(Yes, I have been working on the next Luna City installment … wherein Dr. Mindy and Xavier Gunnison-Penn get married, Richard steels himself to propose to Katie … and things happen.)

The Chapel of Love

Richard did have to admit, as the trusty and battered refrigerated van from Pryor’s Meats and BBQ bumped around that last corner in erratically-paved country lane which led to the ancestral home ranch of the many-branched Gonzales/Gonzalez clan at Rancho Rincon de los Robles, that the whole place only appeared modestly stately – and a couple of degrees less so than other historic and presumably stately structures went in Luna City and environs. The winning point for the Rancho Rincon was due to age. The Rincon de los Robles manse outscored all local competition in that regard; the magnificent and pillared classical plantation sprawl of the Wyler HQ house (copied after a famous ruined grand house in Mississippi) dated only from the late 1870s, the Beaux-Arts late Victorian commercial splendors of Town Square from the decade following, and the modest stone-built McAllister House, firmly dated from 1854. (The McAllister House was dignified by a metal plaque on a pole by the side of Route 123 designating it as a Texas Historical Monument.) The Rincon de Los Robles headquarters house now held clear victory in the age competition, as Dr. Miranda Rodriguez-Gonzalez had proved to the satisfaction of the State of Texas authorities who sat in judgement of historical matters. The very oldest wing of the Rincon del Los Robles home ranch house (the thickest-walled, darkest, and most uncomfortable part, devoid of plumbing and electricity and used principally for storage) had been proved beyond a shadow of doubt to be of late 18th Century construction, a domestic establishment founded by two sons of the minor Spanish nobleman who had been granted a lavish property on the San Antonio River, a residence continuously lived in by their descendants thereafter. The property had been considerably shrunk by two centuries of subsequent wars’ alarms, and economic vicissitudes – but due to Mindy Rodriguez-Gonzalez’s tireless efforts, the Los Robles establishment had been awarded the suitable historical plaque which made note of all this.

The formal unveiling of said plaque had been the highlight of the civic and social calendar the previous month in Luna City. That it had been positioned on the verge of Route 123 adjacent to the lay-by and turn for the gate to Los Robles, with only small signs posted half a mile in either direction notifying motorists of the presence of a historical marker was a mere bagatelle. Doctor Mindy was satisfied with the official honor paid to her family. Besides, she had more urgent matters to attend; her wedding to the peripatetic treasure-seeker, Xavier Gunnison Penn, to all appearances now the love of Dr. Mindy’s hereto arid academic life. For this event, Richard had been recruited in a dual role; as best man for the treasure-hunting Canadian, and as head caterer for all the culinary offerings aside from the main course – a whole roasted beef on a massive outdoor spit set up over a cookfire of coals which seethed like the crater of a passive volcano.

This main course was the purview of the driver of the van.  In his weekday job Andy Pryor was a petroleum engineer employed by various concerns in the shale oil business, but in private the husband of the magnificently demi-royal Patricia Wyler Pryor, doyenne of what passed for a social set in Luna City, director, and president of the drama society… also rumored to be the heir of her irascible grandfather, Doc Stephen Wyler. The second-oldest resident of Luna City, owner of the largest ranch property in Karnes County, and of most anything going in the immediate vicinity. Fortunately for all, as had often been observed, the old man mostly used his considerable social and economic powers for good, as did his granddaughter. They ruled their demesne with a light and barely perceptible hand. Patricia and her husband, with the aid of their three strapping sons, ran a custom butchering and BBQ business from a nondescript building some distance from historic Town Square. Now, Richard and Andy Pryor were on their way to the Rancho, with the wedding cake, and the various side dishes for the wedding feast all stashed on racks in the back of the van. Andy and Patricia’s oldest son, Anson had been overseeing the whole-roast-beef-onna-outdoor-spit since the day before. Richard would otherwise have wanted to know how this could be accomplished – but he was simply too busy with the wedding cake and all the various sides. The Pryors were the experts in this regard, although Richard was looking forward to picking their various brains about the process. Meanwhile, Richard’s toque, white chef’s coat – with his formal black-tie tuxedo on another hanger, shrouded in a plastic suit bag hanging from a hook in the divider in the van, was more than willing to do his duty in both roles – as caterer and best man.

