"Well you see... we don't have anyone like him enrolled here. We think he would feel uncomfortable without others like him," Lyle said not looking me in the eyes.
"What you are really saying is that because he is black that you don't think he would fit in. Is that right?" I said in a measured tone becoming very calm.
"I didn't say that exactly..."
"Well, what exactly did you say?"
"I just think it would be better if he found another school. Now if that is all, I have things to do." Lyle said getting up to leave.
"One more thing, is Mr. Pierce in his office?"
"Yes he is but he's very busy getting ready for the new school term."
"I think he will see me. I have something very important to discuss with him," I said with as steely a tone in my voice as I could muster.
Mr. Lyle must have gotten the message because he motioned for me to follow him to Mr. Pierce's office door where he knocked. He opened the door and I followed him into the room.
"Mr. Pierce, Mr. Johnson would like to speak to you."
"Thank you, Harry. Come in Mr. Johnson. What may I do for you?"
"I have just been informed that a prospective student has been rejected for what I believe to be racial reasons. Does this school discriminate on the basis of race?" I asked after Mr. Lyle left us.
"Of course not, we have filed a statement of nondiscrimination with the US Department of Education and with the Texas Education Agency."
"How many minority students are currently enrolled?" I asked.
"I can't recall right offhand."
"I would be willing to wager that there is exactly zero. Do you think I might win that wager? Well I'm sure that you would welcome your first minority student, wouldn't you?"
"Of course if he is qualified, but I understand that he failed the interview portion of the pre-acceptance procedure."
"Not to change the subject, but how are you financing the construction of the new classrooms for your first freshman class?"
"Well, it's public record that we issued notes for the initial construction."
"I believe that the amount issued was $10 million, correct?"
"Why yes that was the amount."
"I also understand that they were Demand Notes, correct?" (A note having no date for repayment, but due on demand of the lender)
"Yes," he said getting noticeably paler.
"Yesterday, I had my broker purchase half of those notes. Now what do you suppose I might feel compelled to do if I thought for one moment that the school I'm sending my sons to is racist?"
"Oh no, that would bankrupt the school," he said collapsing into his chair. After a couple minutes of silence he asked, "What do you want?"
"Two things, first, I want Bran LaBeau to be admitted to the freshman class. He is qualified in every way that matters including academics. Second, I would find it most agreeable if the school actively sought out qualified minorities for the student body," I said.
"Very well, he will be admitted," he said. "Is there any thing else?"
"Perhaps there is one more thing, I don't want to hear that he is being discriminated against by the faculty or other staff or that they allow or encourage any discrimination against him. That young man is as dear to me as are my own sons and I would be compelled to respond as if he were should anything happen. Now if you will excuse me, I'm taking my sons to lunch."
I left the office with a coppery taste of bile in my mouth. When I got to the front door all seven of the boys were there waiting for me.
"Is Bran going to get to go to school here dad?" Joel asked. "He said he wasn't. Why can't he dad?"
Putting my arm around Bran's shoulder and looking him in the eyes I said, "Yes, Bran is going to go to school here, too."
That brought a round of cheers and a round of hugs from all of them. Then everybody headed for the van. We stopped for lunch at a local mom and pop cafe that served great made to order burgers and milk shakes.
Most of Thursday morning was spent shopping for new school uniforms and other clothes to replace all of the ones the boys had outgrown. I never knew that boys' feet could grow so fast. Thank goodness Hildy went with us to do the shopping. She had much better sense about her when it came to choosing the boys' clothes.
By Thursday evening Larry and Lenny were so excited about their birthday party tomorrow that I didn't think I would ever get them settled down so that they could go to sleep. It was funny watching them. They told me that they had never had a birthday party before. The most they had ever had to celebrate their birthdays was a cake that their mother used to make for them. They never had any presents or friends to help them celebrate. It was nearly 10:30 before they finally got to sleep.
