At the school, I let the boys out of the van and then went to park it. As I was heading for the Headmaster's office, I was greeted by several of the boys that were on last year's tennis team. Although I recognized their faces, I couldn't remember their names. I wished that I had TJ's memory for names.
"Good morning," I said, greeting the Headmaster's secretary. "I'm Crane Johnson. I'd like to speak with Mr. Pierce if possible."
"Yes, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Pierce can see you as soon as he's off the phone. If you'll take a seat, I'll let him know you're here."
I had just gotten seated when Mr. Pierce came out of his office. "Mr. Johnson, please come in. I was going to call you later this morning. What can I do for you?"
"I'm not sure if you have been informed about a bullying incident that happened yesterday that my son, TJ, attempted to break up. According to my son, a young man by the name of Benson was bullying one of the younger students named Percy. TJ tried to stop it and ended up in a shoving match between him and Benson. Bullying is serious and I know that in the past you have been very proactive in trying to prevent it."
"I did receive a short report of the incident, but it didn't mention anything about bullying. I need to look into the matter more thoroughly. I'll have a talk with all three of the students," Mr. Pierce said.
"Thank you, I was sure that you would take the appropriate actions," I told him.
"Now, let me tell you why I was going to call you later this morning. Do you know Quincy Samuels?" he asked. When I said I had met him once, he continued. "Quincy was on our Board of Directors. He informed me last week that he was being transferred to Denver. That leaves a vacancy on the Board and I would like to nominate you for that position. I'm sure the Board will approve your nomination. With six of your boys enrolled in the school, I'm positive that you are concerned with the way the school meets their educational needs."
"You are correct. I am very concerned about my sons' education. That's why they are enrolled here and not in the public schools. This is a bit sudden. I think I need to consider it carefully before I give you my answer. In the meantime, is there any information on the duties of board members that I could have to help me decide?"
"Of course," he said, producing a half-inch thick folder and handed it to me. "I figured you would be someone who didn't make an uninformed or rash decision."
I was getting up to leave when the secretary knocked on the open door. "Mr. Pierce, there's been an incident on the playground and Mr. Jones would like for you to come."
"Very well, Ms. Carson, I'll be right there. Sorry, Mr. Johnson, but duty calls. I hope to be hearing from you soon on the Board appointment," he said, and headed out the door.
I followed him to the playground and was heading for the van when I saw TJ and two other boys in a tight group and what appeared to be another boy in their midst. Mr. Pierce was headed toward a male teacher I assumed was Mr. Jones who was holding onto a young boy, larger than most of the other kids on the playground. Curiosity got the better of me and I started towards where TJ was.
"Son, what's going on?" I asked, as I approached TJ.
"It's that Benson," TJ said. "He was gonna beat up Percy 'cause he got him in trouble."
"What happened then?"
"Brandon and me and Carl were kinda hanging around Percy to make sure he wasn't gonna get bullied again. I told them what you said. Benson ran up and hit Percy before we could stop him. Brandon and me grabbed Percy and wrapped our arms around him so Benson couldn't hit him again and Carl ran to get Mr. Jones."
"Did anyone else get hit?"
"No, he tried to pull us away from Percy so he could get him."
"Did any of you hit or shove Benson?" I asked.
"No, we just grabbed Percy and tried to move away from him," TJ said.
"TJ, introduce your friends to me. I don't think I've met any of them."
"Okay, this is Brandon," he said, pointing to a red-headed boy about the same height as TJ. "This is Carl." Carl was a stocky boy a little shorter than TJ. "And this is Percy." Percy was indeed smaller than any of the boys with almost white-blond hair and a pale, almost translucent complexion.
"It's nice to meet all of you. You all did the right thing and I'm proud of all of you," I said. At that moment, the first bell rang and the boys said they had to run and get to class before the second bell rang. I turned to go to the van and saw Mr. Pierce and the other teacher leading Benson, I assumed, toward the administrative offices.
When I got home, I looked through the material that Mr. Pierce had given me. In general, the major responsibilities of the Board were to approve budgets, teacher and administrator hirings, sit in judgment of any disciplinary actions, and approve curriculum changes. I wanted to talk it over with the boys and Donald, but I was inclined to accept if they had no strong objections.
I noticed that the kitchen was empty when I came in from the garage and poured myself a cup of coffee, but I didn't think too much about it until I went back for a second cup. Then I remembered that the water was shut off and that meant that Hildy and Gilda were probably at their house until it was restored. I was glad they thought to make a pot of coffee before it was shut off. Shortly before noon they returned with a plate of sandwiches, a thermos of tomato soup and bottles of water.
