Some Follow Up
By the fall of 2013, several of Brandon’s Boys had completed high school, and were now launched on their adult paths. But that did not mean a severance of contact with Brandon Dowling or the house on Chestnut Street. Brandon always made certain his boys were well provided for, and they were always welcome back for a visit.
The oldest of Brandon’s boys so far, and the first to leave the house, was Gene Hillebrand, who graduated from Baltimore High in 2011, and was provided with a scholarship to the University of Clifton by Brandon. There he was doing very well as an English major also pursuing secondary certification. He told Brandon there were so many ways literature could highlight human conditions and emotions, he found it fascinating, and thought he could get through to some kids with problems by getting them focused on great stories. Gene was gay, and met a friend, Jack Young, during his freshman year at the University. So far, that relationship was still intact, but it did not seem to be going anywhere. Brandon decided not to intervene unless asked. In his second year, Gene obtained the job as groundskeeper at the Newman Center, right off campus, where the Catholic student organization met. This brought with it a room on the upper floor as well as some spending money, and was renewed for the current year, so Gene was getting along pretty well.
Thomas Aquinas Eidem, called Daniel, and later Daniel I, graduated from Baltimore High in 2012, and entered the University on another generous scholarship provided by Brandon. He wanted to be a science teacher at the secondary level, and so was pursuing a curriculum in General Science and working towards certification. He would have to choose which science would be his major soon. Based on his work his freshman year, he was doing quite well academically. His experiences at Baltimore had taught him how to study once again, and his enthusiasm, joined to a sense of obligation to Brandon, carried him through even some of the dull classes which did not particularly interest him.
Daniel had been a partner of another stray when rescued by Brandon. That person was Chester Everett Wallingford, known as Colby. Daniel and Colby were of an age, and graduated from Baltimore together, but Colby was not interested in an academic future. He was more a hands-on type person. Working construction for Harvey Brothers during the summers, he discovered a knack for carpentry, and so, after graduation he entered Madison Community College in the carpentry and cabinet making program, where he, too, did well his first year.
As things were going so well for both these young men, Brandon determined to help them along some. They really seemed to be serious about their relationship, which had survived many trials, both before and after making the connection with Brandon. Hence, before school started again in August, Brandon arranged for them to share an apartment at the Harvey for the coming year. The Harvey was an apartment building where rents were subsidized by the City for renters with low incomes. As Daniel’s income was his scholarship, and Colby’s was his part-time work for Harvey Brothers while attending Madison, they qualified. They acquired furniture from the Westbrook Pike Used Furniture and Appliances outlet, which certainly would not win them any decorator’s awards, but it worked. They were now launched as a couple on their own, even if still dependent on Brandon financially.
Another alumnus of Brandon’s Boys was Leon Aloysius Luttrell, the incipient juvenile delinquent who had been steered towards Brandon’s Boys by Father Lamar Todd. He graduated from Baltimore in 2013. Like the other boys over 16, he had been put to work with Harvey Brothers during the summers, and discovered an interest in electrical work. Hence, in the fall of 2013 he began work at Madison as well, seeking a two year degree and certification as an electrician. Like Colby, he also continued working part-time for Harvey Brothers while in school, and so more or less had a guaranteed full-time job when he completed his certification. Unlike Colby, Leon was straight, and had a steady girlfriend in Anne Nicole Duvall, daughter of the football coach at Baltimore, but he was in no position in 2013 to marry yet. Anne Nicole was also in her first year at Madison in the Office Management program. They were kind of thinking of marrying when they both finished at Madison. In the meanwhile, Leon had a room at the Warren, the boarding house a short distance from Brandon’s Boys.
John Spencer Franklin had been in extremely poor shape when rescued by Brandon in February of 2010. He had been kept at home for the spring semester and home schooled while he regained his strength. But from the fall of 2010 on he did very well at school, and, like Leon, graduated in May. As Spencer was interested in a career in Social Work, he was sent to the University on one of Brandon’s full scholarships, which included his private room on campus. The local institution of higher learning, officially the University of Clifton, is referred to by locals simply as the University. As yet, he has no special partner.
Five boys, Gene, Daniel, Colby, Leon, and Spencer, have ‘graduated’ from Brandon’s Boys, and were launched on careers suiting their individual talents and desires. Brandon Dowling could, and did, feel very proud of that accomplishment. It showed what individual care could accomplish. Thus far, there had not been a failure with any of the boys he had taken in, although some were more difficult than others.
