|Written by Mark Lineberger|
|Sunday, 04 March 2012 00:00|
Mitchell Mocasque likes to meet new people and strike up the occasional bit of conversation.
He’s got a great spot for it.
For the past several years, Mocasque has been helping his family run a fry bread stand in a rocky field out by the intersection of Montezuma Castle Highway and Montezuma Castle Road.
A sign reads “Indian Arts and Crafts” but it’s more easily recognized by the red hand-lettered “fry bread” sign visible from the road, where traffic passes through all day from tourists visiting Montezuma Castle and visitors to Cliff Castle Casino to people looking to get on I-17 and people just passing through. Mocasque’s mother, Emma, owns the stand, which is practically a local landmark.
The stand has been in operation since the 1970s, Mocasque said, though it hasn’t always been in the same location.
It was close, but Mocasque said a few things in that area got shuffled around a bit when the Yavapai-Apache Nation was making plans to open up its new casino.
A lot has changed over the years in that particular part of the reservation, but the fry bread stand remains.
Mocasque said there was a time when someone tried to set up another fry bread stand in the same area, but he credits his fresh made on-the-spot fry bread as the reason his mother’s stand is the one still open.
“The lady eventually came over and said she’d pay me $1 a piece if I cooked fry bread for her,” Mocasque laughed.
Of course, there is more to it than just the wafting smell of cooked fry bread to draw in potential customers. Tables at the stand are laid out with colorful jewelry, decorative items and other little artistic flourishes.
Blake said making the jewelry has been a “hobby” of sorts in his family for years.
“Plus it’s nice to be able to make a little supplemental income,” Mocasque said.
Mocasque said he’s been helping to run his mother’s stand along with his sisters since 2005, when he returned to the Verde Valley from the Valley of the Sun.
Mocasque grew up in New Mexico, but he frequently made trips to the Verde Valley in his youth to visit family that lived here.
When he was able, Mocasque elected to serve his country in the U.S. Army.
The service took him around the world, noting that some places were nicer than others.
“I loved Germany,” Mocasque said.
Mocasque wasn’t as quick with the same adulation for the deserts in the Middle East, where he served with a field artillery unit on the front lines of the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq known as Operation: Desert Storm.
One thing Mocasque does know for certain, however, is that he’d much rather be eating fry bread than a Meal, Ready-to-Eat.
“Seven months of MREs was enough for me,” Mocasque said.
After the war, Mocasque left the military in 1992 and tried his hand at living in Phoenix, where, among other things, he worked as a luggage handler with Greyhound.
“I really met a lot of different people in that job,” Mocasque said.
Mocasque returned to the Verde Valley in 2005, where he’s been ever since.
His wife, Janice, still works down in the Phoenix area at the Gila River Casino, but Mocasque said working closer to home definitely has its advantages.
For one thing, it lets him stay close to his four boys, ranging in age from 10 to 19.
No one would say that raising four boys is an easy job, but Mocasque said he does his best to keep them on the straight and narrow.
In the meantime, Mocasque said he’ll be at the fry bread stand seemingly “just about every day that ends in y.”
Every day is a bit different, Mocasque said, and he never really knows how busy he’ll be or who he’ll meet.
He does know that after all these years, he’s still not sick of fry bread.
“You go to KFC and you don’t really feel like having anymore for weeks,” Mocasque said with another laugh. “I could probably eat fry bread every day.”