Harold came downstairs while we were eating to tell us that the water had been turned back on, but he needed to flush the system for a few minutes before we could start using it. We invited him to join us for lunch, but he declined saying that he had to go talk to another customer about some renovations that they wanted done.
"How do the girls like their new school?" I asked Hildy.
"They were all excited when they came home yesterday," she answered. "One of their friends from church is going there, so they knew at least one familiar face."
"I'd like your opinion on something," I said.
"Well, you know me, I have an opinion about everything," Hildy chuckled.
"That's the honest to God's truth," Gilda added, getting a scowl from her sister.
"The Headmaster, Mr. Pierce, asked me to be a member of the school's Board of Directors. What do you think?"
"You're going to do it, of course," Hildy stated.
"I haven't decided yet," I said. "I need to talk to the boys and Donald about it."
"I'm sure they will be all in favor of it, at least the ones who understand what the Board of Directors is."
I walked upstairs after we had finished our lunch to check out the work on the renovated bedroom and bath. A lot of work had been completed. The bathroom tile was almost finished. It would need to be grouted tomorrow. The drywall was prepped and ready for painting. If things continued to go as quickly as they had to this point, the work should be completed by tomorrow afternoon. It would be another day before the bathroom could be used as the grout would need to cure for a day. The three young ones should be able to move into their new room on Saturday.
I returned to the living room and picked up the book I had started earlier in the week. I had read about ten pages when the phone rang.
"Mr. Johnson, this is Phyllis Watson, Garth's mother. He said that your sons invited him to come to your house on Sunday to play tennis. I wanted to check to see if you were aware of the invitation."
"Mrs. Watson, yes I'm aware of the invitation that my sons issued to Garth and another boy named Erin. We would be pleased to have them come and visit. Be sure to tell Garth to bring his swimsuit as well. They can cool off in the pool after they work up a sweat playing tennis. You and the rest of your family are welcome to come as well. I was planning on starting up the grill and fix something. I haven't quite decided what as yet."
"My daughter might feel a little out of place. I understand you have six sons."
"Actually there are seven boys. One of them belongs to a friend. There will be three young girls here as well, so your daughter will have someone to play with. How old is your daughter?"
"Great, she'll fit right in. Why don't you plan on coming around one o'clock. The girls should be back from church and have had their lunch by that time."
Later, I heard from Gloria Collins, Erin's mother and issued the same invitation to her and her family. She said they would be delighted to come and asked if they could bring anything. I told her no, that we had everything covered. Since Erin was an only child, there wouldn't be any additional kids to look after.
I left to go to the school to pick up the boys. I was anxious to hear how TJ and his two friends fared after their talk with Mr. Pierce. Peter and William were the first to emerge from the school. They were surrounded by several of their new friends. When they saw me they waved goodbye to their friends and ran to where I was standing.
"How was school today?" I asked, giving each of them a hug.
"I like Miss Jackson," Peter said. "We get to do a lot of really neat things. She gave us some homework. You gotta check it so I get a hundred." He held up a sheet of paper with the assignment written on it.
"I like my teacher, too," William said. "She's really nice. I don't have no homework."
"I'm glad for both of you," I said. "There comes TJ." He was walking with Brandon, Carl and Percy. All three of them had smiles on their faces, so I assumed everything worked out well.
"Hi, dad," he said, as all four of them walked up to us.
"Hi, guys, you all seem to be happy. I guess your talk with Mr. Pierce went well."
"Yeah," TJ said. "Benson got sent home from school for three days."
"Bye, guys," Percy said, waving and taking off for a car that had just driven up. "See you tomorrow."
A few minutes later the three musketeers ambled out of the school talking and laughing with two boys and two girls. The girls broke off from the group, waved goodbye and headed for the parking lot. The boys headed to where we were standing.
"Dad, did Garth's and Erin's mothers call you today?" Chris asked.
"Yes, I got a call from each of their mothers," I told them. "They'll be coming to the house around one o'clock. Which one is Garth and which one is Erin?"
"I'm Garth," a tall blond-haired boy said."
"And I'm Erin." Erin was just a little shorter than Garth and had coal-black hair.
"It's nice to meet you guys. Don't forget to bring your swimsuits if you want to swim after you get tired playing tennis," I said.
"You got a swimming pool?" Erin asked the boys.
"Yeah, it's no big deal," Lenny said.
"There's my mom," Erin said. He waved goodbye and ran to the car.
"I'd better go catch the van," Garth said. "I don't want to have to walk home. See you tomorrow."
"Sorry I'm late," Joel said. "I went to talk to Mr. Gruvner, the new counselor. I wanted to get signed up for the next scheduled CBE."