"Good morning, liebchen," Hildy said giving first Larry and then Lenny their morning hugs. The puppies in their arms got hugs at the same time.
"Take your puppies outside. We don't want them to have an accident," I told them.
Chris had already made his way downstairs and had Rusty outside. I think he went to sleep long before the twins did last night. Joel and TJ had their dogs outside also. With all the playing the ten of them did I would probably have to go drag them inside to eat their breakfast. In reality all I had to do was go to the door and announce that Hildy's pancakes were ready and I was nearly run over by the rush of five boys heading for the bathrooms to wash up. I steered the dogs to their food dishes in the laundry room.
David Wilson arrived around 9:30. Becky Sue understated when she said that he was cute. He was movie star handsome. Maybe handsome is not the right word. Beautiful is more descriptive even though that is an odd descriptor for a man. All the boys took to him immediately and dragged him off to see their puppies. He was as personable as he was good looking. Even Hildy was taken by him.
We soon got down to the business of setting up everything for the party. Even the boys got involved in helping. David and I could probably have done it faster without their help but it was important for them to feel like they were helping.
After an early lunch we prepared for the onslaught of ten friends of the twins plus JR and Bran. Janet Sutton was the first to arrive bringing her son Billy. Larry and Lenny had really developed a friendship with him after their incident of sitting on him at school. He had changed dramatically after he had their friendship. He was no longer the class bully.
David kept the boys entertained while I greeted each new parent bringing their son. It turned out that he did card tricks as a hobby. All the boys were spellbound as they crowded around him trying to see how he did them. I think they would have spent the entire afternoon just watching him do the tricks.
I thought that TJ's party was a madhouse, but with ten pre-pubescent boys added to my sons and Eric's two it was really bedlam. David appeared to love working with the boys and they were captivated by him. The first part of the party went off without a hitch. I think everyone was ready for some cake when we announced it was time to go inside.
The same tables that we had for TJ's party were now set up with five boys on three sides and the twins on the fourth. Hildy had baked and decorated two birthday cakes. One was chocolate with white frosting and the other was white with chocolate frosting. They were both large enough to feed the entire group if they all wanted the same kind.
We again sang an absolutely horrible rendition of Happy Birthday before the twins blew out the candles. I asked them if they had each made a wish. They said that they had but wanted to keep it a secret.
Five of the boys had been invited by Larry and the other five had been invited by Lenny. That way the guests would not feel obligated to buy presents for both of the twins. The presents would end up commingled anyway so it really didn't matter which twin got which present.
After everyone had eaten their ice cream and cake, David entertained them with his card tricks for enough time for their treats to settle. Then it was off to the pool for everyone who wanted to go for a swim. All but two of the boys wanted to go swimming so Bran and I played volleyball with them until they tired. At a few minutes to five I told everyone to go jump in the showers and get dressed that their parents would be here shortly to pick them up. I think they were all genuinely sad to see the party come to an end. I'm sure that David had a lot to do with that.
Before he left I asked David if he would be interested in continuing the boys swimming lessons that Becky Sue had started. He readily agreed and we decided now that summer little league would end this Saturday for Chris and the twins and Sunday for TJ that he would come every Saturday afternoon after that. We agreed on compensation for the lessons and then I paid him for today and he left after getting a round of hugs from seven boys.
The dogs were released from the dog run and were racing around stumbling over their own feet being happy to be free. Samson just stood and watched as if he couldn't understand what was going on. When he decided that it was time to go water one of the bushes he had four puppies following him to help
Bran slowly approached me and said, "What did you do to make the school let me in?"
"I just convinced them that you would make an excellent addition to their new freshman class. You are a very bright young man. I just want you to show JR and Eric how great a young man you really are. Can you do that?" I asked.
Nodding his head he wrapped his arms around my waist, "Thanks, Uncle Crane."
The last time someone called me Uncle Crane I ended up with five sons. "You are very welcome," I said and returned his hug.
"Are Eric and his boys going to stay for supper?" Hildy asked as I went back in the house.
