Peter had his seatbelt unhooked and was trying to open the carrier holding Duke as soon as the car stopped in the garage. He was having trouble with the latch. "Here, let me help," I said.
"Hurry, please," he said. "I gotta show TJ."
"TJ is probably still having his music lesson. Why don't you go show Hildy? I'll bet she would like to meet Duke."
"Okay," he said, running toward the door into the house clutching Duke to his chest.
By the time I had put the booster seat back into the van and entered the house, Hildy was holding Peter and Duke on her lap. The puppy was squirming so much that I was afraid he would tumble out of Peter's arms.
"I see you've met Duke," I chuckled.
"He's adorable," Hildy responded. "I wonder how the other dogs are going to take to him?"
"I think we'd better introduce him to Sam first." Sam had become the dominate dog in the pack even though he was the newest and the youngest. He just seemed to be a natural leader. If Sam accepted Duke, the other dogs would follow. That's what we did after the other boys had finished their music lessons. After some sniffing of the new arrival, Sam gave a bark and walked away. As the boys let their dogs loose, one at a time, they did their own sniffing and Duke was accepted into the pack.
Before Mrs. Shultz left, she informed me that she was organizing a music recital for all of her students the second Saturday in January and wanted the boys to participate. I thought it was a good idea and told her I would talk it over with the boys and let her know the next time she came.
We had planned to go to the farm to ride the horses in the afternoon, but it started raining so we stayed at home. I don't think Peter was too unhappy about that. It gave him more time to play with his puppy. He was less pleased when I had to show him how to clean up after Duke when he had an accident in the house. The rain didn't last very long, just long enough to disrupt our plans.
Because I had let the other boys have their dogs sleep in their rooms when they first brought them home, I gave in to Peter's pleading to let Duke. I helped Peter fix the doggie bed so that Duke would have someplace to sleep. He wanted Duke to sleep in bed with him, but I said no. With newspapers spread around on the floor near the doggie bed, I was hoping Duke wouldn't make too much of a mess over night.
When I went to wake TJ and Peter Sunday morning, I found Peter sitting on the floor with Duke climbing all over him. I looked around and didn't find any accidents, but thought it would be a good idea to get Duke outside before that changed. I asked TJ to take Peter and Duke outside so Duke could do his business. Thankfully, they made it outside in time.
Later, around ten o'clock, I asked Peter to put Duke into the dog run so that we could go ride the horses. He was torn between wanting to play with his pet and his desire to go riding. Finally, the horses won out, but it was a tough decision.
I called Rosie and told her we were on our way. As usual, Bert was in the stables saddling up the horses when we got there. I was a little surprised to see that Tracy was also there. He only had about three more weeks of school before graduation. I had assumed that he would be studying for finals.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson," Tracy said.
"I thought you would be hitting the books."
"Only two of my classes are giving finals and they are my easiest subjects. The rest are either labs or papers instead of exams. I've already finished my papers and the labs should be easy. That computer has been a godsend."
"It sounds like you're doing well, then."
"Yeah, I don't know my class standing yet, but I don't think I'll be paying you back all the money you loaned me. I should be number one or two."
"Fantastic," I said. "Have you decided where you're going to set up your practice?"
"I think so. I called that phone number for CBJ Properties that was on the building going up on 281. I went to see it yesterday. That's the main reason I came home this weekend. Well, besides Rosie and the baby. Anyway, the guy I talked to on the phone said it was available for rent. He met me there yesterday morning. It's a perfect arrangement for a clinic. It's almost finished. Mr. Martinez said it should be completed around the first week in December. I hope the rent isn't too high. He said he would have to check with the owner of the building."
"I'm sure it will be affordable. You remember I told you when you went back to school that I would help you get set up in business when you graduated."
"Yeah, but ..."
"Tracy, I own that building. We'll work out an arrangement where until your practice is on its feet, the rent will be deferred."
"Why are you doing all of this for us? You've done so much already."
