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It had been a tense time around Easter when the universities sent their early offers of admission letters to the prospective first year students. Now that this had all passed, the boys and their friends were very happy that they got their first choices and were a little more relaxed. And since Melissa accepted the University of Toronto's offer to their School of Engineering, Sean was disappointed, but he had resigned himself to the fact that this would be her likely choice.
"I don't think she wanted to disappoint her father," he said, after he had ended his Skype session with her, one evening.
"I thought Melissa's father was supportive of either Waterloo or Toronto," Dana said.
"That's what he told us the last time we saw him, when Melissa played with your youth orchestra," I added.
"I know. He never put any pressure on her, but Mel said his body language was obvious," Sean said. "And before you ask, Mom, no, I don't know if she's seeing anyone else."
"What makes you think I was going to ask that question?" Dana said to him, with not a lot of conviction.
Melissa and Sean still kept in touch, but certainly not as frequently as before. Both Dana and I were hoping that they would get back together as boyfriend and girlfriend, but it didn't appear that would happen anytime soon, if at all. The cooling off of their relationship was still a sore point with Sean and I didn't press him trying to get details. However, Dana was another story.
"We don't talk about who we're going out with. We're just friends," he said, hoping to put an end to any pending inquisition.
"Well, I was just interested in ...."
"Whether we're going to get back together?" he asked.
Dana was about to continue, but Sean didn't give her the opportunity.
"I've got a lot of homework," he said, as he quickly took off for his room before Dana got a chance to regroup her thoughts.
Dana was a little disgruntled that she didn't get a chance to continue her cross examination.
"Honestly, that son of yours. I can't get anything out of him anymore," she said.
"You must be losing your touch, dear," I said, which earned me one of Dana's death stares.
Along with the good news about the acceptances, Dana and I were able to help eliminate the financial stress that our extended family was feeling over the considerable University expenses that they were facing. We set up generous educational trust funds for each of our great nieces and nephews and I went ahead and made the arrangements with our lawyer and accountant. The fund incomes would take care of their tuition and living expenses and when each of them turned twenty-five, they would be in control of the remaining funds.
One of the things that had held us back from doing this before was John, who stubbornly refused to accept our offer for Glen and Garth. The loan for Glen that we agreed upon was a compromise and something that had taken a lot of persuasion on our part with John, as he was too proud to accept a 'handout' as he had described it. The loan was not going to cover all of Glen's financial needs, because the amount was all John would agree to. Susan and John were picking up a lot of the expense, as well. However, things have a way of resolving themselves.
"What changed John's tune?" I asked Dana after she had got off the phone one night when Susan told her they would accept our original offer of trust funds for the two boys.
"Susan had a talk with him after we announced the trust funds for the others," Dana said. "Garth also helped during a family discussion, when he reminded John that he and Glen were our grandchildren."
"I see Susan has inherited her mother's power of persuasion and she's doing a very good job of teaching Garth how that works."
"I don't think Garth needed any instruction on that," she said, as the two of us chuckled.
Dana and I had talked about the trust funds over a year ago, but we didn't put the plan in place until we had solved Glen's situation by giving him a loan. We decided to go ahead with the trust funds, even though we felt that we were giving an advantage to only part of the family. We were very happy at this new development. However, the best part of creating the trust funds for Garth and Glen was the unsolicited thanks and hug Glen gave me when we were alone in the hallway during a family function shortly after John and Susan had accepted the offer.
"Now you can relax and concentrate on learning how to design some great buildings."
"I won't disappoint you," he said, with a big smile.
"We never doubted you would," I replied, as I returned his smile
Jake and Sean, of course, had their own trust funds and they would have no financial worries during their time at university, or beyond.
All of these arrangements served to remind Dana and me that the days where all the boys would be with us after school were quickly coming to a close. However, even though Sean, Jake and Glen would be away the next year, Garth and on some days Derek, would still be coming and we knew the two of them would keep us entertained. We could also now see the signs of them growing up, both physically and mentally, as they both had a keen sense of empathy for others.
Garth came in the door from the school bus one day in a particularly good mood. He of course had to stuff his face with one of Dana's morning glory muffins, which was still warm from the oven and which he shared with Barney.
"Is that big smile on your face because you heard a particularly good joke today?" I asked.