"I haven't invited them yet. If you have enough for all of us I will," I said.
"We're having fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. I can always fix enough for three extra mouths, even if two of them are young boys," she laughed turning back toward the kitchen.
"I'll invite them then," I said after her.
I went upstairs to see if there was any more cleanup necessary before the rental store came tomorrow to pick up the tables and chairs. Hildy had cleaned everything off the tables and filled a couple of garbage bags with the trash which were sitting there to be carried out. I grabbed them and took them downstairs and out the back door. I decided to carry them down to the gate since they weren't that heavy. It was garbage pickup tomorrow and I wanted to get rid of as much trash as possible.
As I started down the drive with my two garbage bags in hand, Joel came up along side of me.
"Dad, what did you say to Mr. Lyle that made him change his mind about Bran?" he asked.
"It was really Mr. Pierce that I convinced that Bran would be an excellent student," I answered.
"They weren't going to let him attend because he is black, right?" he said looking straight into my eyes.
I didn't want to lie to him but I didn't want him to know exactly how I 'convinced' them to change their mind. "They just needed an incentive to do the right thing," I said as we approached the gate.
"You're not going to tell me, are you?" he asked with a big smile on his face.
I place the trash bags outside the gate before I turned to him. "You know for a thirteen year old with fuzzy hair, you're pretty smart. I love you Joel Jay Johnson."
"You're pretty smart for a thirty year old. I love you, too," he giggled.
I put my arm around him and we started back up the drive. We were almost to the house when Eric drove up.
"Hi, guys," Eric said as he stepped out of his car. "Crane, I see you're still here. I figured that you'd have been carted away to the funny farm. How many boys did you have here today? Fifteen? Sixteen?"
"Actually there were seventeen. We had a great time, but I'm glad that we don't have any more birthdays for a few months. I need some time to regroup. How's everything at the office? How's your project coming?"
"Oh, everything is going great. The project in Dallas is actually going to be wrapped up quicker than planned, at least my part of it. Everyone misses you at the office."
"I still owe them my week this month. I'll be coming into the office the last week of the month after I get the boys back in school," I said.
"Well, I'd better gather up my two and head off home and figure out what to fix for supper. Mrs. Carson wasn't there this afternoon to fix anything for us," Eric said.
"Stay for supper with us. I already checked with Hildy and she is fixing extra. It's nothing fancy, just fried chicken," I told him.
"Thanks, that's the best offer I've had all day. I need to check on my two. I'll bet I know what they are doing. You know since you got all of those dogs I haven't had a minute's peace from JR. We're going to the shelter tomorrow morning to see if they have anything. I think we will be the proud owners of at least one dog. I only hope that I can get away that easy."
The twins had to show Eric all the presents that they had gotten at the party before we sat down to supper. When he asked them if they had received their birthday spanking, their eyes got really wide and they backed up against the wall. I had to explain to them that in some places it was customary to give the birthday boy a light spanking, one swat for each year old they were. They still didn't think too much of the idea. My guess was that they remember the abuse that they had received at the hands of their abusive biological father. I didn't realize that he was still having an effect on them. I realized that I needed to let them know that their old father was dead and would no longer be able to hurt them.
Our meal was excellent as always. Hildy's southern fried chicken is some of the best that I have ever eaten. I don't know how many chickens she fried but I know there were at least a dozen drumsticks. She told me later that she bought packages of legs, thighs and breasts rather than whole chickens so that she didn't have to spend the time cutting them up.
After the dishes were all loaded into the dishwasher and the little food that was left over was put in the refrigerator the boys went to play with their dogs while Eric and I retired to the family room. "May I speak to you privately?" Eric asked.
"Sure, let's go into my study," I said leading the way.
Eric closed the door behind us and then stepped up to me, wrapped his arms around me and planted a passionate kiss on my totally shocked lips.
"Wow! What was that for?" I asked when he released me and I recovered.
