As I mentioned previously, the teachers in all three buildings were scheduled to meet with the parents of their students during the three days before Thanksgiving break. We also offered evening sessions on Monday and Tuesday, for those parents who couldn’t come in during the day. At the high school, we set the conferences up in fifteen-minute increments, and even though this doesn’t sound like much time, we had to do it this way because of the total number of students we worked with on a daily basis. The process was exhausting, but beneficial, and most of the meetings were positive.
When we got home from school on Wednesday, we weren’t surprised to see Elliot, Ryan, Noah, and Holly there, but we didn’t expect to find Shannon and Nick already. After saying hello and introducing them to Xander, we finally got a chance to speak.
“I didn’t think you guys would get here until later,” stated Dion.
“We both took today off from work and booked our flight for this morning, so we could avoid the rush,” answered Shannon. “We also had a rental car waiting for us when we landed so we could drive here. We arrived at the house just as Dad was returning from picking up Ryan.”
“I see. So, do we need to show you to a room?”
“No, Nick and I made a reservation at the hotel, because we felt the house might be a little too crowded.”
“Ok, and did you meet TJ yet?” I asked.
“Yes, we got to meet him earlier, as Dad was carrying him in from the car and then feeding him. He’s adorable.”
“He is, but he has health problems that we hope will get better as he gets older.”
“Yes, Dad told us about that.”
I then helped Dad get dinner ready for Dion’s birthday party, while Ryan and Noah helped to set up the banquet table in the living room. As soon as Uncle Steve, Aunt Mary, Aunt Sally, and Richard arrived, we sat down to eat. There were several conversations going on at the same time, so it wasn’t easy to keep focused on any particular one we were having, but we were fairly used to doing this by now.
When the meal ended and we’d cleared off the table, I carried in a chocolate cake with fudge frosting and a large ‘3’ and ‘1’ on top. Dad followed behind me carrying a pineapple upside-down cake, because he knew there would be so many people here that one cake wouldn’t be enough. I lit the candles on the cake I’d carried in and we sang Happy Birthday to Dion, and then he made a wish and blew out the candles. We decided that he’d open his presents later, in private, since we hadn’t asked everyone to get him something. We were just happy they were here to join us.
After I gave Dion a kiss, he cut the chocolate cake while I cut the other, and then we passed out the various slices to anybody who wanted one. The boys, Holly, and Pop went with the chocolate cake, while the rest of us opted for the pineapple upside-down cake. When we finished, we chatted a little longer, and during that time, we pulled Uncle Steve aside so we could have a discussion with him.
“We were wondering if you’d let us store the Christmas presents we buy for the boys at your house,” said Danny, “so they can’t see what they’re getting before Christmas.”
“Of course, you can. You can store them in the spare bedroom.”
“Ok, we’ll let you know when we’re going shopping, and then we’ll drop them off on the way back. We’ll pick them up during the day on Christmas Eve, and we’ll leave them in the SUVs until the boys go to bed.”
“That will be fine.”
We chatted with the others a little longer before some of them began to leave.
“It was a wonderful meal and we definitely enjoyed ourselves, but we have to get going,” said Uncle Steve. “We’ll see you all again tomorrow.”
“And thank you for the lovely dinner,” added Aunt Mary.
“Yes, it was delicious,” added Aunt Sally, “and I’ve made a couple of pies for tomorrow. We’ll just need to heat them up in the oven before we serve them.”
“We’ll be able to do that,” agreed Dad.
“Thank you for inviting me too,” added Richard. “I’m bringing a green bean casserole tomorrow.”
“And I’m preparing a Waldorf salad,” chimed in Aunt Mary. “I forgot to mention it before.”
“Yes, we’ll see you all again tomorrow and we’ll eat around 2:00,” replied Dad.
“We’ll also be heading to the hotel now,” added Nick, “but we’ll see you in the morning. It’s just that we’re both quite tired from traveling.”
“We understand, and get a good night’s sleep,” said Pop, and then he gave his son and son-in-law a hug before they left.
Once the others had taken off, we sat down with Elliot, Noah, Holly, and Ryan in the living room so we could chat with them. While we were doing that, the younger boys headed to the family room with Dobby and Flash following behind them. The pups seemed to be dragging and a little worn out from greeting everyone else when they’d arrived.
