After the twins finished their practice and we were on the way home, I asked them how they liked their practice. Chris had already let me know how much he enjoyed his.
"Okay, I guess," Lenny said quietly.
"That doesn't sound very enthusiastic. What's the matter?"
"Well... Coach Latimer is always yelling at everybody and everything," Larry volunteered. "I just want to have fun, but it's not fun with him yelling at me."
"I think it will be better next practice on Tuesday," I said.
Joel was completely worn out by the time we got home. I helped him into the house and made him lie down on his bed so that the other boys would not bother him. He started to complain but he realized that he was much too tired to protest.
Shortly after we finished eating supper I received a call from Jason Calloway about coaching the little league team. He told me that Peter had called and relayed my offer to help out. He almost begged me to follow through on it. When I said I would he couldn't thank me enough. He said that he would call Latimer and let him know that his coaching days were over.
We still had a little daylight left so I asked TJ if he wanted to try out his new T-ball equipment. Since he had never played it before, I had to go over some of the basics with him. I must confess I did not know that much about T-ball. If it hadn't been for the hand-out we parents had been given by the organizers I would have been lost.
I set up the tee and adjusted it to a height that I thought TJ would be comfortable hitting and then positioned Chris at first base so TJ would know where to run when he hit the ball off the tee. After a couple of swings that missed the ball and a few hits that didn't go the required ten feet, I stepped in to give him some hitting advice. TJ's main trouble seemed to be not keeping his eyes focused on the ball as he swung the bat. With a little coaching, he managed much better. None of his hits would have been home runs, but they were respectable. He was thrilled that he was able to get to first base without the twins being able to throw him out. It only took him about a half an hour to get tired from swinging the bat and running to first base.
When we went back inside the house, Joel was sitting on the couch reading a book. He looked up as TJ ran excitedly to him and began telling him all about hitting the ball and running to first base. Joel listened patiently to the telling before giving his little brother a hug and telling him how proud he was of him.
"Dad," Joel said turning toward me, "may I ask John to come over for a while tomorrow?"
"I don't know why not," I answered. "I just don't want you to get too tired. You maybe over did it a little today."
"Yeah, I'm kinda tired, but we'll just play with the video games so I won't get tired."
"Okay, go call him but I don't think he should stay all day, maybe just tomorrow morning or afternoon. You guys decide."
Later as I was tucking the boys in bed Joel told me that John was going to come over about 9:30 and his dad would be back to pick him up around one.
Saturday morning TJ was up almost before I had my first cup of coffee. He was anxious to go to his T-ball practice. I don't think I had ever seen him this excited since Christmas. His team was not scheduled to start practice until 10:30 but he was ready to go by 8:30. I tried to settle him down by playing catch with him, but I was only partially successful.
John arrived right at 9:30 much to Joel's delight. Although the boys had talked on the phone they hadn't seen each other since Joel's birthday. They greeted each other with hugs and happy smiles before heading into the house to see if Hildy had a snack for them. At the mention of a snack the others followed closely behind them. Since it had not been that long since they had eaten breakfast, Hildy only let them have some fruit.
I invited Bruce in for coffee but he refused saying that he had to take Pauline and the girls into San Antonio so they could do some shopping. His wife needed him to watch the girls while she scouted out the sales.
Finally it was time for us to go to TJ's practice. Larry and Lenny decided that they wanted to go along so we piled into the van and took off for the practice field. Chris elected to stay home.
TJ was one of the first players to arrive. I looked around to try to pick out the coach of his team to explain why he hadn't been able to practice before now. I went up to a woman who had a couple of young boys hanging around her and asked where I could find the coach of the team. I was a little surprise when she said that she was the coach. She introduced herself as Ellen England.
It took me a moment to recover before I explained to her about TJ's absences from practice. She was very understanding, even asking about how Joel was and wishing him well.
I told her that I had been helping TJ with his hitting, but I didn't really understand the finer points of T-ball.
