This was supposed to be the best summer of twelve-year-old Bryan Carmanne's life. His dad's best friend, Bryan called him Uncle Scott, was a manager for the New York Yankees. Bryan was invited to be a ball boy for the team for the whole summer! He would even get to travel with the team to some of the "away" games.
"I know it's your dream to be in the major leagues someday," Uncle Scott told him when he broke the great news to Bryan. "This will give you a taste of what it is really like to see the big guys in action. I already worked out all of the details with your mom and dad. What do you say? Do you think you can give up your whole summer for the team?"
"Oh, I know it will be hard, but I think that Bryan could make the sacrifice for the summer," his dad said, laughing.
"Do you really mean it, Dad? Can I do it? Uncle Scott, will I get to meet my all-time favorite player, Derek Jeter? Do you think I can get his autograph?" Bryan said excitedly.
"Not only will you get to meet Derek, but you'll also work with him and the rest of the team all summer," answered Uncle Scott.
For as long as Bryan could remember, he dreamed of playing in the major leagues. It started when his dad gave him his first baseball glove. He was only three years old, but he and Dad practiced throwing and catching every chance they got. By the time he joined the local baseball team, the coaches all told him he was a natural. Now, he was the star hitter for the Bronx Blasters. His batting average was the best on the team, at .396. His idol was Derek Jeter, the shortstop for the New York Yankees. Once at a Yankees game Bryan caught a home-run ball hit by Derek. Now he had the chance to actually meet and work with him. This was going to be the best summer ever!
"Thanks, Dad, thanks, Uncle Scott. You're the best!" cried Bryan, jumping up and down.
For the next few days, Bryan was ecstatic. Until this morning, that is. It all started when his mom called him into the living room for a "conference." Bryan could sense he wasn't going to like what she had to say. She wasn't smiling, and she wouldn't look Bryan in the eye. She had a serious expression on her face. His dad was there too, which was a bad sign.
"Bryan, there has been a little change of plan for your summer vacation," said his mom. "The museum has asked Dad and me to go to Egypt for the summer to research that new dinosaur graveyard. We can't pass up this wonderful chance to continue our research on dinosaurs."
"Son, we can't take you with us. The excavation site is too dangerous, and we won't have time to spend with you anyway," Dad added.
"How would you like to spend the summer with Grandma Mildred and Grandpa Chuck in Montana?"
"What are you talking about? You know I already have plans with Uncle Scott and the Yankees for the summer," said Bryan.
"Dad and I have to take this research job. We'll be in Egypt for ten weeks. You can't come with us because it's too dangerous," Mom repeated. "The ranch in Montana will be a lot of fun."
"You call this a little change in plans? How could you do this to me?" Bryan yelled angrily. "Why can't I just stay with Uncle Scott for the summer?"
"Bryan, that's out of the question. Uncle Scott will be traveling with the team. How could he keep an eye on you? Our arrangement for the summer was for you to work at the Yankees' home games," answered Mom, patiently.
"You are treating me like a baby! I don't have a say in anything around here. This is so unfair. I haven't seen my grandparents since I was two years old. Why do I have to stay with them?" Bryan shouted.
"Grandma Mildred and Grandpa Chuck are getting old. They might not be with us much longer. They really want to see you, and get to know you. With all the traveling Mom and I do, we haven't made time to spend with them. This is a perfect solution to our summer-plan problem," explained Dad.
"You can spend the summer together, and when Mom and I get back from Egypt, we'll meet you at the ranch and we'll all be together for a few days."
"Well, I hate this 'perfect solution.' I don't see anything perfect about it. I'll be stuck in the middle of nowhere with two old strangers. They probably have never even heard of the New York Yankees. This stinks!"
Bryan stormed up to his room and slammed his door.
"I feel terrible about this," said Bryan's mom.
"It really is the best way, honey," replied Bryan's dad. "I just hope Mom and Dad know what they are in for."
Bryan plopped down on his bed. He stared at his prized possession, the home-run ball hit by Jeter. He looked at Derek's smiling face on the poster on the wall. Bryan felt like crying, but instead, he punched his pillow. He would never get Derek to autograph that ball now. Spend the summer with his rickety old grandparents whom he barely knew, and give up the Yankees? Were his parents nuts?
