The Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm celebrates their 48th anniversary this year at mid-summer – a well-established institution after a rocky beginning during the Summer of Love. And rocky would be the correct term to describe the original property; five forlorn and overgrown acres in a gentle bend of the San Antonio River, a bare quarter-mile from the pleasant little town of Luna City. The property was in the distant past, a part of a generous tract granted by Spain to Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez or Gonzales. Over the last quarter of the 19th century, much of the tract was sold off to various new owners, including the family of Morgan P. Sheffield, a moderately well-to-do gentleman from Philadelphia. Morgan Sheffield was diagnosed with tuberculosis around 1895 and advised to move to a more temperate climate for his health.

While the climate of South Texas proved to be restorative to Mr. Sheffield’s health, the five acres of land was too rocky to farm in a traditional manner and too small to support more than a handful of cows. When the town of Luna City itself was planned, there was some thought given to establishing a hotel and spa on what was undoubtedly a pleasant situation on the banks of the San Antonio River on the outskirts of the proposed town. Attempts to dig a deep well on the site struck a thermal spring of naturally hot water, but that was the last of that run of good luck for a long time. The San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad bypassed Luna City, and Mr. Sheffield’s property. The hotel and spa were never built, the hot water well capped. During the 1930s, Mr. Sheffield’s heirs established a small motor court on the property, in the hopes of attracting vacationers; they built a row of small cottages, a combination bathhouse/lavatory built of concrete blocks, and paved areas for travel trailers, in the hopes of enticing travelers on Route 123 between San Antonio and the coast to come and stay for a night or two.

However, travelers and campers remained stubbornly un-enticed; the cottages disintegrated through disuse and lack of maintenance, and the acreage became severely overgrown. In 1967 the property passed into the ownership of Morgan P. Sheffield’s great-grand-niece, Judith “Judy” Stillwell, a native of Austin, mostly because no one else in the remaining family really wanted it. Judith Stillwell was then a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, and the despair of her upright and generally conventional middle-class family. 1968 was the so-called Summer of Love, and all things counter-culture swamped practically every college campus in the land – including Judy Stillwell and a circle of friends, which included her live-in boyfriend, Sefton Grant. They embraced practically every ‘ism’ going, with near-religious fervor; vegetarianism, pacifism, nudism, paganism, and small-c communism. At the beginning of summer vacation, Judy, Sefton and a group of about forty other devotees – most of them fellow students at UT – conceived a grand plan to establish a New Age commune, where they would all live in harmony with nature. Where to plant their ideal Age of Aquarius? Why of course, the parcel which Judy had inherited, sight unseen, would be perfect. Her family agreed, over considerable misgivings – although they did extract as a condition of their approval and initial monetary support – that she and Sefton marry.  Much to the astonishment of the Stillwells, Judy and Sefton acceded to that demand, and were married before a Justice of the Peace within days.

They set out from Austin on the first day of the summer break; a long convoy of rattle-trap student vehicles, loaded down with everything thought necessary to set up their commune. Although students and addled with more than the usual quantity of late Sixties nonsense, there was a substantial streak of practicality, and among some at least, a willingness to engage in hard work. Sefton Grant, the son of a livestock farmer from Noodle, in Jones County typified that element.

Sefton realized almost at once upon arriving at the site of the new commune – a substantial grove of oak and pecan trees, deeply tangled with wild mustang grape vines – that subsistence farming would purely be out of the question; it would be a project of years to rid the best soil of rocks and improve it with manure and compost. He suggested grazing goats, and raising chickens. This suggestion was discussed and ratified over the period of a week by the commune members, while they worked at setting up living quarters. To several trailers were added the first yurt, which eventually became the Grant family home, a series of tents, and a number of free-form shack/shed/hovels built from scrap lumber, cardboard, construction leftovers, and sheets of plywood. Early on, the members discovered a substantial source of raw materials for their projects at the Karnesville City Dump, some eight miles south of the commune site. The hot well was uncapped, and an old windmill repaired to pump hot water into the only remaining structure from the campground – the lavatory and bathhouse.

