It was nearly time for us to leave on our trip now, so we were moving at full speed, trying to make sure we got everything done in time, without forgetting anything important. Steve had agreed to drive us to the airport again, in fact he had insisted on it, and Sally was going to watch the house and take care of everything for us while we were gone. In an appreciative gesture, I suggested we all go out to eat on the final Saturday night before we left.
The party started out as being a birthday celebration for Ricky, who was turning fifteen on July 17th, but the boys also had some special plans of their own. I made reservations at the finest establishment in the area and the boys all dressed in suits that evening. Steve followed us in his car, with Sally riding with him and his wife. When we arrived, they were all surprised to learn I had reserved the private dining room for us, so we could have a good time and not disturb the other guests.
“Josh, this must be costing you a small fortune,” Steve whispered in my ear, as we were heading into the facility.
“Nothing’s too good for those we love,” I replied. “Besides, it’s my money and I’m thrilled to be able to do this.” Steve just nodded.
I sat at the head of the table, with Mary and Steve on my right and Sally on my left. The boys had already agreed who would be sitting next to whom, so they went to their places, once the rest of us were seated.
After looking over the menus, we placed our order, and soon the salad, appetizers and dinner rolls were being delivered to the table. We began with shrimp cocktails, mozzarella sticks and a tossed or Caesar salad. The adults also had wine, while the boys had sodas, as we slowly enjoyed the first course.
After each of us had finished those items, we had a chance to talk for a bit, while the dishes were removed and we waited for the main course. Since everyone had ordered their own entrees, there was a variety of food now being placed around the table, but it was all quite delicious. I kept looking up and noting how the older boys were fawning over and assisting the little ones, and noticed that Steve, Mary and Sally were also taking note of this seemingly inconsequential act. It showed a great deal of maturity and caring on the part of the boys who were being so attentive to the younger ones and I can only say that I swelled with pride, as I observed them.
We managed to stuff ourselves and were quite full, when two cakes were delivered to the table. I was expecting the one, but was surprised by the other. In addition to my having ordered a birthday cake for Ricky, it appeared that Sally, Mary and Steve had called ahead and ordered another cake, which read, ‘Bon Voyage, Curries.’ Since Ricky’s cake was chocolate and the other was a yellow cake, it gave us a choice, although I suspected the boys would have a piece of each. The waitperson quickly cut and served the cakes to each of us, and after we each had been served, we all settled down to chat for a while and enjoy some after-dinner drinks with our dessert.
After we relaxed, Ricky was given his gifts to open, which he did quite rapidly. He received clothing from Sally, Mary and Steve and some games and CD’s from his brothers, but he also unwrapped a very special gift from me. I had bought him a high quality digital camera he could use on the trip. He was thrilled with his little party, as well as his presents, but was also a little preoccupied about the surprise his brothers and he had planned for this evening.
After things quieted down, Ricky thanked everyone for their gifts and all of the boys thanked their ‘aunts and uncle’ for the cake, before setting their own plan in motion. At that time, a few of the boys excused themselves to go to the men’s room, but when they rejoined us, they came back carrying a collection of packages. At that moment, the rest of the boys stood to join them and they all came down to the end of the table where the adults were seated. They had planned this at home previously and picked their spokesmen to represent them, so Ricky spoke first.
“All of us boys decided we wanted to do something really special for you, because of everything you have done for us. Aunt Sally, Aunt Mary and Uncle Steve, we just want to let you know how much we love you and appreciate all you do for us. Everyone of us chipped in some of our own money to buy you each a little present.”
“Before you say anything,” Dustin continued, from where Ricky left off, “we know you’re going to tell us we didn’t need to do this. We know that, but we wanted to do it anyway. It’s just to let you know how special you are to each of us.”
“We know that one of the presents is bigger than the others,” Graham stated, in his high-pitched, youthful voice, “and there is more in it than the others, but we spent the same amount of money on each of you.”
“But we all agreed on what to get you,” Danny added, “and we wanted it to be something you’d really like.”
“It wasn’t an easy choice,” Dion told them, “but Dad helped us decide and then we all went with him, to pick it out.”
“So,” Cole concluded, “here are our presents to you.”
At that point, Sammy and Andrew handed Steve a large box, while Jordan and Nicky handed Aunt Sally and Aunt Mary smaller packages.
“Go ahead and open them,” Trey urged them. “We want to see what you think of your presents.”
The ladies got their presents opened first, each finding a matching earring and necklace set. The boys had selected them themselves and spent a few hundred dollars on each of them. These were not cheap costume jewelry sets and the women realized that fact immediately.
