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Old Juan

by SeaBird

Chapter 1 - Homecoming


Sergeant First Class Juan Edward Moralis sat on the edge of his bed, tears running down his face and a crumpled letter in his hands. Sgt. Moralis, United States Army, soon to be medically retired, had read and reread that letter until he knew the words by heart. " Juan, I am taking Danny and we are leaving, don't try to find us. I am not going to live with a half of a man. I can't say it has been fun, but goodbye, Janice ." Juan Moralis had been in Army Special Forces fighting the Viet Cong in the jungles of Viet Nam when a grenade was dropped in his lap while he was in a boat headed down river. He remembered screaming and the next thing he remembered was on a hospital ship headed to Hawaii. He spent a year at Walter Reed Army Hospital and then they sent him for another year of rehabilitation at the VA Hospital in Tucson, Arizona. Tomorrow, May 1, 1969, he would be retired and sent home to Hurley, New Mexico, on a prosthetic leg and a cane, to an empty house, no family and no job.

Juan struggled off the steps of the train at the small station in Deming, New Mexico. Looking around, he spotted his sister, Anita, along with his brother-in-law, John and his twin nephews, Juanito and Carlos.

The twins ran to him and hugged him fiercely; they had been only 6 when he last saw them, now they were young men at 13 years old!

The two boys stood back from their Uncle and saluted him, holding the salute until he returned it.

Juan looked around, knowing he would not see his beloved Danny, who was the same age as his nephews.

Carlos, always the shy one of the two, took Juan's hand and whispered to him, "We have been looking for Danny, last week Daddy took us to Dallas looking for him."

Juan had always been close to his brother-in-law, John, they had grown up together, almost like brothers. John walked up to him and hugged him, saying, "Welcome home Brother."

At that, Juan, lost all control of his emotions and had to be supported to keep him from falling to the ground.

Anita came to Juan's other side and wrapped her arms around her brother, "Juanny, the boys and I have cleaned up your house and there is food in the 'fridge, let's get you home."

They guided Juan to their car and drove around to the baggage claim to rescue his few belongings before heading up the mountains to Hurley.

As they rode along, John said to Juan, "I got you a new car with the money you sent, I got a brand new International Scout, complete with automatic transmission."

Juanito spoke up and said, "Yeah Unca' Juan, and its bright red!"

Juan smiled at his nephew and told him, "Ok, but I get to drive it first!" Juanito giggled and sat back, holding his Uncle's hand. Carlos was on Juan's other side, snuggled under his arm. Juan leaned back and closed his eyes, wondering how hard it would be to go into that empty house, with all its memories. He had grown up in that house, gotten married in that house and brought his son home to that house.

The long drive was finally over and John drove into the yard of the rambling old house. The lawn had been trimmed, the bushes were neat and a new glider sat on the wide front porch.

Juan got out of the car and struggled up the steps, John and the boys carried his suitcases and trunk into the house.

Juan turned to his sister, "Nita, I need to be alone for a while maybe tomorrow we can all get together, ok?"

Anita hugged her older brother and said, "Sure, Juanny, you get some rest and we'll come over in the morning with all your mail and get you settled in." She kissed her brother and gathered up her brood, over her shoulder she said, "Love ya', welcome home."

After they had left, Juan limped over to the recliner that had been his father's and sat down heavily. After a few minutes, great racking sobs tore at his body, he was unable to stop before his shirt was soaked with tears. He held his face in his hands, wailing in despair, he was a cripple and alone.

He finally succumbed to weariness and fell into a deep sleep. About 3 am, he woke and decided he had at least better make an attempt to sleep in his bed, surprisingly, he fell back asleep in the bed and did not resurface until nearly 9 am!

He struggled into consciousness hungry as a bear, so he washed up and slipped on a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt. He wandered into the kitchen and found that his sister, 'Nita, had gone all out stocking the pantry and refrigerator. He started cooking some bacon and eggs, slicing some fresh Hatch green peppers and swirling them into the eggs.

He heard a knock on his door, thinking it was his sister, he hollered out, "It's unlocked, come on in" He continued stirring his eggs when a quiet knock on the door jam to the kitchen made him look up and see a young man, about 25 years old, shocking red hair sticking out in every which direction and a smile on his freckled face saying, "Mr. Moralis, I hope?"

Juan nearly dropped his stirring spoon in surprise, he stammered, "Uuuuh, yeah, Juan Moralis, I was expecting my Sis."

