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It was a very busy Monday morning as both Dana and I were on the phone after the boys left for school. Even though Reverend McLaughlin was able to get a smile out of Glen after the service on Sunday, he still wasn't really coming around as much as we had hoped for, as he was subdued as he ate breakfast.
My first call was to Ray Mueller to see what I could do about getting him to represent Doreen in her divorce proceedings. I was using my Blackberry as Dana was in the Kitchen using our home phone.
"Burgs, I'm not really a family law lawyer. I do know a good one, though. Your son's future mother-in-law has quite a reputation around Toronto as being a real tiger in the courtroom. I guess that's where your future daughter-in-law gets it from," he said, as he chuckled.
His reference to Melissa and her mother was a bigger jolt than the espresso I was drinking. He told me that she'd had quite a lot of success particularly with custody arrangements for her clients.
"I'm sure she wouldn't mind helping out her future relatives," he said, as he broke into a full laugh.
"You're delighting in aging me, aren't you Mules. The boys are doing a great job at that and they don't need your help."
I managed to get a hold of Suzie Morgan as she was prepping for court and was in the office. I explained what I was calling about and she was agreeable to taking the case.
"Is that the father of that disagreeable kid on the team you were playing in the Collingwood tournament?"
She remembered Carson and his father. They had to move away from him in the stands when he went on one of his rants.
"He wasn't very nice to his wife. He's exactly the type of jerk I delight in going after in the courtroom."
Suzie always seemed so unassuming and calm when we had been together, but I was now seeing another side of her I hadn't seen before. Ray was also correct in his assessment of where Melissa got her steely resolve on the hockey rink, as I always thought it came from Gary, her father. I called Doreen and gave her Suzie's number and some of the details of my call with her.
"I think you'll have more success with Mrs. Morgan as your lawyer. She has a reputation of being very persuasive in court," I said.
"Al, thank you once again. I don't know how we'd be able to manage without you and your family's help. I'll call her as soon as we hang up," she said.
When I came out of the Den I met Dana and told her my news, but she was preoccupied and had fire in her eyes.
"I just got off the phone with the contractor. We're both so.... angry," she said, trying very hard to restrain herself.
He told her someone had lodged a complaint about the upstairs of the Firehall being renovated for residential use and that it was zoned commercial.
"There's more. The person lodging the complaint is a member of the Historical Society and so is the officious building inspector that researched the complaint and gave us the stop work order. There was definitely collusion," she said.
The Historical society had been turned down the year before, when they tried to designate the building as a heritage site. Their next step, had they been successful, would have been to try and get the town to sell it to the society for a nominal fee, as they wanted to use it for their headquarters. The contractor told her that his sources said that the society thought that by putting up this roadblock that we would be willing to sell it and they could scoop it up for a song, as no one else would want to buy it.
"We're going to do some investigation to see if there's a way around this. In the meantime, we're on the agenda for the next Committee of Adjustments meeting," she said.
The committee of Adjustments was comprised of a chair and two other members from the community. They met monthly to consider requests for exceptions to town bylaws and zoning. The other alternative would be to get the zoning officially changed, which according to the contractor would take almost a year. The committee had the power in the meantime to overturn the stop work order and allow renovation to continue immediately and recommend the zoning be changed.
"I think one of my former principals that I worked for is the current chairperson. I'll make a discreet call to Lloyd this afternoon," I said, as I gave her a big smile.
That evening at dinner, we told the boys the results of our efforts that day to resolve the problem with the loft renovation.
"Does that mean we're going to get our home?" Garth asked.
"We hope so. It gives us an opportunity to tell our side of the story," Dana said, with a reassuring smile.
Garth felt a little better, but Glen still was harbouring a gloomy outlook. I had a chance to talk to him alone later and he told me that he appreciated our efforts, but his body language wasn't very positive.
"Whatever happens, Glen, you, Garth and your father will have a place to live together here in town. I'll make sure of that," I said, as I put my arm around him. He finally gave me a smile.
Garth was still anxious about the future of the Loft and he asked us a number of questions when we were putting him to bed that evening.
Finally he asked, "Do you think it would help if I pray to God?'"
We hadn't really made nightly prayers a regular practice with any of the boys or our girls, so we decided to help him, as we felt this would ease his anxiety.
