Albuquerque History, Bernard Shandon Rodey, Jenne' Rodey Andrews, Minerva Coddington Rodey, New Mexico History, New Mexico Territory, Old Families of Albuquerque, Old Town Albuquerque, Pioneer New Mexicans, Stuart Coddington Andrews
Minnie Coddington was elated. She had won permission from her father, working on his good nature over time and despite his stern regard of her earnest face, to invite the young man she had met in Old Town Plaza, to dinner and a salon.
The 14th Street House, as they all referred to it, was quite arresting in its Victorian grace, sitting back framed by cottonwoods several blocks from Old Town, sprawling and roomy, with a well appointed parlor. A burnished team of hackney ponies were kept by a young groom with quarters in the barn, who polished the tack for the buggy and standard buckboard supply wagon.
The family hadn’t suffered in its relocation to Albuquerque; A.M. Coddington had a booming mercantile going as he had hoped. After initial investment in the first bank in the Territory and before he moved his family to ABQ, he had also bought interest in ranchland, investing in the cattle business that saw men riding herd all along the Rio Grande Valley to Santa Fe.
Minnie was thrilled by the prospect of Rodey’s visit, determined that she would wear a beautiful white silk dress just made for her by a Mexican tailor in Old Town, silk that had been imported from the East Coast.
Maria, the family’s cook, would rub a well-marbled rump roast from one of Father’s well-grazed steers with garlic and comino and slow roast it in the pueblo oven she insisted on using that the family had permitted adobe brick layers to build behind the house.
Manuel, their handy man, had hung red ristras of chile harvested from the fields near Hatch to dry at his adobe workshop lintel; these Maria would grind with a mortar and pestle, and sometimes use too liberally in her cooking; Minnie’s mother Hannah’s face would redden, and she would cough delicately, setting aside the rich chile con carne served several times a week and which the house staff ate often and with gusto.
It had worked; none other than the young lawyer who had only recently brashly hung out his shingle, and become the talk of the town, had come to the party, the buffet of roast beef, mashed potatoes with rich gravy, asparagus that cost a fortune, all served in the family Haviland French porcelain with the family sterling, with its multiplicity of utensils of every purpose and perplexing array of forks and spoons and knives.
Rodey had given thanks for being schooled in certain etiquette in law school, and mused through the first floor of the house, enjoying various photographs and paintings in gilded frames, his first tour through one of the several gracing the area, lived in by some of the well-off Anglos, the locals called them, who all had their reasons for coming to the Territory but always came with private money.
Being well-positioned in such a time was everything, Rodey knew, as he eked out sustenance at law school, and after clerking for the Territory’s single judge, and had begun to see something of a chasm between himself, his dreams and the moneyed propertied classes with ambition in their faces, starting up lumber and cattle enterprises with a far reach into the area.
He had wondered about Anglo ranching encroachment into land the Dineh, the Navajo, called their own; in some cases the Dineh grazed their sheep alongside the herds, sharing their campfire simmered mutton stew with the cowboys. The rustling years, that cost some Indian lives, especially on the Mescalero Apache land, were only a decade gone. Geronimo’s capture had been even more recent.
But for better or worse, he had seen the girl on the train and now she sat next to him in the dining room in all her elegance and unattainability. Their eyes caught, and roses appeared in both their cheeks.
Her foot touched his boot under the table and to his astonishment, she didn’t move it away. He cleared his throat, thanking his host and hostess; from the kitchen door, Maria said a silent prayer for the young woman she had come to adore.
What a handsome Irishman, they all thought.
Rodey took the plunge, making room for his long legs under the table, and began to tell embellished stories of his harrowing emigration and life in Montreal among the French. He recited a poem in French with an Irish brogue, grinning beneath his mustache; this turned the tide and by dessert, a kind of delicate flan with cream and rich coffee, again in haviland cups and saucers, Minnie’s Father had dropped his aloof demeanor; the two men took a break out on the porch and smoked cigars from the parlor humidor together while the table was cleared and Minnie and her Mother went upstairs.
Mother quickly repinned Minnie’s hair.
He’s handsome, darling, she said.
Minnie laughed. Yes he is. And did you see his black horse with its white star? He is glamorous; he is a fine catch.
