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Garth was beside himself when I picked him up one night near the end of the school year.
"Guess what," he said, as he slid into the front seat with the ever present backpack still in place.
"How about you take off the backpack and then tell me," I said, as I chuckled.
"Mandy's moving to town and she's going to be going to the same school as me next year," he said, with a big smile.
Her father had gone through a retraining program and was now a Stationary Engineer with a better paying job and the family had bought a townhouse a few streets away from the firehall.
"So now your girlfriend is going to be much closer, maybe even in the same class," I said, as I ruffled his hair.
"She's not my girlfriend," he said, as he protested and screwed up his face.
When we arrived home, he had to announce his news with great fanfare to Dana and the boys.
"Now you guys can go out on dates with all of us next year," Sean said, as the boys laughed.
"No hand holding, though. You two aren't old enough for that," Dana said, as now all of us were chuckling. Garth was not amused and voiced his disapproval.
It took him a couple of minutes to come back down to earth, but we knew he had recovered when he had one of his daily jokes to tell us.
"Do you and your friends spend the entire recess telling jokes?" I asked.
He laughed and said, "How do prisoners in jail make calls home?"
Sean took a stab at the answer and said, "They go to the bars and yell."
After he stopped giggling he said, "No silly. They use Cell phones." We all groaned.
As the end of the school year was getting nearer, it was becoming an even busier time with all that was happening in the family. All four boys had won awards for their efforts over the school year and we were very pleased with their achievements, as was John Webster.
The high school held its annual award assembly in early June and the parents were invited. Dana and I were very happy that Sean and Jake were recipients. Sean came in second in the school to Stéphane in the Grade 9 Pascal math contest and ended up in 30th place in the province. Melissa managed to beat him and was in 25th place in the province and first in her school. She certainly had her father's math brain.
Jake was runner up in the region in the public speaking contest and was awarded his prize and certificate by a representative from the Canadian Legion, who sponsored the contest. The title of his speech was 'What Family Means'. We were there to watch him in the finals and we were very impressed. Not only did he have quite a flair for writing, he was very poised and confident in his delivery. Many of the parents who spoke to us afterwards were very surprised that he didn't win. We were too.
Sean and Jake were also awarded DECA certificates as they both made the provincial competition in Toronto, which was as far as first year students could go. Rachel and Melissa had also made the provincials.
"The Canadian winners are going to the international competition in Los Angeles next year," Sean said, as Jake and he exchanged big smiles at dinner that evening.
"Let me guess. Is there a chance that Melissa and Rachel may make the winner's circle next year too?" I asked.
"I'm sure they'll need chaperones for the trip," Dana said, with a coy look. Both boys' smiles disappeared very quickly.
When I reflected back on the first few months that Sean was with me, I marvelled at the dramatic change in him from those early days. Apart from the fact that he was now almost as tall as I was and was starting to develop a man's physique, as was Jake, he was turning out to be the smart, confident and caring young man I knew was inside him just waiting to break free.
Garth also had a successful school year. After all the trepidation he went through about the EQAO testing he ended up with a level 3 in reading and writing, which was the provincial standard and a level 4 in math, which was the top category. He also got the class award for being the most cooperative and helpful student in class. He was a very outgoing kid who was a social butterfly, as he was always giving advice and trying to help out his fellow students in his class.
"If there was an award for telling jokes, I'm sure you would have won that, as well," Dana said, as we all laughed.
Even though the three boys had done very well and made Dana and me very proud of them, it was Glen's achievements that made me the happiest. Jane Bell, his art teacher at school, had been a huge influence on him. She was nurturing his talent and was helping him develop his style. He was exceptionally good with detail and particularly liked to sketch and paint scenes that involved buildings and landscapes. The success he was having with his art was spilling over into his other school work and that coupled with the stability in his life was helping him overcome the negativity and poor attitude he had when we took him in.
