Joel Book I is available in paperback as Joel - Escape from Abuse. To purchase a copy, follow the link to my website below or go to your favorite online bookstore.
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 Ted Louis, 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.
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All the chapters of Joel may also be found on my website at www.gvtc.com/~tedlouis/. The chapters are posted in TXT and HTML formats.
Make a difference in a foster child's life, become a CASA volunteer (Court Appointed Special Advocate). To locate your local organization or for more information, visit the National CASA website at http://www.nationalcasa.org/
As the end of the school year approached, the number of activities that the boys were involved with increased. Soccer, baseball, golf and horseback riding seemed to take up every free minute that the boys had. Eric and I seemed like we were constantly on the road shuttling the boys to one venue or another. Even Bran got into the shuttling of JR when he was not involved in his own activities. Manfred was only involve on a limited basis. His landscape and lawn care business picked up as the weather improved.
I contacted Mary Jane Lively to see if she was interested in helping out with the boys again this summer. I was relieved when she said that she was interested and asked if Eric was going to need Becky Sue this summer. I told her I would have Eric give Becky Sue a call. As it turned out, Eric did need Becky Sue.
Purchase of the horse property was progressing smoothly as was the land acquisition near I-10 and 1604. CBJ Properties was becoming a large land holder and management company. I was even negotiating for another apartment complex. This one was more upscale than the one that Marie and Ricky lived in. I was beginning to feel stretched between running the foundation, CBJ Properties and being actively involved with the boys interests. Something was going to have to give. The boys were my first priority.
One evening after a particularly hectic day, I sat down and analyzed my situation. I realized that I couldn't do all I had on my plate and be effective. I took a hard look at the foundation. Darcie was effectively running it on her own because I was away from the office so much. I didn't think in the long run it would be fair to her to run it by herself. There was really more work than one person could be expected to handle. With her pregnancy, and maternity leave coming up, someone would need to be in the office at all times. I knew that I could not devote that amount of time to the foundation along with my other responsibilities.
I began to think of whom might be interested in taking over some of the responsibility from Darcie and let me take care of my other business interests. Of course, I would remain CEO of the foundation, but would turn over the Presidency to Darcie. I knew that she was more than ready for the responsibilities. One name came to me who might be interested in joining the foundation, Paul Coulter.
I picked up the phone and dialed Paul's home number.
"Hello, Paul, this is Crane Johnson."
"Crane, it's good to hear from you. How are things going?"
"Fine, Paul, thanks for asking. Look, I'll get right to the point. With the demand of my five active boys and my business interests, I'm having a problem with devoting enough time to the foundation. What I wondered was, are you interested in working full time for the foundation and giving up your teaching position?"
"Wow! You really know how to lay it on the line. I need some time to think about it, but to tell you the truth, I am interested. Kids in foster care and hoping for adoption have always been something that I cared deeply about. Can you give me a couple of days to consider my options? I love what I'm doing as a teacher. I'd also like to be able to help kids in foster care. I need some time to think."
"Paul, take all the time you need," I said. I went on to explain the salary and other benefits that the position at the foundation would provide. When I finished, he thanked me and told me he would get back to me as soon as he had made up his mind. I didn't know what I would do if he turned down the offer. I had no one else in mind for the job.
The next morning, I talked to Darcie and told her what I was planning. She thought that Paul would be an ideal person for the job. She was even more surprised when I told her I intended to appoint her as President of the foundation, subject to the approval of the board of directors. I thought that would be a mere formality. In the mean time, I made her interim President.
Friday morning as I was preparing to go to work, Marie knocked on my office door.
"Mr. Johnson, I wanted to thank you for all the help that you have given to Ricky and me. We went to court yesterday and Ricky's dad has been ordered to pay $400 a month child support. Without you and Mr. Hogan tracking him down, it would never have happened. Thank you."
