Our Christmas celebration went quite well, everyone had a lovely time and ate well.
Christmas itself was touching, Brandon goggled at the presents under the tree but I told him we'd have to take a walk to see his best present. We had purchased horses for all three boys. They were each overwhelmed although Carter was a bit reticent until he took my directions on how to meet his new pony. These were gentle horses and well trained but they have to be trained to accept a new master. We decided to hold off riding for another day so that Wade, Cammy and Dennis could come along with us. We had one more gift for Carter, we had decided that the full size ATV's were too much for him to control so we bought a Carter-sized Quad. The five of us went for a little drive around the place so that Carter could try his out. Rain was threatening so we put them in the shed for the day.
Two weeks after Christmas, I heard from Paul.
"We found Andy, and he's local. You won't believe me when I tell you where," Paul crowed.
"I have a pretty decent imagination Paul, I presume he's not in custody so maybe a commune or something?" I spitballed.
"Close enough, he's in a Monastery in Santa Barbara, Brother Andrew Corder resides at Mt. Calvary Monastery, he's a monk. It's an Anglican monastery of the Benedictine discipline. I have contact information and you can call him tomorrow if you like. I can't tell you his mental state, or whether or not he'd welcome contact with his mother," Paul informed me.
I took his information, thanked Paul and sat back pondering my next move. I decided to call Ed and check on Evelyn's health.
"She's not doing great, she manages to get herself out of her chair for the bathroom and bed but that won't last much longer. I have a nurse set to start next week as a live-in," Ed said quietly.
I knew what he was going through, I endured the same with Carolina and later with Maurice.
We chatted a bit more and I let him carry on with his duties.
I looked up a schedule of services at the monastery and dialed the number. It was answered by the Prior's secretary; I asked for Brother Andrew Corder and the voice said, "Speaking."
As gently as I could I explained the situation and he asked me to hold.
"I'm sorry, I needed to get someone to cover for me while we talk. Frankly, I'm completely shocked. Abby told me Mother had passed several years ago. And now you tell me you have my nephew and Mother is nearing her death?" Andrew asked.
"That is the case, I was reluctant to bother you but felt you had a right to decide for yourself. Do you think you would be able to visit your mother in Michigan? I mean could you get away. I can arrange transportation," I clarified.
"You are very generous, I will discuss it with the Prior and call you back," Andrew replied.
I gave him my phone number and Ed's and we completed the call.
The whole exchange had taken only a few minutes but I was profoundly moved.
Andrew had expressed eagerness to see his nephew again. So when he arrived home from school I took him to my office and told him what I had discovered. He was both shocked and elated to know that he had a living uncle in the world.
A few days later, I kept Kelly home, I had hired a limousine to pick Andrew up and run him to LAX, it would drop us on the way. Another car would take him from the airport in Grand Rapids to his mother. He needed only to call for the car because his return was left open-ended.
"Kelly, I haven't seen you since you were a toddler, you probably don't remember me, we only met once. I'm sorry it's been so long, but I am your Uncle Andrew."
Kelly hugged Andrew around the waist and put his cheek against the man's chest.
"I thought you were a monk, don't you have to wear a robe or something?"
"No, we wear regular clothes when we go out into the world, and we no longer wear the tonsure although many of us are losing our hair in the exact same place," Andrew chuckled.
"Tonsure? Is that the shaved part of your head when there were monks in medieval times?" Kelly asked.
"Yes, that's correct, you must have studied the Middle Ages to know that," Andrew praised.
We chatted and caught up all the way to our home; I offered the driver the use of the facilities and the same for Andrew.
When they were ready to go and Andrew had met the rest of our family, I allowed Kelly to walk him to the car and followed at a distance.
"Please tell Grandma I love her and I'll always remember her," Kelly pleaded.
"I will do that, and I will come and visit you now that I know where you are, I must go now but I'll see you soon," Andrew assured.
I stepped forward to shake his hand, "You will always be welcome and we can come up and visit you as well," I suggested.
"Well, I must go, but I'll see you soon, thank you for your generosity," Andrew said and stepped into the limo and soon they were gone.
