This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

This story is copyright by Owen Hudson, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.

Dreams Don't Grow on Trees

© 2011 - 2015 Owen Hudson

Chapter Thirty-seven

Not long after arriving home from school, Haden went to the door to see why the dogs were raising a ruckus. A young man got out of an older pickup truck, once Haden had calmed the dogs and asked, "Would you be interested in buying some firewood?" He was maybe a few years older than Perry. "It's $75 for the load on my truck."

"I'm sorry, but we don't burn wood," Haden said as he observed the disappointment in the young man's face. That's when he noticed there were a young woman and two kids in the truck.

"Would you happen to know anyone who might be interested in a load of good firewood?" The young man asked. "I'm pretty desperate to sell it. You see, I was working at the pallet factory. You know that place between here and Covington, where they made those wood pallets. They just up and closed with no notice. I get a little unemployment, but that doesn't pay all the bills."

Haden didn't know why, but he sensed that the young man was truthful. "My sister's boyfriend's family has a fireplace," Haden said. "Paul might need some wood."

"Where does he live?"

"We stopped there and nobody was home," the young man said, after Haden gave him directions.

"I can call my dad at work, he may know someone."

"I'd appreciate that, I hate using up my gas driving around trying to sell this."

"Why don't you bring your family inside where it's warm while I make the call?"

"We wouldn't want to impose."

"Don't worry about that," Haden said as he observed the two boys, one about 2 and the other a year or two older, peering out the truck window. The windows were steaming up from their breaths on the cold window. He realized the truck wasn't running, likely to save gas. "Bring them inside out of the cold. It has really turned cold lately."

"Well, if you don't mind."

"Not at all," Haden assured him.

"This is my wife Carrie, our sons Brandon and Aaron, and I'm Rodney Newman," he said after retrieving his family.

"I'm Haden Harrington," Haden said as he extended his hand to Rodney while the boys hid behind their parents.

"Pleased to meet you," Rodney said as he shook Haden's hand with a calloused hand. It was obvious he was a manual laborer.

"Oh, it's nice and warm in here," Carrie said as Haden led the family into the den.

"This is my sister Amy," Haden said as they passed the kitchen where Amy was cooking dinner. "Amy, this is Rodney, Carrie, and their boys Brandon and Aaron. I brought them in out of the cold while I call around to ask if anyone needs the wood Rodney's selling. They stopped by Paul's and nobody was home."

"Oh, they're in Nebraska," Amy said. "Paul's 98 year old grandmother fell and fractured her hip."

"What's to snack on?" Adam asked, before he noticed company, when he came in from his horseback ride.

"There's fruit in the refrigerator," Amy said. "Would your boys like some fruit?"

"Thank you," Carrie said. "We've been out trying to sell wood and didn't get back home to fix lunch for them."

"Adam, would you dish up some fruit for these boys?" Amy asked. "You two may as well join them since you didn't have lunch."

"Yeah, there's a lot," Adam said.

"This is our brother Adam," Amy said. "Adam, this is Rodney, Carrie, Brandon and Aaron."

"Dad said he'd buy your wood if you could wait around for about 30 minutes," Haden said after returning from making his call. "He said we could use it for camping or a bonfire at our picnic area."

"We don't mind waiting," Rodney said as Carrie looked at her watch, worried about getting home to feed her boys.

Amy picked up on the concern and said. "This may put you home late for your dinner. Why don't you eat with us? It's a big pot of stew, so there's plenty."

"We wouldn't want to impose," Carrie protested.

"You wouldn't be," Amy assured her. "It's just stew and cornbread. I thought a pot of stew would be good this cold day."

"Are you sure?" Carrie questioned with relief.

"I'm sure," Amy said.

"Mom's home," Adam said when Rita entered.

"They're waiting for Dad to get home to buy their wood," Haden explained after introducing the visitors.

"And I invited them to dinner, since they'll be late getting home," Amy added.

"You're more than welcome," Rita said, knowing there was more to the story, since they didn't burn wood.

"Rodney's selling wood to supplement his unemployment," Haden said. "The pallet factory where he worked closed down."

