Eric's car was in the driveway as Joel and I arrived home. I was surprised because I didn't know that they were coming. As I parked the car, I noticed that all my other boys plus Bran and JR were playing in the pool with Manfred and Eric. Joel ran to get his swim suit on and I walked over to talk to Eric.
"It's good to see you all," I said. "To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?"
Eric laughed before answering, "I phoned to talk to you and Hildy invited the boys and me over for supper and we decided to take advantage of your pool."
"That's great. Let me get my suit on and I'll join you."
We swam for another hour before Hildy called to let us know that supper would be ready in about twenty minutes. That was just enough time for everyone to get a quick shower and get dressed.
As Eric and I were waiting for the boys to finish getting ready for supper, I said to him, "I can't believe that Bran is the same young man we found in Houston that day. He has filled out and has developed quite a muscular physique."
"I think he has grown about three inches in the last year and put on around 25 pounds - all muscle," Eric replied. "He's become so much more mature, both physically and psychologically. I just wish he had someone. It's hard for a young, gay, black man to find someone in lily-white Comal County."
"He's still young, he'll find someone someday. He may wait until he gets to college. By the way, has he decided where he wants to go?" I asked.
"He's torn. The state will pay for his education if he attends a state school because he will still be in foster care when he turns 18, but that limits his choices. University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and the other schools are all good and they offer what he wants to study, but I don't think he wants to limit himself to just them," Eric said. "He's talked about Harvard and Yale on the east coast and UCLA and Stanford on the west coast. Those would be ones that the state won't pay for. I'm not sure that I could swing the tuition for some of those."
"Don't worry about the money for his tuition and school expenses," I said. "I hadn't told you before, but I set up a trust fund for him when he came to live with you. There is more than enough money for him to go to any school to which he is admitted and enough left over to give him a good start in life after he finishes, even if he goes on to get his doctorate."
"Crane, I can't believe your generosity."
"Don't tell him about the trust just yet. I administer it and will pay all of his educational expenses. Well, actually Gerald will pay them for me. Tell him to select the school that fits his needs without considering the cost. You can tell him you'll worry about the expenses. Now is the time for him to get serious about selecting his college."
"I think he has requested information from all the universities that he is interested in attending because I've seen a few of the catalogs around his room. I need to make sure that he gets serious about making his choice," Eric said, as all seven of the boys burst into the room.
"Hey, you guys ready for supper?" I asked, knowing that it was a really dumb question.
Before any one had a chance to answer, Hildy appeared at the door and announced that dinner was ready. The boys didn't need to be told twice. They would have knocked Hildy down in their rush to the table if she hadn't neatly sidestepped their advance.
I couldn't believe the two platters heaped with fried chicken that sat at each end of the table. There must have been at least 15 or 20 pieces of chicken on each of the platters. Mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and baking powder biscuits rounded out the fare. I didn't think we would be able to eat everything that was on the table, but I was wrong, again.
After supper, the boys went outside to play with the dogs for a while until it was time for Eric and his boys to head on home. When they were gone, I reminded the boys that there was homework to do. They took their dogs back to the dog run for the night. The dogs were confined there during the day also so that they wouldn't risk being hurt in all the construction that was going on building the new house.
When Joel came back into the house, he looked worried. "What's the matter, son?"
"Samson is acting kind of funny," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, he didn't seem to want to run and play like he usually does. He just wanted to lie down and be petted. He's been like this for the last couple of days, but it seems worse today."
"Check on him tomorrow morning. If he still doesn't act normal, we'll take him to the vet when you get out of school. How's that?"
It wasn't long before TJ brought his homework for me to check. He snuggled up next to me as I was sitting on the couch reading a book that I had recently purchased.
"It was fun having JR and Bran here, wasn't it?" he asked, as he handed me his papers.
"Yes it was. Now let's see how you did."
"I wish they could be here all the time."
"Son, that would be nice, but I don't think it's going to happen any time soon."
