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Things were much calmer now that the controversy with the OMHA had resolved itself. I knew things would move slowly towards a shift in the culture in the organization, but the Human Rights Commission's probe would add impetus to that shift. Everyone was back to the normal routines, even though 'normal' in a family with teenage boys, with a very unique ten year old thrown in, meant hectic.
Sean was really practising hard to master the violin. We even went out and bought him one, as the instrument he had on loan from the strings program had seen better days. He had scouted out the one he wanted and he asked at the dinner table one evening if I could drive him to the music store the next day so he could buy it out of his own money.
"I'll drive you to the store, but you're not paying for it. Your mother and I view that as part of your education and not a luxury," I said.
"And when your brother wakes up and listens to Rachel about learning how to play the double bass, we'll pay for that one too," Dana said, as she turned to Jake.
The two boys had a talk that night and apparently Sean used his persuasive powers, because when we went to the music store the next day, Jake was with us.
"I don't know how I'm going to learn how to play this, because it's too late to join the strings program," Jake said, as we entered the store.
"Colin, your bass guitar teacher, can teach you. He played one in a youth orchestra when he was younger," I told him.
"See, I told you everything would work out. Besides, Rachel's going to be real happy," Sean said, as he gave Jake a coy smile, as he raised his eyebrows. Jake returned his smile as he understood Sean's full meaning.
"They call those brownie points and when you grow up, boys, you'll understand how important they are," I said, as all of us were now smiling.
Charles had also joined the strings program and he was taking the viola. Sandy, his father's girlfriend, played the viola and was still playing in string ensembles from time-to-time. She had encouraged Charles to take up another instrument that could be played in orchestras. The other part of her motivation was that the type of student that populated the strings program was the type of peer group she and Mark wanted Charles to be exposed to.
Charles was enjoying having Sandy in the household, as she was good with him, and was taking an active role in his upbringing. She was acting like the mother that he never had and, unlike his biological mother, Sandy was accepting of his sexual orientation and relationship with Ronald. Dana and I were very happy at the dynamic between everyone in their household and the fact that Mark had found someone that was such a good match for him.
Sean spent a lot of time practicing the violin in the studio and sometimes he didn't close the door and Barney stood outside and howled as he played. One particular evening, Charles was over with his viola, practicing some pieces with Jake and Sean. Dana was trying to read in the living room when this was happening downstairs and she had had enough.
"Why is that dog making that racket?" she asked me, with an exasperated look as she put down her book.
"I think he's singing along," I said, trying to add some levity to the conversation.
After she gave me a scowl, she got up and called down from the top of the stairs, "Sean, can you boys play something Barney doesn't know?"
They got the message and closed the studio door, which didn't please Barney. He eventually came up the stairs and plopped himself down at Dana's feet, beguiling her with his cuteness.
"Don't you look at me with those big black eyes, mister. You're a yappy little dog that drives me crazy sometimes with your barking," she said.
Barney's reaction was to move closer to Dana and put his head on top of her foot; his way of calming the waters... which was always effective.
"Well, if it isn't Joshua Bell and William Primrose," I said, as I gave Sean and Charles a big smile as they came into the living room after their practice session. Jake was still downstairs packing up.
"OK, Dad. We give. Who are those dudes?" Sean asked.
"I'll give you a hint. They're not rock stars."
"Joshua Bell is one of the top violinists in the world, as was William Primrose on the viola," Dana added.
"They don't have to worry about any competition from us," Sean said.
"Even Barney's howling is better than our playing," Charles said, as the two of them laughed.
Glen was also expanding his expertise in the arts, as Dana and he were taking oil painting lessons at the school of art. Both Glen and Sean had similar temperaments and got frustrated when they couldn't do something they thought they should be able to do easily. When the boys came in from school one day Glen wasn't too sociable.
"I see someone's still grumpy from last night," Dana said to Glen, as she put down the after school snack on the table for the boys.
Dana and Glen had their oil painting class the night before and he was in a snit afterwards, because he couldn't paint as easily as he could with watercolour. There were things like composition planning, colour mixing and the brush techniques associated with oil painting that were, as he put it, 'bogging him down'.
