There was a bit of drizzle at Goleta when we arrived to board the plane Wednesday morning. I watched Kelly closely for signs of stress but he seemed quite happy. He enjoyed the view through the window as we swung out over the Pacific and flew around military airspace through the Vandenberg range.
After that, the flight crew had turned northeast to run the Canadian border route. Grand Rapids was several hours away on this route but it was usually less turbulent. Carter had no qualms, he was enthralled with the view and had spotted a pod of whales off the coast as we passed over.
Eventually clouds took over; the scenery lost its charm and he nodded off between Ally and me.
Brandon read for a while but eventually had a long nap. It was a quiet flight and three hours in I fed the kids some sandwiches and Ally and I had the same. The flight lasted five hours and change and our timing was good. A snow storm had hit earlier in the week but the evidence was all but gone now. The travel window promised to remain open until the following Monday. Our limo service carried us to the Amway Grand Hotel and it was still majestic. It was an older building that had been restored by Hilton and it was one of the best in town by my standards. We had a suite on the tenth floor to accommodate our entire party, including Evelyn and Ed.
I had rented a large SUV although I hadn't specified a brand. The concierge told me where I would find it in the garage or that the valet would gladly bring it to the front of the hotel. I hung on to my brief case but allowed the bellmen to deal with the rest of the bags. I hung my Carhartt on the trolley and the boys followed suit. Ally decided to carry hers because of what was in the pockets.
The suite was three bedrooms, a living area and kitchenette and the bathrooms were very elegant with clawfoot tubs and showers decked with antique tile. The place had been built in 1913 and the ground floor was now a museum. A modern tower was also part of the plaza and accessible with a key card. The pool and other amenities were located in the lower floors of the tower.
I had always been enchanted with the older part of the hotel and though prices were higher in that part of the plaza, I deemed they were worth the expense.
Ally and the boys were in awe when they saw the rooms. I sensed I had made the correct choice.
Brandon, Kelly and Carter decided to stay and checkout the river walk. I told Carter he had to hold someone's hand while they were out but it didn't seem to bother him. I knew that Brandon and Kelly would keep an eye on him.
Ally and I called and let Evelyn know we were headed their way.
The valet arrived with a black Navigator which was marginally better than an Escalade; a plain old Chevy Suburban would have suited me but this would do. It had two features I appreciated. All wheel drive and electric pop out steps to make entry easier for those who needed it.
I had studied the map but entered the address on the navigation computer. I would turn it on when we were close or at least Ally would.
It took an hour just to get to their exit and then some winding rural roads. I had Ally start the computer and it led us to their gate.
The first person we met was Jeri and then her husband Vance. Vance had been Ed's foreman on the ranch but he had sold the ranch and now they resided in two houses on one-and-a-half acres.
Evelyn was very happy to see us and greeted us warmly.
"Well it looks like you're in good hands, if you like I can load the luggage before we head off to Lita's place," Vance prompted.
"Thank you Vance, that would be lovely," Evelyn replied.
"Let me give you a hand Vance," I offered.
The rear hatch wouldn't open without the key fob being near so it gave me an opportunity to speak with Vance privately.
"Vance, you know what's up with Evelyn's grandson, don't you?"
"Kelly, yeah he's a nice kid. I hated to see him going home to that situation. Abby wasn't always like that; that sonofabitch Lyle did something to get her hooked on drugs. I never met the man but I think I would have beat the crap out of him if I ever did.
“I've worked for Ed thirty years and I've known Evelyn for twenty, she was a granny to our kids and they always ask about her. Abby though, she wanted more than Grand Rapids could offer. She ran off and returned with Kelly and dumped him on Evelyn. Then five years later, she came and snatched him back. She said she had a life now and that she could care for Kelly properly, but I guess it didn't last.
“We all begged her to let Kelly just stay with us, but she wouldn't hear of it. I know Ed tried hard to make a place for her in his heart, but all he ever got for his trouble was contempt. I don't know what was up Abby's nose, but she never cared for him. He basically saved them both, Evelyn was going to lose her house to taxes and Ed stepped in paid them off. He helped her get the place fixed up enough to sell and helped her get her feet under her again. Abby resented him from day one and it got worse when they married," Vance explained.
"That's a story I've heard many times Vance, there's no way to figure out what's going on in their heads either. Ally was so far gone when I met Kelly, I really didn't have much hope for her future. I'm grateful that we shared a plane trip and that I get to have him in my life," I shared.
"Well, I think you are who he needed to meet at that time and place and that it wasn't by chance," Vance smiled.
