My parents live on a strange piece of land, which if you were there, all the description of what and how might be interesting – but to be as brief as I can, the location of their land, and the shape of their land, and the road that runs through the land make it the ideal neighborhood shortcut for kids needing to get to the houses higher up the mountain. A couple of those kids spotted the puppies one day. They were reaching over the fence petting these adorable little black-lab-hey-come-have-fun-and-play-with-me-kid-magnets several afternoons. Mom let them have their time for a few days and then stepped out her back door to ask the boys if they wanted to walk the pups. It scared the hell outta the boys who were sure they would be in trouble for having used the shortcut, and worse yet gotten caught so close to the house. But, clearly Mom’s not very scary, and the boys took the dogs on many walks on many days. The one boy began to tell Mom a little about his life – well be damned if he wasn’t having a shitty childhood with misguided parents who weren’t capable of treating him like he should be treated, or his little brother either. There’s a big deal in the County where I grew up in 6th Grade. It’s called “outdoor lab” – you go away with your classmates for a week and live in a sort of a summer camp environment and you study animal scat and meteorology and hiking and survival and eco-systems, etc. Everyone looks forward to it for their entire time in school. Well one day the kid confessed that he couldn’t go to outdoor lab cuz his mom, who was a drunk and unemployed, didn’t have the money to get him the needed equipment. Mom said, hey, we probably have most of what’s on your list around here, you can borrow it. So he got out the list and sure enough Mom and Dad hooked him up – sleeping bag, flashlight, duffle bag, rain gear, wool socks, etc. They even found him a pair of boots. He was SO excited – he went home to tell his mom all about the nice “old couple” down the hill who were loaning him what he needed. Well his drunken abusive mom freaked out and made him take her to see these weird people. Mom and Dad charmed her, just like everyone else, and she left convinced they weren’t some weird pedophiles or religious fanatics that were gonna do something strange to her kid. But… she still wouldn’t allow him to go to Outdoor Lab. That kid, the only kid I ever knew who missed, had to sit at home that week with his drunken mom and know all his friends were at Outdoor Lab. He continued coming around to walk the dogs, or even just to avoid going home though, and started occasionally bringing his little brother too. After some months passed he showed up really needing some advice. His mom was being evicted and had told the boys (then 11 and 13) that she was going to go live in a box and they needed to find somewhere to live. Well they all discussed it and mom had two other boys already, and only really had room for one more – and the brothers notoriously did not get along well, and mom really didn’t want to referee all the time. Well the older brother decided he had a friend who lived nearby that he could ask and the younger boy moved in with Mom and Dad. Eventually the friend’s parents asked him to see if he could make some other arrangements; they hadn’t realized it would be so difficult and expensive to have two boys in the house. So he ended up at Mom and Dad’s too. My two little brothers hadn’t been loved or trusted or respected in a long time – and a little trust and love gave them a great foundation. Lots of other complicated crap happened to them… but eventually, they both managed to become fine young men. One is a Sergeant in the Marine Corps and the other has a college degree and a great career. The older one had so little respect for his biological father that when he was about to get his High School diploma he went to my parents, and asked if he could take their name. He didn’t want to ever use that other name again. It was so touching and we all sobbed through the entire graduation events every time they would proudly say his new name.
You should know, he wasn’t the first “foster” brother to choose to change his name. My oldest brother – since he couldn’t get that adoption he wanted – when he was in his twenties and about to get married – he didn’t want his bride to have his birth name, and he too changed his name to ours.
Now we were nine, with three extra exchange students.