by Sue M and KT
AU: Little Britches ATF – Little Ambassadors Series
Betaed by Sue M and Nancy.
The boys had been on school break for several days and their dads' parallel vacation was proving to be fun, but challenging. With light rainfall on the Thursday before Good Friday, Vin and JD were in the den. Vin was drawing, while JD was searching the internet for something he'd seen on TV.
Jolting from the sudden noise, Vin's hand knocked over his upright pencil case, but lightning reflexes had him snatching it to safety a millisecond before it left the desk he was sharing with JD. His eyes narrowed at the little one.
"Yell, why don't you?"
JD frowned at Vin. "I did." With the sarcasm lost on him, JD continued. "DA...!"
Buck's harassed features appeared at the door. "What?" he squeaked, while hoping his alarm was disguised. He was successful, - with JD, anyhow.
JD pointed at the screen. "Lookit, i'ss the Queen. She gives out monies to old peoples, today."
He scratched his chin. "Hmm...shame Miss Nettie don't live here, huh?"
Vin hid his grin when Buck approached, sputtering. "Son, I beg of you, don't ever let Missus Wells hear you say that."
JD pondered his words, then shrugged. "'Kay."
Ruffling Vin's hair as he crouched down next to JD, Buck's head touched his son's and he stared at the screen. "So, why's your girlfriend giving money away to old folk?"
JD squealed and covered his face with his hands. "D~a..." he sing-songed. "She's not my girl-friend." He dropped one hand to peek at his father. "'Sides, she got a hubsband – King Flip."
Buck felt a guffaw bubbling up from his chest and barely suppressed it before finally deciding to explain his son's misconception. "It's Prince Phil-ip."
JD's brow wrinkled. "Huh? Nuh uh – She's the Queen, and he's the King."
Buck shook his head. "No, when she married Philip, he was already a prince. Her Dad was a King, and he died, which made Princess Elizabeth a Queen."
"Because you have to be born into the position of heir to the throne, so it's just the Queen, and Prince Philip."
"I just explained, JD. He married a Princess as a Prince, but only she could be Queen."
"But her Da was a King."
"So Prince Flip should be a King."
Buck flicked a finger at a silently laughing Vin's shaking shoulders and smiled at JD.
"So, anyway, the Queen's gonna be busy today."
"Oh yeah," JD nodded. "There's fousands of ol' peoples that need money."
"I don't think they all get the money, son."
Leaving them to it, a chuckling Vin picked up his artwork, slipped off his chair and left the den in search of his father.
Chris was chopping up ingredients for his world famous spaghetti; famous at least in the Larabee-Wilmington-Tanner-Dunne home. He turned at the sound of footsteps and grinned as his son approached. Chris stopped what he was doing, wiped his hands and crouched down to greet Vin.
"Hey. Whatcha got there?"
The boy extended his hand and offered the picture within it to his father. Chris studied the effort and smiled.
"This is awesome." He stood and moved some fridge magnets. "Let's put it on the fridge, huh?"
Stepping back to admire Vin's work, he draped a hand on the bony shoulder.
"Is that you riding Peso?"
Vin nodded and pointed.
"And you ridin' Pony, and Buck ridin' Beau and, see? I gave JD a horse, too, ‘cause he's doin' real good at his ridin'."
Chris nodded. "He sure is, though I'm not sure Buck's ready to let him ride solo all the time just yet." He tilted his head. "You put him on a Bay, I thought JD's been riding a Paint?"
"He does, but somehow, a Bay just seemed...right."
Chris gave Vin's shoulder a squeeze. "Y'know, looking at it, you're right, it does look a good fit."
Vin beamed. His father's praise meant the world to him and he leaned into Chris's thigh.
"What was JD hollering about?" Now Chris was beaming at Vin's giggle.
"Buck called Queen ‘Lizabeth JD's girlfriend and JD went all red. Then he called her husband King Flip..."
"Who did? Buck?" Chris teased.
Vin giggled harder. "N-o-o-o, JD; and Buck was tryin' t'explain that Philip was a Prince, and JD was all ‘why?' you know, like he does."
Chris was now chuckling. "Oh - yeah, I know." He looked back to the worktop. "Now you're here, you want to help me grate some carrots?"
The pair moved to the chopping area. Vin pulled up a chair and kneeled on it. Chris passed him the grater.
"Don't forget, leave the very end piece. While my spaghetti has several unique ingredients, shredded knuckles aren't one of them."
Vin laughed and playfully pushed his arm against Chris's side. "Dad!"
Buck was still in the den and desperately trying to halt the ‘why' onslaught.
Buck raised a finger. "Ah-ah! ‘Y' is a letter, you oughta know better."
JD frowned. "Huh? Why, ‘Y'?"
"Uh...because...uh, did I ever tell you ‘bout the boy who said too many ‘Y's, got stuck in a loop and could only say ‘Y' for the rest of his days?"
JD's face crumpled. "What?" He scooted off his chair and run to the kitchen. "V-I-N!"
Buck's face went pale. "Ooh, noooo. Shoot. I said the wrong thing...JD!"
In the kitchen, Chris and Vin were grating and chopping in time to the song ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider'. On hearing JD's cry, Chris watched his son change from relaxed and happy, to an anxious, fierce protector. Setting down the carrots and implements, Vin was off the chair and trying to get a look at the five year old now grasping his hips and hiding behind him.
Once more wiping his hands, Chris turned to see the two boys, and then an anxious Buck hurrying in. The look on Buck's face told Chris his long-time friend, and the man who had been rocketed into parenthood, and not to a baby, but to a small child no less, had likely expressed a ‘Buckism', a term that he and the boys had named the genial man's occasional parenting goofs.
Seeing his father, JD clung tighter to Vin's waist, looked up into the troubled blue eyes, and babbled out one long sentence.
"Vin, Da told me that if I keep saying ‘why' I'z gonna get loopy and only ever be able to say ‘why' and no other words ever again, is it true, Vin? Is it? Huh? Huh? Will I never be able to talk...?" His voice dropped to a ‘JD' whisper. "...And only say ‘why'?"
If Buck hadn't looked so mortified, Chris would have laughed out loud. Winking at Vin, and pleased to see the boy visibly relax after offering a hug his brother of the heart, Chris crouched down to gain eye contact with the five-year-old whose face was buried in Vin's side.
"JD." Chris got no response, but gave Buck a quick, reassuring grin. "JD...John Daniel Dunne."
Hearing his full name JD peeked around Vin. "Yessir?"
Chris smiled. "Remember when we talked about ‘Buckisms'?"
Vin nodded, looking back to give Buck a grin. JD's thumb slipped into his mouth as he gave his father a coy, sideways glance and also nodded.
"When Buck tells a joke, but forgets that sometimes little boys don't understand them like me, and your uncles, do?"
"Uh huh." JD looked at Buck. "Was you joking, Da?"
Buck dropped to one knee. "Oh, Li'l Bit, sure I was. I was just teasing you, is all. I'm real sorry I scared you."
With a one-armed hug to Vin, JD ran into his father's open arms. In seconds, Buck was on his feet and spinning around with his giggling son. Chris nodded his approval, and gestured to Vin with his head toward the chopping area.
"If we don't get a move on, there'll be no spaghetti, and we'll have to go to bed starving."
Both boys stared wide-eyed at Chris. Vin chuckled. "You just said a Buckism, Dad."
"Hey!" Buck protested. "You can't call ‘em that if I don't say it. That was a Chrisism!"
Squirming to get down, JD joined Vin and they danced a little jig to Vin's chant. "Chris-ism, Chris-ism, now we got a Chris-ism."
Crisis over, Buck joined Chris and while their sons played ‘tag', they finished preparing and cooking dinner together.
Easter Sunday morning, and after an exchange of chocolate Easter Eggs, and a fraught ten minutes of persuading the boys to leave eating an egg until later, a fun breakfast of boiled eggs with faces drawn on them, and toasted, buttered Hot Cross Buns left over from Good Friday was enjoyed by the little family. Later, the boys and their dads would accompany Jane and Eric Green to Church for the Easter service.
After church everyone, including the dogs would be headed to Ieuan's where they had been invited to a roast lamb Easter lunch. Chris delivered Ringo and Elvis to the young Welshman before they left for church. Ieuan happily took charge of the dogs, and told Chris the meal would be ready at two o'clock. He also told him there would be an Easter Egg hunt first.
Reverend Powell welcomed everyone to Church, and they sang the first hymn ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away'. When the congregation sat down, he announced the ‘surprise' he had been promising.
Dressed smartly, and sitting in a front pew, the boys, their dads, and the Greens were, along with a full church, treated to an Easter Pageant. A teenage girl stepped up to the pulpit microphone, and narrated.
"Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. Behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from the sky, and came and rolled away the stone from the door, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him, the guards shook, and became like dead men. The angel answered the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, just as he foretold. Come, see the place where the Lord was lying. Go quickly and tell his disciples that 'He has risen from the dead, and he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him.' Behold what I have told you."
The girl sat down, and on the raised dais to one side of the pulpit, a little scene played out with a backdrop of a stone tomb. It began with the church lights flickering and a ‘rumble' like thunder. Vin and JD were enrapt, the latter gasping and clutching his father's pants leg as he watched. Buck smiled at his boy and placed a comforting arm around him.
The first Roman guard, Theo, stared around, then got up off the ‘ground' and shook the second guard, Claudio. "Get up!"
Claudio jumped to his feet and looked nervously around. "Is it gone, the glowing thingy?" he whispered.
"Yeah, that's if it was ever really here."
Claudio's eyes opened wide and his trembling hand pointed. "Well, we're not imagining that!" They both looked to see the stone seal had been rolled away from Jesus' tomb.
"Oh no," Theo moaned. "If someone's stolen the body, we're in big trouble." He pushed him. You'd better go and take a look."
"No," Claudio squeaked. "I'm not going in there. Besides, no one's been up here but us. What do you think this Jesus man did, got up, pushed away a heavy boulder, and just walked out of there?"
"Go on," Theo insisted, pushing him further along. "We won't know if you don't go and check."
Claudio dug in his heels. "NO! You go..."
JD's grip tightened on Buck's leg. "Noooo, stop pushing him!" he called out, much to the congregation's, the Green's and his family's amusement.
Both guards stopped. "Well someone has to." They approached guard three. "Demetrius, get up, you have to go check the tomb."
Demetrius never moved.
"We know you're awake, get up!" Theo barked.
JD pointed. "He's a bully! Tell him, Vin." He stood on the pew. "My brother don't like bullies. He's gonna come up there an' scold you!"
Vin tugged JD's shirt. "No I ain't! Sit down!" He looked at Chris. "No I ain't."
Chris smiled. "I know. JD's just real proud of how his big brother takes care of him and anyone who gets bullied, like in school, back in Denver."
Vin's cheeks turned rosy and he smiled, shyly. "Oh." He looked across. Buck already had JD on his lap. He nudged the little one. "I'd rather just take care of you, if that's okay."
JD nodded, his eyes still on the scene trying to play out. "'Kay."
Reverend Powell chuckled along with the rest when Buck pulled JD up onto his lap. With everyone settled, the play continued.
"Why me?" Demetrius asked.
"Just do it," Theo ordered.
With a huff, Demetrius got up and with cautious steps entered the tomb, or in this case, went behind the scenery. Claudio looked at Theo. "Jesus must be in there, right? Like I said, only we've been here the whole time. That other...thing we saw, was a dream, right? Yeah, just a dream."
Demetrius exited the tomb.
"Well?" Theo asked.
The third guard's face said it all and the three turned to the congregation and placed their hands to their faces in shock.
"Oh no, the tomb's empty - He's...gone!" the three guards chorused.
The Narrator returned to the microphone.
"And behold, some of the guards came into the city, and told the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave a large amount of silver to the soldiers, saying, "Say that His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept. If this should come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him it is so and make you free of worry." So they took the money and did as they were told." The speaker folded her paper, and left the pulpit.
Vin and JD applauded, and the gathered worshippers followed suit. Then, everyone stood and sang a hymn that the boys liked very much, and even though they had never heard it before, they sang along with gusto.
"The Stone was rolled away,
From where the Saviour lay,
That Glad and Glorious day
When Jesus rose again.
A living Saviour is He,
Who died to set me free,
All Glory be to He
Who died and rose again."
Leaving church later, Reverend Powell shook Jane, Eric's, Buck's, and Chris's hands and then did the same to the boys. "Did you enjoy the service?" he asked.
Both boys nodded.
"Thank you for coming. I've enjoyed getting to know you." He looked to Chris and Buck. "I understand your time here is drawing to a close."
Chris nodded. "Three more months, but we all know how fast time goes, huh?"
The reverend agreed. "Indeed. You will be missed." He looked to Jane and Eric. "Many of my parishioners speak very fondly of you all."
On the drive home, the boys' noses were pressed to the car's windows as they stared in awe at the tiny baby lambs gambolling in the fields and feeding from their mothers.
"Can we go see ‘em?" JD asked.
"Please?" Vin appealed.
"No can do, guys," Chris replied. "You can't just go up to them like that, not in a field, anyway."
JD's shoulders touched his ears at his father's warning glance on hearing the ‘why' word. "Okay."
Once home and knowing the boys would soon be scurrying around looking for eggs, they were told to change into their sneakers, jeans, and shirts, while Chris and Buck also changed out of their suits and into something more smart-casual. Jane and Eric knocked on their door, and the group of six headed over to Ieuan's.
Ieuan, four excited dogs, and the enticingly mothwatering aromas of a roast meal greeted the group. He crouched down and handed the boys a small wicker basket each.
"There are twenty small eggs hidden around the apartment. Go!"
With a squeal, the boys split up and while they were searching, and with the aid of snuffling dogs, the adults relaxed with whiskies and a sherry for Jane.
While JD headed off, Vin studied the apartment with a keen eye as he moved around. In places, he could see where things were amiss, or evidence of recent movement, like in the way the pile of Ieuan's plush rugs was crushed. He chuckled as the whirling dervish that was JD bustled around, hollering excitedly and declaring he'd found six eggs. Vin looked down into his basket at the twelve he'd found and continued on.
