A Diversion – The Tales of Luna City

The Daughter Unit and I were watching Northern Exposure this week, and I had an errant thought; what would a town like Cecily be like, if it were in South Texas? A charming and quirky place, full of slightly skewed, interesting people, with an eccentric history all it’s own. And before long, we had come up with Luna City, Texas, and a whole long cast of characters, drawn from people we know, or have met, and little towns that we have visited, or know about. Eventually, this will be another book. It seems to me at times like this, with news of horrific or distressing events arriving in wholesale lots … well, a bit of mental refuge might be in order. If such is not to your taste, or seems terribly frivolous … well, then skip over to the next post.)

Final Cover with Lettering - smallerThe 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 would be – and the city fathers confidently expected it to become the county seat. Alas, when Dr. Stephen Wyler’s great-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 Saturday morning, under the biggest of the oak trees, and sell vegetables – 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 lived there for six months. 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 Episcopal church. The formidable Leticia McAllister – always 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 discourage visitors, exactly; 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 distain relative newcomers. They know exactly who they are, and do not need proving it to anyone.

21 thoughts on “A Diversion – The Tales of Luna City”

  1. I started thinking “sounds like Prairie Home Companion”. Whimsical writing; almost want to visit Luna City. How many pages do you suppose A Brief History of Luna City has?

  2. Oh, I would guess about 300 … with illustrations.
    And PHC is one of the other minor inspirations for this little adventure – only that I’m not a total *sshole like Garrison Keillor, and I dearly love the small towns in Texas that are providing material for this … unlike he — who seems to have a nice line in passive-aggressive contempt for the real citizens of small-town Minnesota.
    There is no “real” Luna City – but if you visited Comfort, Fredericksburg, Bulverde, Elmendorf, Gonzales, Goliad, Karnes City, Sisterdale and about a dozen others — you’d be seeing bits and pieces of it.

  3. This is cute! I like such scenarios, at least in measured doses. It reminds me a bit of how I felt about Beaver Island in Michigan when I first got acquainted with it.

  4. Repairing machinery and installing computer controls has taken me to Kapar Wire in Shiner, TX a number of times. Haven’t seen Goliad, but have stayed in Gonzales, Shiner, Halletsville. Often when at a jobsite I will unwind from long days by going for an hour plus run. See a lot more of the personality of a town that way. Even tho I don’t know the local stories, I can imagine some of them. For instance, I can hear sounds and enjoy scents as well as spot details I would not if driving thru a neighborhood. More than a few times I’ve wondered about neighbors opinions about one another’s yards, mused on which of the locals use some pathway I’ve discovered.

    The road thru Fredricksburg had several of Texas’ many historical markers. If time allows, I try to stop at these. It was in this area that I first began to realize how a large chunk of Texas had been settled by Germans. With delight I read some of Sgt Mom’s historical snippets which took off with the German heritage and fleshed it out.

  5. Dave – the name came out of the blue to my daughter – but it is the set-up for about six or seven long-running gags.
    I have read any number of local histories (heck, the Tiny Publishing Bidness has done several of them!), and they are absolutely chock-full of interesting/scandalous/amusing incidents and characters, which have already inspired this. And some of the things we have picked up from local people at book events are just as delicious. A couple of years ago, we heard all about a local sheriff who shot himself in the leg, when his holstered weapon managed to get hung up in his office chair as he stood up … juicy little tidbits like that.

  6. Repairing machinery and installing computer controls has taken me to Kapar Wire in Shiner, TX a number of times.
    Which reminds me of the many Shiner Songs. This is The Shiner[Beer] Song that I remember from years gone by. For another Shiner Song from even farther in the past, refer to Adolf Hafner: The Shiner Song.

    Then there is the church rule for small towns in the Southwest: 1,000 inhabitants, 10 churches. It held true for my grandmother’s town, and for others also.

    Growing up in a small town in NE, I thought of it as a “hick town.” After I left the “hick town,” I realized what a rich mix it had. Though they were a minority, there were still some Yankees in town, such as the town official, holding the same position his father did, who had a famous Revolutionary War ancestor from our town. While he was proud of his ancestry, he was not pretentious. It is hard to be pretentious when you are a dairy farmer who shovels cow manure every day, even if you are a graduate of a prestigious college and your ancestor is in the history books. There were a lot of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe- and their descendants. While nearly all of the immigrants came over before WW2, this made the town a magnet of sorts for Iron Curtain refugees [post WW2]. My sister and I had classmates whose parents were Iron Curtain refugees- only 27 in my 8th grade class.

    In later years, I realized that instead of being parochial, my hometown was in many ways a microcosm.

    Not to mention the beauty of living in a mostly-forested land.

  7. Roy, you can trace the German heritage all the way from Fredericksburg through Wall in Tom Green County to Miles/Rowena in Runnels County to St. Lawrence in Glasscock County. There was a short-lived colony in Pecos County area, but the groundwater used for crop irrigation essentially salted the ground with it’s high mineral content….

