"Dad," Joel said, as I met their school van Monday evening, "I was thinking about Tony today at school. I haven't talked to him in a long time. Could I call him after supper?"
"I think that's a wonderful idea," I said, as I squeezed his shoulder. "I'd like to talk to his mom and dad when you finish."
Although the foundation received regular reports on Tony, Benny and the Boise family, I had not spoken to them personally for several months. From all the reports, I knew that things were going well with the family.
TJ seemed to be back to his old self as he ran with Bandit toward the house. The cold he had didn't seem to have had any lingering effects and none of the other boys seemed, as yet, to show any signs of a cold.
As soon as the supper dishes were rinsed and stacked in the dishwasher, Joel asked if he could call Tony. I took him into my study to use the phone. I opened my Franklin Planner to the address section to get the Boise's phone number and gave it to Joel. He punched in the numbers as I waited for the connection to be made.
"Hello, Mr. Boise, this is Joel Johnson. Is Tony there?"
"I'm doing fine, sir. Yes, it has been a while since I talked to Tony. When I'm done talking to Tony, my dad wants to talk to you and Mrs. Boise."
"Hi, Tony, it's Joel."
Having confirmed that they were going to be able to talk, I motioned to Joel that I would be in the other room when they were finished. It was almost 25 minutes before Joel came to the study door and called to me.
"Hello," I said, as I took the handset from Joel.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson, it's Tony."
"How are you doing, Tony?"
"I'm doing great. My hair is all back in, but it's a different color than it used to be. It's kinda reddish brown now. Mom says she likes the color. I'm not sure that I do. I guess I'll have to get used to it. I miss getting to see Joel and talk to him."
"Well, you'll have to come visit us when school is out this summer and then you two can talk all you want."
"Oh, I almost forgot, Benny says to say "Hi" to everyone. Here's my dad," Tony said.
I talked to Bill and Karen for another 15 minutes or so. Bill told me that he had a new job that he just started last week. He said that it was a good position that paid a lot more money. With his increased pay and the money that Karen's job paid, he said that they might not need the foundation's help. I told him to contact Darcie at the office and talk to her. I let them know that we would continue to provide the support until it was certain that they no longer needed it. Karen brought me up-to-date on Benny. She said that although he was still a little shy of strangers, he didn't seem to have any serious problems related to his treatment before his rescue.
"Thanks, dad," Joel said, when I hung up the phone. "Tony is so happy now and so is Benny. He says that Benny asks about Grandma Ethel once in a while. He said he tells him that she has gone to heaven."
"You're welcome, son. You'd better go get your homework started or you won't get it done before bedtime."
I spent a few minutes gathering the rest of the documents I needed to give Gerald so that he could file my taxes. I hoped that he could work some magic to reduce my tax bill. I had barely finished with the paperwork before the boys started coming for me to check their homework.
After I had finished with the checking, TJ climbed back onto my lap and the twins and Chris crowded around putting their arms around my shoulders. I knew that they wanted something.
"Dad," Lenny said, "when we were skiing you said you would take us to ride horses when we came home. Do we still get to?"
"Sure, if the weather is decent on Saturday, we'll go learn to ride. How does that sound?"
"Oh, boy!" TJ enthused. "I really getta ride a horse?"
"You sure can," I said, giving him a squeeze.
"Thanks, dad, you're the best," Chris said, as he and the twins headed to the kitchen to see what Hildy had for their snack.
The heaping plate of peanut butter cookies disappeared almost before Hildy had set it on the table. The gallon of milk disappeared almost as quickly.
Tuesday morning after I got the boys off to school, I called my friend Rick Hansen. He owns Rick's Equestrian Ranch. I first met Rick when I went to work for Alamo Consulting Consortium. He had been a consultant for several years and mentored me through the first several projects I worked on after I joined the company. He left the business about three years later to follow his lifelong dream of owning a horse ranch. Not only did he raise horses for sale and stud, but also had a school for riders. As part of the latter he rented riding stock to city dwellers on an hourly basis so they could feel like real Texans.
I asked him if he would have time on Saturday to give my boys riding lessons. I told him there would be five boys ranging in age from 7 to 13.
"Whose kids are these?" he asked.
"They're mine," I said, knowing what the next question was going to be.
"How the hell did you get five kids? The last time I talked to you, you weren't even married."
"I'm still not married. I adopted the boys a little over a year ago. It's a long story, Rick. Maybe I'll have time to tell you on Saturday."