"I'm not being nosey, but have you signed up for food stamps?" Rita asked. "Oh, I know it's called SNAP now, but after all those years, I still say food stamps."

"We already get food stamps," Rodney said. "The pallet factory didn't pay all that well, which wasn't a lot more than unemployment."

"You might qualify for an increase now," Rita pointed out.

"We'll check on that," Rodney said.

"We may as well eat before I pay you for your wood," Darrell said after being introduced to Rodney and family.

"Adam, would you get Dustin's highchair out of the garage for Brandon?" Rita asked. "Dustin is our grandson; we keep a highchair here for him."

"Rodney, do you know Jeff Sellers?" Darrell asked as they sat to eat.

"Yes, I do know him," Rodney said. "I worked with him on a construction job once."

"I mentioned that I was buying wood from you, and he said he knew you, and that you were a good, dependable worker," Darrell said. "Rodney, I have an opening in our handyman service department at Sparks Lumber, if you might be interested."

"You bet I'd be interested," Rodney said as he beamed.

"Jeff would be your supervisor," Darrell explained.

"That's great," Rodney said. "Jeff's a great guy to work with."

"Could you come into Sparks Lumber in the morning at 8:00?" Darrel asked.

"For an interview?" Rodney asked.

"No, to work," Darrell said with a smile. "Jeff asked me to hire you, if I could. The pay isn't great; it's $12.00 an hour, plus we pay your health insurance."

"Oh man, that's great," Rodney beamed. "I was making minimum wage at the pallet factory, but it was a job. Thank you!"

"You can thank Jeff," Darrell said. "He asked me to hire you."

"You bet I will," Rodney said. "Well, that was a great meal. I'll go unload your wood now."

"But you haven't had your dessert yet," Rita said. "There's chocolate cake."

"I can't turn that down," Rodney said.

"Carrie, do you work outside the home?" Rita asked.

"I was planning on going through a practical nursing program at the technical school," Carrie said. "I've been accepted and approved for financial aid, but I can't afford child care."

"I work for DHS in the Child Welfare Department," Rita said. "Come by my office tomorrow with last year's income tax records, and I'll introduce you to someone who can help you get that paid for."

"That would be great," Carrie said. "I eventually want to become a RN."

"Amy's in college to become a RN. She has already passed her LPN boards, and will graduate from nursing school in May and be a RN," Rita said with pride.

"The hospital here will help with your RN education, if you're already working there as a LPN," Amy said. "I have classmates, who are doing that now."

"I'd like to do that once my boys are in school," Carrie said.

"Amy, that was a delicious chocolate cake," Rodney said. "Now I'd better go unload that wood."

"Thank you, but Mom made the cake," Amy said.

"The boys and I'll help unload the wood, you stay inside with your boys where it's warm," Darrell said, when Carrie stood to go help.

"Dad, you really didn't need the wood, did you?" Haden questioned as the family drove away.

"I did after you called and described a family that was like mine several years ago," Darrell said.

"Uncle Richard and Aunt Ann are here," Adam said as he and Haden were feeding the horses on Good Friday.

"And that must be our Cousin Jake with them," Haden said.

"Hi, guys," Richard said. "Where should I park this rig?"

"Dad had a connection to the septic tank put in over there," Haden said, and pointed toward a pole with an electrical box next to a water faucet. "There's also an electrical connection and water. If you need an extra bathroom, that building has a toilet and shower."

"We may need that since this has one small bathroom," Ann said. "Jake, meet your cousins Haden and Adam. And this is his wife Nancy and children, Shane and Molly."

"It's beautiful here," Nancy said. "I bet it's really nice in the summer."

"We spend a lot of time here," Haden said.

"Yeah, and we even have a swimming hole," Adam added. "It's better than having a pool."

"I wish it was warm now," Shane said.

"You'll have to come back when it is warm," Haden said.

"Hey, there's Uncle George," Adam said, and rushed to greet his uncle.

"Uncle George?" Richard questioned.

"He's Adam's biological great uncle," Haden explained. "Adam's adopted."

"I didn't realize that," Richard said. "He fits right in, doesn't he?"

"He sure does," Haden admitted. "I can't imagine our family without him."

"That's a nice travel trailer," George said after being introduced to Richard and family.

