Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2010 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)

Chapter 19

Back Where it All Began

Josh and I began packing for the trip on the Wednesday before our departure date. We prepared and inventoried all of the equipment and supplies and went to make some last minute purchases. I picked up a 30-liter gas can from Canadian Tire and filled it with gas to use as an emergency fuel reserve. I also picked up two cases of bottled water, each containing 35-500ml bottles. We also stocked up on dried fruit, beef jerky and other preserved food. Finally, we went to the local surplus store and purchased 2 cases (10 in each) of Canadian Forces combat rations called IMPs or Individual Meal Packs. The food and the water were intended to be emergency stocks in case we got stranded anywhere or we needed something quick to eat in a pinch.

We packed with the knowledge that during most of the trip, we would be in easy reach of stores and emergency assistance, but we also made a point to plan and prepare for those occasions when we'd be pretty well cut off.

In addition to food and water supplies, we stopped at the Chrysler dealership and purchased spare fan belts and other parts for the Jeep which we could change out on the road in the case of an emergency. I also purchased a fairly complete tool set, a power inverter and 600 Watt power pack which could be used to boost the Jeep when necessary or to provide power for small appliances.

We considered the potential gaps in cell phone coverage so we invested in a pair of FRS radios and a 4 watt portable CB Radio. We also picked up an external antenna and car adapter for the CB. In addition to our cell phones, we would each keep an FRS radio with us and we could use the CB to get help if we needed it.

By the time all the gear was assembled, I was glad that I had decided to purchase a larger vehicle. In fact, there was so much gear that we went back to Canadian Tire and bought a roof-top cargo carrier which we mounted on the Jeep's roof rack.

With all the gear and supplies prepared, we turned our attention to our personal stuff. We decided to carry a week's worth of clothing with plenty of extra socks and underwear. We packed a variety of warm weather and cool weather clothes and footwear. We packed plenty of personal care items such as deodorant, toothpaste, and medication. Josh and I both suffered from seasonal allergies so we loaded up on allergy medications and I ensured that I had plenty of headache medication, including the prescription Imitrex. I packed my laptop and PDA while Josh packed his Gameboy and collection of games. We packed our cameras, my new digital camera and video camera and we loaded up on batteries, memory cards, film and 8mm video tapes.

It was while I was packing my personal things that I realized we had to make a couple more purchases. I packed my good leather shoes and my dark suit for the trip to Rideau hall and I realized that Josh didn't own a suit. He had some nice slacks and shirts but I thought he'd want to be dressed up in a nice suit to receive his medal.

"Hey Josh," I said as I went upstairs to his bedroom.

"Hi Dad, I'm almost done packing." He replied.

"Josh, what are you going to wear to Rideau Hall?"

"Oh shit, I forgot about that! I guess I'll wear what I wore to my father's funeral."

"Why don't we get you a suit and some nice shoes? That's what I'm going to wear."

"Cool! I've never had a suit before. I want a dark one like yours."

As soon as Josh finished preparing his other gear, we headed off to the local Moore's to select a suit and have Josh fitted. I hoped that it would be ready for pickup by that Friday before we left. The plan was also to get him a nice pair of leather shoes.

The people at Moore's were extremely helpful and assured me that the suit would be ready for pickup by no later than Friday afternoon. They measured Josh and had him try on a couple before we decided on a nice single-breasted suit that very closely resembled the one that I was going to wear. The salesman assured me that the suit would be altered in such a way that it could easily be let out in the future to keep pace with Josh's rapid growth. I was amazed when he started trying on shoes and I discovered that at only 13, he was already wearing a size 12 shoe! His feet were as big as mine and he was still growing.

"Josh, have you ever considered taking up water skiing?" I asked with a sly grin.

He frowned at me for a second not quite catching my drift and then broke into a broad smile when he figured out what I meant. "Dweeb," he said and smiled lovingly at me.

With Josh's suit purchased, we were finally ready to go. The final few days of waiting really seemed to drag along. I spent the next day-and-a-half playing golf with Andy, visiting with my mother and with James, Anne and the twins. Josh, much to his chagrin, spent the time finishing his school year.