"Well, for one thing, we don't have room for them to sleep. Plus they have their own house."
"But, JR could sleep with me and Bran could sleep with Joel and their dad could sleep with you."
I suppressed my laugh before I answered. "You have everything figured out, don't you? I'm afraid it isn't that simple. Maybe some day, but for right now they will live in their house and we'll live in ours. Let's get your homework checked, okay?"
"Okay," he said, snuggling closer to me.
It wasn't long before all the boys were waiting for me to check their work. I was really proud of the way Chris had progressed. His work was on par with the twins' in every way. Most of all I was proud of the way his self-confidence had developed since he came to be part of the family. It seemed that the verbal and psychological abuse he had endured at the hands of his natural parents had not scarred him permanently. In fact all of the boys appeared to have overcome the effects of their abusive backgrounds.
Tuesday morning as the dogs and I saw the boys off to school, Samson was still listless. He just didn't seem to have the life that he usually had. If he wasn't better by the time the boys returned from school, I'd take him to the vet.
When I got to the office, I was met by Jack. He wanted all the information that I had on my paternal grandfather. I didn't have much since I was so young when he died, but then I remembered my dad's papers in the bank safety deposit box. I hadn't looked at them since I got out of college. They might contain something of value. I told Carol that I would be back after while and then Jack and I took off for the bank. The local branch that held the deposit box was a few miles further in toward downtown San Antonio. I hadn't set foot in the bank for over two years. Since Gerald took care of all my financial matters, visiting the bank was unnecessary.
After signing the card for the bank employee to verify my signature, she led me into the bank vault where she inserted her key into a good sized door to the box and turned it, then told me to insert mine and do the same. Luckily I carried my key on my key chain. She opened the door and removed the box and carried it to a small room where Jack waited for us. Placing the box on the table, she told me to notify her when we were finished.
The front of the deposit box was approximately a foot square. The depth was approximately twenty inches. It was about half full of papers and other items that had belonged to my parents. It took us over thirty minutes to go through everything. There were only a couple of things of interest that we found. One was granddad's will and an itemized list of his assets dated the year before he died. The only other item of interest was an invoice from the funeral home that handled his funeral marked "Paid in Full". Stapled to it was a cancelled check written by my father for the amount of the invoice and endorsed by the funeral home.
There was nothing about the supposed lover or an illegitimate child, although I didn't expect that there would be. I told the vault attendant that we were finished and I followed her back into the vault to lock up the box and to put my key back on my key ring.
Jack and I returned to the office where I made copies of the papers that we had found at the bank. He said he should have some preliminary information by the end of the week and would call me as soon as he did. I thanked him and told him he needed to stop by the house sometime. It had been too long since we had seen his family. It seemed like we saw more of them when they lived farther away.
I got home in time to meet the boys' school van. Samson was not up to go with the other dogs to meet their masters. He appeared not to have the energy to get to his feet.
"Where's Samson?" were the first words out of Joel's mouth when he exited the van.
"He's not at all well, son," I said. "Go get your clothes changed and we'll take him to the emergency animal clinic."
Joel ran off toward the house. I could see that he was barely holding back the tears. I went to get the carrier to put Samson in to transport him. Hildy came out of the house and asked what was going on. I explained that Joel and I were taking Samson to see a vet and asked her if she would watch the boys until we returned. Naturally, she agreed and said that she hoped Samson would be all right.
I had taken the top off the carrier and was lifting Samson into the lower portion of the carrier when Joel arrived. He immediately fell to his knees and cradled Samson's head in his arms. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he held his friend. I allowed them some time before I urged Joel to allow me to finish assembling the carrier. Reluctantly, he released his dog with a final pet and I latched the two halves of the carrier together. I place the carrier into the back seat of the BMW and Joel climbed in beside it.
I pushed the speed limits a bit as we headed for the emergency animal clinic where we had taken Samson the first time after Joel found him along side the road. We were in luck and the clinic was not very busy when we arrived. We only had to wait about ten minutes before we were able to see a veterinarian.