"It couldn't hurt. How about we teach you a prayer and then at the end you can say or ask God what you want. Just repeat after us," Dana said, as we bowed our heads.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep:
May God guard me through the night
And wake me with the morning light.
"... and please take care of everyone in my family and let us have our home," he added.
"Don't forget to say Amen. That way he knows you're finished," I said, as we smiled and I ruffled his hair.
Things settled down as the days wound down to the end of the school year and the boys were enjoying the pool and the warm weather. Dana and I were going to spend an afternoon alone with Jake on the anniversary of his Uncle's death, much as I had done with Sean in February. We were going to get some flowers for the grave, take him to the cemetery and leave him alone for a few minutes and then take him out to dinner. Meanwhile, Sean, Glen and Garth were going to stay alone in the house as Glen and Sean were old enough to babysit for Garth by themselves. They were looking forward to the time together while we were out.
"We'll make some burgs and then walk to the Dairy Queen and get dessert," Sean said, as we were getting ready to leave.
"Then we'll get some junk food at the corner store and come back and do some guy stuff, eh Garthy," Glen said, as he smiled.
"Just make sure you eat the salad and veggies I'm going to leave for you three," Dana said, as she gave them her stern motherly look.
Garth was turning out to be a little fish, as he was difficult to drag out of the pool to get ready for bed in the evening. The other boys weren't much better, but texting on their cell phones managed to take precedence a lot of the time as they retired to the chairs around the pool. On more than one occasion we had to intervene as Garth would make big splashes in the pool while they were under the umbrella sending messages, which resulted in soaking the other boys.
"Dad, Garth's bugging us, cuz we won't get back into the pool. He's splashing water on us," Sean whined, as he had come inside to complain.
When they did play with him, they had a favourite game where they tossed Garth out of the water to see how far they could throw him in the pool. He was a willing partner and delighted in making a big splash which had the pool deck soaked in short order. They had to make sure Dana wasn't lurking as she was very anxious at somebody getting hurt and forbade them from playing it. I wasn't as concerned as she was, so I told them to be very careful and make sure they were discreet. They didn't remain discreet very long, as Garth's squealing drew Dana's attention which resulted in her ordering them out of the pool.
"Garth tells me you said it was Ok to play the game. I thought we agreed we wouldn't let them do that," she said, with that look I dreaded.
"I guess they misunderstood me," I said, with a very sheepish grin.
Glen, Sean and Jake were tied to their iPhones as they were almost addicted to sending text messages. This was something that Dana and I weren't used to, but it was becoming a common phenomenon amongst kids their age. Most of the texting was to Melissa, Rachel and Mara. However, I had picked them up from the Teen Centre one Saturday and they were standing outside with Stéphane, Charles and Ronald. None of them were talking but they were texting and laughing out loud.
"What were you guys doing when I arrived to pick you up?" I asked.
"We were making plans for tomorrow and telling jokes," Sean said.
"On your cell phones? Why didn't you just talk to each other."
"It was easier to text," Jake said, with a big smile.
I just shook my head, but they laughed. We had put limits on when they could text at home. At mealtime and when they were doing homework was definitely out of the question. We also had a talk with them about sexting one night at the dinner table, as we had seen a few news reports about the problem. When we brought up the subject, Garth wanted to know what we were talking about and we explained it to him in language he could understand, which resulted in him snickering. The other boys were silent though and looked a little uncomfortable.
"Why do I get the distinct impression this topic is hitting close to home?" I asked.
"Boys, that's not something I'm very happy about. The girls aren't going to be your girlfriends very long if you keep doing that," Dana said, as she scolded them.
There was an awkward silence, and finally Sean said, "It's a two-way conversation."
There was another awkward pause and then Dana said, "I hope there's no exchange of revealing pictures."
There were three red faces as they vigorously shook their heads and denied that anything like that had happened. I thought we had made our point and the boys were getting very embarrassed, so I let them off the hook.
"I'm sure you boys wouldn't want to lose your phones for a while, would you?"
"No, for sure," Sean said, as the three of them quickly agreed.
"Can we be excused to get ready to go swimming?" Glen asked, as the three of them quickly got up hoping to dodge any more interrogation.