But before the end of the year – even before the end of summer – the commune itself began dissolving. Fully a dozen members felt obliged to return to UT and complete their studies there in the fall, although they continued to consider the Age of Aquarius their more or less permanent home and to return there at intervals, especially at the time of the midsummer solstice. Two male commune members had draft numbers come up, and being no longer students, had to report for military service. Three more, being not yet of legal age, were tracked down and retrieved by their outraged families. The others, all but Judy and Sefton, drifted away before the decade was out, having concluded with some degree of chagrin, that living off the land and in harmony with nature involved too much backbreaking physical labor in the South Texas summer heat. It was also much more uncomfortable then it had sounded in long and substance-addled discussions in the Student Union. Only Sefton and Judy remained constant, eventually raising two sons and a daughter and achieving some degree of eccentric comfort in their chosen lifestyle.

They acquired beehives, goats, chickens – Judy being much more inclined than Sefton to consider them as pets – and the manure from the latter slowly improved the patch where they established a thriving truck garden. Judy, who dabbled in various arcane household skills, including weaving, herbal medicines, fortune-telling, and macramé-knotting, worked out recipes for hand-made soaps, and goat-milk cheeses, and established a tiny but thriving business selling them at local markets, along with honey and fresh vegetables in season. In time, they were able to pay to have an electric line run out to the campground, on the grounds that people paying to camp there expected it, although their own home establishment depended on solar panels, a wind-mill and kerosene lanterns.

And every mid-summer, the long-dispersed commune members return; middle-aged and prosperous, to fill up the campground and reminisce about that long-ago summer with Judy and Sefton, recalling youthful dreams and illusions, to light a bonfire in the grove and dance sky-clad to the Stones, the Doors and Janis.

The Grants’ three children – all now well-grown, also prosperous and utterly conventional – do not come to visit during that week. There are things which once seen, cannot be unseen.

 

 

There are three official historical markers in Town Square, much cherished by local citizens. The most noted is the one marking the site where Old Charley Mills was nearly lynched by infuriated citizens, which action was forestalled by the timely intervention of somewhat less-infuriated but more clear-thinking individuals, who included Doc Wyler’s father, Albert Wyler and his younger brother Thomas Wyler, the Reverend Calvin Rowbottom, then senior minister of the Luna City First Methodist Church, and a handful of others whose irreproachable  respectability was of such a degree that they were able with reason and persuasion, to turn their fellow citizens aside from such an irrevocable action. The second official historical marker is set into the wall of the building now housing Luna Café and Coffee and marks the site of the last officially noted personal gunfight on the streets of Luna City in 1919; this being a duel between Don Antonio Gonzales and Eusebio Garcia Maldonado. The only casualties were the radiator of Don Antonio’s Model-A sedan, a city street-light and a mule hitched to a wagon parked farther down the square, and felled by a wild shot from Eusebio’s revolver.

The third historical marker is set into the red brick and neo-classical style exterior wall of the what was once the Luna City Savings & Loan, but now houses city offices and the Chamber of Commerce. The Savings & Loan was a casualty of the Depression, closing its doors in 1933; since then, most Lunaites must do their bank business in Karnesville – but in the evanescently prosperous decade of the 1920s, it was a temple of the local economy. It even looked rather like a temple, a smaller mirror of the Luna City consolidated public school across Town Square – but in January, 1922, that magnificent neo-classical façade concealed a weakness: the bank’s massive safe was an older model, and vulnerable to a form of safe-cracking which was the forte of the quartet of bank- and railroad-robbing Newton brothers, of Uvalde, Texas. The mastermind of the gang, brother Willis Newton had procured a list of banks with old safes from a corrupt insurance official, and methodically worked their way through it. None of their bank heists were particularly notable for the size of the haul but they regularly cleaned out everything of value from a targeted bank, including small change and the contents of safe deposit boxes, striking early – usually in the middle of the night – and often, and making a clean getaway as well. In other words, the Newton boys and their safe-cracking expert, Brentwood “Brent” Glasscock, practiced bank robbery assembly-line fashion. Regular and successful looting of small-town banks amounted to more in the aggregate over a long period than an occasional spectacular and more dangerous raid against a bigger target.

