Family, food and freedom
The celebrations, which have been held at their ranch since the late 80s initially, started at Ray’s parents, Sandy and Simon Rodriguez home on the same property.
As the Rodriguez family grew, the number of partygoers did too, the Fourth of July celebration migrated to their home. The party is customarily held on the Sunday before the Fourth to accommodate employees and customer’s holiday schedule.
Deeply rooted in Atascosa County, with ancestors dating back to the Battle of the Alamo, the Rodriguez family said they are thankful for the freedom and liberty we all enjoy today. On this day, they said that they remember the brave and worthy who have made it possible for us to celebrate our great country’s birthday and gather to salute them Texas style.
It is truly a family affair preparing for the red, white and blue holiday as the whole Rodriguez crew gathers in their kitchen and around the barbecue pit to prepare food for some 60 or more people. The food served remains nearly the same from year to year except for the quantity, which grows larger. The 2012 menu included three briskets, 10 slabs of ribs, 80 hot dogs and 15 -18 lbs. of sausage all cooked on Ray’s massive barbecue pit that looked to be 10 feet long. Isabel and her four daughters make all the sides including potato salad, pasta, fruit cups and “Bell’s” special pico de gallo with sliced avocados.
The Rodriguezes rented two huge water slides – one for the young children and one for the teens. The slides were pumped up and ready to go even before the party started. The children were eagerly lining up for their turn when the sky suddenly turned dark and the wind blew strong knocking down one of the inflatables. The guests became concerned that the party would not go on, but the Rodriguezes calmly moved the crowd into their threecar garage.
The summer rain brought relief from the heat but did not dampen the spirit of the occasion. When the rain first started coming down the Rodriguez’ 2-year old grandson, A.J. Martinez said, “Oh, no grandpa…the rain.” Grandpa Ray replies, “ It’s okay Mijo, the cows need the rain. We have to Thank God for it because we all need the rain.”
Soon the rain stopped but the margaritas flowed. Music provided by a local DJ brought the crowd to the dance floor. Isabel when asked what was her favorite part of the party said, “the dance.” That fact was proven right on the dance floor as Isabel broke two pair of sandals dancing cumbias. Amidst it all, Isabel remained the perfect hostess greeting and welcoming every guest and filling their glasses to the brim in between dances. Her energy was an amazement to all and she showed no signs of stress or strain from putting together such a huge event.
Party goers were also in awe of Ray who was diagnosed with Carcinoma of the stomach on September 1, 2011 and consequently had to undergo six hours of surgery in October of that year. Ray now cancer free is still under doctor’s care for the next three years to make sure that the cancer does not return.
The illness caught Ray without insurance. He said that he was so grateful to the community for their support during that difficult time. Unfortunately, even with help the medical expenses forced him to sell some much loved property he owned on Hwy 97.
Ray gets emotional when he speaks about the cancer and the dream restaurant he had planned to build. “You know God knows what he does, and it was his hand that sent us the right buyer for that land at that very difficult time,” said Ray. “The buyer had made us an offer four years ago when selling it was not even a consideration. The buyer then just called out of the blue making an offer just when we needed it most.”
He continued, “You know I am not a church going man, but I am a God loving man. I thank God every morning because I am able to get up and work.”
For six months after Ray’s surgery, work, which is something he loves, was by the doctor’s orders forbidden. Ray said that he does not know how he could have done it without Isabel who took care of Ray and ran El Castillo every day and night as well. “She was the best nurse I ever had. I mean she was wonderful, unbelievable.”
“My mom helped too and it was hard to convince her to go home and that I was fine. She baked for the restaurant everyday and stayed to make sure I was going to be alright. My mom works for the restaurant everyday of the week. She cleans houses. She works for Virginia Twins. She is amazing. I do not know how she does it.”
Ray and Isabel Rodriguez are known in the community as consistent donors and generous auction buyers at all community fundraisers and church picnics. In 2011, when the Fractech workers would come into their restaurant they would tell the Rodriguez that they wished they were open late night. They complained how tired they were of fast food and when they got off at midnight wanted a good hot meal.
The Rodriguez duo, feeling for these workers who were so far away from their families and homes, began reopening their restaurant at midnight taking food orders in advance for the workers. Isabel and Ray would serve the Fractech workers at midnight telling them to be in no rush just to enjoy, eat and relax. They did this up until Ray’s illness when they could not continue to do so.
Through life’s highs and lows, Ray credits his hardworking wife and family for the 18 years of the success of their restaurant, El Castillo. Their family includes four daughters. Vanessa Rodriguez, who graduated from Pleasanton High School and Our Lady of the Lake University. She is currently enrolled in a masters program at Texas A&M-San Antonio. She works for Lockheed Martin in San Antonio. Vanessa’s spouse is Urvano Herrera and she has three stepchildren, Laura, Joseph and Veronica. Daughter Clarissa Rodriquez- Martinez, who attended Pleasanton High School, has joined the family business and works at El Castillo. She is the mother of the Rodriquez’ first grandchild, A.J. Martinez, who is two years old. Regina Rodriquez, who graduated from Pleasanton High in 2012, will enroll in the Paul Mitchell School in San Antonio in August. Their youngest daughter, Marina, will be entering the 9th grade at Pleasanton High School.
The plans for Marina’s quinceañera to be held in December are already underway. At her mother’s request, Marina brought her quinceañera dress into the kitchen. The ornate sequin lined deep purple satin hooped dress brought oohs and aahs from the females in the room. From Dad it brings a shake of the head, but also a little smile, “I can’t believe how expensive those dresses are.”
But the Rodriguez’ generosity spreads way beyond family, friends, customers and co-workers. When asked how do they decide whom to invite to the parties they give, Isabel and Ray said simultaneously, “Everybody is invited.”