As I was pouring my first cup of coffee Saturday morning, the gate buzzer sounded. When I checked, it was the workers who were building the new addition wanting to get in. I activated the gate to let them in. The slab had been poured earlier in the week and had been allowed to cure. Today they were going to begin framing. We would have to watch to see that none of the boys or the dogs got in the workers' way.
Conner and Susan soon joined me for coffee. Gilda was busy fixing breakfast and talking to herself. Suddenly she stopped talking and exclaimed, "Oh!" She turned to me and continued, "Crane, you'll have to forgive my forgetfulness. I heard from Celia earlier in the week and I keep forgetting to tell you what she said."
"What did she say?" I asked, confused.
"That decorator you asked about. She gave me the name. I wrote it down and put it in this drawer," she said, opening the drawer and retrieving a small piece of paper. "Here."
"Thanks, I had almost forgotten it myself," I said, accepting the slip of paper. "I'll try to call her next week to check on her availability. The townhouse is a month or so away from completion, but she might be able to work with the contractor on paint colors and carpet."
"Breakfast will be ready in about fifteen minutes," Gilda said, and turned back to her preparations.
"I'll go get the boys up," I said. It didn't take much to get them moving at the mention of breakfast. Joel was already dressed when I got to his room.
"Good morning, dad," Joel said. "I've got to hurry to meet the guys at the course. I won't have time for breakfast. I'll get something at the course. I think they're open for breakfast. I'll just grab some orange juice before I go."
"Okay," I said. "Do you have enough money?"
"You always ask that. I've got plenty ... even if I lose every hole." Joel said, smiling.
"Remember what I said about gambling."
After the boys had eaten breakfast, they ran upstairs to brush their teeth and got dressed to begin the piano lessons. While Chris and TJ were having their lessons, the twins and William went to take care of the dogs. I stopped to talk to Gilda.
"Donald and I were thinking about inviting the parents of the boys who are coming here to play tennis this afternoon to stay for a picnic style supper. I don't know how many there will be, but I was wondering if it would be too much trouble for you."
"When will you know how many there'll be?" Gilda asked.
"I won't know until the boys arrive at around one. We were thinking of fixing burgers, brats and hot dogs on the grill. Nothing fancy," I said.
"In that case, I could fix some potato salad and cole slaw. I'm sure that Hildy could make a dessert. She's better at baking than I am. I'll work it out with her when she gets here."
Just before one, a car arrived bringing Brad Brewster. The twins and Chris were on the front steps to meet him. I was there as well. I made my proposal to Mr. and Mrs. Brewster and they accepted along with their ten year-old daughter. She didn't look too happy until I mentioned that there would be at least three other girls for her to play with.
Barry Lake and Tommy Bannister arrive shortly thereafter. Tommy's parents accepted the invitation, but Barry's parents said they had other plans and declined. The Bannisters had three daughters. Unless I had miscounted, there would be 24 people for supper. I went to the kitchen and found both Hildy and Gilda there. I informed them of the number. They immediately began planning and completely ignored me.
I hoped that Donald would be back by the time everyone arrived. He had gotten a phone call earlier and had to go into his office. There had been some sort of emergency that needed his attention.
I went to check on the boys in the back yard. Larry was playing opposite Tommy while the other boys called the lines. There was a lot of laughing and trash talk going on. At least I didn't hear any profanity and I don't think they had noticed my presence. Next Chris took on Barry and that was followed by Lenny playing Brad. They were only playing one set so each match didn't take too long to complete. After a couple of hours they decided to cool off in the pool where TJ, Peter and William were. Manfred and the three girls arrived a few minutes later and joined the rest of us in the pool. The pool was getting crowded with all 14 of us in there. I decided to get out and watch from the sidelines.
"How come you're not in the pool?" Donald asked, taking one of the loungers next to me.
"I was in there for a while, but it is kind of crowded," I said. "Did you get everything straightened out at the office?"