"That was for helping Bran... and for me. I talked to Paul Coulter today and he said the word going around the school was that you applied a little pressure to the school's pocketbook to get Bran admitted. He said there are several versions of what happened depending on who you talk to. He had called Darcie about some foundation business and told her about it and then she called me. What was it exactly that you did do?" He asked.
"If you must know, I hold some notes that the school is using to finance the construction of the new classrooms," I said hoping that this would satisfy him.
"So what? How does that give you any leverage with them? They pay you interest and then redeem the bonds at maturity in what ten or twenty years?"
"You see, they are not really bonds. What they issued were demand notes," I said.
"I don't understand. I'm not an accountant. What's a demand note?" he asked.
"It just means that the lender or the borrower may at any time demand their redemption. I thought it was a good investment. They pay 8% interest which makes for a good annual income from them. I never threatened to redeem them, I just wondered out loud what I should do if I discovered the school my sons were attending was racist," I said blushing.
"You are one sneaky bastard, a rich sneaky bastard but one with a heart of gold. By the way, how much of the debt do you own?"
"I had my broker secure half of it."
"Oh my God! No wonder Pierce had to change his underwear after you left," he laughed. "Or at least that is how the story goes."
"I doubt that," I chuckled.
"They are really taking your implied threat seriously. They are holding meetings with everyone on the school's payroll as well as all the volunteers to let them know that discrimination will not be tolerated by anyone. Paul said that they were told that they would be terminated immediately if there was even a hint of discrimination. Not only will this benefit Bran but it will help the new female students that will be attending this year also.
"You're a good man Charlie Brown," he said hugging me.
This time I initiated the kiss. This time it was not a surprise to either of us. When we came up for air I said, "I'd like to keep this up but I think we had better check on the boys. I'll take a rain check."
"You can redeem it any time," he said giving me a final hug.
The boys were playing with the dogs as we went out to check on them. JR was holding Bandit and getting his face licked as if he were a lollipop. He was giggling so hard he could hardly hold the squirming puppy.
"I see there will be no getting out of looking for that puppy tomorrow," Eric said.
"No," I said. "There's no way you'll come home without at least one dog. Maybe two?"
"I think we had better try just one for a while. It'll be fine until the boys go back to school, but what will we do with it while we're all gone?" he asked shaking his head.
"You'll just have to fix up a place where it can run, have plenty of shade and lots of fresh water and food. It'll do alright while you are gone. Don't worry," I said patting him on the back.
As was the nightly ritual since getting the dogs, the last thing the boys did before getting tucked into bed was to take their friends outside one last time. I think Bandit was really getting the idea of being house trained. I wasn't too sure of the three Beagles, although to be fair we had only had them less than a week. All of them had been pretty good about sleeping in their doggie beds. Even Bandit was sleeping in his own bed and not with Samson anymore.
After all the boys were tucked in for the night I received a phone call from Darcie. She said that she had received two referrals for the foundation from two case workers that she knew. I was a little surprised because we really hadn't advertised the foundation to CPS. I guess that the grapevine was working overtime. Darcie said she would like to talk to me about the two cases. I told her I would be in the office on Monday morning and we could discuss them at that time. I told her to go enjoy her weekend and I would see her Monday.
Saturday was the last game of the summer season for Chris and the twins. Unfortunately they were scheduled to play their games at the same time. That meant that I wouldn't be able to watch Chris' game since I would be coaching the twins. I was glad that Hildy agreed to come along with us so that she would be able to keep track of Chris and also keep TJ reined in.
The day was sultry hot when we got to the ball fields but there were dark clouds in the west threatening rain. As the games got started all the coaches kept one eye on the approaching storm. At the first sight of lightning we called the games and everyone headed to the cars. I made sure that all of my team were safe in their parent's cars before I felt comfortable to start home. It was starting to rain hard as we drove toward the exit of the complex.
"Crane, stop! There's a young boy over there by that metal shed," Hildy cried. "We can't leave him there. What if the lightning would strike?"