When Ieuan called ‘time', the boys returned to the living room for a final count. The adults smiled when Vin slipped four eggs into JD's basket. With the ten he was holding, their task was completed.
They would recall for a long time after, the expression on JD's face when he found his tally had magically almost doubled. To JD, the Easter Bunny was suddenly seeming pretty real right now; how else could there be more eggs than he knew he'd found? He could count after all; JD knew he'd only found six.
It was the quiet words to Vin from Chris and his Da, and the kiss Vin received from Jane that caused JD to put it together. Disappointment flooded through him when he realized there was no magic involved, but one look at Vin's proud features, and a smiling JD decided the truth of his gain would be forever his secret.
As soon as he could figure out how to keep one.
Dinner was going well. Once the four dogs were taken to the kitchen for their meals, the group sat down at the beautifully decorated table, complete with little yellow chicks on tiny ornate silver chairs which completely captivated the youngsters. Then, after Eric was asked to carve, and the lamb was served up, they helped themselves to serving dishes filled with piping hot baby new potatoes in butter and chopped parsley, roast potatoes, roasted parsnips with nutmeg, Petit Pois, or as Vin called them, teeny peas; carrot roundels, roasted Butternut squash, and sweet potato with red onions and herbs. The last items Ieuan put in especially for his American friends.
While eating, Eric looked across at his host and smiled. "Ieuan, lad, this lamb is delicious. Thank you."
No one knew exactly at which point the boys began their silent freak-out. It was when Vin placed a napkin to his mouth to remove meat, and while JD, with far less grace, dipped his head, moved his lips to the plate, and tongued out the chewed lamb from his mouth, that the situation came to light. Both boys jolted at their fathers' reactions.
"Vin. What was that?"
"JD! You don't do that at the dinner table."
Seated opposite each other, the liquid hazel, and misty blue gazes of the boys locked until both heads bowed. Vin's chin wobbled, JD flat out sobbed.
While the Greens and Ieuan watched in confusion, Buck and Chris turned their sons to face them and spoke softly.
"Hey, Li'l Bit, don't cry. I was just a little surprised, is all. You usually have such great manners at the table."
"Vin, talk to me. Why the sudden mood change?"
Both boys stuttered out a reply almost simultaneously.
Recalling the ride home from church, Jane gasped softly. When she had served lamb a while back, it was later in the season, and the boys made no connection to the meat; but now, with Spring, and the onslaught of baby animals arriving along with fresh blossoms and buds, she understood the problem, and quickly spoke up.
"Sweethearts, this meat isn't like the baby lambs we saw on the way home."
Understanding, Ieuan jumped in. "The lambs have to be almost full-grown before they can be chosen."
Vin waggled an index finger. "The lambs we saw got kinda bouncy tails."
JD used his thumbs and fingers to open his eyes wide. "And b-i-g eyes."
Chris addressed them both. "Yeah, when they're first born; but very soon after, they start to grow, and then they look like all the other sheep in the field."
"Welsh lamb, which this is, tastes sweet and juicy because the grass in Wales is really lush, and green, and they eat it all day," Ieuan added.
"Why?" JD asked.
"Why is it really lushy green?"
Buck was impressed when Ieuan wasn't caught on the hop. He really did know these little guys.
"Because," Ieuan answered, "it rains a lot in some parts of Wales, especially in the areas with mountain regions."
An idea suddenly hit him, and he hoped he wouldn't put Chris and Buck on the spot. "Hey, you still have a whole two weeks off school, right?"
The boys nodded, and Jane and Eric stifled laughs when Buck and Chris's features told a story all of their own on that subject.
Ieuan looked between the boys and their fathers. "As you know, tomorrow, I'm going to Wales to visit with my parents, and to look after my uncle's farm for a couple of weeks. Why don't you guys, and the dogs, join me and Bear on the farm? I could use the help, and the company." He held his breath while waiting for Buck and Chris to trade looks and try not to be influenced by two very excitable boys bouncing in their chairs and begging them to say yes. A raised hand from Chris silenced the pair instantly.
"Well, we were considering a vacation before our breaks were over. "Buck, you up for it?" He already knew Buck's answer from their previous exchanged glance.
"W-e-l-l. I'm not sure the boys would be interested..."
"Yeah, Da, we is!"
"Sure we are. A farm is like a ranch, right?" Vin looked at Ieuan. "Right?"
Breathing again, Ieuan smiled. "Sort of. Maybe a little muddier."
"We like mud!" the boys chorused.
Chris and Buck nodded. "Oh yeah, they like mud."
Buck looked to each wide-eyed, expectant boy. "I guess we should let the boys decide..."
Chris smiled at Ieuan. "I reckon that's a ‘yes', then. Thanks for the invite."
"My pleasure. I'll give you the postcode for your GPS, as well as detailed instructions. Give me about five days or so to get set up, and then come up, yeah?"
"YEAH!" The boys squealed again.
"On one condition."
"You try and clear your plates. All I'm asking is for you to try." No sooner had Ieuan spoken; the boys' forks were scraping china.
The group resumed eating and Buck grinned. "As Ezra would say, ‘That went well'."
Chris nodded. "Yeah. We need to go shopping for appropriate clothing, and then – it's Wales, here we come!"
Over the Severn
Chris was seriously thinking they should have got a roof box for the car. Sure the Freelander was a big 4x4 but with the four of them and the dogs, he just wasn't sure how they were going to get everything in. He remembered a time, not that long ago, when he could go away for a week, hell even for two weeks with just a small duffle bag. Vin, sensing his father's rising tension stood quietly behind him, clutching his bag. In the house Buck was trying to wrangle JD into some form of readiness.
Buck brought out JD's bag, the one with his clothes it, not his trip backpack, not his wellington boots, not his bag of toys, just his clothes. Buck was on his way back to the boys' bedroom, when from above there came an ominous thud and then, after a pause, an ear piercing wail. Sprinting now, Buck took the steps three at a time as he ran to the bedroom. JD was sitting on the floor, beside an overturned chair, clutching his left arm and trying to look at his own elbow. Dropping to his knees beside the tearful boy, Buck asked what was wrong.
"I felled off the chair," JD sniffed.
It didn't take long to establish that no real damaged had been done and a quick rub and a kiss and the elbow as all better.
"So?" Buck began. "What were you doing on the chair?"
Big hazel eyes looked up at his father. "I was trying to reach mamma's picture."
Buck cast his eyes up at the framed picture of Sainte Chappell, in Paris, which, to JD, had become the image of Heaven.
"Oh, well that picture is big and heavy, too heavy and too high for little boys to be trying to reach. What is the rule about things you can't reach?"
JD ducked his head down. "We's not ‘sposed' to touch nothing we can't reach easy."
"Easily," Buck corrected. "Why?"
"'Cause you only put stuff up high so we won't get hurt or if it's real ‘portant or easy to break."
"Right, Little Bit, I know the picture is very important to you, but it's big and heavy, and there isn't much room in the car, it might get broken."
JD's head flew up, eyes wide.
"What if we leave it here and take the postcard you guys bought, with us instead?"
JD finally agreed to this. He got up and pulled on his travelling backpack then picked up a shopping bag stuffed with all the toys he just had to have with him. Buck sized up the bag and reckoned they could just about squeeze it in, that was until his son stopped to collect his large Scooby Doo toy, which was almost as large as him. Buck opened his mouth, intending to tell him he'd have to leave Scooby or some of the other toys, but then thought better of it. Best to just get on the road, he decided, who knew how long I could take for JD to choose which of the toys that he ‘simply had to have'; he needed more.
Luckily, sitting in their respective car seats, neither boy's feet came anywhere near the floor of the car, so they were able to stow the majority of their luggage behind the front seat, leaving most of the boot space for the dogs, and the remainder of their luggage. JD's bag of toys had to go in the front, under Buck's long legs and Scooby was wedged between the front seats. This made both boys giggle as it looked to them as if he was helping to drive. Finally Chris climbed in behind the wheel and they were on their way.
Both men had had reservations about getting the boys DS games consoles for Christmas, but on long journeys they were a Godsend. The boys, engrossed in their games, hardly even noticed the passing of time. Only as they approached Bristol did JD pipe up that he needed a bathroom break. They pulled into the next service area, and before they all met up for coffees, hot chocolates and doughnuts in the restaurant, Chris took the boys to the bathroom, while Buck took the dogs to stretch their legs.
They hadn't been on the road more than a few minutes when JD suddenly called out. "Oh no!"
Buck didn't bother to react, assuming he was talking to his game console.
"Da! Da!" JD called urgently.
Buck, who was now driving, responded. "What's up?"
"Did we bring the passaports?"
Buck glanced at Chris not sure what was going on.
Vin stopped his own game. "Did we Dad?" he asked.
"No," came the simple reply.
"But we need them, you always have to have one to go to a different country, Uncle Ezra said so."
"But we're…" Buck began, before he was cut off by JD.
"Wales is a different country, they speak Welsh and they has a capital and a gov-ment, ‘sept they calls it an Ass-em-bulee… And, and they has different laws but not different moneys."
"If we don't have our passport they won't let us in," Vin told them earnestly. "We better go back."
"Boys!" Chris commanded. "We don't need our passports to go to Wales."
"But…" JD began again.
"Little Bit, just listen up, okay?" Buck soothed. "Let me explain. Yes Wales is a different country and they have their own government and some laws are different and some people can speak Welsh, but, just like Ieuan, they all speak English as well. You know that we live in the United States of America – right?" He emphasised the word ‘united'.
Both boys nodded.
"And we live in Colorado. Colorado has a state government and state laws, but we are all part of the same country, the USA – right?"
"Yeah," both boys conceded.
"Well England and Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland are all different countries, but they are also part of the United Kingdom." Once more he emphasized the word ‘united'. "It's all the same country."
Both boys frowned as they contemplated this.
"So," Vin began, "the countries is like states?"
"Yeah, kinda," Chris confirmed.
"So we don't need our passaports?" JD asked again earnestly.
"No kid, no passport needed."
"But we do need money," Buck pointed out, "because we have reached the bridge."
The boys looked on excitedly as they crossed the river Severn on the rather prosaically named Second Severn Crossing Bridge. Just before the toll booths at the far end, they passed a sign beside the road.
"Croeso i Gymru!" the boys yelled.
"What?" Buck asked.
"It means welcome to Wales," JD translated.
Buck rolled his eyes then looked over at Chris. "Think it's too late for Gloria to start Welsh lessons?"
Their plan was to reach the farm by lunch, which meant sticking to the main roads for as long as possible. It didn't make for the most scenic of routes, nonetheless the boys were all attention taking in a new country. Their vigilance was rewarded when they spotted a fairy-tale castle just off the motorway, its cone-shaped turrets peeking up through thick forestry.
Eventually, they had to turn from the security of the main road and head into the depths of the Welsh countryside. Following the satellite navigation and the written instructions Ieuan had given them, they headed north. The further they went, the more rural it became, and the narrower the roads turned out to be. Finally they turned off an already narrow lane into one that was, if anything, even tighter and with grass growing in the middle of it.
Chris was scanning the road ahead and reading the directions.
"I think that's it, up there," he announced. "It says to look for a gateway on the corner of a 90' turn."
That sounded good enough for Buck who swung the car in through the gateway. Ahead of them was a short gravel drive, at the end of which was a house. It wasn't a remarkable house, it wasn't a chocolate box, picture postcard cottage, or an imposing Georgian residence, it was just a house, like hundreds they had seen all over Britain. Encouragingly, a car, which looked a lot like Ieuan's, was parked beside it.
The four of them piled out of the car. Buck stretched, arching his back, which cracked audibly. He gave Chris a mock glare. Larabee had offered to drive first; no doubt he knew the second half of the journey, with all those winding lanes, was going to be the tough part. Away to their left, and down a gentle slope, they could see a collection of old and new farm buildings.
"Hey Cowboy, why don't you go ring the doorbell?" Chris suggested to Vin.
With a big grin, and with JD trotting after him, Vin ran to the door and tried the bell. They all waited but no one came. Vin tried again, and still no one came; the house seemed to be empty.
"Ieuan!" Chris called.
No one answered.
Buck reached into the car and hit the horn three times. He was about to do it again when a dog came running toward them from the bottom of the farmyard. As it got closer they could see it was a sheepdog and it was barking. Just as Chris and Buck were thinking they needed to get the boys back in the car, Bear appeared behind the sheepdog, running toward them, his tail wagging so hard, it looked as if he was about to take off like a helicopter. By now the boys, who had no fear of dogs, had started to run toward Bear, while in the car their own dogs barked an excited greeting. What followed was a manic confusion of excited boys, barking dogs and a hyper excited chocolate Labrador. The boys greeted Bear; the collie sniffed all of them and then barked at the dogs in the car, who barked back. Somewhere in the distance, Ieuan came running.
"Hi guys," he greeted. "I see you've met Meg." He pointed to the sheepdog, now sitting beside him. "Don't worry, she's fine. I won't shake hands." He held up his grease covered hands. "I was oiling the gate on the calving barn, damn thing was squeaking like a Hammer Horror sound effect. Guess I lost track of the time, sorry."
"No sweat," Buck assured him.
"Why don't you guys go on in, the backdoor's open, guest rooms are upstairs. I'll finish off and wash up. The table's laid and there's sarnies and stuff in the fridge."
Beyond the backdoor was a mud room, full of boots, coats, dog towels and the like. The mud room opened into a kitchen. While from the outside of the house it looked ordinary, as they moved into it, the men could see that behind its modern facade it was probably quite old. The walls were very thick and in the homey kitchen, an old Rayburn range cooker stood in a huge fireplace. On the table, as promised were plates, cutlery, crisps, cans of soda and a bowl full of fruit. Chris pulled open the door of the fridge, which looked as if it was almost as old as the stove in the fireplace, and inside was a platter of sandwiches under cling film.
JD looked around Chris and into the fridge. "Da I's hungry," he announced.
"Me too but we can't eat yet." Buck came up behind JD and turned him away from the food.
"But why not?"