As well, both Glen and Dana were enjoying the art classes at the local art school and had done some great stuff for the end of the year art show. Their love of art was creating a strong bond between the two of them. One of the visitors to the show, who liked a watercolour painting of the old firehall that Glen had done, offered to buy it and wanted to know what the price was. Glen wasn't about to part with it and refused to sell the painting. It had a very strong personal meaning to him, as it symbolized the new life that their family was embarking upon.
The high school art show was the next night, which was Friday and Josh Chambers had come in and was staying the weekend, as he had expressed interest in coming to see Glen's art work. John Webster was once again in attendance, as Susan had brought him over. He was very supportive of both of his boys, when he could manage it. Even though he was getting much better, he was still having headaches that would come on very quickly, which made it difficult to function. They were becoming less and less, but they took their toll on his stamina.
"You've made me very proud, son. I always knew you had talent, but I'm blown away by what I've seen tonight," as John gave him a big hug which Glen didn't resist.
"This is absolutely fantastic," Josh said, as he looked at the picture Glen had done that was going to be the cover of the school yearbook. "That looks exactly like your school."
The picture was of the front of the school. The left part was as it looked thirty-five years ago when it was built and then faded into the right part of the picture which was as it currently looked. Ms. Bell had given him an early picture that was taken at the time of the opening of the school, which was his inspiration.
"You're going to be famous some day, Glen," Josh said, as he locked thumbs with him.
Josh also really liked a watercolour Glen had done of the Lancaster Bomber that was at the Canadian War Plane Heritage Museum. Glen had been on a school trip there and had taken a picture of it which allowed him to create the painting.
"This is so cool. My Dad would love to see this. He's told me all about these planes and how important they were in the second world war," Josh said, as he took a picture of it with his cellphone.
When the show was finished Glen took down his art to take home. He packed up everything into the large portfolio case we had got for him, except for the Lancaster bomber painting. He put it down on one of the tables and took out a pen and signed the bottom of it.
"I want you and your Dad to have this. Maybe someday it'll be worth a whole pile of dough," he said to Josh, as he laughed.
Josh was touched and was reluctant to take it, but Glen insisted.
"It makes me feel good to know that people like my art. It has a special meaning to you guys, so I want you to have it." Josh was beaming as we wrapped up the painting between two pieces of cardboard to protect it.
The next morning after breakfast, I realized that Josh didn't have a jacket and tie with him. We had a reservation at the golf club for dinner that evening and formal wear was required. Nothing the boys had would fit him well, so I knew we had to make a trip.
"C'mon boys. We need to go to Lou's to get Josh some duds for tonight."
When we walked into Lou's shop he greeted us with a very concerned look.
"Mr. Burger, is this boy number five?"
We all laughed and assured him that Josh already had a family.
"I think I have just the thing for him," Lou said, as he helped him on with a great blazer.
Between Lou and Sean, we got him outfitted. Sean was very helpful as his fashion consultant and picked out a very nice tie for him.
"I see you still have wonderful taste, young man," Lou said, as he gave Sean a big smile.
We were going to drop by later in the afternoon, as the pants had to be altered. While we were there, Lou had a short conversation with Jake in Italian. He often gave Jake coaching instructions in Italian at his soccer practices, as he wanted him to maintain his speaking ability. It was obvious to all the parents on Jake's team that he was one of Lou's favourite players. Many of the parents thought it was because Jake was far and away the best player on the team, but I knew it was because the two of them were kindred spirits. Jake was like a son to him and even though Lou had two girls who were now married with families, he always wanted a son to raise.
"Make sure you get this young man to bed in decent time tonight. We need our star player wide awake for the game tomorrow," he said, as he patted Jake on the back.
"Thank you, Mr. Burger. My Dad can pay you back when I get home," Josh said, as we were paying for the clothes.
"No he can't, Josh. Tom and you have been good to my boys and it's the least I can do."
We were going to the boys' guitar recital in the afternoon and then to the club afterwards for dinner. Colin, their guitar teacher, had a number of students and the recital was in the church hall that he had rented for the occasion.