I looked to where she was pointing. I could hardly see him for the pouring rain. I headed the van toward the shed to get a better look.
"That's Chad. He was in our class at the other school," Larry said opening the side door of the van. "Chad! Come on in the van!"
Chad looked a little surprised but didn't hesitate to jump into the van. Hildy immediately got a blanket wrapped around the soaked boy trying to dry him off.
"Chad, where are your folks?" I asked him.
"My brother's supposed to pick me up. He went to see his girlfriend and left me here," Chad replied.
"What's your phone number? I'll call them and let them know that you are all right."
"But... Dickie will get in trouble," he said.
"I think that Dickie is already in trouble," I said and then dialed the number he gave me.
When I reached his parents on my cell phone I explained to them the situation. They were relieved to know that he was alright. I told them that I would bring him home. They gave me the directions and we headed out again. Chad lived not all that far from the ball fields, but it was in the opposite direction from our house. It only took us a few minutes to get to his house. His mom was waiting for us on their front porch with a large umbrella unfurled ready to make a dash to the van.
Chad's mom thanked us profusely for bringing her 'baby', as she called him, home safely. As she headed back to the house with Chad under the umbrella we heard her begin the questioning of Chad about where his brother was.
The center of the storm seemed to be right over our heads as we turned back on to 306 and headed for home. The lightning would flash and almost immediately it would be followed by a very loud clap of thunder. Each one elicited a nervous giggle from the boys.
"Are we gonna get home soon, daddy?" TJ asked.
"It'll only be a few minutes, son," I answered.
"Bandit's gonna be scared," he said.
"Samson will take care of him. I'll bet they're in the doghouse with him all cuddled up," I said trying to be convincing.
I drove the van as far into the garage as it would go so that we wouldn't have to get wet when we got out. I could hear the puppies yipping and crying as we started for the back door. The boys made a bee line for the dog run to check on their scared little friends. Hildy and I grabbed towels from the laundry room to dry off the dogs and boys as they rushed back into the house.
"Samson was taking care of them like you said," Chris announced as he grabbed a towel and wrapped it around Rusty. It didn't bother him that he was wetter than his puppy was.
"But Buster was still scared. See, he's still shaking," Lenny said as he hugged his little pet.
It didn't take long for the dogs to settle down with all the love the boys were giving them. I just wondered if they would put them down long enough to eat. It would be a tough choice but I thought I knew what it would be. One thing for sure was that there would be no dogs allowed at the table.
The rain stopped by the time we had eaten supper and we were treated to a magnificent sunset a couple hours later. The boys were much more interested in finishing off the last of the birthday cakes than in watching the sunset.
Sunday morning meant that I was in charge of breakfast. I usually fixed scrambled eggs, sausage and frozen hash browns. The toaster only made four slices at a time so I had to make three batches. I kept the toast warm in the oven while the others were being toasted.
The boys didn't seem to mind my lack of culinary skills. There was nothing left when they were finished eating.
Today was going to be fairly relaxed. The only thing that we had going on was TJ's last T-ball game at two. We spent the morning swimming and playing with the dogs. Bandit loved the water and he and TJ had a ball in the water. Buddy, Buster and Rusty played in the water with their masters but were not as enthusiastic about it as Bandit. They spent most of the time in the boys' arms rather than swimming around. I was pleased at the progress that the boys had made in their swimming ability. They had all dramatically improved over the summer. Becky Sue's instructions were apparent in their improvement.
TJ's team won their game. Afterwards he gave Ellen England, his coach, a hug and thanked her for being so nice. I also thanked her for making his first experience with organized sports so enjoyable. We took the long way home and stopped by the Dairy Queen for hot fudge sundaes. Nobody seemed to mind the extra time it took to get home.
Hildy and Manfred were sitting out by the pool when we got home. They were surrounded by the puppies trying to jump up on their laps and being petted. That was until the boys ran to their puppies and sidetracked them.