"Yes," he answered. "A couple vandals broke into the Mercedes dealership and smashed the windows and threw paint on five cars. They also painted some anti-capitalism slogans on the walls. Of course the insurance will cover the damages, but the cars can't be sold as new after they have been repaired."
"Do the police know who did it?"
"They have the surveillance video and there are some pretty clear pictures of the culprits. The officer that I talked to seemed to think they have a pretty good chance of identifying them."
"I'm glad that you're home. There will be 24 of us for our picnic supper that you suggested we have. There would have been more if the Lakes didn't have other plans. So put on your apron, party boy, you've been 'volunteered' to man the grill."
"I can do that," Donald said. "Maybe I'll wear the one with the ruffles."
"Hi, daddy," a wet Lenore said, as she climbed onto her dad's lap. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too. Have you been having fun?"
"Uh huh. Ginny got a new doll," Lenore said. "Can I get a new doll?"
"Let dad think about it," Donald said, kissing the top of his daughter's head.
"I think I'd better check with Hildy and Gilda to see if they need any help with the preparations," I said, getting up and heading for the house. I should have known that they would have everything under control.
Our guests began arriving right at six o'clock. Barry's parents were the last to arrive. He was waiting for them. "Can't I stay? I had so much fun," he pleaded. "Brad said his folks would take me home."
"I'm sorry, son, but we're expected at your grandmother's in half an hour," Mr. Lake said.
"Okay," he said resignedly. He turned to his five friends who were standing on the front step. "Thanks, guys. I guess I'll see you Monday."
"Yeah, Barry, maybe we can do it again sometime," Chris said. "Next time I'll let you win."
"I won't hold my breath for that to happen," he said. "Bye, guys!"
It was getting dark as it does this time of year in south Texas, but the outside lights gave plenty of illumination so that Donald could see well enough to grill the meat. We decided to eat inside as it was also getting a bit chilly. It was a challenge to get everybody seated at a table, but by using the breakfast table and the dining room table with extra chairs added everyone had a seat.
I think the five tennis players tried to see who could eat the most burgers and hot dogs. Thankfully they were seated at the breakfast table so their exuberant laughter and ribbing each other was somewhat ameliorated by the distance they were from those of us in the dining room.
The Bannister and Brewster parents were delightful guests. Lloyd Bannister was the station manager for a TV station in San Antonio. He related some funny tales of mishaps that had happened at the station. Many of them could have made it onto that TV program which shows bloopers. Mary Bannister was an orthopedic surgeon at Northwest Baptist Hospital in San Antonio. Roger Brewster was a criminal defense lawyer. With his folksy demeanor and Texas drawl, I'm sure that he was able to charm many a jury. Helen Brewster was a stay-at-home mom, but did a considerable amount of volunteer work with a couple different charities.
Our simple meal was appreciated by all and I think added to the informal atmosphere of the evening. It was approaching nine o'clock before our guests departed.
"Joel," I said, after our guests were gone, "how did your golf game go?"
"I played really well. I won 10 skins. There were 3 ties and I lost 5 skins," he said.
"That was good. So you didn't lose any money."
"No, I ended up winning $5.25. Clive was the big loser. He didn't win a single skin. It cost him $3.75," Joel said, shaking his head. "He didn't play his usual game. He and I are usually pretty well matched."
"Well, you had better go take your shower. I assume that you're going to call Jimmy before you go to bed," I said.
"Yeah," he said, ducking his head. "I'll talk to him for a while. Oh, by the way, that radio is supposed to be delivered on Monday. Will you make sure that it's not damaged when it gets here?"
"I'll take care of it."
"Thanks, dad," he said, giving me a hug. "I love you."
"I love you, too, son."
Sunday morning we headed for the ranch to ride the horses as usual. Charlie was waiting for us when we got there. I could tell by the smile on his face that he had heard that I had purchased the Crenshaw farm across the road.
"Oh, man, this is going to be great," Charlie enthused. "Thank you so much. I've talked to my friend and he says that he wants to work with me. That's okay, isn't it?"
