This is the third in a series of character introductions associated with my book, My New-Found Land.
Joaquin was the spoiled son of the richest rancher in Valle Redondo, New Mexico. During the oil crisis and resource wars, his sheltered valley was overlooked by the federal government, which was too short of soldiers, trucks and fuel to seek out hoarders in remote areas. The entire valley was moderately prosperous, with no one going hungry, although only the Estrada family consistently enjoyed luxuries.
As insurance for their son's safety from the draft, the Estradas pushed Joaquin into the priesthood, even though women, fast horses and lazy days drinking with friends at the family compound were more his style. When the priest of the valley's only church died under suspicious circumstances, the Estradas were ready to install their young and frivolous son in his stead.
He fulfilled his duties haphazardly, and even a pretty wife and a daughter (thank God for Vatican III!) didn't put much of a damper on his former ways. He showed up to Mass late, cursed at the altar boy, forgot the words to the Mass and never had a sermon prepared. He hated to hear confessions and would wave people off, flippantly telling them to say a few Ave Marias and forget about it.
Then the government was tipped off about the hoarders in the valley.
Although Joaquin and his family had their lives spared because the Guard commander was a Catholic, Joaquin saw his family's tenants cut down as they tried to defend their holdings, and he saw his animals, seeds, tools, fuel and hoarded coins and jewelry taken away. The entire valley was left destitute and as the survivors brought their dead to the cemetery and the bodies piled up, Joaquin found himself faced with the first serious work of his life. Everyone looked to him for guidance, and he knew nothing.
He did what he could. He helped dig graves, he prayed over the dead, and he offered words of comfort and wisdom that he didn't feel. His wife, and not his faith, sustained him through the crisis. He and his family settled into a poorer life, living at the church and surviving off the charity of neighbors and what food they could grow or scrounge.
Joaquin tried to view it as a test of his faith. He and his wife had a second child, newcomers moved into the valley, crops came in and things got better. After the Southwest seceded from the United States, there were no more laws about stockpiling and people were free to save again. The civil wars never came as far as their remote valley, and Joaquin could almost think himself blessed, until his wife injured herself doing ordinary farm chores and died of septicemia.
He hasn't believed much of anything since then, but he goes through the motions. People count on him for blessings and words of comfort. But who will comfort him, when the written words of the God he professes to believe in aren't enough?
When Diana Channing shows up bringing a friend for burial, Joaquin has to once again confront his memories of the day their valley was raided and everything changed. And if he's struggling, how much worse must it be for her, who lost everything?
Being the strong and compassionate man of wisdom the Church wants him to be isn't as hard as it once was, but it's damn hard enough at times like this!
REMINDER: My New-Found Land is available in print or download at my Lulu Storefront. If you buy in September, let me know so I can enter you in a drawing for promotional giveaways. All prizes include one of Diana's favorite Southwestern snacks!