"Tracy, I'm a business man and a pretty darn good one. I think in the long run, I'll make money on your clinic. I like you and your family. You have shown me that you are trustworthy and hard working. I'm confident that your clinic will be a rousing success. I've done a little research myself on the veterinary business in the area and there is a lack of clinics. People have to go into San Antonio or New Braunfels for even the basic animal care. You'll probably have more business than you know what to do with in a few months."
"All I can say is thank you. I'll try not to violate your trust."
"I'm sure you won't. Now, I think I'd better mount up and go see what my brood is up to."
Tracy headed back toward the house as I took off to find the boys. They were having a rag-tag race when I found them at the back of the pasture. They had laid out a course on a fairly level piece of land that started at one tree and circled around another one about fifty yards away and then returned to the original starting point. Bert and the four older boys would line up and TJ would give them the starting signal by waving his white handkerchief. Then he and Peter would get out of the way and cheer on the five riders. I watched a couple of the races from a distance. Bert and Joel seemed to be the winners most times. As I approached, I could hear the twins and Chris complaining good naturedly that they had been cheated. I was invited to race with them, but declined their offer.
The first thing that Peter did when we arrived home was to go find Duke. They both appeared to be equally happy to see each other.
Later that afternoon, I sat the boys down and discussed the recital that Mrs. Shultz had mentioned. At first it got a lukewarm reception, but with a little gentle persuasion they warmed up to the idea. I asked them what they had been working on with Mrs. Shultz. That prompted a mini concert with all the boys except Peter performing for Hildy, Manfred and me. There were some rough spots, but it was quite passable for no longer than they had been taking lessons.
"That was pretty good, guys," I said. "But if you want to be really good, you'll need to spend a lot more time practicing." That didn't go over that well, but they agreed to try. Over the next few days I had to remind them a few times. Wednesday they only had a half day of school which was traditional for the day before Thanksgiving. That allowed each of them to have an hour of practice time in the afternoon. Thanksgiving marked the end of the fall tennis and golf season. Both would resume in the Spring.
As usual, Hildy prepared a feast for us on Thursday with turkey and all the trimmings. Besides the turkey, there was cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, steamed cauliflower and broccoli, giblet gravy and fresh baked bread rolls. For dessert she had prepared the traditional pumpkin pie with whipped cream. In addition she fixed pecan and apple pies which were served with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Manfred decided that he wanted a sliver of each pie. That brought immediate agreement from the boys and they opted for that, also. The pie slivers Hildy dished up were more like whole pieces of pie. I stuck to my favorite, the pecan pie. One thing for sure, nobody was going hungry at our table.
By the time we had finished eating, the table cleared and the dishes in the dishwasher, everybody decided they needed to take a rest. I switched on the TV and took a seat on the sofa. Peter climbed up beside me and slipped under my arm. It wasn't long before he was sound asleep. The other boys had sprawled out on the floor to watch the movie on the TV. It wasn't long before they, too, were dropping off to sleep. I nodded off not long after.
Friday I made some time to talk with Joel about how he and John were getting along. He told me that things were still a little strained between them, but that they were able to at least talk to each other without any anger. I was pleased to hear that. I got the distinct impression that Joel would like the relationship to be closer, but was adjusting to, but not liking, the new arrangement.
Because of the long holiday weekend, Mrs. Shultz didn't give the boys their music lessons. She and her husband had gone to visit her daughter and grandchildren in Del Rio for Thanksgiving.
On Monday, Hildy and Manfred heard that their latest offer on the house next door had been accepted. The closing date was set for December 18th. That was only about three weeks away. I wondered how we would be able to adjust when they moved out of the house. All of us depended on her so heavily that the adjustment would be difficult.
Later in the day I received a call from Darin Bain with some good news on the trust. The bank agreed to settle for the $60 million provided we sign a non-disclosure agreement. Since Carla and Jayden had given me the authority to negotiate for them, I accepted for the three of us.
"Oh, I forgot to mention, the Bollingers agreed to pay for all your attorney fees as well. You'll each get the full amount," Darin said.
