West Otter Lake
Copyright© 2013 – Nicholas Hall
West Otter Lake – Chapter Six – "It is better to meet danger then to wait for it. He that is on a lee shore, and foresees a hurricane, stands out to sea and encounters a storm to avoid a shipwreck." – (Colton)
My throat constricted, my mouth dried, and my eyes widened as I heard Luis say the name of the lad wanting to see my grandparents, not quite believing I'd heard him correctly.
"Say again?" I croaked, quite incredulous the name should be the same as my grandfather.
"Oliver Johnson," Luis repeated slowly, "and he said he was looking for Oliver and Mildred Johnson. I know I heard it right, because I asked him twice myself."
I'd heard Luis correctly the first time and concluded the name just had to be coincidently; there were no African-Americans in our family – which I knew of. There had to be other Oliver Johnsons in the world, any other explanation must be a mistake. Luis and I entered the office and standing at the counter was a young, African-American male teenager. I thought he was a teenager, but he was small, about the same height as Luis, maybe a little smaller, but thinner, terribly skinny, light in stature, almost delicate in appearance. He was, as Luis described in the kitchen, light brown in complexion, darker than me, but not much darker than Luis, and clad in faded, worn jeans, tennis shoes, and an insulated jacket that had seen better days. He stood quietly, looking quite weary and somewhat frightened, stocking cap wadded up in his left hand.
Luis looked at him, standing on the other side of the counter and, before I could say anything, pulled me down a bit and whispered in my ear, "Conner, he looks like you, only darker."
Shrugging my shoulders, brushing aside his comments, unwilling to see what was in front of me, I stepped around the counter, extended my hand, introducing myself. "I'm Conner and to whom am I speaking?"
"Oliver Johnson," the lad replied in a soft, almost melodic voice as he clasped my hand. His hand was chilled from the cold and I noticed his fingers were long, thin, matching his other somewhat gossamer physical features.
"Well, Oliver Johnson, I'm very sorry to inform you both Oliver and Mildred Johnson passed away within the past two years and I'm the new owner of West Otter Lake Resort and Campground."
The lad's face fell dramatically, clearly disappointed; more than just disappointed, more a look of despair, a loss of hope; struggling with his emotions, he tried to disengage his hand from mine, but I held it firmly, but not aggressively enough to cause him pain.
"My Grandmother Thompson said it's important that we find them," he said dejectedly, still trying to wiggle his hand free.
O.K., Conner, take a deep breath; there's something here you're not aware of but probably are going to find out pretty damned quick and I'll bet it's going to be difficult to sort out, given my family history and background. My first thought, as I looked at the teen, however, was someone died, but why send a kid and his grandmother to tell me?
"Where is your Grandmother Thompson, Oliver?"
"In the car with my little brothers," he answered pointing with his free hand out the window toward the car parked out front and added, "people call me `Ollie'."
Peering out the office window, I could see an older, rusted and somewhat dilapidated (actually, almost a junker) automobile and wondered how it even made it down the lane from the county highway to the Lodge. Sitting behind the wheel was a small, older African-American lady and peeking out one of the back windows were two brown faces, eyes wide, either in wonderment or fright, I couldn't decide which.
"Luis, please step out and invite our guests to come in." He scampered out the door after shooting a glance at the young man standing in front of the counter.
After he left, I returned my attention to Oliver Johnson. "I'm Wesley Conner Johnson, also known as `Conner' and am the grandson of Oliver and Mildred Johnson. Now, Ollie, why would you think it's so important to make contact with my grandfather and grandmother?"
Ollie shuffled his feet several times on the entryway floor, stammered a couple of times, and finally stuttered out, "Grandma Thompson says they're my other grandparents."
Well, shit and two is eight; if that's so, then this young man is either a cousin that I don't know about or, call me ready and fuck me proper, this kid and his little brothers are my half-brothers. I just couldn't imagine that; Grandma and Grandpa never made any mention of any other siblings I might have and they would've known, wouldn't they? Unless they had no idea either and that may've been the case. Grandma often said she had no idea Wes Sr. had any children until he showed up at the Lodge with me in an apple box. The other possibility was this was a hoax; some way to shake me down for some sort of pay off.
Luis came back in accompanied by the lady and the two little boys who, by the way, were spitting images of each other and were definitely little brothers to Ollie. They were dressed no better than Ollie and both were small, slight of frame and skinny as well. The grandmother, about my height, also was not a heavy woman, in fact I doubted if she would weigh as much as me, stepped forward, offered her hand, saying, "I'm Mavis Thompson and these three ruffians are my grandsons and who might you be, young man?" Her dark eyes twinkled mischievously in a slightly wrinkled face; a face which wasn't harsh, but grandmotherly, yet seemed steeled by and conditioned to withstand hardship. She knew very well who I was, but wanted to hear it from me.
