"Bandit, you bad dog," TJ scolded as he laughed and held his new friend out away from him so that the rest of Bandit's present harmlessly watered the yard.
Larry, Lenny and Chris were laughing so hard that they were holding each other up to keep from falling down. Joel and I were trying our best not to laugh and were having a hard time doing it.
When Bandit finished, TJ hugged the puppy to him and received an enthusiastic tongue washing. "I love you anyway. You're the bestest present I ever got."
"Okay son, let's go get you cleaned up and show Hildy the new member of the family," I said still stifling a snicker.
We hadn't taken a couple of steps when Samson greeted us. More to the point he headed straight for Bandit. I hadn't seriously considered that he might be jealous of a new dog in his territory and I was a little worried. When he got to Bandit he sniffed him thoroughly before stepping back and giving one bark. He then turned and led the procession back to the house. I drew a sigh of relief that Bandit was accepted so quickly.
Turning to the now only occasionally giggling twins and Chris, I said, "Will you guys get Bandit's bed and food bowl out of the car and bring them into the house?"
The twins grabbed the doggie bed and Chris the weighted bowl and followed us back into the house. I grabbed the bag of puppy food.
"Hildy, see my new puppy," TJ said holding out Bandit. "His name is Bandit 'cause he's got a mask. See?"
"Oh, he's adorable," she said taking the squirming puppy. As she held him up to her he gave her neck a thorough tonguing. "And what is that on your shirt?"
"Ah... He sorta had a accident," TJ said bashfully.
Hildy tried her best to suppress her laugh but her voice gave her away, "Well, I think you had best go change your shirt and wash up."
"Yes, ma'am," he said holding out his hands for his dog. "Let's go, Bandit."
Off he went to his bedroom with his four brothers and Samson following close behind.
"You know what this is going to lead to, don't you?" Hildy asked.
"Oh yeah, it looks like we'll have a whole kennel full very shortly. I'd better have Harold build us some dog houses as well as the remodeling," I said shaking my head.
It wasn't long before Samson came into the kitchen and headed for his food bowl followed closely by Bandit stumbling over his own feet. When Bandit tried to eat out of Samson's bowl he was nudged over to his own bowl that I had filled with his puppy food. After a couple of nudges he got the idea that Samson wanted him to eat out of his own bowl. Hildy and I just stood there watching them and smiling.
"Smart little devil, isn't he?" I commented.
"Let's just see how quickly he gets trained to go outside to do his business," she replied.
"Yeah, I suppose it would be a good idea to line up a carpet cleaning service. This may take a while. Maybe Samson can help train him," I said hopefully.
Hildy had decided that since TJ's guests would be arriving around one o'clock that she would serve lunch earlier than usual. That didn't cause the boys any problem. Samson knew better than to beg at the table so he lay down on his rug while the boys ate. Bandit seemed to think that was a good idea and snuggled up against him and promptly went to sleep.
Becky Sue wasn't schedule to come to work until noon. She arrived just as we were finishing our lunch. She said that her sister would be bringing JR and Bran over in a few minutes. Mary Jane wanted to get the games and activities set up before all the rest of the guests arrived.
JR and Bran were greeted by TJ and Bandit as Mary Jane drove her car up the drive. JR was thrilled that TJ had gotten a puppy. He thought that it gave him more leverage with his father to get him one too. He and Bran took turns holding and getting licked by a squirming Bandit. When TJ took him back Bandit placed his head on TJ's shoulder as he was being held and appeared to go to sleep.
"I think we had better put the dogs in the fenced area before your guests arrive. It might be a little too much excitement for Bandit. Samson will take care of him. You can show your friends your puppy but I think it is best that they don't hold him," I said leading the boys back into the house. TJ wasn't too happy about letting his new little friend go but agreed when the gate buzzer announced the first of his school friend's arrival.
As each of the parents arrived I invited them in to check out the preparations for the party. Since I didn't know any of them except by name I wanted them to be reassured that the party and the kids would be properly supervised. All the invited boys had been told to bring their swimsuits if they wanted to swim. I made sure that the parents knew there was a Red Cross certified lifeguard on duty to see that their sons were safe in the water.
