Marie's VW had barely come to a stop in front of the house before all five of the boys had it surrounded. Joel attempted to open the passenger side door, but it was locked. Marie reached over and pulled up the lock before she opened her own door and got out. As soon as the lock was released, Joel had the door open and the front passenger seatback pushed forward. Ricky had his arms extended, trying desperately to break his confinement in his safety seat. It was all Joel could do to release the snap with Ricky straining against the belt.
"Come on, Munchkin," Joel said, as he lifted his small friend out of the car. "Did you miss me?"
"Uh huh, I missed you. How come you was gone so long?" Ricky asked, throwing his arms around Joel's neck and giving him a kiss on the cheek.
Joel laughed and gave his young charge a squeeze. By this time all the other boys were gathered around and stroking Ricky from every angle.
Since Chris was closest to the car door, Joel asked, "Hey, Chris, will you grab Ricky's crutches?"
"Sure," Chris said, grabbing the crutches from the floor of the back seat before closing the car door.
As the "Ricky parade" headed for the house, I greeted Marie. I asked her if I could speak with her for a few moments and directed her into my study while the boys entertained Ricky, or was that the other way around, I wondered.
I briefly explained to Marie about the doctor in Houston, Dr. Alverez, who was willing to fit Ricky with one of his experimental peg legs for kids. She was excited as I told her all that I knew about it. A frown came across her face when I said that she and Ricky would have to go to Houston for him to be fitted.
"I can't take off work and drive to Houston. I need the money. There's no way," she said, taking a tissue out of her pocket and dabbing at her eyes.
"Don't worry about that," I comforted her. "I've made arrangements for the three of us to fly to Houston on Sunday afternoon and then meet with Dr. Alverez on Monday morning. He'll fit Ricky with the leg and then his staff will work with Ricky to make sure that he knows how to walk with it. If everything goes according to plan, we should be able to fly back to San Antonio Monday evening. That way you will only miss one day of work and I'll pay you for Monday as usual."
"Why are you doing this for us?" Marie asked, still dabbing at her eyes with the tissue.
"Because I can and, besides, all of us have grown to love your son. You can tell by the laughter that's coming from the game room upstairs how much my boys love Ricky. He's a delightful little boy and deserves every chance to have as normal a life as possible and if I can help make that happen, I will."
After getting Marie's agreement to fly to Houston on Sunday, we went into the kitchen to talk to Hildy and make sure that she would be able to take care of the boys while I was gone. She had a pot of coffee ready and offered Marie and me a cup. Hildy was thrilled to hear the news and readily agreed to watch the boys. While we were talking, Manfred came into the kitchen and after giving Hildy a peck on the cheek sat down at the table with us. Hildy poured him a cup of coffee and explained what was going on. He said that he would stay home on Monday to see that the boys got off to school and that they arrived home safely.
I let the boys play with Ricky for about an hour before calling them to get washed up for supper. Hildy and I had both insisted that he and Marie stay and eat with us since we had delayed their trip home.
It was after eight o'clock before Marie and Ricky drove off for home, much to the chagrin of the boys. "Don't worry, guys," I said, "he'll be back tomorrow morning. You'll have one more day to play with him before you start back to school." That seemed to satisfy them, at least for the moment.
About a half an hour later, I received a call from Eric. "I just wanted to call and tell you how much fun all of us had on our snow vacation. Most of all, I enjoyed spending time with you," Eric said.
"I think all of us had a great time. I'm glad that we got to spend the time together, even if there were seven boys around most of the time," I said.
We talked for another ten minutes or so before Eric said, "Oh, there was something else I wanted to tell you. That Ricky is a miracle worker. When Marie brought him in this morning, he got his hugs from JR and Bran and then the little dickens went straight to my dad and climbed onto his lap. You should have seen dad's eyes light up. You know I've talked about putting dad in a nursing home because he is so depressed and will hardly speak. He just mopes around, but mostly sits in 'his' chair in front of the TV. Well, as soon as Ricky was on his lap he started talking to Ricky and appeared to be back to his old self. It was amazing."
"That's fantastic," I said. "Has this been going on for a while?"