"Is Ieuan here?"
JD looked around his father's legs then looked up at him. "No?"
"Right so what does that mean?"
JD chewed his lip for a moment.
"We can't have lunch until he gets here," Vin answered for him.
"Hungry!" the other three chorused.
"Let's get the bags in and then let the dogs out," Chris suggested.
Upstairs they found two bedrooms with the doors open; the beds were made up, with clean towels folded at the end. One had two single beds and one a small double. They had already discussed this with Ieuan, Buck and Chris would take the singles and the boys would share the double bed. Ieuan had offered to take the sofa in the living room, freeing up another bedroom, but the men wouldn't hear of it.
"They've shared a bed often enough, they won't mind," Chris had assured him.
No sooner had they dropped their bags and the boys given the bed a test bounce, the banging of a door below and the unmistakable sound of dogs rushing into the kitchen announced that their host was back and he'd let the dogs out of the car.
Downstairs they gathered around the table as the dogs rushed about in a frenzy of tails and noses getting acquainted and reacquainted. Ieuan placed the platter of sandwiches on the table.
"Welcome to Fferm Dolafon, I just know you guys are gonna enjoy your stay here."
To keep the boys occupied, as well as familiarise themselves with the farm, Buck decided to make a video diary of their vacation for the folks back home. He spent a lot of the day filming, and after dinner, a viewing was arranged for all.
He'd had to travel a fair distance to find a supermarket that stocked the right kind, but as the group settled down in front of the TV, Ieuan handed out tubs of toffee popcorn. Buck had burned the video onto a DVD, since the DVD player and the TV were too old to be compatible with the camera's memory card or a laptop . Bending over he slipped into the DVD player.
"Haven't seen this myself yet, so you're getting the full, un-edited version, warts and all..." His butt moved in rhythm to his words.
"Okay, Mister De Mill, enough of the butt close-ups, let's get this movie running," Chris teased while popping fluffy, over-sweet kernels into his mouth.
The boys giggled. JD pointed at Chris. "He said ‘butt'."
Making a face at his best friend and a chortling Ieuan, Buck sat on the floor between the boys, making a big show of ‘squeezing' between them, while snaffling a little of their popcorn. With calls of ‘get on with it', bombarding his grinning features, Buck took up the DVD's remote, and pressed play. The unique images and sounds that only homemade movies provide filled the room, and transfixed two boys and three men as Buck's voice and jerky camera skills captured a day in the life of Fferm Dolafon.
"C'mon, Meg, hey, Meg."
As he scanned the farm buildings, and the fields beyond, Buck's semi-hushed tones and the rustle of his clothes and footfall accompanied every image. "Li'l Bit, tell the folks back home who Meg is, huh?"
In the farmyard, with Ringo, Elvis, and Bear snuffling around in the background, Vin and JD flanked the bright-eyed Collie. JD pointed. "This here's Meg. She chases the sheeps to get them to go to bed at night."
"She's real fast, and loves to chase sticks, too," Vin added.
While Meg decided to go after the other dogs, Vin and JD led the way toward their most favourite place of all so far, the pigsty. As the camera adjusted to the semi-gloomy interior, Buck coughed.
"Whoo, it sure smells strong in here, huh?"
JD was beckoning, While Vin was already peeking in through the bars of the sty. "C'mon, Da, we need to get a shot of Gertie and her baby piggies for the peoples back home."
"Piglets," Vin corrected.
Buck moved the camera from the boys, to Gertie, a Gloucestershire Old Spot Pig, and her partly-weaned brood. As instructed by Ieuan, the boys each put a couple of handfuls of food into the trough and squealed with delight as Gertie watched with indifference, while her brood snuffled and grunted into the trough.
"Hey, they kinda eat like you guys," Buck chuckled, causing the camera to jerk a little more than usual.
Still chuckling, Buck zoomed in for a close-up on Gertie. "Lady, you sure are a beauty."
Soft sighs of ‘Yeah', caused a now grinning Buck to pan back to the boys. Vin was standing at the enclosure's gate, while JD stood on its second rung.
"Can we get us a spotty pig when we's back in Denver?" JD asked, big, hopeful eyes looking at the camera.
Vin's equally wide, blue gaze peered around his brother's back. "Could we, Buck?"
Buck coughed. "Uh, hmmm, best talk to Chris about that."
In the living room, Chris's socked big toe dug into Buck's back and when he looked, Chris mouthed ‘gee, thanks, Pard'. Yells from the TV drew attention back to the Wilmington – Tanner – Dunne masterpiece-in-the-making.
"Lookit, lookit, there's Y-eye-an's uncle's tractor."
Vin's eyes rolled on camera. "Folks at home know what a tractor is, JD."
"Sure, but they didn't know that this one is Y-eye-an's uncle's tractor," JD noted.
From there, Buck filmed the boys back out into the sunshine and heading for the chicken coop. Again tossing grain from the feed bucket just outside, the pair watched enrapt as the clucking chickens and their now brown-feathered chicks pecked at the floor.
"Okay, where next, guys?" Buck's voice interjected.
"Duck pond!" they chorused.
Before they reached the fields where the cows were grazing, the intrepid three came upon the farm's very own duck pond. To Buck's surprise, Vin produced two bread rolls from his jeans pockets and he and JD spent a happy few minutes tossing pieces of them into the pond and watching the noisy birds scrabbling for each soggy morsel.
Noticing the odd camera angle, Ieuan tapped Buck's shoulder. "Why so close?"
Buck paused the footage, looked back, and grinned. "I had one hand on the waist of JD's britches."
"To stop JD from fallin' in," Vin said, sagely.
A collective ‘oh' of understanding went out.
"Dunno why; I was already holdin' his hand," Vin stated, a little put out that Buck wouldn't expect that.
"Yeah, sorry little Dude, I should've known you'd be smart enough to think of that," Buck apologized.
Glowing with pride, Vin turned back to the TV and Buck pressed the play button.
On camera, the boys were running off, and uphill toward the fields. Buck's slightly laboured breathing was captured by the camera's integral microphone, to which he waved off comments of him needing to get to the gym when they got home.
"I'm not puffing, there; I was just real close to the mic. Plus, it was real muddy and they were running ahead..." He shrugged. "Ah, you'll see."
Buck panned back to four dogs sitting patiently outside the closed gate for their humans to return. "Man, it's real pretty, here."
The camera once more took in the distant, rolling hills, the farm and its buildings, and then back to the boys, who were well into the field and squelching through the mud left by recent heavy rain. "Not too close guys! Those ladies are in a delicate condition. We don't wanna spook ‘em."
"Huh?" JD called back.
"They're havin' babies," Vin explained. "Remember Ieuan tellin' us?"
JD nodded, his lips forming an ‘O'. "Ooh, yeah. I f'got."
"These cattle are called Welsh Blacks," Vin said to camera. He frowned down at JD, who was clinging to his arm. "Let go."
"My welly boot is stuck in the mud." JD looked a little alarmed as no amount of pulling would free the boot.
"What's wrong?" Buck asked.
"His boot's stuck," Vin said, half-looking up, and half watching JD's efforts.
"I'z stuck, Da!" JD wailed, but then giggled. "I'z r-e-a-l-l-y stuck. Ooh!"
He tugged hard, and his foot came clean out of the boot. His other boot was still partially sunk and with his balance gone, JD started falling backwards. Vin grabbed him, but the momentum sent the pair down into the mud butt-first.
"Aww, he...uh, heck!"
The picture on-screen went to ground level, and slightly askew, as Buck set down the camera. With the camera capturing all, and to the background of mooing cows, which were cautiously moving away from the pandemonium, and four barking dogs, he went to help his laughing charges get up.
"Aww man, look at you both."
The laughter was infectious and Buck was chuckling too by the time he had them both upright. He tucked JD under his arm like a football. Accompanied by a sucking, squelching sound, he pulled the wellington boot out of the mud, handed it to Vin, whose hands were as covered in mud as his butt, and the three made their way back to the camera. Picking it up, Buck's face appeared on screen.
"Well folks, I guess that's it for today." He panned in full close-up to the still-giggling, muddy little ones. "Say goodbye, boys."
"Goodbye, boys!" they chorused, laughter following the call before the screen went blank.
Chris and Ieuan were laughing right along with Buck, Vin, and JD. "That explains all the mud in the mudroom yesterday," Ieuan smiled.
"Yeah, sorry, Dude, I planned to go back and clean up, but when I got there, it was already done."
"I figured there had been some sort of issue," Ieuan said. "It took no time at all, so don't worry about it. That's what mud rooms are for, right?"
Chris huffed out a laugh. "Uh, yeah, we're real glad we have ours." He grinned. "Great work, guys. I reckon you should keep the disc as is. Folks back home will have a lot of fun watching that."
The boys looked at each other a moment, then laughed. "Yeah, it was pretty funny," Vin agreed.
"Seems like you're enjoying your stay so far," Ieuan commented.
Both boys nodded. "Oh yeah," Vin answered.
"It's awesome..." JD agreed. "...Almost like home."
There was a contemplative pause.
"Well," Ieuan continued. "If you like it so much, how do you feel about helping me out with some chores from tomorrow?" He looked at the boys, but also cast a hopeful glance toward Buck and Chris. The men smiled and nodded.
"YEAH!" the little ones hollered.
Chris frowned. "Huh. How come they're not that enthusiastic about helping back home?"
The blond smiled at JD. "Yeah?"
"Can we have a spotty pig when we go home?"
A rare moment of loss of speech from Chris caused an awkward lull. Ieuan spoke.
"No can do, sorry boys. Those pigs are rare, and protected, and only licensed breeders can have them." He wasn't telling a total untruth, but still felt a little guilty. They were all surprised by JD's acceptance.
"Okay. Coming out to play with the dogs, Vin?"
With a nod, Little Tanner stood, and followed JD out.
The three men looked at each other and laughed.
"Well, I'll be damned."
"Swear jar, Buck!" Vin called from a distance.
"Boy's part cat," Buck mumbled, to more laughter.
For Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Ieuan insisted the family get out and see the sights. On the Monday, after their chores, the four packed a picnic lunch and with their dogs visited The Preseli mountain range to take a look at the Beddarthur Standing Stone Circle. They walked so much along the vast, seemingly endless hills, that the four were exhausted, and so had to keep the second place they intended to visit for another day.
Tuesday, they travelled to a place that had to be moved from the previous day's activities, but which both dads had no doubt their boys would love. Vin knew they were travelling in a similar direction to the day before, and asked as to why. Chris assured him all would soon be revealed, and to wait and see.
The two little ones whooped with excitement when they pulled into the car park of the Dyfed Shire Horse Farm; a sprawling attraction nestled at the foot of the Preseli Hills. Opening up the back of the truck, Chris and Buck attached Elvis's and Ringo's leashes, then with each father taking a dog, and his son's hand, they headed for the entrance.
The extensive layout consisted of acres of lush, green fields, and several buildings with the mountains providing a stunning backdrop. One building was a large show arena for demonstrations; another even larger one was for animal pens. In the surrounding fields, several breeds of horses were hanging their necks over the fencing to take a look at the new arrivals; an endearing habit that prompted JD to later comment that it was as if the folk visiting were there to be looked at by the horses, not the other way around.
The little family walked through the appointed route and were passed by a man leading a giant, black Shire horse on its way to the show area. While Buck endeavoured to capture every moment of their trip on camera, Vin reached out and stroked a hand along the gentle creature. The horse's handler smiled.
"If you're interested, we're just about to hold a harnessing demonstration in the show arena." He ruffled Ringo's head. "It only takes twenty minutes, and there's a watering station just outside where you can leave your dogs tethered."
The man clucked his tongue and urged the big horse on. Its large, feathered hooves took heavy, long strides and seconds later, the family were following. In a smaller area off the main show arena, the four sat on large hay bales and thoroughly enjoyed watching the magnificent beast be transformed by its huge, brass-studded harnesses, and the white and red ribbons plaited into its mane and tail.
From there they went on to the animal barn. Inside were stalls stabling a variety of animals. JD and Vin quickly hurried over to a gathered crowd just in time to watch calves being fed by members of the public. To his surprise, a bottle was pushed into Vin's hand and the handler showed him what to do. JD giggled as a grinning Vin held a running battle for possession of the bottle with a calf eager to drink, and surprisingly powerful. Vin passed the bottle to JD, and held his brother's arms while the little one offered the hungry calf more milk.
Moving on, there were goats, chickens and chicks, llamas, a sty with a rare breed of white lop-eared pigs, and their next favourite pen after the calves, a rare breed of Welsh Balwen sheep and lambs. The wool of these sheep was black/brown, with white socks and a long, undocked tail half white at the end, but it was the faces and heads that transfixed men and boys alike, each one with a full white blaze. One handler explained that the name Bal-wen was derived from the Welsh of ‘bal' meaning forehead spot, and ‘wen', an old form of Welsh for white.
Next were the Shire horse stables. Inside they were introduced to Countess and her fourth foal born the previous year, Dyfed Sir Lancelot. Several Shire horses were inside and happy to be petted, much to the boys' delight, but JD literally squealed when they came upon Siani the Shetland.
"Can we touch Sha-nee?" JD asked.
The stable girl smiled. "Of course, she loves making new friends." More photos were taken of the boys standing next to, and petting the little black horse, while Sophie, a big Shire, watched with interest in the next stall. The big black was soon rewarded when Vin moved over to her and enjoyed a nuzzle with the affectionate mare.
Just outside the building was a cart with a fully dressed Shire horse harnessed to it. Some folk had already climbed inside, and when Chris, Vin, Buck, JD and the two dogs joined them, the big dray pulled off for a quick trip around the first large field. The boys giggled when the dogs' front paws went up onto the cart's rim and their ears and tongues flapped in the breeze.
Buck photographed the whole thing, secretly glad to be doing so as he still was feeling the effects of travelling from London, really early mornings, helping out on the farm - tasks that their once atoned bodies were seriously out of practice with - and the previous day's walking. With the steady sway of the dray, and the rhythmic clip-clopping and jangling of horse brass, he could easily have just nodded off right there and then, and Chris looked to be suffering a similar dilemma.