"You're a better man than me. I don't envy you at all. My God, man, how do you manage five kids and still work?"
"I have a lot of help," I laughed. "I couldn't do it without a great live-in housekeeper/cook/nanny/grandmother. I don't work at ACC anymore. You know I bought part of the company while you were still there. When Eric retired, I bought his share and then later I sold out to one of the Big Five. Now I work for a non-profit foundation."
"What time do you want to bring the boys by?" Rick asked.
"I was thinking around 9:30 or 10 o'clock. Would that work out with you?"
"Ten will be fine. I'll see you all on Saturday."
As the week progressed, the boys became more and more excited about Saturday. I wasn't surprised when I awoke on Saturday morning to find Larry, Lenny and Chris standing beside my bed waiting for me to get up. To tease them, I pulled the covers over my head and faked a snoring sound."
"C'mon, dad, you promised we could go ride horses today," Larry whined.
"Okay," I said, uncovering my head. "Go let your dogs out and then get washed up for breakfast."
As they scampered out of my bedroom, I looked at my clock. It was just past 6:30. I hurried to the bathroom to wash up and then dressed. I peeked into TJ's room to see if he was awake. He was sitting on the floor playing with Bandit. I gave him the same instructions that I had given the twins and Chris and then went to check on Joel. At least he had the sense to sleep in. Samson looked up as I opened Joel's bedroom door and came over and sniffed at my leg. I gently shook Joel, told him to get up, and dressed.
I think I was asked a hundred times if it was time to go after we had finished breakfast. Although it was only about a 35 minute drive to Rick's, I gave up and we finally left for the ranch at around nine. I didn't think the seat belts were going to be able to hold them in their seats long enough to make the journey.
Off to the right side of the van as we turned down the side road toward the ranch, there were about 15 or 20 mares and 6 colts. Some of the colts were nursing while the others were running around the pasture, kicking up their heels. I slowed the van down until it was barely moving so that the boys could take a good look at the horses.
"I want to ride that little one," TJ said, pointing to a chestnut colt.
"I think those are too young to be ridden yet," I said. "I'll bet that Rick has one that you can ride that's not too big."
Rick must have seen us coming because he was waiting for us before the van stopped. After I greeted him, I introduced the boys to him. He shook their hands and then asked them to follow him to a very large metal building. Inside the building was a fenced-in arena and at one end outside the fence was a set of bleachers. Rick led us to the bleachers where he told us to take a seat while he explained some things. There was a saddle on the fence in front of the bleachers that he used to point out the various parts and explain what they were used for.
When he finished with the explanation of the saddle, he put two fingers in his mouth and gave a loud whistle. A moment later, a boy about 15 or 16 came through a side door into the fenced arena riding on a beautiful black stallion.
"Crane, this is my son, Hal. Do you remember him?" Rick asked.
"I remember you had a son, but I would never have recognized him. The last time that I saw him he was about the age of Larry and Lenny. How old is he? 15?"
"Yeah, he turned 15 in January."
Rick had Hal dismount and then he used Hal to demonstrate how to properly mount a horse, how to sit in the saddle, hold the reins and all the other things that you need to know to control an animal that outweighs you by at least a factor of ten. I don't think I had ever seen the boys as attentive as they were to Rick's instructions. When he had finished, he sent Hal out to bring in the horses that he had picked out for the boys.
Hal came back shortly leading four horses by their reins and then left to get the rest. He came back with three more. That made a total of eight horses in the arena.
"I just assumed that you were going to ride also, Crane," he answered to my questioning look at the horses.
"It's been a while, at least a dozen years," I said, remembering how sore my legs were the last time I rode.
Rick took TJ, Larry and Lenny and had them approach one of the horses, while Hal took Joel and Chris to another one. They were instructed how to approach a horse so that you didn't frighten it. They were also allowed to pet the horse on its nose and neck. After Rick felt that they were comfortable with the mounts, he singled out a horse and Larry and had the others watch as he helped Larry put his foot into the stirrup and swing his leg over the back of the horse and settle into the saddle.
Larry was in seventh heaven. His smile could have illuminated the whole arena. Rick then told Hal to help Joel onto his horse while he helped Lenny onto his. Chris was next with help from Hal. Finally, it was TJ's turn. The horse selected for TJ was a smaller one, not exactly a pony, just a smaller horse. I was the last to mount. Hal and Rick went to each of the riders to check and adjust the length of the stirrups and to make sure that the girth straps were correctly tightened.
