"Uncle Johnny!" came a high-pitched squeal from Jenny as her uncle exited his Land Rover.
"Happy Birthday, princess!" Johnny exclaimed, easily catching her as she flew towards him.
Spinning the blonde hair, blue eyed girl around, he laughed at the way she clung to him after he let her down. She too was giggling, despite being still dizzy from her ride. Even at ten years old, Jenny still had the same sense of fun she seemed to have when he first began coming around the DeSoto's house. It was amazing how time flew; it seemed like just yesterday when Roy invited him to meet his wife Joanne, his one and a half year old son Christopher, and 3 month old daughter Jennifer. It was hard to accept at first that Roy and Joanne actually grew to quickly like him. In fact, with his background, it hard to accept that anyone would like him, let alone basically adopt him into their family like the DeSoto's had done over the time he and Roy were training to become paramedics.
Well, Johnny grinned to himself. I was training, he was retraining!
The two of them reminded them so much of his parents; they had seemed to fall more in love with each other every year they were married and that love was extended towards their family and friends. The two of them were there for their kids, teaching them what they felt was important such as what Roy considered basic first aid. Those basics went on to include camping, fishing, cooking, simple sewing and more.
Somehow, over the ten years they had been partners, he had become a brother to both Joanne and Roy, as well as an uncle to Chris and Jennifer. The DeSoto's included him in so many of their family activities that at times, it was astounding how comfortable he was around them. For the first time since Johnny had lost his parents, he felt he found somewhere he was not only welcomed and somewhere he belonged, but somewhere where he felt loved.
Growing up near a reservation, it was hard to fit in being a "half-breed". Too white for some and too red for the others, he never made lasting friends during the first twelve years of his life. Instead, Johnny just seemed to spend most of his time trying to stay out of the way of everyone, kids and adults, as they seemed to feel justified in bullying him and targeting him. The kids would go out of their way to exclude them. The adults on the other hand, seemed to feel he would wind up as 'just another drunk Injun' and despite receiving fairly good grades, the teachers seemed to ignore the slurs of the other kids and occasion beating he would receive from them. It wasn't as if he was the only one to get picked on, it just seemed as though if there was a choice, the kids tended to choose him over others. The teachers also didn't seem to care much if he needed help with his homework.
Not that the education was all that great to begin with, Johnny reminisced.
Since no other schools were around for younger kids, he was forced to attend the local reservation school and at that time, many teachers didn't want to be there and had the same attitude: why educate kids who would grow up to become problems on society? Those who genuinely did seem to want to be there were scarce; anytime they did try to help out, the pressure from other teachers and those above them would just make things worse in the end for the kids so the kind teachers would just stop trying, if not leave altogether.
Johnny knew that at the end of the day, no matter how bad it may have gone, his mom would be there waiting for him to walk him home. It was quite of a walk home, especially for a young boy, but even in the cold Oklahoma winters, he didn't mind. The nearly 30 minute walk home with his mom was time with just the two of them before his dad came home from work where they could talk about anything. For a young, hyperactive Johnny, a lot was talked about every weekday.
The talks would wind down as they arrived home. He would sit at the kitchen table to do his homework from school, or if nothing was assigned, to go over the lessons that was taught that day. Johnny's parents were both in firm agreement that despite the level of education quality, he would be given the best possible chances they could give him in life.
Johnny was quick to finish his work before his dad got home, knowing that after the family meal he would be rewarded. His dad had an immense pleasure teaching his pastime favorite game of checkers to both his mom and him. Almost every night before bed, the three of them would gather around the fireplace where his mom or dad would tell him stories of their childhood or how they met before sending him off to bed with a tale from his mom's Indian culture.
For Johnny, weekends were even more special as that was when mom taught his dad and him even more about how she grew up-her culture, what it meant, how to speak the language, how her father taught her to track despite it being a 'man's job'. He and his dad would try to learn some of the native language that she remembered hearing as a child. All three of them would have fun trying to figure out the steps to the traditional dances her mother and father taught her. Often, nothing would be memorized as Johnny and his father would end up falling over their own feet, making all three of laugh until they couldn't catch their breath. It was these nights and weekends that Johnny took with him to school every time, knowing they would get him through any difficult moments.