However, it has been more than a year since a new boy joined the group. The last addition was Joe Chavez, who joined the group at Memorial Day in 2012. As Brandon’s Boys was more of a foster home than an agency, referrals were not made by the City except on a very individual basis, like that of Oliver because his social worker, Ken van Meter, was completely stymied and knew Brandon personally. As the fall semester, 2013, got under way, there were only seven boys at Brandon’s Boys, the group home at 1322 Chestnut Street in the Old University Neighborhood.
In the fall of 2013, however, a new situation came to the attention of Brandon. Once again, it was Ken van Meter who brought the case to Brandon’s attention. Ken found Brandon at home in his house next to the group home on the evening of Tuesday, September 10. Ken was just getting off work after a long and exhausting, and also frustrating, day, and it was after 7:00. Brandon immediately saw that Ken was wrung out, and so fixed him a Bourbon.
“Can I get Aunt Luisa to fix you something to eat. You look beat,” Brandon sympathized.
“No. Lauren is waiting for me with dinner. I called and told her I’d be stopping by here first, though. I can’t stay long. For one thing, I might fall asleep on you. But I do need to talk with you about a problem. Another problem. How’s Oliver?” Ken asked.
“Oliver’s doing fine,” Brandon replied. “Once we convinced him he had not killed his step-father, he’s been great, and very cooperative. We’ll be celebrating his fifteenth birthday next month. He started his freshman year at Baltimore last month, a year behind his age cohort, but, given his history, that’s still good news. And he’s doing excellent work in school. He’s working on skipping a grade and catching up with his age peers. No doubt in my mind he’ll go on to the University. But more important, he’s happy, and gets along fine with the other boys. He’s a member of the freshman soccer team at school this year,” Brandon proudly reported, as satisfied as any father.
“Thanks to you, Brandon. But I’ve got another one who doesn’t fit the system exactly. That’s why I’m here at the end of a long day,” Ken said.
“I’m listening,” Brandon replied.
“Boy’s name is evidently Raman or Roman Gillespie. We think it might be Raman, as he seems to have Asiatic Indian ancestry. No father in the picture. Mother a prostitute, now in jail for armed robbery. Evidently she got desperate, but botched the job completely. This left the boy on his own. Neighbor called us. Picked up on the streets after being on his own for a while. The boy seems to be about ten years old, but we can’t find any records. No birth certificate located yet. He’s been in and out of school, so his records are spotty, and he was in that poor school on the west side of town that’s little more than a holding facility before juvenile detention. A major problem is he’s not white and not black, and he’s small of build, so he gets picked on by everyone. He’s been beaten up twice while in our care, and we do try to monitor those things. He needs something outside the system. Hence, my visit,” Ken summarized.
“As you know, it’s been a while since we had a new boy. I guess it’s time. I’ll sure give the kid a chance. When can I meet him?” Brandon immediately responded.
“How about first thing tomorrow?” Ken proposed.
“First thing is awfully early with you guys. Think he’ll be safe until about 9:00?” Brandon suggested with a smile.
“We’ve got him in solitary, not because of anything he did, but to keep him safe after his second beating in the holding facility earlier today. He’ll be ready when you are,” Ken promised.
And so it was that on Wednesday morning, rather than heading out to the Farm and making contact with his partner, Chris, and his horse, Barry, Brandon showed up at the juvenile holding center downtown, where he was met by Ken. Ken looked a lot more rested than he had the evening before. Evidently, his wife and kids were restorative. They went into an interview room, and in only a few minutes a boy was ushered into the room by a facility employee, who then departed.
The boy was small, maybe a mite over four foot, and thin, probably 65 to 70 pounds. He had light brown colored skin tone, and dark brown eyes and hair, which was thick and straight. It had not been cut for some time, and then not by a professional, Brandon guessed. The boy had a listless expression, but his eyes indicated he was being very careful about these strangers. Brandon guessed he was ten years old, and behind all the scruffiness and bandages, he was a cute kid.
“Hello, Raman. Remember me? I talked with you yesterday,” Ken began.
“Yeah,” the boy monosyllabically responded.
“This man is Mr. Dowling. He’s a friend of mine. I think he might be able to help you some,” Ken proceeded.
Raman was silent, looking warily at the two men across the table from him.
Ken continued. “Mr. Dowling is in charge of a group home for boys. Right now, there are ...” Ken paused and looked to Brandon “... did you say seven?” Brandon nodded. Ken continued, “... seven boys living there. I think this would be a much safer place for you, Raman, and more interesting than isolation.”
At that, Raman’s lips flickered into a thin smile. But he said nothing.
Brandon decided to get involved. “My boys are all at school now. Would you like to go look over the place while none of them are there?”