"Finer points," she laughed. "Sometimes the finer points of T-ball are trying to get the boys to run to the right base after they hit the ball, if indeed they run at all. You would be surprised at how many of them just stand there after they have hit the ball."
"Well, I hope we were able to get TJ to run after he hits the ball. Isn't that right, TJ?" I said squeezing his shoulder.
The practice went fairly well with all fifteen of the boys getting a chance to bat several times and to play in the field. There were not a lot of fly balls caught, but that didn't seem to bother them. The most important thing was that they were having fun and learning a little bit about the fundamentals of baseball.
"Bye, Coach England," TJ said when practice was over. "That was fun!"
During the hour that TJ was practicing, Larry and Lenny were playing catch with a couple of other boys there with their younger brothers. They were a little reluctant to leave their new friends until I reminded them that it would be nearly lunch time when we got back to the house. I was nearly trampled as they ran to the van.
Lunch was almost ready when we returned home. Joel and John were in his bedroom playing one of the many video games that the boys had accumulated. I could tell they were having fun from the giggles coming from the room as I went in my room to wash up. Chris was outside playing with Samson. He was tossing a baseball into the air and hitting it. Samson was acting as his outfielder by chasing down the balls and bringing them back to Chris. I watched this for a minute or so before calling him to come get washed for lunch. I was impressed how well he was hitting the ball. I think that Samson needed the rest as well.
John joined us for lunch. He fit right in with the Johnson clan in the eating department. Everyone treated him as if he were one of the family. We had just finished eating and the boys had gotten all of the dishes put in the dishwasher when John's dad buzzed for us to open the gate.
We all went out to greet our guests as they drove up the drive. It looked like they had just returned from their shopping trip from all the packages that were visible in the back of the SUV. Pauline and the girls got out when Bruce stopped in front of the house. Larry and Lenny's eyes lit up as they saw Linda and Cassie.
"Pauline, it's good to see you again. Won't you come in for a cup of coffee?" I asked shaking her hand.
"Thanks, that's very kind of you," she replied. "I must be getting old. I used to love going shopping, but anymore it really wears me out. I guess I didn't used to have three like minded shoppers to contend with."
"I know what you mean. When I take my five shopping it usually turns into a real circus. Bruce, how did you survive?'
"Just barely," he said shaking his head. "I think the only reason I was invited along was so I could be the pack mule. I had to make two trips to the car to unload."
As we walked in the front door John ran up to his dad and gave him a hug before doing the same to his mom. "Dad, did you know Joel was in a plane crash?"
"What? No! Crane is that true?" Bruce asked wide eyed.
"Well, not exactly. You see on the way back from Houston the private plane had landing gear problems and we had to make a belly landing. It was scary, but no one was hurt. Lenny got a scraped elbow out of it is all."
"You know I saw on TV the other night where a plane had made an emergency landing at the airport but I never in my wildest dreams thought about it being you folks. One of the stations showed pictures of it from their news helicopter," Bruce said.
"Yeah, it is not something I want to repeat," I said as we took our seats in the family room.
Hildy appeared with the coffee and cups. As she finished pouring the coffee the twins came in the patio door and stood looking at us. I knew they wanted to ask something and were trying to work up the courage to do so.
"Dad..." Larry started.
"Can we... ah... can we take Linda and Cassie and show them the lake?" Lenny blurted out.
"I'm sorry son, not without an adult. Those steps down to the lake are too steep," I said seeing their faces drop. "Why don't you go see if Hildy will let you have a cupcake? I know she baked some while we were gone this morning."
The consolation prize was enough for their faces to perk back up. I think the mention of cupcakes although made in a voice I was sure could not be heard by the others immediately got transmitted to them via kid telepathy and all nine of them converged on Hildy with such pleading looks on their face that she couldn't refuse them.
We chatted over our coffee while the kids enjoyed the cupcakes. When they finished their snack, Bruce and Pauline rounded up their four and said their goodbyes. Although I could see that Joel was beginning to tire he insisted on walking John to the car to say goodbye to him. Joel gave John a quick hug and whispered something in his ear before saying goodbye to Bruce and Pauline.