By a quarter past one all the invited guests had arrived and the parents had gone. The party plan was for Mary Jane to organize the games for the first hour and a half. Then the cake, ice cream and other treats would be served. After that the last couple of hours would be for the boys to go swimming or games if they didn't want to swim.
Mary Jane did an excellent job of keeping the boys occupied for the first part of the party. She was going to make an excellent elementary teacher. She had a definite way with the six and seven year olds.
While all this was going on Hildy and I were getting the table ready. Eric and I, the night before, had arranged the two tables side by side so they looked like one large square table. There were four chairs along three sides of the table and two on the other side.
At about two-thirty I announced that the cake and ice cream were being served, but that everyone had to wash their hands before we could start the party. I told my sons to show our guests where the bathrooms were so that they could wash up. It didn't take long for fourteen boys to find their way upstairs to the table. The nametags put TJ's seven guest and JR on opposite side of the table with Bran, the twins and Chris at the end of the table. TJ and Joel sat on the other end where the cake was.
Hildy lit the candles on the cake and everyone sang a horrible rendition of "Happy Birthday."
"Make a wish and then blow out the candles," I said giving TJ's shoulder a squeeze.
"I don't know what to wish for," he said. "I got everything. I got my Bandit and everything."
"That's okay. Just blow out the candles."
"I know! I know! I wish that Larry and Lenny and Chris had a puppy, too," he said and with a big breath he blew out the seven burning candles.
I could see three pair of eyes at the other end of the table all staring at me with 'puppy dog eyes'. I knew this was coming but I didn't know if the household could stand five boys and five dogs. When I turned to look at Hildy she had this funny looking smile on her face and just shook her head trying very hard to suppress a snicker.
The cake was cut with TJ getting the first piece with a big dip of vanilla ice cream on top of the chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Hildy cut the cake, I added the ice cream and passed the dishes to the anxiously waiting and starving boys. There were bowls of nuts and mints on the table which were quickly added to the plates.
After everyone had their fill of cake, TJ opened his presents. They were mostly games or Disney videos. JR and Bran gave him a video game which I checked out to make sure that it was not a violent one. TJ was very polite. He thanked each boy as he opened their gift. I was so very proud of him my heart felt like it was going to burst.
"Anyone want to swim?" I asked after all the party festivities were finished.
"Yea!" came an almost unanimous reply.
"Okay, go get your suits on," I said. I noticed that one of the boys didn't seem to be too enthusiastic about swimming. His name was Brad and he was the smallest of all the friends that TJ had invited. He was lagging behind the rest of the boys going to get changed. "Brad? Don't you like to swim?"
He looked at me and appeared to be on the verge of tears before he said barely above a whisper, "I never been swimming before. I'm kinda scared."
"Well, I tell you what. You stay right by me. I'll make sure you are safe. How about that?" I asked giving him a squeeze.
"Okay, you won't let me drown will you?"
"No son, now go get changed and wait for me beside the pool. I'll be right there."
Off he ran to change and I started to my own room to get ready. Hildy said that she would start the cleanup. I thanked her and returned and gave her a hug. "What would I have ever done without her?" I thought to myself as I changed into my swimming trunks. Sure enough Brad was waiting for me beside the pool.
I jumped into the shallow end of the pool and then sat back up on the side of the pool motioning Brad to join me. I took his hand and helped him to sit beside me with his feet dangling in the water. After I thought he was comfortable, I slipped off the side and stood in the three foot depth of the shallow end. I turned to him and held out my arms to him. He nervously put his arms around my neck and allowed me to lift him in my arms.
"We'll stay right here where the water isn't so deep. Do you think you would like to stand in the water? It'll only come up to here," I said drawing a line across his chest with my finger and then tickling his ribs.
"Okay," he giggled. "Don't let go."
"I won't, I promise," I said as I gently removed his arms from around my neck and eased him down into the water. "See, that's not bad, is it?"
"Huh-uh," he said while he clung tightly to my waist.
I walked him back and forth across the shallow end until I thought he was becoming more comfortable. "Now we're going to have some fun. Can you make the sound of a motor boat?"
"Like this," he said and then made a fair imitation of a motor boat by puckering his lips and blowing air through them.
"Great, that's the way I do it, too. Now what we're going to do is do it like a real motor boat... underwater. Here, I'll show you," I said. Taking a deep breath I placed my face underwater and did my imitation of a motor boat. Brad was giggling when I lifted my face out of the water and cleared my eyes. "You want to try?"