At the beginning of the first week of summer holidays, Sean, Glen and Jake received their report cards in the mail. There weren't any surprises and all three boys had done very well. Glen had made the most improvement from the interim report and managed to pull his overall average up to 76%. Needless to say his art mark was outstanding at 97%. He also did very well in Math with a mark of 84%.
Sean and Jake both achieved an average over 80% with Sean excelling in Math and Science and Jake in English and History. Garth had been given his report card the last day of school and he had achieved level three on most of his subjects and level four in Math. There were only four levels on the elementary report card and the comments the teachers included with the evaluation were more descriptive of the student's progress. Garth's teacher was glowing in her assessment of his math ability and commented on how much he had improved his literacy.
"It must have been those Talking Toilets that made the difference," I said, as I tickled him, which resulted in his famous giggle.
He had also brought home his final tests that he wrote at the end of the year. We had a look at all of them and we were amused by one of the answers on his science test.
"Garth, this is quite the answer you gave to explain what wind was," I said, as Dana and I chuckled.
His answer was: The wind is like the air, only pushier.
"Well it is," he said, with that wide-eyed innocent look. "I just couldn't remember how to say it the way the teacher wanted it."
John Webster hadn't taken the boys to church much over the years but Garth and Glen were getting used to the Sunday contemporary services and the exposure to religion. Glen didn't express the same interest in it that Garth did, as he was more reserved about expressing his feelings.
Garth had many questions he had asked us over the last few months about a number of religious topics, as he was a very curious little boy. He wanted to make sense of the things presented by Reverend Mclaughlin and lunch after church was always filled with family discussions, usually started by Garth, of religion and ethics. Both Dana and I found these very refreshing as we were transported back to the time that our kids were eight years old, struggling to make sense of what life meant.
We had Derek, my great nephew, over on a Saturday and Garth and he had a great time playing in the pool with Sean, Jake and Glen. We were under the umbrella having a mid afternoon snack before the boys went back into the pool when the topic of church came up. The next day we were going to the regular service, as the Junior choir was giving its last performance of the year. Garth and Derek somehow got onto the topic of angels.
"All angels are girls because they wear dresses and boys don't wear dresses," Derek said, with a very serious look on his face.
Garth wasn't too sure about what Derek said and he questioned whether that was true. The older boys, Dana and I were now paying attention as we were amused by the deep intellectual conversation the two of them were having.
Garth, not to be outdone replied, "Angels live in cloud houses made by God and his son, who's a very good carpenter."
We all had to stifle laughs, as we didn't want to offend the two pint-sized theologians.
Finally Dana composed herself and said, "I think we have a few part-time angels in our house that appear every once in a while and they're all male and sitting at this table."
The final performance of the Junior Choir was a short one. They did two numbers on their own and did a great job. The second number was a big surprise, as Garth sang the second verse as a solo. The song was Jesus Loves You, and Sean, Jake, Charles and Stéphane did the chorus harmony in the background. He was becoming quite the little performer and was thoroughly enjoying the Junior Choir experience. Erin Brady, the choir director, was pleased that the Websters would be living in town the next year and Garth wanted to continue.
"I think Garth could be another Justin Bieber," Erin teased after church in the foyer.
"I don't know. He'll have to let his hair grow a little longer," I said, as I tickled him, which resulted in some big giggles.
Melissa was having a party in Toronto at the end of the first week of summer holidays, to celebrate the end of the school year. She had invited a lot of her friends from Toronto, as well as the boys and Rachel. She got her way with her parents and was having it at a hall nearby their home. She also wanted it unchaperoned, which her parents quickly nixed. She was a very strong-willed young lady and had very definite ideas about things and was proving to be quite a challenge to her parents, Gary and Suzie.
"Um... they have lots of parents. It's Ok," Jake said, as we told the boys we would call the Morgans and offer our help.
"I asked Mel if she needed you guys, but she said they had enough chaperones," Sean said, very quickly after Jake.
She also wanted the 'band' to play, which the boys were very excited about. This was going to be their first 'gig', and we had made arrangements to rent some sound equipment, as the studio equipment wasn't portable. We also rented a large van to transport the boys' instruments, amplifiers and Charles drum set.
