Goats and Bugs

by Nick Brady

Chapter 17

Bobby sat down with his father, "Hey Dad. I need to talk with you."

Ely put down the paper he was reading. "What's on your mind, son?"

"You know that George's mother has moved to Kansas City, and he needs to be able to enroll for the ninth grade at school."

"Yes, I know that's a problem," Ely agreed.

Bobby hesitated then said bluntly, "George would like for you to adopt him, but he's afraid to ask."

"Adopt him?" Ely was surprised. "He's not an orphan. What about his mother?"

"He said she has her own life in Kansas, and he feels like his life is here with us. He really loves it here," Bobby explained. "He told me he's always wanted a brother and a father, and he's found that here."

"Oh! He really said that?" Ely was moved.

"Yes, sir. He wants to live with us at least until he finishes high school. I think maybe he wants to be here for good."

"I don't know. I feel like George is part of our family already, but to adopt him? You are my son, Bobby. Do you want me to adopt another?"

"You've always said you wished you had another son," Bobby reminded him.

"Is he like a brother to you?" Ely asked.

"I've always wanted a brother. George is as close as I think I'm going to get."

"I know you love him. He loves you too. I can see that you are very close," Ely said thoughtfully.

Bobby looked down and nodded silently.

Ely sighed. "Even if I were willing to do this, I think his mother would not be. Would she give up her only son?"

"She'll still be his mother. But now he'd have a father and a brother too. She said she'll talk to her husband about it; that he understands things like this better than she does."

"We'll have to see how she feels about this. I have to admit that we need George here. He has helped so much with the new construction, and it would be hard to manage all this without his help. I would have to hire someone to take his place," Ely weighed all this in his mind.

"The money is not important. I can hire another hand," Ely stressed "The thing that's important is what is best for George. He's a fine boy. Any man would be proud to be his father."

"He loves you," Bobby said quietly.

"Yes. I've seen that. Please tell George not to be afraid to speak to me. I won't reject him," Ely smiled. "But you must realize that even if I am willing, I'll be surprised if his mother will grant her permission."

Bobby straightened up. "Do you want to talk to him now?"

"Yes, of course. Please tell him to come in."

Bobby went out to the back steps where George was sitting with his arms wrapped around his knees. "Dad's in the living room."

"What did he say?" George asked nervously.

"Go talk to him," Bobby smiled.

George walked into the living room to find Ely waiting for him. "Bobby said you want to ask me a question. Is that right?"

"Yes, sir. I was talking to my mother about living here and going to school next year. I told her about our problem with enrollment," George stuttered nervously. "I think I know what would solve that, but I don't know what you would think."

"You'll never know until you ask me," Ely said gently.

"I told Bobby, but it's hard to say to you."

Ely leaned forward a little. "Bobby tells me you wish to be part of our family. Is that true?"

George was relieved that Bobby had already explained his request. "Yes, sir. I really would."

"Please tell me how you feel," Ely requested.

George took a deep breath. "I feel like this is my home. Not that I don't love my Mom, but ever since I started coming out here on the weekends with Bobby, it's felt like this is where I belong. Especially now that she's married again and moved away. Ron is a good man, but he's not going to be like my father."

"Do you want me to be your father?" Ely asked very seriously.

"I never knew my real father, so I always wondered what it would be like to have a dad. If I ever do, I hope it's someone like you," George's voice trembled, and his eyes grew wet with tears. "You've been so kind to me. You never criticize me for anything. You only encourage me, and help me learn things."

"Is that what you want?"

"Yes, sir," George's tears began to flow. "I love you, and I want you to be my father."

Ely's eyes moistened. "Yes. I believe you. And I know you love Bobby too."

George's voice failed him, and he simply nodded in agreement.

Ely sat back and sighed. "I have to tell you that I always wished to have another son. When you first came, I was pleased that Bobby had a friend. He's a good boy, and I can see that you're a good boy too. You've never complained about anything. You help Bobby with his chores, and you treat me with great respect. You're a clever boy, George. It would have been difficult to do all the work in the barn without your help. I am grateful to you and have come to respect you very much. If your mother will permit me, I would be very proud for you to live here. If I can be a father for you, that would please me too."