The ranch house sat in a small grove of ancient oak trees, with a few desultory plantings of shrubbery and some large-leaved thickets of tropical-looking plants. The thickest of those plantings clustered around a small two-tiered stone fountain in the graveled circle before the main front door. The front prospect of the Rancho Rincon de los Robles made an uninspired gesture in the direction of formal elegance, as if designed by someone who had an elegant Southern plantation house described to them, but who had never actually seen a picture of one. The place seemed to be entirely deserted, and Richard viewed the discouraged prospect with mild alarm.

“Did we come on the wrong day?” he asked, somewhat apprehensive, and Andy grinned sideways.

“No, Ricardo – it’s all on for today. But the party is around in back.”

Andy steered the van along a barely-graveled but adequate narrow drive, leading around the side of the house. Richard was immediately reassured – there was the life of the party; strings of lights and those intricately-cut and lace-like paper banners, all flown with abandon on wires strung all across the space in the back of the house, from porches to several ancient and venerable oak trees, to the outbuildings and back again. There was the modest front of the new chapel, at some distance across what looked like a kitchen garden, flanked by an extensive complex of stables, corral, and henhouse, a garage with several tractors and four-wheel-drive vehicles parked therein … and Gunnison Penn’s ancient RV, parked in front and already adorned with more balloons, paper lace flags, and a large banner which announced, “Just Married!” in two languages. The area in between the somewhat humbler back of the sprawling old farmstead was filled in also with folding tables and chairs, and even some ordinary dining-room chairs – drafted from within, standing awkward, naked and embarrassed in the out-of-doors … Richard thought that he recognized the folding stock from the Catholic parish hall, possibly filled in with loans from the Methodists … the tables now adorned with paper tablecloths and being arrayed with centerpieces of fake flowers and garlands of real ivy, as well as droves of candles in ornate holders. The largest and longest table obviously was meant for the buffet, as it sat under a wide pavilion raised on metal legs adjacent to the back door of the old Rancho HQ house. He breathed an interior sigh of relief. All was going for the wedding as was expected. He spotted Araceli in the pavilion, giving orders to several younger members of the clan, who were carrying trays loaded with cutlery. Ah, yes – the Café kitchen brigade had everything in hand. Or maybe it was the Gonzalez/Gonzales clan kitchen brigade… and there was his right-hand person in daily command of the Café, with a notebook in her hand and a pen in the other, instead of the carafes of freshly-brewed coffee and a pitcher of cream with which she usually appeared with, at the front of the house.

“Oh, good,” she remarked, as Richard appeared from the passenger side of the van, and Andy swung the double doors at the back of the van all the way open, revealing the shelves within, stacked high with bulk food containers and boxes. “Is the cake OK? Mindy is freaking out about the cake…”

“She shouldn’t be,” Richard answered. “The cake and the topper are perfectly fine. Now that we have arrived … I will assemble them in the appropriate space.”

“Be our guest, Chef,” Araceli managed a parody of a curtsy to royalty. “The kitchen is through here.  I’ll tell Andy that it’s probably best to wheel everything up the ramp, rather than carry it all up the steps. You might want to take it all to the old butler pantry. Mind you dodge the cousins on the way through the kitchen…”

“The sisters, and the cousins and the aunts… I know,” Richard replied, somewhat grumpily.

“All you need do is to scowl at them,” Araceli replied, smartly. “You’re Richard from the Café, you know. The finest classically trained French chef and the prize of the culinary scene in Luna City, if not in the entirety of Karnes County. They all know you …”

“That’s what I’m afraid of!” Richard unsheathed the trademarked scowl from his televised Bad Boy Chef days. It had no effect whatsoever on Araceli, inured as she was through extended exposure.

