Recipe Testers,

My mom’s bakery baked for Michael Jackson’s ranch, Neverland, for almost 18 years. They made deliveries everyday. They would fill the train station on the ranch with pastries, tarts and sweets whenever Michael Jackson had a party. They would bake birthday cakes for the Chimpanzees. They made giant gingerbread houses. But they also made the day to day stuff like bread, sandwiches, pastries for the house and staff. The elephants used to eat day-old bread and we would bring it out by the tubfuls. I always wanted to go out there. But just like my “magnet” e-mail I sent out about a year ago, it was always something I could do “tomorrow.” Migue or Alfredo delivered out there everyday along with all the other deliveries around town. I was always needed for something more pressing that was going on at the bakery. The deliveries worked like clockwork and my help was never needed and I could always go for fun “later.”

Then I went away to college, got married, moved all over the place and had the girls. When the girls were 4 and 5 we finally moved back to Santa Ynez in 2002 (where we only lived for 11 months before Jason got his job at Amgen in Thousand Oaks and we moved to Ventura. Two days before they were going to start school at the one-room schoolhouse I went to in Ballard)

But for the story I am going to tell you, it was during the 11 months when were living back in Solvang. We had just gone to Mr. Coyle funeral. (I will actually be sending another e-mail out soon about Mr. Coyle because he was one of the coaches and mentors who made an enormous difference in my life and now his wife brings communion to my grandmother every Sunday. Their family still continues to give and give and have a positive influence over my family)

We left Mr. Coyle’s funeral full of tears and love. He was a great man who made everyone happy. I remember the last song at Mass was “As the Saints go Marching In." I still get choked up when I think about it. Melissa and I walked from the Mission to the bakery (for those of you who have never been to Solvang my mother’s bakery backs up directly to Santa Ines Mission.) When we got to the bakery, there was an emergency with all the cakes for Michael Jackson’s father’s birthday. So they needed someone to bring them back out. I said I wanted to go. Again, my mother said “you can go anytime.” I begged and said “I’ve never been. In all the years we have baked for him I’ve never been out there. Could I please go?!” It was a busy day and she needed our help, but she said “Yes.”

My sister and I went out to Neverland with a van full of cakes. Billy and Jason were at home watching all the kids (young at the time and a bigger job than watching them all now.) When we got to Neverland, my sister was friends with the ranch manager and she invited us to stay for the birthday party. We were still dressed in our black dresses from the funeral, but said we would love to stay.

It is an enormous property and party and we went everywhere. We rode on the train, went to the movie theatre, went on all the amusement rides, and saw the animals. There were tons of celebrities. I remember being in line for the Ferris Wheel with a number of famous people. Everyone from TV to music to movies. Melissa whispered to me “That is Gwen Stephani right in front of us.” I said “It looks like the singer from No Doubt to me.” Melissa said “Maili, Gwen Stephani IS the singer from No Doubt!” (I’m really bad at names!)

Then we went over to the house. Michael Jackson had a HUGE arcade and next to it a memorabilia room with his collections of everything from Peter Pan to Spiderman. We went in the arcade to play games. I was playing Space Invaders or one of those games from the 80’s I used to be addicted to when a woman walked up to play the game next to me. I glanced to my left and it was Janet Jackson. I couldn’t stay composed enough to keep playing and I didn’t want to bother her and wanted her to enjoy her day, so I immediately lost and walked away to go find Melissa.

We stayed out there the entire day. Near the end of the day as the sun was setting we sat on the lawn under and oak tree in front of the house and talked. Saying to each other how it was a bit surreal that we were there and having this quiet conversation together as if we always sat on the lawn at Neverland everyday. As sisters we used to spend every minute of every waking hour together. We were each others constant companions. But after we got married and had kids, finding a moment to be together alone is one of the rarest things on earth. We can’t even manage to have lunch alone, which is what we tried to give each other for our birthdays last year, and we still haven’t done it and my birthday is Monday and hers in two weeks. We get to see each other, but we always have the kids, friends and extended family around, which is great. But sometimes we miss those moments of just being sisters alone. So it is only when we’re on the way to Julie Johnson’s baby shower or doing something for someone else or in the hospital waiting room that we get to be alone. In the case of this day at Neverland, it was actual “working” that justified us getting to have this kind of once in lifetime experience together. I'm so grateful that we shared it. (And for those of you who may be confused about all the Melissa's, my daughter, Melissa Madeline Brocke is named after my sister, Melissa Halme Redell.)

I also remember when Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney first came to town. They were there to film the “Say, Say, Say” video in 1983. A girl from our high school saw them on the street in Solvang and Michael bought her a bouquet of flowers. Then lots of people from the valley got to be extras in the video. Leanna Riccatelli’s dad played the sheriff in the video and we thought that was so fantastic! They filmed a lot of the video at the Union Hotel in Los Alamos…a restaurant that used to weigh you before and after dinner and would charge you by your weight. It is a historic landmark that I believe still stands. I’m not sure who owns it now.

Filming the video was the first time Michael Jackson saw the Santa Ynez Valley and he feel in love with it and bought Neverland shortly afterward. (He also bought the rights to all the Beatles songs shortly after that.)

He was an extremely talented man whose life turned into a tragedy. I think at one point his wealth was so monstrous that someone told me he made $200,000 dollars every minute. Amazing to me how that changed and how life changes and ends. One of my favorite songs of his was 'Man in the Mirror.' For me personally, I can't think of him and not remember the great day I shared with my sister. So I wanted to share that with all of you.



MissMissy said…
That was really nice!!!! I am extremely close to my sister so I can only imagine what a treasured memory that is for you.

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