"You could be right," I agreed.
Ed was dressed and ready to go when we returned to the house. Meeting him in person was a joy. He was a lot like Ty but mellower.
"Kelly didn't come with you?" Ed asked.
"No, he had enough sitting still and he's helping Brandon keep an eye on Carter while they explore the river walk," I supplied.
"Carter is your little one isn't he, Ally?" Evelyn inquired. Kelly sent me pictures, he's a cutie if I ever saw one. I have some albums that I want Kelly to have when I'm gone. Mostly pictures of him as a baby and when he visited. He should have them."
"I'm sure he'll appreciate them Evelyn, it's very kind of you," I replied.
"Well people it's a bit of a drive, we can talk in the car," Ed insisted.
Our drive was picturesque, the fields still had snow drifted high and all the houses had a mantle of white as we passed. The roads themselves were clear and sanded. I kept my eye out for black ice as we went.
Evelyn loved the pop out steps and the seat heaters, I liked them too, I've never enjoyed driving while wearing a coat.
"Kelly seemed confused about how many relatives he has, was Abby your only child?" I asked.
"Oh no, she was my fourth. I had two other girls and a boy. Rose passed away from heart disease in her fifties and Amanda was killed in a wreck. We lost track of Andy almost ten years ago. They were all on their own by the time I married Ed."
"None of them seemed to object except Abby, she was a surprise baby. I had her five years before her father died. She was never the same after that. Ed tried his best to get to know her but she was dead against it. Eventually she cooled off a little to the point where she was civil to him, but that only lasted ‘til she was a teenager. She took off a month before her eighteenth birthday.
“Abby came back two years later with an infant and that was Kelly, she only stayed a month and took off leaving Kelly with us. We had Kelly until he was nearly five and then one Sunday she showed up and took him away. It was quite a wrench I can tell you. There was nothing we could do about it so we just worried," Evelyn recounted.
"Kelly only knew that he had a couple of cousins and wanted nothing to do with them," I supplied.
"Yeah, the Holy Roller and the drunk. No judge in his right mind would let either of them raise a child like Kelly," Ed contributed.
"I could probably get someone to find Andy for you. I have a lawyer with very good resources. But only if that's what you want," I informed.
"I would like to see him before I go, he's my only living child….if he's still living," Evelyn said hopefully. "I like to think I'd know if he wasn't."
"I'll get his information from you at the hotel and we'll see what can be done," I proposed.
We chatted for the remainder of the trip; I told Ed about the machine that Peter had come up with and he was impressed.
I pulled up behind the hotel and we dug out Evelyn's wheelchair. While she could still walk around the house, a long walk through corridors would tax her more than necessary. The bell staff handled the luggage and handed me the tag. I told them they could bring it right up and they did. They arrived while Evelyn and Ed were still admiring the suite. I called Brandon and asked where they were. He replied that they were in the game room of the tower but would come back to the room right away.
Kelly was first through the door. He squealed with delight when he saw Evelyn but was careful not to be too boisterous when he hugged her. Ed was next and he was able to take a harder hug. Kelly turned and faced us, "Brandon, Carter, this is my Gramma Evelyn and this is Grampa Ed."
Brandon and Carter both hugged Evelyn gently and Ed a little harder.
"Nice to meet you boys, you must be Brandon and this little hotshot must be Carter. Kelly has told us a lot about you boys," Ed greeted. "We're so glad he has a complete family now."
"Thanks Grampa, it's nice to be in a regular family and not be scared all the time. You should see where I go to school now, it's so cool. I actually look forward to going," Kelly bubbled.
"Kelly, why don't you stay here with your grandparents and the rest of us will go check out the hotel. There are things I want Ally to see and maybe we'll check out the river walk,"
"Okay Dad, thanks. I think we have some stuff to talk about," Kelly agreed.
"Okay, the rest of you, coats, hats and gloves in case we go outside. We can check them downstairs and go out later," I instructed.
The elevators, though modern, were made to look like the originals. Even the old control lever that was used when elevators were new remained. A double row of buttons did the real work.
We saw the play area for younger kids first, it had a ball pit and a net castle. Since we were present, Carter was able to try the climbing wall and loved it.
Brandon opted out of a second riverwalk excursion and sat down with a group of kids of similar age. He had met them earlier while Kelly monitored Carter's activities.
The Riverwalk itself was beautiful, the Grand River is quite wide and it had large chunks of ice floating along. The Carhartts did a nice job up top but my legs suffered from the cold as did Ally's. Carter faded fast and I picked him up for the return trip wrapping him inside my coat. The hotel soon warmed us and we sat by a large wood fire in the lounge and sipped hot cocoa.