That Friday afternoon, I picked Josh up at school. Being the last day, he had to clean out his locker and had a lot of stuff to bring home. As I pulled up, he bounded out to the Jeep and climbed in. He wore a massive grin and after giving me my usual greeting, consisting of a big hug and a peck on the forehead, he showed me what he was grinning about. It was his report card.

I unfolded the sheet of paper and read it over. Not surprisingly, Josh had scored straight 'As' "Way to go buddy, I'm so proud of you," I said warmly and ruffled his hair.

"Mom's going to be amazed - I never did that well before - I always had a few Bs and Cs."

"I'm not surprised; I've known how smart you are for a long time."

Before heading home, we stopped by Moore's and picked up Josh's new suit. He went into the dressing room to try it on and when he came out, I was struck by just how handsome he was. He looked like a million dollars. He was getting taller and filling out quite nicely and the suit fit him like a glove. He was going to be a real lady killer.

"How do I look?" He asked as he did a little twirl in front of me.

"You look like you're going to have to beat the girls off you with a stick!" I replied with a laugh causing Josh to blush slightly.

Josh changed back into his street clothes and we left the store. We drove home and jumped right into the task of loading the Jeep. We were very methodical in the way we loaded and placed the gear. We made sure that anything valuable or requiring security (such as the rifles) was stored inside the Jeep while less important items were loaded into the roof-top carrier. We also paid attention to the "first in, last out" rule of packing and made sure that the stuff we would need most often was most accessible. After a little more than an hour, the Jeep was loaded. All that we had left to do was for the two of us to get in and drive away.

When Susan came home from work that night, she was indeed thrilled with Josh's report card. She was so happy that she treated us both to dinner at the Mandarin that night. It was a good time and it gave Josh some time with his mom before we left. I hoped that she was going to make it to Rideau Hall on the 15th for the medal presentation but it was still up in the air. I knew Josh would be very disappointed if she missed it.

We planned to leave at about 10:00 AM the next morning and our route would take us north and then west. We were going to take the North of Superior route out of Ontario and onto the prairies. The first few days of driving would be the hardest with more than 23 hours required just to reach the Manitoba border. The plan was to make an easy start of it. Our destination for the first day was only a few hours from home, but it was a very significant destination for Josh and me. We were going back to the place where it all started for us. We were going back to Tonawonka.

That night, after watching a couple of movies, Josh and I snuggled up together in my bed and spent our last night at home for the next two months. We would be on the road for about 70 days.

The next morning, I woke up before the alarm clock. Josh was lying on his belly, still out like a light, and I was snuggled up against him. I knew we had to be up soon anyway, so I decided to give him the kind of wakeup he often gave me. I rolled over and began to deeply massage his neck, shoulders and back. It didn't take him long to begin to stir. He sighed contentedly and then turned his head to look at me.

"Morning Dad, this feels wonderful," He said in a sleepy voice.

"Good morning son," I replied and continued my massage. "You do this for me all the time so I thought I'd return the favour." I kept up my massage for about 10 minutes and Josh was literally putty in my hands. When I was done, he rolled over and hugged me tightly.

"Make a muscle for me," I told him. I had begun to notice that both of us had started to build up some really good muscle mass. Our workouts had really been accomplishing a lot.

Josh smiled sweetly and flexed his arm for me. Sure enough, his bicep was really solid. "I hope my arms get as big as yours," Josh said.

"They'll get bigger, Josh. Believe me, in a couple of years or so, you'll be bigger and stronger than me."

"I'll still call you Dad, though." Josh said and hugged me again.

Finally, the need to empty our bladders got the two of us moving. We both raced to the bathroom to do our morning duty and then took turns in the shower. After our showers, we did as we often did in the morning, and stood together at the sink and shaved. Josh still didn't really need to shave, although he did have a noticeable shadow on his upper lip, he still liked to shave with me. It was a bit of dad and son time that we shared.

With our morning ablutions taken care of, we dressed for the day and prepared to embark on our journey. We met Susan upstairs in the kitchen and she had prepared a big breakfast for us.

"Good morning guys," she said with a smile as we entered the kitchen. "All set for the big trip?"

"I've been looking forward to this since February," Josh said.

"So have I. We're all set, the Jeep's packed and we're ready to roll."

"I know I don't have to tell you this, but be careful. Have a great time and call me often. Josh, you listen to what Tommy tells you and be good."

"AW MOM!" Josh said in feigned outrage. "I'm always good!" he continued with a grin.

