Ray and Lois didn't have to make a decision on taking Jon to his mother's funeral. The family had the body cremated, and planned no funeral services. Jon didn't seem concerned, when this was explained to him. It didn't take long for the court to declare Jon eligible for adoption; and eight weeks after the death of his mother, Jon was legally a Reed.
"I can't believe how quickly the adoption occurred," Betty said during an after church lunch.
"We owe Steve and Rita a great deal of thanks for that," Lois said. "And I should mention Sarah too."
"Thanks," Rita said. "I'll tell Sarah what you said."
"Guys, I want to take Jon horseback camping before it gets too cold," Ray said. "It will be a sort of celebration of his adoption. The other boys have been telling him about camping, and he's been begging to go."
"Dear, don't you think it's already too cold?" Lois questioned.
"Now, Lois, we've already decided that we wouldn't be overly protective parents," Ray said, as he gave his wife a quick hug. "Those sleeping bags are really warm. Who wants to go?"
"I can't go," Kyle said. "We have an away game. I doubt Perry can go either."
"I guess I'll go," Haden said, while trying to hide his disappointment that Kyle couldn't go. "I'll ask Jeff about going. I'll also ask Grandpa, Uncle Scott, and Uncle Carl. I don't know how they could get their horses here though."
"I could haul them here," Ray offered. "I'll bring them the day before and put them in your pasture; that is, if you don't mind feeding extra horses."
"I'll manage," Haden said with a smile. "Adam helps, and it doesn't take long."
"When were you planning on this outing?" Paul asked.
"Next weekend," Ray said.
"Well, Lois is right that it may be a little cold," Paul said. "But if you guys are tough enough, I guess I am too."
"Jon, you're going to have so much fun," Jarred said.
"Yeah, my dad said you guys had fun," Jon agreed.
"Then I think we ladies should have another ladies day out," Rita said.
"I think we should too," Debbie agreed.
"Tony, are you going?" Amy asked.
"Would you mind?"
"Why would I mind? I'll be hanging out with the other ladies."
"Alright, count me in. Mom, I assume it's okay for me to ride Blanket?" Tony questioned.
"Hey, Blanket's mine," Jon protested.
"Honey, I think we have horses with the same name," Debbie said.
"I didn't realize you had a Blanket when I named him," Ray explained.
"Well, I don't want to change his name," Jon said.
"Oh, I think we can both have a horse named Blanket," Debbie said with a smile.
"Well, Mom, is it okay if I ride your Blanket?" Tony again asked
"Of course, you may ride him," Debbie said.
"I'll take a few bales of hay out later in the week," Ray said. "There may not be enough grass now for all the horses."
"What if it rains?" Haden asked.
"Don't worry, I'll cover it," Ray said.
"Then we won't need to bring those alfalfa cubes?" Haden questioned.
"No, there's enough protein in the hay for the short time we'll be out there," Ray said.
"If we camp at the spring, we won't need to take drinking water either," Darrell pointed out.
"Yeah, that's what I planned," Ray agreed.
"I'll call Uncle Scott now, and let you talk to him about hauling the horses here," Haden said.
"Good idea," Ray said.
Friday evening, Haden and Adam had five extra horses to feed, but neither felt it to be a burden. Adam was nearly as excited as Jon about the camp out. Of course, Adam was always excited when it came to horses and camping.
Following a big country breakfast, the riders were on their way to the camp site. "Grandpa, sing "On Top of Old Smokey," Adam requested.
Walter was more than happy to sing, with several of the other riders joining in. The boys were having so much fun, they were almost sad to arrive at their destination. After the horses were taken care of, the boys were assigned the task of gathering firewood. Although it was only a few minutes past ten, the boys claimed to be hungry. Fortunately, the ladies had sent snacks.
"I wish there was someplace to fish," Adam said.
"You can fish when we get back home," Darrell said.
"Where?" Adam asked.
"Our pond," Darrell said with a big grin.
"We don't have fish in our pond," Adam pointed out.
"Yes, we do," Darrell said. "I had it stocked right after it was built."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want you fishing there until the fish had a chance to grow."
"There's a stocked pond the other side of that grove of trees," Ray said.