"When is it?" I asked.
"It's the second Saturday in December, so I have plenty of time to prepare for it."
"How did your friends' mothers know to call about Sunday," I asked the three musketeers, as we were climbing into the van.
"We emailed them last night and gave them the phone number to call," Larry answered. "We didn't want to wait until today. They might have had something planned if we waited."
"Very resourceful," I said.
Donald pulled his car into the garage as we were getting out of the van. William went to give his dad a hug before running into the house to change out of his school uniform. Lenore was all smiles as Donald lifted her out of her car seat.
"I guess someone likes her pre-school," I said, as I received a hug from Donald.
"She loves it. I think she would spend more time there if she could," Donald said. "There are a lot of girls her own age for her to play with. Jeannie and Ginny are great for her to play with, but they are a few years older than she is."
"Well, there'll be another girl for her to play with on Sunday," I said, as we walked into the kitchen area. "The boys invited a couple of their friends to come play tennis and I invited their families to join us for the day. They're coming around one o'clock."
The boys had already changed clothes and were sitting at the table enjoying their afternoon snack of fruit salad and whipped cream. Gilda had taken Lenore into the guest bedroom where her clothes had been moved and was helping her get changed. Lenore soon joined the boys at the table for her snack.
"Where's Hildy?" I asked Gilda.
"She ran home to be there when the girls got there. She loves those girls so much. If anything prevented them from completing the adoption, I think it would kill her. Manny is just as bad. He dotes on them," she said. "In a way they're taking away some of the hurt that the death of his son caused."
"He took his son's death awfully hard," I said.
"I didn't know he had any children," Donald said.
"Only the one son. Horst lived in Chicago and was hit by a cement truck while crossing the street." I said.
"How dreadful. I know if something like that happened to one of mine, I would be devastated," Donald shuddered as he said that.
"When I thought there was a chance of losing Joel a few years back, it was very difficult to keep going. If it hadn't been for the other boys needing me, I probably would not have handled it as well as I did."
Hildy walked in holding a hand of each of her girls. Jeannie approached Donald and said, "Can Lenore spend the night with us tomorrow?"
"I'll make you a deal. Lenore can spend Friday night with you two if you will spend Saturday night with her in her new bedroom. How's that?"
She looked at Hildy. When Hildy smiled and nodded her head, Jeannie said, "Okay." The fruit salad and whipped cream now took priority.
"That was easy," I said.
"I soothed the way with Hildy a couple of days ago," Donald said.
"Hildy, the boys have invited a couple of their friends over Sunday afternoon to play tennis. I invited the boys' families to join us as well. There will be one extra six year-old girl that will be joining us as well as the four adults. If I counted correctly, that will mean a total of 22 mouths to feed. I thought I would grill something. What do you think?"
"How about briskets and sausages on the grill? Gilda and I can make ranch beans and cole slaw. Corn bread would go good with that. I picked up some Fredericksburg peaches from a road-side market yesterday. They'll make a great peach cobbler. Maybe some ice cream on top," Hildy said, getting a nod from Gilda. "One of my girl friends was telling me about a brisket she got for her party from the Smokehouse. That would be a lot easier than trying to fix one from scratch. She said they slow smoked theirs for 18 hours. All that would be needed is to heat them up on the grill. The same goes for a couple different types of sausages."
"Isn't that going to be a lot of work for you two?" I asked.
"No," Gilda said. "The beans and slaw are easy. peeling the peaches for the cobbler is what will take the most time."
"Yeah," Hildy said, looking toward her husband. "If Manny helps, it will take even longer because he'll eat as many as he peels."
"Oh, that hurt," Manfred said.
"I love you anyway," Hildy said, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
After supper, the boys went off to do their homework. Donald settled down on the couch with William and Lenore on either side and read a story to them. I sat down on the loveseat in the living room and started reading a book. It wasn't long before the boys started bringing their homework for me to check over. Peter and TJ were the first to appear. Peter was bursting with pride as he approached and climbed on my lap.
"TJ said it was right," Peter said, as he handed me his papers.
I took the paper with the homework assignment written on it and then compared what he had done to what was assigned. It was done very well. I could find no errors in his work. "You did a great job. I'm very proud of you," I said, giving him a hug and a kiss on the top of his head.
TJ was next onto my lap. His work was up to his usual high standards. "You did good work, as well," I said. "Keep it up." He got his hug also.
The process was repeated with Larry, Lenny and Chris, in that order, although I had moved to the breakfast room table by the time they brought their homework for me to check. They were getting to be a little too big to sit on my lap in the loveseat.
"Dad, I've got a question on this calculus problem," Joel said, when it was his turn. "Can you help me?"