We talked to the college students about school and asked how they thought they were doing. Each one answered that they were doing well and enjoying college, but it was also nice to be home with the family for a while as well.
“Yes, Dorothy, there’s no place like home,” quipped Dad.
After we chatted with them a little while longer, we sent the younger boys upstairs to get ready for bed. After they finished their showers, Brandon, Danny, Dion, and I went upstairs to tuck them in, and then we went back downstairs to join the others.
It wasn’t too much longer after we returned before Elliot spoke up. “I’m beat from the long drive here, so I’m going up to my room to turn in. I’ll see you all in the morning.”
“I think I’m going to turn in as well,” said Noah.
He was quickly followed by Ryan and Holly, so it looked as if the college crowd didn’t have the stamina we used to have. I don’t remember ever turning in this early back then, and I wasn’t even one of the party animals.
After they went to their rooms, the rest of us discussed who was going to do what tomorrow, and then Dad called it a night. He was getting up early in the morning to start the two turkeys, since having such large birds required a longer time for them to cook. It was a good thing we had an oven in the stove and a wall oven too, because it made it easier on us during the holidays.
Before Dad left, however, Brandon and I agreed to help him fix the meal, along with breakfast for the troops. Danny and Dion agreed to help put up the card tables in the foyer for the kids and set out the dinnerware on all of the tables. It was going to be a very hectic day.
Starting at 7:00 the next morning, we began fixing breakfast for those who were already up, and we continued doing this for the others as they came downstairs. Shannon and Nick returned to the house around 10:00, and Sammy, Andrew, and Graham arrived around 11:00. They were quickly followed by Frankie and Carolyn and Pat and Tori, and shortly after noon, Uncle Steve, Aunt Mary, Aunt Sally, and Richard returned, followed by Becky and Revin. Dustin and Katie, Cole and Beth, Kevin and Vinnie, and Jessie all showed up before 1:00, so it looked as if everyone that was coming was here.
We had to introduce some of them to Xander and TJ when they arrived, and once those formalities were out of the way, we began to chat.
“Frankie, how the heck did you and Carolyn mange to get off from your jobs so you could join us?” asked Pat.
“It wasn’t easy. We had to pull a few double shifts over the past couple of weeks, and we also had to promise that our first born would attend the police academy,” joked Frankie. “We don’t have to leave until after dinner on Friday night, and then we’ll pull the weekend shifts when we get back.”
“Carolyn, I’m glad this rabble didn’t scare you away,” teased Pop.
“They can be intimidating, but my job has prepared me for things such as this,” she quipped back.
“Pat, how is married life treating you?” asked Richard.
“I couldn’t have asked for better!” he replied. “Being married to Tori is great.”
“Tori, any buns in the oven yet?” asked Jessie.
“Just the oven in the kitchen, because I’m not pregnant, if that’s what you mean.”
“Yeah, it’s not like Dad needs more grandchildren,” quipped Pat.
“Oh, there are never too many grandkids,” yelled Dad from the kitchen.
“How the hell did he hear what we were saying with all the other noise going on?” wondered Andrew.
“I’ve always thought he could hear as well as Superman,” quipped Kevin.
“Not quite that good, but close,” concurred Dad.
During this time, Uncle Steve, Aunt Mary, and Aunt Sally had been chatting with those returning home from college, and the younger boys were outside playing with Dobby and Flash in the leaves. The boys would cover one another with leaves and the puppies would dig them out again, and it appeared that Revin was enjoying this the most.
“I love watching the boys having fun with the puppies,” said Becky as she left the window she’d been staring out of and came out to the kitchen to see if she could help. “He would love to have a dog too, but with nobody at home during the day and having a small yard, I didn’t think it would be fair to the dog.”
“Well, he can make up for it when he’s here,” offered Dad.
Brandon and I were busy carrying the food to each of the tables, and then Dad called everyone out to eat. After we’d gone around and said what we were thankful for, Dad asked Graham a question.
“How did that boy make out that you were telling me about during my visit?”
“I contacted Richard like you suggested and he got in touch with our local DHS. I really appreciate that he did that.”