"I have all these ideas, but the technical stuff is a pain in the... you know," he said, with frustration, as he restrained himself.
"Just because the instructor shows you an example, doesn't mean she thinks everyone should be able to paint it," Dana said.
They were looking at portrait painting and an early attempt at a self-portrait by Rembrandt was the example the instructor was showing them. She was focusing on the technique he used to paint the hair, which Glen decided looked easy and he tried to duplicate it. According to Dana, his attempt was pretty good for a first try, but not up to his exacting standards. He was a perfectionist and even though the instructor gave him a lot of praise, he was still unhappy with his attempt.
"I think you need to have some more fruit to sweeten up that sour disposition of yours," I said, as I chuckled.
The four of us had a go at bolstering his confidence and finally he gave us a reluctant smile. Barney also did his best as he jumped up into his lap and gave him dog kisses.
Before long, Garth was at the door, as the school bus had dropped him off down the street from the house. He had insisted that he didn't need to have the boys meet him this year and walk him home, because he was almost grown up, according to him. We knew it was really because some of the other boys had teased him about it. It was always refreshing to have him around after school to catch us up on his day and entertain us with the new jokes that he heard.
"This guy takes his two dogs for a walk in the park and this other guy asks what their names are," he said as he started to giggle.
"This must be a good one. You've started to giggle before the punch line," Sean said, as we were all smiling in anticipation.
"The guy that owns the dogs says Rolex and Timex and the other guy says those are strange names," as he was now into a full scale laugh.
"Is that it?" Jake asked.
"Nooo! So the guy says they're watch dogs," as he continued his laughing.
We all groaned in unison which made him laugh even harder.
Finally after a few moments Jake asked, "Could the dogs tell time?"
Garth stopped laughing abruptly and had a quizzical look on his face. After some deep ten year old thought he replied, "I don't know." It was now our turn to laugh.
Even though John and Susan were busy with The Old Firehall Gourmet and the catering business they still got to spend lots of quality time with the boys. They had arranged their schedules so that they were home most nights to take the boys to some of their activities. They were closed on Sundays and Mondays they had people working for them to cover those shifts.
The business was doing very well and had really developed a steady and loyal clientele. John had started doing the cooking classes one night a week in the catering kitchen and it was so successful he had to turn people away. Dana had thought of helping him expand the classes by doing another night for him, but she thought better of it. She was gradually reducing her hours as John became more confident in his ability to run the business. They had expanded to the point of hiring two full time sous chefs to prepare the catering jobs and supply the store with fresh product.
It was also becoming a family affair, as Glen continued to help out in the store some Saturdays in the busy season and was paid for his labour, while Garth still handed out samples sometimes when they were running special promotions. Garth was becoming an attraction as many of the people coming in recognized him from the car commercial.
At Katie's urging, John and Susan got Garth an agent as there were some offers coming in for him to do some other commercials. In addition, one of the modelling agencies in the city wanted to add him to their line-up, particularly for the back to school photo shoots for the new fall clothing lines.
"Well, you're not just a great little actor, but you're also a pretty face," Dana said, as she teased him when we heard the latest news the Sunday when we had the family over for Dana's birthday celebration.
"You know, the director of the commercial said that Garth was a natural actor and was quite impressed with him," Katie said to all of us, when Garth was downstairs with Derek playing Kinectimals.
When we sat down for dinner, Garth took the opportunity of the larger audience to tell some of his favourite jokes, so the rest of family would be treated. He was also now into posing riddles, as one of his friends in his class was given a book full of them for his birthday and had shared some of them with Garth.
"What can you put in a water jug to make it lighter," he said, with a big smile.
"A feather," my sister answered.
"No," he said, as the giggles started.
"Lighter water?" Carol said.
"Noo! You can't get lighter water," he said, with a big smile.
"Why not? You can get heavy water," Marty added.
We decided that it was too much work to try to explain to Garth what that meant, besides, we were anxious to get the answer to stop the giggles.
"Maybe you could stop giggling long enough to tell us the answer so we can eat in peace," Glen said.
"I forgot the answer," he said, as he put his hand up to his mouth and snickered.
"Maybe this will help you remember," Susan said as she reached around and started to tickle him.