"Yeah, you made lotsa bubbles."
"Just remember to take a big breath before you put your face in the water and lift your face up before you run out of breath. Are you ready?"
With the shake of his head he took a big breath and leaned over so that his face was barely under the water. He started making the motor boat sound but before he was out of breath he started to giggle.
"The bubbles tickle," he said. "I want to do it again."
Each time he did his motor boat his face made it further down into the water until his ears were under.
"Do you want to try something else?" I asked as he came up the last time.
He looked at me and shook his head yes, his eyes as bright as two new pennies.
"Okay, let's see if you can learn to float on your back. Put one hand on the side of the pool and then lean back. I'll put my hand under you so you won't sink." For the next fifteen minutes or so I worked with him until he was able to float for a fifteen or twenty seconds by himself before he would start to sink and panic. I was always there to catch him. After the first few tries the worried look on his face was replaced by a smile I thought might crack his face.
TJ came over to check on Brad. "Having fun?" he asked his small friend.
"Oh, yeah!" he said. "Your dad has been showing me lots of stuff. He's really neat."
"I know, he's the best," TJ replied.
"But, I'm getting kinda tired. I think I'll get out a while. Maybe I'll go sit with Joel. He looks tired too," Brad said and then clambered out of the pool and went to sit on the lounge chair next to Joel.
"Thanks, dad, he's always quiet. I'm glad he's having fun."
I joined the other boys and played in the water with them. We were all having so much fun that we lost track of time until the first parent arrived to take their son home. As it happened it was Mrs. Rasmussen, Brad's mom.
"Mom! Mom! Look what Mr. Johnson showed me," he said running from his mom to the side of the pool. I knew he was waiting for me so I went and helped him into the pool. There he showed his mom the motor boat and then with just a little help from me his back float.
"That's great, son," Mrs. Rasmussen said smiling at him. "Go get your clothes changed. We have to go pick up your dad."
"TJ, go show Brad where the towels are so he can rinse the chlorine off before he gets dressed," I said. "The rest of you had better go shower also before your folks come to get you."
"Okay, dad," TJ answered and followed Brad into the house.
"How did you get Brad into the water? He has always been afraid to get in a pool," Mrs. Rasmussen said.
"We took it real slowly and he saw how much fun the other boys were having and that helped. I didn't push him to do anything until he was comfortable. I think he would really like the water if he had a chance."
"His dad probably tries to push him too fast. He so wants Brad to be an athlete. I don't know if he ever will be. He is so small and will probably never be a big person. His dad and I are both fairly short. But thank you for working with him. I can tell he had a good time," she said.
Brad came out carrying his wet bathing suit that Hildy had wrapped up in plastic wrap and the Star Wars action figure that each of the guests received as a party favor. "Thanks, Mr. Johnson, I had a great time," he said as he ran to his mom's car.
One by one the other boys were picked up by their parents until only JR and Bran remained. It would be a while before Eric arrived to take them home. Becky Sue and her sister left shortly thereafter. Before Becky Sue left I asked her if she would be available to life guard on Friday of next week for the twins' birthday party. This was to be her last week of work for us so she could take some time off before her classes started. She said that she would let me know and if she couldn't she would suggest someone who would be able to help.
By the time all the party guests had gone I was exhausted. The energy level of six and seven year olds is amazing. The only time they were not going ninety miles an hour was when they were eating cake and then they were fidgeting. My admiration goes out to their teachers for being able to corral their energy and actually get them to learn.
TJ immediately went and rescued his puppy as soon as the last guest left. Bandit was excited to get released from the fenced in area and when he wasn't squirming in TJ's arms he was racing around the house investigating everything in site. He seemed to want to chew on almost anything that he could get in his mouth. I could see that having a puppy in the house was going to be a whole new experience. I put chew toys at the top of my shopping list.
When Eric arrived to pick up JR and Bran he was greeted by an excited JR who tried to tell him about the entire party in one breath until his dad got him to slow down. Eric made his way to the house and was introduced to Bandit. He gave me a resigned look knowing that JR was not going to let up until he got his own puppy.
"You know I'll get even with you for this, don't you?" he said in a mock threatening voice.