"Marie, you're welcome. I'm just happy that we could help. He should have been paying child support for the last three years. It would have made both yours and Ricky's lives a lot better. I'm sure that you will find a use for the extra money each month. Have you given that any thought?"
"Yes, sir, I have. I want to study and get my GED. I had to drop out of high school when I got pregnant. I want to finish and then maybe take some college courses. I might even get an associate degree."
"That's fantastic. The money couldn't be better spent. You let me know if there is anything that I can do to help."
"I will and thanks again," Marie said, before she left to start work.
On my way out I picked up Ricky and gave him a hug and I was off to the office.
Saturday morning, the boys and I went to Rick's ranch for more horseback riding. On the way we picked up Joel's friend, John. Eric and JR met us at the ranch. Bran decided to stay at home and study with a friend for the last tests that they had the following week. John had gone with us a couple of times. I think his main interest was to spend some time with Joel and not so much the horses, although he sat a horse easily.
After giving the boys his usual riding tips, Rick said to me that he thought the boys were ready to gallop their mounts. I was a little hesitant, being the protective father, but he persuaded me that they were ready. With my heart in my throat, I watched as two at a time took off at a gallop with Hal and Rick at their sides. Joel and John were the first to have a go. They were gone a minute or two. When they came back to the rest of us, their smiles were as wide as I had ever seen.
"That was fun," Joel said. "Thanks, Mr. Hansen, can we do it again?"
"Let's give the other guys a chance. Walk your horses for a bit," Rick said. "Now, who's next?"
The twins were next followed by Chris and JR. TJ and I were the last to take our turn at galloping our horses. JR was still talking about his ride to his dad when we returned. Eric had decided that he would skip his turn.
"All right, listen up, guys," Rick said, trying to get everyone's attention. "You now know how to gallop your horses. There is one rule that you must follow if you want to do it on your own. You must, and I repeat, must, have someone else riding with you at all times in case anything should happen to you or your horse. Do you understand?"
Getting nodding agreement from everyone, he told us to go have fun.
"Come on, dad," TJ said. "Will you ride with me? I want to go fast."
"Sure, son, just don't go too fast. I may not be able to keep up." I knew I could keep up and I think he did too, but it got a giggle out of him. His smaller horse, with its shorter legs, couldn't race like the other horses. That didn't stop TJ from having fun. I could hear him laughing over the sounds of the hooves pounding the ground. After we slowed down, Eric joined us.
Joel and John rode off by themselves, but at a slower pace, talking and laughing. Chris, the twins and JR formed their own group and headed off toward a back pasture where the other horses were. It was only a few minutes before they came riding back to TJ and me at full steam.
"I won!" Larry shouted as his horse nearly sideswiped mine.
"You cheated," Lenny whined.
"Did not! My horse is faster."
"Oh yeah, you started out first. You should've waited for us to line up."
"Okay, guys, that's enough. I don't want you racing. You haven't got enough experience going fast on your horses," I said. "Now, go ride and behave yourselves. Understand?"
"That goes for you, too, JR," Eric said.
"Yes, dad," JR said.
The twins and Chris nodded their agreement. TJ joined the foursome, which left Eric and me to ride together. We walked our horses and talked for about another hour, all the time trying to keep a watchful eye on the seven boys. That was no mean feat.
As if a built-in alarm went off, the boys all headed to Eric and me. At first I wondered what was going on until Chris rode his horse up beside me and said, "Dad, can we get something to eat? We're hungry."
I chuckled to myself as I looked at my watch. It had been at least two and a half hours since breakfast. I looked at the other boys, "Are you guys hungry also?"
After getting a chorus of voices affirming that they were all indeed hungry, we headed back to the stable.
I told Eric I knew of a bakery and coffee shop in Boerne that I thought would satisfy the boys' hunger. We agreed to meet there before starting home. It had been a while since I had been to the Schwartz Bakery, but I remembered that they served some of the best cheese strudel around. It's on par with Hildy's.