But Luna City proved to be more than a match for the Newton boys, through a couple of fortunate circumstances. The first was that the local telephone exchange had just that very week been relocated to new premises, and the second – that Albert Wyler and a number of fellow ranch owners and cattlemen from across Karnes County were having a post-New-Years get-together at the Cattleman Hotel, a get-together involving much marathon yarn-telling and a certain amount of well-disguised alcohol consumption.

Although Karnes County was by tradition and practice not completely ‘dry’, at this time the United States labored under the burden of the Volstead Act, which likely only inconvenienced casual social drinkers … including Albert Wyler and his friends, some of whom – like Albert himself – had also been volunteer Rough Riders with Teddy Roosevelt’s cavalry company twenty-five years before. Luna City was, after all, the home town of Charles Everett Mills, bootlegger extraordinaire. Sometime around two in the morning, Albert Wyler excused himself from the gathering in the Cattleman Hotel’s second floor small salon and smoking room, pleading a call of nature and retiring to the room which he had taken for the night, for convenience, rather than returning in the early morning hours to the Wyler main house, which was a mere two miles from the Cattleman. Little did he expect the good fortune that would come from this circumstance. Even as Albert Wyler made his excuses to his fellows, receiving a certain amount of ribald teasing in response, Willis Newton was silently shimmying up the side of the building which had formerly housed the telephone exchange, and cutting what he assumed was the main line, thus rendering the whole of Luna City unable to communicate to the outside world … or even from telephone to telephone within city limits.

Unbeknown to Willis Newton, he had gone to the wrong building to sever the telephone wire, and during his brief absence from the gathering of cattlemen, Albert Wyler stepped out on the second-floor gallery for a breath of fresh air. Before rejoining his fellows, he looked down into the shadowed square, faintly illuminated by the streetlights of the time, and noticed a large Studebaker automobile, with headlamps dimmed, idling in the street before the Savings and Loan. Albert noted this initially with mild curiosity and then with growing concern. Automobiles were not uncommon in Luna City at that date; however, ownership of one was sufficiently rare so as to render each easily recognizable to a knowledgeable resident of the area. And Albert did not recognize the Studebaker at all. In those few moments, the conviction was formed in his mind – as he so related later – that there was nothing good going on, what with a strange automobile, it’s engine running in the street in front of the Luna City Savings and Loan. Indeed, this was the customary stratagem of the Newton gang – small town, dead of night in the middle of winter, fast and powerful automobile for a quick getaway. So firm was Albert’s instant conviction of this, that he hurried back to the gathering, exclaiming,

“Fellows, grab your irons – I think there’s a gang about to rob the bank!”

At that very instant, and as if to add emphasis to Albert’s words, Brent Glasscock blew the door of the massive safe – using a combination of nitroglycerine forced into the slight gap between the safe door and the safe itself, and setting it off with dynamite caps. The explosion was massive; not only did it open the safe, it also blew out the front door, every glass window at the front of the bank, and rattled windows all along the square. It also wakened every resident – and there were more of them in that day than this – who lived over a shop on Town Square, including Charles Abernathy, of Abernathy Hardware. (The father of Hiram Abernathy, grandfather of Martin and great-grandfather of Jess.)

Charles also looked down from the second floor window of the building which housed his enterprise and his family, and being closer to the Savings and Loan, had an even better view – or he would have, if he were not so near-sighted as to require eye glasses. But he could see the Studebaker, and the blurred forms of the robbers, even as three of the gang dashed back into the bank to grab what they could from the blown safe. Charles Abernathy caught up his father’s lever-action Winchester shotgun which had ever been the Abernathy’s first choice when it came to protecting their home, business and high-value stock, and blasted away.