“And besides,” Araceli added. “Abuela Adeliza is in the kitchen, taking command, so I would best leave it in her hands. In a bit, I’ll have to leave everything and do my maid of honor duty in getting Mindy dressed and made up for the occasion. I think that Uncle Jaimie is rather overwhelmed today. He has never coped well with this social kind of thing. And no one seriously expected Cousin Mindy ever to marry …”

Richard had never quite grasped the degree of kinship between Dr. Miranda Rodriguez-Gonzalez and Araceli Gonzalez-Gonzales, much less how exactly Dr. Mindy was kin to the man he thought of as the native laird of the Rancho – granddaughter, or niece, he suspected without much evidence. Richard also knew full well that the combined ancestral trees of the Gonzales-Gonzalez clan rather more resembled an ultra-complicated Gordian knot, which had defied for at least a century any attempt by genealogists to map anything other than the direct father-to-son line of descent of the owners of the Rancho De Los Robles. It was a general understanding that Gonzales-with-a-z were thought to be in some way descended from the oldest legitimate son of the original Spanish land grantee, and Gonzales-with-an-s were descended from the younger son. Each of the original pair; the heir and the spare, sired eighteen to twenty legitimate and less-than-legitimate offspring. Following generations until the 20th century basically repeated the same pattern, with the same score of names – often recycling names upon the death of an infant or juvenile sibling for a subsequent child and being charmingly lax in the official records with regard to marital status and the name of the maternal parent … it all had driven dedicated genealogists to a frenzy of frustration.

“It’s a tangle, indeed,” allowed the magisterial Miss Letty McAllister, the oldest inhabitant of Luna City, president emeritus of the Luna City Historical Association, when Richard had mentioned his own puzzlement in the matter, about the second year of his residency in Luna City. “But in the long run, best to just conclude that any Gonzalez and Gonzales with a connection to Luna City are cousins, first, second, removed … or any variation thereof. It saves the historians sanity in the long run … not that sanity is an overrated quality among the truly obsessed, genealogically speaking. Honestly, Stephen is of the opinion that absolute specificity only matters if you are breeding cattle or race-horses.”

“I am certain you are right,” Richard replied, and only with an effort, refrained from adding “My Lady, Your Highness, or Your Honor,” to his reply. Miss Letty McAllister was that commanding a person.

(To be continued, of course. I’m aiming for Luna City X to be done and released to the wild by mid-summer.)

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for the snippet.!

  2. Celia

    You are welcome! I’ll try to have the whole book out by July!

  3. Avatar
    Oreta Hinamon Campbell

    Yeah! New Luna City coming! I am looking forward to it!

  4. Avatar

    Celia,attempt to connect to ChicagoBoyz brings message that “you don’t have permission”. Not sure whether you are best contact, but wanted to raise that flag, thinking you know whom to contact.

    BTW, as soon as your most recent historical novel about Germans in Texas makes it to print stage, I want to order a copy. I want to send it and a few of your other books to a friend.

    • Celia

      Hi, Roy – Jonathon at Chicagoboyz is coping with a malware problem – I can’t get in either, so I messaged him yesterday.
      As for the novels about the German settlements in Texas – they are all available in print, now. The most recent is “My Dear Cousin” which has a WWII era setting – I don’t have any copies on hand at the moment, but hope to get a supply in time for a book event in Seguin at the end of May. Besides the Adelsverein Trilogy, there is “Daughter of Texas” and “Deep in the Heart”, which are a kind of prequel to the Trilogy, “The Golden Road” which follows the adventures of one of the younger characters in his venture to the California Gold Rush, and two sequels; “The Quivera Trail” (1870s Texas) and “Sunset and Steel Rails” – 1884-1900, which wraps up a situation hinted at in “Daughter of Texas”.