Brandon’s Boys

Chapter 8
Summer on Todd Farm

            Todd Farm was a part of the extensive inheritance of Sandy Todd.  She was the daughter of Dr. Bradley M. Todd III, a brilliant physician and the discoverer of several pharmaceuticals, and of Anastasia Williams, both of whom died in a terrible automobile accident when Sandy was ten.  From that time until she graduated from high school, Sandy was the ward of her only known relative, her father’s Aunt Matilda Todd.  Aunt Matilda was a stern, upright, and very puritanical unmarried lady of the old school.  She raised Sandy in a strict and narrow environment, focused on the greatness of her family and the expectations of society.  That resulted in a rather unhappy and limited experience from age ten to eighteen.

However, in the summer following graduation from high school in the town of Westbrook, where the Todds were among the local elite, two important things happened.  Aunt Matilda died of a heart attack while berating the local grocer about the ‘smut’ he exhibited in his magazine rack, and Sandy turned eighteen, thus being able to make some decisions on her own.  Among those decisions was that she would attend the public institution, the University of Clifton, rather than the denominational college selected for her by Aunt Matilda.

There, on her first day on campus, Sandy encountered the interesting black man called Zip Winter.  Aunt Matilda would never have approved of a relationship with a black person, but Sandy found Zip extremely attractive.  Perhaps, at first, this was part of the reaction against the influence of Aunt Matilda, but over time Sandy became very fond of Zip Winter, and a romance developed, leading to marriage.  Zip, whose first name was actually Bradley, something Sandy found comforting, agreed to take Sandy’s last name when they married.  He said his name meant nothing, as the father space on his birth certificate was blank, whereas Sandy had a notable heritage.  He thus became Bradley Winter Todd.

Although Sandy was initially in reaction against the influence of Aunt Matilda, she eventually came to appreciate her heritage as much as Zip did.  Although it required a few more proofs than Aunt Matilda provided, the family history was traced to Robert Todd, who arrived in Jamestown in 1622 on the Hopewell.  Far more meaningful to Sandy, she was also descended from the man she thought of as Christopher the Founder.  This was Christopher Todd, veteran of the American War for Independence, who received from the Commonwealth of Virginia a grant of 400 acres for his services during the war, which became the basis of Todd Farm when he had the land surveyed and settled in 1786.

Zip was attending the University on a scholarship as, unlike his wife, he had no family resources.  But he did well, and, after they obtained their undergraduate degrees, he also obtained a scholarship to Yale University.  There, he pursued a curriculum in African Studies and Linguistics, with an emphasis on  the languages of West Africa and on comparative grammar.  When the University of Clifton found itself unexpectedly in need of a linguist, Zip was hired on the recommendation of his undergraduate academic advisor, and now was a tenured full professor.

Meanwhile, Sandy was persuaded by an older woman she met on a cruise to give attention to the possibility of breeding and training horses.  Her friend, Beth Randolph of Virginia, provided her with references to a competent farm manager in the person of Peter MacKenzie.  When the renter at Todd Farm decided to retire in 1990. Sandy assumed direct control of the Farm, and hired Peter to begin a horse farm with focus on the American Saddlebred horse.  Now, twenty years later, it was Peter’s son, Scott, who was manager of Todd Farm, but the Farm had achieved a reputation as a premier small operation, regularly winning accolades at horse shows.

Sandy and Zip had five children, Lamar, Anastasia, Anthony, Helen, and Christopher, and then decided that was enough.  It was Chris who was the enthusiast in the horse business, to the delight of his mother, and it was Chris who exhibited unmistakable indications of his sexual orientation as a gay person by the time he was eight years old.  His favorite description of himself, overheard from his mother, was ‘precocious.’  Chris formed a close attachment to his mount, CH Todd’s Beauty, with whom he carried off many blue ribbons in competition.  It was Chris, too, who formed a significant relationship with his partner, Brandon Dowling, before graduating from the University.

Chris and Brandon essentially lived on the Farm during the summer of 2010, although Brandon had his obligations to Brandon’s Boys.  He attended meetings each week with the boys and the Board.  But the boys also spent time on the Farm, sometimes for several days on end.  There they learned to ride and to care for the horses.  This served several purposes, as it opened to them a new experience and to relationships with the horses, giving them a different experience of reality than before.  They did not necessarily become competition riders, but it was a broadening experience, and for several a healing experience.  For Bobby, Mike, and Clarence, in particular, visits to the Farm and relations with the horses were especially healing and growing encounters.  These three seemed to bind with the horses in a special way, and one which only Chris seemed to fully appreciate.  From the summer of 2010 on, Chris would see to it that they got as much time on the Farm as possible.