Susan placed heaping plates of eggs, sausage, hash browns, and toast in front of both of us and added a large glass of orange juice and a cup of coffee to the mix. We all dug in with gusto. Josh and I had a long drive ahead of us; in fact we had a long drive ahead of us on most of the next 70 days. There were some places where we intended to stay for a couple of days, but on the whole, we were going to average about 400km of driving per day.

"Tom, you'll need these," Susan said as she handed me Josh's health card and a folded document. "The piece of paper is an authorization for you to ok any and all medical treatment for Josh should he require any."

"Thanks Susan, I strongly doubt that we'll need that, but it's good to be prepared."

We finished our breakfast, loaded the last few things into the Jeep and then it was time to hit the road. Andy was expecting us at Camp Tonawonka somewhere between 1:00 and 2:00 PM which meant that we had to hit the road by 10:00 AM.

We headed out to the Jeep and Susan followed us. She hugged Josh and kissed him on the forehead. "I'm going to try really hard to make it to Ottawa to see you get your medal," she told him.

"Please be there mom, it won't be the same if you aren't."

Susan then came over to me. "I was going to ask you to take good care of my boy, but I think it's obvious that he's as much your boy as he is mine. You guys take care of each other and have a wonderful time," Susan said before hugging me briefly.

"Thanks Susan. We'll look after each other and we will call you often. Please try to make it to Ottawa on the 15th. It will mean to world to Josh to have you there."

It was finally time to leave. Josh and I piled into the Jeep; Josh started up the GPS and pulled up our planned route as I started the engine and backed out of the driveway. With a wave and a honk of the horn, we were off.

We both slipped our cell phones into the centre console and hooked up the car chargers to keep them fully charged. Josh made sure that the 12 volt cooler was hooked up, turned on and stocked with snacks and drinks and we headed out to the highway and the open road.

"Pinch me," Josh said as we merged onto Highway 401 heading east towards Highway 400.

"Pinch you? Why?" I asked.

"Because I want to make sure this is real, that we're really doing this. Are we really going to be on the road, exploring the whole country together for the next 70 days?"

"We sure are! For the next 10 weeks, it's just you and me son." I reached over and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "This is something I've always wanted to do and I can't think of anyone that I'd rather share it with than you, Josh. I really, really love you."

"I know Dad. I really, really love you too. It's going to be so cool to see Camp Tonawonka again. That's where all this started. If I hadn't gone to camp, I never would have met you. You were the first person who ever paid much attention to me and gave me a chance to just be me. I used to really act up at camp until I met you because it was the only way that I knew to get people to notice me."

"Joshy, I can't really explain it, but somehow I knew you were special the first moment we met. It took us a couple of weeks to get comfortable with each other but, once it took, we really did become inseparable. I thought we were close then, but look at us now."

As the scenery flew by and we left the hustle and bustle of Toronto behind us, we listened to a selection of CDs from the large collection we had brought with us, and Josh began recording the trip with the video camera and the digital still camera. It was only just after 11:00 when we started seeing signs for Weber's and we decided to stop. Despite just having eaten a large breakfast less than 2 hours ago, Josh was already hungry. I had told him how good Weber's burgers were and he just had to try, in his words, 'a couple'.

We pulled into the Weber's parking lot and there was already a lineup stretching out the door. It was moving pretty quickly and we were a bit ahead of schedule so we decided to wait it out. As we were waiting, Josh actually took the video camera and starting doing spot interviews with strangers in the lineup. I was really amazed. He truly was a different boy from the lonely little guy I had first met exactly 2 years earlier. He was a happy, well adjusted and confident teenager ready to take on the world.

I watched him work the crowd and smiled. He was charming the hell out of everyone he met. He wasn't the least bit shy about going up to complete strangers and getting them to talk on camera. People really seemed taken with him, it was as if they could instinctively sense what a wonderful person he was. I just about laughed out loud as Josh interviewed a couple near the front of the line who had a daughter who looked to be about 12 or 13. Just out of Josh's line of sight, the girl was seriously checking him out. The look on her face made me think she was on the verge of tearing his clothes off and having her way with him right there in the line. I made a mental note to tease him about it later!

