Jeannie and Ginny had never flown before and they were a little apprehensive about it. Each one took a seat so that they were sitting beside one of their parents. I think it helped them to feel more secure and it didn't hurt that they saw Lenore was completely comfortable. She had flown many times with her dad and brother. Once we were in the air, they settled down and appeared to be comfortable as well.
It was midafternoon, Las Vegas time, when we arrived at McCarran International Airport. We had to circle the airport for a while. A small plane had run off the taxiway and we had to wait to land until it had been hauled back onto the taxiway. It delayed our landing for nearly thirty minutes.
Donald had arranged for two, large, luxurious vans to transport us to the condos. He also made arrangements for the plane to be ready to take us back to San Antonio at noon on Sunday. We were met at the condos by the leasing agent, who presented us with the keys and escorted the Strassers to their condo to show them around. It took three trips in the elevator to get us all to our quarters. The boys wasted no time in carrying their luggage to the rooms that they had occupied the last time we were here. Lenore had twisted her dad's arm into letting her stay with Jeannie and Ginny.
"Dad, can we go to the pool?" Chris asked, as the three musketeers plus TJ, Peter and William bolted up the stairs.
"Let me check to see if Manfred will keep track of you guys in the pool. Donald, Joel and I are going to go meet with Fenton to inspect the property we own. Let me give Manfred a call." I dialed the number that the leasing agent had given me and spoke to Manfred. He readily agreed saying it was a great idea. I told him I would bring the boys down to his condo and they could show him where the pool was. "Okay, guys, Manfred said he would go with you to the pool. Grab your stuff and I'll take you down to their condo."
The six boys peeled off their shorts and T-shirts to reveal that they had already put on their swimsuits. I shook my head and smiled. I don't know what they would have done if I had said they couldn't go swimming. I told Donald that I would be right back and we headed out to the elevator. I explained to Manfred that it might take a while before we would be back and asked him if Gilda would watch the boys until we returned. He told me not to worry, they would manage. I gave him a key to our condo and went back up the elevator.
Donald was on the phone when I returned. "That will be fine," he said into the phone and hung up. "That was the chef who will be fixing our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. He and his crew will be here around nine in the morning to begin the preparations. I also called the limo place and the car should be here in about ten minutes to pick us up."
"How about Fenton? Does he know we're coming?" I asked.
"When I spoke to him this morning before we left, he said he would be onsite all day and would wait for us to arrive."
"I can hardly wait to see how the courses are coming along," Joel said, as he joined us.
"I'm sure they have made progress since we were here last, but they will be a long way from being finished," I said. "We had probably better head downstairs. The car should arrive any minute."
"I hope Benny is still there," Joel said, on the way down in the elevator. "Maybe he can take me on a tour of the courses like he did last time."
"Someone can do that even if Benny is not there," Donald added.
As it turned out our car and driver were pulling up outside as we exited the building. He had been given the address where he was to take us and he headed out as soon as we were settled in the car. It took us a little over twenty minutes to get to the development. Fenton was waiting for us at the sales office.
"Mr. Baker, Mr. Johnson, it's good to see you again," Fenton said, shaking our hands. "And Joel, I know why you're here. Just a second and I'll get Benny to give you the grand tour." He picked up a walkie-talkie and called Benny to come to the office.
"Thank you, Mr. Bigelow. I'll wait outside," Joel said.
"Please have a seat," Fenton said. "Would you care for coffee?"
"No thanks," I said, noticing Donald shaking his head. "Why don't you bring us up to date on the sales and the development progress?"
"I can do the sales, but I'll have Les Gomez cover the construction," Fenton said. He laid out a map of the development and pointed out the lots that had been purchased and ones where houses were being built. Although we received weekly updates from him, seeing it all laid out like this, it was apparent that the project was moving along at a faster pace than we had anticipated. "Here's a list of people who have purchased property and those who have not that wish to become members of the golf and country club. I know that you have set aside three quarters of the memberships for residents, but from the looks of the number of non-residents wanting to belong, you could sell a lot more."
"For right now, I think we should go with the plan," Donald said. "As the development approaches build-out, we can revisit it."