“Boys, you shouldn’t have spent so much money on these,” Mary told them, while admiring the fine items in the small box she was holding.
“She’s right,” Sally scolded, mildly. “These must have cost quite a bit of your savings and you shouldn’t have spent your money on us, like this.”
“But it’s still not enough to repay you for all you’ve done and what you mean to us,” Trey countered. “Heck, most of us would never be here with Dad, if it wasn’t for you.”
At that moment, Steve finished unwrapping his present as well, discovering two top quality dress shirts with French cuffs, and a box containing a very sharp looking pair of cufflinks, tie clasp and collar pin to go with them.
“You boys shouldn’t have done so much,” Steve quickly added, supporting the women. “It’s a nice gesture, but we already knew you appreciated the things we do for you.”
“We wanted to do it, no matter how much it cost, because you all do much more than that for us,” Pat advised him. “You take all those hours to drive us to the airport and then pick us up later and Aunt Sally and Aunt Mary have been almost like mothers to us.”
“We do appreciate your thoughtfulness,” Mary told them, “and your presents are just lovely. Therefore, I will accept it in the spirit in which it was given.”
“Yes,” Sally continued, “they’re absolutely beautiful and I will be more than happy to do the same.”
“And I’ll wear these to court,” Judge Shay advised them, “so that will make me the best dressed guy in the entire courthouse.”
“You’re all sharp dressers all of the time anyway,” Brandon retorted. “You three always look like you should be posing for some magazine.”
“Well, thank you for such a lovely compliment,” Sally replied, looking quite pleased by the attention.
“You boys certainly are something special,” Mary told them. “I thought Steve was exaggerating the first time he told me about you, but I’ve come to learn that if anything, he was downplaying how absolutely terrific you all are.”
“Yes, and every time I hear people bad mouthing your generation, I just use you boys as an example of how great kids your age can be,” Steve advised them. “You might not know this, but your dad gave me your last family portrait and I have it hanging on the wall in my chamber. I use it to show others how truly great young people can be.”
“I don’t get to see you as much as the other boys,” Carlos interjected, “but I think you are all pretty great too.” Everyone could tell that it took quite a bit of courage on his part to come out and admit that, since he was usually shy around others. I think that made his remark even more special to the other three.
We all basked in the love that engulfed the room for a while longer and then the boys urged the ladies to try on their new baubles. The boys were quite excited to see these items on them, so both women went to the ladies room, to put the jewelry on and see how they looked in the mirror. The women returned and happily informed the boys that the jewelry looked even better on, than it had looked coming out of the box, and the boys were very pleased to hear this and were proud of their selections. We stayed a little longer, talking some more, before we all headed back to our place to end the evening.
At home, the boys sat around their aunts and uncle, chatting about everything under the sun, and the adults seemed to really be enjoying this all too infrequent time together with them. I made some coffee, so the other adults came out to the dining room to join me for a cup. The boys went up to their rooms to get out of their suits at this point, giving us adults some time alone. It was then that my peers wanted to know if I’d set this whole thing up.
“No, actually it was all their idea,” I informed them. “I did help them select the gifts, but they told me what they wanted to buy and how much they were willing to spend. Although I was amazed to learn that each of them had chipped in $100 of their own money to do this for you, I could also tell it was very, very important to them to make sure it happened. For that reason, I wasn’t about to do anything to try to discourage their generosity.”
“You shouldn’t have let them spend that much money, Josh,” Steve scolded me.
“As I said, this was all their idea and they really wanted to do something special for you,” I countered. “They knew it would be hard for us to take these kinds of trips without people like you back home supporting us and realize how much time it takes for you to drive us to and from the airport, how much your wife gives up by letting you do that for us and all the time Sally spends checking on the house and collecting our mail. No, I was not about to talk them out of it, because I agree with their reasoning. They chose how much they wanted to spend altogether and I merely took them shopping and helped them select appropriate gifts. In fact, if anything, I’m very proud of them for realizing how much you help us. Even Sammy and Andrew understand how important the things you do for us are.”
“It’s not that we’re unappreciative, Josh,” Sally added, “it’s just that $100 each is a great sum of money for boys their age.”
“The boys have a good appreciation of how much that is,” I assured her. “I help them go over their own accounts on a monthly basis, so each one knows how much money he has in his savings account and in his mutual fund. They may not understand exactly how those things work yet, but they do know how much money they have, what it will buy and what I’ll allow them to use it for. This was well discussed before any decisions were made and the final agreement on the amount each would contribute was unanimous. Some had even argued to spend a little more than that, so be assured they did understand what they were doing.”