Within half an hour, we made it through the line and got our burgers. That time, at least, Josh escaped without being ravaged by a young girl with runaway hormones. We climbed back in the Jeep with a bag of aromatic Weber's burgers grilled to perfection with large, frosty Cokes to chase them down. Josh unwrapped his first burger and stretched his mouth around it.

"MMMMMMMM this is really good," He enthused.

"I know, I love their burgers. I would have stopped there on the way to the lake when we took the twins fishing, but I didn't figure they could hold out that long."

"Oh man, you better eat yours before I get my hands on it," Josh laughed as he made the last bite of his first burger disappear. The second didn't last that much longer and then he attacked the fries. I wasn't all that hungry so I ended up giving him my fries and my second burger. I did manage to eat the first burger and drink my Coke myself.

"Did you see that girl checking you out while you were interviewing her parents?" I asked Josh in a sly tone. "She looked like she wanted to rip your clothes off and jump your bones!"

Josh turned crimson. "The one near the front of the line?" He asked.

"That's her! She was standing behind you and looking you up and down. I swear she was drooling," I said with a snicker.

"She was pretty cute! I don't think her parents would have thought much of me running off to the bathroom or the bushes to deflower their daughter," Josh replied with his famous mischievous grin and then we both burst out laughing.

"Seriously, though, I don't think I'm ready for anything like that. I might think about her next time I jerk off though," Josh said in mock seriousness sending us both into another fit of laughter.

The drive was going exceedingly well. Josh and I were having a great time just talking, cutting up and bantering back and forth. Traffic was light that morning but we encountered a lot of school buses which must have been delivering kids to the various summer camps spread throughout the Muskokas. Camp Tonawonka's campers arrived earlier that morning and were pretty much settled in by the time Josh and I rolled in.

'Bitchin Betty', our name for the GPS's female voice announced our arrival at the camp as we drove through the front gate. I hadn't been there in almost two years, but it looked exactly as I remembered it. We followed the driveway well back into the bush until we reached a fork in the road. We veered to the right and a moment later pulled up outside the camp office and parked the Jeep.

"Here we are kiddo," I said to Josh as we climbed out and stretched our legs.

"It's funny being back here," Josh said. "I spent five years here as a camper. This is the first summer since I was eight years old that I haven't spent the summer here."

"Andy could probably arrange for you to stay if you want to," I said and winked at him.

"Not in this lifetime," Josh retorted. "I'm going wherever you go!"

Just then Andy walked out of the camp office and greeted us. "Hey guys, welcome back to Tonawonka," he said warmly as he embraced each of us.

"Hi bro," I replied.

"Hey Andy," Josh said happily.

"How's the first day going?" I asked.

"Not bad. We've got everyone settled in and most of the kids are with their counselors getting settled in. There's mostly light activities scheduled for the rest of the afternoon and then we have a special dinner and camp fire tonight."

"Sounds like a blast. Do you mind if we spend the afternoon exploring a bit?" I asked. Andy was now the assistant director of the camp. Rachel MacDonald was now the director.

"No problem. Rachel's inside. She's been looking forward to seeing you again," Andy replied. "Even you, Josh!" He said with a wink. Josh for a number of years, had literally been the bane of her existence because of his hijinks.

"I'm sure she'll like me a lot more now," Josh said with a laugh.

The three of us walked into the office and were immediately met by Rachel. Rachel had been the assistant director during the summer when I worked at Tonawonka. She was a nice woman and the kids liked her. She was one of the few people who didn't think I was out of my mind when I asserted that Josh really was a good kid.

"TOMMY," Rachel shouted as she ran up to me, gave me a huge hug and kissed my cheek. "It's so good to see you. You look fantastic." Next she turned her attention to Josh. "My God, look at you! You've grown so much and you've become a certifiable hottie!" She crowed as she gave Josh the same treatment.

Poor Josh turned fire-engine red causing Andy and me to laugh like a pair of loons and earning us one of Josh's patented mock-angry looks. "I'm glad to see you too Rachel," he finally managed to reply.

"Andy has told me all about you guys and what you're doing this summer. It's so wonderful to see you together. You guys were practically joined together at the hip."

We spent a few minutes visiting with Rachel and reminiscing about my one summer as a Tonawonka counselor. I was amazed at how much Andy had told her about what had gone one over the past few months. She knew all about my medical emergency and she knew all about the shooting.