"Charlie, you know it is. I didn't think that you would be able to manage all by yourself. What's your friend's name?" I asked.
"Ian O'Leary, he and I grew up together and were best friends. He always loved the farm, but with three older brothers taking over his family's farm, there was nothing for him to do. He's been working construction as a foreman since he got out of college."
"Is he married?" I asked.
"No," Charlie said. "I don't think he is the marrying kind."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well," Charlie hesitated, "he's ... ah ... gay, I guess. You don't care, do you?"
"No," I laughed, "I don't care. When can I meet this Ian O'Leary?"
"He's going to be here around noon. I told him that you'd probably still be here. He wants to meet you."
"I'm sure we will be. Now, I had better go check on the boys and go for a ride myself."
Ian O'Leary showed up just as the boys took a break for lunch. He was a tall, thin man with bright-red, unruly hair. "Mr. Johnson," he said, shaking my hand, "Charlie said that he might need some help with the farm you just bought. I'd like very much to be the one to help him."
"I'm sure that Charlie will need some help with the additional acreage. If he thinks that you are the one for the job, then you're hired. I won't take possession of the farm until later this year, most likely it will be toward the end of December. Come join us for lunch. Okay everybody, this gentleman is Ian O'Leary. He's going to be working with Charlie as soon as we own the farm across the road." After we settled down to eat lunch, I said, "I understand that you've been involved in the construction business."
"Yes, I work for a custom home builder as project manager/foreman. It's not my first choice for a job, but it pays the bills," Ian said.
"Once I own the farm, I'll want you to bring the outbuildings up to date. Mr. Crenshaw has let them deteriorate because he was not able to maintain them due to his age," I said. I went on to explain the salary associated with the job and how the split of the income from the properties would be handled. He seemed to be pleased with the offer, since it included the free use of the house.
"Thanks, Mr. Johnson, it's going to be good to be back on a farm. I know Charlie and I are going to make this place a success."
"The next thing you need to do is to have Charlie saddle up a horse for you so that you can ride with us," I said.
"Man, I'm going to love that perk," Ian said. "Come on, Charlie, show me where you keep the horses."
"That reminds me, Crane," Charlie said. "The quarter-horse colts have been weaned. They could be sold right now, but if we keep them until spring they would probably bring a better price. What do you want me to do?"
"Charlie, that's your call. You know a heck of a lot more about running this place than I do. Use your best judgment. If it's best to wait until spring, that's fine with me," I said. "Now, I'd better go check on the riders." The boys had eaten their lunch and raced back to their horses while we had been talking.
I could tell when Ian rode up to where I was observing the boys, that he was no stranger to riding horses. He handled the quarter horse he was riding as if he were born in the saddle.
"Ian," I said, "I'd like you to meet Donald Baker. He and his two children live with us." Donald had ridden up beside me while Ian's horse was being saddled.
They exchanged greeting. Ian gave a quizzical looked at Donald and me, but didn't say anything before riding off with Charlie. I was sure that Charlie would fill him in on the situation at our house.
The boys were never ready to stop riding and brush down their mounts when it was time to head home. Lenore wasn't ready to leave playing with the two babies either.
"How long before we go to Las Vegas?" Lenny asked on the way home.
"It's a week and a half," Donald answered.
"That's a long time," he responded.
"Who wants pizza for supper?" I asked, as I was parking the van in the garage.
The vote was unanimous for pizza.
"Okay, let's find out if Hildy and her gang want to join us and then we can call in the order. Donald, would you give them a call?"
He picked up the phone and made the call. I could tell by the way he was nodding his head that they would be joining us. The next thing was to decide which kinds of pizza to order and how many. That was quickly decided and I called the order in. They said that the order would be ready in 20 to 25 minutes. Since they didn't deliver, a couple of us would have to go pick them up. Joel and I were elected. He wanted to drive his car and I didn't object.
I didn't know how we were going to eat all the pizzas that I had ordered, but when we were done eating, there were only a couple of slices left in the boxes.