“It was my pleasure,” responded Richard.
“The local DHS removed the boy from his home and placed him in a really good foster home. In a way, that place is a lot like here, because they are taking care of several children and there’s plenty of room for the kids to do all sorts of things. It’s a small farm and the kids seem to like living there.”
“Do they have animals?”
“Yes, they’ve got two cows that they milk, some chickens, and a couple of sheep. They also have a garden and grow their own vegetables.”
“So, the boy is happy there?”
“He loves it, and the foster home is in the same school district he was in before, so I still have him in class.”
“Then that’s something else to be thankful for.”
“Yes, it is.”
During the meal, Benny and Joshie told the others about this year’s version of the Haunted House and how it went, and the younger boys told everyone how scary it was.
“It sounds like you outdid what my group did last year,” commented Noah.
“I wouldn’t say we did better, but we did as good a job as your group, and it was a lot of fun too,” replied Joshie.
“Jessie, do you miss not having me there to bail you out?” teased Noah.
“It’s actually easier, because I’m not tripping over you all the time,” quipped Jessie.
“Whoa, did he just zing you?” asked Benny.
“Yes, he did, but I didn’t think I was that bad when I was there,” said Noah.
“You weren’t, but you did get in the way every now and then,” said Jessie.
“Elliot, are you still with Ian?” asked Nick.
“Yes, but he’s celebrating with his family today. He’ll be here tomorrow and Saturday, and then we’ll head back on Sunday.”
“Did you ride home together?” asked Cole.
“Yes, he drove his car to Yale to meet me, and then he left his car there and rode home with me.”
“I hope he didn’t have a lot of Harvard stickers on his car or it might get trashed by the time you get back,” joked Vinnie.
“Nah, he doesn’t have anything like that on his car, just a parking sticker from Harvard.”
“Holly, have you met anyone interesting at college?” asked Katie.
“Yeah, I’ve met lots of interesting people there.”
“I think she wants to know if you’ve got a boyfriend,” clarified Sammy.
“Oh, there’s a boy I like, but we’re not really dating. We’ll be graduating this year and moving on to other colleges, because we’re attending a two-year college.”
Even though she admitted that she didn’t have a boyfriend, I don’t think Noah or Ryan took it as an opening. I believe they were finally convinced that she only saw them as brothers.
There were other conversations going on as we finished our meal, and then we took a break before having dessert, because we were all so full. During this time, some of the guys went to the family room to watch the football games, while the rest of us sat around the tables and continued to chat.
“Shannon and Nick, how long are you staying?” asked Aunt Sally.
“We’ll leave here Saturday afternoon and drive to the airport to catch our flight back to Atlanta,” answered Shannon.
“Just take it easy and have a safe trip. It was nice seeing both of you again.”
“How about you, Pat?” asked Aunt Mary. “How long will you be staying?”
“We’ll be driving home on Saturday as well.”
“Are either of you staying here?” followed Aunt Sally.
“No, Shannon and I made a reservation at the hotel,” answered Nick.
“And Tori and I are staying at the motel,” replied Pat. “It’s quieter there.” He laughed after saying this.
“How about you three?” Pop asked Sammy, Andrew, and Graham. “Are you going to spend the night?”
“We weren’t sure you’d have enough room for us, so we’re planning to drive home in a little while,” responded Sammy.
“I’m sure we can make room for you,” stated Dad.
“We appreciate that, but we don’t live that far away and it’s not a bad trip,” replied Graham. “And we’ve got three drivers, so we can switch off if we’re getting tired.”
“Ok, just drive carefully and have a safe trip.”
“Kevin, why didn’t you bring Jeff with you today?” continued Dad.
“He and his mom had already made plans to have Thanksgiving with one of his mom’s friends.”
“Then invite them to join us for Christmas, if they don’t have any other plans.”
“Ok, I’ll check.”
“Vinnie, have you heard from Duck since he was here for Josh’s birthday?” asked Pop.
“Yes, we keep in touch on a fairly regular basis. He and Jen enjoyed themselves while they were here, but they’re pretty busy and are involved in a lot of things in Bethesda. Jen’s parents don’t live far away from them either, since they live in Towson, so they go there for the holidays.”