"I guess that it started while we were gone. Before we left for Colorado, I noticed that Ricky would sometimes crutch over and stand in front of dad and look at him for a while and then go off and play. I had never seen him climb onto his lap. I hope he continues to give dad 'therapy', because it has made a big change in him. After Ricky leaves, dad regresses a little, but he's better than he was. I love that little boy."
"Don't we all?" I said. "Don't we all?"
Friday morning I decided that I would try to get back into my once routine of swimming laps every morning. Even though I had plenty of exercise over the past week, I was still not able to complete my usual number of laps without being totally wiped out. I was sitting on the edge of the pool and contemplated my lost conditioning when Chris slipped in through the zippered opening to the pool wearing his swimming suit.
"Good morning, Chris. What gets you up so early on a non-school day?"
"Hildy said you were out here. I thought I'd swim with you. We haven't done it in a long while."
"You're right we haven't and my body tells me it's been too long. Jump in, I think I still have a few laps left in me now that I've rested a few minutes."
"Race you," he yelled and jumped into the pool.
"No fair, you got a head start," I teased and pushed off the wall of the pool.
By the end of the third lap, I had caught up and overtaken the half pool length advantage he started with. However, before we had finished the fifth lap, I was beginning to slow down considerably and he was able to catch me and touch the wall before I did.
"You win," I said. I climbed out of the pool and began drying off with one of the large bath towels I had brought out.
"Did you let me win, dad?" Chris asked as he stepped up to me.
"No, son, I didn't. You beat me fair and square. I'll get you the next time," I laughed and tousled his wet hair.
"I love you, dad."
"I love you too, son."
"I'm glad you adopted me. I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't brought me home with you guys." He wrapped his wet arms around me and pushed his head against my chest.
"I have never been happier than I have been since I adopted you and your brothers. You've made my life so much better in so many ways," I said, tilting his head up so that I could look into his eyes. I leaned down and kissed his forehead. "What do you say we go see if Hildy has breakfast ready?"
"Yeah," he said and scrambled toward the opening. I followed at a more leisurely pace.
Breakfast was nearly over when Marie and Ricky arrived. Breakfast was put on hold while everyone greeted Ricky. Of course, the boys insisted that Ricky eat breakfast with them despite Marie's explaining that he had all ready eaten his before they left home.
Later in the morning, I took the boys to get a haircut. It had been a little over three weeks since their last one and they were beginning to look a little shaggy. I asked Marie if it would be all right if we took Ricky with us. It looked like he could use a haircut as well. After some hesitation, she agreed. I told Hildy that we would have lunch while we were out.
When we got to Jose's shop, I quickly realized that Ricky had never had a haircut in a barber shop before. Every time Jose would start cutting, Ricky would swivel his head around trying to see what was happening. Finally, Jose turned Ricky facing the big wall mirrors so that he could see what was going on. This was only partially successful. At least he didn't cry as I had seen so many other kids his age react. When he was finished, Jose gave Ricky a sucker and Ricky gave Jose a hug.
As I was paying our bill, Jose asked, "Have you added another boy to your family? Weren't five enough?"
"No," I laughed. "The little one, Ricky, belongs to my housekeeper. Although, if asked, I'm sure that my sons would vote to add him to the family."
By the time we had finished with all the haircuts if was time for an early lunch. We headed to the nearest Wendy's for cheeseburgers, French fries and those thick chocolate frosties. Ricky was having a ball. I don't think he had ever been to a Wendy's before. Although he was excited, he was very well behaved for a three year-old.
"Dad, can we go see A Goofy Movie?" Joel asked. "They're showing it in the theater at the Market Center. I know Ricky would like it."
"I don't know why not," I said, thinking what a good idea that was. "We'll go see when the first showing starts as soon as we finish here. I think the theater opens at one o'clock. If that's right, we'll have maybe an hour to wait."
"We could go to Wal-Mart and look at toys," Larry giggled, ducking his head.
"I don't know about that," I responded. "I think you guys have more toys than they have."
"Aw dad, we don't have that many," Lenny said.
"I know, I was just teasing you."