The strudel was as good as I had remembered. While Eric and I were sitting there enjoying our coffee, I decided to call Pete Pedersen to see if it would be all right to bring the boys by to see the property I was buying. I was having a hard time keeping the purchase a secret. Since the property would belong to me by the end of the month, I didn't see any reason to keep it secret anymore. He said it would be fine for us to stop by since he was going to be home.
I asked Eric to follow us, that I wanted to show him and the boys something. He gave me a strange look, but agreed. We gathered up the boys and took off for the Canyon Lake area. When we got to the turnoff to the Pedersen place, Joel asked, "Where're we going, dad?"
"I want to show you something," was all I said.
I could see in the rearview mirror that all eyes were looking around and out the windows, wondering where the heck we were going. As our two vehicles drove into the lane leading to Pete's house, he stepped off the front porch to greet us.
"Welcome, Crane, it's nice to see you again," Pete said, watching the boys pile out of the van. "That's quite a tribe you have there."
"Pete, I'd like you to meet my sons and a couple of their friends," I said and began the introductions of the ones in the van. "And this is my friend Eric Levin and his son, JR. I want to show them around. I think that they'll be most interested in the horses."
"Horses? Are there horses here?" Joel asked.
Pete smiled and answered, "Yes, son, there are horses. In fact, there are eight of them. Would you like to see them?"
"Yeah, where are they?"
"Follow me," Pete said. He took off for the stable limping noticeably.
"Dad, how come you brought us here?" Joel asked, as we followed Pete.
"Well, now that we are here, you might as well know; I'm buying this property and all of the livestock on it."
"You mean the horses, too?"
"Yes, son, all eight of them."
"Wow, you mean we get our own horse?"
"With a couple left over for your friends to ride."
As the horses came into view, the boys all ran to the fence surrounding the corral. Everyone was talking and no one was listening, but it was happy talk. They all had heard the conversation that Joel and I had as we walked.
"Which one is mine?" TJ asked.
"We'll have to wait and see. The horses are not ours, yet. Maybe by the end of the month they will be and then you can pick one. Can you wait that long?"
"I guess," TJ said, jumped up and grabbed me around the neck and planted a wet kiss on my cheek. "Thanks, dad, you're the best."
Pete gave a whistle and all eight horses lined up along the fence. He reached into his pocket and brought out a small paper bag which he opened. Telling the boys to gather around he placed a sugar cube in one of their hands. He took one cube in his own hand and showed them how to hold it in the palm of their open hand. He then approached one of the horses and extended the sugar toward its nose. The horse immediately took the sugar from his hand. Seeing what Pete had done, each of the boys selected a horse and followed his example.
After the boys had visited with the horses for a few more minutes, I suggested that we should be heading back home. When I encountered some resistance from them, I noted that it was approaching lunch time and that Hildy was probably already fixing it. A few moments thought and they gave the horses one last pat on the nose and then headed for the van.
"Food always works," Eric laughed. Turning to his son, "Come on JR, let's go see what mischief Bran has gotten into while we were gone."
Hildy was in the middle of fixing lunch when we arrived home. "You all smell like a horse," she said, as they rushed to see what she was fixing. "Go wash the horse smell off of you and then you can have your lunch."
"And change your clothes. Put on some shorts," I called after them.
"Hildy, daddy's buying me a horse," TJ told her before he took off for his bedroom.
Hildy gave me a strange look.
"Yes, it's true. I hadn't told anyone until today. You remember that man who came calling a couple weeks ago?" Getting a nod indicating that she did, I continued, "Well, to make a long story short, he wanted to sell his property and the livestock on it. That included eight horses, some Longhorn cattle, a small house and some outbuildings. I made him an offer and he accepted. I should own it by the end of the month. I took the boys to see it just before we came home. They really seem to enjoy riding and I can think of a lot of other less healthy things for them to get involve in."
"Crane, you do so love those boys," she said, dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her apron. "I thank God every night that you rescued them."