I had expected Kelly to shed tears but he surprised me.
"I hope Grandma is happy when she sees him, I think it will help her feel better about her life," Kelly uttered.
"I think it will give her peace, Son," I offered.
"Yeah, I think so too, Dad. Why would Mom tell him that Grandma was dead? I don't understand it," he said distantly.
"I don't know, drugs can really mess up a person's mind, I can only guess she still had some anger for her mother, it's hard to say,"
"But Mom wasn't on drugs when I was a toddler, she must have just been mad at Grandma and said it out of meanness," Kelly speculated.
"I don't think we'll ever know Son, but at least she gets to see her son one last time," I offered.
"Yeah, that's good, she'll like that," Kelly agreed.
Evelyn and Andrew were able to spend a week together chatting, looking at photo albums and generally getting reacquainted. Andrew told her of the bad marriages that had driven him to the monastic life. Initially he only went for a retreat but he found life there to be peaceful and fulfilling. He spent several years at a monastery in Canada and when the need arose, he was sent to Mt. Calvary. He spends his time in devotion, community service and attending to various duties supporting the monastery itself.
Andrew had packed and prepared for his return trip; he only needed to call for the car and he would be on his way back to Santa Barbara.
Evelyn had seemed cheerful the evening before, but Wednesday morning she was short of breath and had chest pains. The nurse phoned for the paramedics but they weren't fast enough.
Andrew stayed a few more days to attend the funeral. He called to let me know so I could inform Kelly and the rest of my family. I arranged for Kelly and me to fly to Grand Rapids and attend the funeral. Ally stayed home to keep an eye on Brandon and Carter. It was a nice ceremony with fair weather. Kelly stayed dry-eyed, he had made his peace with it and spoken to Evelyn the night before she passed.
Evelyn and Ed had many friends and the funeral was well attended. They held a reception in a community hall. Andrew met people he hadn't seen in years. So did Kelly, people who remembered him when he was just learning to walk.
At the house, we all talked. I was prepared to have Andrew fly back with us to save him the commuter back to O'Hare but he decided to stay on and help Ed deal with his mother's things. He and Ed had become friends, Andrew had been long gone by the time Ed had married Evelyn. And though they had talked on the phone, they had never really developed a relationship, that was rectified now.
When we left, we had another suitcase with photo albums that Evelyn had wanted Kelly to have.
I shook Ed's hand, Vance's and Andrew’s, I gave Jeri a hug and Kelly did the same.
We had checked out of the hotel earlier and drove straight back to the airport to turn in the car and we were in the air an hour after that.
We arrived home late in the evening and Kelly was completely exhausted, I wasn't that chipper myself. The other boys were asleep so I checked on them after I got Kelly tucked in.
"How was it?" Ally asked.
"It was nice, I think Evelyn would be pleased," I replied.
I took Ally in my arms, "Only one night away from you and I'm in withdrawal. Are you ready to turn in, I think I'll shower in the morning, maybe you can join me," I suggested.
Ally confirmed her readiness for bed and we called it a night, we could talk Sunday I decided, for that matter it was already Sunday.
I slept well past eight Sunday morning, Ally had already fed the boys and got them to spend some time with their horses. I gradually became aware of a presence, Ally was straddling me over the covers but my bladder was screaming.
"Why don't you let me pee and then join me in the shower," I suggested. We wasted quite a bit of water that morning but we emerged squeaky clean and very relaxed.
In a little over thirty days, we would be standing in front of Pamela Bannister and entertaining a huge crowd in Ventura. Two days after that we would be off to London. But everything was going smoothly. There are always last minute problems. Ty was having a medical problem that kept him from driving but that was easily dealt with, I arranged a car to carry them to and from the reception. Dennis, Cammy and Jerry would serve as our witnesses and Jerry would bring Pamela to the reception. Apparently, they were becoming closer. Dennis and Cammy would ferry our three boys and Wade to the party while Ally and I went north with the photographer to a private estate in Montecito. The owner would be at the reception. My favorite was the wisteria arbor already in bloom and I thought the session went really well.