“Ah, that’s nice,” said Aunt Sally.
“When I saw Mark at Josh’s birthday party, he told me he asked his mother to move closer to him,” said Uncle Steve. “She responded that she didn’t want to live there because it was so crowded and expensive. She also told him that she’d made several friends after she moved here and didn’t want to move again.”
“How did Mark take that?” asked Pop.
“He was a little disappointed, but he comes back to visit her every chance he gets, especially when he makes his quarterly trips to confer with Josh about the Castaway Fund investments.”
“Yes, he told me that as well,” confirmed Dad.
Now that we’d had time to digest our meal, we decided it would be a good opportunity to have dessert. Aunt Sally had brought two pumpkin pies, along with a couple of containers of whipped cream, and Becky had brought a couple of apple pies. There was still some of the cake left over from Dion’s party, so the younger boys finished off the rest of the chocolate cake, while most of us decided to have pie instead.
Shortly after we had eaten our dessert, I noticed that Graham had disappeared, so I asked Andrew where he went.
“He’s talking to Cody. He always does that when we come here.”
“Ah, I didn’t think of that.”
A short time later, I saw Dad and Graham chatting, so I moved a little closer to see if I could overhear what they were saying.
“Cody says all the relatives are here,” Graham told Dad, “but David Hubbard and his friends haven’t been seen since you had him driven from the house and property.”
“It’s good to have confirmation about that.”
“Yeah, and Brent wants me to tell Kevin that he’s glad Kevin is happy and was able to find someone else after he died.”
“I believe Kevin will be happy to hear that. I know Brent still holds a special place in Kevin’s heart, but he’s happy with Vinnie now.”
“Yeah, Brent knows that too.”
It wasn’t long after that before Pat and Tori said goodbye to everyone and prepared to leave. “We’re tired and want to get some rest, but we’ll see all of you again tomorrow.”
“And Josh, thank you for the fantastic meal,” Tori added,
“You’re very welcome and thank you for coming.”
Shortly after they took off, Sammy, Andrew, and Graham said their goodbyes as well.
“Thanks for everything, Dad,” said Sammy.
“Yes, it was a wonderful meal,” added Andrew.
“And thanks for checking up on my student,” continued Graham. “It’s nice to know you care and are there to help.”
“Whenever I can,” replied Dad.
It was about an hour after they left when Dad called us out to fill up on leftovers. None of us ate nearly as much as before because we weren’t that hungry. Some of us had a turkey sandwich, either cold or hot, and the rest filled up on the salads, and they also helped to polish off the leftover pineapple upside-down cake and the pies.
Once we’d eaten again, Uncle Steve, Aunt Mary, Aunt Sally, and Richard all said goodbye and headed home, and they were soon followed by Kevin and Vinnie, Cole and Beth, Dustin and Katie, Jessie, and Becky. She was letting Revin spend the night here and he was going to sleep with Tristan.
After they had all gone home, most of the rest of us went to the family room to watch a movie, and when it ended, we sent the younger boys upstairs to get ready for bed. While they were taking their showers, I spoke with Frankie and Carolyn.
“Xander’s going to sleep in with Wyatt and the twins, so I’m going upstairs to strip his bed and make it for you.”
“He shouldn’t have to give up his room,” objected Carolyn.
“I wouldn’t say that’s what he’s doing, since he sleeps with the other three quite often.”
“Ok then, as long as we’re not putting him out.”
I had just finished making up the bed when the boys finished their showers, and a few minutes later Danny, Brandon, and Dion came up to join me as we tucked them in and said goodnight.
When we went downstairs, Shannon and Nick were also saying goodnight, and then they took off for the hotel. At that point, Dad, Brandon, and I went out to finish cleaning up the kitchen, while Dion gave TJ his bath and put him to bed. He’d kept him up a little later tonight because he wanted the house to quiet down first, so TJ wouldn’t wake up again due to the noise.
Frankie and Carolyn had been chatting with Pop, Benny, and Joshie, and once Dad, Brandon, and I finished cleaning up the kitchen and started the dishwasher, we went back to join them. We talked for a little while longer, and then we all decided to turn in as well. It had been a long and tiring day.