Rick and Hal each walked two of the horses around the arena holding onto the horses' reins. Joel and I walked our horses slowly behind them. After a few minutes he had us all line up the horses and then began having the boys, one at a time, maneuver their mount around the arena. After everyone had their turn, he told them to ride around the arena on their own. He and Hal mounted their own horses and rode around with us giving the boys tips and correcting them when they were doing something wrong.
It was nearly noon when Rick called a halt to the lessons. The last thing the boys learned was how to properly dismount. I was very pleased with how well the boys had listened and learned from both Rick and Hal.
"That was fun, daddy," TJ said, as he slipped off his horse. "Can we do it again?"
"I'm sure we can," I answered. "Maybe when the weather is warmer we can go riding in the open. Do you think you might like that?"
"Yeah," he said, before taking a step. "Ow, my legs hurt and my bottom is sore."
I shouldn't have, but I laughed. "That happens the first few times you ride until you get used to it. We'll go home and jump into the hot tub. That'll make it feel better."
I followed Rick out of the building as Hal herded the horses out of the arena. I went to pay for our lessons while the boys climbed onto the lower rung of the wooden fence and watched the horses in the pasture. I think that our two hour adventure was great fun for all the boys.
The noise level in the van was at an all time high as each of the boys was trying to describe their experience and no one was listening. Nobody seemed to care. They just wanted to show how much fun that they had. It made my heart glad that such a simple outing could provide so much joy. Maybe we ought to take Eric and his two with us next time. I'm sure that they would enjoy riding also.
When they got home they had to tell Hildy and Manfred all about their day of horseback riding and how much fun it was. TJ told Hildy that she should go riding with them next time. That brought a laugh from Manfred and a dirty look aimed at her husband from Hildy.
"You guys smell like a horse," Hildy said when they wound down.
"We're going to get into the hot tub after we have lunch," I said. "Maybe that will help their sore muscles and wash off the horse smell."
"Good idea," Hildy agreed. "You boys still need to wash up before you have lunch. Now scat, I'll have lunch on the table by the time you get back."
The hot tub was only big enough to hold the five boys, so I swam laps in the pool while they soaked. After about half an hour, they decided they had enough soaking and joined me in the pool.
The boys were still talking about their adventure when I tucked them in bed Saturday night.
On Wednesday afternoon when I met the boys' school van, Joel asked, "Can you pick me up at the Rebecca Creek Golf Course on Thursday about five o'clock? The coach is going to let us play on a real golf course. He'll get us there, but he asked us to see if our parents could pick us up. That way we would get home earlier."
"Sure, I may come early to watch, if you don't mind?"
"Great, thanks dad."
Thursday morning I received a call at the office from the real estate agent handling the offer on the ranch I was interested in acquiring. He informed me that the owners had agreed to the offer if we could close on the property within 30 days. I told him as long as we could get the survey done and get clear title to it, I didn't see any problems. We discussed a few more details before I brought up another property that I was interested in buying. I had heard that the adjoining ranch might be purchased and I wanted him to investigate to see if the rumor were true. I told him that the ranch I was interested in was owned by Homer and Helga Witherspoon. He told me he would get right on it. He said it would be best if we could come to an agreement with them before the sale of the adjacent property became known.
After calling Hildy and asking her if she or Manfred would meet the boys' school van, I left the office early to go watch Joel play his first round of golf on a course instead of just practicing techniques. I arrived at Rebecca Creek Golf Course a few minutes after Joel and the other five boys from Corinthian Academy arrived. They were getting their equipment ready and heading for the first tee. I spoke to the coach briefly. I got his okay to follow Joel on his round.
"Hi, son, do you need a caddy?" I asked.
Joel turned at the sound of my voice. "Sure, dad, I'm glad you came."
"I'm just here to help you. If you want my advice, ask for it. Otherwise, I'll try to keep my mouth shut so you can enjoy playing." I patted him on the back, not wanting to embarrass him in front of his friends. I was a little surprised, but pleased, when he gave me a hug.
The coach decided to send the boys off in groups of three and asked me if I would monitor one of the groups since I would be walking with Joel. I told him I would be happy to do that. Up to that point, I hadn't paid much attention to the other boys until one of them behind me spoke.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson," John said. "It's nice to see you."
"Well hello, John, I didn't see you," I said. "I didn't know that you had taken up golf, too."
"Yeah, Joel and I are the best golfers," he said, covering his mouth to stifle a giggle.
