At 60, my mom, Santa, was preparing to retire, sell the house we grew up in Oak Park and move someplace warmer than Chicago. We threw her a big birthday party and invited the whole familia – and that’s a lot of people considering she’s one of 11 children plus their children and grandchildren.
As a surprise, we hired a mariachi band for the occasion, Mariachi Potosino, a group of old timers. They sang all the great songs like Volver Volver, about longing for a lost love.
We all swooned, laughed and cried. One of the leaders of the band, a 66-year-old man named Ruben caught my eye. His hair was silver, his voice regal and his smile magical. He’s perfect for my mom, I thought. He looked like Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.
I quickly learned he was a widower. My mom and dad had divorced 20 years earlier and she never remarried. Something about this romantic mariachi told me to set them up. But Ruben declined a lunch invitation with us, because he said he had to work. My matchmaking efforts failed.
Not all hope was lost. A few weeks later my mom went to a wedding. Guess who was playing? Ruben and the Mariachi Potosino.
My mom asked if Ruben remembered her. He said, of course, asked for her phone number and called her the very next day.
For a first date they went to Lalo’s Mexican Restaurant in Berwyn. A main topic of conversation: their grown children. Mom had five and Ruben six.
Soon dinner out turned to home-cooked meals. Ruben brought his guitar to my mom’s place. One night she requested, “Besame Mucho.” Ruben stood up, walked over and gently kissed her for the first time.
Over the next year, their bond was strengthened as Ruben’s youngest son struggled with leukemia. My mom accompanied Ruben on hospital visits. Sadly, Hector passed away at the age of 30.
Grief could have made Ruben withdraw or lose faith. Instead the loss only strengthened their love, and they married a year later. After the ceremony, Ruben changed into his mariachi suit – a white jacket, red bow tie and black pants with silver studs. He serenaded my mom with, “Amor, Amor.”
This February marks 12 years since they met, and they will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary in June. Their love is strong and youthful. They are retired and live in a small town outside of San Antonio. Ruben still plays mariachi music every day – even if it’s just for my mom. He wrote her a song called, “Dos corazones unidos,” or “Two hearts united.”
It took 60 years for my mom to find her soul mate. Those of us who are single or divorced wonder if and when we will ever find ours. Maybe we can – if we just let the music into our hearts.
This story first aired on Eight Forty-Eight, a program of Chicago Public Radio. Listen to Mariachi Love Story