The boys spent the first week of holidays practicing diligently in the studio and were putting together a couple of new numbers. Their entire set list was going to be 15 songs, but the rest of the night the Morgans had hired a disc jockey.
"So whose idea was it to play "One Time" by Justin Bieber?" I asked, one day as I popped into the studio.
"It's a request from Mel, Rachel and Mara," Sean said, with a pained expression on his face.
I figured as much, as the boys weren't Bieber fans. Sean got the unenviable task of singing the lead, as his voice was the only one that could still get into the high ranges. However, it wouldn't be long before even he couldn't sing that high as his voice was rapidly deepening, just like Justin's.
"We're going to get Sean a 'Biebs' wig," Charles said, as the boys laughed. Sean was not amused.
"You know he's from Stratford, Ontario, which is about an hour away from here. Stratford used to be well known for the Shakespearian Festival, but I guess now it's known throughout the world for being Justin's home town," I said.
"We've got another song by an old Canadian group that we found in your CD collection. Colin played one of their songs for us after one of our lessons last month," Jake said, with a big smile.
I asked them who they were talking about, but they told me to listen as they were going to play it. They did a rousing rendition of Bachman Turner Overdrive's "Taking Care of Business", which was a Canadian rock classic. Jake took the lead and the other boys sung background vocals.
"Well, that's a little different than 'Biebs'," I said, with a big smile.
I then gave them a history lesson and told them that the lead guitarist of BTO, Randy Bachman, was the guitarist in another famous Canadian rock band from the 60's, the Guess Who.
"I remember seeing them in your collection," Sean said.
"There's our last song," Stéphane said, with a big smile. I left them, as they were rummaging through my CDs for my Guess Who albums.
Dana and I were going to stay overnight at the Toronto Yorkville boutique hotel while the 'band' stayed at Josh Chambers and Garth stayed with Josh's twin nephews.
"How come you're not staying at Carol or Katie's?" Sean asked, as we were packing the band instruments.
"We thought we'd like a little romantic getaway," I replied, as I gave him a big smile and winked.
He looked at me and then realized what I meant. "Oh! Cool," he said, as he gave me a big smile in return.
We got the van unloaded at the hall and the boys were met by Melissa and Rachel. We were leaving the van in the parking lot behind and they were going to pack it up afterwards and we would come by in the morning to drive it back. Dana had driven the RDX and we were going to take Garth and the twins to a show and then drop them back at Matthew and Richard's for the evening.
"I'm so glad the boys could join Josh and me at camp Tonawonka next week," Tom Davis said, as he was dropping Josh off.
"The boys are really looking forward to it, especially Sean, who's excited about getting some hitting tips from Mark," I replied.
Josh joined the boys to help them get set up and give Glen a hand with the sound board. Glen had quickly picked up how to operate the sound board from the guy at the music store, where we had rented the sound system. He frequently ran the sound equipment for the boys in the studio at home, as he was very technically inclined.
"Nice hat, dude," Josh said.
Sean had taken to wearing his hats backwards, which drove Dana nuts. The only time he wore a hat the normal way was at the golf club, as wearing it backwards was against the dress code and on the baseball field.
We spent a little time with Tom Davis' brother James and his wife Anne before we took the boys to the show. Garth and the twins had taken off downstairs to play with their Xbox while we chatted. When we were ready to go, we went downstairs to see what they were up to, as they didn't respond when James called downstairs to them, as they were making too much noise. When the four of us got to the bottom of the stairs we saw the three of them waving their arms and laughing away in front of the TV as they were playing Kinectimals on the Xbox.
"You boys look like windmills," I said, as we laughed.
The show was an interesting experience as we saw 'Nanny McPhee Returns'. The boys devoured two big tubs of popcorn and a couple of bottles of water each, which necessitated some trips to the bathroom during the movie. Dana and I still were having trouble telling the twins apart.
"Did you enjoy the movie, Matthew?" I asked as we were going out of the theatre.
"I'm Richard. It was neat, when the rich kid arrived at the beginning," he said.
"... and then fell in the mud," Matthew added, completing his brother's sentence.
Once again Dana and I were amused. The three boys got along great and were looking forward to their sleepover together. Dana and I were also looking forward to our sleepover.
All the boys were very tired the next morning when we picked them up. Josh, Sean and Jake were making plans for camp the next week as Tom had managed to get them in at the last moment.