After a while I started a fire in the grill. I planned to fix some hamburgers and hot dogs. I invited Hildy and Manfred to join us if they didn't already have plans. They agreed and Hildy offered to fix some beans and cole slaw. Manfred said he would help me make out the burgers.
I fixed a couple extra burgers for the dogs. Although I didn't allow the boys to feed their pets from the table, I intended for them to give the burgers to the dogs in their regular food dishes. This was a special treat. Ordinarily they would be fed dog food. That way I knew they were getting the right nutrition to keep them healthy.
The more I was around Manfred the more I liked him. The boys adored him and he appeared to return their love. I hoped that once he and Hildy were married it wouldn't change things. I think I was a little jealous of the thoughts of having to share Hildy with him.
Supper was great, both the dogs and the boys enjoyed their meals. The boys had ice cream for dessert, the dogs had none.
I tucked the boys in at bed time. The boys got hugs and kisses, the dogs got pats on the head. When I tucked Joel and TJ in bed I thought that Joel had something on his mind. He seemed to be a little distracted.
"Son, is something bothering you?" I asked him.
"No, it's nothing," he said.
"Well, if you decide you need to talk to someone, I'll be in the family room reading for a while," I said, kissed him on the forehead and left the room.
I probably had read ten pages of my book when I heard footsteps coming down the hall. I could tell it was Joel from the sound. He approached and then squeezed in beside me in the recliner.
"What's the matter, son?" I asked and put my arm around him.
"It's... well... school starts on Wednesday and..." he started and buried his face in my chest.
"Yes, you'll be in eighth grade. You'll get to see all your friends again that you haven't seen all summer," I said trying to be as reassuring as I could be.
"But... But, what if they make fun of me 'cause of my hair?" he asked choking back a sob.
"I suppose that is a possibility. Do you think they would make fun of you if they knew why your hair is like it is?"
"I don't know, maybe not."
"How could they find out what happened to make your hair look like it does?"
"Maybe you could tell them?" he asked looking me directly in the eyes.
"Is that what you want? Do you want me to come to school and sit in each of your classes and tell your classmates that you had leukemia?"
"No," he said almost indignantly.
"Okay, is there any other way they could be told?"
"I guess I'll have to tell them," he said after thinking for a moment.
"I think that is the best solution, then they can ask you questions about it," I said giving him another hug. "You know that there may be some of your classmates that still may make comments about your hair. There are always a few who make fun of people who may look a little different.
"Let me tell you a story of a boy I went to school with. It was a boarding school so we lived at the school as well as going to classes there. Cary was about my age. We shared a room in the freshmen dorm. He had a severe limp that caused him to take a step and then drag his other leg and then take another step and so on. Anyway some of the older students took to imitating how Cary walked. I know it hurt his feelings because sometimes at night I could hear him crying.
"One day he came upon a boy who was imitating him to a group of his friends. They were laughing at the imitation when Cary limped up to them. He looked the boy straight in the eye and said, 'I'm sorry that you find it necessary to make fun of me to make you feel important. What you are doing is hurtful to me.' With that, Cary turned and limped away. I was a few feet away and heard the whole confrontation.
"The boy stood there stunned, not only that he got caught doing his imitation but that Cary had confronted him is such a direct way. I never saw him imitate that limp again."
"What happened to Cary?" Joel asked.
"The last I heard he owned a company in San Jose, California and was a multi-millionaire. I haven't heard from him in a couple of years."
"Thanks, dad," he said.
"You're welcome, son. Now I think it's time for you to go back to bed or you'll be a sleepy boy in the morning. I love you," I said kissing his forehead.
"I love you, too" he said slipping out of the recliner and heading for his bedroom.
I hope he will be able to handle the inevitable teasing he will encounter. I just hope that he can defuse it before it gets to him. I must remember to talk to him about it after he gets started in school. God, I wish there were some way I could shelter him from it.
Sleep didn't come easy.