  8. Gringo, sounds like you grew up in a town about the same size as I did. I had 27 classmates in my high school senior class.

  9. In order to be like the fictional Cecily it would need to be something like 75 miles from Houston and Dallas or some other impossible location.

  10. Wasn’t the fictional Cecily (actually filmed in Washington – forget the town) – wasn’t it in the middle of nowhere? I don’t remember any of them “going to town” in Anchorage or Fairbanks.

    Loved that series and wonder why I din’t see it in Netflix streaming. It almost seemed too quirky.

  11. My secretary’s got me interested in that series. It was the first and only TV series I ever watched for more than an episode. It got kind of weird that last season but was generally excellent. That was when I was in my Alaska period and very nearly bought a house near Homer, a town that I love.

    If you are interested in Alaska folklore, you should read the books or listen to the tapes of Tom Bodett on Homer, where he lived and described as “The End of the Road” in the series.

  12. I think the town Cecily was modeled on Talkeetna which is off the Denali Highway.

    Yes, Wiki says: The town of Cicely from the television series Northern Exposure is said to be patterned after Talkeetna,[27][28] though filming actually took place in Roslyn, Washington.[29]

  13. Gringo, the half dozen times I’ve worked in Shiner, I’ve not yet been able to snatch time to visit the brewery. I’ve talked with the workers after visiting hours, learned a bit about their work, but never been inside. Meanwhile, working across the highway from the brewery at Kaspar Wire, which harks back to the 1880’s, I’ve chuckled more than once at what I heard on the loudspeakers. There is the usual Czechoslovakian polka music and singing. Then there are the small town announcements, 15 minutes plus of them at a time. I once heard, among a list of dates for upcoming events, ranging from birthdays thru church board meetings thru fundraisers at local schools to rodeos, a surprise note with nary a hint of subject change from the announcer. He told us of a cow, with marking he specified, lost and loose along such and so highway.

  14. When we first moved to San Antonio and north of the outside 1604 loop wasn’t built up at all, there were cattle in the open fields – and every once in a while, there would be mention on the traffic report of cows on that road. No one turned a hair.

  15. Roy has mentioned the local radio station in Shiner that plays Czech polka music & has local news announcements. There is an online local radio station, KCLW Radio in Hamilton TX, with such features as

    Community Calendar, The Trading Post, Stand by for
    “Awesome News” A news broadcast by the Hamilton Elementary School 5th graders aired Tuesdays 12:30 pm Replays 6pm…
    Join us Sundays Mornings:7:30am St John Lutheran service,8:00am The Lutheran Hour,8:30am Rev. Tom Moore
    9:00am Park Heights Church Of Christ,10:00am Speaking Recovery,11:00am First Baptist Church Hamilton,12:00am R.B. Thieme Ministries,7:30pm Speaking Recovery
    Hamilton Bulldogs Broadcast live

    And the music is pretty good.

  16. Mom,
    If you haven’t seen the Tuna, Texas plays, you must. They capture some of the same color of Texas small towns as you have absorbed. It might be the case that the authors tend toward being sardonic if their work is taken too seriously/literally. I believe that there are at least three of them and the titles are “Greater Tuna”, “Red, White and Tuna” and “A Tuna Christmas”. My humble opinion is that the first is the best. One must bear in mind that the two main writers and actors, Jaston Williams and Joe Sears, hang out in Greater Austin and probably started out in the Luna commune and never got over it. They are enormously talented in both writing and acting. Amazon has DVD’s of their live performances, but it is so much better live. They each play multiple male and female roles in each play as well or better than Tom Hanks in “Polar Express”.

    A note on Texas FM’s (farm to market roads): On the numerous farm to market (FM) and ranch to market (RM) state roads, agriculture has the right of way. Meaning farm implements drive down them at whatever speed they can manage and live stock can be driven (mounted or on the hoof) on these roads. “Get along ‘lit’Ie dogy!” If a motorist hits livestock, your insurance pays, even if you don’t survive. I was enlightened to the unusual legal status pertaining to use of FM’s and RM’s when an RV I was riding in hit a 1000 pound black bull at 1 AM. The bull died and we did not, but it totaled the 8-ton RV. The highway patrol attempted to find the bull’s owner so he could collect his damages from our insurance company. Don’t know if they ever did, but there was no liability accruing to the owner of the bull for allowing him to mosey down the FM at 1 AM. It was amazing how many local ranchers showed up by 3 AM to check the ear tag to see if it was theirs. They were mighty impressed that the bull ended up under the rear axle of the RV and had not come through the windshield. That night it didn’t seem very humorous, but now I smile a little about it.


  17. Oh, yes, Mike, the Tuna plays were performed around here several times – not lately, though, I am afraid.
    Re – the bull: a friend of mine at my first assignment was from a ranching family in Montana – and one of her family memories (besides learning to drive a manual-shift vehicle at about the age or eight or nine) was the whole family having to turn out in the wee hours because one of their cows had gotten out onto the road and boned by a passing motor vehicle — so they had to butcher it at once, lest it go to waste.

Comments are closed.