Bryan woke up on Saturday morning feeling awful. He tossed and turned all night, thinking about how his summer was ruined. He had never felt this angry. His parents were traitors. Around mid-morning he decided to leave the safety of his room and go downstairs for breakfast.
"Good morning, Bryan, how did you sleep?" asked Bryan's dad.
"What do you think?" answered Bryan.
"That's enough of that attitude, young man," said his mom. "We know that you are disappointed, but have you even stopped to think that we feel badly for disappointing you?"
"We have some news for you, Bryan," his dad changed the subject. "It turns out that there is a flight tomorrow to Livingston, Montana, which is right near your grandparents' ranch. We have already spoken to Grandma and Grandpa," said his dad. "They will pick you up tomorrow at the airport. Why don't you go upstairs and start packing. Call us if you need anything."
Bryan couldn't believe this. It seemed as though his parents wanted to get rid of him. He ran up the stairs as fast as his legs could carry him, and sprinted into his room. Bryan started packing some of his prized possessions, realizing that there was no way out of this problem. Along with different sets of clothes went his baseball glove, bat, and ball. Bryan was hoping that someone in Montana knew how to play baseball. He wasn't even sure if the people in Montana even knew what baseball was.
The time passed very quickly when Bryan was packing. After a while, he finished and decided to head to the park and play some baseball.
"Bye, Mom," called Bryan. "I am going to meet the guys at the ballpark."
"Have fun," his mom called back.
Bryan headed out the front door to the park, which was only three blocks away. He brought his bat, glove, and baseball with him. It seemed as though it took an hour to get to the park, because the city streets were very crowded. But finally, he got there, and headed right over to the baseball diamond. Some of his friends were there, playing a game.
"Hey, Bryan," called his friend Jim. "Wanna play?"
"Sure," Bryan said.
"Bryan is on our team," called his other friend, Matt.
Bryan jogged out onto the field. Everyone knew how good he was, so they let him play shortstop. The pitcher for Bryan's team was awesome, so the inning went 1-2-3. Bryan and the rest of the team jogged into the dugout.
"Hey, guys," said Bryan, "I got some bad news to tell you."
"What is it?" asked Matt.
"My parents are going to Egypt, and I have to spend the summer with my old grandparents in Montana."
"Boy, do I feel bad for you," said John, another teammate.
"This totally stinks," Bryan said angrily. "I don't know why I can't just stay with my uncle . . ."
"Hey Bryan," Matt interrupted, "you're up."
"OK," said Bryan.
Bryan got up and picked up his bat and helmet. He headed for home plate. On the mound was "Crazy Legs" Sam. He had such a weird style of pitching that all of the kids gave him that nickname. Bryan stared down the pitcher. Whenever Bryan was batting, he always had a feeling of excitement burst right through him, right before he was about to hit the ball. Again he felt this, and he smacked the ball over the fence for a home run. He ran around the bases in triumph, and was congratulated by his teammates at home plate.
"Nice hit," said John.
"Way to go," said Matt.
The rest of the game continued like this, and by the time Bryan checked his watch, it was six o'clock. He knew that he should get back, because he had an early flight. When Bryan got home, dinner was on the table.
"How was the game?" asked his dad.
Bryan was still pretty angry with his parents. Playing baseball with his friends just reminded him more of what he was going to miss this summer.
"It was OK, I guess," answered Bryan, who really didn't feel like talking about it. "I think I'll turn in early tonight because I have to get up early."
"OK, honey. We'll see you in the morning," said his mom.
"Good night, son," added his dad.
Beep, beep, beep. "Wake up, honey, your alarm is going off," called Mrs. Carmanne.
"But Mom, it's only six o'clock," complained Bryan, as he shut off the alarm.
"You don't want to miss your flight."
"Yes I do," said Bryan.
"Don't make me get your father," said his mom.
"Fine," Bryan said.
Bryan got out of bed and headed for the shower. During his shower, he thought of what a bad time he was going to have with his grandparents. He got out of the shower, and put some clothes on. He grabbed a pop tart, and headed out to the car. The car ride over to the airport was silent. Bryan refused, out of anger, to talk with his parents. Finally, they arrived at the airport. They checked his bags and headed to the terminal. As Bryan sat down, waiting to board his flight, many thoughts were going through his head. How could his parents do this to him? The beginning of the boarding of the flight interrupted his thoughts.
"We love you," called his parents. "We know this isn't the way you wanted to spend the summer, but you'll have a great time at the ranch. We'll call you tonight."