Raman showed some interest at that. “Yeah,” he said for the second time that morning.
And so it was arranged that the juvenile Raman Gillespie was released to the care of Brandon Dowling, to be returned before four o’clock that afternoon.
Brandon decided not to try to force the boy to talk, but to give him the opportunity should he want to. He drove back to his place, and with Raman entered the group home from the rear. They encountered Barbara Menendez, known to the boys as Aunt Barbara, in her domain, the kitchen.
“Aunt Barbara, this young man is named Raman, we think. He got fed at the center downtown first thing this morning, but I suspect he could use a mid-morning snack. How about it?” Brandon began.
“Well, hello Raman,” Aunt Barbara said. “I’m sure I can find something for a snack. You go wash up, and by the time you get back, there’ll be something waiting.”
Brandon showed Raman to the first floor restroom, but left him on his own to clean up. That was the first thing to really impress Raman. He was left on his own. He could grab any of the things he saw all about him, and hoof it out the front door before this guy Brandon knew what was what. But he didn’t. So far, things looked pretty good here. Being on the streets had not been good, and the place where he lived with his mother, before she was arrested, was not all that good either. “I wonder what kind of snack that woman will fix,” Raman said to himself as he made his way back to the breakfast room.
Aunt Barbara knew boys. She made great snacks. Peanut butter and jelly, and a big glass of milk. Lots better than the pickings Raman had scrounged while on his own.
After the mid-morning snack, Brandon took Raman on a tour of the facilities. The ground floor did not impress him that much, although the computers in the library looked interesting. Then they went downstairs, to the basement rec room. There was a great entertainment system, with the latest electronic toys, including some games Raman had been aching to try. It was a spacious room, and had definite signs of habitation by boys, including a shirt left thrown over the back of a chair, and a history book left open on a table.
Brandon picked up the book. “That’s Freddy’s. His teacher is probably giving him a lecture about taking care of his books,” he chuckled.
It was the chuckle which got to Raman. Instead of angry words or threats, there was a chuckle. Along with peanut butter and jelly, that ranked as a definite positive.
From the rec room, they went upstairs to the rooms inhabited by the boys. Just as below, although they made an effort to keep things clean and put away, the boys were only partly successful. There was an empty glass with milk stains on the sides next to one bed, which Brandon would deliver to Aunt Barbara. There were a few pieces of clothing strewn about. There was a partially eaten candy bar on a dresser. But the rooms looked comfortable, and the beds looked absolutely heavenly after sleeping on the streets as well as on the hard cots at the holding center. Three positives, and no obvious negatives so far.
Then Brandon led Raman back down to the library. “Okay, Raman, you’ve seen the house. How would you like to live here?”
“Um okay. But what’s the hitch?” Raman replied.
“Hitch?” Brandon asked. He knew what Raman was asking, but he wanted to see how the boy saw it.
“You know. What do I have to do? What kind of operation are you running here? Nobody just offers me a place to stay without a hitch,” Raman declared. That was probably the longest statement he had made since being introduced to Brandon over an hour previously.
Brandon smiled. “When the other boys get home from school, you can ask them, but the hitch is really pretty simple. You will live here. You will be tested and placed in the appropriate grade at school. You will be given a complete medical check-up. You will help out around here, and not cause too much trouble for Aunt Barbara or the other boys. You won’t try to run away. You’ll answer my questions about your background honestly. Oh,” Brandon added with a smile, “and you’ll muck out stables on the Farm.”
“What’s that muck stuff?” a suspicious Raman asked.
Brandon laughed. “Some people who are very special to me own a farm about an hour’s drive from here. My partner, Chris, is there now. They have horses, and the horses live in stables. Now, no one has managed to teach horses to use the bathroom, so from time to time those stables need to be cleaned out. All the soiled hay removed and fresh put down in its place. That’s mucking out stables.”
“Yuck!” Raman expressed his opinion.
“Needs to be done. And all the boys here have done it from time to time. Of course, in return the horses let them ride them.”
“They get to ride horses?” Raman wondered. “I saw a horse once. A policeman was riding it. They’re huge!”
“Horses come in different sizes, but they are bigger than we are,” Brandon admitted. “But if you treat them right, they’re pretty good about letting us humans get up on them and ride around.”
“And if I stay here, I’ll get to ride a horse?” Raman asked, clearly intrigued by this possibility.
“Absolutely. My partner Chris loves horses, and his mother, who lives right across the street, thinks no decent person can go for very long without riding,” Brandon laughed.
“What’s this ‘partner’ business? You said that before,” Raman asked.
“Do you know what being gay means?” Brandon asked in return.