Back outside the animal pens, JD instantly spotted a bright red land train with several passenger compartments. When told that it circuited the farm regularly, and one of its ‘stops' was the picnic area, four tummies began to growl with hunger. Hopping aboard with the dogs, they headed out and jumped off at a pretty picnic site close to a children's adventure playground.
Once four human, and two doggie appetites had been satisfied, and with the dogs happily snuffling the undergrowth nearby, the men took a well-earned break while their sons enjoyed the delights of a huge wooden ‘fort' and slide, swings, a net climbing frame, and various springy horses to bounce on. The train returned them to the show arena, where the four watched Farrier John Davies at work, followed by Geraint and his sheep-shearing skills.
Back outside and the vision of the Caffi Celt drew them in for well deserved sodas, coffees, and ice creams. Taking another time out, the men relaxed while the boys were this time entertained by a colourful soft play area.
Despite the attraction of a nature trail, croquet, a sand shed, and crazy golf, it was clear all six members of the family were tiring. To end their day, the group took a tour of the farm via a large tractor-towed cart for one last look around, ending with the drop off at the farm's parking lot. By the time the truck was approaching the main highway, boys and dogs were sound asleep.
With so many choices of places to visit, and after a half day's rest, apart from helping out Ieuan, the family chose three more places to see. For the remainder of Wednesday, and sans dogs, they travelled to Pembrokeshire National Park to spend time at the Castell Henllys Iron Age village. The roundhouses were replicas, but built to scale on top of the uncovered remains of an ancient fort dating back 2, 400 years. Vin looked up adoringly at his father.
"They kinda remind me of tepees," he whispered.
Chris smiled and nodded. "Yeah, kinda."
After a guided tour, the four sat in on a flint knapping demonstration, and learned how flint weapons and tools were made and sharpened. From there, they moved into another roundhouse to listen to tales of Myths and Legends. While fascinated, Buck smiled when JD snuggled up close at some of the scarier stories.
A short break for a picnic lunch was called before the final event of the day. Inside the first roundhouse they had visited, the boys were given willow reeds to make a basket. Vin watched the workshop enrapt, then set to the task. JD was no less interested, but peppered his time during the demonstration with a self-held competition to see how good willow tasted, and how many orifices he could fit it into; or at least, that was the plan, until Buck stopped him just before the threat of willow reed meeting eyeball occurred when JD was pretending it was an Indian arrow and was manoeuvring it up to, away, and up to his eye at speed.
Allowed to stay until finished, Vin's boat-shaped basket was a triumph, even incorporating different colours.
"Awesome, son," Chris beamed.
"You're sure talented, Junior," Buck added.
JD stared hard at his efforts and welling eyes turned to Chris and his Da. Chris jumped in enthusiastically.
"Hey, that's some work of art, kiddo. Huh, Buck? We have a bone fide willow sculpture to take back to Denver."
Buck nodded, enthusiastically. "I can't believe how clever you are, Li'l Bit. This is real special. No one in the whole world will ever have one like this."
JD couldn't help that nagging feeling that his family might be a little confused, but shrugged it off and happily accepted the praise.
The instructor praised both boys highly, and gave them each what looked like a star on a stick, but were told was a willow wand, only given out for those who did exceptionally well. With mouthed ‘thanks', and handshakes from the dads, the boys took away their prized possessions and yet another wonderful memory.
An early start on Thursday saw the family and dogs heading for St Martin's Bay, on the Pembrokeshire coast. While the dogs were placed in a temporary kennels at the quayside, the four kitted up in waterproofs and lifejackets and climbed into a motorboat. They were zipped across the water on an exhilarating high speed Sea Safari to the islands of Skomer and Skokholm. The guide took the group of eight through the infamous white water of 'Jack Sound' and through and around the Skomer Marine Nature Reserve, where they cruised close to the thousands of birds such as Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, and also seals living in, on and around the islands.
Buck took shots of everything possible, while getting some wonderful photos of the boys' excitement on seeing seals in the sea, and up close; and on and above the islands, funny little puffins in their thousands. The highlight of the trip, and clearly unexpected by the guide, too, was the appearance of a dolphin some way out. "Shows warm currents moving in," he informed the group.
Still on a high, the family travelled on to their next and final destination. After stopping at a McDonalds to refuel, the truck pulled into the large car park overlooking South Beach, Tenby. Chris and Buck went around back to let out the dogs, and smiled at the boys as they ran over to the hedge and fenced barrier to look down over the beach and water.
Following directions, family and dogs made their way down to the beach. Being a ‘Blue Flag' beach, the rules were strict about dogs being kept on their leashes at all times, while carrying severe penalties for abandoned fouling. Duly noted, both men ensured the dogs took care of business, and that they disposed of it before hitting the beach.
Chris congratulated himself on remembering to bring the buckets and spades they had purchased in Devon. At a nearby shop he purchased some peppermint rock, the boys insisted they were at the seaside so they had to have rock, and a mat so they could sit on the damp sand in relative comfort. First, he divided a bottle of water between the dogs via the buckets. Once the dogs were done, he walked with the boys to the water's edge to rinse the buckets out, before taking back seawater for any impending sandcastles. After a relaxing hour and a half on the sand, and the occasional trip to the surf – where they had to persuade JD it was too cold to go paddling – the group headed back up to the truck.
Once they had dropped off their earlier purchases, minus the rock; and cleaned the sticky, sandy boys up some, the group moved on to the walled town to take in the sights and shops. The walk across the cliff top road was breathtaking. Views of sparkling blue water twinkled in bright sunshine, while distant headlands, and the Islands of St. Catherine's and Caldy shimmered in the heat haze. A warm breeze stirred the scents of the flora and fauna lining the cliff-side of the route, while traffic on the road side ambled along as leisurely as the folk walking around. The boys excitedly pointed out distant boats, and even spotted a giant, far-off tanker on its way into Milford Haven.
The four walked the dogs through the town, crossing right over and down into the harbour. Spending some time taking in another quaint, yet glorious view, they had just made their way up a short hill and turned the bend of a small sea cliff when it became apparent excitement was in the air. Following the bustling crowd, they were soon at the new Tenby Lifeboat Station, and it was all hands on deck as the Lifeboat ‘Haydn Miller' prepared to launch.
After getting slightly ahead of the main mass, the men held tightly to boys and dogs while they stood at the viewing gallery rail and watched the imposing Tamar Class boat burst into activity as regularly dressed men also in white headgear, sturdy, bright yellow wellington boots, and orange lifejackets manoeuvred through a practiced routine. A shout went up, and while one man stood on the platform above the giant winch, another was poised over a control panel. The man standing nodded, pushed a large button, and with a metallic clank and scraping roar, the winch hook released and the boat raced down the slipway, to land with a huge splash into the sea below.
Vin's knuckles were white as he clung to the rail. "Wow, that was awesome," he breathed.
JD turned to Buck. "Can they do it again, Da? Can they, huh?"
People around them chuckled kindly. Buck grinned. "Uh, I don't think that's a do-over for some time, Li'l Bit. That there boat's gonna help some folk in trouble then, when it comes back, that big winch has to haul it all the way back to the top of the ramp."
"Can we watch it come back?" Vin asked.
Chris checked his watch. "If there's time, sure."
Seeing as they were there, the group checked out the station. On the walls were histories, photos, and a lifebelt in a large frame from, and in honour of, the HMS Sir Galahad, sunk in 1982 during the Falklands war, with the loss of forty eight 1st Welsh Guards. There was also a commemorative plaque for the lifeboat Sir Galahad that was stationed at Tenby and which served from 1986 to 2006, before being decommissioned.
They listened to an audio commentary about the work of the RNLI, and checked out all the various equipment and electronics. In the RNLI shop, they bought some fridge magnets, bookmarkers, and pens, for their uncles, Ieuan, and Eric and Jane Green.
Curious as to why remaining volunteers were preparing pails of soapy water, Chris asked, and was told that when the lifeboat returned, it would be washed down.
Time moved on, and unwilling to wait any longer, the men urged their sons out into the fresh air, but no sooner had they rounded a corner, out at sea the familiar orange and blue of the lifeboat could be seen. They just made it back in time to see the boat reverse, line up with the slipway, and while men connected the giant winch hook to its rear, the upright radio antennae was lowered in order for the boat to fit inside the station. The lifeboat men stood at the stern, and waved to children as the boat slowly made its noisy, backward ascent up the ramp via the winch rope and a central metal runner in the ramp. When fully docked, JD and Vin were able to reach out and touch the boat.
In agreement with each other, both men called it a day, and as the Freelander 4x4 pulled away from the parking lot, the family bid farewell to a small part of Wales they would never forget.
The lifeboat was all the boys talked about on the way home. Ieuan, Bear, and Meg came out to welcome them home, and once in the living room in their pyjamas, the pair retold the story until they fell asleep mid-tale. Ieuan made coffee while Buck and Chris put the little guys to bed. Once more sitting in the quiet living room, the three sighed and relaxed back with their drinks.
"So, you liked Tenby, then."
Chris nodded. "It's truly beautiful, there."
Buck agreed. "Man, those views. One hell of a day." He grinned. "And so far, one hell of a week. Thanks man, coming here was a great idea."
Ieuan grinned. "I'm really glad you did. I've always loved it here, but I haven't enjoyed a visit here this much in years, so thank you all for making the trip." He passed Chris a brochure. "I found this. I know how you love horse riding, and figured this would be a piece of cake for you guys, but fun anyway."
Chris studied the literature, smiled, nodded, and passed the leaflet to Buck, who grinned.
"Awesome, thanks. The boys are gonna freak out when they see this."
Learning to Fly
Vin fairly tingled with excitement as the car pulled into the long drive leading to riding stables. The excitement was edged with apprehension, his Dad said he was ready for this, but was he? What if he lost control, what if he fell off?
It had all started just after the leaflet Ieuan had given to his dad. Chris had taken him aside to ask him a very serious question. First he explained that an old friend of Ieuan's uncle and mother owned riding stables.
"They ride on a beach, a really long beach, so long they used to run the land speed record there," he began.
"The what?" Vin asked.
"Doesn't matter, the thing is they gallop along the beach. Now Sandy, the lady who owns it, has offered to lend Buck and me horses."
"That‘d be so cool," Vin enthused to his father.
"Yeah and I know if we went you guys would be fine here on the farm, but…"
"What?" Vin asked suddenly alarmed.
"Well I reckon your riding has been coming on a pace this year."
Ever since their equine adventure on Dartmoor, the boys had been going to a riding school close to their adoptive home any Saturday they were free. Vin had instantly been placed to the intermediate junior riders lesson, while JD had a half hour private lesson. By Christmas JD had moved up to join Vin. Their instructor had suggested Vin moved on to the competent junior riders after Easter, but it didn't seem worth it for the few months they had left. Chris had been so impressed by Vin's progress he hoped Peso had been doing as well with his lessons or Vin would be teaching him a thing or two. Of course all these lessons were in European style riding, but their instructor didn't think that was an issue when she discussed it with Chris.
"Basic horsemanship is interchangeable. What he's really learning is his seat and the confidence to take charge, that doesn't change, no matter what saddle you use or the way you give the commands."
Vin looked up at his father, not sure where the conversation was going.
"I reckon you're ready for your first free gallop."
Vin stared at his father for a long time. "Really?" he finally asked.
"They aren't able to take anyone under 16 on an official beach ride." Vin's face fell at this news. "But," Chris continued. "This is not an official ride. This is a group of friends out for a ride."
Ieuan had explained that the stables insurer wouldn't cover them for anyone under 16 participating in one of their fast beach rides.
"If you pay to go on a ride they can only take experienced adults, but this is just staff and friends out for some fun. They can only ride at low tide, and on Friday the low tide is at seven in the morning, which is too early to take out paying clients. Aunty Clare told her about you guys and she asked if you'd like to join them."
The family parked up. In the yard they were introduced to their mounts.
"Mr Wilmington?" the small girl, leading a very big horse called.
"That's Buck darlin'."
"Oh, okay, Buck; this is Sammy, he's a bit of a Unigate, but he's faster than he looks and totally trustworthy." She reached up and gave the horse a pet. "He's a sweetie."
Sammy was a 17 hand paint, who was never going to win any equine beauty contests. Buck looked at Sammy and Sammy looked at Buck and then stretched out his long neck and lipped at Buck's jacket.
"Nice to meet you too," Buck responded.
Chris was introduced to Dunston, a 16 hand chestnut with kind eyes.
"He's a real gent," Chris was assured.
Buck watched as Vin was introduced to his horse. Sandy lead out a stocky chestnut pony.
"This is Beau."
"Really?" Vin and Buck asked in unison.
Sandy looked from one to another. "What am I missing?" she asked.
"Buck's horse is called Beau, back home, in America," Vin explained.
"Is she a chestnut too?"
"HE is a grey," Buck corrected. "Beau is a boy's name."
"It means beauty," Sandy pointed out.
Buck gave her a 100 watt grin. "And he's a handsome horse, just like his owner." He winked at her suggestively.
Chris sighed dramatically and rolled his eyes. "Sorry about him, I can't take him anywhere," he apologised.
Sandy, a woman in her fifties, who spent most of her day in britches and boots and smelling of horse, smiled. "Oh don't apologise, at my age any male attention is good." She turned back to Vin. "Your father says you hack out, back at your riding school?"
"Yes ma'am, on Molly or Mexico, I like Mexico best," Vin explained.
"And he thinks you're ready for your first gallop."
Vin nodded nervously. "We can't gallop on the hack, there's not enough room."
"Okay, no problem, I am sure your father wouldn't let you do this if he didn't think you were up to it. Beau likes to run on the beach, she will go when the other horses go, and stop when they stop, you need to trust her and go with it. Don't try and stop her from going. We've put a strap around her neck if you need to hold on or you can grab her mane. If you need to stop, you shout ‘stop' and we will all stop – okay?"
Vin chewed his lip and then shrugged. "A bit."
"That's normal, I guarantee, if you trust Beau, and go with her, you'll have a blast – okay?"