"I've informed everyone who has expressed interest in membership that it will be the first of January before memberships will be accepted. The residents understand that their membership is guaranteed if they apply. Non-residents will be screened before they are allowed to purchase a membership."
"Just so we are clear, there will be no discrimination involved in the screening process," I said. "Membership may be granted if they are financially sound and can pass a credit check and criminal background check."
Les Gomez joined us at that point. After we had greeted him, he began to give us an update on all phases of the development. The infrastructure was nearly complete. All the basic utilities had been installed and the open spaces were being graded in preparation for the landscaping. He produced drawings of what they were going to look like. The last things he covered were the two golf courses. Both were on schedule or ahead and were expected to be in playable condition by the middle of March.
"That will make my son happy," I said. "His spring break is in March and he is dying to play the courses."
"Maybe the grand opening of the courses can be scheduled when he can be here," Les said.
"That would be great," I said. "I'm anxious to play them myself. It looks like I had better start practicing. I wouldn't want to embarrass myself, or Joel."
"Dad!" an excited Joel exclaimed, coming into the sales office. "You need to check out that long par five I told you about last time. It's almost finished. All it needs is for the grass to take root. The traps and waste areas are all in and the little pond in front of the green is almost ready for the water. I want to play that so bad. You sure don't want to hook off the tee. There're some nasty rocks, cactus and something that looks like pampas grass. You'd never get out of there if your ball ended up in there."
"Les says that the course should be ready for play in March," I said. "Maybe it will correspond with your spring break."
"I hope so. I want to play both courses. They're so different," he said.
"Fenton, Les, thanks for the update," Donald said. "Keep us informed and let us know if there are any problems that need our attention. Now I think we had better get back to our kids. I don't want to have them think we have deserted them."
We shook hands with them and headed for the car. Joel talked all the way back to the condo. I think he described every one of the 36 holes and how he would play them. I don't think I had ever seen Joel so excited about anything before.
The smells of food being prepared greeted us as we entered the condo. Turning the corner we saw Gilda busily cooking and talking to herself. "Something sure smells good," I said, walking into the kitchen.
"Oh, you startled me," Gilda said. "I didn't hear you come in. I checked the pantry and the quickest thing I could find to fix was spaghetti and meat sauce. Along with a salad and some garlic bread, it should satisfy the boys. I saw a couple of bottles of wine in the wine cooler if you want some to go along with your meal."
"Thanks, I think I will open a bottle," Donald said. "Okay with you, Crane?"
"Yes," I said. "Have the boys been behaving?"
"No problems at all," Gilda said. "I gave them a snack when they finished swimming and that should hold them until everything is ready which will be in about thirty minutes. They headed downstairs after their snack and were playing computer games and watching TV the last time I checked."
"Tell Manfred and Hildy that the chef and his helpers will be here around nine to begin preparations for our Thanksgiving dinner," I said.
"The boys will probably want breakfast before that, so I'll come up and fix something," Gilda said. She turned back to her preparations and began talking to herself. We had clearly been dismissed, so we went to check on the boys.
Chris and Lenny were playing some car chase game on the X-box. Larry was standing behind them offering them advice and critique of their play. TJ, Peter and William were watching a video tape of a Disney movie. They were all so engrossed in what they were doing they didn't even notice us until Donald wrapped his arms around William from behind. I did the same to TJ and Peter.
"Hi, dad," William said, looking up at Donald.
"Did you guys have fun swimming?" I asked my two.
"Yeah, there was a boy and his dad in the pool when we got there. His name is Glen," TJ said. "He's staying in the other building. He doesn't have any brothers or sisters."
"His dad is nice, too," Peter volunteered.
"That's nice that you made a new friend," I said. "Supper is going to be ready shortly, so if you guys can find a place to pause your movie, you need to get washed up." I gave them a squeeze and went to tell the three musketeers the same thing.
Everybody enjoyed the supper even though it was a little messy. There was a lot of spaghetti sauce that ended up on the table and on some faces. It was a good thing that Gilda had supplied the table with a stack of paper napkins.
Due to the time difference between San Antonio and Las Vegas the boys were ready for bed earlier than their normal time. After we had the boys settled into bed, Donald and I had another glass of wine and headed for bed.