“Uh, kind of. It means you’re queer. You like doing it with other guys,” Raman said.
“You have the general idea. But calling gays ‘queer’ is generally considered an insult. Some people are made so that they like having a mate who is from the other sex, and that’s called being straight. Most people are straight. But some people are different. They are made so they like being with someone of the same sex, and that’s called being gay. I’m gay. So are some of the boys who live here, but not all of them. If you decide you want to live here, you’ll have to get along with some gay guys. How do you feel about that?” Brandon put it to him.
Raman hesitated. “I don’t know. The guys I know, you know, from school and like that, say being queer is dirty, and kind of weak and like a girl. I don’t want to be like that.”
“First of all, Raman, if you decided to stay here, no one will make you do anything along those lines that you don’t want to do. Absolutely no violence is allowed. You got beat up on your own, and also at the juvenile center, but we won’t allow anything like that, and certainly not in connection with sex. But you’ve got to get along with guys who like other guys. You can’t be making negative comments, like those boys you know from school, and you can’t just ignore them. They’re just boys, like you, but with a difference. You know about differences, don’t you?” Brandon followed up.
That approach definitely gave Raman something to think about. He had been different all his life. He was not white, and he was not black. He didn’t seem to fit anywhere. He had been beat up by both groups, and the talk about no violence definitely touched a sensitive spot.
“Are you ... gay, then?” he asked.
“Yes, Raman, I am. And the person I especially like is the man named Chris who I mentioned, and who is out at the Farm with the horses,” Brandon replied.
“He rides horses?”
“You’d better believe it. Chris is absolutely magnificent on horseback. He has won many competitions, and the house out at the Farm is filled with his trophies and blue ribbons,” Brandon lauded his partner. Then an idea struck him. “Here, let me get to that computer.” Brandon was able to access the computers at his home next door, but also the ones at Todd Farm. There was a video of one of Chris’s last performances on CH Todd’s Beauty before the mare was retired from active competition last year. Brandon found the video, and invited Raman to watch it.
For several minutes, Raman watched transfixed. After seeing a young man on a magnificent horse perform seemingly impossible manoeuvers, he then saw them parade around the ring in a victory ride, with streamers flying from the cheekpiece of the horse’s bridle and from the shadbelly, or riding jacket, Chris was wearing.
“He doesn’t look weak,” Raman commented when the video was over.
“He’s not. You can’t be weak and control a horse like that.” Brandon looked at his wristwatch. It was not quite eleven. “Come on. Let’s go for a ride.”
“On a horse?” a startled and apprehensive Raman asked.
“Maybe, but in a car first,” Brandon said. “We’re going out to the Farm.”
CH Todd’s Beauty
And so it was, back out past the kitchen. Say good-bye to Aunt Barbara. Into the car, and on the road for about an hour. Brandon and Raman talked, hesitantly, but with growing comfort, on the way. After a while, they saw white post and rail fences along the left side of the road. Then, there was an impressive gateway, set back a bit from the road, with stone pillars and an arching entrance over the drive, surmounted by the letter T in the center. “This is Todd Farm,” Brandon told Raman. “It’s been in Chris’s family since it was granted to a soldier of the Revolutionary War in 1786. The Commonwealth of Virginia paid off its debts to the veterans of that conflict with military warrants to land on what was then the frontier. The smallest grants were 400 acres to volunteers, or what we would call enlisted men,” Brandon explained. They entered the drive, which wound around a white federal style house into the rear, where there was a paved courtyard between two wings which extended back from the main structure. There they stopped.
They did not even have time to exit the car before there were people all over the place. One of them was the young man Raman had seen on the video. He rushed up and hugged Brandon, then asked, “And who’s this?”
“This is Raman. He’s the boy I told you about, and who Ken introduced to me this morning,” Brandon replied. “We watched your video from the retirement ceremony for Beauty and came out to make the acquaintance of the originals.”
“Great. Hi, Raman. I’m Chris. Let’s go out to Stable C,” he enthused.
“Well, we did leave at an awkward time, and haven’t had lunch. I’m not sure about Raman, but I think I’ll die of starvation if I have to go much longer before eating,” Brandon declared.
Raman grinned at that.
And so they made their way into the far wing, which on the ground floor was the kitchen. The farm people had finished their generous dinner before the new folks arrived, but there was always more. Brandon and Raman sat at a long table with Chris, while two women rustled up something for their lunch. Raman noticed that one woman, called Molly, was white, and the other, called Winnie, was black, and they seemed to get along just fine. The lunch was simple, but filling.
