Authors note: I am sorry to say that my friend and editor passed away on the 23rd of this month.
He taught me a lot about writing and encouraged me to persevere when I was considering packing it in.
Darrell was a wealth of knowledge on many subjects. Military history and Genealogy were two of my favorites and we enjoyed chatting about both.
Darrell served in the U.S. Navy. He was very proud of his service and rightly so.
He was truly a wonderful man and I'll miss him terribly. I can imagine him now, knocking back a pint with Juju somewhere near Barnard's star.
Monday morning we said goodbye to Cammie and Dennis, they had a plan for a romantic side trip and would join us in Folkstone. The rest of us bid farewell to Claridge's, loaded our gang in the Citroen SUV and struck out for Kent. It was early enough that getting to the outskirts was easily accomplished although traffic in the other direction seemed to be building rapidly. We took a few side trips and happened upon a village market square on the perfect day. I secured a bag of aubergine because I knew Burma loved the stuff. All the vegetables were wonderful and we purchased a basket to carry them with us. I added a few bottles of wine and some spring grapes to enhance the presentation.
In another village we hit a few curio shops. The boys showed their best manners and one woman told us we were the nicest Americans she'd ever met.
"What did she mean by that Dad?" Kelly inquired.
"I'm afraid some of our countrymen don't behave very well away from home. They do a lot of complaining and not much buying," I explained.
"Why do they come here if they're just going to complain?" Kelly grumped.
"I really can't answer that. I think they'd be happier in Kenosha," I chuckled.
That got Kelly smiling.
Brandon found a couple of boys to chat with once he had his fill of shops.
"You don't act like a posh American, least none of the ones I've seen," said one boy.
"We're not all the same, I'm basically a farm boy, I like living out in the boonies and I don't go to big cities when I can avoid it. London was pretty cool though. We rode the eye and had a great time," Brandon shared.
"We both live on working farms, my dad has me in charge of the sheep and Noel here minds pigs. Most of the American guys we've met act like we're stupid because we work with animals. Like it's dirty or something. Pigs like being clean, they like mud too but that's how they clean their coats, and they're smart too," Ervin put in.
"I know the type, I wonder where they think their food comes from? Maybe they think their Big Macs grow on trees," Brandon giggled and the other two joined him.
I smiled to myself, Brandon was at ease amongst the local boys and he treated them as equals just as they were.
The boys traded emails and Brandon joined me by the truck.
"Nice lads it seems," I commented.
"Yeah, it was good talking to guys my own age that weren't um, what do they call them here?" Brandon queried.
"That's it, Yobs. They were nice guys," he grinned.
We didn't have far to go and reached Penngrove again at nine almost on the dot.
We were given a lively greeting and Carter presented the basket of fresh veg and wine which was nearly too much for him. He managed though, then their mob joined our mob and made their own introductions.
I interrupted them long enough to make some formal introductions.
"Boys, this is Lady Clara and Sir Gregory, they have been good friends for a very long time," I proclaimed.
Just call me Clara or Aunt Clara if you must, and the same with Greg, except he'll be Uncle Greg not Aunt Greg," Clara chuckled letting her silly side show just a bit.
Carter and Newton grinned at each other and Newt asked if he could show Carter the boats. Clara agreed but warned him not to get his fresh clothes dirty.
I knew somehow, the warning would not be interpreted as no playing in the mud.
"If you'll show me where the kitchen is I'll carry this in for you," Brandon offered while hoisting the basket on his shoulder.
"Oh you don't need to …um sure follow me," Hamish acquiesced.
"Impressive," Clara smiled.
"Between him and his brothers, I don't do much housework I'm ashamed to say. Brandon is an excellent cook and he'd like to attend a cooking school," Ally smiled.
"Such a handsome boy too, he'll break hearts by the dozens," Clara rejoined.
"He reminds me of a farm boy I lusted after when I was that age. Never even looked at me twice," Ally sighed cheerfully.
Burma and I took a walk and let the ladies to chat and the boys get to know each other.
"Well old man, I guess the next time we see each other we'll have another little one. Ally is preparing the next McKenna as we speak, that's why the back to back trips. She won't be able to travel later and that will last a year or more. I'm not a fan of traveling with babies. Three or four is the minimum age for travel as far as I'm concerned. I suppose it depends on the child," I rambled.
