After the 2014 graduations, there remained eight boys at the group home on Chestnut Street. The two original Brandon’s Boys, Daniel and Colby, have graduated from high school and were sharing an apartment at the Harvey, now launched on their respective careers at the University and Madison Community College. Leon was living at the Warren and also attending Madison, while pursuing his affair with Anne Nicole Duvall. Gene Hillebrand was also at the University, with a position at the Newman Center, and was connecting with the more accepting members of the Hillebrand family. Spencer Franklin, like Daniel and Gene, was at the University now, living on campus. That left Bobby Ackerman, who would be a senior at Baltimore in the fall; Mike Grice, who would be a freshman at Baltimore; Clarence Brooke, who would be a junior at Baltimore; Freddy Foster, destined for the seventh grade at St. Rose along with Daniel Marlow; Oliver Ballard was studying hard during the summer to skip ahead to the junior year, and thus join his age cohort; Jose Chavez would also be a junior in 2014-15; and finally Raman Gillespie would be starting seventh grade at St. Rose in the fall along with Freddy and Daniel, after major efforts to overcome his educational deficiencies with home schooling.
Brandon was especially busy in the summer, as his partner engaged in one equestrian competition after another. He tried to accompany Chris whenever he could, and he also wanted to continue his apprenticeship to Scott MacKenzie as manager of Todd Farm. This reduced the time he could spend in town, and with Brandon’s Boys. This was mitigated somewhat by the fact that the boys spent a greater amount of time on the Farm during the summer. By this time, all the boys rode, although this was more significant for some than for others. Bobby, Mike, Daniel, and Raman all found spending time with the horses especially valuable in their recovery from the abuse they had suffered before being rescued by Brandon. During the summer, they spent a great deal of time on the Farm, practically living there, and helping out with chores, but enjoying the company of the horses, and getting more lessons in equitation. Chris gave especial attention to those boys who showed a strong interest in the horses, and, although he was away a lot, when he was home he gave them additional lessons. Moreover, these boys accompanied Brandon and Chris to many of the summer horse shows, and even engaged in shows at the county fair level.
The boys over 16 were expected to work during the summer. This not only was considered good discipline, but also gave them some spending money independent of Brandon, and gave them some ideas about what they might want to do later in life. This included Bobby, Clarence, and Jose in 2014. Clarence and Jose were working for Harvey Brothers Construction, but Bobby was working at Todd Farm. His interest in the horses was more significant than the need of the Farm, and, as so often in the past, Todd Farm hired him based on his need rather than the need of the Farm for additional workers. That did not mean he got to goof off. He worked hard, taking care of the horses and cleaning up after them. But he loved every minute of it. Bobby also now had a girlfriend in the person of Candy Greene, who came out to the Farm as often as she could.
A new boy in need came to the attention of Brandon during the summer of 2014, and once again it was through the mediation of Father Lamar Todd. Lamar returned from his part of the family vacation on 23 June, and resumed his duties as curate at St. Martin de Porres Parish in the west end of Clifton. Father Alexander Wright, the pastor, greatly appreciated the work of Lamar, and gave him every help he could in furthering his clerical career, and in such matters as his vacation time with his parents touring the Chesapeake area. Lamar had already been closely associated with Brandon’s Boys, not only as chaplain and a member of the Board, but also in recommending Leon Luttrell, Clarence Brooke, and Freddy Foster to Brandon.
Not long after his return to duty, Lamar was approached by a parishioner with a series of problems. This was Mrs. Claretta Ferguson. After Mass on Sunday, July 6, she asked to see Father Todd in private. They agreed to the next day in the early afternoon. It seems that Mrs. Ferguson worked two jobs, but both were minimum wage positions, as she had no marketable skills. She worked at one job in the mornings, and another in the late afternoons and evenings, but had the early afternoons free. Jobs of this kind also provided no retirement benefits and no insurance. She was barely making it, with her two jobs and welfare. The major reason for this, Lamar quickly discovered, was that Mrs. Ferguson had nine children. Before she married DeJuan Ferguson, she had two children. Then she and DeJuan had three children, but he then disappeared leaving no forwarding address and no support for his wife and children. After DeJuan disappeared, Claretta had four additional children. Even with two jobs, at minimum wage she relied on welfare to support her large family and for health needs.