"If you enjoy playing this silly game, that's all that matters," I said. By this time the coach's group had teed off and were far enough down the fairway for our group to tee off. After a little hesitation, Roger, the third member of our team, stepped up first. Joel followed and then John was last to the tee. Joel's drive was not bad. It went about 110 yards, but most importantly, it was in the center of the fairway. The boys were playing from the forward tees (usually called the women's tees).
The scores after one hole were: Roger, 8; Joel and John 7. I thought that was pretty good. I've seen grown men who had played golf for a lot of years do worse than that on a par 4 hole. I congratulated the three of them and we headed for the second tee.
As they continued playing the rest of the nine holes, I was impressed with the golf etiquette that the boys displayed. I made a note to congratulate the coach on his instructing them in the proper behavior on a golf course, which I did. By the end of nine holes, I could tell that Joel was pretty much worn out. I hoped that he hadn't gotten too tired.
We met up with the coach and the other group of boys in the parking lot. The coach collected the score cards and commented to each of the boys on how well they had done. I was impressed with the scores of my group. Roger ended up with a 54, John had a 52 and Joel had a 51 which was tied for low round with a boy named Harry in the other group.
I offered to give John a ride since we would be going right by his house on our way home. We stowed the clubs in the trunk of the car and then Joel and John climbed into the back seat, leaving me in the chauffeur's seat. When we got to John's house, I released the trunk latch as they exited the car. I saw them in the rearview mirror exchange hugs and possibly a kiss on the cheek. I didn't say anything to Joel when he climbed into the passenger seat beside me. His face was a little flushed.
We were met by an excited Samson when we drove into the garage. I guess he wondered why his boy didn't come home with the others. Joel wrestled with him for a couple of minutes while I took the golf clubs out of the car trunk. I wondered where the other boys were as I walked into the house. I didn't hear or see them anywhere in the house. I quickly changed clothes and went to look for them.
Walking out the patio door, I saw them back on the playing field playing Frisbee with their dogs. It was a funny sight. Four boys tossing four Frisbees for four dogs. It was bedlam as each dog tried to catch any Frisbee that was thrown. Sometimes there were two dogs leaping into the air to catch the same flying disk. I stood and watched them for several minutes before they saw me standing on the patio. When they did, they came running to me to get and give hugs.
When Joel came to me later to have me check his homework he said, "Thanks, dad, for coming to watch today. I was nervous about playing and I didn't know if I could carry my clubs all the way around. None of the other kids' dads came."
"You're welcome, son. I'm always interested in what you do. There will probably be times when I can't be there, but I want you to know that I do always care. I'm sure that's the case with the other boys' dads. They probably had to work and couldn't be there. I'm very fortunate that I can usually leave work whenever I want to leave. Most fathers can't do that."
"I know that, but some of the guys talk like they never get to do anything with their dads like we get to do with you. They say that all their dads ever do when they are home is sit in front of the TV and watch ball games. You never do that. How come?"
"I don't know. I guess I always liked doing something rather than watching other people do it. Now, I like watching you guys play your sports, but that's different. Because you're my sons, I have a vested interest in your games. I like watching an occasional game on TV, but a steady diet of that doesn't appeal to me."
Wrapping his arms around my neck and kissing me on the cheek, he said, "I know we're the luckiest kids in the world to have you for our dad. I think it was worth everything that we used to have to live with to be adopted by you. I love you, dad."
"I love you and your brothers more that I can ever tell you," I said, once I could speak past the lump in my throat. "I think I'm the lucky one to have five of the greatest sons a father could ever ask for."
We were interrupted by the other boys coming to get their homework checked.
Spring was rapidly approaching. That meant sign-up for the various sports was at hand. Joel wanted to continue his golf. Chris and Lenny wanted to play baseball in the Comal County Youth League. TJ signed up for the peewee baseball division and Larry wanted to play soccer. I could readily see that it was going to be difficult to schedule everything. I figured that I could count on Manfred being available part of the time to help me out shuttling the boys to the various practice venues, but there would be times when he was not available. Wondering how I was going to manage the logistics, I called upon Eric.
I invited him and his boys to have supper with us. He said that he was having the same problem with his two. Bran was going to play soccer and JR wanted to play baseball. Although it was a little early to work out the details since we didn't have the practice schedules, we did agree to cooperate to make sure that our sons could participate in the sport of their choice.
Joel continued to slowly improve his golf scores as their first tournament approached. I could tell he was nervous the day of the tournament. Both he and John had been selected as two of the four members to represent Corinthian Academy against two other middle schools in the area.