I told her and she laughed, "I figured so. You have some of the same facial characteristics of your father; I hope you don't have the same disposition."
The only contact I'd had with my father was at Grandpa's funeral and I thought then he was a complete and total asshole! "No, I don't think I do," I replied shaking my head.
She chuckled again and turning to the boys, "You've already met Ollie and these two rapscallions," pointing at two grinning brown faces peering out from under stocking caps, "are Terell Wesley Johnson and Treyvon Conner Johnson. They're eight years old and Ollie is fourteen." Holding up a hand, "Don't even think about asking me my age, a gentleman never does," and laughed again.
My legs began to shake again, my stomach fluttered and growled, and I sputtered, "Why don't we go to the Great Room where we can be more comfortable and visit."
Luis, standing near me again, eyeing Ollie, heard my stomach, tugged at my arm and pointed to my watch.
"Better yet, we'll go in there so you may leave your coats and Luis will inform Leandro we have guests for dinner. Once it's ready, we'll eat and visit. I assume you've not had lunch, have you?"
Mae, as she preferred to be referred to, assured me they hadn't, so while Luis scurried to the kitchen, I led the way to the couches and chairs in the Great Room. The three boys said not a word as we walked into the high-ceilinged room, but their eyes were wide in amazement and curiosity as they looked about the room and out the big windows toward the snow covered lake stretching to the east. Their reaction was not unlike Luis's the first time he came into this room. Mae, on the other hand, seemed nonplussed by the room, but did comment, "Nice," and removed her coat, placing it on a chair.
No sooner were coats and hats removed, when Luis popped his head out the kitchen door and announced lunch was ready. I figured it wouldn't take long, since the pizzas were almost all cooked just a bit ago. "Follow Luis," I said, "and we'll have lunch."
After we were seated, Leandro raised his eyebrows toward Mae and asked, "Milk?"
"Yes, for the boys," she responded "and coffee for me, if you have it."
Milk and coffee poured, Leandro place two large sausage, burger, and cheese pizzas on the table and I indicated to our guests to help themselves first. With seven of us at the table, it didn't take long for the two pizzas to disappear so Leandro put two more out. Ollie, Terell, and Treyvon had healthy appetites, with Ollie matching Luis's pizza eating, slice to slice.
"Please forgive my grandson's," Mae begged apologetically, "we've traveled most of the night and stopped only for gas. Breakfast was just some snacks I put in the car before we left."
"Boys need to eat," offered Leandro, bringing a curious look in his direction from Mae. I realized I'd failed to introduce the rest of my entourage to Mae and the boys and apologized, introducing Leandro and Luis, noting I was Luis' guardian.
Mae simply nodded her acceptance of my apology and introduced her grandsons to Leandro and Luis.
There were two pizzas left when all of us, including now-not-hungry guests finished, so I suggested we all retire to the Great Room so we could continue our earlier discussion.
"Before we do," I said, "Luis, why don't you take Ollie, Terell, and Treyvon to your bedroom and let them use the bathroom. Mae, there's a restroom near the office if you wish to accommodate yourself."
Leandro and I were now alone. "What the fuck is going on Conner?" he exclaimed. "What are we going to do with them?" pointing his finger upstairs and toward the office.
"First, Leandro, I want to hear their story and then we can decide."
"Well, I'm not going to panic yet," he minded, "maybe it's just a scam of some sort, so let's see what happens."
I heard feet pounding down the stairs, so I put a finger to my lips signaling it was time for our conversation to come to a close. We walked out into the Great Room about the same time Luis and the boys made the final bound down the stairs and Mae emerged from the restroom.
Indicating we all should take a seat, I started toward the couches and chairs in front of the windows, but Mae interrupted with "Before I do, I have some things in the car to get," and went out the front door. The rest of us sat, waiting for her return. Terell and Treyvon sat on the couch, legs swinging nervously, hands folded in their laps, snugged up to each other and up against their older brother. Ollie sat quietly, clearly nervous, swiping his lips with his tongue occasionally, but watching the three of us closely. It gave me the opportunity to really look the boys over; Ollie was a handsome young stripling and would continue to be so as he grew and matured. The twins were- well, cute as buttons, but if you looked closely, especially in their eyes, you could see just a hint of mischief, not unlike their grandmother. All three didn't appear to be overly aggressive or impolite, just nice kids! Luis never took his eyes from Ollie and I think it was making Ollie nervous.
Mae returned, carrying a rectangular shaped plastic container with several envelopes and papers in it, sat down next to her grandchildren, and pulled some papers from the container. She inhaled a deep breath and began,
"Mr. Johnson;" I interrupted saying, "Conner, please." She sighed with some frustration and resumed, "there's no easy way to tell this story and after you've heard and looked at what I have here in these envelopes if you send us back down the road, I'll understand. First, I must ask you to confirm who your birth father was."