Mrs. Ferguson confessed her sins, but said she did not think she could promise not to have sex again. With all the problems in her life, it was the one thing, other than her children, which gave her some pleasure. Lamar discussed the possibility of sex without having more children, but she said she had always obeyed the Church’s teaching about no birth control. At that, Lamar decided he had to make a decision between the rules of the canon lawyers and pastoral care. He counseled Mrs. Ferguson that, given her circumstances, she might claim a dispensation when it came to birth control. No abortion, of course, but simply making use of the contraceptives which were supplied by the public health office. She seemed greatly relieved by this counsel. “I don’t think I could survive another pregnancy,” she informed him.
Then came the second reason for her seeking advice. She had a twelve-year-old son called Bobby who was a real challenge. He was the elder of her sons by DeJuan Ferguson, born on 14 April 2002. She said he was real smart, but he was not very strong. He was picked on by other boys. He was what she called ‘different,’ which she declined to elaborate. And, most disturbing, he said he was not interested in Church any more. Lamar agreed to see the youngster and see what he could do.
Two days later, Mrs. Ferguson showed up at the rectory with a boy in tow. The boy was clearly not pleased to be there. When Lamar met with them, Mrs. Ferguson began by telling Bobby what he should say and do. At that, Lamar suggested that he and Bobby have a private talk, as his mother surely had other things she needed to do. Although Mrs. Ferguson hesitated, she finally agreed, and Bobby looked relieved.
Once they were alone, Father Lamar said, “Now, suppose you tell me what the problems are.”
“I’m gay,” the boy said.
Lamar waited for some follow up, but nothing more was said.
“Is that all?” he asked.
“Seems to be enough,” Bobby answered. “The bishops have pretty much told me I’m not wanted in the Church, so I don’t want to come and hear that.”
“Are you certain that you’re gay? Are you sure this is not just some kind of phase you’re going through, maybe exploring your sexuality?” Lamar asked. He wondered whether the boy could deal with that concept.
He was pleased when Bobby showed that he understood what was involved. “I know. I spent a lot of time in the library and on-line researching this thing. I didn’t come up with it just to cause Mom problems. It would be a lot easier if it were just some phase, as you put it. Then I could put it aside and not be a real prick to Mom. I hate causing her so many problems, but this is just who I am,” Bobby declared.
This actually delighted Lamar. The boy was articulate and informed. He had thought about his situation, not just reacted to stimuli.
“Okay, Bobby, let’s take it as given that you are gay. Why does this mean you have to cause your mother grief?”
“Mom is upset because I get into fights at school, and I always lose. You can see by looking at me that I’m not what you can call athletic. And then there’s the bishops,” Bobby replied.
“Let’s leave the bishops aside for now,” Lamar suggested. “Why do you get in fights at school?”
“Not my choice. There are guys at school who think it’s cool to pick on guys who are weaker than they are. I’m a prime candidate.” Bobby then grinned. “And I kind of provoke it sometimes, too.”
“Oh? How is that?” Lamar asked.
“When those guys make some stupid statement, which they do about every two minutes, I correct them. That really ticks them off. And then, when they pick on some little kid, I go get the teachers. So they call me interesting names like toady and ass-licker,” he reported with a sense of pride.
“I’m surprised that the guys you’re talking about know a word like toady,” Lamar teased.
Bobby looked surprised. Then he grinned and blushed. “Okay, so maybe I’m interpreting some of it. Honestly, some of their names for me are things I don’t want repeated. But okay. I’m a cock sucker and a brown noser and a teacher’s pet and... oh, shit. The list goes on and on.”
“Well, I get the picture, but I don’t think I’ll be calling you any of those names, Bobby,” Lamar said. “I notice, though, that you included cock sucker in the abusive terms you’ve been called. Is that genuinely what others say about you, or your interpretation because you identify as gay?”