Before they left John asked, "Can Joel come watch me play soccer next Saturday?"
"Oh, I'm sorry son. We have to go to a wedding in Fredericksburg next Saturday. Maybe the next week," I said.
As the Gordiniers drove down the driveway I told Joel he needed to go in the house and rest. He didn't resist and leaned against me as we made our way back into the house.
"I like to have John come over," Joel said. "He makes me feel good."
"I'm glad that you have such a good friend. By the looks of it he enjoys coming to visit you too."
Joel went to rest and the other boys went back outside to play a little baseball. I went to talk to Hildy. She had been acting a little strange and I was beginning to worry about her. I was afraid that the stress of Joel's hospital stay topped off with our airplane incident had taken their toll on her. After all she was not a young woman anymore.
I was just about to ask her if anything was wrong when she said, "Crane, I would like to have the evening off. Some friends and I would like to go out for the evening."
"Of course, the boys and I can manage by ourselves for the evening," I said. "You go and enjoy yourself. You certainly deserve some time off. You work much too hard and we don't let you know how much we appreciate everything that you do for us."
"Thanks Crane, taking care of those boys is a labor of love for me. They are the children and grandchildren that my late husband Emilio and I could never have," she said with just a hint of a tear in her eyes.
I decided not to ask what I had intended to ask when I came in. Instead I decided to go for a swim. When the boys saw me dive in the pool they all headed back inside to change and join me. We had played in the pool for about 45 minutes when Joel came out with Samson and sat in one of the poolside chairs. Maybe next week I'll ask Dr. Greene if it would be alright for Joel to get into the pool if he feels strong enough.
From time to time one of the boys would climb out of the pool and go sit beside Joel and pet Samson for a while before rejoining the rest of us. It seemed like there was an unspoken rotation of the boys visiting Joel.
"Hey guys, what would you like for supper?" I asked after we all climbed out of the pool. "Hildy is going out with friends this evening so we are on our own. Do you want me to start the grill and fix some hamburgers and hotdogs?"
"Yeah! Hamburgers! Hotdogs!" was the unanimous cry. Even Samson gave his woof of approval.
I started the grill while the boys went in to shower the chlorine off and then I went in the house to fix the hamburgers. I figured if I made six large burgers and twelve hotdogs that would be enough to stave off their starvation. After I got everything ready to go I also went to take a shower.
The boys were waiting impatiently for me when I emerged from my bedroom.
We were just starting to take all of the fixings outside when the gate buzzer sounded. The security camera showed a late model Chevrolet waiting to enter. I activated the speaker and inquired what the visitor wanted and was informed by the gentleman sitting in the driver's seat that he was here to pick up Hildegard. I chuckled to myself and pushed the button to open the gate. No one ever called Hildy, Hildegard.
"Chris, go knock on Hildy's door and tell her that someone is here for her," I told him just as she entered the kitchen. "Never mind, son."
"Wow!" TJ said when he saw Hildy. "You look pretty."
"Thank you TJ," Hildy said leaning over to give him a squeeze.
"And smell good, too," he added.
The front doorbell rang and all of the boys took off to see who was there. "Guys, remember your manners," I said following behind them.
When I opened the door a tall handsome man stood there. His once blond hair was peppered with white giving him a very distinguished appearance. The bright blue eyes under heavy eyebrows sparkled as he extended his hand.
"Hello, I'm Manfred Strasser. I'm here to pick up Hildegard."
"Crane Johnson, please come in," I said shaking his hand. "Oh, and these young boys staring at you are my sons."
"I have heard all about you," he said shaking each one of their hands as I introduced them.
"Who's Hildegard?" TJ whispered.
"That's Hildy, son," I said.
"But why does he call her Hildegard?" he asked.
"Because that is my full name, little one," Hildy said as she joined us and patted him on the head.
"Oh," TJ said still a bit confused.
We watched as Manfred escorted Hildy to the car and opened the door for her before walking around and getting in. As they drove off Hildy waved goodbye to the boys.