"Dad, could we go fishing there?" Jon quickly asked.
"Did you bring fishing gear?"
"I wish we had."
"Then I guess we can't go fishing."
"Well, shit," Wade said with a giggle.
"Watch it, Wade," Carl cautioned.
"Mom isn't here," Wade countered, as the other men had trouble suppressing a laugh.
"But I am ... so knock it off," Carl sternly said.
"Dad, I'm hungry," Jarred said, in an attempt to help his friend.
"So am I," Adam said.
"Yeah, what's for lunch?" Ethan asked.
"The ladies sent a passel of sandwiches," Ray announced.
"What's to drink?" Jon asked, after selecting a sandwich.
"Fill your water bottle, and I'll give you a drink mix," Haden said.
"Where do I fill it?" Jon asked.
"Fill it from that spring over there," Cody said. "Come on, and I'll show you."
After satisfying their hunger, the boys were ready to go for a ride. "Dad, could we go for a ride?" Jon begged.
"Are we riding up Sutton Mountain?" Adam asked. "Jon, it isn't really a mountain, it's just a big hill," he then quickly explained.
"I'm afraid we don't have time today," Ray explained. "But I'll show you something else."
"What, Dad?" Jon asked.
"You'll see. Let's saddle up."
"Where do you think we're going?" Jon questioned, as the group followed Ray's lead.
"I don't know," Adam admitted. "Your dad has a lot of land."
After a relatively short ride, Ray stopped at the site of an old building in need of some attention, especially some paint. "So, we rode here to see this?" Jon questioned.
"I thought you might want to see where your grandpa went to school," Ray said. "In fact, I went to school here too, my first two years."
"Really?" Jon questioned. "It's so small."
"Back then, there were only small schools for country kids," Ray explained.
"I went to a small rural school too," Haden explained. "It closed the year after I finished eighth grade."
"Who owns this now?" Mark asked.
"I do now," Ray explained. "It was part of my grandparent's property, and it went back to them when the school closed."
"It's a shame to see it deteriorate," Paul said.
"I know," Ray agreed. "I'd like to see it put to good use."
"It'd make a great community center, or something like that," Jeff pointed out."
"It sure would," Steve agreed.
"Are there still enough people in the area that would use it?" Darrell questioned.
"There're more people living around here than one would think," Ray said. "I wonder how much it would cost to make it a community center."
"I could supply materials at my cost," Darrell offered.
"I'll match what the community can raise, up to $10,000," Paul said.
"If it had a kitchen, it could also provide meals for senior citizens," Walter added.
"When I went to school here, there was a kitchen, but someone stole most everything," Ray said.
"It would probably all need to be replaced anyway," Steve said. "Jeff, if we all worked on it, how long do you think it would take to remodel it?"
"I'd have to see inside to know," Jeff said.
"Let's go inside and look, then," Ray said.
"Nice wood floors," Jeff said after entering. "We could refinish them."
"Let's look at the kitchen," Ray suggested.
"This looks like it may need a complete remodel," Jeff said. "That could run up the cost. But maybe we could salvage the cabinets ... that could save a lot of money."
"Jeff, is that refrigerator with the big ding in the side still at the store?" Darrell asked.
"Yeah, I was waiting for you to decide what to do with it," Jeff said.
"I could donate it," Darrell said. "As I recall, it's a good sized one."
"You know, Grace complained about her school buying a new commercial grade stove when the old one was still good," Walter said. "I bet we could get it for a reasonable price. They're taking sealed bids on it now."
"We're definitely interested," Ray said.
"I'd like to make a few suggestions," Steve said. "I know it's the lawyer in me coming out. But you should form a board, and Ray you should chair it. You could set fees for use, like when we rented the VFW hall for Christmas."
"That's a good idea," Paul said.
"We ought to get the community involved," Steve added. "You decide when, and I'll draw up some suggested bylaws."
"How about in two weeks?" Ray said.
"Send the details, and I'll have a few flyers printed," Paul offered. "We should also get something in the local paper."
"Where should we meet with the community citizens?" Scott asked.
"How about right here?" Ray suggested.