I awoke to the smell of bacon being fried. After showering and getting dressed I joined Hildy in the kitchen for my cup of coffee. I told her that I would be going to the foundation office this morning, but that I would be back this afternoon. She reminded me that we still needed to get the school supplies for the boys before school started. I hadn't even thought of that. She handed me the list that the school sent out for each grade. It looked like we would be making a trip to Office Depot this afternoon.
Darcie was in the office before I got there. I grabbed a cup of coffee and then went to talk to her about the two referrals that she had received. I read through the material that Darcie's friends had sent her. On the surface both files seemed to fit the criteria that we had established for foundation help. The information was skimpy, however. We would need a lot more information before either one of the prospects could be approved.
I had Darcie call her friend Lucinda. She was a caseworker who had submitted one of the files. I had Darcie ask her if we could get more information about her referral. All we really knew was that the referral was a divorced woman, thirty-five years old, who was fostering a ten year-old girl and wanted to adopt the girl. The woman worked as a cashier in a supermarket and her disposable income did not qualify her for adoption.
The other file was on Bruce, a single man, twenty-six years old, who taught mathematics in a local high school. He had been involved in the Big Brothers program with an eight year-old boy. It seemed that the boy's mother was single and didn't know who his father was. The mother disappeared several months ago and the boy made his way to his Big Brother's house. He had been fostered with Bruce ever since. The mother had recently been found murdered in South San Antonio. It seemed that Bruce was more likely in need of legal counsel rather than ongoing support from the foundation.
I called Jack and told him we had two more prospects that we wanted investigated. He said he would come to the office and pick up the information that we had and would begin his background checks. I suggested that he wait to start the full background checks until after Darcie and I had interviewed them. If all went right that would happen before the end of the week.
After getting off the phone with Jack I told Darcie that I wouldn't be back in the office until Wednesday when the boys were back in school. I asked her to see if she could set up a time to talk to our two new prospects sometime later in the week if at all possible.
I got back home in time for lunch. Hildy said that she had to go grocery shopping after we had eaten. I found the school supplies list and herded the boys into the van and we took off to get what they needed. We filled a shopping cart nearly to the top with the supplies for all five boys. I picked up a few things for the foundation office as well.
When we got home I had the boys put their school supplies in their backpacks so that they would be ready to take to school on Wednesday. After they had finished that I gave them each a brush and told them they had to learn how to brush their dogs. Joel already knew how because he had been brushing Samson for some time. I told them they had to brush their dogs at least once a week. They were anxious to learn how. Joel demonstrated how he brushed Samson with long slow strokes. You could tell that Samson liked being brushed. When the other boys tried it on their own dogs, both dog and owner seemed to enjoy the process.
Later that evening after the supper dishes were placed in the dishwasher I called the boys into the family room. They all came in with their puppies in their arms except for Joel and Samson. Samson walked beside Joel until he sat down and then climbed into Joel's lap. TJ took his usual place on my lap and the others sat on either sides of me.
"Chris, this does not directly affect you. There is something I have been putting off telling the rest of you. I put this off because at the time I became aware of it Joel was in the hospital and I didn't want to put any more stress on him than he had already. Since then I have just put it off because I didn't want to deal with it.
"You know that your old dad was sent to prison for killing your mom, don't you?" I asked and received nods from everyone. I continued, "Prison is a very dangerous place. When it became known what he had done to Joel it became even more dangerous for him. The danger finally caught up with him and someone killed him. Your old dad is dead."
Nobody said anything for a moment or two. Then Joel spoke, "He stopped being my dad when he killed my mom." There was bitterness in his voice. "I'm sorry that he's dead, but I'm not sad. You're our dad now. He's just someone I once knew."
Larry and Lenny were nodding their heads in agreement. TJ didn't say anything for a while. He just stroked Bandit. Finally he said, "He hurt my mommy and Joel. I didn't like him. He can't hurt them no more."
"I love you guys," I said. "If you ever feel like you need to talk to me about your old dad, I'll always be here for you."