"We bought it used," Richard said. "It was a great buy; we couldn't turn it down."

"You couldn't turn it down," Ann said with a smile. "I wasn't happy when he bought it, but I'm happy now that we have it. Would you like to see inside?"

"I'd love to," George said.

"Let me finish setting it up, and we'll show you our second home," Richard said.

"Is Uncle Dale coming too?" Haden asked.

"He and Chad should be here soon," Richard said. "He said they wanted to get here in time to find a motel."

"They could stay with us; I can sleep in the den, and they can have my room," Haden said.

"Yeah, we have room," Adam added.

"I have three bedrooms and it's just me," George said. "They're welcome at my place too."

"George, my brother's gay and will be with his partner," Richard explained.

"I'm not homophobic," George said. "Gay or straight, they're welcome."

"Okay, come on inside," Ann said, once the setup was completed.

"This is really nice," George said.

"Dad, they have a bunch of horses," Shane said when he came inside with Adam and Molly after seeing the horses.

"Yeah, they're pretty," Molly said.

"You be careful around those horses," Nancy warned.

"They're gentle, besides Adam warned us not to walk behind them," Shane said.

"There's a king-size bed on this end above the gooseneck and another in the bedroom in the back," Ann continued after the interruption. "There's also a bathroom. The kids sleep here in this part. Shane sleeps on the couch, and Molly sleeps on the love seat."

"Shane can sleep in my room," Adam said. "I have two beds."

"Mom, could I?" Shane asked.

"Alright, but if you misbehave, you're in trouble," Nancy said.

"I'll be good," Shane promised.

"Mom said to tell you that you're to have dinner with us," Haden said.

"Oh, there're so many of us," Ann protested. "I brought food to cook."

"Amy and I already have most of it ready," Haden said. "It's more than we'd ever eat."

"Thank you," Ann said. "That's nice of you."

"I'm going to help Amy finish getting dinner ready," Haden said. "Come on up when you're ready."

"Shane, don't you think you should take clean clothes and your toothbrush?" Nancy asked, when he prepared to leave with Adam and Haden.

"We have company," Adam said as they walked back to the house and saw a car coming up the driveway.

"Oh, that's Uncle Dale and Uncle Chad," Shane said.

"It looks like Richard already has the trailer set up," Dale said. "And you two must be Haden and Adam."

"We are," Haden said, after he and Adam received hugs from both men. "This is George, Adam's great-uncle."

"We're pleased to meet you," Chad said.

"So, Haden, you and Adam are half brothers?" Dale asked.

"I'm his adopted brother," Adam said.

"I wouldn't have known," Dale said.

"George is Adam's biological great-uncle," Haden said. "Come inside and meet Amy. Dad's still at work, and Mom went to the store."

"We can't stay long," Chad said. "We need to check into a motel."

"I live alone and have a three bedroom house; you're welcome to stay with me," George offered.

"Thanks," Dale said. "You do know we're..."

"A couple," George said. "Richard mentioned that. If I cared, I wouldn't have invited you."

"You're also welcome to have my room, and I'll sleep in the den," Haden said.

"We wouldn't want to impose on any of you," Chad said.

"But we will," Dale said with a chuckle. "George, we'll take you up on your kind offer."

"I live right next to the Reed Center," George said.

"Richard mentioned that the Reed Center is the old Reed School," Dale said. "Haden, this place doesn't look the same. I wouldn't have recognized the house. It looks great."

"And I have my own room," Adam said.

"Amy, this is Uncle Dale and Uncle Chad," Haden said.

"Pretty and can cook too," Dale said after hugging his niece.

"Come on, Shane, and I'll show you my room," Adam said.

"Come right back down and help Haden bring the table and chairs from the storage building," Amy said.

"Chad and I'll help," Dale offered.

"I'll help too," George said.

"Hi, everybody," Perry said as Haden placed the last chair in place.

"Good timing," Haden said. "We just brought in the folding table and chairs."

"I'm good at that," Perry said.

After introductions, the family sat down for dinner.

"Rita, this chicken and dumplings are the best I've ever had," Ann said as the family enjoyed the meal.