"Me too," I mumbled and headed for my own room to wash up.
The rest of the next week went by slowly for the boys. It seemed to them that it took forever for Thursday to come when they would be done with school for another year. With all the activities that they had planned, I knew their schedules would be full.
Paul Coulter called me Wednesday evening to tell me that he was accepting my offer for him to work full time at the foundation. He said that he wanted to take a couple of weeks vacation and would be ready to start the first week in June. I told him that would work out well for me as well and welcomed him on board.
Eric's and my logistical plan for getting the boys to their summer activities got disrupted when Bran got a summer job with Manfred's landscaping and lawn service. Bran had gotten totally involved with computers and was considered by his teachers to be head and shoulders above anyone else in his class. It didn't hurt that Eric was around to answer any question that Bran had about computers and computing. When Manfred found out about it, he offered Bran a job setting up a computer system to handle his business. Naturally Bran was thrilled and he could talk of nothing else.
The boys were thrilled when Mary Jane showed up on the Monday after school was out. It was just like old times.
A week or so after Bran had started working for him, I cornered Manfred and asked him how Bran was doing.
"Crane, that boy is amazing. I had always kept my books and records in an old fashioned journal that I had learned how back in college when I took accounting. Bran told me what computer I needed to buy and what software would be best for my business. He set up the system, loaded the software and within a week he had my entire business entered into that computer. He even tried to show me how to use it, without a lot of success I might add. I just don't understand those darn things. Anyway, he's got all my customer records in there and the schedule of their service. He can even print out invoices for them. It used to take me forever to do that. But the thing that is the best about what he has done is my employees are all entered along with all the tax information that I have to keep on each one. He can enter each one's hours worked and it can calculate the amount of pay each one is due at the end of every week. Do you realize how much time he is saving me? I used to spend every evening trying to keep up with all that paperwork. He even told me if I wanted to buy another software package, I could even print out the paychecks. All I would have to do is sign them. Now it just prints out a listing of everyone and the amount of pay they are to receive."
"I'm glad that he is working out so well for you. I was afraid that you might have just hired him as a favor to Eric," I said.
"That was a consideration when I hired him," Manfred said. "Now I think that Eric is the one who has done me the favor. I don't know what I'll do after Bran goes back to school this fall."
While Eric and I were out on one of our scheduled 'time for ourselves', I told him of my conversation about Bran with Manfred. Eric could not have been more proud of the boy if he had been his own son.
"Bran never said a word," Eric said. "All he ever said was that he really liked working for Manfred. I love that boy. He has matured so much in the past year. His dad is such an ass for kicking him out."
"By the way, how is your dad doing in Houston?" I asked.
"Actually, he is doing quite well. My aunt is still keeping an eye on him, but he really seems to be almost back to his old self. The only bad thing is that Ricky misses him. Every time Marie brings him to the house he asks where "g'pa" is. Dad asks about Ricky every time I talk to him also."
It never mattered where Eric and I went on our nights out. All that mattered was we were able to enjoy each other's company and converse about non-business topics. It did seem that the topic of our boys always seemed to enter our conversations. A lot of the times we ended up at sporting events. No one considered it unusual for two men to be together at one of the macho events. At other times we would attend the symphony or a play. I was still a patron of the symphony, so we were able to attend the fancy dress affairs given for the patrons. The people at these events got used to seeing Eric and I together.
While Joel had been in the hospital, I had taken his brothers to the Astroworld amusement park. I promised him that when he got well that I would take him anyplace that he wanted to go. When he came to me one day and asked if I really meant what I said back then, I told him that I never said anything that I didn't mean. He then told me he had decided where he wanted to go - Disney World. I said that I would make reservations for the two of us.
"No, dad, everybody has to go," he said. "It wouldn't be right to leave my brothers at home."