"Can we go?" Larry asked again.
"I guess. We'll drive by the movie theater first to make sure when it starts."
The Wal-Mart visit was an adventure. Six boys in a toy department was an experience I didn't want to have very often. Thankfully, we didn't have but thirty minutes to spend there. Ricky was in heaven when he saw a small stuffed toy. It was a white furry puppy. He latched onto it and wouldn't let go. It was all I could do to take it away from him long enough to have the cashier scan it. Everyone else picked out something that they wanted.
We arrived at the theater a few minutes after it had opened but before the feature started. Despite the fact that they had eaten about an hour before, everyone wanted some popcorn and that meant they had to have something to drink as well. The popcorn and drinks for everyone ended up costing more that our meal at Wendy's. I had insisted that all the boys use the restroom before we got the popcorn and drinks.
I held Ricky on my lap so that he could see the screen. He clutched his stuffed dog in one hand and ate popcorn with the other. I tried to limit his fluid intake. I didn't want to walk out of the theater with a wet spot on my pants.
The movie was okay. In my opinion it was not as good as the last movie I took the boys to, Toy Story. The boys enjoyed the bumbling antics of Goofy and his son Max. That's all that mattered.
On the way home, Ricky fell asleep in his car seat, clutching his stuffed white dog. He was still asleep when we arrived home. He only woke up when Joel unfastened his safety restraint and lifted him out of the van still holding his toy. Joel carried him into the house.
"Where did you get that?" Marie asked her son as we entered the house.
"He got it for me," Ricky said, pointing to me and clutching his toy even tighter.
"Did you say thank you to Mr. Johnson?"
"Thank you, Mr. Johnson," Ricky said to me.
"How are you going to carry your puppy and walk on your crutches?" Marie asked.
"Joel will carry me."
I had to chuckle that he had it all figured out. Joel, who was still holding him, nodded in agreement and gave his little friend a big hug.
After Marie and Ricky had gone home and we had eaten supper, I told the boys about the trip to Houston. They were disappointed that they wouldn't get to see Ricky on Monday, but were happy that he might not have to use his crutches to get around. They had all kinds of questions about a peg leg, most of which I couldn't answer. I told them we would have to wait and see when Ricky and his mom came on Wednesday.
Saturday was such a nice day with temperatures in the 70s, which was unusual for early January in South Texas. The boys spent much of the day outside either riding their bicycles or playing kick ball. David came to give them swimming lessons in the morning. It had been several weeks since he had been here to give them their lessons.
I was surprised when he drove up. I didn't hear the characteristic noises usually associated with his old car. When I looked out the door, I saw that he was driving a different car. It was a red Ford. It wasn't new. It looked like a 1991 model. When I asked him about it he just grinned and said it was a Christmas present from his grandpa.
No sooner had David arrived, than Brian and Roger arrived with their mother. Helen had called earlier to see if her boys could come over for a swim. I told her what time that David was going to be here for the boys' lessons and she agreed to bring them by at that time.
When Roger stepped out of the car I was impressed with the progress he had made in walking. He still had an awkward gait, but he was able to walk without the use of canes or crutches.
The boys greeted David and then their friends before they all ran inside with Roger trailing, to change into their swimsuits. I invited Helen to come into the house for a cup of coffee while she waited for her boys. Hildy was ready with a fresh pot of coffee.
I asked, "Helen, how are Roger and Celia getting along with the physical therapy sessions?"
"It's amazing," she said. "Celia comes by three nights a week and works with Roger for about an hour. She really pushes him, but the results are obvious. She said that she expects him to walk almost normally within two months. He will probably always have a slight limp, but it shouldn't be too noticeable. I can't thank you enough for putting us in contact with Dr. Yankowitz and for the foundation that paid his bills. If it weren't for the chance meeting with you at the soccer game, Roger would still be in a wheelchair."
"No thanks are necessary, I'm just happy that Roger could be helped. That's all the thanks I need."
Hildy joined us for a cup of coffee and we talked until the boys had finished their lessons. When all the guests had departed, Hildy served lunch.