"It's been a few years since I've done any calculus, but I'll try. Let me look at it." He handed me his book and pointed out the problem. I studied it for a minute, searching my brain trying to remember the calculus I had taken in college. Then it became clear and I asked him a question that I thought would put him on the right track for him to solve it himself.
"Oh," he said, "I should have thought of that. Thanks, dad."
Soon it was their snack time. Hildy or Gilda had baked some peanut butter cookies to go with glasses of milk. Then it was off to brush their teeth and get ready for bed. Donald took Lenore into the guest bedroom and got her ready for bed before going to tuck William in for the night.
"One more night," he said as we left the three youngest ones' bedroom. I smiled and went to check on the three musketeers.
The next morning at breakfast, I brought up the subject of Mr. Pierce's offer for me to serve on Corinthian Academy's Board of Directors. As expected, my five youngest ones didn't have any opinion or really know what it was. Joel was enthusiastic and urged me to accept. Donald felt the same. Since everybody was in agreement, I decided to let Mr. Pierce know that I would accept, if the Board approved my nomination. I did just that after I dropped the boys off at the school.
"Excellent," Mr. Pierce said, when I informed him. "The next Board meeting is next Wednesday at 7 PM. I will introduce you to the sitting members and I'm sure they will have some questions for you. It should only be a formality. I'm certain that you will be approved."
I decided to call Hildy when I got to the van to see if she wanted me to pick up anything while I was out.
"No, I don't think there's anything you need to get. I sent Manny to the Smokehouse in New Braunfels to pick up a couple of those briskets and one of their sausage combo packages," she said. "Oh, you might pick up some beer. Your guests may not all be wine drinkers. I'm not sure what wine would go with Texas Barbeque."
"Come to think of it, I don't know either." I headed for the HEB store to pick up a few six-packs of beer and some sodas for the kids. Since Hildy had referred to our Sunday gathering as a Texas Barbeque, I thought it only fitting to get some Texas beer. I saw some Shiner Bock1 and decided it would go well with the smoked meats we were going to serve. I also picked up a six-pack of Shiner Blond in case someone didn't care for the heavier Bock.
When I got home, I started to put the beer and soda into the refrigerator in the utility room. Manfred heard me come in and offered to help. The refrigerator was packed by the time we had everything stowed away.
"I've been thinking," I said to Manfred. "If I had a larger van, then we both wouldn't have to drive to pick up the kids. Technically, the current one will hold all nine of them, but that bench seat in the back is not a very good place to have any of them to sit on a regular basis. Besides, it's usually covered by the backpacks and other school related stuff."
"How many miles are on that van?" he asked.
"Just over 80,000. By the time school is out next spring it would probably have 100,000. If you've got some time next week, why don't you go with me to see what's available in a bigger one?"
"Sounds like fun, I always enjoy looking at new cars. I might just have a look for something to replace Hildy's car. It still runs good, but she has almost 200,000 miles on a fifteen year-old station wagon. She's certainly gotten her money's worth out of it."
The boys were all excited to be out of school for the weekend when I went to pick them up. They were looking forward to riding their horses tomorrow and then having some friends over on Sunday. As soon as they changed out of their school uniforms and had a snack, they were off to see the dogs. Donald and Lenore were late arriving at the house. They had been delayed by a traffic accident that had closed the highway for about half an hour. Lenore was still enjoying her snack when Jeannie and Ginny came in the back door with Hildy. They soon joined the boys outside.
The front door bell rang and I went to see who it was. I thought it was strange that it was the door bell and not the gate buzzer. It had to be someone with a code to get through the gate. I opened the door to find Harold Nichols standing there.
"The guys finished up this afternoon while you were gone and I wanted to come by to see if everything was to your satisfaction," he said.
"I hadn't gone up to check. Let's go have a look," I said, motioning for him to come in. He followed me up the stairs to the renovated bedroom. "Looks good. When can the boys start using the bathroom?"
"The paint will be dry by this evening, but the grout in the shower should have another 12 or so hours to cure. It should be fine to start using it tomorrow night."
"Send your bill to Gerald, I'll tell him to pay it. And thanks for doing the work so quickly. We really appreciate it."
"Thanks, if there are any problems, let me know. I guarantee my work for a full year," Harold said.
After supper, the boys did their homework and we went through the routine of checking it. I always preferred that they get it completed on Friday evening instead of waiting until Sunday night. Lenore went to spend the night with Jeannie and Ginny.
Saturday morning after breakfast the boys went to feed and take care of their dogs before we went to the ranch to ride the horses. All at once Peter rushed into the house carrying Duke. He had tears in his eyes as he approached me.