"Holes," he said, as he laughed and squirmed to get away from her.
Garth wasn't the only one that benefitted from the commercial shoot for the car company. One of the graphic designers, who was on the set the second day when Glen was there, saw that he was interested and explained what she was doing. In the course of the conversation she realized Glen knew how to use the software and that he had talent.
"She had him do some of the titling, for which he got paid," John said, with a proud smile.
Glen was too modest to tell us this news and the fact that the women was mentoring him and that he had contributed to other projects that she was involved in.
"I gather that nothing was getting in the way and 'bogging you down' like the oil painting is," I said, to which he responded with a smile.
Glen was getting better with his oil technique and he was finally able to relax and wasn't as touchy about the subject as before.
After dinner we were talking in the Living room and the TV was on in the background. Garth's commercial came on the air and everyone stopped to watch it.
"Look at that cool guy with the 'studio' look," Glen said.
Garth laughed along with everyone after we explained the joke.
Early the next week, we got a call from Italy about noon hour one day and it was Jake's Aunt Rose calling.
"We wanted to tell you and Jake that his father passed away yesterday. He was caught out at sea on his boat in a very violent storm that rolled in and he was knocked against the side of the cabin and died. The coast guard found the boat floating aimlessly with Jake's father's body on board," she said.
She told me that there would be a small funeral service that was being arranged by some of his fellow fishermen but it would be nothing elaborate.
"If Giacomo wants to come over to attend, he can stay with us," she offered.
I told her that I would break the news to Jake and tell him of her generous offer.
"We love to have Giacomo staying with us, even though these are not the nicest of circumstances."
When the boys came in from school and were at the breakfast counter having their snack, we decided to tell Jake the news. His reaction was not what we expected.
"I'm sorry he died and I'm Ok. You don't need to fuss over me," he said, as Dana had her arm around him trying to comfort him.
We told him the about the offer that his Aunt and Uncle made, but he didn't seem to want to go.
"He didn't want to see me, so why should I want to see him now," he said, matter-of-factly.
Despite Sean, Glen, Dana and I encouraging him, he was adamant that he was not going to go. We finally dropped the subject and shortly afterwards he excused himself to go to his room to do his homework.
"We'll go down and talk to him, Dad and mom," Sean said, as he and Glen got up and went down the hall to his room.
In the meantime, Garth arrived and wondered where the boys were and what they were doing. We explained what was going on and he understood how Jake was feeling. Before we got into more of Garth's questions, Glen and Sean made their way back to the Kitchen.
"He's thinking about it," Sean said.
"I know how he feels, because I'm not sure I'd want to go to my mother's funeral, either," Glen added.
Dana and I went to his room to see if there was anything we could do. When we got there Barney was laying down on the bed beside him. As much as Barney was a scamp, he was a very smart and empathetic little dog. Jake had a picture of his mother and father that was taken shortly after they were married, lying on the bed beside him.
"The boys said you're thinking of going to the funeral," Dana said.
He gave a big sigh and answered, "Maybe. The only good reason I can think of to go is because I'd get to see my Uncle and Aunt again."
"I'll go with you, if that would make it easier, son," I said.
"Thanks, Dad." He paused and then said, "Would you drive me to the cemetery after dinner?"
We left him alone until dinner was ready. He didn't say much while we were eating and I drove him to the cemetery afterwards.
"I'm ok by myself, Dad. I won't be long," he said, as he got out of the LX and went over to his mother and uncle's grave.
After about twenty minutes, he came back and got into the vehicle.
"Did you have a good talk, son?"
He smiled, shook his head yes and said, "I've been lucky all my life that I've had people who loved me and helped me grow up in a good family. I couldn't ask for better parents than my mother, my Uncle and you and Mom. You've all taught me to do the right thing and I know going to Italy for the funeral is the right thing."
I gave him a big smile and a pat on the arm. The conversation on the ride home was about the arrangements that needed to be made. He was happy that I had offered to go with him and I was glad that he wanted me along. As much as he was a pretty mature young man, I wanted to make sure he had as much support as I could give him in case things unravelled for him.
We were able to get a flight the next day on a commercial airline and we were fortunate that there were two pods in first class. Gianni and Rose were gracious hosts and we made our way over to Pescara on the East coast where the funeral was held, the day after we arrived.