George sat with his hands clasped together as Ely spoke. There was much more to this man than he realized. When Ely said he would be willing to be his father, George could not contain himself and leaped forward to embrace Ely. "Thank you, thank you! I will be a good son for you, I promise."

Ely patted him on the back and swallowed hard. "Now, now. There's no need to cry, George. You knew I'd say yes, didn't you?"

George wiped his eyes on his sleeve and took a deep breath. "I wasn't sure you wanted me. I hoped you'd say yes, but I've never been all that lucky. If this works out, I'll be the luckiest boy in the world."

Ely held George at arm's length and wiped the tears from his face with his rough hands. "Well now, George. Maybe we're all lucky. I'm not a pious man, but I do believe that the Lord gives us what we need. If He wants this to happen, it will. Don't you worry."

They were interrupted by the sound of clapping, and turned to see Bobby standing in the doorway. "Welcome home, brother," he said with a big smile. "I told you he'd say yes!"

George was overwhelmed. He stood, and Bobby took his arm. "Come on, George. The cows will be knocking on the door if we don't get to bed pretty soon." George followed him into the bedroom, and they sat together on the bed.

George took a deep breath then exhaled. "Well, that went well."

"We still have to get your mother to go along with this."

"I don't know how that will go," George shook his head. "I think a lot will depend on Ron."

"Yeah? He convinced your mother to let you stay here instead of going to Kansas City," Bobby reminded him.

"He was pretty cool about that," George agreed.

"She said she'd talk to him. Your staying out here makes a lot of sense. I bet it works out."

George flopped back on the bed. "I hope so. Your dad was sure cool."

Bobby nodded. "He never says anything unless he means it. Dad thinks a lot of you, but he's worried about what your mom will say. He told me the other day that he probably needed to do something if you were going to be here for the summer. He wasn't thinking about adoption, but I guess that's one solution."

"We'd really be brothers, wouldn't we," George grinned.

"Yep. We would," Bobby started undressing. "Now, you can chatter away if you want to, but I need to get some sleep. Move over."

The chores were more involved now that there were so many more cows. Pepper ran down to the pasture while George banged the feed bucket on the door frame. When Pepper brought the cows up, George steered them into a stall where Bobby was waiting and dropped some feed down through the chute. Bobby washed their udders, hooked up the milking machine then took the next cow from George as she came in. Soon there was a line of cows in each stall. Bobby went back to the first in line, detached the milkers, shooed her towards the side door, and George replaced her with another. They rotated the cows through the row of stalls until the last was let out to pasture.

They sat down on the floor of the barn to catch their breath. "That goes pretty fast if we hustle," George laughed.

"I think this is fun," Bobby said. "It doesn't take much more time to do thirty-six with the machines than it did to do six by hand."

"That's right," George agreed. "And the milk is already chilling in the storage tanks. No buckets to carry and it's a lot more sanitary too."

Bobby nodded. "Yep. This works. You ready to gather eggs?"

When they got back up to the house, Ely was scrambling eggs. The smell of fried bacon was heavy in the air. "Toast will be ready in a minute. Sit down and start on your bacon and eggs."

When the toast was put on the table, they quickly spread it with butter and strawberry jam. The worker was worthy of his breakfast. Ely sat down to join them. "How's the new setup working out?" he asked.

"It's working good," Bobby replied. "It goes fast with both of us working together."

"You boys have always been a good team," Ely laughed.

"When can we get some more goats?" Bobby asked. "I'd like to try and make some cheese."

"We need to talk to Mr. Snyder and see what he has," Ely said. "If he has enough fresh does we could start milking them right away. They would cost more though. I'll call him tomorrow and see what we can work out. Are you ready for them?"

"We can get ready pretty soon," Bobby assured him. "That little shed won't be big enough for so many. We'll need to build a bigger goat house."

"Will you need materials?" Ely asked.

"There's still some of that used lumber that Wayne brought out. Let me check and see what's left. We might have to buy some stuff."

"Look it over and make a list of what you think you need. There's still some money on my line of credit," Ely nodded. "We'll get what you need,"

"I've got some plans for a better goat house in the stuff that Mr. Snyder gave me when he brought Bonnie and Clyde," Bobby recalled. "Let me dig that out, and we can do some figuring, Come on, George. It's in the bedroom."

George sat on the bed while Bobby looked through the stack of papers on the card table that served as a desk. "Here it is. Take a look, George. You're better at this stuff than I am."