I thought that a bit odd, since she was already convinced who my father was, but I answered, "Wesley Conner Johnson, Sr., although my grandparents raised me. I met him here for the first time about a year ago when my grandfather died. I have no idea who my mother is."
She nodded her head acknowledging, "I thought so. Conner; Ollie, Terell, and Treyvon are your half-brothers."
"I'll be damned," muttered Leandro and sat up straighter while Luis looked even closer at Ollie.
"I assume you have some sort of proof, Mae?"
She handed me three documents; birth certificates for Oliver LaHood Johnson, Terell Wesley Johnson, and Treyvon Conner Johnson with Wesley Conner Johnson, Sr. as the father and Alicia Thompson as the mother.
Now I am aware birth certificates can be falsified and this very well could be a shakedown, except I knew it wasn't; these boys were, in fact, fathered by the same man that fathered me. No one, and I mean no one except immediate family, knew Grandmother Johnson's maiden name was "LaHood," the same as Ollie's middle name. The twins each carried one name from Wesley, Sr. as did I. I perused the papers, handed them to Leandro to read through. When he finished, I handed them back to Mae.
"Wesley Johnson," she began again, "got my daughter, Alicia, pregnant when she was but sixteen. He was an occasional date of hers and took to hanging around the apartment. They'd go out and be gone a couple of days and then he'd disappear for several months. I kept telling her he was no good. Well, when Ollie was born, Alicia insisted on naming him after his Grandfather and Grandmother Johnson. Evidently, when Wesley got to drinking, he couldn't keep his mouth shut or his pants either, for that matter. Well, he told wild tales to her about his family, where they lived, the resort he was going to inherit someday, and what all they were going to do together. It wasn't long until he was gone again."
"We didn't see him for several years and then, like a bad penny, he shows up again. I warned my daughter, but like to a moth to a flame, she went back dating him. Whenever I asked about child support or some type of help for raising Ollie, he always would promise, soon. Well, forget that, we never saw a cent. Every now and then, when Alicia would come back home after a date with him, I'd notice bruises on her arms or legs. Once, while she was changing clothes, I saw bruises on her side. When I asked her about them, she claimed she fell down. Now, Conner, I've been around the block and raised in the Projects, so I can recognize when somebody got beat."
The story she unfolded for us was not a nice story, causing me to shudder as she told it, and convincing me even more the man who said he was my father really was an asshole! Wesley would show up periodically, hang around a couple of days, drinking, and enjoying his pleasures with Alicia, and then be gone. Every now and then, when he was full of booze, really drunk, a mean drunken state, he'd beat the hell out of Alicia and leave again. Not once, did he take his meanness out on Ollie or Mae. When Alicia became pregnant with the twins, he left and didn't come back.
"Did you try to find him?" I asked softly.
"Why would I do that? So he could come back and beat her some more? No," Mae said sternly, "good riddance to bad rubbish!"
Mae and her family lived in a rough section of Chicago, a city where several murders in weekend wasn't unusual; most of the dead were young, black males and bystanders from reckless, revengeful, gun battles by gang members or whatever. Gun violence made it a dangerous place to live and all residents, especially the boys, became streetwise in a hurry.
"I had three children; two sons and one daughter," Mae said sadly. "Alicia was a little on the wild side and always seemed to run with a bad crowd. When the twins were less than a year old, she and the guy she was with were killed outside a bar. Some gang member thought they were intruding on their territory and ambushed them. Malachi, my oldest son, was killed when Ollie was about four. Malachi was in a convenience store buying some smokes when it got robbed and he got in the way of some bullets. Reidel, my youngest son, died three years ago down on the lake front when there was an argument and got settled with guns. I didn't even know he had one, but he did and he paid for it."
"Three weeks ago, a neighbor boy, Ollie's age, and his sister were out in front of our apartment building minding their own business and were shot in a drive-by shooting. They both lived, but that's when I made up my mind to leave. I just couldn't take a chance at losing my grandbabies to that kind of violence. I thought there had to be a better life for them somewhere, but not in that environment."
Mae did the best she could over the years, using county relief and what work she could pick up while they were in school, but the living conditions weren't good. The whole family lived in a two bedroom apartment, poorly heated and over-charged. The schools where the boys attended were poorly attended and staffed, in many cases, by teachers who didn't want to be there and just trying to transfer out or by those who were transferred there hoping they'd leave the district. She mentioned the boys had been fortunate over the years in having teachers who really did care and for that she was thankful.
One of her sisters lived in Elgin, so she made arrangements to take the boys out there by CTA Commuter train (the old El) and see what arrangements she could make. She and her sister decided to drive back into the city, load up the car with Mae and the boys' personal belongings, turn in the apartment key, and leave. Mae and the boys stayed at her sister's until yesterday when they left for here.