"Thanks, I should have thought to ask for that," I said. "When will the transfer of monies take place?"
"They're anxious to get this over with and want it wrapped up by the end of next week if possible. I don't think it will be necessary for any of you to come to Philly unless you want to. I would suggest that the bank over night the non-disclosure agreement to the three of you and have it returned the same way. It will need to be notarized. As soon as they receive the documents back, they will transfer the money to an account that you each will provide to them. There will be tax consequences and I suggest that you retain good tax attorneys to minimize the amount Uncle Sam confiscates."
"Don't worry. I've already given Carla and Jayden that advice. When I talk to them later, I'll make sure they have followed up on it. Darin, I want to thank you for your help in this matter. It sure made it a lot easier with someone competent on that end to handle things."
"You're welcome. I will still be involved until the funds are distributed."
As soon as we disconnected, I made the calls to Carla and Jayden. They were both overjoyed at the news. Neither one of them had contacted a tax attorney. I tried to explain to them that a good one could probably save them a lot more money than one would charge for the service. They both promised they would follow my advice.
Wednesday morning I flew to Las Vegas at seven in the morning. Fenton Bigelow met me at the airport and later we drove to the title company for the closing on the two properties. The whole process at the title company took a little over two hours. Fenton took me to lunch at the Verandah. From the commission that he earned on the two properties, he could well afford to treat me. He drove me to the airport in time to board my flight back to San Antonio. It was nearly 10PM by the time I returned home. My plane had been delayed an hour in Las Vegas due to a severe thunder storm that hit the area and caused major flooding in the city.
I received the non-disclosure agreement from the bank on Thursday and returned it the same day after having Gerald notarize it. Evidently Carla and Jayden had done the same because on the following Tuesday, I received notification that the funds had been transferred to the account I had set up to benefit the foundation.
As Christmas approached, I started quizzing the boys on what they wanted for presents. After so many 'I don't knows', I decided that each of them should write out a list of things they would like to have.
It broke my heart when Peter said, "I never got no Christmas presents. What do you get? I got my dog."
"TJ," I said, "would you try to explain the kind of things that boys get for Christmas? Maybe you can help him write out his list."
"Sure, dad," TJ answered. "Come on Peter, I'll show you what I got last Christmas."
I know that many families go out the day after Thanksgiving and buy a Christmas tree. I had always thought that this was rushing the season. I would wait until the week before Christmas to put up the tree if it weren't for the boys pestering. As soon as we started the shopping for presents, they were insistent that they have a tree to put them under.
Shopping for presents was always a problem in logistics. If it weren't for the help of Manfred and Hildy, it would have taken many more trips to the malls to get everything purchased. Shopping for the Christmas tree was an experience. The first place we went to didn't have any that the boys or I liked. Neither did the second place. When we came home empty handed, Manfred suggested that we visit a tree farm where we could pick out a tree from among the hundreds they had growing. He knew of a place near Fredericksburg that he sometimes purchased trees from for his landscaping business.
First thing on Saturday morning we took off for Fredericksburg following Manfred's direction. We were able to go early because Mrs. Shultz had called to say she had to cancel the music lessons. It seemed that she came down with a bad cold after visiting her daughter. It was about an hour and ten minutes drive to Fredericksburg. The place wasn't hard to find, but I knew as soon as I saw it we were in for a long day. The place was huge with trees of all sizes ranging from around three feet to ones well over ten feet. We decided before we left home that we would get a tree in the eight to ten foot range. While that narrowed our search down somewhat, it still left us with at least a hundred to choose from. One of the workers showed us where to start our search. The four older boys took off on their own search, while TJ and Peter stayed with me. We had been given several colored ribbons when we entered so that we could mark trees that we thought might meet our needs. The three of us found a couple that we thought were the right size and shape for what we wanted and we tied ribbons on them. Joel and the other three returned later saying that they had some they wanted us to look at. We showed them our selections and then went to see theirs. After looking at all the ones the boys had selected and some haggling over which one was the best choice, we made a decision. It turned out that one of their selections was just right and we finally all agreed it was the one we wanted.