Two of the Newton gang stood fast, with their own weapons and blasted back, not with any particular effect but to waken everyone who had not been wakened by the explosion in the Savings & Loan. Albert Wyler and his friends were also doubling through Town Square from the front of the Cattleman Hotel, howling and whooping like banshees, and firing their own sidearms. That there were no human casualties in this encounter is doubtless due to several factors. The Newton boys, unlike a number of other robbery gangs of that and an earlier era, had a demonstrated reluctance to add murder charges to that of robbery, in the event that they were ever captured and brought to trial. They were scrupulous in that respect, preferring to menace, scoop and skedaddle – hence their preference for minimizing risk by robbing banks when no one was likely to be around. That they were not casualties themselves was due to Charles Abernathy’s near-sightedness, and the amount of alcohol consumed by Albert Wyler’s companions.

Realizing that the element of surprise was lost, and that elements of the local citizenry were aroused, and perfectly willing to make a fight of it, the Newton gang prudently cut their losses and ran for safety, having only had time to empty out a small portion of the safe’s contents. They fled with the Studebaker’s engine roaring – waking up at last that portion of Luna City which had managed to so far to sleep through the explosion and the subsequent exchange of gunfire. Law enforcement was alerted in a timely fashion, but fortune smiled belatedly on the Newton gang, and they were able to shake off pursuit. It is a matter of record that they were somewhat shaken by their hairsbreadth escape in Luna City; their next recorded robbery of any substance took place in Toronto, Canada, the following year – nearly as far away from Luna City as you could get, without departing from the North American continent entirely.

There are still some obvious small chips and divots in the lower outside walls of the old building which housed the Savings and Loans, which are still pointed out to visitors – supposed to have been caused by one of Charles Abernathy’s missed shots, on a chilly January early morning in 1922.

 

 

 

Spring 2016 Newsletter-1

Spring 2016 Newsletter-2

Pryors Meats&BBQ

For Pryor’s – which provides game processing services during hunting season, and weekend BBQ year round

Mills Farm - Logo with Lettering

The wholly corporate-owned event and entertainment venue.

Yes – appropriate logos for the businesses which play a large to middling part of life in Luna City …

 

 

 

 

 

And Abernathy Hardware, which was updated in about 1930, and why mess with success?

And Abernathy Hardware, which was updated in about 1930, and why mess with success?

For the coffee shop on Town Square that is the usual morning gathering place.

For the coffee shop on Town Square that is the usual morning gathering place.

LCISD - Elementary School

LCISD – Elementary School

Many are the educational fads which have swept school districts across our fair land in the last half-century – New Math, Whole-word reading and other such ilk beloved of the advanced establishments purporting to teach our teachers. Fortunately, when it comes to the Luna City Independent School District, very few of those ill-considered pedagogic fads have come to roost permanently, or at least their roost was not long enough to damage without possibility of repair the intellectual development of those children trusted to the local educational establishment.

And for those parents sufficiently unhappy with the LCISD, there was always the outlet of a grimly old-fashioned Catholic grade school, St. Scholastica’s in Karnesville, where the children wore the traditional school uniforms – including white shirts and school-patterned-plaid neckties for the boys – and the handful of teaching nuns wielded stout rulers with the expertise of Babe Ruth in his prime.

But on the whole, the parents of Luna City and environs are content with the elementary and high schools in Luna City – after all, most of them attended and graduated from them in their day, often having been taught by the same teachers. Indeed, Miss Letty McAllister’s tenure as kindergarten and first-grade teacher began in 1947 and ended – under half-hearted protest from all concerned – in 1990, so it was entirely possible to have had a young student’s grandmother or grandfather face the formidable Miss Letty on the first day of school in the high-ceilinged classroom arrayed with the small-sized desks which had been bought in 1920 … desks which were still equipped with little round holes in the top right corner to accommodate bottles of ink … a classroom in which the faint odor of chalk lingered like an exotic perfume. Miss Letty missed her classroom in her years of official retirement. (The desks were eventually sold in the antique market for an eye-poppingly gratifying sum early in the 2000s, and replaced with high-quality small-sized wooden tables and chairs.)

But retirement did not end Miss Letty’s teaching career; dear me, no.