"What's wrong, son?"
"Duke hurt his foot and can't stand on it," Peter said.
"Let me look," I told him, taking Duke from his arms. I examined the right front leg that seemed to be the one in question. I couldn't see anything that would cause him not to be able to use it, but when I put him down, it was clear that there was definitely something wrong with it.
"Is he gonna be okay?" Peter asked, stroking his pet's head.
"I'm sure he is. Go tell your brothers that we need to leave right away. We'll take Duke and stop by Tracy's clinic. He'll know what's wrong with your friend."
It took about 20 minutes to get everyone and everything loaded into the van before we could get underway. Another 20 minutes and we were driving into the vet clinic. Tracy was busy with another animal, but his vet tech said he would give Duke a preliminary examination. Peter insisted on watching the exam.
"I see what the problem is," the tech said. "He's got a splinter stuck in between his toes. It's almost the same color as his foot. That's why you couldn't spot it. We get lots of those in here, so if there are no apparent broken bones, the next thing we look for is a splinter or thorn. What's your dog's name?"
"Duke," Peter replied.
"Can you hold Duke's head while I pull the splinter out? It'll hurt when I remove it and I don't want him to bite me."
Peter cradled Duke's head in his arms and talked softly to his pet. Duke gave out a yelp when the splinter was removed, but made no attempt to bite the tech.
"Can he walk now?" Peter asked.
"It should be no problem. He'll probably favor it for the rest of the day, but he'll soon be walking normally. Let me put some of the disinfectant on his foot and he'll be all set to go."
Duke was placed on the floor and he took a couple of tentative steps. At least he was putting weight on the foot now.
"Thank you," Peter told the tech, giving him a hug.
"Crane, did Gary take care of you?" Tracy asked, coming into the examination room where we were.
"He did a great job. Just a splinter in Duke's foot," I said. "How's business?"
"Amazing, I never thought I'd be this busy this soon after setting up practice. I suppose you guys are on the way to the ranch to ride. I saw the other boys in the waiting room."
"Yes, I'll bet they're getting antsy. They're not too good at waiting." I handed the tech my credit card with the intention of paying for Duke's splinter removal.
Tracy took the card from Gary and handed it back to me. "No charge," he said. "After all you have done for me and my family, there is no way I can charge you for anything."
We loaded up the van and headed for the ranch. It was a typical Saturday of riding with the exception of Duke being with us. He stayed out of the field where the horses were. I doubt that he had ever seen a horse before. When I wasn't riding, he was sitting next to me as I talked to Charlie or Rosie. I think he was relieved when we were home and he was with the rest of the dogs. He was walking with hardly a limp by that time.
The three musketeers were anxiously waiting for their friends to arrive as one o'clock approached. Finally the gate buzzer sounded and it was a contest as to who could push the button first to open the gate. Both families arrived at the same time and we greeted them at the front door. After the introductions were made all around, the boys took off through the house and headed for the tennis courts.
"Please come in and meet the rest of the family," I said.
"You have a beautiful home," Phyllis Watson said. "How many bedrooms do you have?"
"There're only six, but most of them are quite large. Let me introduce you to the person who is the steadying hand in this household. This is Hildy Strasser. She has been looking after me for years and for the boys the past four." I finished all the introductions and then offered our guest something to drink. Tea was the preferred beverage. It was a little early for anything stronger.
We walked outside and down to the tennis court where there was a lot of trash talk being heard and a whole lot of laughing. Linda Watson had found the other three girls and they were making friends on the patio.
"Dad, we're gonna go swimming," Larry said, a few hours later. "Erin and Garth are gonna change in our room. Okay?"
"Sure, go ahead," I said. Turning to Phyllis, "Does Linda like to swim?"
"Yes, but she doesn't get to very often. We don't have a pool except for the community one. She brought her suit just in case."
"I'm sure the other girls are going to get in the water once they see the boys dive in. Manfred always goes in the water with the girls and Donald will as well. It might be a little crowded, but if you brought your suits, you're welcome to get in the water."
I was right. As soon as the boys were in the water the girls headed for the house to change. Donald and Manfred acted as lifeguards when the girls got in the pool. There was a lot of splashing going on with 15 bodies in the pool.
About thirty minutes later, I saw Hildy coming out of the house with someone trying to hide behind her. As she got to the edge of the pool, the person stepped around her. It took a minute or so before there came a shriek from three of the girls in the pool."
1Shiner Bock is one of eight beers brewed by K. Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, TX, self-proclaimed "Cleanest little city in Texas". It's located south of I-10 between San Antonio and Houston. They also brew four seasonal beers. www.shiner.com