The first significant competitions of the summer was the Rock Creek Horse Show the week after Memorial Day.  From that time on, it was horse shows most weekends throughout the summer.  Between the return of the Todd contingent from the Ohio State Fair Horse Show and the Shelbyville Horse Show, there was an encounter which expanded the group.  Up to this time, all the boys include in Brandon’s Boys were all city boys, discovered and rescued in Clifton, even though some came from other places.  But on Monday, July 26th , when Chris went out to greet Beauty and see to her needs first thing in the morning, he found an unexpected visitor.  It was early, before six in the morning, but Chris rose early on the Farm.  When he arrived at Beauty’s stall, her found her lying down, an unusual thing.  Snuggled up against her, and enjoying her warmth, was a boy of about eight or nine, sound asleep.  Chris talked to Beauty, kissing her nose and hugging her, as he often did.  As the horse stirred, the boy came awake.  He looked frightened to find someone else in the stall.

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean any harm.  Honest,” the boy declared.

“Hey, take it easy,” Chris urged.  “Far as I know, you haven’t done anything wrong.  I like spending time with Beauty myself.  She’s the greatest horse in the world.”

Beauty?  Is that her name?  It fits.  She was  really nice to me when I crawled in with her last night,” the boy said.

“Yeah, that’s her name, and that’s what she is.  A real beauty,” Chris replied.  “I’m Chris Todd.  Who are you?”

The boy looked apprehensive at that.  “Why do you want to know?” he asked.

“Well, it’s kind of awkward not knowing who I’m taking to,” Chris replied.

“Todd, huh?  Is this your place?” the boy asked.

“Well, it belongs to my folks now, but someday it’ll be mine, I guess,” Chris replied.  “If you’re not going to tell me your name, will you at least help me give Beauty her morning rub down and breakfast?  Seems you owe her that much for the comfort during the night.”

The boy grinned.  “Yeah, I guess that’s so.  What do you want me to do?’

And so the two of them gave Beauty her morning rub down, fed her, and let her out into a paddock for some exercise.  By the time that had been accomplished, several others were about, as it was getting later, and all the horses needed attention.  The boy became jittery when others appeared, but Chris attempted to reassure him, repeating that he had done nothing wrong.

“How about breakfast?  You hungry?” Chris asked.

“Uh, yeah.  But ….

“No buts.  Come with me,” Chris ordered.

He led the boy into the kitchen, presided over by Molly Dobson, the cook.  “Miss Molly,” Chris said, “I found this poor boy in the stable with Beauty this morning, and I think he needs some breakfast.  How about it?”

Molly smiled.  All the Todds  were generous, and Chris was no exception.  “Well, if Beauty vouches for him, I guess he’s okay,” she said.  “Have a seat, and breakfast will be coming right up.”

And so Christ and the boy ate a hearty farm breakfast.  The boy gobbled at first, as though he were afraid someone would take his food away from him, but after a while, he settled down, and was clearly enjoying it.

As their meal came to an end, Chris said, “I guess you could just disappear, like you appeared this morning.  But if you’d like to stay on longer, you really need to at least tell us your name.”

The boy considered this.  He was feeling pretty good by this time, so he decided to take a chance that these people would actually let him stay.

“Okay,” he said.  “You guys have been really friendly.  My name is Daniel.”

Daniel was of mixed race, and of slight build.  He had dark brown hair and dark eyes, and was obviously not as well fed as he should be, but he looked pretty good otherwise.  Chris took a chance.

“Would that be Daniel Marlow?”

“How’d you know that?  Please don’t send me back there,” Daniel pled, immediately becoming defensive.

The Marlows were the absolute worst situation in Jouett County.  They sheriff had been out to the Marlow place in Graves Hollow more than once to enforce decisions about the children attending school or other problems.

“You’re not the first Marlow I’ve known,” Chris said.  “And I won’t send you back anywhere you don’t want to go.  But you really do need to tell us something about yourself, and why you don’t want to go back to the Marlow place.”

Daniel considered this.  “You really won’t send me back to Landon?” he asked, naming the current head of the Marlow family.

“Never liked Landon much,” Chris replied.  “Seems like an ignorant bully to me.  And you’re not the first Marlow to turn up on Todd Farm.  There was Aaron, and later Caleb, as I recall.”

“Aaron?  Caleb?  You know them?” Daniel asked.

“Oh sure.  Of course, there are two Aarons, but both are pretty good guys in my book.  All of them are in  Clifton, now, as so is Sister Rebecca, or Becky, I guess.  But let’s see.  Do you remember Penny Marlow?  She’s married to Cliff Roanhorse, and she’s around here somewhere,” Chris concluded.

“Aaron?  Caleb?  Becky? Penny?  I heard talk of all of them, but I don’t know anything for sure,” Daniel admitted.  “I kind of thought they was dead.”