The beginning students went first and Garth's song was 'Early Morning Rain' by Gordon Lightfoot. He looked so serious as he concentrated on the chords and the notes that were in the simplified version that Colin had given him. When he was finished he had a big smile on his face as he bowed to the audience. He had done a great job and everyone gave him a big round of applause. His father was there once again with Susan and he was very pleased, as well.
"You sounded just like Gordon Lightfoot, son," he said, as he gave him a big hug, which met with a big smile from Garth.
The last scheduled performance of the recital was by Sean and Jake. They had chosen 'Four Strong Winds' by the Canadian folk duo, Ian and Sylvia. As well as play the song they also sang it. They were very impressive and were getting quite good at performing and the parents gave them a very loud round of applause. We were expecting Colin to get up after they were finished and say some closing remarks, but instead, Garth came back to the stage.
"The last song will be 'If I Had a Million Dollars' by the famous Canadian group... " he paused to giggle as he looked back at Sean and Jake and then continued, "The Barenaked Ladies."
Sean and Jake moved over and Colin brought another chair to the stage for Garth. The boys had been keeping that a secret from us as a surprise. Jake played the bass and Sean and Garth played the guitar. Garth sang the part where the second singer echoed the lyrics of the first singer and strummed the chords. It was a fitting end to the concert and everyone was very entertained by the trio and gave them a rousing round of applause.
"So why did you giggle before you said the name of the group, Garth," I teased, after the recital.
He just started to giggle and said, "Because," which caused the rest of us to break out in laughter.
All five of the boys looked very handsome all dressed up as we had dinner at the club. John and Susan were able to join us and it was a great way to end a very rewarding family day. At first Josh was a little overwhelmed at the posh surroundings and dinner, but he soon became more comfortable as the evening went on. Sean and Jake took it in their stride, as it was becoming very commonplace for them. The new found wealth and change in lifestyle for the boys had always been a concern of mine, which turned out to be unfounded, as both boys never took things for granted and had a very strong social conscience. Some of that was due to Dana and me being very careful to keep the boys grounded in reality, but a lot of it was due to their past memories of their upbringing. They both remembered what it was like to not have an abundance of money and they were very empathetic towards others who didn't. I had a feeling that someday Josh would have the type of financial resources that would allow him to live a similar lifestyle and I was confident that wouldn't change him either. I also knew Tom wouldn't let that happen.
"Thank you very much for a great weekend, Mr. and Mrs. Burger. You've been very generous and I really appreciate your kindness," Josh said, as he got ready to go to the limo that was going to take him back to Toronto.
An hour after he left we got a call from his Dad, Tom.
"Al, you've been more than generous this weekend with Josh. I'd like to thank you so much. Also, please pass on my thanks to Glen for the wonderful painting of the Lancaster bomber. I hope one day to have a ride in it and take Josh, Mark, Bryan and your boys with me."
Things were a little quieter as the final weeks wound down and summer vacation got closer. On Tuesday of the next week, the boys had been home from school for about an hour and a half when a call came in from Carson's mother, Doreen.
"Would your boys have any idea where Carson could be? I was supposed to take him to his baseball practice a half hour ago, but he hasn't shown up. I've called his cell phone, but he's not answering."
All the information the boys knew was that he had not taken the school bus and they had seen him taking off across the field at the side of the school.
"Is it possible he's at another friend's house?" I asked.
She said that he really didn't have too many other friends and the ones he did have she had already called their houses and they didn't have any more information than we had.
"Is there any reason why he may have chosen not to come home?" I asked, as delicately as I could. I suspected from the tone of her voice that something had happened.
"I told Carson last night that his father and I are getting a divorce. He was pretty upset and wouldn't talk to me after that and was pretty uncommunicative this morning at breakfast," she said.
I didn't want to ask the next question, as I was afraid of the answer.
"Is it possible that he might be at his father's place?"
There was a long sigh and she finally said, "Quite possibly. He lives on the outskirts of town in an apartment that's on the city bus route."