“No, that’s real. Because I’m not athletic, and because I try to avoid violence and all the other macho stuff, and because I do try to keep on the good side of the teachers, some of the bullies have decided that I’m gay, too. And when they call me those names, I won’t deny it. You know, things like, ‘You really are a queer, aren’t you?’ sort of thing. I just tell them that’s none of their business. Do you think I’m stupid?”
“Bobby, you may be lacking in caution and a sense of self preservation, but I would never call you stupid. Actually, I think you’re pretty brave. And I think it’s admirable that you come to the defense of the little kids,” Lamar said.
“Yes, certainly. So, I think there’s more to you than meets the eye. You are definitely an interesting young man. So, what would you like to change in your life to make things easier on your mother?” Lamar asked.
Bobby grinned. “Give me super powers, so I can zap the bad guys, maybe?”
Lamar laughed. “I’m afraid that’s something beyond my ability, and the only guy I know who can do that is pretty stingy with super powers.”
Bobby looked confused. “You know somebody with super powers?”
“Sure. The guy I work for,” Lamar said, pointing upward.
Bobby gave him an exasperated look. “You had me going there for a minute.”
“So, back to dull old everyday things, with no super powers, what would you like to see change?” Lamar persisted.
Bobby took his time. “Somehow,” he suggested, “I’d like to see my Mom not have so many worries and problems, especially about me, without me having to pretend to be something I’m not.”
“That’s a very admirable goal,” Lamar responded. “Let’s talk about that. What would it take to lessen your mother’s concerns, without doing violence to who you are?”
Bobby grinned again. He looked very attractive when he grinned. “So, you’re conceding that I’m gay? ‘Cause that’s what’s causing Mom so many worries. Or at least, that’s a big part of it. Gays do not prosper in this neighborhood, and sometimes do not live very long. Don’t you know anything?”
“Bobby, I know more than one gay person. I’ll tell you a little family secret. I have a brother who’s gay,” Lamar said.
“True. And not only that, he knew by the time he was about eight, I think.”
“So, what did your parents do about that?” Bobby asked, definitely interested now.
“Well, I was not in on all the talks they had, but as I understand it, they discussed the whole thing with Chris – that’s my brother – and with a psychologist friend of theirs, and with the parish priest. They decided Chris really was gay, but they were concerned about him hooking up with strangers, so they worked on that side of things until he was older, and he found a decent partner. And they never ceased loving him. Now, Chris is doing fine. His partner is accepted as part of the family, and everyone is happy about it.”
“And did Chris drop out of the Church like me?” Bobby asked.
“No. In fact, he was an altar boy, and continued to serve, although I think he drove the priests crazy sometimes. Fortunately, we had some very understanding priests, who were more concerned about saving souls than upholding canon law. Chris and his partner go to Mass every Sunday,” Lamar reported to the surprise of the boy.
“I don’t believe it,” Bobby said, more in amazement than in disagreement.
“Now Bobby, you don’t want to go calling your priest a liar,” Lamar teased.
Bobby blushed. “I didn’t mean ... I’m sorry .... I ... I ....”
“Okay. What you meant to say was that you were amazed at what I said, right?” Lamar interpreted.
“Yeah. You know what? You’re not like any other adult I’ve talked to,” Bobby advanced.
“How so?” Lamar asked with a grin.
“You don’t get all uptight at what I say, and you don’t try to make me say things I don’t want to,” Bobby replied.
“I guess I’m just a failure as an authority figure,” Lamar joked.
Bobby laughed. But then he became very serious. “You said your brother was gay, but he was still an altar boy,” he noted, asking for more.
“Yes. Chris is definitely gay. But he remained Catholic, and, I have to say, a pretty devout one, all through the rough spots. He never gave up being both Catholic and gay,” Lamar informed the boy.
“But the bishops ...,” Bobby began, then stopped. “Okay, just tell me. How does he do it?”
