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Growing Up At Christmas: The Final Chapter

© 2012 Felix_P

When kids get older they become more independent. They don't need their parents' guidance as much. They don't want their parents' guidance. I remember those days. I used to get bugged when my uncle or aunt would tell me things. So did Ryan. He thought he knew everything.

Nana and Ryan had just celebrated special birthdays. Ryan was twenty and Nana turned seventy. We celebrated them together. Marcy and I sent them on a cruise together in the Caribbean. They loved it. Ryan teased Nana that all the 'old' men were after her. She teased back that the young girls were after him.

He had a girlfriend. A very steady one. They were quite an item. Ryan was a charmer. He was a good looking guy, but his strength with the opposite sex was his ability to 'smooth talk', according to him. That got him lots of girlfriends over his teenage years. It also got him lots of 'lovin'. I didn't ask details and Ryan didn't volunteer many. He assured me he was always 'careful'.

"Nana doesn't want to be great Nana too soon, buddy," I told him one weekend when he was over at our house.

"I know. I don't want to be a dad right now either," he said, as he laughed. "Uncle Ryan's good enough."

We had a little girl. Caitlin was now four years old. Ryan adored her. He liked when she called him Uncle Ryan. She loved him, too.

Ryan wasn't an angel as a teenager. He had his moments. Nana was slowing down and didn't cope as well with the teenage years. She was grateful for Marcy and me. We were like his second set of parents.

"I don't know how Ryan would've turned out without you two. Especially you Chris," she said, when Ryan was in the family room playing with Caitlin one Sunday at our house.

"I really didn't do too much. I just told him not to do all the things I did when I was his age. It didn't help. He did them anyway," I said, chuckling.

"You don't give yourself enough credit, dear," Marcy added, as she smiled. "You kept him on the straight and narrow and he taught you how to be a dad." Nana and Marcy had a good laugh at my expence.

Ryan spent a lot of time with Marcy and me over the years. It was true. I learned to be a father. I had to. Some of his peer group wasn't that great. He stopped taking music at school in grade eleven. He didn't keep many friends from his band days. That was unfortunate. They were better kids than his other friends.

He was pretty good on the piano. He played in garage bands with some of the not so good friends. It was a real tussle to keep him away from trouble.

Ryan was smart. He knew how to pull the wool over Nana's eyes. Like the time when he was seventeen. Nana went on a weekend holiday and left Ryan alone. We offered to have him over to the house. He said he had studying to do. He told Nana and us it would be better for him if he stayed home. Marcy and I knew that something was up. Ryan didn't do much studying. He always did just enough to get by.

"I'll pop over and see how he's doing," I said to Marcy on the Sunday. Nana was coming home the next day.

He was surprised to see me. He wasn't too happy when I walked in. He had been cleaning up the house. He had a helper. The girl in the brown hair. The one that giggled when I talked to her. She hadn't changed since they were in grade 8. Her name was Jenny.

"How many people did you have over last night?" I asked.

"A couple of friends," he replied.

"Only a couple? I'm surprised all of you don't have alcohol poisoning," I said, as I reached under a chair and picked up an ashtray that was overflowing with beer caps.

He didn't know what to say. The drinking age was nineteen. Someone had bought the beer for him. Jenny was finally silent. I figured it was her older brother.

"It's a good thing I found these and not Nana. That must have been some party. Did you and Jenny do some studying afterwards?"

He looked at me with pleading eyes and said, "You're not going to tell Nana, are you?"

"I'm not going to lie for you."

Thank goodness he started to settle down when he went to community college. He started dating Elisha. She was not like the flighty girls he usually dated. She was a keeper. At least Marcy, Nana and I thought so. He did too.

She was in her second year of Nursing at the University. Nana was pleased. They had lots in common. Nana used to tell her stories from her Nursing days. Elisha was very interested.

"You're very compassionate, Elisha. I know you'll be good with patients," Nana said, when they were over at our place for dinner one evening.