Among the educational heresies which were dropped from the high school curriculum around the time that the new high school building was constructed were mandatory home economics classes; that is, cooking and sewing. Most parents – and indeed most students – had the vague sense that educational time given over to that was wasted time. Girls – and boys too – who wanted to learn to cook and sew had already acquired those skills from their parents or by other means of instruction by the time they hit high school. And those (admittedly few) students who were passionately interested in haute cuisine and needlework had already gone far, far beyond learning to make meatloaf and construct a drawstring denim gym-bag. Pointless to waste five hours a week for a semester on those projects … but the home economics kitchen classroom with the adjoining room which could be set up as a dining area still remain in active use.

Geronimo “Jerry” Gonzales (a second cousin of Jaimie) while in his tenure as Luna City Superintendent of Schools (which lasted about half as long as Miss Letty’s as a teacher) suggested sometime around the mid-1990s that some kind of life-skills class ought to be instituted in the curriculum for junior or perhaps sophomore-year students. Jerry, as one of the bookish and intellectual Gonzaleses, was singularly unencumbered by conventional pedagogic idiocies: the class was instituted in the following academic year and has been continued ever since.

Jerry’s Gonzales’ mind-blowing stroke of genius with regard to the life-skills class was to have a wide-ranging curriculum of practical skills taught by volunteer experts in the Luna City community, who might do a single classroom hour – or as long as two weeks worth. Jess Abernathy, for instance; teaches financial management. How to set up a household budget, manage a checking account, fill out a simple tax return. Jaimie Gonzales does a down and dirty auto maintenance course; checking oil and fluids, how to safely change a flat tire. Roman Gonzalez, the construction foreman teaches simple household repairs and residential trouble-shooting. This comes in handy especially when graduates strike out on their own following graduation, and find their own apartment in Karnesville, or Beeville, or the big city, San Antonio. Even Doc Wyler contributes; a single hour-long class on how to interview for a job.

But Miss Letty’s emergency First Aid class is a stand-out, and in more ways than one. Oh, yes, Miss Letty covers the usual First Aid classics; broken limbs, snake, spider and animal bites, splints and tourniquets, bandages and all that. Then there is the emergency child-birth portion of Miss Letty’s class, for which she brings in some particularly graphic visual aids. (Film in the early years, of late on a DVD.) Graphic … as in no portion of the delivery process veiled from the delicate sensibilities of the susceptible. That at least one student will either faint or throw up is a constant to be relied upon; Miss Letty incorporates the treatment of those conditions into the lesson plan. Most students depart from Miss Letty’s classes firmly and silently swearing a vow of chastity.

It is a matter of quiet community pride that the incidents of teenage pregnancy in Luna City is refreshingly below the national average – as are also STD infection rates.

 

After dark on Town Square, the Saturday before Christmas

After dark on Town Square, the Saturday before Christmas

There are towns all across South Texas who go more all-out for Christmas than Luna City; illuminations, parades, evening street parties, complete with snow-making machinery and live music, craft markets set up in the central town square, pageants and posadas, with Joseph and Mary on a donkey walking through town looking for shelter… Luna City does a little of that. Usually the parade of Santa arriving is on the last Saturday before Christmas Day, although what with the development of inexpensive mini-light strings, nets and icicle lights, the city management has taken a lead in illuminating the trees in Town Square, beginning the first weekend in December. Volunteers from the Chamber of Commerce, fraternal organizations and the Scout troop assist in running and securing dozens of extension cords from the electrical main in the storeroom underneath the bandstand, and wrapping the tree trunks and branches with strings of white mini-lights. There are lights ornamenting the dome roof, columns and railings of the bandstand as well. Most of the businesses lining the Square also put up lights, along with decorated trees and wreaths.