He swallowed his bite before he spoke, as Dana was giving him one of her looks. She was constantly reminding him to not talk with his mouth full and slowly the message was getting through.
"No, but I do have some new ones to tell you," he said, as he launched into them. "I used to be addicted to soap, but I'm clean now."
"Geez! Why did you remind him, Dad?" Sean said, as we all chuckled.
"When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds," Garth continued, as he held up four fingers and laughed.
"Perhaps you should take a break, Garth, before the other boys eat all the muffins," Dana said.
Thank goodness he was still hungry and stopped the monologue. After he had polished that one off, he remembered that he wanted to tell us something.
"Derek and me figured out how to get Tyler into the cancer run on Saturday," he said.
"Are you sure it's Derek and me?" Jake asked, trying to get Garth to correct his grammar, which he ignored.
"Who's Tyler?" I asked.
He explained that he was a disabled boy that was in his class and Tyler's father was being treated for cancer and that he wanted to go in the run for cancer being held that weekend. Garth and Derek had entered, but the boy couldn't, because he had fairly severe muscular dystrophy and had trouble even walking.
"Derek and me... I mean 'I' are going to carry Tyler on our backs," he said.
We were all stunned at his statement and finally Glen was the first to speak.
"The run's ten kilometres long. You two aren't going to make it," he said.
Garth was insistent that they were going to be able to handle it.
"We promised Tyler today," he said, with a determined tone to his voice. "Besides, he's not that heavy."
"If he has that much trouble with mobility, doesn't he use a wheelchair?" I asked.
He explained that he used crutches most of the time and even though he did have a wheelchair, he didn't like to use it, because he felt self-conscious. We didn't understand how being carried was better than being in the wheelchair, but Garth explained that Tyler looked at things 'differently'. He knew that if he used his crutches he couldn't make it and that's when Garth and Derek made the promise, which he accepted. Tyler was going to start the race on crutches, but that was likely not going to last very long.
Both Dana and I were very concerned at the promise that Garth and Derek had made and we volunteered to help carry Tyler on the day of the run. John and Susan were also going to pitch in, as well as Glen, Jake and Sean and we hoped that this would be enough to get Tyler to the finish line.
On the day of the run, when we got to the park where the event was going to start from, we met Susan and John, who had driven Garth and Glen over. Tyler and his parents were also there. Neither of Tyler's parents were able to take a turn so it was up to us. When Jake and Sean got out of the vehicle, they took off with Glen and went up the road, which I was a little annoyed at. The race was going to start soon and they needed to get registered.
"I don't know what's so important over there," Dana said, sharing my concern.
Before I could answer, we saw them meeting a couple of cars that were pulling up to park. As the doors opened, we both knew that arrangements were about to change. Eight of the boys from last year's hockey team, including Stéphane, got out and joined the boys as they made their way back to us.
"I hear there's some heavy lifting that needs to be done," Stéphane said to us with a smile, as the boys arrived.
"Oh yeah, Glen, Jake and I forgot to tell you that we've arranged some other help," Sean said, with a big smile.
"We signed you guys up for a water station," Glen said to Susan, John, Dana and me, as everyone chuckled.
"We didn't want to say anything in case the plans didn't work out," Jake added.
Tyler started the race on crutches, but he only made it about 300 metres before Garth took him on his back. Derek carried the crutches and then Garth and Derek switched after about a kilometre. Before the two Kilometre mark the other boys took over. At the finish line, both Garth and Derek carried Tyler across and were greeted by a camera man and reporter, as the local TV station had got wind of what was happening and sent a film crew to the park.
Garth and Derek were in their glory as they were very animated as they were being interviewed with Tyler. The other boys were also part of the interview, but it was Derek and Garth that did most of the talking. Tyler and his parents were very grateful and not just for the physical help.
"We don't know how to thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Burger," Tyler's father said, as he couldn't finish what he wanted to say because he was getting emotional.
"You've given a tremendous boost to Tyler's self esteem," his mother added.
"We didn't have much to do with it," I said.
"It was our sons, Garth's brother, Garth and Derek who did all the organizational work," Dana added.
We had called East Side Mario's from the water station and made a reservation for twenty and the boys were very happy when we told them where we were going after they had finished. Tyler and his parents were also invited, but the father was getting very tired, as the chemo therapy session two days before was catching up with him. Tyler was very happy at the invitation but his parents were a little concerned until we reassured them that he would be fine.