JD knew he wasn't going to be allowed to gallop with the others. He was introduced to Dylan, a rather round, shaggy, grey pony. Dylan was lead out by a girl of about 14. Sandy explained that this was her youngest daughter, Linda. Linda would be riding alongside Dylan on another pony.
"She'll stay on the first beach with JD while we go around the headland; once we are out of sight they can have some fun."
Buck was concerned that staying with JD wasn't fair to Linda, who wouldn't get to go for a gallop.
"Don't worry, she's meeting some of her friends down there, later. Once we get back someone else will take the lead rein and she and her friends can bomb up and down the beach to their hearts' content."
The journey down to the beach started on a country lane, then moved to a track between scattered houses and farms. Eventually the track became a path, heading down through scrub woodland. The horses were able to walk side by side until they emerged from the trees where the path became single track.
"JD," Linda turned to her charge. "You have to go on your own here. I will be in front of you, and your daddy will be behind." She looked at Buck, high up on Sammy.
"Don't worry Little Bit, I got your back," he assured.
"The path is narrow, so Dylan can only follow it. You know how to ride downhill?" she asked.
"Yeah, I lean back and I let him pick his own way. I can ride good," JD affirmed. "I can canter on my own in the field, I'm the youngest one who can do that," he told her proudly.
"Well good for you!" Linda then unclipped the lead rein and signalled the head of the ride they were ready to go.
Buck was beginning to think this had not been a good idea. The path they were now on took them diagonally down the steep side of a valley leading to the coast. The path was so narrow; he was frankly amazed a big horse like Sammy could navigate it at all. To his right the land rose steeply and to the left dropped away alarmingly. They had all been told not to worry, the horses did this all the time, sometimes twice a day.
"Just let them pick their own way," they were told.
Easy for them to say, Buck commented silently. He looked ahead at JD, who seemed unbothered by their precarious position. He was taking in the scenery and chatting away to his mount, like he always did. At one point the path was shielded from the drop by a small stand of stunted trees, for which Buck was grateful, since this was where it got really steep. On the far side the path the drop became more gentle. In no time they were on relatively flat land. Sandy led the ride down to the beach. Between the beach and the land was a shingle bar. Chris, now with Vin back alongside him stared at it, trying to see where there was a break that would lead onto the sand he presumed was on the far side, for the bar was too high to see over, even from the back of a horse.
"Dad?" Vin asked.
"Do we have to ride on that?"
"No, there must be a way through it, then we'll be on sand."
There was no way though the shingle bar, which wasn't really made of shingle, since most of the stones were the size of cannon balls. Chris was amazed when the ride was led over up onto the shifting bank of pebbles and boulders. If anyone had asked him, Chris would have said horses wouldn't walk over such unstable ground, but these did. It was an odd sensation as Dunston picked his way over an ever shifting mound of stones and down the steep seaward side, but felt comfortingly safe on this sure footed, calm horse. Then they were on the sand and it all changed. As soon as he felt the sand beneath his feet, Dunston seemed to come alive.
Chris looked over at Vin, Beau had pricked up her ears. He was pleased to see Vin was sitting up, in the correct position, with a good contact on the reins. Around them all the horses were obviously getting excited. Buck looked down at JD.
"You okay Little Bit?" he asked.
"Yup," JD told him confidently. Dylan had picked up his head and was clearly taking in the sights and smells of the beach, but other than that didn't seem to be as excited as the others. "I'll stay with you if you want," Buck offered, as much as he was looking forward to galloping on a beach, something he'd never done before, he wouldn't leave his son if he was scared or worried.
"I'm okay Da," JD assured. "See you later."
Leaving JD and Linda behind on the smaller beach, called Morfa Bychen, the other horses, eight in total, walked across the sand and around the headland at the eastern end. To do this they had to cross a stream that emerged from the base of the cliff. Traversing the beach it had cut a trench perhaps a foot deep and five feet wide. On the far side of the headland they got their first view of Pendine Sands.
"Wow!" Buck breathed.
The beach was wide, arrow straight and flat. Even in the early morning light, under leaden skies the light reflecting of the hard, flat sand created a mirror-like effect. All the horses were now getting excited, knowing they were going to get a run at any moment. Sandy turned her own horse, a dark pony of about 14 hands.
"I appreciate most of you know this, but we have guests and it doesn't hurt to be reminded," she began. "I'll lead, but I know some of you will pass me. Vin you stay behind me, okay?"
"Yes ma'am," he agreed.
"Don't worry, Beau knows what to do. It's a Friday so the red flags are out." She turned to Buck and Chris. "Most of the beach is a military range, there is a line of red flags running from the dunes down to the sea, they mark the beginning of the danger zone." Both men were about to express their concern, but she stopped them. "Don't worry, there is a huge buffer zone between the flags and the real danger and in any case they never start this early in the morning. Not to mention that it's a lot further than it looks and they won't be going that fast by the time we get there." She once more addressed the whole group.
"If you need to stop, shout ‘stop'. If you hear stop, start to pull up and also shout ‘stop'. If for some reason you can't stop, turn your horse into the water, no horse can gallop knee high in water." She winked at Vin. "Not gonna happen but I have to say it anyway."
He grinned at her.
"Okay, let's go, I'll start to trot, then we'll go, any questions?"
There were none. In single file with Vin behind Sandy and Chris behind him, they started to trot across the beach, heading diagonally toward the point where the red flags met the dunes.
"Okay to go?" she called back to Vin.
"Yes!" he called out scared and excited in equal measure.
The horses began to canter and almost instantly he felt Beau launch herself forward. Vin was already leaning forward slightly, like he did when he was jumping, now he lifted his bottom out of the saddle, like he'd been shown. Instinctively he grabbed a handful of mane, without letting go of the reins. He was flying! This was what it had to feel like to fly! The wind was whipping around him, he could feel the thump of Beau's hooves in time with his own racing heart. There was a louder beat beside him, so he risked looking around. There was Chris, leaning low over Dunston's neck.
"Okay?" he called.
"Yeah!" Vin shouted back.
"See you at the other end?"
With that Chris relaxed his grip on Duntson's reins and the big chestnut opened up his stride and shot past him.
Vin didn't mind, he was having fun and he felt safe, before it started he was scared, but there was nothing to fear, he was safe, and fast was good; fast was very, very good.
"Okay?" Sandy called back.
"Yeah," he called out.
He wasn't going as fast as he could? Beau could go faster? "Yes!" he shouted without hesitation.
And that was it, suddenly they sped up. Vin let go of the mane, he didn't need to hold on, he could just balance on his toes and feel the rhythm of the horse though his body. It felt so good he was tempted to let go of the reins, sit up and spread his arms out – but he didn't. All too soon, he felt Beau begin to slow, ahead of him he could see Sandy sit up, so he copied her. They slowed to a steady canter and as they got close to the other horses the canter became a trot, and then a walk before they stopped, a good 100 yards short of the red flags.
Everyone let their horses have a long rein and gave them a pat. Vin lent low over Beau's neck and hugged her.
"Thank you," he whispered, she flicked her ears back in response and then huffed and blew.
Buck and Chris walked their big horses over to him.
"Well?" Chris asked.
Vin grinned up at them, his faced splattered in a mask of wet sand. "It's amazing!"
Both men laughed. "Yup, that's what it is okay," Buck agreed.
"Proud of you Cowboy."
JD had been sad to see the rest of his family disappear behind the headland, on their way to having so much fun. He understood why he couldn't go with them, but was totally sure he could gallop as well as Vin could, he was a really good rider, everyone told him so.
"Come on let's explore the beach," Linda encouraged.
The first thing they saw was two lines of black wooden posts sticking out from the sand.
"What's that?" he asked.
"This is all that is left of a ship," Linda told him.
"It's a shipwreck?" JD asked in awe.
"Cool, does you think it was pirates?"
Linda grinned, "Maybe."
"I think it was pirates and they got stuck on the beach ‘cause they was burying their treasure and there was a storm and so they got stuck," he told her, as his imagination conjured up the scene. "Maybe there's buried treasure here?"
Linda shook her head. "Don't think so, someone would have found it by now."
JD looked disappointed; looking for buried treasure would have been fun.
"Let's take the horses for a paddle," Linda suggested.
After the first gallop the main group walked the horses down to the water's edge on a long rein to let them get their breath back. Sandy explained they were going to gallop back along the water's edge, all the way to the far end of the beach they had arrived on.
"You can stay in the breakers or on the sand, but if you stay on the sand remember where the stream is, as they will jump it." She looked down at Vin. "You stay behind me; we're going to stay in the water, okay?"
As before they stayed in line trotting and then cantering, but once the pace quickened, they all went at their own speed. Chris stayed with Vin, riding to his left in the slightly deeper water. Vin laughed out loud as huge plumes of water, thrown up by the horse's hooves spayed over him. To his right, Buck sped past. Sammy was indeed faster than he looked. As he reached the stream, Vin watched as Sammy leapt high over the gap. He wanted to do that too, he could do that.
"No you don't!" Chris called out, as if reading his mind.
Now they were on the small beach they could see JD and Linda waiting for them at the far end of the beach, JD was waving excitedly as his father and then the others galloped up to him.
"Vin! Vin!" JD called excitedly, "You was going so fast!"
"It was lots of fun," Vin admitted. "I wish you could come to."
"Me to, but we founded a shipwreck, while you was gone," JD told him.
"Really, a real ship wreck, was it pirates?"
JD nodded sagely. "It's over there, you can see some of it poking up in the sand. I reckon it was a pirate ship."
"Cool," Vin admitted.
Buck and Chris had to laugh, it never ceased to amaze them how quickly boys could switch from one subject to another.
As they came back up over the bar, they were met by half a dozen teenage girls on ponies and horses. Linda passed JD's lead rein to her mother and rode off to join her friends.
"Bye JD, you're a very good rider," she called.
The trip back took a different route. They headed up the track that followed the valley bottom. The emerged onto the road and had to ride on this briefly before crossing into a farmyard. At the end of the yard was a gate leading into fields. They rode gently though a number of fields, some of which had stock in them until they emerged onto a narrow green lane.
Sandy pulled up and looked back at the other riders. "We're going to split up here, the others are going to take the long way, so they can have a long canter across the top of the hill and we…" she indicated Buck, Chris and the boys. "...Will go the short way and have our own fun, okay?"
"We're in your hands darlin'" Buck told her.
Sandy explained that the way they were going, might give JD a chance of a canter, if his father agreed. Even as she said it she could see Buck look worried, but she urged him to wait and see before he decided.
They walked up the hillside, though gorse bushes and heather, which reminded them of Dartmoor. They came to a ‘Y' junction in the path.
"This is what my children call the ‘Yee Hah' ride. The path zig-zags up the hillside to the top. It's cut so deeply into the peat that Dylan and Beau have nowhere to go, they have to follow it, and even if they wanted to change direction they can't, even my horse would have difficulty if he wanted to get out. We normally take it at a gentle canter. What do you think?"
Buck looked at the path. The sides were at least three feet high, if not more and the path only wide enough for one horse. JD would be safe, even if he did come off. He was wearing a hard hat and a back protector, not to mention that the peaty ground was very soft.
"Little Bit, do you want to go for a canter up the hill?" he asked.
"Yes!" JD responded loudly and without any hesitation.
"Well that seems to answer that," Buck told her.
"Right then, boys you need to lean forward and hold the mane, the horses will follow the path. There is a step about half way up, and they will hop up it." She looked up at the two men. "It's so low, you two probably won't even notice."
Sandy went first, then Vin, JD, Buck, with Chris at the rear. They started at a trot and then pushed her horse into a canter fast enough that the ponies behind would have to canter to keep up, but not so fast as to scare JD.
Little Dylan, a sure footed, native pony, gamely cantered along through the thick black mud. JD sat atop him, holding onto his mane, grinning all over his face. As Dylan hopped up the step, JD let out a squeal of joy. The little pony flicked his ears at the sound and seemed to take it as encouragement. All too soon they were at the top and the ground levelled out. Sandy slowed her horse down to a walk and then a stop.
"Everyone okay?" she asked.
"I did a jump!" JD told her excitedly.
"You did, what was it like?"
"Fun, can we do it again?"
"Not now Champ, time to head home and give these horses a rest," Buck told him.
Back at the yard, there was much hugging of ponies, who also received several peppermints, as indeed did the big horses. On the trip back to the farm the boys talked of nothing else but their riding experiences until the early start and the excitement of the day caught up and they both fell asleep.
Buck glanced back at them and then over at Chris. "You did good, letting him do that. I know how scary it was, but he's gained so much from it."
Chris nodded his acknowledgement. Buck too had shown courage, to let JD do the last canter. It was nowhere near as risky as letting Vin gallop on the beach, but no matter how scary it had been, seeing Vin's smile and the visible boost to his son's confidence and self-esteem was worth it ten times over.
The sun was shining, the sky was blue, but the brisk wind kept the temperature down. Vin huffed indignantly; JD mimicked him. It had been an awesome day, galloping on the beach was just the best thing ever, well in Britain at least. He and JD had been playing a really cool game on their DS's but both were now out of charge, and anyway he was restless. It was close to supper time, Ieuan and their fathers were inside, watching rugby on TV. Chris told them they'd have pizza once the game was over. Vin huffed again as he stepped down from the kitchen door. The dogs were all in the living room with the adults, curled up in front of the wood burner.
"Vin?" JD began.
"What we gonna do?"
For the third time Vin huffed.
"We could feed the ducks?"
"I asked Dad, he says there's no bread to spare."
"What about the piglets?"
Now that was a good idea, Vin turned back to look at his young brother. "Yeah!" he agreed.
They headed back into the kitchen and went to the plastic bucket where the pig scraps were kept.
"Get a bag," he told JD.
JD was ahead of him and already had one in his hand. Minutes later they were peeking through the gate into the pigsty.
"Sooeee!" JD called, imitating the call Ieuan used to call the pigs.