“I kind of talked to your mother about this the other day. If you really probe, and don’t just rely on the surface of things, there are levels of certainty in Catholic teaching. I think you can understand this Bobby, so I’m going into more detail than I did with your mother. Things that have been proclaimed as dogma by an ecumenical council, like the full divinity and humanity of Christ by the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, and the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, proclaimed by the Fourth Lateran Council, those things are absolutely true, because in such matters the councils speak with the voice of God. Likewise, teachings in infallible papal decrees, like the decree on the Immaculate Conception in 1854 by Pope Pius IX called Ineffabilis Deus, are also not up for grabs. But the interpretations of Jesus’ message which various canon lawyers and councils have come up with over the years are in a different category. They are not absolutely true, but only someone’s idea of what is true. They are attempts to apply basics to everyday living. They might change. I think the position of the bishops on gays, and on most sexual matters, falls into this category, so, while I do not advocate standing out in front of church with a placard, I think someone who is seriously convinced of an alternative interpretation of Jesus’ message can still be regarded as a good Catholic,” Lamar said.
“Damn! I was looking forward to the placard,” Bobby grinned. “And how does this fit into Catholic teaching?” he challenged the priest.
“First things first. Remember in the Gospel when Jesus was asked what the most important of God’s commandments was?” Lamar posed to him.
“Uh, that actually came up in a Sunday School class I attended.” Bobby then blushed. “I skipped a lot of them. But if I remember right, it was love God and love others.”
“You got it,” Lamar said. “Here’s the way St. Mark puts it: Hear, Oh Israel! The Lord our God is One; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment, and the second is like it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. That’s Mark 12, 29-31, and the same thing can be found in Matthew. So, if anything conflicts with that, it must give way. Some theologians see the old teaching about gay sex as falling into this category of conflicting with a wider understanding of loving one’s neighbor.”
Bobby grinned devilishly.
“Now Bobby, you know what I mean by loving one’s neighbor,” Lamar admonished him.
“Yeah, but I couldn’t resist. So, seriously, I can be gay, and even have a gay partner, and still be Catholic?”
“I say yes,” Lamar stated. “Not all priests would agree with me, so I suggest being discrete in proclaiming your orientation.”
“Okay, but what about Mom?” Bobby asked. “I don’t think she would go for this alternative interpretation you talk about. She’s pretty straight forward.”
“I think I can convince her that you are an exception to the general rule. She already knows about that in other respects,” Lamar teased, thinking of his advice to her about contraception.
“If you can put Mom’s anxieties to rest without me having to say I’m straight, I will be forever grateful, Father.”
“Then I’ll do that. I like having people forever grateful to me,” Lamar teased again.
Bobby looked at him with a skeptical eye. “Like I said, you’re not like other adults.”
“Does being different create problems for you?” Lamar pushed.
Bobby grinned. “I’m different. You’re different. And things are better for it.”
“Smart man,” Lamar congratulated him. “Now, it’s summer, so maybe the problem is not as bad as during the school year, but what are we going to do about your other problem?”
“What other problem?” Bobby asked.
“You told me you were picked on. Your mom told me you got beat up. Isn’t that a problem?” Lamar asked in return.
“Oh, that problem,” Bobby kidded. He thought. “No idea. You can’t be around all the time. After all, it’s a public school. You know we can’t afford the Catholic school, and that really upsets my mom, too.”
“That’s because of the nuns,” Lamar said.
“What nuns?” Bobby asked.
“Used to be, long before you came on the scene, that there were lots of religious sisters who taught in Catholic schools almost for free. But there are almost none of them left these days, so the Catholic schools have to pay lay teachers a decent salary, which means they have to charge higher tuition, which means that the schools are not affordable for the very class of people they were originally set up to serve,” Lamar said, indulging in one of his pet peeves.
“And what are we going to do about that?” Bobby asked, mimicking Lamar.
Lamar leaned over and boffed his ear. “Don’t make fun of your priest,” he admonished the boy.
“But I can come up with a solution to your problem,” Lamar said. “Did you know Leon Luttrell, or Clarence Brooke, or Freddy Foster?”
“Yeah. I knew Freddy. He just kind of disappeared. I didn’t know those other guys, but I heard they disappeared, too,” Bobby said, a little apprehensively.