That would complicate things a little as far as the accommodations went, but I was sure that it could be worked out. I looked at the calendar and decided that if we left the first of July, we could spend the week, leaving on the first and coming back on the seventh, allowing us to celebrate the Fourth of July in Florida.
The following morning when I got to the office, I placed a call to a travel agent to see what kind of arrangements could be made for the trip Joel wanted. When I explained to her the number of boys that would need to be accommodated, she hesitated for a moment before telling me she would see what she could do.
I wished that Eric could come with us, but the project he was working on was at a critical point and he couldn't leave it right now. Besides, Bran couldn't get away from his job and CPS would take a dim view of him being left alone for a week, even though he was 16 years old. Maybe Eric would let JR go with us. That started me thinking about another possibility.
I dialed Eric's number at his office.
"Eric, it's Crane. Do you have a minute?"
"Just a minute, I've got a project update meeting in five minutes. What can I do for you?"
"I'm taking the boys to Disney World the first of the month for a week. I thought maybe that JR would like to come along. What do you think?"
"That's very kind of you to ask. I'm sure he would, but I need to discuss it with him. I'll call you tonight and let you know. I've got to run. Bye."
I needed to check to see if Mary Jane was going to be available to go with us to Disney World. I had just assumed that she would be, so I called home. Hildy answered the phone and then put Mary Jane on the line.
"What are your plans for the Fourth of July?" I asked.
"Well," she paused, "I was going to ask you if I could have a few days off around the Fourth. Mom and Dad have rented a condo down on South Padre and wanted Becky Sue and me to go with them."
"That'll work out fine. I'm taking the boys to Florida that week of the Fourth and we won't be back until the Monday after."
Since Plan A wasn't working out, I decided to try Plan B, but that would have to wait until this evening. Mary Jane was ready to leave when I got home from the office. She had a date with her boyfriend and needed, as most women do, a couple of hours to get ready.
Ricky was playing outside with the boys when I went into the house. Hildy and Marie were in the kitchen talking. I greeted them and then asked Marie if I could see her in my study.
Marie looked a little apprehensive as she entered my office. "Is something the matter? Did I do something wrong?"
"No, of course not, you haven't done anything wrong. I need to ask you something. Please feel free to say no, if you don't like what I'm proposing. I'm planning on taking the boys to Disney World the week of the Fourth of July. I was wondering if you and Ricky would be interested in coming along. I think I might need some help in taking care of my sons and I think that Ricky might enjoy the trip. You don't have to give me your answer right away. We have about a month before we leave."
"What about Mr. Levin? I have to work for him that week."
"I've asked Eric if JR can go with us, so I think he can get by without you cleaning his house for that week. Eric can't go because of his job and Bran has his job, too. You and Ricky will have your own accommodations and all your expenses will be paid for, plus you will be paid a salary as well."
"I don't know what to say. If Mr. Levin says it's okay..."
"Let me talk to Eric this evening. I'm sure that I can convince him. I know my sons would love to have Ricky go with us."
"Oh, I almost forgot, next week on Wednesday, I have to take Ricky back to Houston to have the leg examined again. The appointment is for two o'clock in the afternoon."
"I'll make all the arrangements," I said.
"You don't need to do that. You do so much for us. Why are you so good to us?"
"Marie, you and Ricky are like family to us. My boys love Ricky as if he were one of their brothers. You're a great help to Hildy and to me. Think about what I asked you and give me your answer whenever you're comfortable."
I don't think the boys even knew that I was home until Marie and I went out for her to get Ricky ready to go home. "Hi, dad," TJ said, as he ran up to me to get his hug. He was followed by the other boys including Ricky.
Later that evening, I told Hildy what I had planned. She thought it was a great idea and then she told me she had plans to visit her sister Gilda over the Fourth. Gilda's husband, William, had been in a nursing home for some time. He was in bad shape and was not expected to live more than a couple of months and Hildy wanted to be there to give her sister strength. I told her to take all the time she needed. With Mary Jane and Marie taking care of us, I thought we could get along for a while without her.