On the day pretty much everything went as planned.
We hot footed it back to the hotel in Ventura, and arrived in time to greet arrivals.
Ed Pratt allowed the doorman to help him out of the car and patted the kid on the back.
"Hi Ally, Hi Rob, congratulations. Hey Rob, that doc you sent me to is doing wonders with my eyes. Thanks for pointing towards him. He's not even that expensive. My retiree benefits from the county cover it in full," Ed smiled.
"Good to see you Ed, and I'm glad you can see us, we're honored by your presence," I offered.
Ed grasped my hand and shook it and patted my shoulder with his other. He hugged Ally and stepped inside. I had made sure that Ty, Lorraine and Ed were seated with a couple of younger deputies and their wives. Jack, Mary and Ronny arrived and wished us well, there was a lull and Cammie and Dennis took over as greeters as we circulated, chatting with our respective friends.
Brandon went to see if Espen and Claire had arrived. Brandon was looking sharp in the dark suit we had picked out together. Cammy had done her magic with his hair and when he returned with Espen and Claire in tow it was clear that Espen was impressed. Espen was well dressed also and together they made a striking couple.
The band got started and almost everyone who could , got out on the dance floor.
I watched as first Kelly and then Brandon danced with Ally. I assisted Carter so that the three of us could dance together. But I bowed out at the end and let them have the last few steps on their own.
Kelly danced with Ronny and Brandon twirled Espen around the floor. Then each of them danced with Claire. It was a wonderful night and we all danced quite a bit. Carter danced with one of Mike's little girls and had a great time.
Rory and Riley were there as well as Kevin and Charlie. Charlie was a knockout in her stylish black sheath. She wasn't a girl who needed a lot of jewelry to look good.
Luke and his family were sitting with Liam and his wife, stepson and their brand new baby boy, Robert. The baby was not all that interested in what was going on and slept a good deal of the time. I held my newest grandson for a while so Liam and Aurora could get out on the floor. Of course, I didn't get to hold him long before Ally, Cammy and Pam descended on the table demanding their turns.
Pam and Jerry had announced earlier that they would be getting married later in the year. I was pretty amused by the notion they thought nobody knew where it was heading. But I cheered along with everyone else. The party went on until late although many of the families with small kids left around nine. Ally and I retired around eleven and people sat around and talked for hours after that. We had reserved a block of rooms and suites for guests that didn't want to drive after a long party. The boys were all in one suite with Bobby in charge. Espen and Brandon helped herd the little ones through bathing and night clothes. Kelly and Ronny both conked out almost as soon as they hit the room. I suspected some of the champagne went astray but I wasn't going to call them on it.
Ally and I had our plans for the honeymoon trip and I shared with her in which hotels we would be staying. Her response was exuberant. I had also arranged for us to drive out and see Henri and his family.
We all had breakfast at a private buffet which I enjoyed because I didn't need to cook. Both Ally and I had lost weight prior to the wedding. It wasn't intentional, we just had so much to do that we weren't eating as we should and there was still a lot to be done beforehand. Add in the activities with the boys and the work we do on our place, we just dropped a few pounds. It did us no harm and we'd get some of it back on the trip.
Friday I flew us to Compton in my Mooney, it's a six place plane that was converted to turboprop with a bunch of wing and fuselage modifications to take advantage of the new power source.
A car took us from there to LAX and we began our trip to New York. We stayed two days and caught British Airways to Heathrow. From there I sprang another surprise on Ally: after we passed through customs we were shuttled to another terminal where we boarded a helicopter for a tour of London on our way to City Airport. Our luggage was moved by ground however, so we only had our satchels and Ally's purse to keep track of.
We saw all the wonderful sights of London. The pilot even pointed out Mayfair from a distance since flight was restricted over that area except for police.