"Yeah, well, misery loves company," I retorted. "Why don't you join us for dinner? Hildy is fixing ham, corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes. I picked up the corn and tomatoes from that roadside stand down the road there on 306. They're home grown."
"That sounds too good to turn down. And besides I haven't had a piece of birthday cake. Is there any left?" he laughed.
I went into the kitchen and told Hildy to set three more plates for supper. She told me that Manfred was going to stop by also. I guess it was a good thing I bought two dozen ears of corn yesterday. She said as soon as Manfred got here that supper would be served.
Supper was delicious. From the amount of butter on the boys' faces from eating the corn I could tell that they enjoyed it as much as the adults. We only had slightly less butter on our faces. Hildy solved the problem by bringing out wet paper towels to clean up with.
There was still enough of TJ's birthday cake for everyone to have a piece before Eric decided it was time for them to take off for home.
"Come on guys, we have to get home and get things packed so we'll be ready to take off for Houston when I get off work tomorrow. Say goodbye to your friends," Eric said. Turning to me he said, "JR is really going to miss Bran. They have become very close this past week. I think Bran likes the idea of having a little brother. First it was Benny and this week it has been JR. He was a lot of company for JR."
"Well, you could always take over fostering him or even adopt him," I said with a grin.
"Bite your tongue!" he said. "Sometimes JR is more than I can handle. What would I do with a fourteen going on fifteen year old?"
"I asked myself something like that a million times before I decided to take on my five. Sometimes it has been a challenge, most of the time it has been a labor of love having them with me. I'm blessed to have Hildy. She has made it possible for us to maintain a semblance of a normal life."
"I don't know what is going to happen to Bran. I haven't discussed it with dad. I know he cares deeply for Bran, but whether he wants to try to handle a teenager alone at his age is not something I think he has even considered. When mom was alive it was a different matter. She needed to have someone to mother and dad was fine with that. He enjoyed the kids that they fostered. Now I feel that things may be different. I don't know."
"Whatever happens, Eric, I want to make sure that Bran is taken care of and not returned to his dad. He's a sensitive boy and needs the love that a family can provide. Keep me informed," I said as Eric headed toward his car.
I watched as their car drove down the lane. I wondered if our busy lives would ever give us time to explore a relationship that I thought each of us wanted. When I returned inside TJ was sitting on Manfred's lap while holding Bandit. "Did you tell Mr. Strasser what Bandit did to you?" I asked TJ.
"No," he giggled. "When daddy gave him to me he pee peed on me. He didn't mean it. He got all excited and couldn't help it, could you Bandit?"
Bandit licked TJ's nose as an answer.
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time it happened to me," Manfred said smiling. "When my son was little and we were stationed in Sacramento, we had three daschunds. Why we had three I'll never know. One day I came home from the Air Force base and there they were. My wife kept them all the time I was stationed there and when I was in Korea. When we moved to Minot, unfortunately they didn't thrive in the cold of North Dakota and the three of them failed to survive the first winter. I guess they were warm weather dogs. My son was crushed but he never wanted a dog after that."
"Son, why don't you take Bandit outside? Take Samson and maybe he'll show Bandit that he is supposed to do his business outside and not on your shirt," I said.
"Okay," he said jumping down from Manfred's lap. "Here, Samson, let's go outside. You can show Bandit what to do."
When the boys were finished with their showers and had gotten ready for bed, I went upstairs to tuck Chris and the twins in bed. I had a good idea of what I was going to face. I was immediately surrounded by the three of them and guided to sit on a bed. A twin sat on either side of me. Chris sat on the bed opposite me.
"Dad," Lenny began, "Can we get a puppy for our birthday next week? Please?"
"Yeah, dad, please?" Larry pleaded.
"How about you, Chris?" I asked.
"Yeah, but my birthday is not 'till November," he said hanging his head.
"Well, I'll tell you what. If you promise to take care of them..."
"We will! We will, dad!" they almost shouted in unison.
"Alright then, we'll go to the shelter on Friday and see what they have available. Now then it's time you guys were in bed," I said. I received extra special hugs and kisses from them as I tucked them in.
I went downstairs to finish my nightly routine. When I entered Joel and TJ's room I was not all that surprised to see Bandit in bed with TJ. "Now, TJ, you know Bandit can't sleep in bed with you. He needs to sleep in his own bed."