“Nope, none of them dead,” Chris assured him, “though maybe kind of cut off from the folks in Graves Hollow.  Let’s see, it was quite a while ago that Landon tried to get Caleb back under his control, and Caleb let him know that was not in the cards.  Would you like to talk to Caleb?”

“I heered about that.  Sometimes, when Landon is, you know, drunk and out of it, the others talk.  But I never knew Caleb,” Daniel said.

“It has been a while since any of you Marlows showed up here on Todd Farm,” Chris admitted.  “But you’re not the first.  You want to tell me why you’re here?”

Daniel considered.  He had become comfortable with Chris.  “Okay, I’ll talk.”

And so, instead of putting in time practicing for the next show, Chris led Daniel into the front parlor, sat him down, and listened.  Daniel related that he did not know for sure who his parents were, but he was a Marlow.  Landon pretty much ran the place like a king, telling everyone else what to do.  Maybe he was Landon’s son, and maybe not.  His mother was a female named Teeny, who was not really teeny, but actually was pretty big.  Daniel did not fit in.  He was always asking questions.  He had been sent to school at least part of the time, and he liked school, but Landon kept him home a lot, saying he was needed there.  Landon also beat him.  He used a cane, which left great wheals across Daniel’s back.  The beatings did not seem to correspond to anything except Landon’s moods.  The last beating, yesterday, was especially harsh, and seemed entirely undeserved, so Daniel had run away.  He had been thinking about that for weeks, and just could not put up with the conditions in Graves Hollow any longer.

After listening to this recital, Chris felt very sorry for the boy, and determined to help him.  He grinned and said, “Well, we’ll see to it that you don’t have to go back to Landon.  After all, you come with a great recommendation.”

“I do?”

“Yep, from Beauty, and I trust her on that.  She would not have put up with you if you had been a bad ‘un.”

Daniel grinned.  “She was really nice to me,” he admitted.

“So, let’s take this a bit at a time.  Later today, my partner, Brandon, will come out with some of his boys.  If you get along with them, maybe that’s the way to go.  If not, we’ll think of something else.  But in any case, you won’t be sent back to Landon.  You willing to trust us that much?” Chris asked.

“Sure.  Sounds better than anything I can think of,” Daniel agreed.

And so it was, after Ashley MacKenzie had treated his wounds from yesterday’s beating, that Daniel put in several hours helping out in the stables and around the Farm.  When Brandon arrived, he had Mike and Clarence with him, and those two bonded with Daniel right away.  While they were getting acquainted, Chris told Brandon what he had learned about Daniel.  Brandon was not sure his authority stretched to Jouett County, but he readily agreed to take in the new boy if he decided he liked the situation at Brandon’s Boys.  Daniel showed that he was familiar with animals, and did not in the least object to hard work.  He was, however, way behind in school work.  After giving the matter much thought, Brandon, Chris, and Daniel decided that the best approach was for  Daniel to stay on Todd Farm for the summer.  During that time, he would be introduced to all of Brandon’s boys.  He would also be evaluated academically, and do some catch up work.  Then, when school began in August, he would move to Clifton and take up residence with Brandon’s Boys, and attend school at St. Rose.  He was taken to Clifton and shown the house where Brandon’s boys lived, and the school, before being asked to decide.  He could always say no, and then something else would be worked out.  Daniel really appreciated having a choice.  Consequently, each morning, after his early chores in the stables, Daniel die school work.  He did well, showing that his lack of achievement thus far was a product of this environment, not of his ability.  By the time they reached August, Daniel was fitting in quite well, and his future was no longer entirely unmapped.

The Shelbyville Horse Show from August 4 to 7, was the next big show.  Sandy Todd was back on Todd Farm, practicing, but also making the acquaintance of Daniel.  She did not find it at all unusual to welcome a new resident on the Farm.  She was able to tell Daniel even more about Aaron and Caleb, as well as Sister Rebecca.  Aaron senior and junior came out to the Farm, and talked to Daniel.  While Daniel did not really know them, he had hear do them, and they were able to tell him things which convinced him that they were they real thing.  Aaron had fled the Marlow place in the summer of 1989, taking his two year old son with him.  Caleb also had been removed from the Marlow place in Graves Hollow by the sheriff in 1995.  Daniel was convinced that he would do well to go along with what the Todds and Brandon laid out for him.  Besides, he like the idea of going to school without being pulled out  all the time for things like working the marijuana crop.

Not long after Shelbyville, Daniel was moved to Clifton, and took up residence with the other guys at 1322 S. Chestnut St.  He entered St. Rose of Lima Parochial School in the third grade, and began to settle down to his new life.  The excitement of the World Championship Horse Show later in August actually helped hi accept his new circumstances.  He loved seeing Chris and Beauty in competition.  Daniel was entirely sold.  This was what he wanted to do, and he would do whatever was necessary to make it happen.  He was happy, for perhaps the first time in his life.