"You're helping her learn patience," I said to Ryan. We all laughed, as he stuck out his tongue at me.

Nana kept herself as active as possible. She was a member of the local senior centre. She went to yoga classes there and went on trips they organized. She also volunteered at the local hospital. She was always there for Ryan. His mother wasn't, though. She hadn't communicated with Nana or Ryan for three years. Nana had lost track of her.

"Maybe it's for the best," Nana said, with a big sigh.

I always made time for Ryan and my family, even when I was getting my new business off the ground. They were the really important things in my life. It was tough in the beginning years. Fitting everything in was a balancing act.

We had moved out of the townhouse some years ago and were now in a larger house in an expensive neighbourhood. The business had done well. My partner and I were well known in the steel industry. We got lots of contract work. We had expanded the business, but getting good young engineers that worked to our standards was a problem.

I had hoped Ryan would pursue the same career. He did, sort of. He took the two year course in Engineering Technology. He had a college diploma. He passed with honours. He didn't really have to work hard. He was a technician for a construction company.

He wasn't challenged very much in his job. He hadn't pushed himself enough. He could've become an Engineer. He wanted to get out and make money, he told Nana, Marcy and I when he graduated from high school. We all tried to get him to apply to university. He wouldn't listen. His friends were going to college. He wanted things to be easy.

"I didn't need to go to college to inspect overpasses on the Gardiner Expressway," he said, with disgust one day after he came to our place for dinner after work.

"Why don't you go back to school," Marcy said.

"What would I take?" he asked.

"Why don't you apply to Engineering at the university," I suggested.

He thought we were crazy. We knew he had good enough marks from high school. We had made sure he buckled down in grade twelve. We had many disagreements. Nana, Marcy and I won most of them.

"You'll get some exemptions from your course work at college. You should be able to complete the degree in a two and a half years," Marcy said.

We used this as an opening to convince him to apply. He agreed to look into it. We weren't sure if it was to humour Nana and us, or if he was really serious.

Marcy had a friend who was a guidance counsellor at one of the board's high schools. Ryan went to see her. He applied for Engineering at the local University. He was accepted and he could start in the winter term in January. All he had to do was accept the offer.

We were all happy, except Ryan. There was something that was troubling him. I could tell. I'd seen those signs many times. He was like my little brother. He wouldn't tell me.

"Nothing's bothering me, Chris. Everything's good. I just need a little more time to think things over," he said, in the dressing room after one of our games of shinny.

We were playing hockey together on Wednesday night. It was the group of guys I'd played with for five years. He was the youngest. He fit in with the skill level. He also fit in at the bar afterwards.

The next Sunday we all found out what was distracting him.

"Elisha and I are going to live together," he announced, after dinner.

Marcy, Nana and I were silent. We didn't know what to say. Elisha and Ryan were holding hands. Elisha was smiling, but Ryan was a little subdued.

"Does that mean you're getting married?" Nana asked.

"We don't need to get married. We love each other. That's enough," he said, with a very defensive tone.

Elisha's smile wilted. We didn't think this was all her idea. They hadn't made firm plans as to where they would live.

"Are you getting an apartment in the area?" Nana asked.

It was obvious Nana wasn't happy. She wasn't offering up her basement. Ryan was disappointed.

"We haven't talked about that part yet," Elisha said.

"Does this mean you're not going to take the university's offer to start in the Engineering program in January?" Marcy asked.

"It wouldn't have worked out. Elisha's got a couple of years to go and I'm going to keep working," he said, very unconvincingly.

It wasn't a very pleasant two weeks before Christmas. Ryan wouldn't come over for dinner on the Sundays. This was unusual. He hadn't missed much over the years. We all missed him. Especially Caitlin. He also wouldn't come to the bar after hockey with me. He didn't want to talk about things.

"No one supports our decision. Why should I talk about it with you guys?" he said, on the phone when I was trying to encourage him to come for Sunday dinner.