The vet, whose nametag read Dr. Jamison, removed Samson from the carrier and began his examination. The vet looked familiar. I was sure he was the one who had treated Samson that first time. The frown was evident on the vet's face as he listened to Samson's heart, but he didn't say anything. After he had completed the exam including taking a blood sample, he turned and spoke to us. "I need to take some x-rays to confirm what I suspect." Turning to Joel he continued. "Your dog is very sick. I don't want to alarm you, but he is in very serious condition. I'll know more after I've read the x-rays."
Dr. Jamison called for a vet-tech to bring a rolling cart. When the cart arrived, they lifted Samson onto it and began to wheel him into another room. Joel attempted to follow them, but was stopped at the door and told he would have to wait in the lobby. I put my arm around Joel and led him to a chair in the lobby.
"He's gotta get well, Dad. He just has to," Joel choked out, the tears beginning to form in his eyes.
"The vet will do all he can, son. We'll have to wait for Dr. Jamison to tell us what's wrong with Samson," I said, handing Joel my handkerchief so he could wipe his eyes.
Joel wiped his eyes and blew his nose, but continued to sniffle while we waited on the result of the x-rays. It was a good fifteen minutes later when Dr. Jamison appeared at the door and motioned for us to come with him. Joel jumped out of his chair and almost ran to where Dr. Jamison was standing.
"How's Samson? Is he all right? Where is he?"
The doctor put his arm around Joel's shoulder and without saying anything led Joel back to the examining room where we first brought Samson. Joel saw his dog on the examining table and rushed to him and cuddled his dog's head in his arms. Samson's eyes were barely open and his breathing appeared to be labored.
"Son," Dr. Jamison started, "please sit down. I need to talk to you about your friend."
Instead of taking one of the chairs in the examining room, Joel, instead, hopped up on the examining table so that he could continue to be close to Samson.
"That'll work, I guess," he said, smiling and stroking Samson's head. "Son, as I told you before we took the x-rays, your friend is very sick. The x-rays confirm that his heart is beginning to fail. It is enlarged to twice its normal size and is struggling to pump the blood. It is also restricting his lung capacity. I remember that we treated your dog for heart worms a couple of years ago when you first brought him in. He was cured of the heart worms, but they had caused damage to his heart and that damage has gotten worse. No, he doesn't have heart worms anymore. What I'm trying to tell you is that Samson is dying and there is nothing that we can do to prevent it."
Hearing this, Joel broke down and sobbed loudly. I stepped to him, wrapped my arms around both him and Samson. We stayed that way for a couple of minutes before Dr. Jamison began to speak again.
"I know what I'm going to tell you is going to be painful. You have two choices for dealing with Samson's situation, neither of which is ideal. The first is to take him home and watch him die a slow and painful death. The second is to end his suffering painlessly."
Joel looked at me with anguish and pleading in his eyes. "Son, I know that you love Samson. You've loved him from the first day you saw him along side the road. He has returned that love a thousand fold. Now the time has come for you to make a decision on Samson's fate. Consider what is best for Samson." Turning to the vet I said, "Could you leave us alone for a few minutes?"
"Of course," he said, leaving the room.
"Why, dad? Samson never did anybody any harm. Why does he have to die?"
"I don't know, son. I wish that I could give you a good answer, but there is no good answer."
"I don't want him to hurt anymore," Joel sobbed. He looked into Samson's eyes and said, "I love you, boy." He kissed Samson on the top of the head and then looked at me with the tears streaming down his cheeks.
I looked at Joel with a questioning expression. He nodded a barely perceptible nod. I nodded back and went to the door to summon Dr. Jamison.
"Joel, I think you have made the correct, but painful, decision. Let me explain to you what will happen. First we will give Samson an injection that will put him in a deep sleep where he will be free of all pain. After he is asleep, a second injection will allow all his bodily functions to stop. The procedure only takes a few minutes," Dr. Jamison said. Then turning to me he asked, "Will you want to take the remains?"