Instantly Gertie and her brood came trotting out. As they had been taught, the boys dropped the food into the trough. Tempting as it always was to feed the piglets by hand, they knew they weren't allowed to and having seen the size of Gertie's teeth they understood why. Needless to say their small bag of scraps didn't last long. Gertie looked up at them from under her ears.
"Sorry, that's alls we got," JD told her apologetically.
Vin held up his empty hands to make it clear there was nothing hidden. Gertie huffed and led her brood back into the warmth of their shelter.
"Now what?" JD asked.
As if in answer to his question there was a loud bellow. It wasn't that a cow bellowing was unusual, they were used to it, but bored as they were any distraction was better than nothing.
"Wonder which one is making all the noise?" Vin asked.
Just then the cow bellowed again. Both boys looked around trying to locate the source. Following the intermittent sound, they tracked the cow to the big field running down toward the stream. The field was behind the garden, but the thick hedge made it impossible to see anything.
"Ah," JD sighed. "I wanted to see which one it was."
"We can go around to the gate," Vin decided.
"But we's not s‘posed to go onto the lane," JD reminded.
"We don't have to, come on."
Vin led them around the house and then out onto the small patch of grass that gave access to the field behind the garden and a much larger field with a crop of some kind growing in it.
They climbed up onto the gate and surveyed the field. The cows, with their extra wide bellies were mostly lying down, gently ruminating.
"Do you think she's having her baby?"
"Don't reckon so, ‘member, Ieuan said the first one's not supposed to come until the end of next week."
The cow bellowed again, her calls were getting more frequent and higher pitched.
"I think she's hurted," JD stated.
Vin took a moment to think about this and decided he agreed. Since they weren't permitted to go into the field without an adult and they couldn't see a cow that looked like it was in trouble there was nothing for it, but to get his father.
"Dad?" he began, standing next to the couch.
"We think one of the cows is hurt, but we can't see which one," he stated plainly.
Chris looked around and up, frowning at the concerned look on his son's face.
"What makes you think she's hurt?"
"She's making a lot of noise."
"They do that sometimes," Chris pointed out.
"JD says she sounds hurt." Vin persisted. "Right?"
"Yeah, it don't sound the same as the other cows, sort of different, hurted."
Now Buck and Ieuan looked around.
"Are you sure Little Bit?" Buck asked.
JD's head bounced up and down in affirmation.
The five of them set out across the field to locate the cow. It soon became clear why the boys had been unable to see it. She was in the far corner of the field where it dipped steeply toward the stream. Even though they could all hear the cow and she was clearly close, she still wasn't visible.
"Where the he…ck is she?" Ieuan asked.
Suddenly Vin pointed. "There!"
In the muddiest, lowest corner of the field, under the dark shadow of the overhanging hawthorn hedge, was a dark mass close to the ground.
"Dew! She's down," Ieuan exclaimed as he made his way to her, through the thick mud.
As the rest of the family slipped and slid over the mud after him, Ieuan came to a halt.
"What in the name of…" he exclaimed.
Chris and Vin arrived at his side. "Shoot," Chris commented.
The cow wasn't down; she was standing up in some kind of hole. It was no more than a yard longer than she was and no wider.
Ieuan moved closer. Chris told Vin to stay with Buck and then followed him. The cow bellowed again as if in greeting. They found that the sides and bottom of the hole was lined with concrete.
Chris squatted down, running his hand along the edge.
"This is old and cheap," he stated.
"Cheap? How can you tell?"
"Large aggregate and lots of sand, you can feel it. I take it you've never seen this before?"
Ieuan shook his head. "Looks like it gave way under her; I can see some kind of tunnel or culvert, going by the size of it."
Ieuan suddenly stood up and looked up at the top of the field. "Oh shit," he commented. "I know what this is." The others waited expectantly for the explanation. "You know the big field, the one with the beet in it?" He looked around at them, Chris and Buck nodded. "It was some kind of training camp, in the war. Tad-cu told me about it. Mostly tents and wooden huts, but there are some old concrete foundations in one corner. Tad-cu said it was the wash house."
"This must have been the run off, taking the water away to the stream," Buck finished.
Just then the cow gave another bellow of protest.
"Sorry old girl," Chris gave the cow a pat.
They made a quick survey, which confirmed what all the adults knew but didn't want to admit; the cow couldn't get out on her own.
"We can make her a ramp," Vin suggested. The adults looked at him with interest, which gave him a good feeling in his chest. "We could put some bales in front of her like steps and maybe some of them sand bags in back of the barn?"
Chris came back up and patted him on the back. "That is a real good plan son. Ieuan, what do you think?"
"It could work," the Welshman admitted.
The adults began to discuss what they needed and how to get to the cow. Vin, since it was his idea, stayed close to his father. JD was feeling left out, he hadn't even seen the cow properly and no one was giving her a stroke or telling her not to worry. With everyone else talking, he edged down the slope. Inevitably he slipped and scooted most of the way on his backside. Finally, half covered in mud he stood on the edge of the old culvert. Squatting down he reached out and patted the cow on the neck.
"Don't worry cow, my Da and Chris and Ieuan will get you out soon," he told her confidently.
Only when they were ready to head back to the farm and gather what they needed did Buck notice JD wasn't standing behind him. It took only seconds for him to locate his son and jog back to him.
"Come on Little Bit, we've all got a job to do," he encouraged.
JD continued to strokes the cow's flank.
"She's stuck," JD told him.
"We know, but if we make her a ramp she can walk out."
"But she's stuck," JD persisted.
"I know she's stuck but…"
JD was pointing to the pregnant cow's swollen belly. Buck squatted down and took a closer look. By now the other three had come back and were standing behind him.
"She's stuck." Buck looked over his shoulder at them.
"Yeah, we know…" Ieuan began.
"What I mean is, and what JD has just pointed out." He patted JD on the back. "Is that she's wedged in. I can't even get one finger between her and the side. She couldn't walk out if she tried."
The other two adults squatted down and had to agree. Vin was standing behind them; he scowled and then felt guilty. He'd had a good idea, all the grownups said it was a good idea and they were going to use his idea to get the cow out, now JD had gone and spoiled it. Why didn't he notice how tightly the cow was stuck? It wasn't fair. That was when he felt guilty, because it wasn't JD's fault or the cow's, but he was still upset that his moment of glory had been spoilt.
"Hey there Cowboy, looks like you're thinking big thoughts there." Vin suddenly realised that his dad was squatting right in front of him. "Want to share?"
"It was a good idea, a very good idea and I was proud of you." Vin beamed. "But then I'm always proud of you." Chris stood up. "Come on, we've got a job to do."
Buck and JD went into the house to put the pizza in the oven, it was going to be long night and they all needed some fuel in the tank to keep them going. Ieuan called the vet while Chris and Vin climbed into the farm's old Landrover pick up to lure the other cows into the adjoining field with some feed.
Pizza devoured, the boys were waiting impatiently in the house with Buck, while Chris and Ieuan fed and watered the cow.
"Buck!" Vin suddenly shouted.
"Yeah!?" Buck looked into the living room from the kitchen. "Okay, I hear it!"
Wilmington came in and picked up the phone.
After a short conversation he put the phone down.
"Is he coming?" Vin asked, having deduced that the call was the vet and something was wrong.
"Not yet, he's got to go see a horse first."
"What's the matter with the horse?" Vin asked.
"It was hit by a car."
Both boys looked horror stuck.
"So it's more important for him to be there, since our cow's not in any real danger, she's just stuck," Buck continued.
"I hope the horsey gets better," JD commented, gazing up at his father.
"Ieuan says his uncle thinks the vet is real good at his job, so I'm sure the horse is in good hands," Buck assured both boys.
He was about to ruffle JD's hair when he noticed his head was bowed, his eyes tight shut and his hands clasped together. Not entirely sure what was going on he froze, his hand hovering over his son's head. After just a second or two JD looked up and beamed as his hair was affectionately ruffled.
"I asked God to make the horsey okay," he explained.
"Me too," Vin announced.
Both boys looked expectantly at Buck.
"Uh, sure, me too," he confirmed. God, hear that? Save the horse – please.
They decided someone should stay with the cow overnight or at least until the vet arrived. Bales of straw were formed into a comfortable seat for the watcher. Ieuan, who was due to drive to the airport early in the morning, took the first shift. Wrapped up in warm, waterproof clothes, with a huge million-candle-power light, a thermos of coffee, some sandwiches and a Mars bar, he kept his cow company.
In the house the boys worried about their carer. Was he okay outside on his own? What if it rained? Would the light have enough power to last all night?
"Guys he's fine, I promise," Chris told them for the umpteenth time.
They had let the boys watch some cartoons, to help them calm down before getting ready for bed.
"Tell you what, he's got his cell phone so you can call him before bedtime, okay?"
The boys seemed to think this would be okay and had just about begun to relax a little when the phone rang.
"Fferm Dolafon," Buck dutifully answered. There was a pause. "Slow down boy!" he barked. "Try using more English and less Welsh." By now Chris and the boys were staring at him. "Are you sure? …Right ….Okay, yeah that does sound pretty conclusive. Don't worry we're coming."
"And?" Chris asked as Buck put the phone down.
"Ieuan thinks, well he's sure, the cow's gone into labour."
"Oh shit!" Chris commented without thinking.
"Swear jar!" both boys chorused.
The vet still wasn't free. He promised to see if there was a colleague who could attend, but for now they were on their own. Buck stayed with the boys in the house, despite their insistence that they wanted to watch, while Chris headed to the field to see what the situation was. It wasn't long before Ieuan was back. He looked very worried.
"What's happening?" Buck asked.
"Chris thinks the calf is breach, probably because this is likely a miscarriage rather than a prem birth."
Buck closed the door between the kitchen and the living room where the boys were pretending to watch Sponge Bob, while really listening to the adults.
"You know what to do?" he asked.
"Nope, but Chris seems to think he can deliver it, at least he's willing to try."
"His father was in the Air Force," Buck explained. "Chris spent a lot of time at his grandparents' ranch, the one we now own."
"He told me. I too spent a lot of time on my grandparent's farm – this farm, but I never got involved in anything like this. By the time I was old enough, I was more interested in spending my holidays in the city, than out here." He gave a little ironic laugh. "I wasted so many summers doing nothing, when I could have been out here."
Buck smiled at their young friend, he understood what he was saying, but now was not the time for regrets. "What does Chris need?" he asked.
Ieuan pulled himself back to the here and now. "Err, rope, water – hot and cold, soap, overalls, more torches, more straw."
"Oh I don't think coveralls are gonna do the job," Buck commented. "You got any throw away clothes?"
Ieuan though a moment. "I've got decorating clothes here someplace, I'll get them."
Buck needed to know what Chris was dealing with and he couldn't leave the boys alone in the house, so against his better judgment, he bundled them up in warm clothes, coats and wellingtons.
Once outside, only the glow from the farmyard floodlight pierced the dark. They put everything in the back of the old Landrover and headed down to the stricken mother-to-be. The ground was too treacherous, even for the trusty Landrover, so they had to walk the last 100 yards. All the time they could hear the cow; she was now bellowing loudly and almost continually. Chris was pacing, as much as the mud would let him.
"Finally!" he exclaimed as Buck shone a beam of light in his face. "What took you guys so long?" he demanded, but before anyone could answer he waved at Vin. "Hi there Cowboy."
"Buddy, can you take JD over to the bales for me. Both of you sit there and don't move unless one of us tells you to – okay?"
Happy to have a job to do, even if it was just watching JD, Vin took his brother's hand. "Come on."
Despite Vin tugging on his hand JD stood his ground, gazing up and Chris. "Is Daisy gonna be okay?" he asked.
"Daisy?" Buck asked.
"We called her Daisy," Vin explained.
"Is she gonna be okay?" JD asked again.
"I'm gonna do my best for her," Chris promised.
"And the baby cow too?"
"Yeah Little Bit, I'll do my best for her baby too, but…" he glanced at Vin and the men. "I can't promise nothing bad will happen, only that I'll do my best."
Vin took a tighter grip on JD's hand, feeling it tremble slightly. "We know Dad – right JD?"
"I guess," JD confessed. "I'll ask God to help Daisy and the baby and the horsey."
‘Horsey?' Chris mouthed to Buck, who gave him a ‘tell you later' gesture.
With the boys out of the way, and not bothering to ask what they were doing there, Chris quickly explained why he thought the calf, at least a week premature, was probably in the breach position.
"I don't know, but going by what Ieuan saw and given the situation, it seems likely. I need to have a feel around."
Ieuan's face involuntarily scrunched up in a display of disgust. Buck just nodded sagely and handed over the old, paint-splattered clothes. As Chris stripped down and redressed, Buck took his good clothes and stuffed them in a black plastic sack, which he had congratulated himself on remembering to bring. Vin was given the bag to keep safe.
"Don't guess you have an arm length disposable glove?" Larabee asked.
"Sorry," Buck told him.
Chris rolled his shirt sleeve up to the shoulder and started to wash his arm with the soap and warm water they had brought with them. Buck positioned himself beside Daisy, and pulled her tail back over her back while pointing the beam of his torch at her posterior. Ieuan positioned himself between the boys and cow's rear and also illuminated that area. Chris took a deep breath.
"Didn't think I'd ever have to do this again." He glanced up at Buck. "Always figured if one of our mares had a foal in trouble, you'd be doing this bit," he commented, referring to the men's joint retirement plan - to one day breed horses. While at high school, college, and later, after he left the army, Buck had spent his summers working on a horse ranch. Over the course of six long, hot summers he'd mastered an impressive number of equine skills.
"I told you, cows are your department pal, now get to it sailor!" Buck commanded.
"Bastard," Chris growled back as he began to thread his arm into the cow's birth canal.
Daisy began to bellow all the harder in protest and as if in sympathy the first rain drops fell, cold and heavy on all present.
"Don't cry Daisy." JD tried to get up and go to comfort his new friend.
"We have to stay here," Vin told him firmly. "Dad said not to move ‘nless a grown up tells us to move."
JD huffed but sat back down. "Chris will make you better," he called to the distressed cow from his straw bale seat.
Back at the business end of their problem, Chris was pulling his arm out.
"And?" the other two asked in unison.