"But, he'll be lonesome," TJ said sticking out his bottom lip in a pout.
"Give him a hug and let me put him in his bed. I'll put his bed right here beside yours," I said shoving the doggie bed closer to the boys' bed.
"Okay," he reluctantly said kissing his puppy on the top of his head. "I love you, Bandit."
I put Bandit down in his bed hoping that he would stay there. That was not to be. He tried to climb back up into TJ's bed. Several times I put him back in his bed but he was having none of it. Finally I decided to try a different tack and took him around to the other side of the bed where Samson's bed was and put him down beside Samson. That seemed to work a little better. He turned around several times before he settled down and lay down next to Samson and appeared to be inclined to go to sleep. I hoped that this would last at least through the night. With Bandit settled I tucked Joel and TJ in for the night and went to my room to prepare for bed. It had been a long day.
Thursday morning was the first meeting of the board of directors of the foundation. I got to the office at about 8:45 to get things ready for the meeting. Darcie was already there when I got there and had almost everything prepared to present our first proposed recipients of the foundation to the board. All that was left for me to do was to make a pot of coffee. Gerald, Carlos and Jack all arrived shortly before nine.
Before we were able to take care of any business the board had to vote on the rules that would govern the operations of the board. Carlos had drawn up a set of rules that we all read through before we voted to approve them. The next order of business was to authorize me as President, CEO and Chairman of the Board to hire employees and to set salaries and compensation for all employees and to contract for services as I found necessary with oversight by the board.
With all the housekeeping items taken care of we took up the proposal to pay the Boises a stipend if they were willing to adopt Tony and an additional stipend if they also agreed to adopt Benny. Gerald suggested that what we were proposing was a bit too generous and suggested that we might want to trim back the $1000 per month to at least $900 and the second amount for Benny be reduced to $700 maximum.
After much discussion it was decided that the amounts that Gerald proposed were appropriate. It was also agreed that if the state provide any ongoing support to the Boises that our contribution would be reduced by 80% of the state aid. The aid would be available until each one reached the age of 18 or graduated from high school. At that time a determination would be made whether to continue the aid if either one attended a recognized institution of higher learning.
The meeting adjourned just before eleven. When everyone was gone, Darcie made a call to Karen Boise, which she put on the speaker phone, to explain to her what the foundation was proposing and to ascertain if they were still interested in adopting Tony or Benny or both.
"We want both of them. They are so happy these past couple of weeks to be back together again. To separate them again would be something that I cannot bear to think of. Yes we want to adopt and as soon as we can," Karen said.
"What you need to do to get things started," Darcie said, "is to contact Cindi and tell her what you want to do and find out from her what the state will contribute to the adoption process. Once you have done that, give me a call and I will coordinate with CPS to let them know what the foundation is willing to do."
"God bless you. If we hadn't met Joel and Mr. Johnson none of this would ever have happened. God must have had a plan..." Karen broke down. We could hear her sobbing over the phone. "I'm sorry. It's just nothing like this has ever happened to us. It's almost unbelievable."
"That's the purpose of the foundation: to find good people who want to adopt and provide them with the resources to make it happen," Darcie said. "You and your husband are to be the first recipients of the foundation's aid."
"Thanks Darcie, I'll call Cindi as soon as I hang up and get everything started. I hope this all works out. It just has to," she said. "Goodbye."
"I'm going to like this job," Darcie said after she disconnected. "It really makes you feel good to be able to help people like Karen and Bill."
"I'm glad that we can do this. It does make you feel like you are doing something worthwhile," I said. "Well, I'm going to head on home. Let me know if you hear back from Karen. I won't be back in the office until tomorrow afternoon and I know you will be gone all day. I'm going to go by the animal shelter to see what they have to offer in the way of puppies. It looks like I'm going to be the proud owner of five dogs after tomorrow."
"You are a glutton for punishment, aren't you?"
"Yeah, five boys and five dogs, my carpets will never be the same," I said getting up and heading for the door. "I'll see you on Monday."
I was surprised when I got to the shelter that they had a fairly large selection of dogs of all ages to select from. I saw three that I thought would be good matches for the boys but would have to wait to see what they thought tomorrow.