The man replied, "I'm sorry, I'm Bill Cochran, I tried calling yesterday, but nobody was home."

Juan chuckled and said, "Yeah, I just got in from Tucson last night, what can I do for you, Mr. Cochran?"

The man explained, "Just call me Bill, Mr. Cochran is my Dad. We are Cochran & Son, and I would like to talk to you about your 5,000 acre property just to the east of us."

Juan looked at the man sharply, "That is just rangeland and scrub pine out there." He continued, "How about joining me for a cup of coffee while I feed the beast under my belt?"

Bill Cochran sat to the table and said, "Viet Nam?" Juan replied, "Yeah"

The man continued, "My Brother didn't come back, we used to be Cochran and Sons."

Juan remained quiet, not really knowing what to say as the visitor tried to control his emotions.

All was quiet while Juan ate his breakfast and they drank their coffee, the man began, "Mr. Moralis, we have reason to believe there is a substantial deposit of copper under your property. We are not a big outfit like Kennecott up the road, but we would like to take an option on your property and see if it can be developed."

Juan asked, "What terms would you offer?"

Bill Cochran replied, "Dad thought that $250,000 a year for a five year option would be about right. After that, if the deposit proved out, 20% of the profits until the ore body is depleted."

Juan sat there, kind of stunned, then he stammered, "WOW!"

Continuing, Juan said, "How about I pass this by my Brother-in-law, John Peters?"

Bill Cochran replied, "Sure thing, we have already contacted Mr. Peters; that is how I knew that you were due back home."

He continued, "Here is our check for $50,000 as a non-refundable binder. We will contact you after you have spoken to Mr. Peters, he has a reputation as a fine and honest lawyer so we feel confident he will advise you well."

At that, Bill Cochran departed, leaving Juan's head swirling.

He struggled to his feet and called his brother-in-law's office up in Silver City. John answered the phone himself, "Well, that was fast, what did you think of Bill Cochran?"

Juan replied, "You rat, John, the least you could have done was to warn me!"

John laughed and said, "Bro, you needed something like this to spring the cage you have built around yourself. The Cochrans are about as honest a bunch as you will ever find, I already know their offer and can tell you that it is far better than what Kennecott would give you! My advice is to sign that $50,000 check and go into the copper business!"

He locked the check in his father's old roll-top desk and stepped out into the garage. Parked there was a brand-new International Scout 4 X 4 and it truly WAS bright red as his nephew, Juanito, had exclaimed!

He tripped the switch to open the garage door and carefully backed the vehicle out. He engaged the 4-wheel drive lever and drove the new vehicle out, into the rangeland behind the house. He drove out through the scrub trees and finally came to the top of a low hill, where he could see for miles.

He shut off the engine and sat there in the quiet and finally said, more to himself than anything, "Well Pop, if I sign that check I will have enough money to look for Danny, but this land was settled by your father's father. What should I do?"

The wind blew gently through the trees, making them seem to nod. After a few minutes, Juan restarted the Scout and turned around for home, he had come to the conclusion that a one-legged man sure couldn't run cattle anymore!

Little did he know just how wrong he was, but it would take a small boy to prove it to him!

When he returned to the house, he called the phone number on the card Bill Cochran had attached to the check, the phone was answered immediately by, what sounded like an older man. He asked for Bill Cochran and the voice replied, "Junior or Senior?" Juan stammered, "uuuuh, Junior, I guess."

He heard the voice call, "Hey, Billy, you got a phone call!" then, "This is Bill Cochran, how may I help you?"

Juan replied, "Mr. Cochran, this is Juan Moralis, I have decided to accept your offer, what do I need to do?"

Bill Cochran said, "For starters, STOP calling me Mr. Cochran, just call me Bill or, I will even answer to Billy."

Juan chuckled and replied, "Only if you call me Juan!" Thus began a relationship that was to last for nearly sixty years!

Juan's sister, Anita arrived with the Twin Terrors, as she called them, Juanito and Carlos and started in cleaning the breakfast dishes in the kitchen.

She spotted the second coffee cup so she asked Juan, "Was a certain messy red head here already?"

Juan retorted, "Am I the last one to know about all this?"

Anita laughed and told him that nobody knew except them and the Cochrans, it has been kept secret until he got home.

She went to him and hugged her big brother, saying, "Juanny, isn't it time something good happened to you?"

Later that day, Juan went up to Silver City to deposit his check and to sign the agreement with Cochran & Son. He learned they were Senior and Junior. Bill Sr. had a fringe of red/grey hair around an otherwise bald head, while Bill, Jr. had a wheat shock of fire engine red hair that defied all efforts to comb!