"All I could feel was hoofs."
"Meaning breach?" Ieuan asked.
"Yup. Now theoretically, if labour isn't too far advanced it can be turned, but…"
"But?" Ieuan asked with some trepidation.
"I have no idea how to turn a calf or even how to tell if it's still possible. I have – once, a long time ago – delivered a breach calf and I've seen it done a few times."
"Chris, mate, do whatever you can, it's better than nothing and that's all I have to offer," Ieuan told him.
Larabee nodded and looked over at Buck, who shrugged. "Me horses, you cows."
The cold rain suddenly got a lot heavier. Chris lifted his head toward Heaven. "Really? I'm not doing enough, it has to get harder?"
Once he had a lasso knot at the end of the rope, Chris again pushed his arm into the protesting Daisy and managed to get the loop over the two hoofs he could feel. It was no mean feat, with just one hand, no way to see what he was trying to do and very little space to do it in. Finally he pulled his slime covered arm out.
"Okay the rope is on, but this isn't going to be easy. These days vets have a thing, with a ratchet, they kinda winch the little guy out, all we got is muscle power."
Buck looked over at Ieuan. "Well the three of us aren't exactly 100lb weaklings you know? How hard can it be?"
Chris just smiled enigmatically. "Boys!" he bellowed. "Get on over here."
Both boys trooped up to him through the mud and rain; Vin had a determined grip on JD's wrist.
"We need your…" Chris began.
JD was bent double and looking at the cow.
"Why is there string coming out of Daisy's bottom?" he asked, scanning the area with the torch he was holding.
Vin turned away from his father and joined JD, bending almost double to get a better look. "It's a rope JD." He turned to look up at his father. "Did she swallow a rope?"
"No," Chris stated uneasily.
"So how'd it get there?"
"The rope is around the calf's legs," Buck explained.
Both boys stood up and looked at Buck, JD shone his torch beam directly into his father's eyes.
"But the calf is still inside."
Buck raised a hand to block the light in his eyes. "Yeah."
"So how'd the rope get on it?"
Vin was also pondering this incongruity. "Yeah, how?"
"Chris put it on."
The boys contemplated this for a second or two.
"How?" Vin asked.
"With his hand."
More and longer contemplation followed as the boys looked from Buck to Chris to Daisy's bottom and back to Chris.
"Dad?" Vin began.
"Did you put your hand inside Daisy?"
Chris took a deep breath, then he looked down at his bare arm, which thankfully the rain had all but washed clean.
"Yes I did."
"Ewww!" JD exclaimed.
"Cool!" Vin declared.
"And now we need you guys to help us get the baby cow out," Chris told the boys.
"I don't want to put my hand inside Daisy!" JD squealed, clamping them behind his back, which at least got the light out of Buck's face.
"I'll do it," Vin offered bravely.
"No boys, we just need you to hold the lights, while we do all the heavy work," Chris explained.
While they had been talking Ieuan had broken up a bale of straw and spread it on the ground behind the cow.
"Are we ready?" he asked.
"Almost," Buck told him, then squatted down in front of JD. "Right Little Bit, this is a real important job. I know it's cold and wet out here." He cringed looking at JD, rain was pouring off the hood of his wax jacket. "But this is one of those times when a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do – okay?"
JD's head nodded, his little face a mask of determination. "Yessir, Da!"
"Turn off your flashlight and put it in your pocket, then take my big one." Buck handed JD the lantern light he'd been holding. It looked like it was as old as the hills but it worked well.
Ieuan handed Vin the modern, million-candle-power, rechargeable light he'd been using. Although it was more modern, the big rechargeable battery made it heavier than the old light JD had. The boys took up station either side of Daisy, each standing beside their father, while Ieuan stood in the middle of the group.
"Okay," Chris tried to wipe the water out of his eyes, but it was hopeless the rain was just too heavy. "Everyone ready?"
"Yup," Buck responded.
"As I'll ever be," Ieuan told him.
"I'm ready Dad," Vin promised.
JD didn't respond.
"JD?" Buck asked.
"I'm scared," their youngest admitted.
"You know what kid? So am I," Chris confessed. "But Daisy needs us, so we can't back down. If you want to, you can go back and sit down, Vin can manage – right son?"
"Yeah Dad," Vin assured.
"I can do it," JD told him.
"You sure Little Bit?" Buck asked.
"Yeah, Daisy needs me." Craning his head back and up, he grinned at his father.
Buck grinned right back. "Well alright. Chris?"
"On my count." Chris braced himself and clutched the rain-soaked rope tightly. "Three, two, one, pull!"
It took a lot of pulling, they kept losing their footing and all three men fell down in the mud more than once. Vin kept his light steady, but JD quickly found it hard, as the torch seemed to become heavier and heavier. Buck was about to tell him to put it down for a little while when JD came up with his own solution, he placed the heavy lantern on his head.
"Good job!" Buck called to him between pulls.
Daisy bellowed in pain and fear continually, and her calls of distress encouraged them all to keep trying. The calf was small, being slightly premature and since it was coming out feet first the biggest effort was going to be needed at the end, when the head and shoulders came out. No one said anything, but this was the most dangerous part. If the calf was stuck half in and half out for too long, it might start to breathe for itself while still in the birth canal, in which case it would either drown or suffocate.
The boys were fascinated as the little black legs came out, then the body, but said nothing.
"Come on guys, this is the big one," Chris told them.
The three men set to, throwing their whole weight and strength into it, while trying to keep their feet. The lights picked up the calf's neck as he came out, but it wasn't moving.
"We have to get it out now!" Chris called. "Keep pulling."
With that he let go and moved to Daisy, trying his best to ease the calf out. This produced another ‘ewww' from JD but he didn't move.
Face pressed against the cow, and teeth clenched in determination, Chris nodded. "Keep going guys, we've almost got it, I can feel the calf's heart beating, it's still alive!" Chris shouted.
Vin suddenly put down his light, digging it into the mud so that it still shone on the action, then grabbed hold of the rope and lent his strength to the battle. JD not to be left out followed suit, he couldn't pull as such, but his body weight hanging off the rope, all added to the force pulling on the poor calf. Chris let go of Daisy and came back to join the battle.
Suddenly there was a gushing sound as yellow and red liquid splatted to the ground.
"Ewww, that's yucky," JD commented.
"It means the baby's coming – right Dad?" Vin told him.
Chris didn't even get time to answer as the calf slipped out; landing on the straw Ieuan had lain down. Everyone let go of the rope, as Chris rushed forward to the calf.
"Get the ropes off, boys pick up the lights and stand back a bit!" he barked as he frantically pulled mucus away from the calf's mouth.
Without waiting to see if his orders had been followed, he picked up the little thing by its hind legs, now rope free, and began to swing it like a pendulum.
"Don't worry boys, I've seen vets do that, it helps to get fluid out of their lungs and encourages them to breath," Buck explained.
After a few swings the calf was back down and Chris was rubbing it with a handful of straw.
"Is it?" Buck asked.
"It's alive," Chris assured.
"Yay!" both boys exclaimed, startling the calf, which made it lift its head.
"Time to get you to your mamma." Chris lifted the newborn and carried it around so that Daisy could lick it clean, which she began to do instantly. The boys of course followed and watched enrapt, which luckily distracted them from the delivery of the afterbirth. However they were treated to the sight of Daisy eating the placenta. Chris knew it was essential for her to have it, so he picked it up and carried it to her.
Vin thought the whole thing was fascinating and asked his father all kinds of questions; JD just thought it was all kinda yucky.
So the baby could drink the vital first milk, it was imperative that they got Daisy out as soon as possible. She was of course now considerably thinner, so Vin's original idea was once more a viable plan. While the boys watched Daisy clean up her baby, the men used the straw bales to build her a ramp.
"Baby animals is yucky when they's born, huh?" JD commented in a none too subtle whisper, ‘yucky' was officially his new favourite word.
"Yeah," Vin agreed.
"Do you think people babies are yucky when they is born?"
"Ewww. Do you think mamma human's lick their babies clean?"
Vin thought about this for a while. "Nope, I think the doctor or the nurse gives them a bath, ‘sides human babies don't have no fur so they're easy to clean."
JD nodded sagely, as he accepted this. "Do they eat that thing, like Daisy did?"
"No," Chris told him emphatically as he came over to check on the calf.
"Dad is the baby a boy or a girl?" Vin asked.
"Don't know, hang on." Picking up JD's torch, he took a quick look. "It's a girl."
By the time her escape route was built Daisy had all but licked the calf clean. Chris picked it up and moved it in front of Daisy, then took a step back.
"Come on old girl, come get your baby," he coaxed as he stood there, holding the calf just out of her reach.
Buck and Ieuan had withdrawn, taking the boys with them. Buck explained that only Chris could touch the baby, since he smelled of the mother.
"'Cause he put his arm in the cow's bottom and got cow slime on him," Vin confirmed matter-of-factly.
"You could put it like that."
"And he carried that there other thing, too. Chris is all yucky," JD added.
"You're no scented rose yourself Little Bit," Buck pointed out.
They were all wet through and covered in mud, not to mention other things to be found in a cow field, that Buck didn't even want to think about.
"Never mind kid; look, Daisy's trying to get out."
"Ya…" Buck's large hand clamped over his son's mouth before his exuberance could spook the poor cow.
Once she was no longer wedged in, the gallant Daisy was able climb out with little difficulty. Vin couldn't stop grinning as he watched her scramble her way to safety. They used the calf to get her to follow them to the calving barn, where a thick straw bed had been laid. Ieuan made sure she had fresh water and a generous helping of feed.
"Night night Daisy, night night Buttercup," JD called as they were about to leave.
"Buttercup?" Ieuan asked.
"Yup, that's what we called the baby, ‘cause Daisy is a flower that grows in grass and so are buttercups," Vin explained. "Buttercup looks much cuter now she's not all slimy."
In the mud room there was total chaos, as everyone but Ieuan tried to strip off their wet, muddy clothes while four dogs tried to work out what was more important, greet their pack, sniff out the intoxicating aroma of new birth or their urgent need to answer nature's call.
"Come on dogs!" Ieuan called commandingly.
There was a sudden canine rush for the door. By the time he and the dogs were back, the washing machine was running, there was a second pile of sodden clothing in front of it and he could hear the sound of water running above him. Since the farmhouse only had one bathroom, Ieuan had to wait a good half an hour before he could get a shower. Eventually he was downstairs again, dressed, like everyone else, for bed.
"Wow," he commented. "That was quite something."
"You could say that," Buck agreed.
"Chris I can't thank you enough, well all of you. We'd have lost her and the baby if it wasn't for you."
"Not sure that's true, but we were happy to help," Chris acknowledged.
The boys, scrubbed clean and rosy cheeked, were sitting cross legged on the floor next to the coffee table, and dunking shortbread fingers into mugs of hot chocolate.
"Right then boys, you've seen Ieuan, time to drink up and say goodnight," Chris told them. "We've got a long day tomorrow."
Buck turned to their young friend. "Since you have to leave early, we'll do all the farm chores in the morning," he assured.
"Oh no way can I let you do that," Ieuan protested.
"For God's sake man, you told me you have to up by seven to be at the airport on time, you won't be back until the afternoon, it's almost midnight now and we're all shattered. You go to the airport; we'll take care of the stock." Buck put his hand on the younger man's shoulder and looked him in the eye. "It's what families do for each other – right?"
"When did I become family?" the young Welshman asked, not sure if it was a joke or not.
"Not sure, you kinda snuck up on us," Buck told him. "But like it or not, you're in now – right boys?"
Both boys nodded. JD had finished his shortbread some time ago. Vin stuffed the last bit in and both boys got up and crossed over to their carer. With no words spoken they both hugged him, before saying goodnight.
"We love you," JD told him seriously.
Ieuan felt a lump of emotion settle in his throat.
"And if you love someone that means they are part of your family," Vin explained.
To the boys it was that simple.
To Ieuan, it meant so much more.
The night before setting out for the homeward journey saw only a brief meeting with Ieuan's Uncle and Aunt. Owen and Clare Griffith had been travelling a long while and after dinner, and before heading for bed, they acquainted themselves with, not to mention being totally enchanted by, the little makeshift American family. The pair thanked their nephew for taking care of the farm, which prompted JD and Vin to regale them with the tale of poor Daisy's dilemma, and how Chris performed a near-miracle to deliver Buttercup, or, as JD colourfully put it, ‘Chris did a yucky thing an' shoved his arm right into Daisy an' made a rope stick outta poor Daisy's butt...'
Chris noticed Ieuan went quiet over dinner, and when he spotted him stepping outside, he promised Buck he'd be up to say goodnight soon, and then followed the young Welshman out. He found Ieuan leaning over the pen that Daisy was in, and smiling at Buttercup. Chris quietly approached and mirrored Ieuan's stance.
"Hey, uh, I'm sorry if JD's version of events was a little too close to the bone."
Ieuan turned his head and grinned. "Duw, there's nothing these days that little chap can say to surprise me." He resumed watching mother and daughter.
"So, what is bugging you, then? Is it leaving here?"
Ieuan turned fully toward Chris. "Partly. Visiting Mam and Tad right now is on my mind, too."
Chris also turned and leaned back against the rail. "Would this have anything to do with your young lady?" He smiled at Ieuan's surprised expression. "I am a detective, y'know. Besides, Buck and me knew something was up with the boys when we got home after the New Year party. It took some coaxing out of ‘em, but eventually, JD cracked and told us about the picture, and Jenny."
Ieuan sighed and now was mirroring Chris's position. "I knew I'd struggle with the anniversary of Jen's death, so I asked my Aunt and Uncle if I could stay for a week or so. They told me they wanted to ask me to take care of the farm so they could take a holiday, but after Jenny...well, they felt awkward. I agreed instantly, but..." he smiled. "...I found myself frustrated. You guys were only in the UK for a few more months, and here was I, shooting off to Wales for a few weeks." He looked Chris in the eye. "I'm so glad you joined me, here."
Larabee nodded. "We are, too." He turned his body toward Ieuan. "I understand what you're going through."
