton, New Mexico with them where Jack and Jessie were married on April 18, 1957. The two couldn’t have been happier.
However, the moment of rejoicing and jubilant kissing came screeching to a halt when Grandpa Jack’s father reminded him of his appointment with the U.S. Army. “You can get arrested if you don’t show up.” With money from his dad, Jack took his new bride up north into “Colorful Colorado.” Passing wheat fields and small towns on their way, the two eventually wound up in Jack’s hometown of Denver, Colorado. There he reported, just barely making the deadline, only to find that he would not be needed. His physical showed some problems with his spine, and Uncle Sam didn’t want a spineless soldier.
Having exhausted all of Jack’s contacts, Jessie finally got the nerve to call her parents. Since her sudden disappearance, she had been avoiding this conversation. Although her parents were indeed upset with her irresponsible behavior, they wired her enough money for her and her husband to return to California. The trip home through Nevada went smoothly. No hitchhiking. No gas-stealing. No problems. Well, no problems until Yermo, California.
The desert heat finally won out, and the hot pavement caused a tire to blow up on them. Without enough money to fix it, and finding themselves once again stranded, Grandpa walked the three miles to the small town. He couldn’t find anything open. Every store had been closed down, which he thought strange, until he remembered the date. It was Easter Sunday. Dejectedly he returned to Grandma, only to find her crouched and sobbing in the dirt. “Somebody stole the car!” she screamed. “It’s gone!”
They had no other choice but to hitchhike their way to the next town after Yermo: Barstow. Once there they reported the stolen vehicle to the police station. Turns out the car hadn’t been stolen, but had been towed. You see, six months ago the car had been stolen, and after a week, recovered. Jessie’s brother Pete had reported it stolen, but apparently the cops never got the report of it being returned. A tow-truck recognized the car from a list of stolen vehicles, and while grandma had left for a much-needed bathroom break, the towers took the car away. After Grandma Jessie explained the situation and proved with documents that the car really belonged to her family, the police notified the towers and had them bring the car to the station.
Meanwhile, in Alhambra, Jessie’s family was celebrating Easter. Every year Jessie’s grandmother threw a huge party with every distant relative invited to drink and to dance. She had a large place out in the country, which worked perfectly for a family gathering, but made it virtually impossible to have a telephone. With a three-tired car and no money, Jack had to call the Alhambra Police Station to send two officers out to my great-great-grandmother’s house in order to notify the family that their daughter needed rescuing out in Barstow. Relatives were sent to pick them up.
Jack and Jessie finally returned home just before midnight on Easter Sunday, 1957. Grandma’s mom refused to believe that they were married, and Pete was just glad to see that the car wasn’t in too bad of shape. Although the trip had been a huge disaster, one good thing came out of it. Jack and Jessie had been married, and they knew that if they could withstand such a journey, they could definitely handle a lifetime in holy matrimony.
They went on to have four children: a son named Gabriel, my father Jack, a third son named Carlos (Charlie), and Rachel, the only girl. Through the ups and downs of life, the make-ups and the break-ups, the lies and the moments of truth, my grandparents stuck it out and showered their children and grandchildren with love and affection. My grandma would look at me with such big, beautiful eyes with a warm smile and say, “I love you mijo.” Because she would always call me that she became known to me as Grandma Mijo. Sadly, when I was just seven years old, my grandma passed away. My grandpa says that the “cancer came in and wrapped itself around her colon; strangled it until it spread to her liver.” She quit eating, and died very thin.
She was buried in Rocky Ford, Colorado where my grandfather eventually moved. He can now be found working long hours at the Subway in Rocky Ford’s only Loaf ‘n Jug gas station. He’s 71 years old now, but he remembers that road trip as if it were yesterday. “Grandson, I loved your grandmother very much. I didn’t lead a perfect life, but I tried.” In the end, I guess all we can do is try.