Juan stayed in Silver City and had supper with the Cochrans, he found them to be pleasant, down to earth good folks and he looked forward to working with them.

It was just after 9 pm as he carefully drove the narrow road back to Hurley. He was not all that familiar yet with the Scout and he was a bit unsteady still on his prosthesis.

He came around a curve and the headlights picked up a teen sized boy carrying a bundle. He jammed on the brakes, nearly locking them up as he was unused to power brakes.

He got the Scout stopped and he backed up to where he had seen the boy, but saw nothing.

He struggled out of the car and walked with his cane to the side of the road, calling out, "Are you all right, did I hit you?"

A voice replied, "We are ok, please go away!"

Juan again called out, "Son, I can't leave you out here, it is too dangerous. I am coming down to you."

He limped down the embankment in the direction he heard the voice and discovered a dark form huddled over a bundle.

The voice said, "Please mister, don't hurt us, it's just me and my baby brother."

Juan said, "Son, I'm not gonna hurt anybody, come up to the car with me, at least I can take you to my house and w can call your folks."

The boy wailed, "NOOOOOO, they will hurt us!"

Juan was staggered by this so he put his arm on the boy's shoulder and said, "Come with me, we can get this straightened out and NOBODY is going to hurt you. I promise!"

The boy reluctantly followed Juan back to his car and they got in. Under the dome light, Juan could see that the boy was very dirty and had bloody scabs on his face, he looked to be about 15 years old.

Once they were in the car, he started up the Scout and headed for his home. When they got there, he helped the boy into the house and turned on the lights. The boy sat on the couch, holding the bundle tightly.

Juan said, "Is that your brother?" The boy nodded and Juan reached for the bundle, He opened it and found an infant, very dirty and obviously undernourished.

He thought to himself, "There is something terrible wrong here!"

To the boy, he said, "I am going to call my younger sister, she will help us with your little brother, ok?"

The boy nodded yes, so Juan, still holding the baby, hobbled over to the telephone and called Anita, "Nita, don't ask any questions, I am holding a sick baby boy in my arms and I need some help, NOW!"

Anita hung up without a word and told John briefly what Juan had said, then she jumped in their car and raced for Juan's house, which was only a few blocks away.

She ran up the front steps and burst into the room, the boy screamed, "Don't hurt us, don't hurt us!"

She skidded to a halt and looked at the young boy. Kneeling beside him, she said, "Nobody is going to hurt you. May I help my brother with your brother?"

The boy just nodded and she took the bundle from Juan's arms. As she opened up the blanket that the child was wrapped in, she discovered and very dirty and malnourished baby, about 6 months old.

She turned to the boy and said, "Let's you and I give the baby a bath?" She walked into the bathroom and the boy followed her. The baby was incredibly dirty and it took three water changes before the baby boy was clean.

She wrapped him is some clean dry towels and brought him out to Juan.

She then said, I am going to run to the corner store and get some food for the baby, why don't you get a bath yourself?"

The boy nodded and Juan sat in the recliner, holding the baby while the boy went to get cleaned up.

Anita was back very quickly with an arm load of baby things, she took the baby from Juan and started to feed him, the little guy was almost frantic and slurped up three jars of baby food and drank a whole bottle of formula in almost one gulp!

Juan went to get some clothing that might fit the boy and handed them to him through the door. The boy came out, shyly and looked at his baby brother.

He said, "Thank you, M'am, I don't think either of us would have lasted much longer."

Juan motioned for the boy to come to him, he asked, "Son, will you tell us your names and what is going on?"

The boy replied, "Yes sir, I am Bobby Forester and this is my brother James. I am 15, our folks are drunks and they left us a week ago. The food finally ran out and I was headed to Hurley to get help for my brother."

At that he dissolved into tears and folded himself into Juan's arms.

Both Juan and Anita were holding back their own tears with great difficulty.

Anita looked at Juan, who nodded his head, "Yes" so she stood, still cuddling the baby, and telephoned John, "John, we need you NOW!"

It was just a few minutes when John came running on foot from their house. Two boys were scarcely inches behind him. All three skidded to a stop in Juan's living room, Juanito shouted, "Bobby! Bobby Forester, what is wrong?"

Juanito and Carlos ran to Bobby and held him, Bobby managed to tell them what he had told Juan.