"Boy or girl?"
"We don't know, I'd be happy with either but statistically it will probably be a boy. With biology and all that nonsense," I replied.
Well congratulations Rob, you're a great father and uncle. I'm sure whatever gender arrives you'll give them all the love they need.
"Thanks Greg, You're the first person I've told. I'll let Louis in on it when we get to Paris."
"I was just talking with Louis last week, our agencies are conducting a joint operation. I won't bore you with details but it could be a nice way to say goodbye to the agency,"
"No need, and I won't speculate. But given your back ground and Louis, I know it will be noteworthy," I acknowledged.
"Is your offer of hospitality still open, we were considering a trip to the west coast so the boys can see the sights before they're too old to appreciate them," Greg inquired.
"Absolutely, You're always welcome in our home and I can arrange a beachfront room in Ventura or Laguna if you and Clara want a bit of a break from the boys. Laguna has a lot of galleries if you're looking for art. Let me know and we'll hammer it out then," I suggested.
"I'm sure Clara would love that. I'll take it up with her and then we can do some planning.
We ambled down to the small lake and true to form the boys clothes were immaculately clean where they sat folded in the grass. Carter and Newt were black with rich mud from the waist down.
"Having fun Lads?" Greg inquired cheerfully.
"Hi Daddy, we were just chasing tadpoles," Newt chirped.
"It's a lot of fun Dad, you should get naked and join us," Carter encouraged.
"Another time son, let's get you two cleaned off and dressed so we can go up and unpack," I nudged.
"Oh yeah, our stuff is still in the car," Carter agreed.
There was a garden hose next to a shed near the lake. Burma collected their clothes while I hosed down the lower halves of our respective boys. There were towels in the shed along with lounge chairs and the like. Soon our lads were properly clothed and suspiciously clean when Clara caught sight of them. "Well there's a modern miracle, not a smudge on them," she observed.
Brandon and Hamish had already emptied the car and walked to the stables.
"Newt, you and Carter are staying in your room. Michael has Kelly and Wade with him and Brandon will be with Hamish," Clara informed him.
"Newt was overjoyed with sharing with Carter but voiced a small complaint.
"Can't we use our regular names?" Newt protested.
"You should take that up with the other boys," Clara admonished.
"I don't have a nickname yet, " Carter sighed.
"Maybe we can come up with one while you're here," Chirped Newt. "Mine's Redcloud."
"Cool," cooed Carter.
My brother's are Badgerbear or just Badger for Hamish and Michael is called Yewman because he's so good with the longbow," Newt explained.
"That's wild, at school they call Brandon Bash because of the way he kicks the ball, but sometimes Ploughboy because he talks about farming so much. Kelly is called Deadeye because he can hit a glove from anywhere on the diamond. That's baseball talk, I know they don't have it here," Carter explained.
"What about Wade?" Newt inquired.
"Bareback, he rides horses naked. I mean him not the horse. He puts a pad on the horse cos his doctor said it was bad for his junk to sit directly on a horses backbone," Carter giggled. "It's not good for the horse either."
I don't like clothes when I'm at home, if we have guests I have to wear something but we run around bare when it's just us. Mom and Dad do likewise sometimes," Newt grinned.
"Naked is the way to go," Carter agreed.
Michael had led Kelly and Wade to the archery range to show off a bit and see if either of the visitors were any good.
Wade and Kelly were impressed by Michael's accuracy with the recurved bow but when he pulled out the longbow Kelly asked to try it out.
"Sure, it's a new string so mind your hands, would you like a release or do you want to try without?" Michael asked.
"I'll try without, I guess we'll see if I can even bend it," Kelly replied.
Kelly tried flexing the bow and found that he could pull it back to his cheek. It wasn't a full size bow so it had a bit less force than a true longbow.
"Kelly has some guns doesn't he?" Wade commented.
"Very true, I'm impressed," Michael agreed.
Kelly nocked an arrow, took aim and released.
"Bloody hell, your first arrow and you've had a bull's eye," Michael gasped.
"Where did the arrow go, I thought I missed," Kelly puzzled.