Bryan hugged his parents good-bye and boarded the plane. He wondered what misery awaited him, but he had no idea that he really would have the best summer ever.
Bryan left the airplane and walked slowly down the ramp. When he got to the gate, he looked over the crowd, and then he froze. Bryan stared at a wrinkled, old woman sitting in a wheelchair. She had a breathing tube coming out of her nose. The tube was connected to a big, green tank on the side of the wheelchair. Behind her, gripping the chair handles, stood a frail-looking, bald, old man.
Oh, no! Those two can't be my grandparents. Do I have to live with them, and take care of them too, all summer? Bryan wondered in alarm. Just then, he heard his name called.
"Bryan! There he is, Chuck. My, how he has grown! I would know him anywhere."
She ran to Bryan with open arms. A tall man, wearing a cowboy hat, followed her more slowly. Bryan noticed that he was limping.
"Grandpa Chuck and I couldn't wait until you got here," Bryan's grandmother said as she hugged him. "Let me take a look at you." She held him at arm's length, looked him over, and ruffled his hair. Then she hugged him again. "You're just as handsome as your grandfather."
"Grandma Mildred had me drive to the airport hours ago," his grandfather exaggerated. He wrapped Bryan in a big bear hug.
"This isn't too bad," thought Bryan. "They're pretty old, but not that old."
His grandmother had bright blue eyes and a tanned, wrinkled face. Her curly, white hair looked soft. She was wearing jeans and a pink shirt. Grandpa Chuck was as tall as Bryan's dad. He had dark, gray hair, and a gray mustache. He was also wearing jeans and cowboy boots.
"Hello, Grandmother. Hello, Grandfather. The flight was OK. We watched a movie." Bryan didn't know what else to say to these strangers.
Grandma Mildred knew that Bryan was uncomfortable.
"We're going to have fun getting to know each other, right, Chuck?"
"That's right. Bryan, you'll love the horses," he added.
"I like baseball," Bryan answered. "I don't know anything about horses." Bryan knew that he didn't want to get anywhere near a horse. He fell off a pony when he was little, and had been afraid of horses ever since.
Grandma Mildred gave Grandpa Chuck a worried look, but they didn't say anything. On the way to the ranch, his grandparents asked Bryan about school and his friends and hobbies. Bryan didn't seem like he wanted to talk, so eventually they gave up. Bryan was already feeling homesick. He didn't notice the beauty around him—the cloudless blue sky, the majestic mountains, and the colorful wildflowers growing on the side of the road. He wondered what the ranch would look like. Bryan pictured it as a run-down old cabin with no running water and chickens scurrying around the yard. As they pulled into the driveway, Bryan was surprised. It looked like a normal house. It was a sprawling ranch house, painted white, with blue shutters on the many windows. Bryan could see huge stables off in the distance, and other small buildings. There were lots of corrals, some with horses grazing inside. He noticed a small pond with a dock for swimming and jumping. He refused to get excited about what he saw, because he still didn't want to be there. His grandparents took him inside and showed him his room.
"We'll let you get settled in. Lunch will be in half an hour," his grandmother said. Then they left him alone.
Bryan looked around the room and noticed right away that there was a bulletin board on the wall. He looked closer and saw pictures of himself playing baseball. There were even some newspaper articles about Bryan and his team.
This is pretty cool, he thought. Mom and Dad must have sent pictures from every season that I've played. Then he noticed some trophies on the shelf. They were baseball trophies, and they belonged to his grandfather! Nobody had ever said a word to Bryan about his grandpa playing baseball. What was this all about? Bryan was determined to find out.
"Lunch is ready," Bryan heard his grandmother call. Grandpa Chuck was already at the table.
"I have a perfect horse for you, Bryan," Grandpa said, as Bryan sat down. "His name is Thunder. He's gentle, but he has spirit, too. How 'bout walking out to the stables with me after lunch, and you'll check him out?"
"Uhh, Grandpa, I thought I would finish unpacking after lunch," answered Bryan.
"That can wait till later. The fresh Montana air will be good for you," Grandpa said.
Not if it smells like horses, Bryan thought to himself. To his grandparents, he said, "Anyway, I think I'm allergic to horses."
His grandmother gave him a funny look. "Allergic? Your parents never told us that!"