The boys played outside until it started getting dark which was about 5 PM.
Sunday morning the weather had completely changed. There was a cold rain falling and the wind was blowing about 30 mph out of the north. I fixed the boys their breakfast because Hildy and Manfred had gone to church by the time the boys woke up.
At two o'clock I loaded my overnight bag into the BMW. I gave each of the boys a hug and a kiss before I took off to pick up Marie and Ricky. Our flight wasn't until 4:35 PM, but I wanted to make sure that we arrived on time. I knew it would take some time to switch Ricky's car seat to my car. I wasn't looking forward to that in the pouring rain.
When I arrived at their apartment complex, I was less than impressed with it. I knew the area of town was low income, but the apartment was in bad need of repair. Some of the units had broken windows and the garbage bin was overflowing. I found the apartment number that I was looking for and parked the car as close to the door as I could get. Marie opened the door when I knocked and invited me in out of the rain. As I expected the apartment was neat as a pin.
Ricky crawled over to me and held up one arm indicating he wanted me to hold him. The other arm clutched his stuffed white puppy toy. "Hi, little one, are you ready to go flying?"
He nodded his head vigorously.
I saw that Marie had remove Ricky's car seat from her car and had it waiting for me to put into the BMW. I put Ricky down and picked up the seat. Running to the car I unlocked it with the remote and crawled into the back seat on the driver's side. That way I could be out of the rain while I secured the car seat with the seatbelts. It took me about five minutes to convince myself that I had installed it correctly. I didn't want Ricky to be in any danger if I had to stop the car quickly.
The rain seemed to have let up a little as I locked the car and headed back into the apartment. I picked up Ricky and his toy puppy along with his luggage and crutches, leaving Marie to carry her own luggage and to lock up the apartment. Ricky giggled as I ran toward the car. I opened the door, tossed his luggage onto the back seat and then as quickly as I could, secured him in his car seat. Marie was right behind us with her luggage, which consisted only of a small bag.
Arriving at the airport, I stopped at the curbside check-in to drop off our luggage and pick up our boarding passes. I let Marie and Ricky out as well and told them to wait inside until I had parked the car. When I arrived back at the lobby of the airport I saw Marie chasing after Ricky as he crutched his way down past all the counters, his stuffed toy securely under his right arm. That boy could really travel on those crutches. I hate to see what he will do on a peg leg.
Marie got him corralled and joined me at the desk while I checked to see if our flight was on time. I was told that it was and then we were directed to the VIP lounge to wait for our boarding call. We passed through security with only a little trouble. They looked at Ricky's crutches, but then decided that they were not weapons and let us pass.
The VIP lounge was convenient to the boarding area. We were greeted by a steward and asked to show our tickets and my VIP card. When we were seated the steward offered us our choice of drinks, both alcohol and soda, and a variety of snack foods.
Ricky sat on the couch between Marie and me looking around wide-eyed. He was soon over being awed by his surroundings and hopped off the couch to make friends with the other passengers waiting for their flights. He approached an elderly lady and showed her his stuffed dog.
"What's your puppy's name?" she asked.
He said what sounded like, "Buppy."
"Buppy? That's a strange name. Where did you get it?"
Ricky pointed to me and said, "Him."
"Is that your daddy?" she asked.
Ricky just shook his head in the negative. That was enough conversation with her, so he went to another waiting passenger. Before our plane was called, I think he had showed his toy to everyone in the lounge. He was a hit with all the passengers. When we got up to leave, most of the passengers said goodbye to him and waved. He waved back to them and smiled as I picked him up and handed his crutches to Marie.
Since we were in the first class cabin, we were among the first to board the aircraft. Marie and Ricky sat on one side of the aircraft and I sat on the other. Sitting might be a misnomer for what Ricky did. He was interested in everything and everybody that went by on their way to seats in the rear of the plane. I think he waved at every single person who walked by. If Marie hadn't strapped him in his seat, I'm sure that he would have been in the aisle exploring the rest of the plane on either his crutches or crawling.