"You guys are going to have a blast," Josh said.
"Just so you know guys, things are well supervised... if you know what I mean," Tom said, as we joined in Tom's laughter.
Glen wasn't too disappointed that he wasn't going, as he and Garth would be at the camp they had attended for the last few summers. He was looking forward to hooking up with some of his friends that he hadn't seen for a year.
"Maybe next year, Glen," Tom said, as he patted him on the back.
Dana and I were very pleased that the boys were going to be with Josh, Mark, Bryan and Tom, as they were very positive influences on the boys.
"So how was your getaway last night?" Sean asked, as we walked out to the vehicles.
"Hope you guys got lots of rest," Jake said, as the two of them had cheeky smiles on their faces.
The ride back home was a quiet one in both vehicles, as all of us had a great time.
The Committee of Adjustments hearing was in a couple of days. I had been able to have a discreet conversation with Lloyd Fitzhenry, the chairperson, who was one of my former principals and he told me that there was another member on the committee who was also part of the Historical society, who was a very dominant personality.
"She often badgers the third member of the committee, who doesn't like confrontation," he said.
He told me that to be successful there had to be compelling reasons and supporting information that made it possible for the committee to grant the exemption.
"I understand the original complainant is also going to be present and wants to speak in opposition to your request," he said.
Dana had found out that it wasn't just a matter of factual material that the committee could consider, but if there were humanitarian reasons given, the committee could give that weight in their deliberations.
"You boys could come and help your father make a plea to the committee about how important the loft is to you," Dana said to Garth and Glen.
Glen still had a very defeatist attitude and was reluctant to go. Dana and I tried to convince him at dinner one night to consider getting involved, since some of the objection revolved around structural and design concerns in the Loft. He said he would think about it. Sean and Jake didn't say too much, but I could see that they were giving each other glances that meant they were cooking something up.
After dinner the four boys went out to the pool for an after dinner swim. I brought some drinks down to them about a half hour afterwards and as I opened the patio door I could hear Sean's voice and he was wound up. I held back.
"If you want something, you have to go after it," Sean said.
"You're acting like you don't care if the loft renovation goes ahead," Jake said.
Jake's comment finally got to Glen and he blurted out, "I care! It doesn't matter though, cuz they're going to do what they want. They're not going to listen to a kid."
Sean wasn't going to let him off the hook and said, "That's being a quitter. You don't know what's going to happen if you don't try."
I waited as the conversation continued, hoping that the boys could light a fire under Glen. Finally Garth's plea did the trick.
"Daddy and me are going to be there even if you don't care if we get our home," he said, as he got up and jumped into the pool.
After a few moments, Glen got up and joined him. I watched and the two of them were having an impassioned exchange, which resulted in Garth throwing his arms around Glen in a big hug. Glen reciprocated and after a few moments they came out of the pool to the table.
"I thought you guys might be thirsty," I said, as I dropped the tray of drinks on the table.
"Guess what? Glen's coming to the adjusting committee with us," Garth said, with his typical eight year old enthusiasm.
I chuckled at his mispronunciation and gave Glen a big smile and said, "I'm very pleased you're going to be there, young man. We'll need you."
The next day, Glen asked if he could go to a friend's home for the afternoon. The father was going to pick him up and we gave him permission. He told us his friend lived not too far from us in town and that he was someone from his Art class. He wasn't very forthcoming about too many details but we trusted him. They were going to drop him off afterwards.
The day of the Committee of Adjustments meeting was a very sunny and warm day. I was hoping that this was a good omen as we entered one of the board rooms at the town hall for the meeting. Dana's daughter, Susan, accompanied us partly because she wanted to be there to counter any misinformation about the downstairs part of the renovation if it came up, but also because she and John were turning out to be an item.
Garth plopped himself down between John and Susan as he was delighting in the arrangement.
"Now I've got my boyfriend beside me," Susan said, as she smiled at him and gave him a squeeze.
"I'm not your boyfriend... but my daddy is," he said, as he giggled.
I could sense the hostility coming from Louisa Donaldson, the committee representative who was on the Historical society, as well as her friend, Jayne MacGerraty, who was the complainant.
