In the meantime, ensconced in North Dakota, Johnny, and Rita are content. Establishing a routine in their new home takes a while. Johnny is enthusiastic about exploring engineering schools to commence his research. Employed at a junior level, he is eager to move up the ladder. Advanced learning, higher salary, and decision-making power are his drivers. He is aware the Electronics Engineering degree is his ticket to go down this path.
A well-paying opportunity at Argonne Labs in the Chicago area presents itself. Johnny and Rita move. It is closer to Granite City, grandma, and Rita’s family. At Argonne, Johnny makes new friends. He meets the young bachelor engineer, Chuck Ishman. An enduring friendship develops. Johnny enjoys watching and goading Chuck in his chase of the pretty young mail-girl, Renee.
Baby Brian is born, and Johnny is keener to begin his studies. He hears about Bell Labs encouraging and supporting employees returning to school. Johnny moves to AT&T Bell labs, and Chuck follows suit.
A Chicago-based college, the Illinois Institute of Technology, has a well-recognized program in Electronics Engineering. Johnny moves quickly. His brushed-up resume is impressive, and IIT grants him entry into its hallowed halls. He embarks on his long, persistent journey toward an engineering degree. It’s a lengthy stretch and takes eleven years of going to night school. Despite working full-time, taking classes, doing homework, and looking after their family, Johnny stays consistent and on track. Rita is a math teacher and watches Johnny’s unrelenting pursuit. She feels encouraged and enrolls for a Master’s degree. This leads to a better-paying position at Naperville North High School.
The jester in Johnny thinks it’s a riot when the twins arrive – two for the price of one. Jason and Kelly join the four-year-old Brian to complete the family. Johnny and Rita are in for a few busy, albeit delightful, years. It’s a challenging, balancing act between school, full-time jobs, and little children.
All along, Johnny and Rita stay in touch with Granite City. There are visits back and forth, and the kids get to know their grandparents. Paul and Mildred visit a few times, and the kids look forward to their stays. Grandma Millie and Paul always come laden with toys for all three children. When Mildred and Paul divorce, she has no reason to stay in Granite City. She moves to Illinois to live with John and Rita for now. A tremendous help!
John and Rita build a lovely house in the country, amidst the cornfields—an acre lot, fresh air, flowering fruit trees, spacious, all at lower costs. And then there is Charlie. The mutt, a cross between a German Shepherd and an Airedale, is an overgrown baby. He is an all-season outdoor dog. John builds a 100-yard run for him. And he stays all the time including the dead of winter. A bitter cold spell is the only duration Charlie comes inside. A forecast obeyed has to be one which insists on bringing all pets indoors. Charlie has the run of the entire neighborhood. Unneutered and unrestrained, all the female canines are after him. Till today, decades later, Charlie’s progeny runs around in South Naperville. No stud fees ever change hands, but a lot of resentful complaining falls on deaf ears.
As the youngsters grow, Johnny coaches football on weekends. The boys are into wrestling, and all three kids are into judo. A pretty, petite, preteen Kelly is the dread of all her competitors. Her impish come-hither smile and beribboned ponytails are sweet. Little does her competitors know she can heave her opponents over her shoulder, flinging them to the ground in one effortless move. She excels and wins the nationals a few years running, right into her teens. Brian also wins a few tournaments, but nothing as spectacular as Kelly.
Along with judo, Kelly is also a cheerleader. Actually, it’s more gymnastics than cheering, doing straight-body back flips–fantastic! Mildred disapproves. She would rather see Kelly as a player than a crowd-pleasing applauder on the sidelines.
The apple of his mom’s eye, the adored Brian also worries Rita. His predisposition to get into trouble is troubling. She would love nothing better than to have Brian enroll at her school, but she is wary of his talent to attract conflict, like flies to honey. Fist fights and bloody noses result from the slightest provocations, real or imagined. The line between right and wrong is fuzzy in his developing mind—no momentary pauses in his thinking. Brian’s entire focus is on getting even. He loves pulling gags on others, doubling over with hilarious laughter but cannot tolerate others laughing at his expense. His evil twin asserts himself at the slightest misperception. His best friend is Tommy Welsh who lives down the street. They’re two of a kind boosting each other. Both families are excellent friends and attend most events and games together. Almost all live in each other’s homes.
Another of Brian’s prized qualities is tormenting his quiet younger brother, Jason. It is very reassuring to see Jason reveal hidden depths in handling his big brother.
Once a week is pizza night. The delectable pies arrive, and everyone pounces on the slices and inhales the intoxicating aroma. Not so for Jason. He serves a few on his platter and starts eating, savoring each bite. Brian eyes Jason’s plate and threatens to grab his portion if Jason doesn’t stop taunting him with his slow eating. Unperturbed, Jason spits several times on each slice. He turns and gives Brain an inviting look to help himself. The outsmarted Brian grins sheepishly. He mutters something about being too full and not wanting any of Jason’s share, anyway. Jason continues relishing the wedges at his pace. Rita, John, and Mildred suppress their smiles and exchange looks. There is nothing to worry about. Jason can handle Big B’s bullying well on his own.
As the twins enter their teenage years, they discover new things. Jason unearths his quiet-as-a-mouse love affair with Dungeons and Dragons. Kelly’s eyes widen at realizing boys are not so bad. The corded kitchen phone seems to sprout from her ear from morning till late at night. Mildred mentions this to John, but he ignores it as harmless. Kelly’s best friend, Jenny Starbuck, and she are almost inseparable. With a single major difference! Jenny gets good grades at school. Kelly is not into opening her books. Boys are a common interest, and it’s pretty much all they talk about, like how to ensnare and steal the hot ones. They go shopping together and return with great finds. It turns out they have been shoplifting until security catches them. Set free with a stern warning, “Next time, we will ban you two from the malls for good.” Handcuffed and scared, with threats coming from the cops, they straighten up fast.
After graduating high school, Brian enters Mizzou on a wrestling scholarship.
Johnny completes his studies and graduates as an Electronics Engineer from IIT with honors. A promotion awaits him at Bell Labs, and he joins the elevated Member of Technical Staff (MTS) ranks.
Brian, being Brian, gets into some serious trouble at Mizzou. John brings him back, hoping attending a local community college would work better. Brian improves upon the possibility and starts secretly growing marijuana at home. A livid John knows he is a bad influence on the young Jason and Kelly and throws him out of the house.
The closest refuge is Tommy’s place and Brian stays there overnight. The next day, Peggy calls John to let him know Brian is at their home so he can come to pick him up. Still seething, John offers Brian to Peggy for adoption because he won’t have him back. Peggy does not want him either. Well, there are these three girls living together, close friends of Tommy and Brian, who let Brian room with them if he pays his fair share. Brian takes them on their offer. After all, he is already on his way to making his first million. An infuriated John fumes. How did this happen? He kicked Brian out to teach him a lesson, and these three lovely ladies, smitten by this charming little puppy, take him in! “Why me, Lord?” John moans.
And then the bombshell drops. Their whole world comes to a screeching standstill. A medical exam discovers that Rita has cancer.