While they went over the plans, they heard Ely's phone ring and held still trying to hear his side of the conversation. The words were indistinct, but Ely seemed to be doing most of the talking. There were pauses, then he spoke again. The tone was serious but friendly. After several minutes it got quiet.

"I wonder who that was," George asked.

"You reckon it was your mom?"

"Either that or Ron. Should we go in and see what he says?"

"Can't hurt," Bobby said.

They went into the living room where Ely was sitting in his chair with his head leaned back.

"Hi, Dad," Bobby said hesitantly.

Ely raised his head and smiled at them. "That was your stepfather Ron. We had a nice talk."

George was too excited to be subtle. "What did he say?"

"Ron and your mother discussed your request and have come to an agreement," Ely said mysteriously.

"What did they say?" George asked impatiently

"They do not feel that adoption is appropriate," Ely said slowly, "but they would be willing to assign me guardianship for you so we can enroll you in school. It will also let me make decisions about medical care if that's necessary. I will be your guardian, but not your parent."

George looked a little confused. "Does that mean I can stay?"

"Yes. It does," Ely smiled. "But it's not the same as adoption. Guardianship is temporary and can be revoked if your mother wishes to do so. But until she has a reason, you can live here with Bobby and me."

"And you will be my father," George said wistfully. "And you will be my brother," he looked at Bobby with tears in his eyes.

"Welcome home, brother of mine," Bobby grinned.

"How long can I stay?"

"That's up to your mother, but I think Ron has suggested to her that being with us is in your best interests. She does love you, George," Ely reminded him.

George was still not convinced this was real. "What would make her change her mind?"

"I suppose until you get into trouble of some kind, or when your grades suffer in school, or when you decide that you no longer want to be here."

"Or when you get tired of me," George whispered.

"Why would you say that?" Ely asked. "Do you think that will happen?"

"I hope not. I promise I'll be good and make good grades. I'll do anything if you'll let me stay here."

Ely shook his head. "You don't have to make any promises. Just keep on like you've been doing since you first came. You have to trust us and trust yourself. You're a good boy, George. I wish you had more confidence in yourself."

"His mother put him down a lot," Bobby explained.

"Yes, Bobby has told me about that. I think your mother was not happy. Maybe she was harsh with you because of that. Sometimes that happens. She's not a bad person, George. I imagine she was doing the best she knew how. She seems to be very happy now. That makes a difference."

George shook his head. "I'm afraid this won't last."

"I'd like to suggest something," Ely said quietly. "I think you should write your mother an old-fashioned letter. Phone calls and emails are very convenient, but a written letter can be held in her hand, carried around and read again and again. Tell her that you love her and are grateful for all she has done for you. Tell her you appreciate her letting you stay here where you have found so much happiness. When you have news that might interest her, write her another letter and tell her about those things. When you do well in school, write and tell her your grades. That way she will be reminded that she did the right thing by letting you live with us."

George nodded and managed a smile. "That's a good idea. I can do that."

"Another thing, George. You and Bobby are fourteen now. The time will pass quickly and before you know it, you will be eighteen and legally an adult. At that time you will be able to make your own decisions and can live wherever you wish.

George closed his eyes. "I'd wish I could live here forever."

"Forever is a long time," Ely chuckled. "But you'll be welcome for as long as you like."

Bobby said, "I won't ever leave here. I'm sure of that."

Ely smiled at Bobby. "You're probably right."

Bobby looked puzzled. "This is what you wanted, George. Why aren't you happier?"

George took a breath and let it out. "I am happy. But I'm afraid I'll wake up, and this won't be true, or Mom will change her mind."

"I want to tell you something," Ely leaned back in his chair. "When I was a boy I grew up on this farm with my mother and father, and my sister. I was very happy and thought it would last forever. But when my sister was old enough she left, and never came back. I stayed and after a few years married a girl that I loved very much. Ruth was bright, sweet, and had beautiful red hair." Ely paused and smiled at Bobby.

"I wanted to have a houseful of children. When Bobby was born I knew that all my dreams would come true. Then my father's health began to fail and soon he was gone. My mother lived with us for a time but grieved her husband, and she died not long after. I was very sad to lose my parents, but I had my lovely Ruth and our little Bobby. I was happy. It was enough for me."