My first reaction was to tell her to call the police, but if they came and he wasn't at the father's that would reflect on her credibility somewhere down the line.
"I'll be right over."
We had just solved the last crisis, as the two boys who were dealing drugs had been charged by the police and suspended from school for ten days. So far there hadn't been any fallout from the arrests, as the parents of the two boys were horrified and were taking their own action at home. I knew that there would likely be more problems and I was determined that I wasn't going to abandon Carson and his mother now, so this wasn't a surprise.
The boys, including Garth, wanted to accompany me but I told them we would be alright, that I wasn't planning on getting into a confrontation with him. If Carson was there we would call the police and let them handle the problem.
"Dad, we might be able to convince Carson to come home," Sean said.
"Yeah, he sort of trusts us a bit now. He doesn't hang around with anybody much anymore, but he talks to us," Jake said.
"He's really screwed up. He told me some stuff his dad told him about his mother. I knew they were a bunch of lies and told him so," Glen said.
Garth tried to convince us that he should go, but Dana convinced him otherwise.
"I don't want you listening to Mr. Spencer swear and carry on. Besides, I'm going to be all alone if you go, Garth. I'd like you to keep me company here," she said, as she gave him a big smile.
We picked up Doreen and she directed us to the apartment building. When we pulled into the lot the father's car was in his parking spot. He obviously was home and ignoring Doreen's calls that she had been making as we drove down. It was an older low-rise building and didn't have any security, so we made our way up to the apartment and knocked on the door. Carson answered and was very surprised. He thought we were the pizza delivery man.
"Carson, please come home with me now. Your father isn't allowed access to you and he's just getting himself deeper into trouble. We need to talk about this," Doreen pleaded.
By now Mr. Spencer had joined us at the door and was his usual rude and abusive self. He started to hurl insults at me and his wife and was going on with impunity about how he wasn't afraid of us calling the police. At one point he made a peculiar comment about the police couldn't catch what they couldn't find.
"Are you intending to flee and take Carson with you?" I asked, as I stared him down.
He just gave us a very evil smile and told us to get lost. I could see that Carson was very concerned at the direction the conversation was taking and it was obvious that he wasn't on board with his father's intended action and that this was a surprise to him.
"I thought you were going to make mom see that a divorce was a bad idea and that we all needed to be together again as a family. I don't want to go away," he said.
"Who said anything about us leaving the country? Besides, if we did, we'd be better off without that bitch."
There were some very strong reactions to Mr. Spencer's statement, least of which was Carson's.
"You lied to me. You said that mom would come to her senses and that we'd all be back together again."
Mr. Spencer blew up and grabbed Carson's coat, threw it at him and told him to get lost.
"You're just as stupid as she is. You're brainwashed," he yelled as he pushed Carson out the door.
By now Sean, Jake and Glen were really angry. I told them to cool down, as I wasn't sure if they were going to do something physical or not. However, Jake wasn't going to keep silent.
"You're a lousy excuse for a father. You're the one doing the brainwashing. You don't deserve to have a wife and son."
With that, Mr. Spencer slammed the door shut. I suggested that we leave the building as soon as possible and call the police from the parking lot. When we walked through the front door, Carson stopped and put his arms around his mother and broke down. Unfortunately he had learned the hard way who the real parent was in his family and finally came to the realization that his father really didn't love him. After a couple of minutes he had composed himself, as had his mother, and walked ahead with the boys to the LX.
"Your boys are about the only real friends Carson has at the moment. I know he's not the easiest kid to get along with, but I hope their friendship continues. He's going to need lots of support in the next few months as we sort things out," Doreen said.
When we got to the LX, Doreen made a call to the police and reported the incident. We didn't want to stick around for the fireworks that were sure to happen and we took off. The boys did their best at getting Carson's mind off of the devastating events of the evening as we drove him and his mother home. Doreen and I had a chance to talk about what the next steps were going to be. She was very concerned about the custody arrangement, as she was going to ask for sole custody without visitation rights.