"That would be good, except it could be cold, and there's no heat," Steve pointed out.
"We have some of those propane construction heaters in our rental department we could bring out," Darrell offered.
"Then it'll be here in two weeks," Ray said.
"Darrell, we have those folding chairs and tables in our rental department," Jeff said. "Should I bring them out?"
"Maybe just one or two tables, but several chairs would be good," Darrell said.
"Well, what do you think?" Ray asked Jeff, after he'd looked the building over.
"The bones are good," Jeff said. "I'm no plumber, so I don't know about that. But there are a lot of cosmetic things that need to be done. And if there's enough money, the windows should be replaced with more energy efficiency ones. The major expense would be the heating and cooling system."
"I can supply all of that at cost," Darrell said.
"Darrell, remember those solar panels that old lady in the Butler community wanted taken off her house, because she thought they were ugly?" Jeff asked.
"Oh yeah, they would sure help keep utility cost down," Darrell said. "We got them for just taking them down."
"The outside could use some paint," Carl pointed out, when the group went to check the outside. "I sold my old truck to a guy on credit, and he still owes some on it. He's had a run of bad luck ... I could probably get him to paint this for what he still owes. His dad was a painter; so, he'll most likely know what he's doing."
"Have him figure out how much he needs, and I'll supply the paint," Darrell offered
"Hey, that sign says 'Reed School'," Jon exclaimed.
"That's because our family donated the land," Ray explained.
"I'm surprised this hasn't been vandalized," Scott said.
"After the stove and some other stuff were taken, the neighbors next door started watching it like a hawk," Ray explained.
"Someone's watching us now," Cody said.
"That's Jim Hollingsworth," Ray said, as he waved.
"What's going on?" Jim asked, after walking over to greet Ray.
"I'm thinking about donating this building for a community center," Ray replied. "What do you think?"
"That would be great," Jim agreed. "We really need one, but how much would it cost to fix it up?"
"We're going figure that out," Ray said. "I'd like for you to meet some people. This is Paul Miller, he's willing to match up to $10,000 what the community can raise, and this is Darrell Harrington. Darrell owns Sparks Lumber, and he's letting us have all the material at his cost. That's Steve Holden over there. He's an attorney, and he'll be working on the legal part of this."
"What can I do to help?" Jim asked.
"Well, we'll be having a meeting here two weeks from today," Ray said. "You could help by getting the word out to the community. We'll have some flyers available in a few days."
"Bring several, and I'll distribute them," Jim offered.
"Dad, I think Haden and I could design a flyer, and all it would cost would be the paper," Tony offered.
"Have at it," Paul said.
"Dad, I'm hungry," Wade said.
"Look at the time," Darrell said. "I guess we should get back to camp and feed these guys."
"I bet Adam has snacks in his saddle bags," Haden pointed out.
"Yep," Adam said, and went to retrieve peanut butter cracker snacks from his saddle bags.
"What's for dinner?" Mark asked, as soon as the riders arrived back at camp.
"Steaks and baked potatoes, and Lois sent a salad," Ray said.
"Won't the baked potatoes take a while?" Scott asked. "You know how these hungry boys are."
"Lois prebaked them," Ray said. "All I have to do is heat them."
"It's nice that we can have an ice chest," Jeff said.
"Yeah, thanks Ray for bringing all of this out here," Darrell said.
"What can we do to help?" Tony asked.
"There're folding tables and chairs in the trailer, if some of you want to set them up," Ray said.
Soon, all were enjoying Ray's delicious steaks. A couple of propane lanterns provided plenty of light. After eating, the young boys enjoyed burning the paper plates and the plastic cutlery. All enjoyed the freeze dried ice cream for dessert.
The boys gathered around the camp fire for warmth as the evening became a little chilly. Shortly, Adam went to his tent and returned wearing his jacket. The others soon followed his lead, including the adults. There was additional discussion about converting the old school building into a community center as a choice of hot chocolate or coffee was served.
"I'm excited about the community center," Ray admitted. "Maybe we should meet midweek to make plans for the community meeting."
"The best thing is to get the community involved," Paul advised.
