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Chapter 34

The next morning, a Sunday, dawned cold and clear. Ned woke up happy…. until he remembered that today he had to meet his Mom’s boyfriend. He really didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Ned was certain the boyfriend would turn out to be a real jerk.

He dragged himself down to breakfast. His mother was in the kitchen singing softly. It’s been a long time since I heard Mom sing. I wonder how she can be so happy on this dark day for me.

As he ate his cereal his mother declared, “Ned, today is a very important day for us. As you know, my friend is coming over for noonday dinner. Gram is coming over too.”

“Yeah I know, Mom.”

“Ned, I know how hard this is for you. I don’t want you to feel you have to like my friend. But, could you at least be polite to him? You know, Ned, it’s not his fault we lost your dad. Do you think it’s fair to punish my friend for a problem you and I have had in our life?”

“I suppose not.”

“You’ve always been fair, Ned. That’s all I ask. Be fair. Please give my friend a chance. It’s really important to me. You know, you might learn to like him. He’s fun to be around.”

“I’ll try to be polite,” Ned mumbled as he left the table.

Peggy began to feel a tad guilty by not telling her son his beloved Coach was the man with whom she had fallen in love. I thought it would be fun to surprise him. But Ned is so certain my boyfriend will be a disaster, maybe I should have told him.

Ned read the Sunday comics but they didn’t cheer him up a bit. He didn’t even smile at Charlie Brown. He decided to go into the back yard, throwing balls at the plywood.

Snug retrieved a few balls to him which evoked a small smile. Unfortunately, the smile didn’t last.

Finally, he went to the front of the house and sat on the top step. The top step’s a good place to mope. Fortunately, Snug came up the steps, nestling down beside him. The dog seemed to sense his master’s upset mood.

An excited Ken left his house far too early, so he drove slowly. When he arrived at Peggy’s street, he was still too early. He decided to park the car and walk the last few blocks.

As he approached Peggy’s house, he noticed Ned sitting on the top step of the porch, holding his head in his hands. Their beautiful golden retriever was snuggled against his side. A boy and his dog. Awesome.

Ned looked up. He noticed a man walking down the street, heading toward his house. Something about him seemed familiar…….

As the man got close to the house Ned realized it was Coach! He didn’t recognize him sooner because he wasn’t wearing his Chicago Cubs cap.

“Coach, what’re you doing here?”

“Buzz, is that you? How come you’re sitting on the top step?”

“I live here.”

There was a long silence. Ken and Peggy hadn’t exactly made a detailed plan about how to spring the surprise. Ken finally answered, “Well, I came out for a walk. I just happened to come down this street……. Buzz, you look depressed. How about sharing why you look so down?”

“Might as well,” Ned replied in a depressed voice. “Just pull up the top step and sit down. Oh this is Snug.”

“Hi Snug.” Ken patted the soft fur allowing Snug to nuzzle his hand.

So there they sat, on the top step, elbows on knees. A boy, his Coach and his dog. Ken said nothing. He just waited.

Finally, Ned began to unload his troubles. “It’s my Mom. She has this jerk of a boyfriend. Today I’ve got to meet him. I think she likes the guy. I can’t see why she’s falling for a dumb old jerk.”

“Buzz, when you told me you didn’t have a dad, I thought your mom had been divorced. Sometime later, I learned your dad had passed away. You know, I can understand why you’re upset. There’ll never be anyone who can take your dad’s place.”

“Boy, that’s for sure.”

Coach kept his voice tones soft. “You know Buzz; a person never grows up ’till his father dies. For most people, a father doesn’t die until we’re adults. For others, guys like you and me, it happen early in life. This means we have to grow up extra fast.

“I never knew my own father; I never even met him…… At least you have some great memories of your dad. Nevertheless, it’s awfully tough being without a dad. Growing up is tough enough, but if you’re only eight or ten and you lose your dad, it’s especially tough.”

“Now having said that,” Coach continued, “why don’t you give this situation with your mom’s boyfriend a grown up look. Thoughtful grownups look at things from the other person’s viewpoint, not their own.

“Your mom’s been without a man in her life for a long time. She’s a young woman who has a lot of years ahead.”

Buzz started to object, but Coach held up his hand. “Please let me finish.”

“How old are you, Buzz?”

“Almost eleven.”

“Do you realize in just seven more years you’ll be off for college? Once you leave for college, your mom will be all alone. Do you want her to be all alone for the rest of her life? Or do you think she’d be a lot happier if there was a man around the house to love and take care of her?”

“I never thought about it.”

“Is that because you’re thinking about this guy from your viewpoint instead of your mom’s viewpoint? Remember we’re supposed to be looking at this situation from her viewpoint.”

Ken continued, “Now let’s discuss this jerk. Do you really think your mom could get serious over a guy who wouldn’t be nice to you?

“As I see it, your mom holds two things sacred. First is her love for you. You are, and always will be, her most important concern.

“Second, is the memory both of you hold for your dad. There’s no one who will ever take his place. If this guy tries to do that, your mom will pitch him out on his ear.”

The thought of his mother pitching out the jerk made Buzz smile.

“You know, Buzz, you have veto power over this jerk. If you don’t like the guy, he’s toast.”

“Why do you say that?” Buzz asked.

“Because you’re number one in your mom’s life. She’ll do anything for you. Which is why you have to be very careful how you handle this situation. Suppose your mom really cares for Mister Jerk? If you don’t give him a chance, your mom will have to pitch him. If she really loves the guy, do you think pitching him might hurt her a lot?