"Well, uhh, maybe I'm just a little allergic," Bryan answered. Then he forced out a sneeze to make his point.
His grandparents looked at each other, but they didn't say anything to Bryan. Then his grandmother said, "Bryan is right, Chuck. He just got here, and he should relax and finish unpacking this afternoon. There will be tons of time for the horses all summer long."
Grandpa Chuck looked disappointed. "OK. I guess I'll go down to the stables, then. If you change your mind, Bryan, give a yell."
As his grandfather left, Bryan called out, "I'd like to throw a few balls with you, Grandpa. Can we play some baseball later?" But Bryan's grandfather either didn't hear him, or didn't answer.
Grandmother sat down across from Bryan. "Grandpa Chuck sure loves his horses. He has turned this ranch into one of the best horse ranches in the state."
"I think I know what else he likes, baseball. I saw his trophies in the bedroom. I never knew he played ball. It's like some sort of secret," Bryan said.
Grandma Mildred gave Bryan a sad look. "That was all a long time ago, Bryan. I thought that he would snap out of it when he sent you your first baseball glove. You were only three years old," she said with a smile. "His favorite picture was the one of you, proudly wearing that glove."
"Grandpa sent me the glove? I always thought that it was a present from my dad."
"Your dad still holds a big grudge against your grandfather where baseball is concerned. When your dad was a boy, he was a natural, just like you. But Grandpa refused to play ball with him."
"Why?" asked Bryan curiously.
"Your grandpa was a mighty fine baseball player. Right after your grandpa finished college, he was drafted by the New York Yankees."
"The New York Yankees! Wow, that's my favorite team," said Bryan in awe.
"Your grandpa was looking forward so much to play in the big leagues. Unfortunately, on the day he was to start as a shortstop for the Yankees, there was a terrible car accident. Your grandpa's leg was crushed."
"That's awful," said Bryan.
"He had to spend weeks in the hospital and months in rehab. He's lucky he didn't lose his leg, but he was left with a limp. His baseball career ended before it even got started. He won't even talk about it."
"So that's why I never knew that Grandpa played ball. My dad never talks about it, either," said Bryan. "Does Grandpa have more trophies? Can I see them?"
"There's an old trunk in the basement. I'll tell you what. Grandpa is going into Livingston tomorrow to check out some horses. When he leaves, we'll drag that old trunk up to your room and you can look inside," Grandma said.
Bryan was really excited. "I can't wait until tomorrow."
"Let's make a deal, first," said Grandma. "I'll keep you away from the horses for a few days, and you won't mention baseball to your grandfather."
"How did you know that I'm afraid of horses?" asked Bryan.
"Just a lucky guess," Grandma laughed.
"OK, it's a deal. Then what?"
"Then, the two of you will both begin to face your fears," Grandma answered.
Bryan could hardly wait until his grandpa left for Livingston. As he was walking out of the door, he called to Bryan, "Bryan, do you want to come into town with me? I think you would enjoy looking at the horses. So, do you?"
Just then Bryan's grandmother interrupted him. "Bryan is spending the day with me. We are going to get to know each other better."
"Oh," said Grandpa. "That's fine. I'll see you later, then." He kissed his wife good-bye and ruffled Bryan's hair. "I'll be back in time for dinner."
Bryan waited until his grandpa was out of sight to talk. "Boy, that was a close one," exclaimed Bryan.
"You're lucky to have a grandma like me. I always think on my feet."
"I owe you one," said Bryan. "Now can we go get the trunk?"
She led him down to the musty old basement. There were a lot of things stored away there. They found the trunk and dragged it upstairs to Bryan's room. Bryan could hardly wait to see what he would find. He lifted up the latch and peered inside.
"Wow, this is totally awesome," Bryan exclaimed. Folded neatly on top was his grandpa's Yankees uniform. "I saw one like this when my dad took me to the Baseball Hall of Fame last summer. Can I take it out?"
His grandmother nodded. "I can still see your grandfather in that uniform. He looked so handsome and proud."
"It's really terrible what happened to Grandpa," said Bryan.
"Yes," answered his grandma. "It's terrible that he keeps it all inside of him, too. But I think that you'll be good for him, Bryan."
"What do you mean?" questioned Bryan.
"Don't worry about it for now. Let's see what else is in this old trunk," she changed the subject.