"Jeff, I'd like you to go out there and get an estimate of the total cost," Darrell said. "You probably should take our plumber out there with you. Since he's also licensed in heat and air, he can give us and estimate of that cost too. It might also be a good idea to take our electrician."
The conversation continued, until Carl noticed Wade yawning. "I'd better get him to bed," he said.
Soon, the entire camp was bedded down and sleeping peacefully.
Haden was surprised when he woke up to find that Darrell already had a nice fire going and a pot of coffee brewing. "You're up early," he said.
"Not really," Darrell said. "This is the normal time I wake up."
"What's for breakfast?" Haden asked.
"Biscuits and sausage gravy," Darrell smiled, knowing it was Haden's favorite breakfast food.
"How are you going to bake biscuits with no oven?"
"We have two Dutch ovens."
"I've never seen biscuits baked that way."
"Watch and learn."
Haden observed his dad fill both Dutch ovens with canned biscuits, before placing them over the camp fire and covering them with hot coals.
"While I make the gravy, watch that the biscuits don't burn," Darrel said. "They should be done in about 10 minutes; so, you probably should wake up the others."
"Breakfast," Haden called out.
"I'm sure you'll have to go wake the younger ones," Darrell said with a laugh.
"That was a good breakfast," Walter said, after enjoying his biscuit and gravy. "It was almost as good as what Grace makes."
"Yeah, almost as good as Grandma's," Ethan agreed.
"Dad, are we going to ride up Sutton Mountain?" Adam asked.
"Not until after I clean up here," Darrell said.
"Have another cup of coffee," Jeff said. "You cooked breakfast. We'll clean up."
"That's our house," Adam pointed out, when they reached the top of the mountain.
"And that's ours," Justin added. "Jarred, that's yours next to ours."
"I can't see ours," Jon said.
"That's our barn," Ray said. "You can't see the house, because of the trees."
"Wow, this is cool," Jon admitted.
"Where's our house?" Wade asked.
"Son, it's too far away to see from here," Carl said.
"Don't feel bad, Wade," I can't see my house from here either," Jeff said.
As a surprise, Paul had purchased MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat) for everyone. The boys were fascinated by the water activated heaters that came with each meal. They all seemed to enjoy the chicken and noodles MREs.
After returning from the ride, the horses were unsaddled and given an ample supply of hay. The younger boys gathered additional firewood.
"Man, we had to go all over to find wood," Ethan said, as he dropped his armload of wood.
"Next time, I'll haul a supply out here," Ray offered.
"What's for dinner," Jarred asked.
"I'm grilling hamburgers," Ray said.
"I like hamburgers," Wade said.
"It looks like we could get some rain," Walter said, as he noticed the cloudy sky.
"There's a 70% chance," Mark said, after checking the weather on his phone.
"While I grill the burgers, why don't some of you guys get that tarp from the trailer and stretch it from the trailer to those trees," Ray suggested. "That way, if it rains, we can eat without getting wet."
"I'm glad you thought to bring that tarp," Scott said.
"I brought it to cover the hay," Ray admitted.
The tables and chairs were moved under the tarp as a precaution. Before the meal was eaten, a light rain was falling. The young boys seemed to enjoy eating under the tarp.
"I'm glad we could store the tack in your trailer out of the rain," Haden said.
"Tack?" Ethan questioned.
"Saddles and stuff," Adam explained.
"I'm sure glad you had this tarp," Walter said, as the rain increased some in intensity.
"How will we cook breakfast, if it's still raining in the morning?" Jon asked.
"Don't worry, we have the propane camp stoves," Ray said. "You won't go hungry."
The young boys enjoyed the stories the older guys told of their younger days.
"Dad, why did that school only have two rooms?" Jon asked.
"We only had two teachers," Ray explained.
"Oh, so that's why you only went there two years?"
"There were eight grades there. Each teacher taught four grades. Your grandpa attended school there eight grades."
The stories ended with the announcement that it was bedtime. The tents were dry, and the sleeping bags provided plenty of warmth. Haden was surprised to wake up and see that it was still raining. Steve and Jeff were cooking breakfast when Haden went for his morning coffee.
"Breakfast smells good," Haden said, after pouring himself a cup of coffee.