Monday morning when I returned home after taking the kids to school, I made a call to Phyllis Prentiss, the decorator friend of Celia Burger. I explained what I wanted done and gave her the information on the contractor and the address of the townhouse. She sounded like she was enthusiastic about doing the job and said she would contact the contractor and make arrangements to visit the property. After she surveyed the place she promised to provide me with a sketch of her proposal and what the expected costs would be. Depending upon getting access to the townhouse, she thought that she would have the proposal to me by the end of the week.
Shortly after I had finished talking to Phyllis, Harold Nichols rang the doorbell. The purpose of his visit was to give me an update on the progress of the new addition. "We're a couple of days ahead of schedule. If the weather holds out, we should be finished by Christmas," Harold said.
"Excellent," I said. I explained that we would be leaving the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and wouldn't be returning until Sunday. I went on to inform him that there would be onsite security while we were gone. Although, I trusted Harold, the workers were another matter. I didn't know them. He left to go check on the construction, refusing my offer of a cup of coffee.
Since I had told Harold about the security, I made a call to the company that I had used in the past and engaged them to provide around-the-clock security for our property as well as Hildy's and Manfred's.
After lunch I received a call from Gerald. "Crane," he said, "I have all the papers on the Crenshaw farm finalized and copies delivered to them. The surveyor will not be able to do his thing until after Thanksgiving. It will take him a couple of days to complete everything."
"Good," I said. "Do you think that it's possible for the closing to happen before the end of the year?"
"Unless something shows up that's totally unexpected, I think it is possible for you to own the property by Christmas."
"Thanks, Gerald. Just so you'll know, we will be gone over the holiday weekend."
"We will be also. Going to see the in-laws in upstate New York. I'd rather take a beating than fly during that time, but 'she who must be obeyed' has put her foot down."
"We'll be flying as well, but it's in a private jet," I said.
"Lucky you," he said. "I'll touch base with you after the holidays."
I decided to take a walk outside and check to see how the workers were coming along on the building. I was pleasantly surprised at the progress they had made. It wouldn't be too long before it was closed in and they could begin on the interior. I would be glad when that happened. Maybe it would be quieter once they were inside. The constant hammering was a distraction.
Shortly before I was to head out to pick up the kids at school, the UPS driver arrived at the front door. Since the workers were going in and out of the property, the gate had been left open, so he didn't have to be buzzed in. I inspected the package and couldn't see that it had been damaged in any way. I took the package and placed it on Joel's desk in his room.
"Dad," Larry said, when I picked them up from school, "the school is having a food drive all this week. They are asking for each of us to bring two cans of food. It's gonna go to the food bank to help feed the poor."
"I think that's a great idea," I told him.
"But we wanted to ask if Chris and Lenny and I can help on Saturday," he said. "They need volunteers to help sort and box up the cans so they can be delivered to the food bank."
"Well, you guys have your music lessons scheduled for Saturday morning."
"We thought maybe we could have our lessons on Friday night so we could help on Saturday. Is that okay?" Larry asked.
"Yeah," Chris added.
"I think we can work something out," I said. "What time would you have to be at the school on Saturday?"
"They want the volunteers to be there by nine o'clock," Lenny answered.
"I'm proud of you guys for wanting to help out. You'll have to talk to Hildy to see if she has some canned goods that she can spare from the pantry."
"We gotta take some cans, too," Jeannie said.
"All of us do," TJ spoke up.
"Thanks, dad," Joel said, after he had been to his room. "I have to get some wrapping paper."
"Ask Hildy, I'm sure there is some around here someplace," I said.
"I'm going to have to go shopping," Hildy said the next morning, as the kids were getting ready to head to the van. "Your pantry is bare and so is ours."
"It's for a good cause, and it teaches a good lesson to the kids," Donald said. "They may not realize it, but they are very fortunate. Realizing that there are people who would go hungry if it were not for the food bank, just might get them thinking of the less fortunate."