Eric called and said that JR was all excited about going with us. Now all I needed was for Marie to say yes. She did the next time she came to work. At least that problem was solved.
The following Wednesday, Marie, Ricky and I took the 10:07 flight to Houston. Marie had remembered to bring the coloring book and crayons to occupy Ricky in flight. He still managed to say "Hi" to everyone in the first class section of the plane. We arrived in plenty of time to have lunch and still make it to the two o'clock appointment.
While I was waiting for Ricky to finish with his appointment, I walked over to the receptionist's desk. When she got off the phone, I asked her if she knew anything about Timothy Buffet.
"Oh, did you know him?" she asked, a little surprised.
"Yes, I met him here a couple of times while I was waiting."
"I'm sorry, sir, but Tim died last week. His funeral was on Monday. He was my cousin. It's been very hard on his mother, even though she knew it was coming."
"When you see his mother and dad, please express my deepest sympathies to them on their loss. I only met Tim a couple of times, but he impressed me with his attitude, especially the last time. I think he knew he was dying and yet he was still upbeat. Thank you for telling me," I said. Although the news was not unexpected, it's always a shock when a child is struck down at such an early age.
Ricky's appointment only lasted about an hour. He came running out of the treatment area with Marie right behind him, trying to keep up. "Hi," he said, as he jumped up onto my lap.
"Hi, yourself. Are you ready to go home?"
Nodding his head and holding up his peg, he said, "See?"
"I see. You got a new leg," I said, admiring his new shiny, silver colored peg. "That's pretty. Can you run faster on it?"
He just giggled and hopped down off my lap and headed for the door. "I hope he can't run faster on it," Marie said, "I have a hard time keeping up with him as it is. Well, it looks like he's ready to go home."
I got back to the house a little before seven, after dropping Marie and Ricky off at their apartment. I thought about stopping to see Chuck and Phillip at the apartment leasing office, but as it was getting late I decided to get on home.
The boys had just finished with supper and were putting the dishes in the dishwasher when I arrived. After hugs all around, I thanked Mary Jane for staying this late with the boys.
Hildy asked if I had eaten and when I told her I hadn't, she insisted that she fix me a plate. I quickly went to wash up and change into a pair of shorts.
By the end of the month, the three property purchases had been complete. The apartment complex consisted of 350 units, mostly two and three bedroom apartments with a few one bedroom units. The rents ranged from $1,000 per month to $2,300 per month. The current occupancy rate was 89%. I hoped that would increase to at least 95%. For the time being, I was retaining the current management staff.
The major land purchase in the vicinity of I-10 and 1604 brought the total undeveloped acres of land that CBJ Properties owned to 26,460. That did not count the 120 acres that was purchased from Pete Pedersen. I didn't consider it to be either undeveloped or investment property.
Tracy and Rosie had moved into the Pedersen property the day after Pete moved out. The day after they moved in, I stopped by on my way home to see how things were going. When I knocked on the door of the house, I didn't get a response so I went around back to where the horses were. There was Rosie man-handling a bale of hay onto the back of the ATV. She then drove along each horses stall and doled out the hay to each one. I stood there watching as she worked. At each stall she talked and stroked each horse's head. She didn't notice me until she finished with the last horse.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson, I didn't see you. What can I do for you?" she said, wiping her brow with the back of her leather gloved hand.
"I just stopped by to see how you were getting along. Is there anything that you need?"
"I think we have everything we need. The house is not quite in shape yet. It'll take me a few more days to get it the way I want it. Tracy should be back in a few minutes. He's out checking on the Longhorns. Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"No, thank you, I'm on my way home. By the way, how many saddles are there in the tack room? I never checked."
"There are only two in there. Both are in good shape. If your boys are going to ride, you'll need at least four more saddles."
"Do you know where there's a good place to buy saddles? I don't have the faintest idea."