Gilda was preparing breakfast as I wandered into the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee. "I'm surprised that the boys are not up. They went to bed early last night," I said.
"I think at least a couple of them are up," Gilda said. "I heard some stirrings coming up the stairs a while ago. As soon as they smell breakfast, they'll be here."
"You can bet on that," I said.
Breakfast was barely over when the cooking crew arrived. Gilda wasn't all that happy about being kicked out of the kitchen and left the condo to go down to her condo. The four youngest boys wanted to go swimming again. They liked the indoor pool. The older four wanted to play tennis. They had not brought their rackets, but there were ones that could be rented at the courts. Since Joel was going to be with them, I decided that they didn't need one of the adults to go with them. I thought a morning swim sounded good, so I went to the pool as well. Donald said he would join us later. He had received a call and had to take care of some business.
The chef informed me before I left that the dinner would be ready at two o'clock. The boys wouldn't be happy that they had to wait that long to eat, but a snack might be enough to tide them over.
By abutting the breakfast table against the dining room table, all 15 of us were able to be seated together. It was a bit tight, but we managed. The food was terrific and beautifully presented. We all ate way too much. After lunch, everybody was too full to think about doing anything. The boys went back downstairs to their computer games and TV. Manfred joined Donald and me to watch one of the football games on our TV. Gilda and Hildy took the girls to their condo to do whatever girls do. It was late evening before any of us were hungry. When we were, plates of leftovers were served.
Friday we took the kids to Circus Circus' Adventuredome. We purchased all-day passes and spent over six hours with the kids enjoying the rides and entertainment. Lenore was not tall enough to go on some of the rides, but she didn't seem to mind. Donald had to go on some of them with William; otherwise his son would not have been able to go on them. By the time we left, everybody was exhausted.
Saturday we took a tour bus ride around Las Vegas during the day and then another one at night to see all the lights. The day tour took us to see the Hoover dam. The boys were a little disappointed that they didn't get to see the Grand Canyon on this trip. There were just too many of us to charter a plane or helicopter to get us there and back.
Our evening meals on both Friday and Saturday were prepared for us by the chef and crew. We were usually busy during the day and caught a quick meal on the go, but tried to be back at the condo for a well-balanced meal.
Sunday morning the boys were up early and had their breakfast. As soon as they had finished, I told them to get their things packed in the suitcases. We were due at the airport by 10:30 so we could get through security and be on the plane and ready to leave at noon. Before we left, I made a quick check of their area to make sure that they were not leaving anything behind. The two vans were waiting to take us to the airport as we exited the condo building.
Everything went smoothly and we were in the air a few minutes after noon. Jeannie and Ginny were much more comfortable with flying on the way home than they were on our trip on Wednesday. We arrived in San Antonio shortly after six, local time. It took us a while to gather our luggage and store it in the van and Manfred's SUV. It was dark by the time I pulled the van into the garage.
Donald went to get Lenore and bring her back to the house. In the meantime, I busied myself making something to eat for the 'starving' boys. It wasn't a gourmet meal, just cold-cut sandwiches along with chips and vegetable sticks. Afterwards, I sent the boys to get their suitcases unpacked and to separate out any dirty clothes to be washed.
Monday things returned to normal. I took the kids to school and Donald went off to work. When I returned to the house, the cleaning crew was already there, working away. Although it was a little chilly, I decided to stay out of their way and head out onto the patio. I took a book and a cup of coffee with me, but I wanted to make a phone call or two.
The first call was to Roger Burton, my stock broker. The market was open, so I knew he would be in the office. He was. I wanted to check in with him to be sure that all my sell orders had been executed and to make sure that he would have all my capital gains statements ready after the first of the year so I could file my income tax. He assured me that everything had been taken care of and the tax forms would be mailed to me the third week of January. I thanked him and terminated the call. I was going to call Gerald, but then I remembered that he wouldn't be back until Wednesday.
As I sat there drinking my cup of coffee, I began thinking of all the things that needed to be done between now and the end of the year and wondered how we would be able to accomplish everything.