One of the workers cut the tree down, tied it up, wrapped it in the canvas that Manfred had loaned us and with the help of a couple other workers, tied it to the roof rack on the van. Since it was time for lunch, we stopped at the Der Lindenbaum. Although Hildy was of German descent, she didn't often cook German food. I thought this would be a treat for the boys to try some authentic cuisine. I ordered three types of Schnitzels including Wiener, Jager and Paprika, an order of Gulasch, a spicy stewed beef, and one order each of Rinderbraten, a roasted beef dish, and Sauerbraten, a Rheinland-style sweet and sour marinated roast beef. I thought that would give each of the boys a taste of several dishes. The wait staff obliged us by bringing extra plates so the various dishes could be split among us. For dessert the boys had Black Forest cake. I had coffee.
As soon as we got home the boys wanted to set up the tree immediately. Manfred, Joel and I wrestled the tree down off the van and carried it into the house and laid it on the floor of the family room. It took Manfred and me nearly half an hour to get the tree in its stand and positioned where we wanted it. While we were busy with the tree, Hildy was busy getting all the decorations out of storage and making a snack for the boys. I don't know where they put it after all the lunch we had eaten.
Peter was so excited when we started decorating the tree. He was literally jumping up and down in excitement. I took one of the glass balls and showed him how to hang it on the tree. I gave him one and showed him where to put it. I stood ready to catch it if he dropped it, but he held it so carefully and gently hung it on one of the lower branches. His face lit up when we all congratulated him on such a good job. He placed several other balls on the tree before I showed him how to hang the tinsel. While I would take two or three strands and loop them over a branch, he would take a single strand and very carefully drape it over a branch. It took a lot of time, but he was having so much fun doing it that nobody tried to speed him up.
The tree was only about half decorated when Hildy called us to supper. Peter was torn between decorating the tree and food, but food had the greater attraction. I told him we would continue after supper. By a little after nine we finished decorating the tree except for the angel for the top of the tree. Hildy had reserved it to be the last thing to go on the tree.
"Come here, Peter," I said, moving the ladder closer to the tree. "It's the custom in this house that the youngest gets the honor of placing the angel on top of the tree. Do you want to do it?"
"How? I can't reach that high," he said.
"We have to climb the ladder. Don't be afraid. I'll hold you so you won't fall."
With Manfred holding the ladder, Peter and I ascended it. Hildy handed the angel to me. I placed it in Peter's hands and very carefully I held him out so that he could place it on the very apex of the tree.
"Well done, son," I said, giving him a hug and receiving a kiss on the cheek in return.
We climbed down the ladder and stood there admiring the tree. Manfred took the ladder out to the garage. Hildy had disappeared into the kitchen. When they came back, they were carrying trays holding cups of hot chocolate and shortbread cookies. I walked over and plugged the electrical cord into the wall. I don't know exactly how many lights there were on the tree, but there must have been at least a hundred. At the same time, Manfred dimmed the room lights so that the major illumination was coming from the tree. There was a collective, "Ooooh!" from the boys. I had to admit we had done a good job decorating the tree. We sat around drinking hot chocolate, eating shortbread cookies and admiring the tree until after ten o'clock.
Over the next few days, presents began to appear under the tree. I helped Peter wrap the presents that he was giving to his brothers. I could have wrapped them in a third of the time and they would have been much neater, but he was having so much fun I let him do as much as he could. In large block letters, I printed each of the boys' names on a piece of paper and as each gift was wrapped, Peter copied the name in his five year-old scrawl onto a tag I then tied to the gift.
The closer it came to Friday, the moodier the boys became. Friday was the day that Hildy and Manfred were scheduled to close on their house. Hildy said that they wouldn't be moving until after the first of the year because they were planning on having several of the rooms painted and the carpet replaced as well as most of the kitchen appliances. Despite knowing this, the boys were still saddened by the prospects of Hildy not being here all the time.