"It went through the target and the bales. You can see the hole though, right there in the red!" Michael grinned. "I guess we'll have to call you William Tell."
"It was just one shot, may I try again?" Kelly asked.
"Sure," Michael nodded. "Here's a basket of arrows, do you shoot at home?"
"We have an archery class at school, we don't have a team though. And with baseball I don't have time for another team sport. Wade and Carter are great on a soccer field but I only play for fun. We should try to get a game going while we're here," Kelly suggested.
"I'm sure we will, we can ride over to a pitch and join in," Michael agreed.
Kelly's first shot was not a fluke, he was easily a match for Michael. Wade opted not to try, his experience with archery was scant and he didn't enjoy it. When Kelly was done Michael took over and performed his three arrow trick in which all three struck the bull in the same moment.
"Would you like to see the stables?" Michael asked.
Once there they pitched in with Hamish and Brandon to shovel the stalls and lay new straw. The horses were examined and then fed.
"We took them all for a good long ride yesterday and we can all go out tomorrow and have a tour," Hamish suggested.
"We could ride to the pitch if you would like to get in some football um…soccer to you," Michael added.
"Sounds good to me, the Parents might like a morning without us all under foot," Hamish agreed.
A general agreement was reached and they trooped back to the house.
"Good heaven's!" Clara exclaimed. "I thought you were just going to look at the horses."
"We were Ma'am but we all do stable work at home so we just pitched in. It went really fast with the five of us," Brandon explained.
"Very well then, but I think you could all do with a shower and fresh clothes," Clara smiled sweetly.
"Is that standard behavior for your boys?" Clara pressed Ally.
"Pretty much, Wade's family owns a riding stable and boards horses. Our boys keep their horses there and pitch in with chores. Brandon and Kelly thrive on it and Wade loves the company. He's been attached to Rob since he was five or so. Carter raises chickens and he also does stable work. He has a dappled mustang that he can do just about anything with. He's even got her so she can be ridden by others. The Stable hands in Hyde Park were amazed that he could sit a full size horse. He isn't fond of the English saddle or helmets. I'll tell you about Rob and Brandon's rescue adventure a bit later," Ally promised. The ladies went back to preparing afternoon tea while the cook prepared dinner for later.
Upstairs was pandemonium. The boys showered and dressed together. They played on the computer a bit and traded photos via Bluetooth of horses and schoolmates in addition to other interests.
"No wonder you can handle my bow, your arms are just as big as mine. I've the biggest biceps and forearms of any boy in our form and yours are equal to mine. I'd love to get Sandy and his brother over here for a match. They'd go home crying!" Michael exalted. Do you have more of those long sleeved shirts?"
"Carhartts? Yeah, it's all I wear away from school, why?"
"So they can't see your muscles," Michael schemed.
"Do you guys bet on the matches?" Kelly asked.
"No, at least not money. It's not considered proper. Physical forfeits can be bet on if you wish. I'd like to have Sandy strip and paint himself up in Arsenal colors and run through the village. It would be grand," Michael crowed.
"I could challenge them to shoot from a moving horse. Dad taught me about the Mongols and their short recurved bow. We set up a course and I started to hit my targets, now I'm pretty good. I put on a demo at school and people loved it. They already call me Deadeye anyway so that really cemented it," Kelly regaled.
"I doubt they could manage a bow and a horse at the same time, I'm not terribly impressed with their horsemanship in any case," Michael chuckled. "But I'd like to see a demonstration. You could use Newt's old recurve or a modern compound type. We could set up targets on the upper field. It's nice smooth ground and it's been recently mowed," Michael informed him.
"Sure, maybe you can help me with the three arrow trick too," Kelly agreed.
"I'll have a word with our Dads and see if they'll sanction it. My Dad is very keen on Archery so I don't expect any resistance," Michael grinned.
"So tell me about Cricket, do you play? What's it like and what are the rules. I play baseball, I pitch and play short stop. I've watched cricket with Dad but I've never seen it done or thrown a ball. Are they really wood?"
"Oh where to start, Dad umpires for us occasionally and he was a major bowler and batsman at school. I play but I don't know all the rules. I can give you a short explanation but for detail you'll want to ask Daddy," Michael explained and blushed at his use of the word Daddy.