Tuesday evening, I attended my first school board meeting. I never realized just how unexciting a meeting could be. There were so many mundane items that needed to be addressed. The only really substantive things that were accomplished were the approval of the school calendar for the next school year and the approval of hiring a new teacher to replace one who was taking maternity leave beginning the first of January.
The boys were in bed when I got home. I made my rounds to say goodnight and to see that they were tucked in. Peter and William were already asleep and TJ was almost asleep. Naturally the twins and Chris were still talking although the lights were out. I told them goodnight and that I loved them and to stop talking and go to sleep. Joel was in bed and reading a book.
"What's that you're reading?" I asked.
"It's for that CBE that I'm going to take next week. If I pass it, I'll only have one more to take so I can graduate at the end of the school year in May," he said.
"Well, don't stay up too late. You still have school tomorrow."
"I only have to finish this chapter before I turn out the lights. I should be finished in about twenty minutes."
I went downstairs and found Donald looking over a bunch of papers that he had obviously taken from a file folder. "What's so interesting?" I asked.
"My lawyer brought me a proposal from one of my minor competitors wanting to know if I would like to buy him out. He wants to retire and has no family to take over the business. He owns a medium size car dealership over on the east side of San Antonio," Donald said. "It would have some advantages since none of my businesses are on that side of town and it is a franchise for cars that I currently don't have. Lester, as he always does in cases like this, does the due diligence before he presents me with the proposal. He has good judgment for things like this, that's why I delegate that to him."
"Oh," I said. "Could I refill your glass of wine?"
We finished our wine before turning out the lights and retiring for the night.
After taking the kids to school on Wednesday morning, I called Gerald to find out how the farm purchase was coming along. He said that he had a message from the surveyor that his report would be delivered later today. Everything looked good for a closing before the end of the year. Harold stopped by later in the morning to check on the progress of the construction and informed me that the exterior had been completed and the inside should be completed the week before Christmas. He wanted me to pick out the paint colors, carpet, lighting fixtures and all sorts of details. I told him I would speak with Donald and would give him an answer by Friday.
I decided to get input from Hildy and Gilda as well as Donald on the selections for the new space. I went and spoke to Gilda. She immediately called Hildy and as soon as Hildy arrive, they went to inspect the new rooms with pad and pencil in hand. I'm not sure the workers appreciated that they spent over an hour making a thorough inspection of the new space. They returned with several pages of notes and started going over them with me. The ideas they had come up with sounded good to me. If Donald felt the same way, it would save us a lot of time doing things neither of us really enjoyed. When I showed him their suggestions that evening, he gave his approval. One thing checked off the to-do list.
Thursday afternoon when I was waiting for the boys to get out of school, Peter and William ran up to me. "Dad, when are we gonna get our Christmas tree?" Peter asked. "Lisa said they were gonna get theirs Saturday."
"I hadn't given it much thought. We usually put ours up the first week or so of December. Maybe we can drive up to Fredericksburg this weekend and get one like we did last year. It may mean that you would miss riding the horses," I said. "Let's see what Donald has planned."
I don't think it would have mattered what Donald had planned for the weekend when both William and Lenore pleaded with him, he couldn't say no. It was settled. We drove to Fredericksburg on Saturday and got a 10 foot tree from the same place as last year. Since we had not yet engaged a new music teacher, the boys' Saturday was free. It was rainy on Sunday so there was no horseback riding. Instead, the day was spent decorating the tree.
Once the tree was up and decorated, the planning of the logistics of shopping for presents began. With five adults it would cut down on the number of trips that were necessary for everybody to buy presents for their brothers and sister. This logistical challenge would be handled over the next two weekends.
I had given the suggestions for the new addition to Harold on Friday. He said he would look them over to see if he could provide us with sources for the lighting fixtures and other hardware. On Monday he asked that one of us make the actual selections from the stores he would give us and then he would purchase and install them. The same would go for carpeting, paint and window coverings. When I mentioned it to Gilda, she jumped at the chance to pick out everything. I was sure that Hildy would not be left out of that process.