"Why, West Otter Lake Resort?" I inquired.
"Wesley," she answered, "in his drunken state, would brag about this resort and the big house he lived in as a kid up north and how some day he'd inherit the whole thing. Oh, he was going to do wonderful things with the place, like subdivide it, or turn it into condos, and retire on the money he was going to make. HA! Well, I listened real good and decided that's where I'd take the boys since their biological grandparents lived there. Maybe, I thought, they could get a good life for a change instead of the crap they were dealing with in the city."
"I talked it over with my sister and her husband and they helped me find that old car out front. Lester, my brother-in-law figured it'd make it this far. It cost nearly five hundred dollars and I only had about two hundred, so Lester loaned me the rest. I kept back enough for what I figured gas and food would cost us. Frankly, I didn't think gas would cost that much. I hadn't driven in years, but started out anyway. When I got tired, Ollie took over and drove some. He learned to drive on the way up here; pretty good at it too."
"Did you check the oil when you gassed up?" Luis asked Ollie.
For the first time, Ollie grinned at him, and nodded vigorously he had.
After driving all night, over snow covered roads in places the last hundred mile, they arrived at the resort. Mae sat quietly, her shoulders slumped, as she finished her story. She glanced at her grandsons, at Luis and Leandro and finally looked back at me.
"So," she asked, "here we are, and the question is, what are you going to do with us Conner?"
I swallowed hard, the decision was an easy one as far as I was concerned. I had plenty of room in the Lodge, but I needed to talk to Leandro and Luis first.
"We need to talk," I answered, "before I say anything else," and motioned Leandro and Luis to follow me to the kitchen.
"Conner," Leandro began once the kitchen door shut, "they really should stay; they're your half-brothers, of that there is no doubt. You just can't turn your back on them."
Luis asked quietly, "If they stay, do we have to leave?"
"No," I said quickly pulling him to me, wrapping my arms around him, "you two are important part of my life and I just can't let you go. I just have to figure out how I'm going to handle it."
"I think," Leandro offered thoughtfully, "you need to be open about our relationship and if that bothers Mae and she is hesitant about bringing up the boys in a gay household, then she'll have to make her own decision whether to stay or go. I just wouldn't mention our immigration status, quite yet."
He was right, but if they stayed, it might also solve the problem we were having concerning the non-return of Jacob and Sara. We returned to the Great Room where Mae Thompson and my three half-brothers (now that sounds odd to say, but I think I'd better get used to it) were waiting, anxious looks on their faces.
The four seated ourselves again, I cleared my throat, and said, "Mae, you and the boys, my half-brothers, are welcome here, but there a some things you need to know before you make your final decision because that decision will be yours and yours alone to make. Leandro and I are gay; in fact, we're in gay relationship with each other, so if that bothers you or you don't want to raise the boys in that atmosphere, then you'll have to make a decision. I can tell you, the two of us have really no interest in molesting young boys so they are safe from us. Luis is in my custody, given by his parents, and goes to school here in Otter Lake."
"If you do stay, you have to know we all work the Resort and help around the house. The boys will be required to go to school and obey the rules of the house. They aren't many, but it does keep things moving along rather smoothly. Basically, they're to keep their rooms picked up, do their homework, and respect each other. As they get older, we'll add "where are you going, who are you going with, and what time will you be home," to the list. When resort season begins, they'll have to be courteous, even if the guest is not, and learn to be cautious around strangers."
"We generally keep to ourselves in the off-season and really don't share our private lives with the outside community. It's really no one else's business and I'd expect you to respect that privacy. The boys will probably be the only African-American kids in school as Luis is the only Hispanic. It could be difficult or easy, I don't know, but Luis can help with that. Our priority, up to this point, has been getting Luis an education and protecting him from the nasty sorts in the world, but if my half-brothers stay, then they are added to the list. We will do all we can to help them get an education and have a decent life here at the Resort. I have extra rooms and, when we get it ready, you're welcome to move into the care takers residence the other side of the Lodge."
I sat back, expecting some questions, instead Mae looked at her grandsons, seeking some hesitation and seeing none, and looked at me, with some sadness, but sparkle in her eyes. "One of my sons was `gay,' as you put it, so boys kissing boys isn't something I'm not used to; another son was murdered buying a pack of cigarettes; my daughter was beaten, abused, and murdered also so I'd think I've experienced enough grief in my life. I really would like something better for my grandsons. Now, where are those rooms you said you had?"
To be continued
Thank you for reading "West Otter Lake – Chapter Six -"It is better to meet danger then to wait for it. He that is on a lee shore, and foresees a hurricane, stands out to sea and encounters a storm to avoid a shipwreck." – (Colton)
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