"Bacon always smells good," Jeff said.
The aroma of bacon permeated the camp, and soon all were present and accounted for.
"With all of this rain, I think we should leave the tents and sleeping bags until everything dries out," Ray said during breakfast. 'I'll come back later and get the trailer."
"I think you're right," Walter agreed. "The tents would be a mess, if we took them down wet."
"If we leave the trailer here, how will I get my horse home?" Ethan asked with concern.
"Oh, I have two trailers," Ray said with a chuckle. "This is the smaller one."
"Maybe I should look into getting a trailer," Carl said. "How much do you think one the size of your big one would cost?"
"I'd say a used one would run around $10,000," Ray said.
"I couldn't afford anything like that," Carl said.
"I could go in half," Scott offered.
"Why don't you each buy a smaller one," Walter suggested.
"That's what I'd do," Ray agreed. "Do you want one the size of Perry's?"
"I'd like to be able to haul Dad's horse too," Scott said.
"I'll look around, if you like," Ray offered.
"I can too," Jeff added.
By mid-morning, the rain had temporally stopped, but the forecast was for more rain. So, it was decided to end the camp out, and leave the sleeping bags stored in the trailer. Ray would retrieve the tents once they were dry. After the ride home, Ray and Jon rode on to their house to get the trailer to transport the horses.
The Reed Community Center planning committee was scheduled to be at the Chinese buffet since there was a large private dining room. Haden and Tony brought samples of flyers to be approved, and Jeff had an estimate of the projected cost. After eating, the group got down to business. A quick decision was made about the flyers, with compliments to Tony and Haden for doing a good job.
"Jeff, I assume you have an estimate on the project cost," Ray said.
"I do," Jeff said. "I also brought Spencer Brockway to talk about the heat and air as well as the plumbing. Spencer, would you go first?"
"Jeff and I went and checked the building Monday, and were able to come up with some estimates," Spencer began. "There will be some plumbing required ... that's including in the handout we've prepared. There may be more than we estimated, because we need the water turned on to be sure. The big cost is the installation of a heat and air system. We could go two ways on this. The first would go with a standard system. I discovered there's a well on the property, and we could use that for a water source system. That would cost about $2,000 more, but it would lower the cost of heating and cooling about 15% over natural gas, but I saw a propane tank, so it must be on propane. I would say that's at least a 20% savings. And with the solar panels, you'll get an additional savings. I would recommend going with the water source system, if there's enough money."
"Doyle Bishop, our electrician, couldn't be here," Jeff said. "He also went with us to check the electrical part. The electric panel box is too small, and would have to be replaced. And some additional electrical outlets are needed, especially in the kitchen."
"Walter said you were interested in the stove from my school," Grace spoke up. "The school district is taking letter bids; and thus far, there've been no bids. I think if you bid $100, you'll get it. The bidding ends next Wednesday."
"Grace, would you be willing to consult on the kitchen design?" Ray asked.
"Oh my, yes," Grace agreed. "I'd love to do that. I can also help with finding suppliers for dishes, as well as pots and pans."
"I saw a few things out there," Jeff said. "I know there're a couple of large pots. I didn't think to add that to the estimate."
"We can worry about that later," Steve said. "I applied for a tax ID number. Since we'll be starting work soon; I called to get one, and I've already received it. We'll need that number to open a checking account."
"Steve, would you be willing to be the treasurer?" Ray asked.
"Do you know Roger Durham?" Steve asked.
"I do," Ray said. "He does my taxes."
"Roger is a CPA and happens to live in the community," Steve said. "I mentioned the community center to him, and he's willing to serve as treasurer. He's really excited about getting a community center, and pledged $2,000."
"I don't have a lot of skills, but I do know a little about landscaping," Walter said. "I bet some of these young boys would be willing to help with some yard work."
"I would," Adam volunteered. Soon, all of his cousins and friends had volunteered too.
"You know I work with a builder, and I'm more than willing to do my part," Grant offered.
"We figured you would," Jeff said.
After much discussion and planning, Ray said, "I think we've done about as much as we can tonight. We have kids who have school tomorrow."