"Does Hildy have a date, dad?" Joel asked.
"I guess you might call it that, son. She is going out with some friends tonight and I guess Mr. Strasser is her date."
As we went back inside I told them that I needed help in taking all of the dishes and condiments out to the patio table and assigned each of them tasks so that everything would be ready when the burgers and hotdogs were cooked.
I put the meat on the grill which was absolutely perfect for grilling burgers. I went to get the rest of the food out of the refrigerator and the buns. It was going to be a rather simple meal with carrot and celery sticks and of course potato chips. I grabbed the vegetable sticks and a gallon of milk and asked TJ to carry the potato chips and Lenny to carry the buns.
The boys had done a great job of setting the table. They had set out the catsup, mustard, pickles, pickle relish and even brought the sliced cheese to make cheeseburgers.
It wasn't long before our impromptu picnic was ready. The first round consisted of the burgers, but it wasn't long before they were ready for the second round of hotdogs. We ate all but two of the hotdogs which pleased Samson. He got to eat the leftovers. Normally he didn't get to be fed from the table scraps, but tonight I made an exception.
About an hour after supper the boys started asking what they were going to have for a snack. There were still some cupcakes left from this mornings ravaging by the boys and their guests and with some ice cream it seemed to satisfy them.
After the boys brushed their teeth and I tucked them in bed, I decided to sit up and read for a while and I guess deep down to wait up for Hildy. It was about 12:30 when I saw the headlights of a car shine in the front windows as it drove up the driveway. I felt a little guilty.
It wasn't very long before the front door opened and Hildy and Manfred walked in.
"Oh, Crane, I didn't think that anyone would be up. I was going to make some coffee. Would you like a cup?" a startled Hildy asked.
"If you have some decaf, I would like a cup. I guess I got wrapped up in my book and I lost track of time," I lied, not about the coffee but about the book.
"Come in the kitchen and I'll lay out some cookies that the boys haven't discovered yet," she said with a smile.
Manfred and I sat at the table and talked while Hildy busied herself with the coffee. I found out that he was a retired Air Force colonel. He had been retired about ten years and that his wife died about three years ago. He was now living in New Braunfels in an apartment. He had moved back from California to his birthplace. He had one son, unmarried, who lived in Chicago and taught at the university.
"How did you meet Hildy?" I asked him.
"We went to school together in New Braunfels so many years ago. We even dated a couple of times. But, alas, she only had eyes for Emilio after he moved into school," he teased. "I must admit that he cut a rather dashing figure and had many a girl swooning at his feet."
"Manfred, you make him sound like Rudolph Valentino. He was a handsome man though," Hildy said wistfully. "Do you use cream and sugar?"
We drank our coffee and chatted for maybe fifteen minutes before I decided that I had intruded on them long enough and excused myself reminding Hildy to set the house alarm before she went to bed.
I slept later than usual Sunday morning. That is until TJ jumped into my bed and wrapped his arms around my neck.
"I'm hungry," he said kissing my cheek.
"You're always hungry," I said tickling his ribs. "Let dad take a quick shower and I'll fix you some breakfast after you have washed your hands and face. How does that sound?"
"Okay," he giggled taking off for his bedroom.
Hildy came down from her apartment on her way to church as the boys were sitting down to the breakfast I fixed of hash brown potatoes, two dozen scrambled eggs, two pounds of sausage and about a dozen and a half slices of toast. This was washed down by large glasses of milk and orange juice. I settled for coffee and some eggs and toast. After saying goodbye to the boys Hildy headed out the door.
"Is Hildy going to get married and leave us?" Joel asked seriously.
"I don't think so, son. Mr. Strasser and she are just old friends," I said hoping that I was right.
It started raining shortly after breakfast so outdoor activities were out of the question. We spent the day with me reading to them or them playing videogames. They went exploring the upstairs after lunch. They had never spent much time up there because it wasn't long after it was finished that we had to take Joel to Houston. The camp out they had when JR stayed over night was the last time they has spent any real time there.
"Can we invite JR over again?" Chris asked.