“Well, I can tell you that Leon graduated from Baltimore High, and is attending the community college, and Clarence finished his sophomore year at Baltimore in May, and Freddy is doing fine, and will be in the seventh grade in the fall, and he comes here to St. Martin from time to time to visit his grandmother, and none of those guys are being picked on,” Lamar asserted.
Bobby started to say something, grinned, and reconsidered. “Okay, I won’t say I don’t believe it, but how about a little more information.”
Lamar consulted his wristwatch. “Do you have any commitments this evening?”
“No. Mom will be upset if I don’t check in some time, but otherwise I’m free,” Bobby said.
“Then hold on,” Lamar said. He pulled out his phone and punched in a number. “Hello, this is Father Todd. Who’s on the line? Oh, Clarence. Excellent. Listen, do you think you and Freddy could be available at dinner, and maybe feed a poor parish priest and his guest as well? Ah, Aunt Barbara is a jewel. Okay, if you guys will be available, I’ll see you for dinner.” Lamar then signed off. He turned to Bobby. “We have a dinner engagement.”
After Bobby checked in with his mother, Lamar led him out to his car, and they took off. On the way, Lamar playfully asked, “Should I introduce you as Bobby or Robert?”
“Actually, my name on my birth certificate is Bobby. My dad named me for Bobby Seale. You know who that is?” Bobby answered.
“I’ve heard of him. Black Panthers. Before my time. Kind of advocated violence,” Lamar hesitantly responded.
“Ironic isn’t it. I’m actually Bobby Seale Ferguson, and I’m the one being picked on,” Bobby said with some emotion.
“We’ll do something about part of that,” Lamar promised.
They arrived at the Brandon’s Boys group home at 1324 S. Chestnut Street, and Lamar led Bobby in, not bothering to knock. They made their way back to the kitchen, where they encountered a Hispanic woman whom Lamar addressed as Aunt Barbara.
“I’m afraid you have two more wanting to sample your dinner, Aunt Barbara.”
“Clarence told me to expect you. Dinner in twenty minutes. Don’t forget to wash your hands,” Aunt Barbara instructed.
Lamar then led Bobby down to the lower level, where there was a nicely finished rec room, with a HD television going full blast. Clarence Brooke sat, watching a program. Nearby was a younger boy, among others, who looked up as the newcomers entered. This was Freddy. He leapt up.
“Hey guys, Father Lamar is here, and he has a new guy with him,” Freddy announced.
There in the rec room, and later over a great dinner, Bobby not only connected with guys he though had completely disappeared and their friends, but he also learned about Brandon’s Boys. Safe place to live. No violence. Support in school. Schools where bullying was not allowed. Gays were accepted. And yes, regular church. Lamar and Bobby spent most of the evening at Brandon’s Boys. By the time they had to leave, Bobby definitely wanted to be a part of that group.
Lamar took Bobby home. He promised to speak to his mother the following afternoon, as she was already at her second job. Bobby was hopeful about the future for the first time he could remember.
The next afternoon, Mrs. Ferguson turned up at the rectory asking for Father Todd. Bobby had bombarded her with his impressions and desires as soon as she awoke. Lamar gave her a more ordered account, but it meant that Bobby would go to live at Brandon’s Boys, and would attend St. Rose in the fall. No more harassment, now or later. Bobby’s sexual orientation was in the same category as her contraceptives, in that she could consider it a special case and ignore the statements to the contrary. And Lamar was pretty confident Bobby would be back in church, as well. Mrs. Ferguson was in tears. She was so grateful. She loved her son, and ached to see him so unhappy and beaten down. Today, he seemed alive and happy. That’s all she wanted. So she agreed.
In the next few days, arrangements were worked out, so that Bobby moved into Brandon’s Boys. He began to fit in right away, finding others to whom he could talk as equals, and finding not only acceptance of gays, but other gays in residence. And St. Rose sounded like heaven compared to the public school he had been attending. And he did not have to give up his family. He could visit them, and they could visit him. And, as a side issue, all the boys had memberships at Mike’s Gym, so he could begin building himself up, not being so weak any more. It was great!