"You guys can explore all you want this afternoon but make sure that you're in the dining hall for dinner. We have something special planned for the first night and we have a big campfire this evening. You guys can bunk in your old cabin. Paul's the counselor there now and some of your boys are there. They'd all love to see you."

Paul had been my junior counselor. He was 16 then and a really great guy. We got along famously and I was thrilled to see him again. I was also looking forward to seeing some of my boys again.

Josh and I left Andy and Rachel and headed towards cabin 8. We both remembered exactly where it was and as we approached, we saw that it was virtually the same as it had been the last time either of us had seen it.

I opened the door and stepped in with Josh close behind me. "Well, this used to be the home of Tommy's terrors," I said loudly. "I wonder whose here now?" In an instant, the cabin fell silent.

"Tommy?" Paul said as he stuck his head out of the counselor's room at the far end of the cabin. At the same time, three of the boys jumped to their feet.

"TOMMY!" one of them shouted and ran to me. The other two followed in short order.

In a scene reminiscent of Josh's and my reunion, I found myself on the floor under a pile of teenage boys, all of whom were trying to hug me at the same time. It didn't take me long to recognize Ricky, George and Gary. It had been two years, but I still recognized all three of them. All three boys had been 11 years old last time I saw them and were now strapping 13 year olds.

Paul started lifting boys off me and helped me to my feet. "Tommy, how the hell are you?" He asked as he vigorously shook my hand. He looked at Josh and I saw instant recognition. "I don't believe it! Josh! Don't tell me you're hanging around with this character?" He laughed and shook Josh's hand.

"You bet I am! We're driving across the country together. All summer long."

"That's so cool," Gary piped in. Josh, Gary, George, and Ricky all exchanged greetings.

"You mean you guys aren't staying?" Ricky asked.

"No, we're just here for one night. We're going to bunk with you guys tonight and then tomorrow, we're on our way."

Paul put his arm around my shoulders and addressed his campers, most of whom had no idea as to who Josh or I were. "Listen up guys, this is the legend himself. This is the guy that all the campers wanted to have as their counselor and all the other counselors tried to measure up to!"

It was my turn to blush. "Piling it on a little thick aren't we?" I asked

"Not at all. They almost had to start putting anti-depressants in the water when the kids realized you weren't coming back last year. I just hope that I'm half the counselor that you were."

I smiled and shook Paul's hand again. Josh and I spent the next hour meeting the new kids and talking to the three that we knew. It was funny being back in my old cabin with my former JC and half of my boys. It was like a homecoming.

As I talked with Paul and Jason, Paul's junior counselor, Josh got the video camera out again and went about interviewing the other kids. In minutes, he rekindled his friendship with Ricky, Gary, and George and made fast friends with the others. I watched my boy out of the corner of my eye and once again marveled how quickly he put people at ease and got them to like him.

Before long, he was showing them some of the earlier clips on the camera's small display screen, including a clip of the girl who had her eyes on him. I couldn't hear what he was saying but at least a couple of the other boys exclaimed, "lucky bastard!"

It was time for Paul to take his boys down to the lake and hit the canoes. As much as Josh and I wanted to join them, we had other things to do. 'Mount Tonawonka' waited. Mount Tonawonka was not a real mountain. Rather, it was a very large, very steep hill. At the top, was an overnight campsite that was used by groups of campers every so often. I used to take my boys up there ever couple of weeks to sleep under the stars and to watch the night sky with binoculars and a telescope. They always loved it. It was during the first trip up the mountain that Josh fell and twisted his ankle.

I carried him all the way down the mountain, got him taken care of, and then the two of us camped out together in the cabin and bonded. It was a pivotal moment in our relationship and we intended to take a trip down memory lane again by visiting the top of Mount Tonawonka.

"Well Josh, ready to make the climb?" I asked.

"Damn right!" Josh replied with a smile as we walked back to the Jeep to grab a small backpack with some cold drinks and snacks. It wouldn't take us long to make the climb but it could be tiring. We also had to take our time so that I didn't inflame my bad leg. Josh had the video camera with him and I had the digital camera.

We began the climb, each lost in our own thoughts. The first time we ascended this hill, we were counselor and camper. We had a cordial but distant relationship. When we came down, we were on our way to becoming friends. This time, we were returning to the scene of the start of our bonding as dad and son.