It was a sight, seeing ten kids carrying the plastic bags containing the cans of food into the school building. Peter and William were clutching the bags to their chests as if they were priceless gifts.
If Peter and William had their way, they would take food to school every day. They really didn't understand why they couldn't. Donald and I tried to explain it to them without much success.
Mid-morning on Friday, I received a call from Phyllis Prentiss. She said that she had been to the townhouse and talked to the contractor. Between them, they had come up with plans for decorating the place. She described the plans that had been developed as 'youthful masculine', whatever that was. I gave her my fax number and told her I would discuss it with my son and get back to her on Monday. It wasn't long before my fax machine was spitting out the pages of her design. I looked over them briefly and at first glance I couldn't see anything that jumped out at me that I would change.
I gave the fax pages to Joel when we arrived home after school. He took them to his room and studied them. He came down later and handed me the pages. There were several notes written on a couple of the pages. I read them and they made sense. I hadn't realized it when I first looked at them, that the color of the main living area on the ground floor was almost totally monochromatic. Joel had written his suggestions as how to enliven the color scheme. I agreed with his changes and would submit them to Phyllis on Monday.
Early Saturday morning, the twins and Chris climbed into the Lincoln and we took off for the school. We got there a few minutes before nine. There were only two other cars in the parking lot, so I parked and the four of us headed for the school entrance. We were met by two other parents and a young boy and girl about my boys' ages. The door was still locked. I introduced myself to the other parents and we chatted for a few minutes until Mr. Jewel arrived to let us in.
"Sorry for being late," he said. "My car wouldn't start and I had to borrow my wife's. Follow me, the boxes and things are set up in the gym. It shouldn't take us over a couple of hours to knock this out. We have a truck coming to pick up the donations around noon." He led us to the gym and unlocked the door. "I had the cleaning people set up four of these long tables and I thought we could sort the canned goods into four different groups. This table on the left we can put the canned fruit, the next table will be for vegetables, next is for soups and the last table is for canned meats. Once we have all the cans sorted, we can begin filling the boxes. If a couple of you parents will start putting the boxes together, that would help out a lot. The tape dispensers are on top of the collapsed boxes. Let's get started."
When the students had brought the canned goods in, the cans were placed in large barrels that had been brought into the gym. There were nine of them that appeared to be filled to the brim with cans, large and small.
Another parent and I started assembling the boxes. The other parent, Mr. Jewell and the five students began taking cans out of the barrels and placing them in neat rows on the assigned tables. As the level in a barrel went down, an adult would take the cans out of the barrel and hand them to one of the students to take to the tables. After about 45 minutes, Mr. Jewell called for the kids to take a break.
"Look at my hands," Chris said. "I didn't know cans were that dirty."
"Yeah, me too," Larry agreed.
Mr. Jewell said, "If a couple of you would go to my car, there is a cooler in the trunk with some cold drinks in it."
"I'll go," Chris volunteered.
"Me, too," Larry said.
"And me," Lenny said.
"Okay, here're the keys. This one is for the trunk," he said, handing them to Chris.
It wasn't long before the three of them returned with the cooler. Mr. Jewell opened it and made the offer for them to help themselves, which they did.
It took us a little less than two hours to sort and box the food. Each box was labeled as to its contents. I sent the boys to the restroom to wash their hands before we took off for home.
It rained all day on Sunday, so we didn't get to go riding.
Monday after I returned home from taking the kids to school, I called Phyllis and gave her Joel's suggested changes to the design. She seemed to be amenable to the changes, so I faxed the pages back to her with Joel's notes.
The next couple of days were spent getting everything arranged for the flight out Wednesday afternoon. It couldn't come soon enough for the boys. They were so excited on Wednesday morning, that I doubt there was any learning that took place at school.
Donald picked up Lenore from her pre-school and brought her home and the three of us got into the van and headed for the school. Manfred, Hildy and Gilda followed us to the school and got Jeannie and Ginny settled in their big Ford. We took the boys in the van and took off for the airport.