It’s a well-known phrase from Mexico — “Mi casa es su casa”. Mexican hospitality is legendary and was probably one of the things that attracted my Dad during his first visit, back in 1988.

My stepmother, Martha, is from Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico. She married my Dad 22 years ago, and moved to Calistoga, California. Equipped with little more than a positive outlook, lots of life experience, her medical training, and zero English, she embarked on one of the biggest journeys of her life.

The mobile home, when it was for sale in 2008

How they met is a story in itself. Back before the days of Internet dating, there were pen pals. Remember those? They corresponded, talked on the phone through interpreters, and eventually she invited him to Mexico for Christmas. He fell in love (not just with her but with her family and the people) and asked her to marry him. She said yes. Of course it was a difficult journey for Martha. At the age of 48 — and never before married, she gave up her career, had to learn to speak English, and embraced American life all while giving up close contact with her extended family in Mexico. If anyone could do it, it was her.

Martha’s boundless energy and enthusiasm endeared her to everyone. All the neighbors in their little Sonoma mobile home park became her friends.

“In Mexico they kill the stepmother!” she half joked, deathly afraid of meeting my Dad’s children. Of course, we all loved her like everyone else did.

Two years ago, my Dad died. Soon after, Martha sold the mobile and moved back to Mexico to be with her family. Everyone knew it was best for her, but for me, it was like losing them both — my Dad and my stepmom — at once.

To my astonishment, when she announced last month she was coming back to California for a 3-week visit, she was offered to stay with Dora and Jose  – the very people to whom she had sold the mobile home.

They invited not only Martha, but also her two nieces and me. I was worried this would be too much for Martha: staying in the same house she had given up, with memories of my Dad everywhere. But she handled it with grace, and I was the one it proved to be too much for.

I spent a sleepless night in this home, feeling that everything was the same –  the same carpet, the same neighbors – but everything was different: My Dad wasn’t there. Before I left, Jose told me, “This is your house. You are welcome here any time. Even after Martha leaves, come by and stay here any time you wish.”

Although I knew how generous Mexican families could be, the kindness of this family really moved me. “My house is your house” now has an entirely new meaning for me.