Ely paused and drew in his breath. "We wanted more children. Ruth would conceive, then lose her baby many times. Finally, it looked like we were to be blessed with another child, but things went terribly wrong. I lost my wife and my baby. I can tell you it was very difficult. But I still had my Bobby. He was a fine boy, and did many things that a boy of seven might not be expected to do. I was grateful for him, and I willed myself to be happy. As time went by, we made the best of things, although it was hard on such a little farm. If I have any regret, it's that I've not often told Bobby how much I appreciate him, and how much I love him."

Bobby looked at his father with affection. "I always knew that, Dad."

"I hope so," Ely sighed. "Then you came to be with us, George. Now Bobby has a true friend, and we have a willing hand to make things easier. I began to think we could do more with the farm. Probably I was foolish to make such plans when you might decide to leave us at any time, but something told me that you might stay with us. When I saw your character and ability, I began to pray that you would stay. You're more than welcome, George. You're the answer to a prayer."

George was unable to speak. He sat with his mouth open for a moment then knelt in front of Ely, buried his face in his lap and cried tears of joy. Ely stroked his back and shed a few tears of his own. Bobby moved beside them and held them both. It was a moment of Epiphany for them all.

Finally, Ely shushed the tears, "Now, now. I think I said more than I intended, but everything I said was true. I love you both and thank God for you."

Ely put his hands on George's shoulders and leaned closer to him. "Do not be afraid, George. Things will work out for the best. If I have learned anything, it is that nothing is permanent. We can make plans, but things may happen that we don't expect. When that happens, we have to change our plan and make the best of things. If we work hard and always try to do the next right thing, we will find that we can be happy. I believe that."

"I'm very happy right now. Thank you very much," George sniffed.

"All this talking has made me very tired, and I think I should go to bed now," Ely sighed. "Remember that you have chores in the morning."

At this, both George and Bobby laughed. "Some things never change," Bobby said.

George stood and wiped his face. "Goodnight Dad. I love you."

"And I love you both. I should say that more often. Goodnight."

George and Bobby had little to say after they went in and slipped into bed. Everything had already been said. They held each other close and slept very soundly.

While George and Bobby did the morning chores, Ely drove into Magnolia to do some chores of his own. He returned just before noon and shouted down for the boys to join him in the house. When they came in, they found bags of groceries on the kitchen table. Ely was in the living room.

"Hi, Dad. What's up?" Bobby asked.

Ely held up an envelope. "I have something here that may interest you."

"What is it?" George asked anxiously.

"I met with your mother's attorney in town," Ely said. "These are the papers granting me guardianship for you. I can act on behalf of your mother in all matters regarding your welfare. That's what it says."

George grinned and shoved his fists into the air. "Yes! I'm legal!" Bobby pounded him on the back.

Ely smiled at them both. "Yes, for now, you are a legal resident of this farm and a member of our family. George, I think you should write that letter."

George leaped to his feet. "Yes, sir. I'll do that right now." Bobby followed him into the bedroom and waited patiently while he wrote a letter of gratitude to his mother. He crossed out and added things, then recopied it in his best handwriting. After he read it over one last time, he handed it to Bobby. "What do you think?"

Bobby took the letter and read it carefully. "This is a nice letter," he said.

"Your father is a very smart man," George said as he took the letter and placed it in an envelope.

"Yes, he is," Bobby agreed. "He's quiet and never brags about anything, so most folks don't realize how sharp he is. Now he's your father too."

George smiled and shrugged. "Not really. I wish he was."

"You don't need a piece of paper to call him Dad."

"It seems strange to call him Dad."

"It'll feel natural pretty soon." Bobby smiled.

George nodded his head. "I don't have Mom's mailing address. Do you suppose Ely has it?"

"It was on that paper he got from the lawyer guy. Ask him."

Back in the living room, George asked Ely. "I wrote the letter. Do you have my mother's mailing address?"

"Yes. Here it is," Ely handed the document to George. "There, at the top."

"Thanks, Dad," George said, pleased by the sound of the word.

"You're welcome, son. I have a stamp if you need one."

"Would you like to see the letter I wrote my Mom?"

"No, George. That's between you and your mother. I won't pry."

George wrote the address on the envelope and handed it back to Ely. "I'd appreciate it if you could mail this for me when you're in town."