"Yeah, I suppose you do."
"And judging by that haunted look, for some reason, you feel responsible for Jenny's death."
Ieuan's jaw dropped. It took a moment or two to recover, but eventually, he nodded. "Yeah, yeah, I did – do." He looked sideways at Chris. "The paper," he swallowed, hard. "She only went to get the paper for...damnit..." Ieuan swiped angrily at a stray tear. "She only went to get it for me. If I'd read the news online, she'd still be alive today." He turned sad eyes to Chris. "When does it stop hurting so much?" He noted Chris nod, sagely as the blond curled a hand around Ieuan's wrist.
"It does get better, but you have to allow yourself time to grieve, and others to be there for you." Chris inhaled, and blew out a shaky breath.
"Sarah and Adam died in a car bomb meant for me." Chris tried to rein in his building anguish but could see by the Welshman's expression he wasn't quite succeeding. "All I wanted to do was turn back time and put myself in that car instead of them. When I came to my senses that it was impossible – all I wanted to do then, was join them."
He stood straight. "Buck kept me going, even though I didn't want to. When I finally drove him away, I figured all I had to do was keep drinking and I'd get my wish. But despite him not being close, somehow, all I could hear was Buck hollering at me every time I opened a bottle, and I guess I must've slowed down day by day, until one day, I found myself clean, on the wagon, and back on the force as a Fed. If I'd given in, the life I have now would never have been; a great job, wonderful friends, true brothers of the heart, a five-year-old I love, and a son who is absolutely everything to me."
The two men stared at each other for a long time. Ieuan finally allowed the threatening tears to drop. He nodded. "I can hardly recall the weeks after Jenny's funeral at this time last year. Eventually, I couldn't bear to be around our home, so I came back here, to Wales. My family were wonderful. Supported me a hundred percent until I could face going back, not that I ever showed appreciation for it." He too stood up straight and smiled as he wiped his face with the heel of his hand.
"And thank God they did. You guys, and the Greens, have made me happy to be home again. Jenny not being around will always hurt, but even if missing her isn't getting any easier at least being in our home alone is."
"But not right now, huh?"
"Yeah, not just now." Ieuan patted Chris's hand on his arm and cleared his throat.
"So, you certain you want to drive all the way to Penarth to meet Mam and Tad, tomorrow?"
Chris bobbed his eyebrows. "Sure, we live for adventure."
Ieuan finally released a chuckle. "Thank God for that; Mam's so excited you're all coming, she's told anyone who'll listen."
With a gentle slap to Ieuan's back, a grinning Chris led the way back to the house.
"Are we there, yet, Dad?"
Following Ieuan's car, and with Buck driving, Chris turned to Vin. "Like I said to JD five minutes ago, Cowboy, not yet." He shifted back to face forward and glowered at Buck.
Buck hissed under his breath. "Okay, okay, I screwed up. I'm sorry." He glanced into the rear-view mirror at two frustrated tykes. "We need to invest in those car plug-in doo-hickeys for when the DS consoles run out of charge."
"Wouldn't need to if someone remembered to charge them last night."
"You coulda checked."
"It was your turn."
"Well I'm sorry."
There was a pause before the pair suddenly chuckled. "Man, how did we ever manage before we got those things?" Buck asked.
A voice from the back chirruped. "Da, is we there, yet?"
"Oh yeah, I remember." The brunet did a quick half turn. "Not too much longer, guys."
From her position at the kitchen window, Meredydd Jones squealed. "Iolo, Iolo, they're here."
Husband Iolo called from his spot in the living room. "Calm down, Mair, you'll burst a blood vessel in a minute." Despite his words, he was at her side in seconds and also looking out of the window. "Got the kettle on?"
Meredydd, nicknamed Mair by her close family and friends, playfully slapped his arm. "Iolo, Jones, as if I'd forget. Have you put the cakes and sandwiches out?"
"Like I said a half an hour, an hour, and two hours ago – yes!"
"Ooohh, they're stopping, let's go!"
Ieuan's car eased into the now familiar drive. He was initially shocked when his parents wanted to move to the coast, but it was no time at all before he loved it here. The views over the Bristol Channel, and Cardiff Bay were breathtaking, and he never tired of it. It had inspired Ieuan to consider writing again, and certain new friends just might have given him some wonderful material to think on.
The Freelander rolled in behind, the two vehicles just fitting into the reasonably long, gravel drive. As the two men got out and stretched, they admired the pretty stone cabin, or bungalow, as Ieuan called it. The garden was awash with flowers and a lush, green lawn. They couldn't help being a little disappointed there was no ocean view, though.
"Me see, Da."
Buck turned, lifted JD up and hoisted him onto his hip. They watched Ieuan exit his car, walk up to his parents, and hug them both. Buck and JD frowned at each other on hearing Mrs. Jones cry out ‘Hello, Dwt.'
"They seem real nice," Vin said as he stood at his father's side.
Chris nodded. "Yeah, they do." He noted Ieuan walking back to them.
"Come and meet my parents while I get the dogs out and put them in the enclosure out back. Then we can get settled."
Although only having overnight bags, the family still needed to settle into their rooms for the night. Ieuan was staying on until Tuesday, and had asked the guys to do likewise, but with school break ending on Monday, the fathers wanted their boys home, settled, and ready for the new term as soon as possible.
JD squirmed. He didn't want to meet Ieuan's Ma and Da while being held. Kissing his son's head, Buck set JD down, took his hand, and the four walked up to the smiling welcoming committee. Chris extended his hand to Iolo.
"Prin-hawen da," he said with practiced ease.
Mair squealed with delight as Iolo, then she, shook hands. "Da iawn! Prynhawn da i ti, hefyd." She bent to speak to the boys, who dutifully shook hands, also. "Very good! Good afternoon to you, too." She beamed her approval at Ieuan.
"Ma'am, sir," the boys each said, in turn.
She offered her hands, and the boys curled theirs into them. "Come on, Dwts, you must be hungry. Mae bwyd ar y bwrdd – err, there's food on the table - and drinks."
"Yeah?" JD asked, eagerly.
"JD!" Vin threw him a look. "Uh, thank you, Ma'am."
"Sorry. Thank you Missus Jones."
"Aww, Croeso; you're very welcome." Mair grinned. "I love your accents. Come on, through here."
Smiling back at the others, Ieuan followed and grinned at JD's question to his mam. ‘What are Doots?'
Iolo chuckled after them, and turned to Chris and Buck. "Good trip?"
Buck nodded. "Yeah. Thankfully the views are pretty neat."
"Just as well, the boys' DS consuls ran out of charge early on," Chris half-teased.
"Jeeze, Stud, let it go, huh?"
"So, you're from Denver," Iolo interrupted. "Never been there."
"Well, maybe, once we're home, we can remedy that," Chris offered.
Iolo laughed. "Be careful what you offer, boyo, we might just take you up on it."
"I never make an offer I don't intend to follow through on," Chris smiled. Bags in hand, the group started walking.
"So, the dogs are in an enclosure?" Buck checked.
Iolo nodded. "It's a big one. Come on, I'll show you."
When the three men arrived around the back of the bungalow, and stepped into the large garden, their eyes widened. Apart from the enclosure, there was the ocean view they had been expecting, and, wow, what a view it was. Iolo pointed.
"That there is Cardiff Bay. Cardiff is the capital of Wales, and the old docks have been transformed to what you see now." His arm arced right. "Follow this headland round and over there is Penarth Barrage, which leads on around to the marina."
"Awesome," Buck breathed.
Iolo smiled. "We like it."
Chris tapped Buck's shoulder and they turned to see their sons inside the house and gawping out of the large patio doors. Seeing the men, Vin raised a hand to point, while from behind the glass, his muted voice said ‘The ocean.'
Ieuan slid the doors open and to the greeting of three barking dogs, the boys stepped outside. After Iolo pointed out some of the landmarks, Mair insisted they all go get some food, even if they wanted to bring it outside and sit on the chunky, teak garden furniture, which they did.
Later, the seven of them and three dogs drove down to Penarth front; a long, straight esplanade along the sea shore, and boasting a large, centuries old pier that had survived a fire, and a collision with a steamboat. Being early season, and early evening, the attractions on the pier were closed, but the group were still able to walk along its full length and out over the water.
Further along the sea front the boys became highly animated when they spotted an RNLI boathouse directly opposite a small slipway to the sea. Penarth was host to two inshore lifeboats, one B, and one D class, which were locked behind large glass doors, and looked to be set for the night. Of course, they knew it could all spring to life any moment, but decided waiting for that possibility might take too long.
Mair and Iolo encouraged them up the hill where they came across a small park, and a pub close by. So while the adults supped on beer, and wine for Mair, boys and dogs romped themselves into exhaustion.
After carrying the sleepy boys home, Buck and Chris were in the converted attic room and tucking them into bed. Chris leaned into Vin and they touched foreheads.
"'Night, Dad. What time do we have to leave tomorrow?"
"Buck and me were thinking maybe around midday. With around three hours to London, we'll get home, unload the car, and while you and JD bathe and chill out, Buck or me will make some food, while the other sorts out the uniforms and shoes for school on Tuesday."
Vin's eyes went wide. "But – Ieuan won't be home Tuesday."
Chris mock-frowned. "Gee, I guess Buck and me'll have to take you to school then, huh?" He beamed at Vin's smile, feeling a little guilty they hadn't shared that the men had planned not to return to work until Wednesday, when Ieuan was due back to take over.
Buck and JD rubbed noses before Buck kissed JD's forehead. "'Night, Li'l Bit."
"'Night, Da. Da?"
"Y-eye-an said Missus Joneses name was Me-red-ith."
"So – why's she called Mi-yer, by Y-eye-an's Da?"
"I believe Mair's a kinda nickname."
All eyes turned to see Ieuan standing at the door. He smiled at the men. "May I say goodnight?"
Buck and Chris stood. "Sure." They punched his arm playfully as they passed by. "See you downstairs."
Ieuan sat on the edge of JD's bed, facing Vin, and half-turned to see JD. He first looked to Vin. "Calling Mam Mair, is like when your Dad calls you ‘Cowboy'." He smiled at an expectant JD. "And when your Da calls you ‘Little Bit'."
He pointed to himself. "And why I'm called, ‘Dwt'."
"Wha's ‘Doot' mean?" JD asked for the second time that day, and hoping for more of an explanation than ‘just a nickname' this time.
Ieuan grinned. It means ‘Little Thing'."
JD sat up. "You mean, like ‘Li'l Bit'?"
The Welshman nodded. "Yeah, I suppose."
"But…you're h-u-g-e," Vin declared, now also sitting up.
"Well…" Ieuan got comfortable. "When I was younger, friends, family and neighbours would say, ‘Aww, he's such a Dwt,' and the name stuck."
"Like mine?" JD asked, optimistically.
Ieuan encouraged both boys to sit next to him. "Whether you grow tall, or not so tall, or become a teacher, or a cop, to all who love you, you will both always be their ‘Cowboy', and ‘Li'l Bit'. Nicknames from those you love are not about who or what you are in general life and as you get older, but who you are and what you've always meant to those who hold you dear. Do you understand?"
After a moment's pause, both boys nodded. "So, should we call you ‘Dwt', too, now?" Vin asked.
"Well, only folks older than me tend to do that. I like that you call me by my name. Only Jenny did so regularly, so it's special to me. Is that okay?"
"Like when you calls us by our names," JD added.
All three were in agreement. Ieuan stood.
"I should go." He hugged each one, watched them settle, then blew them a kiss, followed by a raspberry, as he left them giggling.
Tomorrow, they and their dads would leave for home, and herald the start of their final months in the UK. As Ieuan walked downstairs, he took it slow to allow the pooling tears to fall and dry before he joined the others.
The next few passing months would be tough due to knowing how they would end, but he intended to make the most of them with four friends he would hold dear for the rest of his days.
Continues in Tea and Soldiers
Feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com
Easter Pageant idea from Family Worship Resources
Itsy Bitsy Spider
Boiled egg and soldiers
Chocolate Easter Eggs
Hot Cross Buns
Easter Roast Lamb
Easter chick decorations
Driving over the Second Severn Crossing
Welcome to Wales sign
Boot – in a car = the trunk
Sarnies = slang for sandwiches
Older style Rayburn cooker
Cling film = Saran wrap
Meg, the Welsh Border Collie
Gertie And Piglets
Welsh Black Cattle
Mother Welsh Black and calf
Stuck welly boot
Beddarthur Sanding Stone Circle
Dyfed Shire Horse Farm
Horse Harnessing Demo
Siani and Sophie
Iron Age Village
Willow Basket Workshop
JD’s, uh, Willow Sculpture
The Willow Achievement gift
Cliff top walk overlooking South Beach
St. Catherine's Fort
Tenby Walled Town
Painting by Eric Bradforth of Tenby
Arial View of Tenby Today
Tenby Harbour (with old and new lifeboat stations in background far left)
Tenby Lifeboat Launch
Back on the Launch Ramp
Marros Riding Centre Disclaimer: The riding centre is real, the horses are real (I used to ride Rosie and Sammy) and the description of the ride is based on my personal recollections of doing it a few years ago, but the people and everything else is made up. KT
Unigate Horse – UK equine slang for a medium to large horse, of common breeding and usually with feathers on its feet. Unigate Horse can refer to a horse of any coat, but is most commonly used to describe paint or skewbald horses. Such horses were used to deliver milk door to door. Unigate was a large company that delivered milk in most towns in the UK for many years - hence Unigate Horse
Path down to the beach
Galloping on Morfa Bychan
A tour of the Marros and Pendine area
Green lane = Although designated as a right of way for motor traffic, 'green lanes' have no maintained road way and are normally narrow and only negotiable by 4x4s.
Collapsed culvert (brick not concrete but you get the idea)
Torch = Flashlight
Old torch lantern
Million candle rechargeable torch
Ratchet calf puller (which Chris didn't have) in use
Delivering a calf with muscle power (which Chris and boys did have)
Iolo and Mair's view over Cardiff Bay and Penarth
Penarth Lifeboat Station
The Two Lifeboats