Friday evening, Joel reminded me that he had to go to Austin to take the Credit By Exam. He asked if it was okay for him to drive the Cavalier alone. I took a deep breath and fighting back my anxieties, said that it was okay.
I didn't sleep too well that night. I imagined every possible bad thing that could happen to him. I knew he was a safe driver, but the accident that he was involved in one other time kept circling around in my mind. I did manage a couple of hours sleep. At 5AM I gave up trying to get anymore sleep and went into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee.
There's an old wives' tale that says 'a watched pot never boils'. I was beginning to think the same thing applied to a coffee maker. It seemed to be taking forever, but it finally finished and I poured a cup. My mind was wandering when I heard the security alarm being turned off. The beeping of the code being punched in brought me back to awareness.
"You're up early," Gilda said. "I didn't expect to see anyone."
"I couldn't sleep," I said. "Joel is going to be driving to Austin by himself this morning. I know he's a good driver and he's been there before, but I still worry about him."
"Letting go is a very hard thing for a parent to do," she said. "It was the same way for us with Celia and Bradley."
"I've never heard you speak of Bradley. Is he your son?"
"He was our oldest," she said, turning away.
I could hear tightness in her voice when she answered, "He was a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. His helicopter was shot down near the Cambodian border, according to the Army. His remains were never found. We held out hope for a long time that he had somehow survived and would be rescued. There's a little part of me that still holds out hope."
"I'm so sorry. I never knew," I said. "I don't know what I would do if one of my boys had to go off to a war. I don't even want to think of that possibility."
"Good morning, dad, Gilda," Joel said. "I think I'll have a light breakfast this morning. Maybe just some toast and juice. Maybe some strawberry jam on the toast."
"Are you sure? You don't want your stomach growling in the middle of the test, do you?" Gilda asked.
"No, but I don't want to fall asleep in the test either," he said. "I'll compromise and have a bowl of shredded wheat with a banana cut up on it and some juice."
"That's better," Gilda said, and went about getting his breakfast.
When Joel was ready to leave, I walked him to the car and gave him a hug. "Good luck on your test. Drive safely and watch out for the other drivers on the road."
"I will, dad. I should be home around two."
I watched him drive down the driveway and as far as I could see him on the road. Thankfully I was somewhat distracted a little later as we got into the van and headed off for the shopping mall to begin the Christmas shopping. I think a good portion of San Antonio had the same idea and showed up at North Star Mall where we were shopping. I hate shopping at the best of times. Shopping with TJ and Peter is an agonizing experience. I had to continually remind them we were shopping for presents for other people and not them. I was glad when we stopped after an hour for a snack at the food court and to switch kids according to the logistical plan we had worked out. It was nearly one o'clock before we started on our way home.
I was surprised to see Joel's car in the garage when I drove the van in. I looked at my watch when the van was parked and realized that it was ten minutes after two. I was relieved that my worrying was for nothing.
"Hey, guys, did you buy me lots of presents?" Joel asked, as we entered through the back door.
"No, they didn't have any coal," Larry quipped.
"How was the test?" I asked, trying to head off any more banter.
"I think I did really well. There weren't any questions that I hadn't studied for. I didn't need the whole time, but they won't let you leave early so as not to disturb others still working on the test. Afterwards, a few of us stopped at Wendy's for lunch and talked about the test. I could tell one of the guys, I think his name was Wendell, didn't study too hard for the test because he asked the rest of us a lot of questions about what we answered for some of the questions."
"That's too bad," I said. "I hope he learns from this experience."
"Yeah, I do too," Joel said. "It was the first CBE that he had taken and I don't think he realized how comprehensive it was going to be."
"What test do you have left to take?" I asked.
"Calculus, it's going to be a bear."
"Well, you had better study hard for it," I said.
"I have been. Mr. Allen has been tutoring me during my free period. He thinks I'll do all right. It's really kinda easy. It makes sense to me," Joel said. "By the way, Jimmy graduates next Saturday afternoon and his folks are having a graduation party after the ceremony. I'm invited. Is that okay?"
"Are you going to the ceremony as well?"
"Yeah, there are not that many graduating at the end of first semester, so they are holding it in the auditorium at the high school."
"When are you going to buy your Christmas presents?" I asked.