"Are you gonna be there?" he asked, before he got onto the school van the morning of the tournament.
"Of course, I wouldn't miss it for the world," I said. "I'll meet you at the Canyon Lake Golf Course at two o'clock. I'll bring your clubs."
I arrived at the course before the team did and went into the pro shop to see what they had for sale. I purchased a dozen Titleist golf balls and a cap with Canyon Lake Golf embroidered on the front. It wasn't long before the teams started to arrive. I got Joel's clubs and the pull cart that I had bought for him out of the trunk of the car.
Before they got started, I gave Joel and each of his teammates a sleeve of the golf balls. Joel and his two opponents were scheduled to tee off on the #2 hole, John teed off on #3, while the other two members of their team teed off on #1 and #4. This arrangement would allow for all the groups to finish at roughly the same time.
The mother of one of the other golfers and I followed Joel's group. Hole #2 was a par three. I almost burst with pride when Joel scored a par. He bogeyed the next two holes.
As we were walking to #5, Joel came up to me and whispered in my ear. "Dad, what should I do? Curtis isn't counting his strokes right. He said he had a six on the last hole and I counted seven for him. I'm supposed to keep his score card."
"You don't want to embarrass him," I said, as I recreated the strokes for all the boys on the last hole in my head. I came to the conclusion that Joel was right. "Maybe he just made an honest mistake. It can happen. Why don't you talk to him quietly and ask him to recount his strokes? Tell him you think you counted seven. Can you do that?"
"Sure, dad, thanks."
I saw Joel approach the boy and talk to him off to the side. Afterwards, Joel turned away with a frown on his face. I assumed that the conversation did not go as Joel had hoped. I decided to watch Curtis and to count his strokes myself. In fact I decided to keep track of all of their strokes on a score card that I had picked up in the clubhouse earlier.
I mentally went back over the previous three holes and pictured in my mind the strokes of each player and wrote them on my score card. Being able to do this was almost second nature to me. As a project manager I was trained to observe and retain details that often escape the ordinary individual. After this exercise, I kept the scores as they happened.
As we walked down #5 fairway after the boys teed off, Joel came up to me and asked, "What should I do? Curtis says that I'm wrong, that he got a six."
"I think the best way to handle this is to write down what Curtis said he got and put an asterisk beside it and then write what you believe he got on the line below. When you get back to the clubhouse, you can talk to your coach and see what he wants to do about it. The very foundation of golf depends on the honesty of the individual in applying the rules," I told him.
There were two more times as the round continued where Curtis "miscounted" his strokes, always in his favor. I mentioned this to Melanie, the other parent walking with me. She frowned and said she had not been paying that much attention to him.
"Has Taylor been doing that?" she asked, referring to her son.
"No, not that I could detect. I think that's why he and my son, Joel, are getting along so well and avoiding Curtis. I hate to see a boy so young doing things like this. I wonder if his coach is aware of what he does."
At the end of the nine holes that they played, the scores for our group were: Curtis, 46 with three asterisks; Taylor, 49; and Joel, 48. I didn't think that was too bad a score for Joel since he had never played the course before.
The scene at the clubhouse was not pleasant when the scores were turned in and tabulated for the teams. Joel explained to his coach what he saw Curtis doing and then the coach confronted the opposing coach with what Joel had told him. The coach was furious with Curtis and asked him in a loud voice if he cheated. Of course the kid denied it. When I confirmed that I too had observed what Joel had reported, the coach took Curtis by the arm and led him into the locker room where by the sound of loud voices coming from there, Curtis got his butt chewed.
When they returned, a red faced Curtis apologized to the other teams and his teammates. The coach also offered his apology. In a way, I felt sorry for Curtis. I hoped that he had learned a lesson and I hoped that the other boys did as well.
Because Curtis' team had to forfeit, that meant that Joel's team came in second by a single stoke based on total team scores. Joel's team received red ribbons with 2nd Place in gold letters on them. He couldn't have been prouder if they had won the blue ribbons.
As the school year drew to a close, Eric and I were able to work out a tentative schedule to see that our sons would be able to get to their practices and games without a lot of hassle. We did have to depend on Manfred to fill in a few gaps that neither one of us were going to be able to cover. It also meant that Eric and I got to spend a lot more quality time together as a result of this close working arrangement.
We also made a commitment to spend at least one evening a month doing something away from our boys, just the two of us.