"You should talk about it so we can support you," I said. "Silence isn't always golden, buddy."

He wasn't at home much with Nana, these days. He was at Elisha's house most of the time. Her parents weren't very happy at the arrangement, either.

"He treats his home like a hotel," she said, when I told her he wasn't coming for dinner.

Marcy and I had talked about Ryan's major gift for Christmas. It was going to be unusual. It was going to be the most costly we had ever given him. We hoped it would help move his life forward. We were nervous. We were prepared to have to get him something else.

My uncle, aunt and their kids arrived on Christmas day in the afternoon. Marcy and I were hosting Christmas dinner again. Caitlin loved her cousins. She also was waiting for Ryan. Nana arrived shortly after them.

"When are Ryan and Elisha coming?" Marcy asked.

Nana let out a big sigh and said, "I don't know. Ryan left early this morning for Elisha's. I haven't heard from him since."

About four o'clock they arrived. They seemed much happier than we had seen them over the last two weeks. It was obvious they had some news they wanted to tell us after they sat down.

"We're going to get married," Ryan said, as the two of them smiled at each other.

We were all very happy. Naturally Elisha showed everyone her engagement ring. It was modest, but elegant. Ryan didn't have a big budget, but he had good taste.

He handed me a card and said, "I hope you forgive me for being a real idiot these last two weeks."

I was puzzled. I opened it and was quiet for a few seconds. I was overwhelmed. I got up and gave him a big hug. This was something I hadn't done for a long time.

"Yes. I'd be honoured," I said when we broke the embrace.

I had handed the card to Marcy and she told the others, "Chris is going to be Ryan's best man."

Nana was beaming from ear-to-ear. She gave them both a big hug and kiss.

"You'll need a place to live. I've been meaning to make the basement into an apartment for a while."

"I hope your offer is good for a little longer than two years," I said, as I handed Ryan two gift wrapped large envelopes.

He didn't know what to make of them.

"We have some wrap-ups for you and Elisha that you can open later, but this is your main one," Marcy said, as we smiled.

"Open this one first," I said, as I pointed to one of the envelopes.

He was puzzled at the papers that he took from the envelope.

"This is an employment contract from your company," he said.

"Read it," I said.

When he read his name on the contract for a junior engineering position he was really confused.

"Open the other envelope," Marcy said.

This time Elisha moved over to see what was in it while he opened it. They looked at the papers and the blank cheque that was attached. Elisha started to smile, as she had figured out what it was and how the two packages were connected. She was happy.

"We know an engineering degree is expensive and that you haven't all that much in savings. This is a financial agreement with part of it being a loan and the other part a grant. We've signed it. It's up to you now, buddy," I said.

"You can pay back the loan portion out of your wages from your new job when you graduate," Marcy said, with a smile.

He was still looking at the papers. He was in a state of shock. Finally, Elisha put her arm around him and gave him a kiss. I knew what his answer was going to be. He had a small tear falling down his cheek.

"I guess I need to call the university after the holidays," he said, as he looked up and gave Elisha a big smile.

Suddenly, it was a happy Christmas. The house was alive with laughter, good cheer and family bonding. Ryan and I had a chance after dinner to be alone for a few moments.

"I don't know how to thank, Chris."

"Marcy and I had talked about this for the last week. It was the only darned way you were going to do what we all knew you needed to do. You just hadn't figured it out yet."

He smiled and said, "I didn't just mean for your generosity with the loan and job offer. I meant for what you did fourteen years ago at the mall."

We both smiled and had a great hug.


I hope you enjoyed this story and as the title says, this is the final chapter.

This was a story of possibilities. It was a story of hope and fate. It was a story about one of my favourite times of the year. Please let me know if you enjoyed it by dropping me a line at:

Gardiner Expressway

Community Colleges in Ontario

Shinny hockey - informal game where the teams are made up from the players that come out on any given night to play. Sometimes it's called pickup hockey.