It was a simple funeral and I didn't understand very much as very few people spoke English, but Jake, Gianni and Rose translated as much as they could. We found out that Jake would inherit what assets he had, which were basically the boat and some personal effects. We made arrangements for the boat to be sold and cleared out his father's apartment.
Jake was thrilled when we found a photo album that he hadn't seen before, with pictures of him as a baby, with his mother and father.
"You were a cute little guy, son," I said, as we leafed through the pages.
"E ora sei un buon uomo che guarda i giovani, Giacomo," Rose said, as she smiled and rubbed his cheek. (And now you're a good looking young man, Giacomo)
He seemed more settled on the flight home as if the funeral gave him closure. His anger was gone and he was cherishing the picture album that we found.
"How much do you think they'll get for the boat?" he asked.
"Maybe 30 - 40 thousand Canadian dollars," I answered.
Jake's father's friend had told me that was likely what it would fetch on the resale market.
"I want to donate the money to help kids in my old area of the city," he said.
I smiled and said, "Mr. Depew will have some good suggestions. We can talk to him when we get back."
Sean and Dana were very glad to see us home safe and sound and they were very happy that Jake was back to his old self again.
"I'm glad to see my son back, not the person with all that anger," Dana said, as she gave him a big hug in the airport terminal.
Sean and Jake locked thumbs and hugged each other after Dana was finished.
"You know there's two of us here," I said.
I finally got my round of hugs and we took off for home.
The boat didn't take very long to sell and we were informed a week later that a money order for $35,000 would be sent as soon as all the paperwork was done. Mark Depew had suggested that Jake's donation go towards setting up a lunch program at the three schools in his old neighbourhood, as they already had a breakfast program running there.
"For many kids, the breakfast program provides the only real meal they get in a day. Having a good lunch too will be a great help," Mark said.
That night, Sean told us that he wanted to match Jake's contribution from his money.
"You said we could use the money in our accounts any way we want. I'll still have enough for a car," he said, with a big smile.
We were very proud of our boys and at the same time Sean's comment jolted me back to reality. It hadn't dawned on me that the two of them would be turning 16 in September and would be of legal driving age. Sean had noticed my reaction to his comment.
"You know we have special birthdays coming up in a few months," he said, as he smiled at Jake.
"I know, sweet sixteen," Dana said.
"The legal driving age," Jake added, as both he and Sean were now smiling. Dana's smile evaporated.
The boys' activities were slowing down as the March break drew closer. We were going to Naples once again for our annual trek to our home on the Eagle Creek golf course. Sean and Jake were staying for most of the week, but they were leaving to go to Calgary and meet up with Josh Chambers and Tom Davis and crew. They were going to do some computer work on the new software venture that Tom and Bryan had started.
"Tom gave me some files to look at before we get there," Sean said.
He was keenly interested in computer programming and was excelling in his grade 11 Computer Science course that he had signed up for. I knew that the grade 10 course would have been beneath his skill level and I was sure that he would able to handle the more advanced course work with his mathematical and computer skills that he had developed with Bryan at camp the last summer. Jake was good on the computer but didn't have the same interest in programming it as Sean did. He was going to be doing some of the beta testing of the various modules of the software.
While they were looking forward to seeing Josh and the gang again, and taking part in the software development process, they were going to be missing the time with their love interests. Again, Melissa and Rachel were staying with Anne Morgan, Melissa's grandmother, at her house.
John and Susan had come down at the beginning of the week with Garth and Glen, but they had to leave to get back to the business. Garth and Glen were staying with us for the rest of the week.
"We get to stay with our grandpa and grandma," Garth said, with his usual giggle.
Garth delighted in calling us grandma and grandpa, which pleased us as well. We were also looking forward having Glen and Garth spending more time with us, which is something we missed, now that they were living in their own house.
Once again, the Junior choir was going to sing at the regular church service on Sunday and Garth was going to be featured along with Derek. Jake and Sean were also taking part with the 'band', but true to form, but we weren't allowed to hear what all the details were.
"I'm amazed that Reverend McLauglin is allowing you boys to play in the service," Dana said.