"We'll bring Tyler home afterwards," I said.
"He'll have lots of hands around to help him out," Dana said, with a reassuring smile.
Derek, Garth and Tyler had raised over $2000 in pledges and although Dana and I were very pleased about this, the real gratification for us was seeing how socially conscious all the boys were becoming.
Time was moving along quickly and the end of the school year was almost upon us. A couple of weeks before the graduation ceremony, which was on the last day of school, the graduating class voted on who should be the valedictorian at graduation. It was a tied vote and both Stéphane and Jake were elected. The teacher representative on the Student Council decided that they should both share the duty of making the speech to the graduating class.
"We've got so many ideas about what we want to say, but we only have 15 minutes" Jake said, clearly thrilled at the honour, but very concerned at the time restriction.
Sean, Dana and I just looked at each other, with a sigh of relief. We all knew that the time limit was a good thing where Jake was concerned.
"You'll just have to be succinct, dear," Dana added, with a smile. "Remember the auditorium doesn't have air conditioning."
"And you know how uncomfortable those seats are," I added, with a big smile.
We had a surprise for both Sean and Jake and we waited until we got closer to the graduation ceremonies to tell them.
"We're going to be having a couple of house guests join us, for a while," Dana said, one morning at breakfast, before the boys left for school.
"We have to pick them up early Saturday morning at Pearson Airport in Toronto, so you boys will have to be up early," I said.
"Do we have to go with you?" Jake asked.
"Don't you want to greet your aunt and uncle when they get off the plane from Italy?" I asked him.
I don't think either Dana or I had seen a bigger smile on Jake's face.
"Jake talks about you two all the time," Gianni said, as we were having our cappuccinos on the deck in the evening, after we had picked them up at the airport.
"We're so happy with everything you and Dana have done for Jake. We couldn't have picked better people to raise our nephew," Rose added.
We had a great time showing them around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and they got along well with Fin and Tatania. Gianni called Fin 'Feen' and Tatania was 'Tata kneea', with the emphasis on 'kneea'. We were amused at the pronunciation, as was Fin and Tatania. Gianni and Rose were likewise amused at Tatania's accent.
Rose and Gianni were also very happy to see the relationship of Jake and Rachel. Jake had told them a lot about her in his emails and phone calls in the time they had been going together and they were thrilled to finally meet her in person.
"Lei è una bella ragazza," (She is a lovely girl) Rose said to us, after they met her for the first time.
"E Giacomo è tale un gentiluomo quando è con lei," (And Giacomo is such a gentleman when he's with her) Gianni added, with a big smile.
The week before the graduation ceremony, the graduating class had their Prom at the nearby banquet hall. Melissa came in from Toronto, and Sean had gone to Toronto for Melissa's prom the week before.
"We're just good friends," Sean said, as Dana was pumping him for information. "It's no big deal."
"I think it is a big deal, judging from the pruning he did to get ready," Dana said, after Jake and Sean had left to pick up the girls.
Melissa was staying over at Rachel's like she had done in the past. The Prom was also an important time for Charles and Ronald, as they 'came out' and attended as a couple. The reactions of those who weren't aware of their relationship were very positive, according to the boys.
"Lots of guys they played sports with that didn't know, came over and said good things to them," Sean said.
"So did some of the teachers," Jake added.
The graduation ceremony was going to be in the school auditorium in the late afternoon of the last day of school. Fin and Tatania waited until the morning of the Grad to tell Sean that Seamus, Sean's biological father, was going to be in attendance. He had something very special that he wanted to give to Sean and he dropped over in the early afternoon to have a visit.
"I was going through some old photos that I had and I found one that you might be interested in," Seamus said to Sean, as he handed him a package.
When Sean pulled off the wrapping paper he was speechless when he looked at the framed 8 * 10" picture of him as a baby in Seamus' arms.
"I had a copy made for you. I also have one," he said.
Sean was quiet as he was trying to keep his emotions in check. This was something tangible from his early youth, which meant more to him than the information Seamus had disclosed to him in correspondence by email, Skype and phone over the years. They kept in touch as much as Seamus' schedule allowed and their relationship was more like two brothers than father and son.