When the door to the plane was closed and the engines were started, his eyes got as big as saucers and his head swiveled from side to side trying to figure out where the noise was coming from. When the plane backed away from the gate, he let out a little squeak and clapped his hands to the amusement of the other passengers in first class. Again when the plane sped down the runway the squeak was followed by his characteristic doughboy giggle and clapping hands.
Marie was less delighted by the trip. When I looked at her, she was hanging onto the arms of her seat so tight that her knuckles were turning white. After we were in the air a few minutes, she relaxed a little, but only to loosen her grip slightly.
The rest of the short flight was the "Ricky Show." He, somehow, released his seat belt and was out of his seat before his mother could grab him. I was able to grab him and sat him on my lap. I held him so that he could look out the window. That brought on some more squeaks and hand clapping. He started jabbering so fast that I couldn't understand half of what he was saying. He stood up on my lap on his one leg, looked over the back of my seat and started talking to the man sitting behind me. I think he spoke to, or entertained everyone in the first class cabin. He definitely charmed the stewardess.
All too soon for Ricky, I had to return him to his seat and buckle him in as we prepared for landing. The landing was another Ricky moment. His clapping and infectious giggles filled the cabin with his happiness.
As we went to claim our luggage at Houston Intercontinental Airport, I saw a man holding up a sign with "JOHNSON" written on it. I approached him, identified myself and asked him to assist us with our luggage. After retrieving the small amount of luggage that we had brought, we followed our driver to a waiting limo for the trip to the Medical Center area just south of downtown Houston.
"Oh my," Marie said as we stepped out of the limo when it arrived at our hotel. "This is a fancy place. I don't know if we belong here."
"Don't you worry about that. You're every bit as good as anyone else staying here and a lot better than some," I told her. "Come on Munchkin, let's go get checked in." I picked him up and carried him to the front desk where I set him on the counter with his stuffed toy.
The man behind the desk gave Ricky a dirty look and asked, "May I help you, sir?"
"Yes, we have reservations. Johnson is the name."
He typed my name into the computer. "Yes sir, I have two rooms for you. Will that be on your credit card?"
"Yes," I said. He pushed a form and a pen across the counter for me to sign. When I pushed it back signed, he signaled a bellhop to take our luggage.
I tipped the bellhop after he had shown us to our rooms. I told Marie that I would be next door and to dial my room number if she or Ricky needed anything. Saying that I would be back in about a half an hour, after I had called the boys, to take them to supper, I headed to my room.
Hildy was happy to hear that we made it to Houston all right. She chuckled as I told her of Ricky's adventures. "That boy is a delight," she said. I spoke to all of the boys before I hung up.
I dialed Marie's room and asked if she were ready for something to eat. When she said that Ricky was really hungry, I told her I would be right there. We took the elevator to the ground floor and went to the dining room. It was a good thing that I was wearing a sport coat and tie or I wouldn't have been able to be served.
I think the busy day was beginning to catch up with Ricky. He was almost, for him, subdued during our meal.
Marie and I discussed what the schedule for tomorrow was. I told her that we had an appointment with Dr. Alverez at 9:15, so we needed to leave the hotel about thirty minutes before that to make sure that we arrived on time. We would leave for the Medical Center in a rental car at 8:45. The rental car would allow us to store our luggage while we were in with Dr. Alverez and give us a mode of transportation for lunch as well as a way to get to the airport when we were finished.
"Do you think this is going to work for Ricky?" Marie asked.
"I can't say for sure. All I know is that Dr. Alverez is convinced that he can do something for Ricky," I answered. "Even though Ricky can use his crutches very well, it's possible that he could actually suffer nerve damage in his underarm area by the way he leans on the crutches as he moves. The alternative is forearm crutches, but I think he is too young for those. He doesn't have the strength in his arms for them. What Dr. Alverez is offering is a better alternative."
I carried Ricky back to their room and said good night to Marie. Giving Ricky a hug I said, "Good night, Munchkin, I love you."
"'Night," he said and gave me a peck on the cheek.
"I'll meet you around 7:30 for breakfast," I told Marie. "We'll check out of the hotel before we leave for Dr. Alverez's office. We've got a busy day tomorrow. Get a good night's sleep."