Martin Abernathy emerges from his apartment over the hardware store last thing at 10 PM (when the evening news ends) with the bandstand storeroom keys and turns off the lights. Keeping the square lit up throughout every night in December would place a considerable burden on the city budget. Besides; the Abernathys, the Steins, and a handful of other Lunaites live upstairs from their businesses, and who wants all that light pouring into your bedroom windows at night? It’s the courteous thing to do. So, the lights go off at 10 PM; peaceful moonlight and the lights from the four old-fashioned street lamps fall undisturbed on the sleeping town. Still, almost everyone enjoys the seasonal lighting which transforms Town Square into a fairytale land of sparkling trees. The oldest residents even grudgingly acknowledge that modern technology has wrought some improvement to the Christmastime appearance of the square… back in their day, it was just a string or two of colored lights around the ground-floor store windows and they were grateful for it!

On that Saturday before Christmas, organizations such as the ladies’ auxiliaries of various churches set up booth between the trees. They are selling handicrafts, raffling a quilt or two, or homemade baked goods. A couple of food trucks from Karnesville and as far as San Antonio set up on the side opposite from the Café, and Andy Pryor’s family brings their enormous portable BBQ in time for a lunch crowd. The Grants are always there, with their free-range eggs, honey and goat-milk soaps. In the last couple of years, they have taken to bringing some of their younger goats, as a sort of impromptu petting zoo. By noon, all vehicle traffic is stopped from going into the square. One of the fraternal organizations has a very elaborate miniature train made from 55-gallon drums, powered by the engine out of an old industrial mower. A couple of drums and some bits of creatively cut galvanized roofing made the locomotive. The cars are made from single drums, with a generous oval cut from one side, and then the other mounted on a set of wheels. The train goes trundling around the square, usually with a full load of excited toddlers and small children.

As darkness falls, the activity increases. The kids from the Luna High School chorus perform, standing in the steps of the bandstand; they perform a brief program of traditional carols for about half an hour, followed by elements of the Mighty Moth Marching band – not marching, and usually playing the same set of carols. No one minds very much. People walk around the square, admiring the lights and visiting with friends. A number of the businesses remain open into the early evening, offering hospitality; plates of Christmas cookies and stollen, slices of fruitcake, and hot drinks to all. The Abernathys have hot chocolate, and the Steins began offering mulled wine a few years ago which proved enormously popular. Hot spiced apple cider is also very popular. The café, as always, has hot coffee.

At about eight in the evening, Santa Claus arrives; sometimes on the back of the Luna City Volunteer Fire Department’s old hook and ladder truck – which was replaced decades ago and relegated to the historical society’s car barn. The VFD members have usually set up a throne for Santa under the domed roof of the bandstand, and for the next hour and a half, children line up (the smaller ones holding on to their parents’ hands) to tell Santa what they want for Christmas. Santa – white-bearded and clad in a long red robe rather like the traditional Germanic Santa – curiously sounds like Doc Wyler. For most – especially the children – this is the height of the season, only matched by unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. And when the last child has confided their Christmas wishes, and taken away, yawning and confidently expecting those wishes to be granted within days, Lunaites gradually disperse to their homes. The Café closes, the Steins and the Abernathys close and lock their doors, although when the square is finally deserted, Martin goes across the Square with the bandstand storeroom key to turn off the lights.

And that is a very merry Luna Christmas.

Wyler Ranch House

The “Big House” at the Wyler Exotic Game Ranch – this will also appear as a chapter head illustration in the next Luna City compliation.

POW-MIAflagLuna City is well-equipped with military veterans, as are many small towns in fly-over country – especially the old South. The draft is only somewhat responsible for this. After all, it was ended formally more than four decades past. But the habit and tradition of volunteering for military service continues down to this very day, with the result that veterans of various services and eras are thick on the ground in Luna City – while a good few continue as reservists. There are not very many pensioned retirees, though; Clovis Walcott is one of those few, having made a solid career in the Army in the Corps of Engineers, and then in the same capacity as a Reservist. But he is the exception; mostly, Lunaites generally have served a single hitch, or for the duration of a wartime mobilization. Then they come home, pick up those threads of the life they put aside, or weave together the tapestry of a new one. What they did when they were in the military most usually lies lightly on them, sometimes only as skin-deep as a tattoo … and sometimes as deep as a scar.