"My lawyer told me that it was very difficult to prove to the courts that a parent was poisoning a child against the other parent. He said unless I can prove that he's being obviously physically abusive, joint custody with some limitations on his access would be the likely outcome."
"I think you need a better lawyer. I'll make a call tomorrow morning," I said, as I gave her a reassuring smile.
Carson and Doreen walked with their arms around each other to the house as we left them off. I knew they were going to have a rough go of it, especially if the father tried to fight for custody in court. I was also sure that given Mr. Spencer's combative nature that he would do so, just to spite Doreen.
When we got home the boys were quite animated and disgusted by Mr. Spencer's behaviour. Dana and I had a talk with them about the realities of the court system and the possibility of Mr. Spencer still being in Carson's life. I was also very proud of them when they told Dana and me that they were going to go out of their way to support Carson and be his friend.
"He can be a real jerk sometimes, but he's going to need friends," Sean said.
"We'll try to get him to sit with us at lunch," Jake added.
"We have the same French class. I can walk with him afterwards to his next class," Glen offered.
Near the end of the week, Dana came in the Kitchen after she got home from the Firehall late one afternoon. The boys were already home from school and in their rooms winding down. She was spending a lot of time there making sure the renovation was progressing as planned and she usually was a little tired, but this particular day she was very agitated.
"We had some overly officious building inspector come in today to the Firehall."
She said he told Susan, John and her that the work on the loft had to stop because the building wasn't zoned for residential use.
I made a big mistake and asked her, "Didn't you have that checked out before the renovation started?"
"Of course we did! The building department told the contractor that it wouldn't be a problem," she said, very annoyed at my question.
By now, the boys had come out of their rooms, partly because it had been an hour since they had eaten, and partly because Dana was wound up and they heard her through their closed doors. All four of them listened as she explained what had happened. The look on Glen's face changed very quickly and he stomped off towards his room after he had made a comment which included an obscenity.
"Does that mean we won't get our home?" Garth asked, as his lower lip was starting to quiver.
"We don't know that, Garth. Let's not panic. We're going to try and straighten it out," Dana said, as she put her arm around him and hugged him tightly.
"I'll go see what I can do with Glen," I said.
"Do you want Sean and me to help?" Jake asked.
I told them I was fine and made my way down to Glen and Garth's room.
"I knew this was too good to be true. Nothing ever goes right for me," he said, with a touch of anger in his voice.
I sat down on the bed beside him and I knew right away from his body language that he wasn't in the mood for any tactile comforting. I decided to deal with his disappointment first and leave the outburst in the Kitchen for later.
"Glen, life doesn't go in a straight line. It's full of ups and downs. We're going to work hard to resolve this."
I told him that he needed to be calm and strong for Garth.
"He looks up to his big brother and you need to be a better role model than the person that lost control of his emotions in the Kitchen a few minutes ago."
There was a short pause and finally he said, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said what I did... but I was really mad."
I was very pleased at this reaction as I was a little concerned about us having a setback and him reverting back to his old behaviour. We had a short chat and then he wanted to go back and apologize to Dana for his outburst.
"Apology accepted, young man. We're going to the building department on Monday to get to the bottom of this," she said.
We went to the contemporary service at church that Sunday and Reverend McLaughlin's sermon was on being positive and having faith when faced with adversity. As was his custom, he chose an appropriate ending song, which in this case was U2's 'Beautiful Day'. He must have heard about our problem with the Firehall and he took a few moments as we were shaking hands with him after the service to talk to Glen and Garth.
"No problem is so big that it can't be solved, boys. Your family will figure out a solution. You two have to have faith and keep thinking positively."
There was a glimmer of hope, as Glen finally smiled for the first time since he got the news.
U2 - 'Beautiful Day'
Ian and Sylvia - 'Four Strong Winds'
Barenaked Ladies - 'If I Had a Milllion Dollars'
Gordon Lightfoot - 'Early Morning Rain'
The Math Contests
The Warplane Heritage Museum's Lancaster Bomber