"I can't take credit for that," Rita said. "Amy's responsible. I've tried making them, but they aren't nearly as good as hers."

"Aunt Julie taught me, and Grandma taught her," Amy said.

"Look at Dustin," Adam said. "He really likes Amy's chicken and dumplings."

"Goodness, I think he has more on himself than he's eating," Rita said.

"That's why I always bring extra clothes for him," Lacey said. "He doesn't like for me to feed him; he wants to feed himself."

"Lacey, I understand you're a teacher," Ann said. "I teach fifth grade."

"I teach fourth grade and love it," Lacey said.

"Nancy teaches second grade," Ann said.

The families got to know each other as they enjoyed their meal, and later with coffee and dessert after dinner. Darrell and his brothers agreed that they would never let differences separate them again.

"Tomorrow should be a good day for a picnic," Perry said. "It's supposed to be sunny and a high of 72."

"Could we go swimming?" Shane asked.

"No, you cannot," Ann said. "The water's still too cold."

"I don't mind," Shane argued.

"Your grandma is right," Nancy said. "So just drop it."

It was a huge crowd of family and friends the next day. There was so much food that extra tables had to be brought in to hold it all. Old acquaintances were renewed, and new ones were made.

"I hope none of you mind, but I reserved the Reed Center for an after church meal tomorrow," Grace announced. "I already have the hams, and I'm sure there'll be plenty of leftovers from today."

"I'd love to see what's been done to the old school," Ann said.

"A cold front is forecast for tonight, and it's supposed to be rather chilly tomorrow," Ray said. "The Center is a good idea."

"Grandma, are you going to church with us tomorrow?" Amy asked.

"I planned on it," Grace said.

"Amy, what church do you attend?" Ann asked.

"Most of us here attend St. John Episcopal," Amy said.

"Darrell, I didn't know you were Episcopalian," Dale said. "Chad and I are too. They're more accepting of gays."

"We're Lutheran and they're accepting of us," Hal pointed out.

"I suspected you and David were a couple," Chad said.

"Grace, I don't know if you remember me or not; when mom was pregnant with my little brother and on complete bed rest, you came and canned green beans for us," Ann said.

"Oh my, I didn't realize you were that Ann," Grace said. "You were a big help that day."

"That meant a lot to Mom," Ann said.

"Uncle Dale, may I ask how you ended up teaching in Kentucky?" Perry asked.

"Yeah, I was wondering that too," Haden said.

"Well, after I got my PhD, I was offered a teaching position there," Dale said. "I wanted to come back home and teach at the university in Covington, but they don't have an agriculture program."

"They will have," Walter, who overheard the conversation, said. "They're going to advertise for a department head soon."

"Grandpa, how do you find out about all these things?" Perry asked.

"I keep my ears open and my mouth shut around campus," Walter said. "It's amazing what one can hear when people think you aren't listening."

"Dale, would you be interested?" Darrell asked.

"I sure would, but Chad would have to agree," Dale said.

"I'd agree, as long as I could get another teaching position," Chad said.

"What do you teach?" Kyle asked.

"I teach mathematics at the same university as Dale," Chad said.

"I hated math until I got Hal as a math teacher," Kyle said. "He made it fun."

"Thanks, Kyle," Hal said. "I remember well how you said you hated math. It was my first day to teach."

"Aunt Julie is a professor at the university," Haden said. "She's in the biology department."

"We'll visit with her about the university before we go back home," Dale said. "I'd love to get back to this area."

As darkness approached and the forecasted cold front arrived, Grace announced, "Remember we're meeting at the Reed Center after church tomorrow. I've already got the key, and I'll go by and put the hams in the oven in the morning. I thought we'd have plenty of leftovers from today, but it appears everybody was hungry. So, if you don't mind, bring a side dish tomorrow."

"Grandma, I'll meet you there and help before church," Amy offered. "Tony, you're helping too."

"Well it looks like I'm helping too," Tony said with a chuckle.

"I'll help too," Haden offered. "What about you, Kyle?"

"Sure, I'll help," Kyle said.

"That'll be plenty of help," Grace said.

The church was filled to capacity for Easter worship services. "That was a beautiful Easter Service," Nancy said as she left the church.