"I thought maybe I'd go to the mall tomorrow and start. I already have a list of what I'm going to buy and where I can buy them. It shouldn't take me that long, if the crowds are not that bad."
Donald and I spent the afternoon helping the boys, one at a time, wrap the presents they had bought. Neither one of us was an expert in wrapping presents, but the results were acceptable. By the time we were finished, there were a lot of packages under the tree and there were more to come. Gilda and Hildy helped the girls with their presents. Manfred begged off, saying he was all thumbs when it came to wrapping packages.
As we took off for the ranch on Sunday, Joel took off for the mall. The day was particularly warm for a mid-December day. Ian was at the ranch and joined us in our rides. The first question out of Charlie and Ian's mouths was when the closing on the Crenshaw property was going to happen. All I could tell them was it would happen before the end of the year and that I would let them know the date as soon as I knew.
Monday afternoon, Gerald called and informed me that we could close on the Crenshaw property on either the 27th or 28th. It was my choice. Either date was acceptable to them. I told him to set it up on the 27th. Another thing checked off the to-do list. I made the call to Charlie, which made him very happy. He said he would let Ian know.
By Wednesday, Gilda and Hildy had made all of the selections for the new addition and Harold had confirmed with his suppliers that everything was available. He was confident that everything would be completed by the end of next week.
Time seemed to speed up the closer we got to Christmas. Saturday, the boys finished getting all their presents purchased. Joel went to Jimmy's graduation and party. It turned bitterly cold on Sunday, so we skipped the horseback riding.
We got a surprise late Sunday afternoon. I went to answer the door when the bell rang. Mike had dropped by to see us. As it happened, Jeannie and Ginny were here playing with Lenore.
"Mike, what a surprise," I said. "Come in, everybody is in the family room. Well, almost, the three that will be the happiest that you are here are upstairs in Lenore's room. After you say hello to everybody, you need to go see your three biggest fans."
"I've sure missed all of you," Mike said. "I wanted to come by and thank Donald, again, for the chance he is giving me."
"MIKE!" three girls screamed from the top of the stairs.
I don't think their feet touched a single step as they flew down the steps.
"How are my three girl friends?" he said, as they bowled him over. It took several minutes before Mike was able to untangle himself from his three admirers. By that time everybody had gathered around to see what the commotion was and then to greet him when they saw who it was.
Hildy would not hear of it when Mike said he couldn't stay for supper. When Hildy says something, you don't argue. He stayed for supper. He told us that he was off for the next two weeks, but he was going to be staying in Austin so that he could do some studying. There were three sad little girls when he had to leave after supper.
On Thursday, Harold came to see me and said that they had completed the addition and wanted me to do a walk-through to see if I was satisfied with the results. I had deliberately stayed away from the addition as it was being built, so this was the first time I had a chance to see the interior. I couldn't help seeing the exterior as it was being built. I was impressed with the work that Harold's workers had done and the finishes that Hildy and Gilda had picked out. I was satisfied with it, but I would have to have Donald give it his approval as well. He did later that evening.
Dr. Sam and Carol weren't able to play Santa and Mrs. Claus this year. They were going to Houston to be with their children and grandchildren. When Peter and William asked if Santa was going to come like he did last year, we had to explain that he was very busy, but would come after they were in bed to deliver their presents. That seemed to satisfy them.
Naturally, Christmas morning was a madhouse as the presents were opened. Wrapping paper was everywhere. Donald and I tried to keep ahead of the mess, but were not that successful until all the presents had been unwrapped. We had just gotten most of the mess clean up when Manfred, Hildy, Gilda, Jeannie and Ginny arrived and more presents were unwrapped.
Two days after Christmas, I closed on the Crenshaw farm. The closing took place in the morning and immediately after, I drove to the farm and handed Charlie the keys to the new place. I thought his grin would split his face.
"I'm going to call Ian and tell him to quit his job, he's got one here," Charlie said.
When I got back home, I went out on the back patio to watch the boys playing with their dogs. It's amazing how far our family has come. It's been a very busy year as I looked back on it. As I sat there, I wondered what the New Year would bring.
This ends Book 6.