Friday was also the day that Tracy was to graduate from A&M. We were invited to the ceremonies, but because of Hildy's schedule and the boys being in school, I didn't feel comfortable leaving and going to College Station.
I contracted for an asphalt path to be constructed leading from their new house to ours as soon as the house was theirs. Saturday afternoon I took the boys with me to pick out a golf cart or ATV for Hildy to use to commute between the houses. That was an experience. The first place we went was one that sold only golf carts. They had both new and used ones. The boys immediately were attracted to one that was constructed to resemble a Rolls Royce. It was priced to resemble one as well, costing a little over $12,000.
"Dad, let's get this one," Joel said, grinning. "Then when we go play golf at River Crossing, we won't have to rent a cart."
"Yeah, right," I said. "Do you know how many times we would have to play and rent a cart to break even on that? You'd be so old you'd be in a nursing home and wouldn't be able to play golf."
"Yeah, but everybody would really stare at us and be jealous," he giggled.
We didn't find anything that we really liked and thought would be appropriate, but there were a couple that could fit the bill if we couldn't find something better. We thanked the salesman and headed to a place I knew sold ATV's. The vehicles that we saw there disappointed me. None appeared to be anywhere near meeting what I deemed to be required for either Hildy's comfort or requirements. I decided to go back during the week while the boys were in school to purchase one of the golf carts that we had identified that would work for her.
Monday as I was preparing to leave the house, Peggy Callahan called from CPS. She wanted to set up a time to visit with Peter. I told her the boys would be out of school at noon on Wednesday the 23rd and she could come by then or any time during his Christmas vacation. He didn't start back to school until January 4th. She said she would like to come on Wednesday afternoon around two o'clock. She wanted to speak with me while she was there, also.
I stopped at the golf cart place and picked out the cart that I thought would be the most serviceable for Hildy. It had headlights, taillights and a horn. I had them add a windshield and the removable side curtain enclosure. They promised to deliver it by tomorrow afternoon.
When I got home the contractor had begun putting in the asphalt path to Hildy's and Manfred's house. I spoke to the man who appeared to be in charge to find out that they would be finished before the day was out. Since the path was not meant for any heavy traffic, extensive preparation of the underlying bed was not necessary, only some grading and compacting. The remotely controlled gate between the two properties had already been installed.
I hoped that I wasn't making a mistake, but I had cancelled the security service contract. The guards would be on duty until the end of the year. We hadn't had any incidents for some time.
The presents under the tree were beginning to pile up. Every day more appeared. On Tuesday I took a few of the presents and went to the foundation office. I had purchased presents for Darcie, Paul, Carol and the new office manager, Kenneth Bering and wanted to give them out before any of them took off for the Christmas holidays. Thankfully, everybody was in the office. Paul was back from his honeymoon. He had gotten married on the fourth of the month. We had been invited, but since the wedding was in Kansas City we couldn't go. After distributing the gifts and catching up on everybody's lives, we closed the office and I took them all out for an early lunch.
"How's married life, Paul?" I asked when we were seated in the restaurant.
"It's great," Paul said, blushing slightly. "Ruth loves the old house I bought. She's been helping me with the renovations. She said to thank you for the wedding present. We're trying to get all the Thank You notes written, but it takes time to personalize each one and we're still trying to consolidate all our stuff."
"Where did you go on your honeymoon?"
"Cancun. It was beautiful. We were there five days. The weather was fantastic all the time we were there. We plan to go back there again sometime in the future."
I returned home just in time for the golf cart to be delivered. I inspected it and gave it a test drive. I was glad I had the side curtains and windshield installed. A Blue Norther had arrived and sent the temperatures plummeting. With the salesman in the passenger seat, I drove the cart on the newly laid down asphalt path to the gate separating the properties and opened it with the remote then continued to the Strasser house. Once there I turned the cart around and headed back to where we started. I shook the salesman's hand and gave him a check for the remainder of the purchase price.