Her mother didn’t want to dampen the girl’s enthusiasm. She feared for her eighteen-year old daughter, a rare bloom in a rough town with unsavory characters everywhere. Her independence and assurance frightened her even more; she was spirited and sometimes willful. Men didn’t like such a woman, she thought, never daring to say such a thing to the daughter she adored.
It was time, and the family and their dark-haired and charming guest gathered in the parlor. Minnie sat at the piano, and began her recital with a series of classical Italian art songs.
Her voice soared; Rodey, enchanted, suddenly saw his grandfather’s ruddy bearded face in his mind, a classic Irish tenor who had come to dinner often when he was a boy, after which his tired family sat and talked and told stories and sang before the fire, after a long day in the mines.
Of course Rodey was invited to come in a week to Sunday dinner, and soon a tradition was born; Rodey’s story-telling, his obvious territorial fever, and Minnie’s consummate musicianship.
He went with them to Church, where he listened to her sing from the new Brahms Requiem, the sheet music crisp and new from the Schumer Company in New York.
He knelt when Minnie knelt, murmuring words from the liturgy for the Eucharist, not unlike a Catholic mass, and determined that he should perhaps cultivate the practice of daily prayer again. The Episcopal Church was close kin to his beloved St. Darcy’s in Quebec, where he had been an altar boy.
He thought, as his love and desire for Minnie grew to a boundless yearning, that it couldn’t hurt to turn when necessary to his faith once more, or to genuflect, down on one knee, before a blank cross. Why wasn’t Jesus hanging there, he wondered. One day he would obtain an answer from her; he had begun to cultivate the art of keeping his own counsel.
The Albuquerque spring with its profusion of lilacs gave way to summer, and the town filled with the rasping song of Mexican katydids the locals called cicadas. These rubbed their hairy legs together in a relentless buzzing lamentation high in the cottonwoods in their long march along the Rio Grande.
The 14th Street House was humming with preparations for the wedding and reception. The couple had revealed a nonconformist streak; they wanted to marry in the parlor.
They didn’t want everyone from the Territory there, not even the families they met in their wagons coming back and forth from town and often had cotillions with in their private ballrooms.
The Priest had not objected, although he had found it strange, and remonstrated with the couple. He had asked why they wouldn’t want to marry in God’s house and had received no explanation.
To the young couple, the 14th Street house was a sacred place, the site of their courtship, where there had been many joyous hours. There was no talking them out of it.
And so it was, that candles on the mantel, Minnie gloriously lovely in her wedding dress of silk and Chantilly and pearl buttons, Rodey handsome in a black three piece suit, his watch fob gleaming, his eyes dancing, all got to witness a nuptial kiss for the ages; in Irish ardor, to the quiet chagrin of her parents, Rodey lifted her veil back and kissed her long and deep, clasping her thin waist in his arms.
That night, their wedding night in the Territory’s best hotel, a dynasty was born, a line of succession that would be cherished down the years by they who kept its records and its photographs and safeguarded diaries that threatened to fall apart from the mere weight of time.
My great grandfather went on to found a law firm into which he brought his eldest son and my great Uncle Pearce Rodey; he became City Attorney and then ran for U.S. Congress. While in the House he met a fellow hunting and fishing aficionado, one Theodore Roosevelt.
He championed New Mexico’s statehood and showed an especial concern for all of his constituents of the pueblos and of Spanish and Mexican descent. He and Roosevelt and their brace of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers would go hunting in the acequia and on the desert plateaus, by horseback; he chartered UNM and the mental hospital at Las Vegas.
What is left of him are these strands of story, and a brass nameplate in Fairview Cemetery in ABQ, reading; “There is no death; only stars that go down upon another shore, ” by Scottish poet J. McCreery circa 1850. This he fervently believed, revealing the transcendental influence upon his Harvard education.
Most important to me in telling this story: according to his daughter and grand-daughter, my mother, his passion for my great grandmother never waned.
The imagination must see into the past in the faith that a Haviland gravy boat would tell a story with the merest touch of a finger, or an ivory comb in a porcelain shell with its few strands of auburn hair a little girl might find 100 years later, would be a clue of the sort that keeps one writing far into early morning.
Part III, anon, mes amis.