She stifled a laugh before answering, "There are a couple of places that are not too far from here where you can buy good saddles. If you want, I'll go with you and make sure that you get everything you need."
"How about tomorrow morning? I know the boys will want to ride this weekend, if not before." When she nodded, I said, "I'll pick you up around nine. Tell Tracy I stopped by and to call me if he needs anything."
Rosie directed me to a farm and ranch supply store that had a good selection of saddles and everything I needed to get so that the boys would be able to ride. I figured that I might as well get enough tack so that all eight horses could be ridden at any one time. Thank goodness Rosie knew what she was doing. She was a good hard-nosed negotiator, too. She was able to get me a 10% discount on the purchase of the six saddles. The store even threw in free delivery. There was no way that I could get all of that equipment into any of my vehicles. I had thought I would have to rent a U-Haul truck to get it to the farm.
That evening on my way home, I stopped to see if everything had arrived. When I got there, Tracy was on the riding lawn mower, mowing the grass. When he saw me, he turned off the mower and came over to greet me.
After we said our hellos, he said, "Mr. Johnson, I want to thank you for giving us this opportunity. Rosie and I both love it out here. It's almost like being back home, only better."
"I'm glad that you like it here. I just stopped by to see if the saddles were delivered. I must say that I would have been at a loss if Rosie had not been with me this morning. I've ridden horses over the years, but I never had to think about what I needed to make it possible."
"I think Rosie is still out in the tack room getting things arranged to suit her. The men who delivered the saddles left about half an hour ago. Shall we go see how she's doing? She's very particular the way things are stored," Tracy said.
I followed him to the stable where we found Rosie humming to herself straightening up the tack room. All the equipment was perfectly lined up with everything needed to saddle a horse. The tack room was as neat as any house could be. It was obvious that she knew how to care for tack.
"Hi, Mr. Johnson, this is the most fun I've had since we moved to San Antonio. These are beautiful saddles. I hope you don't mind if I try them out?" she asked.
"No, of course not. And please call me Crane. Mr. Johnson makes me feel old. If the weather holds out, I'm going to bring the boys Saturday afternoon to go riding. Most of them are a little young to saddle their own horses. Would you be available to help me get the horses saddled and show the boys how it's done?"
"Sure," Tracy answered for his wife. "Will there be anyone else except you and the boys? I think you said there are five of them."
"It will just be the boys and me."
"Then, if you don't mind, Rosie and I would like to ride with you, wouldn't we darlin'?"
"That would be great. The boys and I will see you Saturday around one or one-thirty."
Saturday morning, I dropped Joel off at the golf course for his lesson and a round of golf before heading over to the sports facility for two different baseball practices and a soccer match. I could see that the summer was going to be busy. I wanted the boys to be active in sports, but I also wanted them to have time to play at home and just be kids. It was going to take some effort to balance their activities.
Joel had just finished nine holes of golf and was on the putting green getting in some practice when we arrived back at the course. When he saw us, he waved goodbye to Bill, the pro, and climbed into the van with his clubs.
"How did you shoot?" I asked him. once he had settled in.
"I did good. I shot a 44. Bill said I was making progress. I only three putted one green. I wish I could hit my drives farther," Joel said.
"There's not a golfer alive who doesn't want to hit his drives farther, son. Distance is good, but hitting your drives straight and keeping them in the fairway is far more important. When I used to play a lot of golf, I played with a guy who could hit the ball close to 300 yards. The problem was, he never knew where it was going to end up. He would out drive me by 60 or 70 yards, but we always scored about the same. I didn't always hit in the center of the fairway. If I missed the fairway, I was usually not into the second cut of rough."
"I know, dad. That's what Bill tells me. I'd still like to hit them as far as Ronnie does."
"He's a guy from Smithson Valley. He's really good. He's a nice guy, too."
"That's nice. You can make a lot of good friends on the golf course."