Westminster Abbey, The London Eye and the Shard were a few of the sights we viewed on our trip. The pilot had taken a circuitous route so that we could get an oblique view of Buckingham Palace and Parliament. We landed at London City Airport which is a private jet sort of place but helicopters are not an unusual sight there. We were met by a vintage late thirty's Maybach Cabriolet. I had asked for something unusual for the ride to Claridge's. I wasn't disappointed. We were greeted warmly and informed that our luggage had already been taken to our suite and that the maid and butler had unpacked for us, something I had forgotten to warn Ally about.
When I told her which suite we would have she was over the moon. The corner suite was high enough to see a fair distance but quiet enough that traffic wouldn't offer much of a disturbance. With our naps on the plane, we weren't the least bit tired. It was only ten in the morning so we summoned a cab for a trip to Hyde Park. A word to our butler had us signed up for Hyde Park stables.
It was a Monday morning in March, not exactly their peak season. I suspect they jump through hoops pretty regularly. But not without ascertaining our level of experience first. A pair of young ladies led out two lovely mares for our use and Ally and I inspected them and tugged the saddle pads to make sure there were no wrinkles and checked the cinches. I trotted Tamsin around the paddock and Ally did the same with Baybriar. We approved the horses and apparently vice versa and the staff approved us to carry on with our ride. One of the girls commented that most Americans don't pay any attention to the horses or know the back from the front, we were pleasant exceptions. She shared some of the personality traits of our mounts and supervised us as we took to the saddles. The horses responded well to our control and confidence. We thoroughly enjoyed the ride and circled the lake and several other features. There are areas where you can let the horses have their head if they have any spirit.
After the ride, we took another cab to my favorite lunch time restaurant after securing a table by phone. It was a small place near Grosvenor Square and they served the best steak and kidney pie I had ever tasted. The chips were fantastic as well along with the salad and herbs.
"It's good to see you back again Mr. McKenna," the owner greeted.
"Rob please, James. This is my bride Allison although she prefers Ally," I responded.
"Is this a honeymoon trip then?" James asked.
"It is indeed, we just had a ride through Hyde Park and we'll be here in Mayfair for another week. I plan to return for dinner so we should book a table soon I suspect," I added.
"You picked a good day for the park, it is forecast for rain the next two days. Once you know what date and time you want let us know. I'll tell Marcie to look out for you and we'll find you a table," James smiled.
We chatted for quite a while but then he was needed in the kitchen and gave his regrets.
"Just how often do you come here?" Ally inquired.
"Last time was over a year ago, but I make a point of eating here every time I visit London," I explained.
"It's a wonder he gets any customers at all with it being on a dead end street. You would pretty much have to know it's here," Ally insisted.
It's all by word of mouth, very few drop-ins, mostly it’s recommended by happy customers and the menu varies so you need to call ahead. He's almost always doing steak and kidney pie. James is a chef although he worked as a math professor for several decades. I've never met anyone who knows more about wine. Not pretentious enophile knowledge but what actually tastes good and goes well with a particular food. I can't abide the wine snobs that tell you this or that wine ‘Pairs Well’ with a certain food. They've only read some useless magazine or web page and think that passes for knowledge," I ranted quietly.
"Oh Rob, that is the most amusing diatribe I've heard in years. I'm aware most ‘Wine Experts’ don't know the difference between box wine and a Montrachet 38’, I've run across a few of them while dating. If they only knew how foolish it makes them sound," Ally giggled.
"As long as we're on the same page, I'm just not a fan of affectation,” I grinned.
We finished our lunch and took a walk in the pleasant environs of the square.
"You know I only recommend Pi Squared to people with good manners, sure the street looks like a dismal little alley but it's clean and safe and the food is great. There's a snooty French place there on the corner; I've seen James' place full to capacity and they and that Maison something or other is a ghost town. Will Rogers once said that an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure, did you ever hear that?" I asked.
"Grampa quoted Will Rogers all the time. He always told me that Rogers was an unsung hero of common sense," Ally smiled sweetly.
"So what would you like to do next?" I pressed.
"Let's stroll back to the hotel and try out that double tub and see where that gets us," she suggested.
"Sounds good to me, let's head left at the zebra crossing. Remember, the traffic comes from the right here, I cautioned.