"Yes, we'll bury Samson at the house."
"If you can come back tomorrow, the remains will be ready. We need to do a necropsy to see if there are any other contributing factors to his condition. We need to rule out any disease that might be contagious to your other pets."
I thanked the doctor and after Joel had given his faithful friend a final hug, we left the clinic. I had to support Joel all the way to the car and lug the carrier as well. Although he was not sobbing loudly, the tears were still streaming down his cheeks. On the way home I could occasionally hear a soft but audible sob from him. It was all I could do to keep my eyes tear free. I knew the whole family was going to miss Samson. I didn't look forward to telling them that he was dead.
"Where's Samson?" TJ asked, as he looked in the car at the empty carrier. This caused Joel to sob and hurry into the house.
"Let's go in the house," I told him. As we walked toward the house I motioned for the other boys to follow us in.
"What's going on, dad?" Chris asked.
"We need to have a meeting. Boys, go into the living room, I'll be there shortly." I went into the kitchen and told Hildy we were going to have a family meeting. She dried her hands on a towel and followed me.
"Where's Joel?" she asked looking around. "Should I go get him?"
"No, it's all right. I'll explain."
For the next few minutes, I explained what was happening in as roundabout way as I could think of to try to soften the impact. When it finally dawned on TJ what I was saying about Samson, he jumped up from his seat and ran toward the bedroom yelling, "Joel!"
The other boys looked stunned before a few tears started to form in their eyes. Even Hildy had to dab at the corner of her eyes with her apron. "Oh, my poor boy, he must be devastated."
"Yes," I said. "He's taking it rather badly. Samson and he shared a very strong bond, I think, because of a common history of abuse. I will bring Samson's body home with me tomorrow and we'll bury him in that spot over east of the new house where he and Joel used to go sit and look out over the lake. I think that would be the fitting place."
"I think that would be appropriate. Joel would take him there to sit and talk to him anytime something was on his mind."
We managed to get through the evening without too many more tears, although the conversation was much more muted than usual.
I was almost asleep when I sensed someone in my bedroom. I looked up and saw Joel standing beside my bed.
"Can I sleep with you tonight?"
"Sure, climb in," I said, lifting the covers and sliding over to one side of the bed.
"Thanks," he said softly, before sliding over close to me and wrapping both of his hands around my bicep, just as he had done when he first came to live with me.
I lightly kissed his forehead, hoping that sleep would come quickly to him. It was a while before his breathing became the regular rhythm of sleep. Several times in the night he became quite agitated, but not once did he release his hold on my arm. I didn't sleep much. I, too, was going to miss that mixed-breed mongrel that had changed our lives by his tenacious will to live when we first discovered him.
Joel was still very quiet the next morning as he boarded the van bound for school. I hoped that he would recover after we buried Samson. If he didn't bounce back, I'd be tempted to set up an appointment with Dr. Adams.
I was nearing the house when Harold drove onto the property. He stopped to talk to me. I asked him if he could have one or two of his workmen dig a small hole for me. I explained what it was for and showed him where I wanted it dug. He assured me that he would see that it was ready by the time the boys returned from school.
Marie and Ricky arrived as I was getting into my car to leave for the office. I stopped long enough to explain to her what was going to happen this afternoon so that she could decide whether to stick around for it. I didn't know if she thought Ricky would understand. After thinking for a moment, she decided not to let him stay. I had to agree with her.
I made several calls while at the office trying to find something suitable for Samson to be buried in. After the fourth call, I finally found a firm that could do something for me. I explained that I wanted something simple that would still be appropriate for the occasion. They said they understood and invited me to come by their warehouse to see what they had. At noon I drove to the south side of San Antonio where they were located. The building was anything but impressive from the outside. The handmade wooden containers inside the building were more impressive. After looking over what they had available, I chose a simple walnut wood box that was large enough to hold Samson and the doggie bed he slept in the first day he stayed at our house.
