YUCCA VALLEY — Two angels showed up outside Gloria and Jo Ann Barajas’ house last week. The cement statues were balanced on two of the brick fence posts around the front yard. The women didn’t know where they came from, but they knew why they were there.
“For Bobby,” Gloria said.
Bobby Barajas was 24 years old when he died Oct. 19 in a collision on Twentynine Palms Highway. It happened just few blocks north of the home where he grew up under the care of Jo Ann, his mom, and Gloria, his grandma, along with his grandpa Bob before Bob’s death. Sometimes Jo Ann says Bobby died; sometimes she says he got his wings.
Bobby and his friend, 22-year-old Tommy Geiger, were coming back from Castañeda’s with breakfast before the crash. Geiger turned left and the car was hit by a sheriff’s deputy in a patrol vehicle at 6:33 a.m. Bobby was pronounced dead at the scene.
In her bed, Jo Ann heard the impact from the crash. Gloria said she felt a weight on her chest.
Jo Ann jumped into her car and drove toward the highway, where she found the wrecked vehicles and saw her son’s clothes. Forgetting her car, she ran through the desert back home to tell her mom it was Bobby. “Bobby’s gone.”
That is the story of his death, but Gloria and Jo Ann want to remember Bobby’s life. Last week, in a family room decorated with photos of him and his friends and cousins, they welcomed a group of neighbors who were like siblings to Bobby to talk about their boy.
“Bobby had a full life — a life full of love,” Gloria said.
The 6-foot, 1-inch-tall young man was once a shy, chubby little Cub Scout — “Ai, he was such a little butterball!” Gloria exclaimed.
He started first grade at Onaga Elementary School, then transferred to Joshua Springs Christian School in second grade. Joshua Springs was where he stayed through high school.
“He was so quiet and shy when he was little, which is so weird compared to the larger-than-life personality he became,” said Danyell Smith, a neighbor who became as close as a sister.
In junior high and then high school, Bobby joined the Joshua Springs football team. The Lightning at that time were the best eight-man football team in the state. Barajas was one of the seniors who graduated with four CIF championship rings in eight-man football. Bobby’s family sold Gloria’s salsa to buy him those rings and his letterman’s jacket.
“We didn’t have that much, but we didn’t want him to go without,” Jo Ann said.
One of his coaches, Jay Dimoff, said Bobby ended up being the best offensive center and defensive lineman in all of eight-man football in California.
“As big and dominating as he was, he was a guardian angel to my son and many other players,” Dimoff wrote after Bobby’s death. “Bobby not only elevated his teammates, but made me a better coach and person.”
Dimoff imagined the opening lineup for a celestial game: “Starting center for the home team in heaven … No. 50 Bobby Barajas!”
Another of his coaches, Steve Wilson, became like a second father to Bobby, who never knew his own dad. Wilson saw something special in him.
“In football, in any sports, there are cliques,” Wilson said. Bobby was a bridge between groups — someone who didn’t judge you or put you down. “Bobby was that silent leader that people would follow. Bobby was the one who listened to them and helped them.”
It was that steadfast support that endeared Bobby to all kinds of people.
“He loved his friends. From Yucca to Twentynine Palms, he had friends, all kinds of friends,” Jo Ann said. “He accepted you, no matter who you were.”
She and Gloria recalled one surprising friend, made thanks to Bobby’s love for music. Bobby was working at the Joshua Tree Music Festival to earn tickets when he met a fellow music lover. The two men bonded over music. When he told his mom and grandma he’d made a new friend at the festival, they didn’t picture a 55-year-old retired Marine now living off the grid.
Bobby told his family his friend would be coming over.
Gloria was shocked when he did: “In walks a gray-haired man — a hippie!”
But they all took to him in the end. He was simply Bobby’s friend, one of the mob who walked through the doors and was treated like family.
When Barajas graduated, he wanted to be a firefighter and took emergency medical technician classes, but struggled. During his ride-alongs with an ambulance crew, he realized that life wasn’t for him.
Instead, he got a job at Stater Bros. He started in Yucca Valley and worked the last two years in Twentynine Palms, where he found another family — his work family.
Encouraged by his manager, he went to checker school and excelled — “Second in his class!” according to Gloria.
He started as a checker on the Fourth of July. Just like when he’d started as a box boy, his mom and grandma went to the store to see him in his new job. “We were so proud of our boy,” Gloria said.
In his perfectly pressed uniforms, he was the model employee.
Those impeccable clothes are another quirky memory of Bobby that his family now hugs close.
“From T-shirts to dress shirts, they never had a wrinkle,” Wilson said.
“Bobby had to have pressed clothes, even to go to the gym,” Danyell agreed with a laugh.
Those clothes are still hanging stiff and perfect in his closet. Looking at you when you walk into his bedroom is a big close-up photo of Marilyn Monroe, whom Bobby loved.
“He’d say, ‘I should have been born in the ’60s,’” Jo Ann said. He was fascinated with Monroe, Johnny Cash and Frankie Valli.
Near his bed hangs a photo of James Dean and the words, “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”
The epigram may have had a particular meaning for Bobby. He told his family and several friends that he never expected to see his 30th birthday. They don’t know what gave him that premonition.
Now that he’s gone, they’re thinking of him in heaven — always their angel. “We’re going to miss our Bobby because he was our world,” Jo Ann said.
He wouldn’t want them to cry, she added. “He would want us to live life to the fullest.”