"I could do that, but if you put it in the mailbox at the road to the farm and raise the little flag, the carrier will pick it up."

"Oh. OK." George could not recall the last time he had written a real letter.

"Now that we have this thing settled, we need to go and get you boys enrolled in the ninth grade," Ely reminded them. "I reckon we can do that tomorrow."

George turned, and Bobby followed him through the pines to the entrance for the farm. As they walked along, George took Bobby's hand. Bobby did not push it away. George placed the letter in the box and raised the flag. "Is this safe?" he asked.

"I reckon. We get mail almost every day. Most of it is junk, but nobody ever messes with it. Dad usually walks down to get it."

"Dad. I like the sound of that." George sighed. "I just wish he was really my father." They turned and started back to the house.

"I was talking to Dad the other day. He said you don't get to pick your birth family, but sometimes you get to pick the family you're really part of." Bobby took George's hand. "He's your father, George. Even if you have to leave, he'll still be your father. He agreed to that, and Dad never goes back on his word."

They walked the rest of the way in silence.

When they got to the house they went in the bedroom and worked on the plans to the goat house. George made up a list of materials. Bobby checked off what they had or could scrounge, and made a shorter list of things they would have to buy. Bobby gave the list to Ely, and he agreed to pick it up when they went into town to enroll the boys in school.

There was one thing that George wanted very much. "We need access to the internet," he told Bobby.

"That would be handy, but I don't know if we can get it out here," Bobby said.

"There are some satellite services, I think. Anything you want to know, Google will find it for you, and there's a YouTube video for everything. It's like having all the information in the world right in front of you."

"I know. I used the computers at school for a lot of things, but now that school is out, we're shut off from a lot," Bobby agreed. "Maybe we can talk Dad into getting us online."

"We could be a lot smarter if we had access to the internet," George said. "Ask your Dad."

"He's our Dad, remember? Let's both ask him.

"You ask him first, and I'll back you up, OK?"

"Whatever," Bobby laughed. "Are you still scared of him?"

"No. But I don't want to be asking for stuff."

Ely was in the barn fiddling with the ancient tractor. "Hello. Here they are. What can I do for you?"

Bobby squatted down next to his father. "Me and George think we need access to the internet out here. There is a lot of stuff we need to look up."

Ely turned and sat down on the ground to look at the boys. "Yes, I know. I've been thinking about that. Both of you have come from school to tell me about something you have looked up with the computers. I think we should have that. I don't know how to do it. Can you tell me what we need and what it will cost?"

"George is better at that. Can we get back to you?" Bobby asked.

"Yes. If it is not too expensive, I think we should get something like that. Now, if you will excuse me, I want to change the part on this old girl."

"OK, thanks, Dad," Bobby said.

"Thanks, Dad," George echoed.

They skipped back to the house in good spirits. "He was way ahead of us," George laughed.

"Maybe Dad isn't as dumb as he looks," Bobby grinned.

"Not at all," George agreed. "I can use the school computer to find a provider and get us signed up when we go in to enroll tomorrow. We'll need a credit card though."

"Dad has one."

The next day Ely took Bobby and George to school to enroll for the next year. With the right paperwork, the enrollment went quickly. Bobby and George were able to get into three classes together, English, Math, and Science as well as the same lunch hour. This was good news. That done, they went to the school library and found a computer. George sat down and began to rattle the keys.

"OK," George said as he inspected the results of his search. There are really only two that we can use. Skynet is kind of expensive. It doesn't look like it has an internet only service. Everything is bundled with TV and a phone. Let's see, OK. Quicklink has an internet only option. It's limited and maybe a little slow, but it's only $39.95 a month. That's still a lot, but there isn't anything else, I'm afraid."

"Do we need TV service?" Ely asked.

"It would be nice, I guess," Bobby said. "But we don't have time to watch TV. I don't think it would be worth the money." George nodded in agreement.

"With you two clever boys, I expect it will pay for itself," Ely said. "Here is my credit card. Sign us up."

George and Bobby looked at each other and grinned. "Yes, sir. Coming up," George said. In no time they were signed up and scheduled for the installation of a rooftop dish.

On the way home, Ely took them to the Corner Café to celebrate George's new status as an official member of the family.

It was a very productive trip into town.

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