Bryan spent the next few hours rummaging through the trunk, while his grandmother baked pies in the kitchen. She smiled to herself when she heard Bryan's cries of "Cool!" and "Awesome!"
Bryan felt like he found a buried treasure chest. Besides the uniform, Bryan found his grandpa's old shoes, Yankees hat, socks, and baseball glove. At the bottom of the trunk were pictures of Grandpa with the team, and trophies from his college days. One trophy was for the MVP of the University of Montana baseball team called the Mustangs.
Grandpa made it home in time for dinner. He and Grandma spent a lot of time talking about the horses he bought in Livingston. Bryan never mentioned the trunk to his grandpa.
It turned out that Grandpa Chuck was pretty busy for the whole week. The new horses that he bought in Livingston were going to be delivered soon, and he had to get the stables ready. Each day he would ask Bryan to come along and check on the horses, but as promised, Grandma Mildred always had an excuse ready. Finally the stables were ready and Grandpa Chuck had some free time.
"I'm not taking any more excuses, Bryan. I'd really like to get you up on Thunder today and you'll go for a ride," he said with a smile.
Grandma Mildred knew that the time had come for Bryan to tell Grandpa Chuck the truth. So did Bryan.
"Grandpa, I have a confession to make. I'm not allergic to horses. I just don't like them. They scare me. I fell off of one when I was a little boy."
"Hmmmm. I see," said Grandpa.
"I'd like to make a deal with you, though," said Bryan.
"Go on, I'm listening." Grandpa was intrigued.
"Grandma Mildred says that we have to face our fears. That's how we make them go away," said Bryan.
"What do you mean, we?" questioned Grandpa. He looked at his wife.
"I know all about your accident, Grandpa, and about how you never got to start as shortstop for the Yankees. I looked through your old trunk, too," said Bryan. "Grandpa, it was fantastic to see all of your stuff and look at your trophies. You shouldn't hide everything away like that."
"All of that was a long time ago, Bryan. So much time has passed. It still hurts to think about what I could have become. Besides, this old leg of mine won't let me play any baseball."
"Come on, Grandpa. If I'm willing to ride Thunder and face my fear of horses, can't you at least try to play baseball with me? I trust you, Grandpa. Will you trust me and Grandma too?"
"I know your grandmother is a smart woman, and you're right, Bryan. I think it's time to mend some fences."
"Grandpa, I thought you said you finished working on the stables!" complained Bryan.
"What your grandfather means, Bryan, is that he's ready to start to play baseball again. Right, Chuck?" laughed Grandma Mildred.
"When I look at Bryan, he reminds me of his father when he was a boy," said Grandpa Chuck. "I regret that I let him down. He was a natural, just like you are, Bryan. But I was so bitter and feeling sorry for myself that I didn't realize how much I was hurting him by refusing to play ball. All of that is going to change now. I have a second chance with you. How 'bout finding that old baseball glove of mine. Let's play some baseball!"
"Awesome! Let's go!" yelled Bryan as he ran to his room for the glove.
"Then, I'll introduce you to Thunder," called Grandpa.
"OK, it's a deal," Bryan replied.
Grandma smiled as they left the house. One old, one young, learning from each other.
The summer sped by faster than wild horses. Grandpa and Bryan built a batting cage and Bryan practiced a lot. He thought that he knew everything about baseball, but Grandpa Chuck taught him a few tricks. Grandpa Chuck also taught him how to ride Thunder. Grandpa was right. Thunder was gentle but spirited, and Bryan grew to like the horse.
One night, the phone rang. Bryan's parents were calling. They were back in New York and ready to come out to Montana to get Bryan.
"How was your summer, son?" asked Bryan's dad over the telephone.
What a question, thought Bryan. He remembered how angry he felt when his parents changed his summer plans. He was sure that it was going to be the worst summer any kid could have. Living with two old people and a bunch of horses in the middle of nowhere would be boring and horrible. Boy, was he wrong. His grandparents were the coolest grandparents in the world. They were fun and smart. He didn't even think about their ages, because what counted was what was in their hearts and minds. The ranch was very different from his world, but just as wonderful. There was always something new to see and learn. He had accomplished something, too. He could ride a horse without any fear at all, and he had helped his grandpa remember how much he loved baseball.
"How was my summer?" Bryan asked, as his mouth widened into a big smile. "It was fantastic!"
Yes, Bryan learned a lot of things that Montana summer, the best summer of his life.