"This isn't quite as high as I remember it," Josh said as we reached the top.

"It's just as high as it always was, but you're bigger now," I said.

We walked to the edge that overlooked the camp. It was a spectacular view. The entire camp lay at our feet. We could see all the way from the road to the lake and we could see the roofs of all the cabins, the office, and the dining hall. The paths and dirt roads crisscrossed the camp like a spider web. We stood together, each with an arm around the other's shoulders and looked down upon the world below.

Josh was filming the view and I took a number of still photos. Behind us, was a clearing that covered most of the summit. In the center was a well used fire circle. Campers had been trooping up here for generations. The place had a feeling of history about it. It was this fire circle that led to Josh's accident. He had been running around and he tripped over one of the rocks that circled the fire pit. He had gone down hard, twisted his ankle, and scraped his knees in the process.

Josh and I walked over to the fire circle and sat next to each other on a large rock. I put my arm around him and pulled him into me. He snuggled up and we sat there silently for a few minutes.

"It's hard to believe how far we've come since that summer, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I figured it was just going to be another summer. I had no idea that I was going to meet my dad at camp."

"It's amazing how fate or chance or even divine intervention can change our lives in an instant," I said thoughtfully.

"I really think you're right. I really think there was some reason behind us finding each other. I think it's more than just filling a hole in each other's lives. I think the holes in our lives were there to bring us together. I think we have some other purpose," Josh said softly. I could see that he was deep in thought.

"You might well be right, Josh. Whatever the reason, whatever the purpose, I'm enjoying the ride. I wouldn't trade anyone or anything for you."

"Neither would I," Josh said firmly and looked into my eyes. "You know, when we were talking the other week at Trout Lake, I starting thinking about something. I said that I thought we were attached somehow."

"I think we are too. I can't explain it, but I feel it. I mean, we always know how the other is feeling. We can communicate volumes to each other without saying a word, and I know that I feel somehow smaller when we're apart." I wrapped both my arms around Josh and he melted into me.

"That's exactly what I mean. I feel the same way. It's not like telepathy or anything, I can't read your mind, but I just seem to know how you feel and what you're thinking. Even when we're apart, I feel like that."

We sat silently for a few minutes staring at the fire pit as if it contained a raging bonfire that only the two of us could see.

"I was thinking a lot about that and about the thing's you said about purpose and I did some research on the Internet. I found a site which describes us pretty well."

"Really? What was it about? What did it say?"

"It said that people like you and me are soul mates. The site said people who are soul mates feel exactly the kinds of things we do. It said that some people think that only lovers can be soul mates, but they're wrong. Any two people who are close and who love each other can be soul mates. Sometimes its friends, sometimes its bothers or sisters. You're my dad and I'm your son, but I think we're also soul mates."

I thought about what he said and it made complete sense. He was right. "I think you're right Josh. I often feel like we're two halves of a whole. I can't imagine ever being without you in my life. Our relationship started on this hill and no matter where we go, no matter what we do, no matter what happens, it won't ever end."

Josh wrapped his arms around me and buried his face in my chest. I hugged him back nuzzled my face into the top of his head. He sat there like that for a few minutes. We both had moist eyes when we finally released each other.

"I love you so much, Dad. I feel like a new person since you came into my life. That first summer together changed my life and since we've been back together, I feel like anything is possible. I feel like I can take on the world and that you'll be there with me."

"I love you too, Josh. Anything is possible for you, and I will be there with you. You're going to do something big with your life Josh. I'm pretty sure that my job is to play a supporting role; to help you along, to encourage you, and to teach you everything that I can. I watch you interacting with people and I forget that you're only 13. You have an air about you Josh. You put people at ease and draw them to you."

"I never used to be like that. It's only since we've been together. I learned it from you, Dad."

We continued to sit there leaning against one another for another 10 minutes. We didn't say anything during that time and we didn't have to. We both felt the weight of destiny on our shoulders. We didn't know what that destiny would entail, but we knew we would face it together.

The dinner hour was fast approaching so we decided to head down the mountain. We got about halfway down when I stopped and turned to Josh. We looked at each other for a moment and then I handed him the small backpack, turned my back to him, and crouched down. "Hop on," I told him.