We walked back through the game area and I waved at Brandon to let him know we had returned. He ran over to see if he needed to come back with us.
"If you're enjoying yourself, then stay here. I plan to bathe Carter and then myself and I'm sure Ally would like a shower," I explained.
"Okay, the people I'm talking to are all farm kids just like in Oregon. It's the first bunch of kids my age that have the same background as me since I left home," Brandon babbled.
"Have a good time and join us for dinner at 6:00, okay?" I reminded.
"I'll be there Dad," Brandon chirped and headed back to his new friends.
We found Kelly stretched out on the queen bed in the boys’ room. My guess was that taking his grandparents through all the events that had occurred since his last visit left him drained.
Ed and Evelyn were relaxing in front of the gas log fireplace. We chatted for a bit but Carter was sagging so I took him for a shower and once we were dry, I put pj's on him and plopped him in our bed.
"Is he asleep? Evelyn asked.
"He was barely awake for the shower, he's one of those little guys that goes full tilt until he runs out of go," I shared.
"Vance's boys were both like that, the girls were more sedate. They were all a lot of fun though," Ed recalled.
"Kelly told us everything that happened from the time you took him home with you. I'm… we're so grateful to you for protecting him and keeping him safe. My daughter was a troubled girl and it got worse as she got older. She always gravitated towards the rotten boys; the good ones were too boring. Ed tried to help but she pushed him away. Her father had filled her head with impossible dreams and we had to deal with the result. But she was my daughter and that won't change. I know I did my best but it wasn't enough for her. We all did, we gave her love and a good home, it just wasn't enough," Evelyn sighed.
"I'm sorry it worked out the way it did, I had hoped to get Lyle in jail and Abby into treatment but it wasn't destined to happen," I related.
"You mentioned cremation, she was in favor of that. Did you get it done?" Evelyn asked.
"Yes, Kelly suggested it based on what Abby had told him. We scattered some of her ashes in the desert and we brought a small box with us to spread here, I thought we might do that Friday," I suggested.
"That would be wonderful, there's a creek that flows into the Grand and she loved playing at the landing. It was her favorite summer spot. All the kids launched their tubes and rafts from the landing," Evelyn recounted.
"That sounds like the place to do it then, you can show us where and we'll bring her home," I put in.
Conversation moved along, then Ally excused herself to shower and dress for dinner. Brandon returned feeling quite happy and right with the world.
"That was cool, I haven't talked to kids like that since I left home. They all live the way I used to. Some want it to be their life and some would rather have careers someplace else. A couple think they can do both, I wish them luck," Brandon gushed.
I went in and roused Kelly and told him he needed to get cleaned up for dinner, he was back to his old self in an instant. A hug and a kiss later he was on his way to the shower.
Ally had roused Carter but he was being sluggish about getting dressed. I freed Ally to finish dressing while I dealt with a squirmy little boy. Eventually after much ticklingtickling, he complied and was suitably dressed for dinner. It wasn't formal but he would have preferred to wear his pj's or undies.
Dinner was excellent with the exception of the salad, but it was Michigan in winter so I couldn't really complain. The beef was local and very good and dessert was outstanding.
By the time we returned to the suite, everybody but Ed and myself were running out of steam.
Ed saw Evelyn to bed and Ally and I shepherded the boys; they opted to stay in the queen size bed although a smaller bed had been added to the room.
I checked on Ally and kissed her good night; she cautioned me not to stay up too late.
I checked out the bar and found a bottle of wine worth trying, and found a brandy for Ed.
We talked a bit about the trip and moved on to history, Ed told me that he had a son who would be about Vance's age. When he returned from Vietnam his wife left him and took the child. He was fighting the effects of chemical agents used during the war and once he was recovered, he married a woman who wanted him despite the fact that he couldn't have kids. Sterility was one of the side effects of both the chemicals and the detox process.
He told me they adopted three boys and a girl and they were all doing well. His wife died the year their daughter graduated high school. She went on to college and made quite a career for herself in finance. Two of the boys became engineers and the third boy worked as a deputy sheriff and farmed. He was eventually elected Sheriff and had since retired to live with his wife and their horses.
I gave a brief history of my life, I didn't skip anything but I didn't dwell on it either.
At length the day caught up with Ed and I bade him good night. I fiddled with my phone until I was sleepy and called it a night myself. Ally scooted into me as soon as I lay down and I found sleep in her warmth.