"What's wrong?" Kelly asked.'
"Nothing, I usually only call him Daddy in private. I'm too old to use that term now," Michael grimaced.
"Says who? Just tell them to blow you if they give you any crap. I still kiss Dad goodbye when he drops me at school, so does Brandon and Wade. Carter does too but he's the youngest. I use Dad and Daddy interchangeably and I don't care if anyone hears me. I love my dad. He saved my life in more ways than one. Anybody who disagrees can suck my butthole," Kelly proclaimed.
Michael giggled and Wade joined him.
"They call Kelly "Deadeye" at school because he can put a baseball anywhere he wants it. He's a math freak and he learned differential calculus just to throw a curveball. That's part of why his arms are so big," Wade put in.
"It's all mathematics, the pitching distance is forty-six feet and the baselines are sixty. The pitching took some time to reduce to mathematic formulas but combined with actual practice I was able to measure the rate of change and compensate so that my throws were accurate and difficult to predict. I'd be happy to show you if you had a baseball," Kelly explained.
He saw that Michael was grinning.
"What?" Kelly demanded.
"Just a few minutes ago you were saying that people could suck your bumhole and then you come up with a dissertation on rates of change as relates to baseball. You are truly a man of complex thought Kelly," Michael expounded.
"Oh, yeah sorry. I'm an uncultured American and I have a problem with people who give others crap for showing affection for their parents," Kelly smiled.
"No, I think it's quite admirable. I won't be so reluctant to hug Daddy goodbye at school in future," Michael resolved.
"Dad has adult sons that still give him a hug and a kiss whenever they meet or part. I think it's cool that they do that and I'll never stop," Kelly smiled.
Later, Wade emerged from the bathroom nude with evidence of friction on his penis. "What's up guys?"
"We were just talking, are you more relaxed now?" Kelly asked.
"Yeah, rubbing one out was just the stress relief I needed," Wade replied unapologetically. "Don't worry, I flushed the evidence down the drain."
They all laughed and began to dress. Michael and Kelly had plumped a bit from Wade's admission but Wade took no notice.
"Daddy, could we set up some targets on the upper field? Kelly has offered to give a demonstration on shooting arrows from the saddle like the Mongolians," Michael requested.
"I don't see why not as long as Rob agrees, that's something I'd like to see myself," Burma answered.
"I have no objections, I'm the one who taught him how to do it so it seems fair that he should show off his talents," I agreed.
"Michael is going to show me how he does the three arrow trick so they all hit the target at the same time," Kelly bubbled.
"I also want to see if Wade and Kelly's baseball talents are transferrable to cricket. Kelly's a pitcher and he's really good according to Wade and Wade is a pitcher too. I think they could learn to bowl but the batting might fox them a bit," Michael grinned.
"You can try that out tomorrow, it might take an extra day to get the targets sorted," Burma agreed. I understand you all want to ride to the pitch for some football?"
"It's something we all do and the rules are the same everywhere Daddy," Michael insisted.
Kelly showed a cute smile that I would ask about later.
After a sumptuous dinner of Venison and fresh vegetables. A very tasty apple crumble was served for dessert and the boys were released to pursue whatever it pleased them to do.
Burma and I cleared the dishes and loaded the dishwasher. Burma drew the line at having a cook. She was a very nice woman that by Clara's own admission could cook circles around her. They had two groundskeepers and a few stable hands. But household servants were not to Burma and Clara's taste.
Our evening was spent playing cards and chatting, with a bit of wine. Burma and I looked in on the boys and they were all dead to the world. Only one bed was in use in any of the rooms.
The sunrise was gorgeous, birdsong filled the air. The distant bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle reminded me what I loved about this area.
Brandon, Hamish, Michael and Kelly were walking towards the stables. I presumed it was to feed and check the horses. I wasn't sure why Wade wasn't with them but presumed he was still asleep. I dressed and went downstairs leaving Ally to sleep. She had never had Port before and it affected her greatly. I had a private chuckle and stepped out on the small patio and just watched the day get started. I watched the stable hands descending from the loft where they had their quarters and shared kitchen. Our boys and the hands met outside the horse barn and I could tell that introductions were being made. Deer nibbled the lawn and shrubs not far from the house. Not scrawny whitetails like we have at home but robust looking red deer. It was a beautiful scene and the boys seemed to enjoy the bucolic splendor. Burma joined me with a tea tray and a few croissants.