"Erin talked him into it," Jake said, as the two boys smiled.
"We're not going to be really loud," Sean added.
The choir was going to do four numbers and there was a number that Garth and Derek were doing together as a duet.
After the two numbers that the full choir did, Garth and Derek stepped forward to the mike. Erin announced the song, which was 'The Cat Duet' by Rossini. I hadn't heard it before, but it was an amusing piece of music.
The organist accompanied them on the baby grand piano and after the intro, Garth started to meow like a cat in tune to the music. At first I thought that he was doing one of his infamous interpretations, but Erin wasn't frowning at him, which is what she usually did in those situations. Derek and Garth alternated back and forth and it was all that Garth could do to keep from laughing as the two of them hammed it up. They pushed each other out of the way as if they were fighting like cats. The usually stuffy congregation gave them a loud round of applause and laughter at their antics.
After Reverend McLaughlin's sermon, they did one more song as a choir and then Stéphane, Charles, Sean and Jake came up to get ready to accompany Garth in his solo.
"Garth Webster and Derek Stuart are going to end our performance today with the song 'There's a hero' written by Don Cook and John Barlow. You may recognize the band that's going to back them up, as all the boys were in last year's choir," Erin announced.
The boys got ready and Stéphane started the song on the piano with Jake on the bass and after the first verse Charles and Sean came in. Derek sang harmony during the last couple of verses.
Garth did a wonderful job on the song as he was very expressive and right on tune throughout the piece. He was turning out to be quite a little performer as he moved around the small stage at the front of the church and added hand movements as a professional singer would. The congregation gave all the boys a great hand when they were finished. All the boys got lots of praise for their efforts after the service, especially Garth and Derek.
"Barney would have loved to hear you two doing your cat impressions," Dana said, as she gave the two of them a big smile.
"I think I have two new members for the youth choir next year," Erin said in the foyer, as she put her arms around them.
That evening the Youth Choir and orchestra were once again performing together in a spring concert. Melissa was playing in the orchestra as a guest performer, as Erin's friend in Toronto had suggested it, just like Sean and Jake had done in Toronto. Rachel was already in the orchestra, as she had joined after Christmas. We were in the same theatre as before and the house was once again full as parents and grandparents made up most of the audience.
The full choir started off the concert with 'Sing We and Chant It' by Thomas Morley, which was done without accompaniment. It was a great number for the full choir and was a very upbeat song, which was done very well. The second number was 'Little White Hen' by Antonio Scandello and was once again done without accompaniment. It took a few bars before I realized that they were singing in German, even though the song was announced in English. The kids had a lot of fun with it, as they made hen noises in parts of the song. After the opening numbers the youth orchestra played a couple of selections by themselves. Rachel looked like she was having a good time in the string section as she played away.
The next number was a real treat as Erin had managed to get one of her friends, who was an up-and-coming star with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto.
"We're fortunate to have my friend tonight, Ms. Trebuchi, who sings with the Canadian Opera Company. She's going to do the famous aria 'O Mio Babbino Caro' from Puccini's opera, Gianni Schicchi," Erin said, as she introduced her friend.
She was a stunning looking woman in her twenties and had a very sleek sequined gown on, that accentuated her very lovely figure. She had a beautiful voice and did a magnificent job on one of my favourite arias.
"Was it just her voice that you're applauding, or was it something else?" Dana asked, after she had finished.
I gave her a smile and said, "It was her voice, dear. What else would I be interested in?"
Thank goodness Erin was announcing the next number 'Let The Sunshine In' from Hair, before Dana could pursue her line of questioning. Charles took the lead at the beginning and was quite good. He looked very relaxed as he confidently sang the first part of the song by himself, with his longer red hair waving back and forth as his head moved from side-to-side. One of the girls, who had a very powerful voice, took over and did the lead-in to the chorus. When the rest of the choir joined in, they belted out the lyrics as the song quickly moved towards its conclusion. It was a very stirring performance that led into the intermission.
"I guess the boys' solos are coming up in the next part," I said.
We had at least been told that detail, but not much else. We also knew that Melissa would be doing a duet with Rachel, but we weren't given the song selection.