I went inside and asked Hildy to go out to the garage with me. I showed her the golf cart and how to work the controls. I told her that when she drove into the garage each morning to take the cord from under the seat and plug it into the electrical outlet. That was so the batteries would never run down. "Why don't you take us for a ride?" I said. We climbed in, opened the garage door with the remote and she slowly backed the cart out of the garage. It took her a little effort and time to move the lever to make the cart go forward. "Let's drive over to your new house and I'll show you how to open the gate." I got to thinking as she drove. There would be three remotes in the cart, one for our garage door, one for the gate, and one for their garage door. I'd have to take a look at that and see if I couldn't come up with a better solution before they moved.
When I took the boys to school this morning, it was a typical December day, cool enough to require a light jacket. By the time I went to pick them up in the afternoon, the temperature had dropped at least 15 degrees. It felt like it was freezing with the wind out of the north at a good 20 mile-per-hour. It didn't take the boys long to run to the van and climb in.
"Is it gonna snow?" TJ asked, as he climbed into the van.
"I don't think so, son. We rarely get snow this far south in Texas."
"Oh, darn, I was hoping it would snow for Christmas. Jimmy said where he used to live they always had snow on Christmas."
"Really? Where did he used to live?"
"Alaska, that's way up north. We learned about that in geography class," TJ said proudly.
"I'm sure they did," I said.
As soon as the older boys climbed in, we took off for home. When we arrived home and entered the back door, the aroma of warm chocolate chip cookies greeted us. Without stopping to speak to Hildy, the boys took off up the back stairs to their rooms and changed clothes. Quicker than I thought possible, they were changed and sitting at the breakfast table laying waste to the platter of cookies and washing them down with tall glasses of milk.
"Thanks, Hildy," Joel said, giving her a hug. "Those were great."
"You're welcome. I'm glad you liked them."
"Hildy," I said, "I can't remember if I told you that Peggy Callahan will be here tomorrow around two o'clock to speak with Peter."
"Is anything wrong?" Hildy asked.
"Not that I know of, I think it's just one of the monthly visits she is supposed to make. She didn't make one last month for some reason."
Later I spoke with Peter and told him that Mrs. Callahan was going to be here to see him. He just shrugged and went back to playing with Duke.
Before I went to bed, I checked to make sure that the pool cover was in place and the heater was working. We hadn't been using the pool as much recently. The weather hadn't been all that conducive to swimming.
Wednesday morning I woke up to rain beating on my bedroom windows. I got up and looked out to see if it were freezing on anything. Luckily, the temperature had not dropped to the freezing level, but it was going to be a miserable day by anyone's standards.
Before we took off for the school, I made sure that the boys had on their heavy coats and rain gear. As I dropped them off, I reminded them I would be there at 12:30 to pick them up. They hopped out of the van and made a beeline for the school building. By the time I got back to the house the rain had let up some, but the weather forecast was for rain the rest of the day and night.
It was still raining when I went to pick up the boys. I parked the van as close as I could to the school, but so did all the other parents there to pick up their children. Peter was all excited when he got into the van.
"Miss Landau showed me how to make a Christmas card. I made it for Hildy," he said, showing me a folded piece of red construction paper with some nearly illegible printing on it.
"I'm sure Hildy will be thrilled with it," I said, handing the card back to him.
I told the older boys they needed to practice their music when we got home. I got their reluctant assent and they went off to change out of their school uniforms.
A few minutes after two, the gate buzzer sounded. It was Peggy Callahan as expected. I opened the gate and informed the security guard that she was expected. I didn't want him to stop her and ask her business. I greeted her at the front door and showed her into the library and went to find Peter.
She spoke with Peter for nearly half an hour before he opened the library door and went to find the other boys.
"Mr. Johnson, may I speak with you for a few minutes?" she said, as she followed Peter out of the library.
"Certainly. Would you like a cup of coffee? Hildy always has the pot on."
"Thank you, no."
"What can I do for you?"
"First, I need to tell you that the judge has rescheduled the April hearing for January 12th. There have been some developments that you need to be aware of. Peter's uncle has decided to take him and raise him."