This is the improbable love story of Carlos Andrade and Gabriela Estala, two of the cutest kids I have ever known. It reached its joyful but surprising conclusion three weeks ago in Goodland, under the stars. It was a long time coming.
Carlos had met Gabriela in their Lely High School 9th grade homeroom, seven years ago. Carlos was commuting from Marco Island, where he lived with his family. Gabby had been riding the same school bus from her family’s home in Goodland. It took the bright lights of the classroom however, to get things started. Carlos had Hollywood good looks and a killer smile which could light up the room. He was outgoing, upbeat, and liked the girls. They liked him back. Gabby was a dazzlingly beautiful brown eyed senorita, also with a brilliant smile but a little on the quiet side. They were both fluent in Spanish and had a lot in common. They became close friends during the next three years. Nothing more than that, they said.
A month after their graduation from Lely in 2014, Carlos finally made his move. “I found myself falling in love with her,” he said, “and wanted to do something to show it.” With his earnings from part time jobs he presented her with a delicate silver necklace with his initial “C” on a pendant at the bottom. Gabby has been inseparable from the necklace ever since. She has worn it almost every day.
Carlos and Gabby started working in the restaurant business, he in Marco Island and Gabby in Goodland. That is how I met and grew fond of them. I could sense their deep love for each other. For the next four years, Carlos would drive down to Goodland every day to visit Gabby at the Estala residence in Goodland. Carlos often brought food and would cook for Gabby and her family. They loved him.
After two years of this, Carlos and Gabby’s longing to be together grew too strong to ignore. On September 9, 2016, and without telling anyone, they got married in a civil ceremony at the Naples Courthouse; but they had a plan. “We were going to get an apartment in Naples, once we found jobs there,” they said, “In the meantime we would continue living with our families [as if nothing had happened.]” But something did happen. It changed everything.
Shortly after the wedding, Carlos father returned suddenly to Ecuador, leaving his mother, Irene (pronounced eerehn’eh), who was not in good health, to maintain the home and family. “I couldn’t bring myself to move out and abandon her,” Carlos said. Gabby was also having second thoughts, fearing that under the circumstances, it might be too upsetting for her mother to learn what they had done and that Gabby might be moving out. For the next 19 months they mentioned their marriage to no one and continued to live as before, Carlos in Marco Island and Gabby in Goodland. It must have killed them. How strong was their determination to be together? Read on.
Every time Goodland Road floods, I take my camera and shoot pictures of the flooding. Since many of the floods are “sunny day” floods, the traffic continues to come in, not imagining that there could be flooding here. I have gotten some amazing photos of white knuckle drivers with water over their hubcaps, trying to get through. It was on a rainy day in the summer of 2017 however, that I missed out on the best shots that I would ever get.
On that day, because of the heavy rains, most drivers opted not to try and make it into Goodland. They expected the road to be flooded. Aside from an occasional partially submerged pickup truck towing a fishing scow, the roadway’s eight to 18 inches of water lay undisturbed. It was a miserable day to be out. And then, at around 1 PM at the height of the flood, I saw a small blue motorcycle inching around the bend, salt water over the hubcaps and splashing up at the motor. The driver was approaching the worst stretch of road before making it to the Goodland high ground. I frantically gesticulated and waved trying to get him to turn around and go back, but he kept coming. Nothing could have stopped this lone motorcyclist on this day. He was Carlos Andrade and he was coming to see Gabby.
Upon recognizing me, Carlos wrestled his motorcycle out of the flood and onto an elevated but soggy grassy bank on which I was standing. I knew what he was there for; his grin told me so. “You’re never going to make it through the next stretch,” I told him, “At least not on that motorcycle.” A cloud briefly passed over his face, but was quickly replaced by his endearing grin. “Look there,” he said, “Here comes Gabby!” Coming out from Goodland, was a small white pickup truck plowing through water up to the grill, just high enough to get though the worst of it. When Gabby got to where we were, her face was flushed with joy. I could feel the electricity between the two. The truck looked suspiciously like the one Ray Bozicnik was in the habit of loaning to friends in need. I had borrowed it myself on occasion. Gabby pulled up onto Angler Drive and got out. There was no rushing into each other’s arms. Instead, they stood there holding hands and beaming in the rain. It was time for me to go.
On March 25, 2018, Juana Estala, as family matriarch, oversaw one of the frequent family reunions. There are about 100 family members and friends, she said. In the midst of that happy throng, Gabby and Carlos finally fessed up. “Conditions had changed,” they said, “It was time.” After a pause, the stunned guests burst out with cheers and applause. There was much rejoicing and hugging. They had all come to love Carlos and Gabby. Two weeks later they moved in together at Irene’s residence. Juana felt only happiness when she at last heard the news. They had grown to love Carlos and already considered him one of the family. “He is a responsible person,” she said, “he works at several jobs and has helped his mother though some tough times.” Most of all, she said, he has made Gabriela happy. Irene felt the same way about Gabby.
I was aware of none of this, but by chance, had heard that Carlos was to be married to Gabby, at 6 PM, Saturday, June 30, in the Estalas’ backyard. I wasn’t going to miss that one and got there 15 minutes early in order to get a parking space close to the house. There were no cars to be seen and at 6 PM, when the wedding was to commence, there were no guests there either – nada. Worse, the bride and groom had not bothered to show up. I was flabbergasted “This is going to be one helluva story,” I said to myself. After waiting expectantly for another half hour, still with no one showing up, I sidled over to the one family friend who had shown up – Jorge the DJ, who had volunteered his services and was setting up his equipment. Not to worry, Jorge told me, “Spanish people are never on time. They like to come early and stay late [when the real fun begins].” “But what about the wedding,” I asked, “will a priest be officiating?” “Well I believe that they are already married,” he replied. There was nothing for it but to stick around and see what if anything developed.
The guests, practically all neighbors from Goodland, started to trickle in around 6:30 PM. The bride and groom were driven up in a white Lexus about 6:45. The buffet line opened up around 7:45, after some of the family and friends had started to arrive from all over the area. The temperature, and probably the humidity was in the mid 80’s. I had been there for two hours and could see that it was going to be awhile before things livened up. I went home then and thus missed the lively celebration after dinner.
Looking back, it was a first class affair, with catered food, open bar, and a DJ who knew what he was doing. The Estala and Andrade families paid for most of it, with the Little Bar providing the champagne, ice, and beer. A lot of good stuff happens down here in Goodland. This one was one of the most heartwarming.
Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is a former Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.