When the boys returned, the three adults thanked them as a group before giving a personal thank you to each and every boy, and the boys felt really good about what they had done. It was nice to see them learning it’s important and rewarding to do something nice for others. I knew the warm feeling they enjoyed from this evening’s generosity would stay with them for quite a while to come.
By the time Sally, Mary and Steve left, we were all quite exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Since the little ones had all announced they were staying in with various groups of older boys, I thought I’d be sleeping alone, but soon discovered that would not be the case. I was somewhat flabbergasted when Pat asked if he could stay with me tonight. Figuring something was on his mind, I agreed.
I didn’t want to push him to find out why he decided to do this, but it turned out I didn’t need to. As soon as we were in bed, he cuddled up against me and whispered, “Thank you.”
“For what?” I asked, puzzled.
“When we were at Six Flags in Texas and those boys started in about Dion, Carlos, Sammy and Andrew,” he began, “I realized that could have been me, if you hadn’t made me see how wrong that was. Seeing how they acted made me feel ashamed that I was once like that too, so thank you for making me a better person than that.”
I was choked up from hearing his comment, so it took me more than a few seconds before I could respond, but I did. “Pat, I may have shown you the path, but you were the one who had to choose to walk it,” I informed him. “What I did was easy, but it was you who did the hard part. You have turned out to be a wonderful young man and I really and truly love having you as a son.”
He hugged me again, but I realized he was probably too emotional to talk right now too, as I was beginning to get another lump in my throat as he embraced me. However, I do know we both spoke from the heart and meant every word that was said, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was thrilled to be a part of this mélange we call a family.
The rest of our time at home went quickly and it was soon the night before our departure. The boys had packed their own suitcases, again splitting their things with their partner, and I double-checked each one against my checklist, to ensure they had the things they would need. Once this was finished, we took everything downstairs and loaded it into the van. I also loaded my carry-on, with all of the hand-held games and batteries, and we would have nothing more to add before leaving, since we had packed new toothbrushes, shampoo, deodorant, etc., for the trip.
The boys took their showers and then came down to the TV room to join me. We talked a little before we went to bed, discussing some last minute information about this journey. First, I reminded them this flight would be longer than their previous flights, as it would take about 7.5 hours to get there. I also told them there also wouldn’t be much to see, as most of the trip would be over the ocean and that we’d be flying out of Pittsburgh in the early evening, as the flight was scheduled to leave at 5:30 P.M. Tomorrow we would have time to recheck everything after breakfast, and later we’d go out for lunch. We’d leave for the airport shortly after noon. We were going to pick Steve up at the courthouse at that time and then we’d be on our way.
The boys were a mixture of nerves and excitement. With the notoriety of recent plane crashes and near accidents, they were more nervous about flying this time, than they had been on their earlier trips. However, the excitement generated over visiting another country effectively negated that problem.
We ate breakfast at home, cleaned everything up and put it all away. The boys were flitting all over the house, as their nervous energy and excitement wouldn’t allow them to sit for very long. As it neared the lunch hour, I called Steve and asked him join us for lunch, so we could leave directly from the restaurant. He agreed, so we went to pick him up.
There wasn’t very much conversation during the meal, since the boys didn’t know what else to say. We merely filled our bellies and prepared for the drive and flight ahead. It wasn’t long before we’d finished our meal and were on our way.
Most of our trips to the airport had been made during early morning hours, but this one was considerably later, so the boys could see the areas we passed through this time. There was some discussion about different things they observed along the way, until they began to see the planes taking off and descending in the distance. The closer we got to the airport, the less talkative the boys became, because I suspected they were growing more nervous AND more excited. By the time Steve stopped in front of the main entrance, the boys were as quiet as church mice.
We quickly unloaded everything, went in to register and check in our luggage, and said good-byes to Uncle Steve. All of the boys gave him a hug, even the older ones, and he told us to have a good time. He watched as we went into the terminal, before getting back into the van and making the long trip back home alone.
I herded my flock through the terminal and toward our gate, making sure the older boys had a hold of each of the younger ones, and we sat down to wait until our flight was announced. The boys were still subdued, sitting quietly together or huddled up around me, and we stayed that way until two of my older children showed up, since they were flying out with us. The other two were flying from locations closer to their own homes and we would meet them in England.
The boys now began talking to their older siblings, telling them about our other trip, until our flight was called. We made our way onboard, took our seats and waited for something to happen. It was thirty or forty minutes later before the plane began to taxi into position, and I noticed some of the boys tensing up. I guess that’s a normal reaction for fairly inexperienced fliers.
It was nearly 6:00 p.m. when the jet’s engines began to roar, signaling we were about to take off. A few seconds later, the plane lurched forward and the craft started down the runway, as it prepared to lift into the air.