But Chris was antsy, hardly giving them time to wipe their lips before escorting them out to a stable, where he introduced them with great pomp to a horse he called Beauty. The horse obviously recognized him, and nuzzled him.
“She’s a great beggar,” Chris said, removing a treat from his pocket and allowing Beauty to pick it up from the palm of his hand with her lips.
“Beaut,’ Chris addressed the horse, “this boy has never been on a horse before. Do you think you could give him a good experience?”
The horse seemed to respond, turning to look at Raman.
And so, Chris fitted CH Todd’s Beauty out in saddle and bridle, and led her out into the paddock behind the stable. “Are you ready for your first ride?” he said to Raman.
“It’s so big,” the boy hesitated.
“First of all, Beauty is a she, not an it,” Chris insisted, “but she’s the gentlest, kindest, most well behaved horse in all of God’s creation, and she agreed to be nice to you. So, up you go.”
At that, Chris lifted Raman up into the saddle. “Put your feet in the stirrups. I think I got the length right. Now, this is an English saddle, so there’s no pommel for you to hold on to, so hold on to Beauty’s mane. I’ll guide.” And he took the reins, and began to lead the horse and boy around the paddock slowly.
At first, Raman was very stiff, afraid he would fall off, or the horse would run away with him, but gradually he gained more confidence. Beauty really was gentle, and she gave him a smooth ride. She did not seem to mind at all that he gripped her mane, the hairs entangled about his fingers. After a couple of minutes, Chris began to walk faster when he saw Raman begin to relax. Gradually, he increased the pace, until he was actually running next to the horse. Raman was leaning forward, with his arms around Beauty’s neck, and was laughing so hard he was shedding tears.
After what seemed entirely too short a time, Chris led Beauty back to the entrance to the paddock. “I guess that’s enough for the first time,” he noted. Raman liked that. It kind of promised a second time.
“I’m afraid we have to get back to town,” Brandon said. “Raman has an appointment with Ken van Meter at four o’clock, and I want him to meet the other boys before that.”
They led Beauty into the stable, and Chris rubbed her down after removing the saddle and bridle, and then made sure her water and food containers were full. They walked back to the courtyard, where Brandon’s car was parked.
“How did you like your first ride?” Chris asked.
“It was great. Can I do it again?” Raman demanded.
“I’m sure we can work something out,” Chris said. “After all, Beauty likes you.”
Raman grinned from ear to ear.
On the way back to town, Raman talked incessantly. “I rode a horse! She was a big horse, not a pony. I did okay, didn’t I? Chris said Beauty likes me. We can come back out here, can’t we? I rode a horse!” In a moment of seriousness, Raman commented, “Chris was not weak at all.” But then it was quickly back to, “I rode a horse! Beauty likes me!”
By the time they got back to Chestnut Street, it was just after three o’clock, and boys were arriving home from Baltimore High School and St. Rose of Lima Parochial School. When Brandon and Raman entered through the back door, there was enough noise to wake the dead. Over the next few minutes, Raman was introduced to a slew of boys. There were the high school boys, who walked the few blocks from campus: junior Bobby Ackerman, sophomores Clarence Brooke and Joe Chavez, and freshman Oliver Ballard. They were joined by the boys from St. Rose, who had been picked up and delivered safely to the house by Aunt Luisa from next door. These, even louder than the high schoolers, were: eighth grader Mike Grice and sixth graders Freddy Foster and Daniel Marlow.
Raman later realized he could not remember any name except that of Freddy, because of Brandon’s comments about is history book that morning. He sure did not remember who went to which school or was in which grade. What he did remember was that all the boys were friendly. They were loud and talking a mile a minute. They talked about something called soccer, and about school, and complained about school just like the boys Raman knew before, except they did not seem so bitter about it. In fact, they laughed a lot. And when Raman proudly informed everyone at least twice that he had ridden a horse, they responded with their own experiences along those lines.
“Are you coming to live with us?” one of the boys asked.
Raman looked to Brandon.
“We’re working on it,” Brandon told them, “but Raman has to go back to the holding center in a few minutes.”
Clarence had a few chosen words to say about the holding center, at which Aunt Barbara appeared with a washcloth and soap. Everyone else laughed as Clarence submitted to this ordeal, and Raman liked that, too. There were rules, but you didn’t get beat up for breaking them, you got your mouth washed out with soap, and everyone, including eventually even Clarence, laughed about it.
Brandon drove Raman back to the holding center. Before they went in, he asked, “Do you want to come back to our place tomorrow?”
“Yes!” Raman answered. “Please!”
They went in, and met Ken van Meter. The first thing Raman said was, “I rode a horse!”