"Yes, it was," Ann agreed. "We may visit the Episcopal Church at home."

"Mom, when can we hunt Easter eggs?" Wade asked as soon as they arrived at the Reed Center.

"Not until after we eat," Julie said.

"And you can eat as soon as you go wash your hands," Grace said.

The kids soon forgot about the Easter egg hunt as they enjoyed the wonderful food. However, as soon as they finished eating, they were ready to go.

"Hanna, it's chilly out there," Carol said as the kids headed out to hunt eggs. "Put your coat on."

"You too, Molly," Nancy said.

"Hanna finally has a girl her age," Grace said, as the two girls were becoming friends.

The kids enjoyed their egg hunt; even Dustin joined in. He was too young to understand, but with Perry's help, he found a few eggs.

Following the egg hunt, the adults retreated inside to escape the chilly air. The kids opted to play on the playground. Eventually, the cold drove the kids inside too. The kids then enjoyed a bean bag toss game Nancy had thoughtfully brought. The game continued until the leftover food was offered. After cleaning the center, it was decided that the events would repeat the next Easter weekend.

"Amy and I have an announcement," Tony said before the group left. "We're getting married in June."

"Oh my!" Lacey exclaimed, and rushed to hug her sister-in-law. "I'm so happy for you."

"It will be a small wedding," Amy said. "But you'll all be invited."

"That's not a small wedding," Darrell said as he gave his daughter a hug.

The end of the school year was just days away. Adam was looking forward to swimming and horseback riding. Haden had no real plans for the summer, except he found an online course that counted toward his degree. He'd finally decided on a biology teaching degree. Amy would graduate from nursing school, and would begin working at the hospital to pay back her obligation for the financial assistance for her nursing education. She planned to continue her education toward a Bachelor in Nursing degree. She had already taken several courses toward that degree. A family gathering was planned to celebrate Amy's graduation.

"Why are you cooking?" Adam asked Haden, after Lois dropped him off after school. "I thought it was Amy's day to cook?"

"Amy's studying for her nursing boards," Haden explained. "And you can make the salad."

"Amy doesn't need to study so much," Adam said as he gathered the ingredients for the tossed salad. "She's really smart."

"You know how Amy is," Haden explained. "She wants to not only be good, but the best."

"Haden, what do you think Mom and Dad'll do with Amy's room when she moves out?"

"I'm sure it will become a guest room. Why, do you want it?"

"No, I like my room. Are you going to be best man at the wedding?"

"No, I'm a groomsman; Perry's the best man; Cody and Kyle are the other groomsmen; and Lacey is the bridesmaid; I'm not sure who the maids of honor are."

"Mark and I are ushers. Where will Amy and Tony live?"

"Paul and Dad are helping them get a house. I think it's Paul that's putting up most of the money."

"I guess I'll have to help more with the cooking, huh?"

"You're already a big help. That meatloaf you made last week was really good."

"Do you really think so?"

"Of course, I do ... but what did you just put in that salad?"

"Mandarin oranges and bacon bits, why?"

"I was just wondering, where did you get that idea?"

"When I spent the night with Jon, Aunt Lois made a salad with them in it. It was really good. I saw the leftover bacon in the refrigerator and decided to use it."

"It sounds good."

Amy's graduation day arrived, and of course, it was a good reason for a family celebration. Amy had decided to donate any money she received to Carrie to help her trade for a more dependable car. She was afraid she wouldn't get to start her LPN training since her old car was on its last leg. "I was fortunate to have a scholarship and family support while getting my education," she explained.

A reception dinner at the Reed Center was planned for Amy, and Grace put herself in charge of the food. Fortunately, the College of Nursing graduates received their diplomas early in the ceremony. Grace and many others left to finish the graduation dinner.

Most knew that Amy planned to donate her graduation money to Carrie and were extremely generous. There was over $4,000 in checks and cash. Jeff had a friend, who worked for an auto dealer, and got Carrie a great deal on a car.

With graduation over, Amy had the tasks of preparing for her wedding and getting ready for her nursing boards. The hospital had agreed that she didn't have to start working immediately. Her wedding was two weeks after her graduation; and following a one week honeymoon, she would take her nursing boards the following week.

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