The revelation of their dad's death didn't put a damper on the evening. They were playing with their dog and having a great time within minutes. It had gone better than I had expected, but I was still a little bit surprised at their casual attitude.
When I asked the boys what they wanted to do on their last day before they had to start back to school they said they wanted to go fishing. So right after breakfast I called the marina and had them service my boat. Hildy packed a lunch and a snack. I got the fishing gear ready and loaded it in the van along with a cooler containing our lunch and another with soft drinks and bottled water.
I almost relented when TJ looked at me with those beautiful pleading eyes while he held Bandit. I just could not see taking all five dogs on the boat. The dogs stayed at home. Hildy said she would take care of them. That helped a little bit.
Once we were on the boat the dogs were forgotten. We cruised around until we came to our favorite fishing spot. I cut the engine and let the boat drift slowly. There was not much current or wind so we didn't drift very far. I broke out the fishing gear and saw to it that each one had a good lure before I gave the rod to each boy. I'm not much for using live bait.
As the sun rose in the sky I liberally applied sunscreen to the boys and myself. I didn't want them to start school with sunburns. The fish weren't biting all that well. We did catch some fish. In fact everyone caught at least one fish. I think Larry did the best with three. After the boys enjoyed their morning snack I decided that we had enough fishing for a while. I started the motor and we cruised the lake taking in its beauty and watching the other boats. There were quite a few speed boats and jet skis buzzing around. The boys really liked watching the jet skis and the plume of water shooting up behind them as they roared around. Maybe next summer I would rent one and take each of the boys a ride on it.
After we ate our lunch we cruised slowly around the lake. I maneuvered the boat back to the marina as I could tell the boys were getting tired. I decided it was best to head home. We loaded all of the fishing equipment into the van as well as the empty coolers and the one containing our fish.
As usual I got the job of cleaning the fish. There weren't that many so it didn't take me that long, beside the boys had more important things to do like playing with the puppies. We had enough for supper Hildy said when I finished cleaning them.
We went swimming when I finished with the fish. It did get the fish smell off all of us. The puppies were really beginning to take to the water. Samson still preferred to stand on the side and bark every so often. It was funny to see the four puppies when they got out of the water. They would try shaking the water off, but sometimes they got to shaking so hard that they would fall over. That would cause the boys to go into fits of laughter.
The fish was excellent. Hildy served it with her wonderful hush puppies and a cabbage and carrot salad. It was a simple supper but nobody complained.
Nobody complained later when snack time rolled around. Hildy had fixed cream puffs. She had even frosted the tops of them with chocolate and then dusted them with powdered sugar. They were very messy to eat but they were heavenly. I think we had them all over our faces before we were through.
"Hildy, these are yummy," TJ said. He even had chocolate frosting on his nose.
It was barely dark outside when I told the boys to go get their showers taken and get ready for bed. They started to complain but I reminded them that school started tomorrow and they had to get up early to catch the school van. Reluctantly they went off to their showers.
Even though they didn't want to go to bed I could tell that they were tired. I tucked each one in giving them a hug, a kiss and telling them that I loved them.
Despite the fact they went to bed early, I had a hard time getting them to wake up in the morning. Finally they came dragging down the stairs and the hall to the breakfast table. By the time breakfast was over they were fully awake and chatting about going to school. I was glad to see that they were excited to go back to school.
Everyone was ready in plenty of time to meet their van. They looked so handsome in their new school uniforms that I had to take a picture of all of them together. I was so proud of them that I nearly burst. Hildy gave them each a hug before we started down to the gate to wait on the school van. On the way I checked to make sure that they had their meal tickets.
I saw the van approaching as we got to the gate. I quickly gave them all a hug. They got on the van saying hi to Doug their van driver and then turned to wave at me. I stood there and watched until the van was out of sight.
Another school year begins. More adventures. More problems. More independence. More opportunities. I don't know if I'm ready for it.