"These croissants are Clara's doing. I hope you like them. She makes her own dough with real French butter. It makes all the difference," Burma explained.
I could feel my arteries clogging with the first bite. They were truly exquisite examples.
A bit later Hamish had scrounged up a baseball, bat and a couple of gloves. When I asked, I was told that baseball was rising in popularity since it was simpler than cricket and it was easier to get people together to play.
Burma and I ambled down to a level spot to watch.
They all wanted to see Kelly and Wade pitch. While Wade was less sophisticated as a pitcher, he could throw pretty hard and accurate. Kelly was trying to teach him a slider but it was a work in progress. Wade simply varied the velocity of his pitches to outwit the batters. He was even being allowed to start a game here and there.
Hamish warmed up with Kelly pitching. Kelly wound up and fired and Hamish yelped. "Shouldn't you warm up before you throw hard?" He asked.
Wade chuckled, "He is warming up, you should get something to pad that glove, you'll need it when he starts throwing hard. That's why they have a special glove for catchers."
A cardboard box was found and a pad fashioned. Kelly continued to warm up, throwing a bit harder each time.
"We have baseball at school just for fun and it's getting more and more popular. Most of the time we play cricket and I'm a pretty decent bowler if I say so myself. My hand feels like I've been catching cricket balls right off the stick," Hamish winced.
"You need to use the pocket of the glove and save your palm the pain. Wade and I will throw a few back and forth so you can see how we do it," Kelly promised.
Kelly and Wade demonstrated the use of the fielder's gloves and then Kelly pitched a few balls to wade. Wade stood in front of an impenetrable hedge and swung at eight out of ten balls and connecting with only two.
Kelly did somewhat better with seven out of ten hit and two of them were long flat fliers. The boys discussed the finer points of the game and the nuances of strategy.
"Let's go in for breakfast boys, then you can round up some other lads for a match at the football pitch," Burma called.
Breakfast was buffet style and we all served ourselves although the boys served coffee to all.
"Well gentlemen, what do you think of our little home?" Burma smiled.
"It's beautiful, I'd love to have a farm here. It reminds me of Oregon. Everything's so green. It's green at home right now but it's not so lush," Brandon explained.
"I think we all like it here, but it's not home. I hope you can come visit and see what our part of the world looks like," Kelly smiled.
"I think it's safe to say we'll be doing that soon," Burma agreed.
Carter and Newt were deep in some private conversation and didn't seem to take any notice of the others in the room.
"Carter, Burma is asking what you boys think of England, could you contribute a thought or two?" I requested.
"Oh sorry, we were talking about soccer um…football. I like it here, but it's different. Everybody we've met seems to be nice. I can see why you like it. But I like our home better. I don't mean to be rude it's just…my home is very different. It's green and pretty here but we don't get the same amount of rain. Big lawns are cool here but people in California want them and they use a lot of water. It doesn't make much sense to me," Carter answered.
"It's true that I would miss having a green lawn, but our rainfall is adequate so that we don't need to irrigate the lawns very often even in summer. We tend to let the grass follow the seasons. It is very different from your home and I respect your opinion," Burma smiled.
This time the boys banded together to bus the table and load the dishwasher. Clara directed them to leave the servers in place and she would put the food away herself.
Burma and I rode to the football pitch and found several boys kicking balls back and forth. Hamish and Michael made introductions and with the addition of a few more boys they divided into equal teams.
Newt and Carter were selected as forward or strikers while Hamish took the position of goalie. Brandon played back with Michael while Wade and Kelly played half. Carter and Newt passed the ball back and forth or even back to the half positions, then they would get themselves clear and Wade or Kelly would feed Brandon who would kick the ball right to Carter or Newt. The other team had discounted the smaller boys because of their age but pretty soon the score was very lopsided and they decided to call it a game. Most of the opponents took the loss with good cheer but a few were unhappy to be trounced by foreigners. The boys rode back to the stables while Burma gave me a tour of the local area. We stopped in a narrow lane where a man was struggling with a tractor that wouldn't stay running.