“Chances are she does love him or she wouldn’t be asking you to meet him……. Maybe, just maybe, it would be more thoughtful for you to meet this jerk guy and give him a chance. If you do, you’ll be doing something nice for your mom.”

Ned thought it over. Slowly a slight grin worked its way across the boy’s face. “Thanks, Coach. You always seem to know the right thing to say to cheer me up. I hope you’re right. Maybe this guy won’t be so bad.”

Peggy was in the kitchen, working on last minute details for the dinner. She took a second to peek out and check on her son. She found him sitting on the top step with Snug, talking with a man.

As she approached the door she realized the man was Ken. Without thinking she walked out on the front porch. When Ken stood up she threw her arms around him and kissed him right on the lips!

The second Ned saw his mother kissing his coach, his jaw dropped about a mile. “Mom! Why are you kissing Coach?”

Peggy broke off the kiss. “Kissing’s what girlfriends do when their boyfriend comes for dinner!”

The two adults watched as the realization hit Ned. “Coach is your boyfriend? Honestly? Wow! Is that ever cool!”

Smiling broadly, all walked toward the living room. Ned enthusiastically exclaimed, “You know, I always wanted you guys to fall for each other. I just knew Coach would make a great dad.”

As they got into the living room, Ken dropped to his knees pulling Peggy down beside him. Now everyone was about the same height. “I think we need a three way hug,” Ken announced.

When the hug ended, the men noticed tears in Peggy’s eyes.

“Why are you crying, Mom,” asked Ned.

“They’re called tears of joy,” she replied.

“Tears of joy?”

“Someday you’ll understand.”

To break the ice Ken asked, “Have Buzz and I enough time before dinner to throw a few balls? I need to be sure my best relief pitcher doesn’t get out of shape during the off season.”

“Coach Lister, his name is Ned, not Buzz,” Peggy frowned at Ken.

“Aw, Ma, it’s Coach’s special name for me. He named me Buzz cause of my short haircut and cause he can’t remember names. Can’t he still call me Buzz?”

“This will be a subject for later,” Peggy replied. “Right now, the game of catch will have to wait till after dinner. I see mother coming up the walk. Everything’s ready to eat.”

Margo came in wearing a big smile. The smile got huge as she felt the joy in the room. After meeting Ken, she exclaimed, “I’m so happy for all three of you!”

Dinner became a celebration! Even Ned contributed to the conversation. He was obviously excited Coach was his mother’s boyfriend and not a major jerk.

As dinner concluded, Ken spoke in a voice that commanded the attention of everyone at the table:

“I have something very serious to say to Buzz, ’er Ned. I want both of you ladies to hear it too, so please listen for a minute.

“Buzz, uh Ned, I’ve been seeing your mother for some time now. I’m extremely fond of her. I honestly don’t know where our relationship is going; but, I want to put all my cards on the table as far as you are concerned.

“If by some miracle, your mother and I decide to get married; I want you to know I’ll never try to take your father’s place. The reason I say this is because taking your dad’s place is impossible. No one could ever do it.

“Your dad was a very special man. He will always be special. For that reason, I never want you to call me Dad or Father or Pop or any such name. To you, Ned, I want to be Ken or Coach.

“You see, Ned, I want to be your friend, not your dad. You and your mom and I can have a lot of fun doing stuff together. We can go to ball games up in Chicago, or we can go swimming. Maybe someday we can go to Florida. But, when you and I are together, it’s because we’re friends. I’ll never attempt to take your father’s very special place. Do you understand what I’m saying, Ned?”

“I think so, Coach,” replied a cautious Ned.

“If you only think so, let me put it another way. The love and memory you have for your dad is in a special place in your heart. Nothing can change it. It’s there forever. If some other person becomes part of your life, you don’t have to push your dad out of the way. There is plenty of room in the human heart to love lots and lots of people. Does that help you to understand, Buzz?”

“Yeah, Coach. I got it now.”

Ken continued, “Your family has had a very tough two and a half years. You both deserve to have some good breaks for a while. It’s my deepest hope that I can be a part of bringing some happiness and joy back into your lives.”

A silence engulfed the table as Ken finished. After a minute, he broke the silence by asking, “Mrs. Mitchell, are you in tune with what I’m saying?”

Margo replied, “Yes I am Ken, I think you expressed your feelings honestly. I want you to know, I agree whole-heartedly with what you said.”

Buzz chimed in, “Don’t ask Mom what she thinks, Coach, she’s crying again!”

After dinner ended, a serious game of catch began. Peggy went out and tried to play too. “Peggy, your throwing motion is incorrect,” Ken said.

“That’s what I’ve been telling her,” Buzz added.

“No one ever taught me how to throw,” she protested.

“I can teach you how to throw in about one minute,” Ken told her.

After Ken’s lesson, Peggy tried it. She threw the ball way over Ned’s head. “My gosh, I can’t believe I threw it so far!” she exclaimed.

“You see why he’s a great coach, Mom?” Buzz yelled as he chased down her errant throw.

Later, as Ken got up to leave, Buzz gave him a big hug.

Peggy was in the kitchen. Ken asked Buzz in a whisper, “What time do you get off school tomorrow?”

“1500 hours, Coach. I still remember, that’s 3:00 o’clock.”

“Watch for me after school. If I can work it out, I want to show you something. Now don’t tell your Mom, because it’s a secret.” he whispered.

Peggy came in as the hug was ending. She kissed him unabashedly, while Margo and Ned watched.

“I’ll call you tonight,” Ken whispered. Then he walked out the door. He was so happy; he jogged all the way down the street to his car.

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