"Are you sure?" Josh asked. "I weigh a lot more now than I used to."

"I'm sure. It just feels right. I guess you could say that it's kind of symbolic."

"Tell me if your leg starts to hurt," Josh said firmly as he climbed onto my back and assumed the same position that he had the first time I had carried him down. I didn't really understand why, but I felt as if it was something that I had to do. Maybe it was because I was energized by the love of my son, but I managed to carry him the rest of the way down without stopping and without causing pain in my leg. We got to the bottom and I placed him back on his feet.

"One day I'm going to carry you down from there," Josh said seriously.

"I'm sure you'll be more than able to do that before long," I replied with a smile.

We made our way to the dining hall and met up with Andy and Rachel. The campers were already assembled and ready to eat. We were about to take our seats when Andy grabbed us both by the arm and held us back. "Wait just a second," he said as Rachel walked to a microphone at the front of the room.

"Hello everyone! Welcome to Camp Tonawonka. This is our first day together and we have a really terrific summer ahead of us. Tonight, we have something special planned for you. We have two very special guests for the night," Rachel told the campers.

Josh and I looked at each other and then at Andy. He just gave us one of those phony 'I don't know what's going on' looks.

"I'd like you all to extend a loud Camp Tonawonka welcome to Tommy Davis and Josh Chambers," Rachel said as Andy dragged Josh and me to the front of the room.

"Those of you who were campers here two years ago will remember Tommy. He is a legend in this camp and Josh was one of our best known regular campers."

Three hundred or so kids jumped to their feet and began clapping and cheering and all Josh and I could do was smile and wave. Rachel motioned for them to quiet down.

"Tommy, Josh and Mark, who is a friend of theirs, are true heroes. Several months ago, the three of them stopped a bank robbery and saved a woman's life. In a few weeks, they are going to be awarded medals from the Governor General. Camp Tonawonka has been around since the 1900s and has had a lot of heroes. Many boys and girls from this camp have become soldiers, sailors, pilots, police officers, and firefighters. Many, like Josh and Tommy, have done heroic deeds and those former campers and counselors have been recognized by being inducted into the wall of honour. At tonight's camp fire, Tommy and Josh will join those heroes and take their place on the wall of honour."

The campers went wild. Josh and I were positively beaming as Andy took our hands hand held them aloft. "You knew all about this, didn't you?" I asked him.

He just smiled and winked at me. "Congratulations, brother." He said with a smile. Josh and I took turns hugging Andy and Rachel. Next thing we knew, Paul, followed by all of his campers including Ricky, George and Gary came to the front of the room and along with Andy hoisted Josh and me off our feet to the roared approval of the rest of the campers.

That night, after dark, the campers assembled for the campfire and the induction ceremony. The ceremony was based on first nation's traditions and was presided over by the chief of the local aboriginal community that was affiliated with the camp. Josh, forever thinking ahead, gave Andy the video camera so that he could film the whole thing.

It started with a smudging ceremony in which Josh and I were fanned with the smoke of burning sage and sweet grass. The smudging ceremony was a traditional ritual meant to cleanse us of negative spirits, energies or influences. After the smudging ceremony, Rachel read the reasons for our induction to the chief.

"I present to you, our brothers Josh and Tommy. Josh, Tommy and their friend Mark have distinguished themselves and honored our camp family through their acts of bravery and courage in the face of grave danger. Josh and Tommy interrupted a bank robbery and saved the life of a young woman in the process. In saving the woman's life, Tommy was wounded by gunfire and forced to take the life of one of the robbers. We ask you to honour them and add their names and likenesses to those of their brothers and sisters who have likewise honored our camp family."

The chief nodded his head and stepped over to me. He looked me in the eyes and said "Brother Tommy, you have honored us with your courage and bravery and we welcome you as a member of our tribe. From this day forward, you shall be known as Askuwheteau, which means 'He who keeps watch.'" With that, he handed me a single eagle feather. Before he moved onto Josh, he looked into my eyes again and said, "Do not be troubled. He who takes a life in defense of others, remains pure of heart."

"Thank you," I said softly and nodded.