The oldest veterans among present-day Lunaites are from the Big One – World War Two, although that number has diminished to a handful in recent years. Doc Wyler, who served in the Army Air Corps is the most notable representative of that cohort. Miss Letty’s late brother Douglas McAllister, the eminent historian, was also in the Army Air Corps, and Miss Letty herself served in the European theater as a Red Cross volunteer. The greater portion of the Luna City VFW post, though, are of Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans, with a younger cohort – including Joe Vaughn and Chris Mayall – having served in various capacities in more recent operations in the Middle East.

There is not much need in Luna City for very elaborate observances of Veteran’s Day; flowers and wreaths appear on the steps of the pale obelisk in Town Square which is the war memorial. The Abernathys’ display window has a pair of American flags with the staffs crossed, over a large vase of red, white, and blue artificial flowers, and a fan of those magnets shaped like loops of yellow ribbon with various patriotic and veteran-supporting mottoes on them. The notice boards outside of the various churches make respectful note of the day … but in the main, the most notable civic event marking the eleventh day of the eleventh month is the late afternoon BBQ at the VFW post. This is more of an open pot-luck; the VFW members pass the hat for the purchase of brisket, pork roasts, sausages and chicken quarters … and everyone else brings salads, bread, chips, and relishes. The bar has been well-stocked with beer and soft drinks for weeks. The weather is usually mild – neither hot or cold, although rain has threatened in some years – so the party spills out from the clubhouse, out onto the paved patio under the trees which line the riverbank. The air is rich with the good smells of roasting meats slathered with the spicy sauce provided by Pryor’s Good Meats BBQ. The veterans and their families nibble on a bit of this and that, as they reminisce and gossip. Sometimes someone works up an impromptu flag football game, played on the mown grass out in back of the Tip Top which sometimes serves as an overflow parking lot during Founder’s Day, six weeks before.

The only thing which might strike a casual visitor as curious is that table set up in the corner with a plate and silverware for one, a beer mug empty and turned upside down, even as unopened bottles of beer accumulate during the afternoon and evening. There is a small square of black fabric draping this table, which is centered underneath the POW/MIA banner which hangs on the wall – the table set for those who are not able to return to Luna City for the Veteran’s Day BBQ at the VFW. Their friends buy them a beer, though. By unspoken understanding, the money paid for those beers goes into a gallon glass jar which once contained pickle relish … and at the end of the evening the cans and bottles lined up on the black-draped table are put back into the storeroom. The day after the BBQ, the money in the pickle relish jar is forwarded to a military charity which sends comforts to those troops deployed overseas.

And that is Veteran’s Day in Luna City.

The little town of Luna City is not a city at all, as most people understand these things. It is a small Texas town grown from a single stone house built by an immigrant Bohemian stone-mason in 1857, at a place where an old road between San Antonio, Beeville, and points south forded a shallow stretch of river. The railway was supposed to come through where Luna City was planned to be – and the city fathers confidently expected it to become the county seat. Alas, when Dr. Stephen Wyler’s aunt Bessie eloped with a smooth-talking engineer on the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, her father – who owned much of the land in the district – was furious. The railway, he stormed, was an invitation to vice and debauchery of every kind, a threat to the virtue of young women and girls – and so he saw that it never came to Luna City; although there had been a generous space allotted in early plans of Luna City for the usual magnificent Beaux Arts-style county courthouse in the square at the center of town. That expectation also came to naught; the county seat stayed in Karnesville, and since then, Luna City has made very little effort to attract the casual tourist.

Travelers on the farm-to-market road going north or south will pass by the Tip-Top Ice House, Grocery and Gas, perhaps note the four-square house of limestone blocks owned by the last descendant of Arthur Wells McAllister – the surveyor who first drew up the plat of Luna City in 1876, and drive on. They might also note the metal towers, ladders and chutes of Bodie Feed & Seed Supply, looming on the distant horizon – but definitely will miss the disintegrating sign advertising the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm. Anyone looking for that establishment already knows where it is … and that clothing there is optional. Jess Abernathy, who does the finances for Sefton and Judy Grant has mentioned to them now and again, that they ought to get a new sign or have the old one repainted and repaired, but Sefton and Judy aren’t into the realities of advertising and commerce in this … or really, any age. This exasperates Jess, but then she is the fifth generation of a Luna family with commerce bred into their bones and blood; her father and grandfather run Abernathy Hardware, housed for all this century, every decade of the previous and fifteen years of the one before that in a looming Victorian commercial building on Town Square with a cornice which looks as if it is about to topple over onto the sidewalk below.