We were first on the agenda and after Lloyd read out our request he asked for objections, which Ms. MacGerraty quickly responded to. She was a self-righteous busy-body who outlined in a droning voice why she and the Historical society felt the request should be denied. Her main point was the zoning infraction, but she went on to site other reasons, such as the fact that walls were being taken down in the loft and the building's historical facade on the upper floor was going to be destroyed.
"And if we allow this to happen, I'm sure that within a short period of time this will become a rental unit for undesirables that are not good for the town and other building owners will create apartments as well," she said, with a contemptuous air.
It was a good thing that I wasn't speaking, as I was seething. When she sat down, I caught her eye and gave her a glare, which caught her off guard.
John was not feeling that well, as he had a very bad headache, which was brought on by the pressure of the whole event. He was a trooper and got up and told the committee how much this meant to his life and that of his family. We could see that this was taking a lot out of John, but we were happy that he was able to muster up enough energy to have his say.
It was the contractor's turn next and as he was going to refute the structural inaccuracies that were alluded to in Jayne's presentation. He was well prepared and he had a projector hooked up to Glen's computer, which he asked him to bring. He went over the basic plan and how incorrect Ms. McGerraty was.
"Mr. Webster's son, Glen, has developed the working drawings and the animated computer model, which we are using as the basis for the renovation. Glen is going to walk us through his presentation which will refute all of Ms. MacGerraty's uninformed structural statements."
Glen was a little timid at first, as he wasn't that comfortable talking in front of adults, but once he got going his passion for the project started to show through. He went over the layout of the Loft and pointed out that no load bearing walls were being taken down. He also went over how the outside of the building was going to be restored to the original look when it was built. He paused and we thought he was done, but he looked at the committee and then finally continued.
"This loft is more than just a place for us to live. This is a big part of a new life for my Dad, Garthy and me," he said.
He then went on to give a very impassioned plea, but what surprised all of us was the slide that he projected onto the screen as he paused.
"My friend and I did some research yesterday and I put this together to show you. My friend lives with his family down the street from the Firehall in an apartment above the store his parents own."
He flashed the information on the screen and it showed seven other addresses within two blocks of the firehall on the main street that had apartments above existing stores.
"My friend said nobody raised a stink when they renovated the upstairs of their building two years ago. His father also found out that the zoning was commercial, the same as the firehall and hadn't been changed. All the other places on the screen were the same. It's not fair that we get shafted because someone complained."
He sat down and there was a long pause as nobody said a word. Jayne MacGerraty and Louisa Donaldson were exchanging frantic glances as they didn't know quite what to do next.
Finally Lloyd spoke and said, "I don't think it's fair either, young man. We'll be back in a few minutes."
He motioned to the other two members to join him in one of the smaller rooms outside the board room.
John and Susan got up and gave Glen a big hug, which Glen thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn't long afterwards that Garth joined them and Dana and I couldn't help but notice the strong family bond that was forming between the four of them.
"Katie and Marty's wedding may not be the only one in the family this year," I said, as I gave Dana a big smile.
I needed to get up and I went out into the hall with Dana to get some fresher air. We could hear some pretty heated discussion coming from the room where the three committee members were cloistered.
"Sounds like Ms. Donaldson and Lloyd are having world war three in there," Dana said, with a big smile.
"I'm putting my money on Lloyd. He didn't take any nonsense when he was a principal and I don't think he's changed."
After about ten minutes they reappeared and took their seats at the table.
"The committee is unanimous in their decision... aren't we," he said as he glared at Louisa. She wouldn't make eye contact and just looked down at the table. "The variance is granted and the stop work order is rescinded. Further, we are recommending that the zoning be changed to multi-use for the entire area, as it no longer reflects actual use."
John and Susan gave Glen another big hug and Garth wasn't quite sure what had happened but he joined in.
"Did he say a good thing?" Garth said, as he broke the hug.
"He said a good thing. We're going to get our home," John said with a big smile, as he drew Garth back into the hug.
Marks translation One of my readers provided this link to explain the different marking systems in the different provinces in Canada. It also gives information on other countries, as well.
Teenage Texting Statistics
Jesus Loves Me, by Libera
One Time, Justin Bieber
Taking Care of Business, Bachman Turner Overdrive, with intro by Burton Cummings
Toronto Yorkville boutique hotel