The love the two of his parents held for each other seemed to grow each year that they were together. They had been together for a year before marrying. His dad said that although his father and mother weren't happy about it, both did support his decision. Shortly before he was born, however, both passed away within months of one another due to a flu epidemic. Johnny knew that his mom's parents were also no longer around; she had lost them when she was eighteen, just about six months before meeting his dad. A year after that, Johnny was born and his dad made sure to remind Johnny that older his sister would have loved him almost as much as his parents did if she knew about him. This was always stated with a tone of sadness as the two of them had lost touch almost four years into the Gage's marriage. It wasn't something that either of them had planned, it was simply what happened between her following her husband around the country while he served his country in the military.
Shaking his head to free himself from his memories, Johnny gazed upon Jenny and was once again amazed at how much he loved this little girl. No, a young lady, he corrected himself. Despite the young, carefree and fun-filled exuberance she held, Jenny still seemed to be more mature and perspective that rivaled her age. Her brother Chris, was the same way, although he had more restraint and acted more like his father. If anything, Jenny took after Joanne and Chris took after their father. Chris was even looking more and more like his father all the time as his once light blonde hair darkened slightly every year. Johnny felt a sense of warmth and belonging flow through him as he thought about how much he was a part of this family.
Sure, his aunt was good to him after taking him in, but after his parents died when he was younger, he never seemed to be part of a family again until the DeSoto's took him in. With his aunt, it was just her and her husband; she had spent the first fourteen months nursing her terminally ill husband. The next year was spent fighting to get over the loss of her husband and although she said she loved Johnny dearly, he quickly learned to be independent and never quite felt like part of a family. Now, with his aunt living in New Mexico and nearing 70, he was thankful to at least have some semblance of a family around, even if they weren't related by blood.
To finally have a family again, was welcoming, if not scary. Seeing Chris running towards him, Johnny grinned.
Despite the scary, awkward, what-the-heck-do-I-do, no-clue moments, it is so worth it! Plus, it is always fun spoiling them rotten, Johnny admitted.
"Hey sport! How's it going?"
"Fine, I guess…" Chris heaved a sigh at his uncle.
"Fine?" Johnny raised an eyebrow at him, knowing something more was going on.
"It's just that there are so many girls here! I am just so glad there is finally someone cool to hang 'round, Uncle Johnny."
Laughing, he ruffled Chris hair. "Thanks. I think. Let's go see where everyone is, okay?"
Shaking his head yes, Chris lead the way in while Jenny almost dragged Johnny forward by his hand. Walking in, Johnny saw Roy watching Jo in the kitchen in amusement. Telling Jenny and Chris he would be outside shortly, he approached Roy.
"What's up with Jo?" Johnny whispered next to Roy.
"Not really sure… I think she forgot something."
"Really? Jo, forget something? That never happens!"
"I know," Roy confirmed, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't know what to do so I figure standing here is the safest thing to do."
"True," Johnny nodded. "Wait, Chris said something about a bunch of girls… If Jenny's friends are already here, does that mean you have a dozen kids unsupervised? Or am I just late?"
"Late," Roy tried glaring at him menacingly and failed miserably. He figured being late this time was a smart move. Eight pre-teen girls, plus his own two, plus the other guys from the firehouse where he and Johnny worked made up for an interesting combination. Considering how Chet often acted with his pranks, he defiantly could be considered the last kid, rounding the number up to an even dozen.
"So," Johnny began before being interrupted by Jo turning around and marching towards them.
"I need more ice cream! How could I forget how much is needed? Between the younger kids and bigger ones, we will go through a ton! How on earth?! Roy, you were supposed to remind me!" Jo exclaimed.
"Let me guess, our crew is the big kids," Johnny murmured to Roy. Seeing the affirming nod, he decided it might be best to take the attention off his best friend. "Calm down now. You and Roy just go outside, get the games started. I'll just run to the store real quick and pick up some, okay?" Johnny took control of the situation. One thing he did not want to deal with was a panicking female, especially if it was Joanne.
"No, no that's okay. Roy should go…"
"Nope, he and you should just go out and start having fun, I'll be back before you know it."
"Thanks, sweetheart," Jo gave him a hug and quick kiss on the cheek. "You're a life saver."
"Nope, just a sanity saver for Roy," he grinned and then ducked out of the way as she swatted at him. "I think I'll be leaving now…"
"Smart man," Roy stated, shaking his head at his partner.
"Roy!" Jo put her hands on her hips, smiling slightly as she glared at him. "Now, what is that supposed to mean buster?"
"Nothing, honey, it's just that…"
With those words, Johnny slipped out the front door, hurrying to get escape before he could get Roy in any more trouble. And if Roy got in trouble, it would be a sure bet that sooner than later, he'd end up having to deal with the fallout.