The boys were thrilled when I told them we were going riding after lunch. This would be the first time they had been back to see the horses since that first visit a few weeks ago. When we got there, Tracy must have heard us coming because he came out the front door.
"Hi, Crane, Rosie is down at the tack room getting things sorted out."
"That's good. Tracy, I'd like you to meet my sons," I said. As I introduced them, they each shook his hand.
"Are you guys ready to go riding?" Tracy asked.
Getting a chorus of "Yeah" from all of them, we headed for the horses. The first thing on the agenda was to figure out who got which horse. From my less than expert opinion, none of the horses were thoroughbred Arabians. These appeared to be more gentle and less spirited. I was glad of that. It took a few minutes to decide, but finally each of the boys had made their selection. All of the horses had different markings and were easy to tell apart, especially the Paint. I was a little surprised when TJ chose it.
Rosie came out of the tack room and I introduced her to the boys. As each one of them made their choice, Rosie told them the name of the horse. TJ's was Lady. Joel's was Yankee. Chris chose Boston. Larry's horse was Duchess and Lenny's Tawny. Mine was called Benson.
"How did you know their names?" I asked her.
"Mr. Pedersen has their names written over each of their stalls," Rosie laughed. "I didn't make them up."
Rosie led Lady into the tack room and had the boys gather around in front of the horse. She explained each step as she, with Tracy's help, saddled Lady. She did this with each horse in turn. When she was done with each horse she had its rider get on so that she could adjust the stirrups. She also marked each saddle with the horse's name. By the time she and Tracy were done, I think I could have saddle a horse.
"Crane, I've ridden each one of these horses and I found them to be very gentle. I would suggest that they not be ridden too hard or too fast until the boys get used to them and the horses get used to the boys. I don't think there will be any problems, but it's best to be safe."
I agreed with her and told the boys to take it easy and not gallop their mounts. As soon as the other two horses were saddled the eight of us took off riding. I guided the pack toward where the Longhorns were pastured to show the boys.
"Are those our cows?" TJ asked. "I never saw ones with that big horns."
"Yes, they are ours," I said. "They are called Longhorns. You must never go into that pasture with them. They can be ornery and could hurt you. Don't even go too close to the fence. Those long horns could get you even through the fence."
We rode around for a little over an hour before I could tell that TJ was getting tired. I suggested that we go back to the stable and unsaddle our horses. Rosie explained each step as she removed each saddle and placed it in its proper place for storage. Tracy took a brush and showed the boys how to brush their horse before handing them a brush so they could do it. They had never had to do this before. At Rick's place once they had gotten off their horse they were done. This was going to be more work.
I had to laugh at TJ. He wasn't quite tall enough to reach all the way up on Lady's back to brush her. When Tracy noticed, he grabbed a stool and brought it over for TJ to stand on.
When we were done, I went to the van and got the sugar cubes and gave one to everybody to feed to their horse. I thought it might help in the bonding process.
It seemed like every week leading up to our trip to Orlando, we went riding two and sometimes three times a week. The boys were getting really good with their horses. Joel was able to saddle his own horse. The twins and Chris learned that if they worked together they could lift a saddle onto a horse. They could fasten the girth strap, but couldn't get it tight enough. One of the adults always had to tighten it. In fact either Rosie or Tracy checked each one before they would let us leave the tack room.
As the date of our trip to Florida approached, I could tell the boys were becoming more and more excited. Even Ricky seemed to be excited and I'm sure he didn't realize what was going on. I think he sensed the excitement of the boys.
It was going to be an adventure. One that they would not soon forget.
This wraps up Book III. I want to thank everyone who has read and commented on this story. The first chapter of Joel was posted February 27, 2003. This 100th chapter is just shy of four years later. I have enjoyed writing this story, but I need to take a break from it.
Don't look for any more adventures of the Johnson clan for several months.
Your comments and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged. I try to answer all emails including flames. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, please put Joel in the subject.