Juanito said, "This is my Uncle Juan, he is a soldier, he will make everything right for you!"

Juan could no longer restrain himself, he burst into tears and told John, "Do whatever you must, I WANT these boys! You know I have the resources now, do whatever you have to do so they can stay with me!"

Bobby looked at Juan and said, "You WANT us, sir, we are just road trash!"

Juan pulled Bobby onto his lap and said, "Son, you are NOT road trash, you and baby James are precious little boys and I want you to live with me!"

That very afternoon, Juan had both boys with him in Penny's at Sliver City buying new clothes, shoes, a baby crib, baby toys, and a bicycle for Bobby.

He saw Bill Cochran on the street outside City Café, they stopped and talked for a few minutes, then Bill noticed that Juan had a baby carrier on his arm and teen boy standing beside him.

He said, "I didn't think you had any children?" Juan replied, "These are my sons, Bobby and James!"

Bobby's eyes bugged out and he held onto Juan's hand almost to break his fingers!

That afternoon, Juan sat on the front porch rocking James as he watched Bobby ride his new bicycle around the front drive.

John drove up and got out of his car, as he climbed the steps to the front porch, he said, "You owe me one, Bro! I actually out-talked Judge Sanchez!" "The boys are yours and after one year, if you want, you can apply for adoption"

Juan started to reply, "I will want…" Bobby came flying off his new bicycle and landed in Juan's lap, crying, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!"

The two boys went a long way towards healing Juan's heart, but he still longed for his son, Danny.

The summer was rapidly ending, Juan got Bobby registered for school and the contractors for Cochran & Son had begun tearing up the earth. They told him that the test bores showed the ore body to be about 100 feet below the surface and was nearly 8% copper!

They had only to prove the assay and determine the size of the ore body and they would be in business.

Juan had contacted a detective agency to search for his missing wife and son, Danny. It would prove to be a futile effort. But there was a ray of sunshine to be found in the future.

Bobby was a big help with the baby, who was finally growing like a weed! Juan decided that the boys need an outing, so he told them they were going to spend the weekend before school started in Las Cruces. He felt much more comfortable now driving the Scout and he had gained a new steadiness on his prosthesis.

They left on Friday afternoon for Las Cruces; it was a nearly six hour drive, so it was late afternoon by the time they reached the hotel.

They had driven through the University Campus to get to the hotel, Bobby was fascinated by the ROTC Cadets practicing marching on the quad. Bobby had Juan stop so he could watch, he could almost see the wheels turning in the boy's head. He thought, maybe I had better see if the high school offers JROTC!

They had a fabulous weekend, they went to the zoo and a circus Saturday morning and Walt Disney movie in the afternoon. Sunday morning, they had breakfast at a new restaurant called "Cracker Barrel". Bobby had Pecan Pancakes until he had to unbutton the top of his jeans! He groaned most of the way back home!

The next day was the first day of school, Bobby came racing home on his bicycle, with a sheaf of papers. He raced into the house and handed Juan a form, saying, "You gotta sign, Dad, you gotta sign!"

At the word "Dad", Juan would have signed most anything! The form was to join the Army JROTC! Juan had no choice, that boy was wound up like an 8-day clock!

Again, the fates were at work, but neither knew it yet! In a couple years, an astounding revelation was to come out!

At the end of the first six weeks of school, Bobby brought home a note from his Homeroom Teacher, Mr. Hamilton. He said that Bobby had demonstrated an enormous improvement in grades and deportment and that he was well on the way to academic excellence!

Juan hugged the boy and told him how proud he was of him. Bobby cried a bit and told Juan that nobody had ever congratulated him like that. That evening, after supper, Bobby came to Juan and said, "Dad, can we talk?"

Juan replied, "Sure, let's go sit down"

They sat in the living room and Bobby said, "Dad, do we have to wait a whole year for you to adopt us? Our old parents are not coming back, besides, they didn't like or want us anyway!"

Juan said, "Well, let's give Uncle John a call and see what he says. Why don't you call him and ask him over?"

A few minutes later, John came up the steps and let himself in.

He said, "OK, Bobby, what's so important?"

Bobby replied, "Uncle John, can you make Dad our REAL Dad, now and not wait for a year?"

John laughed, "Yup, all I needed was to hear you say that! I'll go see Gabby Sanchez in the morning!"

Before the week was out, both Bobby and James were Moralis'!

Each month the detective agency would send Juan report of where they had searched, always with negative results.

Juan's dreams of Donny were getting more and more distant.

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