"Sean thanks you, Seamus," Dana said, to break the silence.
"Yeah, thanks a lot, Seamus," Sean finally said, as he smiled.
As much as this had turned out to be a positive relationship between them, there was still a barrier there that had been created by Seamus' abandonment of Sean as a youngster. Normally, Sean would've have generously hugged someone in a situation like this, but he was still a little reserved, which was something Seamus understood and accepted.
Later, Fin took me aside after Seamus had left.
"He didn't just find that picture. He had his copy of it framed years ago and he takes it with him wherever he's posted."
All the family was in attendance at the graduation that evening, including Katie and Marty. We weren't sure if they would be able to make it because Katie was due within a few weeks of the graduation ceremony date. Thankfully the baby didn't decide to arrive and we didn't have to make a difficult decision as to which event would get our attention.
It was an impressive sight when all the kids came down the aisle at the beginning, in their gowns and mortar boards, while the school band played 'Pomp and Circumstance'. Sean was Ok with the gown, but he wasn't thrilled at the mortar board, but to Jake it didn't matter a bit.
"We look like a couple of geeks," Sean said at the house when we were taking pictures of the two boys. "And it's messing up my hair."
"Well, the rest of us think you two look like handsome, studious academics," Dana said, with a big smile.
The first part of the ceremony was devoted to the various subject and community awards. Sean got the award for the highest mark in Calculus and Stéphane got the award for the other grade 12 math subject, Data Management. Jake had the highest mark in Political Science and of course English. Charles got the International Business award and Rachel earned the award in the second grade 12 English subject entitled Writer's Craft. The other obvious award winner was Glen with the highest mark in Art.
After the subject awards were given out, I had one more surprise for the boys and a lot of their friends. I had arranged with Gord Caudle, the principal, to be the presenter of the diplomas to the boys, Rachel, Sinead, Glen and their friends. I had a gown and my university hood backstage and when the kids were called to line up, I snuck backstage and put on the gown and hood. The program usually had all the names of the graduates in alphabetical order, but it had been rearranged so that Rachel, Sinead and Glen, as well as all the boys and their friends, were in the first group. They had thought that was odd, as they had noticed that the listing of the names in the program wasn't in strict alphabetic order, but they sloughed it off.
"And now, I'm going to ask Mr. Burger, the retired Head of the Business and Computer Studies department, to present the diplomas to the first group of graduating students," Gord announced, as I made my way out to the stage.
"So that's why there was a delivery from Harcourts at the house yesterday," Sean said when it was his turn. I smiled, shook his hand and presented him with his diploma, then gave him a hug.
It was one of the more pleasant duties that I had to perform at graduations over the year and it was very gratifying to see these young people that I'd known for some time blossom into mature, smart, young adults.
I also knew from past experience, that despite the fact that this was a solemn occasion, there was always some humorous incident. This graduation was no exception, as Darren the jokester went across the stage in shorts and sandals and his hairy legs showed under his gown. As well, each student was asked to write down what their plans were for the next year, which was read out while they walked across the stage and Darren wrote that he was going to be a retail marketing specialist for the construction industry. This was a fancy way of saying that he had a job at Home Depot and he was going to take a year off and work. He was going to take night courses to improve his marks, which weren't good enough for him to get into college or university.
The last part of the ceremony was the Valedictory speech. Jake, Stéphane and Glen came to the stage and before the speech we were treated to a video presentation of the graduating class' four years of high school.
Glen and Sinead did much of the work on this, along with Stéphane, who narrated it. Glen got the computer and projector started and it lasted about five minutes, during which time the grads were laughing and cheering at the various pictures of them over the four years. Then it was time for the speech.
Stéphane started and said, "This is a time in our life of new beginnings. Just as when we entered high school from grade 8 and were nervous about what it would be like, we stand at another crossroads with similar apprehensions."
Jake and Stéphane alternated and they did a great job of keeping the themes consistent between the texts. The two of them were certainly excellent speakers and they interjected humour as well as some very serious comments. The fifteen minutes passed very quickly.
"Be grateful and thank your best teachers, because they've made a positive difference in your lives," Jake said.
"And, thank your most difficult teachers, because they've taught you how to get along with people," Stéphane said, as they wrapped up the speech.
The kids gave them a standing ovation, followed by the rest of the audience.