The day of the community meeting arrived, and Jeff had done a great job getting the building ready. Although it was cold, the propane heaters had warmed the building very well. The portable generator was available, should there be a need of lights, but there was still plenty of natural light. Soon, all of the chairs were occupied with standing room only.
Ray began the meeting with, "Wow! What a great turnout. I want to thank you for coming. I know that you know the reason we're all here, so I'll skip that explanation. The first thing we need to do is form a board."
"Ray, I nominate you as board chairman," Jim Hollingsworth quickly said.
"I'll be happy to serve," Ray said. "Are there other nominations?"
"I think you're it," Steve said, when there were no other nominations.
"I think we should elect a secretary next," Ray said. "We need someone to take minutes, starting now. Are there nominations?"
"I nominate my mom Debbie Miller," Tony said. "She taught high school shorthand when we lived in Nebraska."
"Debbie, I guess you're it," Ray said, when there were no other nominations. "Do you accept?"
"I suppose so," Debby said, as she accepted the steno pad from Ray, while giving Tony an 'I'll get you' look.
"As each board member is elected, I'd like for you to take a seat up front here at the table," Ray said. "We need a treasurer, and Roger Durham has agreed to serve in that position. As many of you may know, Roger is a CPA."
"I make a motion that Roger be elected by acclamation," Liz Hollingsworth, Jim's wife, said.
"Roger, welcome aboard," Ray said. "Thanks for serving. Please take a seat at the table. As you may notice, we have nine chairs at the table. Let me explain that. Steve Miller drew up some suggested bylaws. In case you don't know, Steve is an attorney, and has volunteered as our legal advisor. Steve, would you please stand? Maybe you should bring your chair and sit at the table to keep us all legal here."
"How will all of this be paid for?" Vera Cook asked, after the board members were elected.
"That's a good question," Ray admitted. "Let me introduce Paul Miller. Paul has offered to match every dollar up to $10,000. Thus far, we have $4,000, since Roger has pledged $2,000. Sparks Lumber will be providing material at cost... they've already donated a refrigerator and solar panels. And we'll talk about that shortly, when we reveal the plans."
"What is the estimate for renovation cost," Albert Cookson asked. "It seems to me, it would cost more than $20,000 to get this building up to code."
"We don't have the final estimate yet," Ray explained. "However, we'll keep cost down by volunteer labor. Let me introduce Jeff Sellers; Jeff will be in charge of the renovations."
"A major cost of any construction project is labor," Jeff said. "As Ray explained, the work will be done by volunteer labor."
"When will all of this start?" Jerry Moore asked.
"We have to transfer ownership of the property to the community board of directors," Steve spoke up. "Now that we have a board, I can file the paperwork . . . I'll do that Monday."
"Won't there be operation cost?" Liz Worthington asked.
"There will be cost," Ray admitted. "And we hope to keep that cost down by using the solar panels and the water source heat pump. The building will also be available for private meetings and parties. The fees collected will help bring in funds."
"I'm Martin Guinn," an older gentleman stood to say. "I'm a retired grant write; and if you agree, I'd be happy to write a few grants to obtain funding."
"Why would we not agree to that, Martin?" Ray stated. "I know there are likely government grants available."
"Since we may be receiving government grants, we have to follow the open meeting laws," Steve announced. "We have to post announcements of meetings at least 24 hours before the scheduled meeting."
"So, if we plan to meet Tuesday, we'd have to post the announcement by Monday?" Ray asked.
"That's correct," Steve said. "You have to post it where the public can see it. Once we have a web page, we can post it there. And since there's a lock on the gate, we'll need to post it on the gatepost."
"We'll have a board meeting Tuesday evening at 7:00," Ray announced. "I'll get that posted tomorrow. Everyone is invited to attend. If any of you want to donate to the community building fund, we'll take your check or cash tonight. Checks should be made payable to Reed Community Center. We also have pledge cards, if you prefer to pay later. Remember, no dollar amount is too small."
By the end of the meeting, there was a total of just under $9,000 in cash, checks, and pledges. Many of the youngsters were putting change and dollar bills in the donation jar. The Reed Community Center was on its way to becoming a reality.