I didn't have his bed with me so I left early to go by the vet clinic to pick up Samson's body and take it home. I wanted everything prepared by the time the boys got home from school. At the clinic, they had Samson's body in a large plastic bag similar to a garbage bag. Dr. Jamison explained to me that in order to do the necropsy they had to open the body cavity to examine the internal organs. Although they had sewn the incision back up, there was the likelihood that there would be some seepage of body fluids. That was the reason for the plastic bag.
By the time the boys arrived home from school, I had placed Samson on the doggie bed in the box and covered him with his blanket, leaving only his head exposed. I left the lid of the box off.
Joel seem to be returning to his old self, but wasn't quite there yet. I told the boys to go change their clothes before we buried Samson. When they had changed, I showed them the box with Samson inside. They were very quiet as they looked at their dead friend. Joel reached into the box, placed Samson's favorite toy beside his friend and gave him one last stroke on the head before looking at me and said, "Okay."
"Will you help me son?" I asked Joel, motioning to the lid for the box.
He nodded and picked up the lid. The lid with six holes fitted neatly onto the box with bolts sticking through the holes. Wing nuts attached the lid securely to the box. When everything was secure, with Manfred on one side, he and I lifted the box and began carrying it toward the freshly dug grave site. Joel walked behind followed by Hildy and the other boys.
I was surprised at how well Joel was handling this today as Manfred and I lowered the box containing Samson's remains into the hole. I didn't think it was appropriate to try to mimic a real funeral service, but I did want Joel to say a last goodbye to his friend.
"Joel, is there anything that you would like to say?" I asked, draping my arm around his shoulders.
Taking a deep breath and then letting it out, he began, "Samson, I don't know why you had to die. You were everything I could have asked for in a pet, but you were more to me than just a pet, you were a wonderful and faithful friend. I will miss you always. Goodbye."
I gave Joel a reassuring hug and gently turned him back toward the house. Although there were no tears running down his cheeks, his eyes were glistening with them and threatening to flow.
Just before he took off on his own, he turned to me and said, "Thanks, dad."
Between Hildy and Manfred, they had begun steering the other boys back toward the house. I remained behind and signaled the two workmen, that Harold had dig the hole, they could fill it in. It only took them a couple minutes to complete the job. All that was left was a mound of dirt to mark Samson's final resting place. We would have to find something permanent to mark the spot.
Joel was in his room, on his bed reading a book when I returned to the house. I sat down beside him and asked if he wanted to talk.
"Not really, dad. I'm sad that Samson's gone, but I realize it's selfish. I'm glad that he doesn't have to suffer anymore. He would always listen to me when I had something on my mind and he always seemed to understand what I was talking about. He was always there. That's what I'll miss the most."
"We will all miss Samson, son. He was an important part of this family," I said. "Just remember, if you ever need to talk to someone about your feelings, I'll always be available to listen. I may not have all the answers, but I'll listen."
"I know, dad."
By Friday, Joel and the family seemed to be getting back to normal. I could still see a little sadness in Joel's eyes as the other boys played with their dogs, but he was handling it fairly well.
Jack had contacted me earlier in the day at the office to report what the team of investigators had found out about my father's alleged half-sister, Eloise Manson. All they had been able to uncover was that both my grandfather and Sofia Goodlove had attended the same high school. No one they had contacted, so far, had been able to confirm any relationship between the two other than being classmates. One interesting fact they had uncovered was that Eloise was a records clerk in the state's Department of Vital Statistics where all birth and death certificates were kept. Jack said that it would be easy for someone in that position to fabricate or alter birth records. He didn't say he suspected her of this, but it was an avenue they were looking into.
He said they expected to have some more definitive information by the end of next week, if not before. They had several more people to interview and documents to examine. I thanked him for his efforts before we said goodbye.