Sefton and Judy arrived sometime in the summer of 1968 in a colorful cavalcade of carefree spirits intending to establish a communal farm; forty-five years later, they are the only members of it who remain. Odd as it may seem at first or even second glance, they are valued members of the community. They set up in Town Square every other Saturday morning, under the biggest of the oak trees, and sell produce – which are sometimes a slow-seller, because in Luna City, most residents have a vegetable garden themselves – but also eggs, honey, home-made goat-milk cheeses, herbs, and hand-made soap. The Grant’s vegetable patch has the advantage of deep and rich soil on the bank of the river, and generous applications of well-cured compost seasoned with goat-manure. A single disintegrating Airstream trailer is still parked there in the field which is supposed to be the campground, a relic of the past. Sometimes a relatively broke or undiscriminating traveler rents it for a couple of days or weeks; the Englishman who manages the Luna City Café and Coffee lives there now. Only a few residents of Luna City refer scornfully to the Grant place as Hippie Hollow. Mrs. Sook Walcott is one of these; if Jess Abernathy has commerce in her bones and blood, Sook Walcott has all that, tempered with the acid of pure acquisitive capitalism. The Grants are liked, and Sook Walcott is not … more about that, later.

The tea room and thrift shop housed in the front room of the old McAllister house is open only two days a week, which discourages casual visitors, but not anyone who knows Miss Leticia McAllister; the last woman in this part of the world who always wears a hat and gloves when she leaves the house, not just for early Sunday services at the Luna City First Methodist Church. The formidable Leticia McAllister – known as Miss Letty, even during those decades when she taught first grade in the Luna City Elementary school – is notoriously impatient, especially of anything reputed to be humorous. On the occasion of the centenary of Luna City, Miss Letty and her older brother, Doctor Douglas McAllister (the doctorate was in history, which he taught at a private university in San Antonio) compiled a commemorative volume of local history, gleaned from the memories of the oldest residents; scandals, shenanigans both political and sexual, the last gunfight in Luna City (which happened in front of the Luna Café and Coffee) old feuds and new, controversies over every imaginable small-town issue – it’s all there in A Brief History of Luna City, Texas, published privately in San Antonio, 1976, price $18.25 plus sales tax. The Luna Café & Coffee still has a small and dusty stack of them behind the cash register counter – although the manager/chef at the Luna Café & Coffee has no idea of what they are or what to do with them. Where he comes from, a hundred years is practically yesterday. Miss Letty’s erratically-open tea room also has a couple of boxes in inventory. Dr. McAllister, whose puckish sense of humor was not appreciated by his sister, was dissuaded from titling it A Hundred Years of Lunacy in South Texas on the very fair grounds that other places possessed a history every bit as scandalous, and that it would somehow encourage local residents to be called Lunatics, rather than Luna-ites … and that simply would not do at all.

Luna City, you will gather from this short introduction, does not precisely discourage visitors, but neither does it welcome them effusively. Luna-ites prefer to take a quiet measure of such visitors who do venture into the heart of downtown, and treat them with exquisite Texas courtesy. Those who choose to remain longer than a quiet stroll around the square or stop for a lunch at the Luna Café & Coffee – never doubt their welcome. And if they fall under the spell, and stay, within four or five years, they are as established and respected as any of the original Luna-ite families … McAllisters, Gonzalez-with-a-z and Gonzales-with-an-s, Abernathy-who runs-the-hardware-store, Wyler-of-the-Lazy-W-Ranch, the Bodies of the feed mill and all the rest. Luna-ites have no urge or need to disdain relative newcomers. They know exactly who they are, and do not need proving it to anyone.