There was a reception afterwards in the cafeteria and it was good to see some of my colleagues who were still teaching at the school and listen to their positive comments about Sean and Jake. The boys were also glowing in the attention from the family. Jake was particularly happy at the comments his aunt and uncle made to him.
"I didn't understand everything you said, but you're a good public speaker just like your mother," Rose told him, as she kissed him on both cheeks.
"Lei e Pietro sarebbe stato cos orgoglioso di te, Giacomo," (She and Pietro would have been so proud of you, Giacomo) Gianni said, as he gave him a big hug.
For me it was a very satisfying evening for a number of reasons, but none of them as important as seeing the young boy that I had adopted four years ago, who had a strong aversion to school and questionable behaviour, achieve the success that I knew he was capable of. He had had no trouble following my two rules of always doing his best and being the best person he could be. That person was someone I loved being around.
The summer was, as usual, a fairly busy one. Sean was still playing golf; Glen, Jake and Rachel were playing soccer and Garth and Derek had graduated to baseball and were in the theatre school in Stratford. This was however, a bittersweet time for Dana and me, as both of us understood that our lives with the boys were to permanently change at the end of the summer. We were both proud of them and were confident that they would do well with their studies, as they were in programs that were well suited to their likes and talents.
Dana was having an acute bout of impending separation anxiety knowing the boys would be off living by themselves, which got worse as the summer was nearing the end. She was like a mother hen the week before the boys were leaving.
"Mom, I did go over the list of stuff you gave us that we need to take," Sean said, clearly exasperated. "I have everything I need out and ready to pack."
"Are you sure? I only saw two sweaters ready to be packed. I'm just reminding you so you don't forget anything. You know how forgetful you can be sometimes," she said.
"I don't need six sweaters. I'm sure they heat the residence rooms," Sean said.
"And we will remember to call every Tuesday and Saturday," Jake said.
"I still say it would be better if you call each evening. That way we can help you.... you know.... if you need any help," Dana replied.
Barney also was having a hard time with the boys' impending departure, as he sensed something was changing when he looked at all the things in their rooms that were being packed up. He was following them around the house, keeping them very close to him.
"We can't close our bedroom doors, because Barney sits outside in the hall and scratches at the door and then barks," Jake said.
"He never did this before," Sean added.
"Maybe one of you should take him with you," Dana said, as she smiled.
We weren't sure if she was serious or not, but the three of us knew that, despite her complaining about Barney, she was as attached to the little mutt as we were.
The day after Labour Day was when Canadian Universities opened up the residences for incoming students. We had the Boys' RDX and my new Range Rover packed up with their things and we were driving them up to Waterloo. Fin and Tatania were also accompanying us in their car. Sean had a parking space paid for at Laurier, so the boys had transportation when they needed it and it would be easier for them when they wanted to come home.
All the boys' friends that were going to Laurier and Waterloo and their parents, were also driving up at the same time. Waterloo was the first drop off of Glen, Rachel and Jake. After about a half hour, we had all the things in their rooms and then it was time for the goodbyes. John and Glen were very much alike in that they didn't show their emotions that often. John couldn't help himself, though, when it was time to leave. After Susan and Dana had finished their hugs and kisses, John grabbed him and just about smothered him, which surprised all of us.
"I guess I don't say this often enough, son, but I'm very proud of you."
When John was finished, it was Garth's turn. Garth was having a tough time with the separation and like Derek, he had been fairly subdued on the ride up. Garth wrapped his arms around Glen in a tight hug.
"I'll be back a lot, Garthy," Glen said, as he ruffled Garth's hair as they finally broke the hug. He noticed a tear making its way down Garth's cheek and he wiped it away.
By the time we said our goodbyes to Jake and got over to Laurier with Sean, Charles, who was Sean's roommate and Stéphane were already in their rooms. We moved him in and then it was time to leave. I was the last to say my goodbyes.
"Do you remember when you first came to me that I said I knew you had the potential within you to become a terrific adult?" I said, as I put my arm around him.
"I do. Why?" he asked, with a puzzled look on his face.
"You've been a terrific kid and when you turn eighteen next week, my prophecy will have come true," I said, as I smiled and pulled him into a big hug.
Harcourts - Gown and Hoods
Pomp and Circumstance - Elgar