"You know Benny and Bran are staying with JR don't you?" I asked.
"Yeah, can they come too?" Joel piped up.
"I'll call Eric," I said.
After Eric asked JR and the others if they wanted to come visit and stay over night and got their enthusiastic reply, he said he would bring them over in about half an hour.
When Eric arrived with the three boys he asked me if I were insane wanting to have eight active boys in the house all night. I assured him that we would be able to manage. When I asked him where his mom and dad were he said that they were with Darcie helping with the last minute arrangements for the wedding.
"Why don't you stick around then? Maybe the sun will come out and we can go swimming with the boys. I hope they brought their suits," I said.
"Oh yeah, I think they would go swimming in the rain if I would let them. It did look like it was clearing off in the west as we drove over here."
It did clear off and the ten of us went swimming. I let Joel get in the pool as long as he promised me that he would let me know when he started to get tired. The pool was full of happy laughing boys and two adults. TJ stayed close to Joel showing him his new swimming skills that Becky Sue had taught him. It only took Joel about twenty minutes before I saw him climb out of the water and head for a chaise lounge where Samson joined him.
When it came time for supper neither Eric nor I felt like cooking so we decided to order some pizzas which met with enthusiastic approval from the boys. We decided that four large, sixteen inch pizzas and breadsticks would probably be enough to feed the ten of us. Eric volunteered to go pick up the pizzas and asked Bran if he would go along and help.
Usually it took about forty-five minutes round trip to the pizza place, but they were gone nearly an hour before they returned and I could see that Eric was visibly upset. The boys immediately attacked the pizza boxes. The thirty-two pieces and the breadstick seem to evaporate before our very eyes.
We were just cleaning up the mess from our meal when Hildy returned. Instead of getting hugs from five boys, she received hugs from all eight.
"My goodness, so many handsome boys," Hildy said.
"Are you gonna get married?" TJ asked innocently.
"What makes you think that I'm going to get married?"
"Well, you had a date. Don't you get married after you have a date?"
Hildy could barely stifle her snicker, "It's a little more complicated than that, little one. I could never leave my little TJ."
With that TJ wrapped his arms around her waist and said into her stomach, "I'm glad. I thought you were gonna go away. I love you Hildy."
"I love you too, son. I love all of my boys," Hildy said quietly patting TJ on the back.
When I explained to Hildy that all of the boys would be spending the night and part of tomorrow, she suggested that I call Becky Sue and have her bring her sister with her in the morning so that there would be two of them to watch the boys. I made the call and Mary Jane agreed to come with her sister in the morning.
The boys went off to play and I took Eric aside. I wanted to know why he was upset when he and Bran returned from getting the pizza.
"Crane, it takes a lot for me to get riled up but a couple of idiots at the pizza place made a racist remark when Bran and I were waiting to pick everything up. There was a man about 25 or so and a teenager. They said something like 'we don't let niggers in here' and I nearly went ballistic. The man was a little guy. He was the one who made the comment, but the teenager agreed with him and laughed. I went over to them and asked them to apologize to Bran for their remark. They laughed at me.
"Now, I'm pretty strong from lifting weights and I grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and lifted him up out of the booth he was sitting in until his head was nearly touching the ceiling. I asked him again to apologize and again he refused. So I dropped him. His feet were probably three feet off the floor and when he dropped his feet went out from under him and he fell on his butt.
"That was bad enough to have to have Bran insulted by a pimple brained bigot, but then the manager came out and told us to take our pizzas and get out."
"I'll be damned," I said. "He didn't say anything about the racial slur the guy made?"
"No! In fact he was very solicitous of the bigot. That is the last time I ever get pizza there," he said with anger. "I don't know many people around here but everyone I know will hear about our treatment."
"I know a lot more and they too will hear of it. Hildy knows everyone and I'm sure that she will be happy to spread the word. I won't do business with people who condone racism or people who do business with them," I said emphatically.
"I won't either."
"Come on let's go see what kind of trouble the boys are getting into," I said draping my arm across his shoulders.