I slid off my mount and Burma introduced me to Dave Holder.
"Rob is visiting from the states and he's pretty sharp with engines," Burma hinted.
"You're welcome to have a look, I've my tools right here if you need any," Dave brightened.
"It sounded like it was running out of fuel, is there plenty in the tank," I asked.
"Aye, she's got better than half in her now," Dave assured me.
"Let's check out the lift pump and see what it's doing."
The pump checked fine so the next item was the fuel filter. Dave had a canvas strap filter wrench and I pulled off the cannister and cartridge. I put a rag over the filler to the tank and poured the contents of the cannister back in the tank. When it was empty a sheet of plastic wrapper from the new filter lay in the rag.
"I've only just had that changed, do you think that plastic got into the injector pump?" Dave asked.
"I doubt it, there's usually a debris screen on the out flow just in case a filter starts falling apart. Perkins makes a good engine. Let's put it back together and prime it, then we'll see if it runs," I suggested.
Once it was primed I closed the last line and it fired up without complaint. We revved the engine and I was satisfied he'd be able to complete his work.
"It's fantastic, what do I owe you?" Dave glowed.
"A pint at the local will suffice, if not now then next visit," I told him.
"You've a deal there lad, I'll look for you there," Dave grinned wide and clapped me on the back.
I cleaned my hands with a shop rag and we mounted up to continue the tour.
When we returned the boys were still on a high from their devastating rout of the other team.
We sat down to a quick lunch and went about organizing Kelly's archery demonstration. The upper field had been recently mowed and was solid and turf covered. We set up bales of straw to support the targets and Michael and Hamish hung targets on each bale.
Kelly had been busy getting in tune with the pony and rode with a saddle pad with the stirrups shortened in the style of Genghis' warriors. All the targets had been arranged so that Kelly would only be firing away from those of us in the audience.
"I have to see this," Clara enthused.
In addition to our two families, most of the stable and other farmhands were there to observe. It didn't seem to bother Kelly at all and when he was given the signal he launched into a gallop and circled all the targets. On his next pass he began loosing arrow after arrow, They all found their mark, he continued until he had gone through forty arrows. He pulled to a stop in front of us and dismounted with a flip. He received thunderous applause from the assembled onlookers and he blushed slightly.
"How do you make those shots while shooting from under the pony's neck," Michael inquired excitedly.
"It took a lot of practice. Just like the shots from standing in the stirrups. The main thing is having a good relationship with your mount, if the horse shies while you're trying to shoot you'll miss and maybe fall. You have to be in tune with your mount. Practice that first and the marksmanship will come. Dad worked with me for quite a while before I started hitting the targets on the run," Kelly explained with a grin.
We went about re-stacking the bales and removing the targets. Hamish had videoed the entire performance and promised to send me the file.
Our time was growing short so we let the boys have a free day to just do whatever they wanted short of bloodshed. They swam and rode horses, did more archery and Carter and Newt returned to the lake to canoe and get thoroughly muddy. Carter told me they hosed each other off and dressed again before they came back for dinner. That evening we went to a local tavern to eat, kids were welcome as long as they stayed out of the bar. We met plenty of lovely people and there were enough kids there that they were able to scrounge up a ball and kick it around. Hamish and Brandon spoke with other teens on the benches outside after dinner while we chatted inside.
One boy asked Carter why the Americans didn't do better in world cup matches.
"Because they play for the wrong reasons, they're all about the money not the game. If that ever changes look out FIFA," Carter told him.
"Too right!" the other boy said.
The next day we were packed and ready to go around nine. The boys exchanged hugs and piled in to the car.
I had exacted a promise from Gregg and Clara to come for a visit and they had already decided that it would be done as soon as the boys terms were complete. My wheels were already turning with plans to make it a memorable trip. I considered a beach holiday in a lovely hotel in Laguna after the trip to Disneyland. The Sands was a really nice place to relax and listen to the waves.
We drove away as everyone waved. We would meet Dennis and Cammy at a café near the port and then drive onto the train together. I had taken pains with the hire company to secure the insurance and permissions required to take our Citroen into France. Dennis had already turned in the car he had been driving and they had taken the train to the Chunnel terminal in Folkstone.