The chief stood in front of Josh, looked him in the eye, and said, "Brother Josh, you have also honored us with your courage and bravery and we welcome you as a member of our tribe. From this day forward, you shall be known as Annawan which means 'Leader of men'" He handed Josh a single eagle feather and then turned to face the campers. "Let us welcome Askuwheteau and Annawan as they take their places amongst the bravest of the brave. Let them watch over and protect each other on their journey of discovery."

I felt wonderful. It felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I didn't know how the chief knew that I was still troubled by the shooting, but he did and what he said helped.

After the ceremony ended, Andy convinced me to reprise my role as the chief story-teller of the camp and, while Josh filmed the whole thing, I held the entire camp enthralled for more than an hour with one ghost story after another. I was always very animated when I told stories and I paced around and gesticulated constantly. I felt so energized that I could have gone on for another hour without even breaking a sweat, but it was time for the campers to turn in, and Josh and I had to be back on the road the next day. With the camp fire out, we followed Andy and Rachel to back to the dining hall where they showed us the plaques containing our pictures, names, camp dates, and Indian names which would be added to the wall of honour. I was thrilled to see that, although he had never attended Camp Tonawonka, the camp had also honored Mark. We both received plaques identical to the ones to be hung on the wall, and we were given one for Mark. The Indian name chosen for Mark was Wematin that means 'Brother'.

Josh and I bid Andy a goodnight and then retired to cabin 8. We walked into the cabin and received a hero's welcome from eight boys, one counselor, and one junior counselor. The boys were ready for bed, but totally wound up. By then, Paul, Gary, Ricky and George had filled the other boys in on who Josh and I were and we suddenly had a whole flock of new friends. I knew we wouldn't get much sleep that night. We both ended up getting roped into staying up half the night playing cards and just shooting the shit with the boys. We had a great time and it was an excellent cap to a memorable day.

When the boys finally began to drop off to sleep, Josh and I retired to our bunks. Josh took the top bunk and I took the bottom. We said our goodnights and we were both asleep just about as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

The next morning, we were awakened by the start of a pillow fight. Eight 12 and 13 year old boys running around smacking each other with pillows is more than enough to wake most people up, and Josh and I were no different. Before long, we had both joined in the fun. Paul finally came out of the counselor's room, took one look at the 10 of us, smiled and shook his head before grabbing a pillow of his own.

Josh and I followed the boys to the showers and bathroom and got ourselves cleaned up. We dressed for the day and then joined the campers in the dining hall for breakfast. Breakfasts were always wonderful meals at Camp Tonawonka. There was always plenty of hot food to go around and that morning was no exception. Josh and I ate our fill and then prepared to resume our journey. Our trip back to where our life together first began had been a memorable and uplifting experience but it was time to move on. As much as we would have liked to stay longer, we had places to be and people to see.

We packed up our gear and then went to the camp office to say goodbye to Andy and Rachel. "Thanks for everything, Rachel. This was an incredible experience. We'll definitely be back."

"You're welcome. Both of you take care of yourselves and have a safe trip," she said as she hugged both Josh and me.

We then followed Andy out the door and headed to the Jeep. We got part way there before Paul, Gary, George, and Ricky intercepted us.

"Don't be a stranger," Paul said as he offered me his hand. We shook firmly and then he turned to Josh. "You too, kiddo." He said with a smile.

Next, I got big hugs from each of my boys. They hadn't been my campers for two years, but I still considered them to be my boys. I cared about all of them and they evidently remembered me and cared a lot about me too. Josh and I exchanged email addresses and cell phone numbers with Paul and each of the boys and then followed Andy over to the Jeep.

"I know I don't have to tell you this, but be safe and look out for each other. I love you both," Andy said.

"We both love you too," I replied and Josh and I pulled him into a 3-way hug. "We'll see you in Ottawa."

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Andy replied.

Josh and I released Andy and climbed into the Jeep. I started the engine and Josh fired up the GPS and called up our course. Soon we were driving slowly down the camp's driveway. The counselors had assembled all of the kids and they lined both sides of the road waving and cheering us on.

After a very moving and emotional start to our journey, Josh and I once again hit the road. Before long, we hit the Trans-Canada Highway and headed west. Northwestern Ontario, the prairies, and the coast lay ahead of us. We were as happy as we could be. The bond which we had forged at camp Tonawonka had grown to something of immense strength and depth over the past eight months. Whatever lay ahead on the road during this journey or in the rest of our lives, we would face it together.


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