The second part of the evening started with the youth orchestra, and Rachel on the violin and Melissa on her cello. They did a great job as they took the leads in Brahms concerto for violin and cello. It seemed like a fairly easy piece, but there were parts that were very demanding to play. The girls looked so serious as they were concentrating hard on the notes and when they were finished they got lots of applause as the conductor had them stand to acknowledge the audience.
"Maybe next time Sean, Charles and Jake can join them," Sandy said, with a big smile.
There were a few more numbers with the orchestra and the choir and Melissa stayed in the orchestra pit rather than going backstage, but didn't play, which we thought was odd. The last part of the evening was the solo portion with Sean and Jake.
"Once again we have two of our rising stars to take us to the end of the concert. Sean Burger is first with his rendition of 'Puppy Love'," Erin said.
The orchestra, with Melissa playing, started the song and Sean came running out to the front of the stage. He was very expressive and animated, as he had all the hand gestures down pat as he sang. He was clearly enjoying his performance as he had a big smile on his face and Charles, Jake and Stéphane sang the backup vocals at the back of the stage. We knew shortly into the performance that Sean had a lot to do with the selection of the song. Instead of singing the line '.. and why I love her so', he changed 'her' to 'you' and looked down into the orchestra pit at Melissa. Then, when he got to the line '.. this is not a puppy love', he looked over where we were sitting and shook his finger. He was really hamming it up and at one point he fell to his knees when he got to the line 'I cry each night'. When he finished, the audience gave him a standing ovation and he was beaming as he took his bows.
"Why do I get the impression that the song was for us and the Morgans," Dana said, as she leaned over and whispered.
"Our last number of the evening features Sean's brother, Jake DiStefano and Ms. Trebuchi doing a duet 'Con te partiro' or 'Time to Say Goodbye' as it's known in English. This tune has been performed by Andrea Bocelli with a few other singers over the years," Erin said, as she made the introduction.
Now it made sense why we had to go back and get Jake from the last practice before the concert, as he stayed behind for 'extra' work, which is what Sean told us as we drove him home.
"Those two boys certainly like to surprise us," I said to Dana, as the orchestra started into the intro.
Ms. Trebuchi made a grand entrance once again, in her sequined gown and Jake came out beside her. She started the song in Italian with her wonderful soprano voice ringing throughout the auditorium. She kept looking over at Jake as she sang and he had a very contented smile on his face, which was not just because of her singing. Then it was Jake's turn and he took the second verse. His voice was once again superb. When he started into the higher notes, Ms. Trebuchi clapped, which brought a smile to his face. The two of them finished and Jake's voice was a powerful as hers, as they held the last note until the finish. She gave him a big hug at the end, which he clearly enjoyed and the audience was on their feet giving him a standing ovation as well.
When we were making our way out of our seats to go to the foyer to wait for the boys, I noticed a man sitting in a seat at the back of the auditorium. This was the same man that I had seen in the stands at the boys' hockey game that week.
"He looks very familiar. He looks like someone we know," I said to Dana, who had now composed herself.
When we got to the back of the auditorium, he was gone and he wasn't in the foyer, as I looked around.
"There wasn't a message to us in that song you sang, was there, son?" Dana said, as she gave Sean a hug. There was no audible response, just a big smile and a shrug of his shoulders.
While we were still milling around congratulating the kids, Ms. Trebuchi came over to us.
"Giacomo has a wonderful talent. The Canadian Opera Company is holding auditions for their summer youth workshop program in a few weeks and I think he should consider trying out."
He seemed very interested and we told her that we would talk it over with him. We thanked her for her interest and congratulated her on her performance.
The kids were going to a party afterwards with the girls at one of the older boy's houses. We had checked things out with the parents, much to Sean and Jake's chagrin.
"Have fun and remember to behave," Dana said, as she gave them a motherly look.
"Of course, Mom. You know us," Sean said, as they smiled at us.
"We do. That's why we're reminding you," I said.
Rossini's Cat Duet
Rossini's Cat Duet
There's A Hero - Billy Gilman
Sing We and Chant It
Little White Hen
O Mio Babbio Caro
Let The Sunshine IN
Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello
Puppy Love - Damian McGinty
Con te partiro - Time to Say Goodbye