Substitute Dad

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

Chapter 32

Brutus and Daisy

Our last couple of days in Ottawa were pretty quiet without the twins. We all missed the rest of our boisterous family, but it was also nice to be back to our own small group once again. Of course, in the back of all of our minds was the fact that after a few days in Calgary, Josh and I would be departing west to resume our cross-country tour.

We spent our days touring the various museums, monuments, and historic sites throughout the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau (formerly Hull), Quebec, which was just across the Ottawa River. We wanted the see the controversial Canadian Museum of Civilization. Before construction was completed, it was well over the budgeted amount for the project.

While our family was touring the Ottawa museums and places of national interest, all the signs and the tour guides speeches were in both of our national languages – French and English. The same was true of the highway signage in our National Parks that we had toured and camped in, and again, when we’re flying commercially – all rudimentary safety announcements are given in both languages.

For the most part, this change in language doesn’t bother English-speaking Canadians and many of us grow up without a good working knowledge of French vocabulary. Learning the French language is not compulsory in English-speaking Canada, but was provided as an option when I attended high school. I was about to learn that it was an option I wish I’d taken.

Now, as we drove over the bridge into Gatineau, Quebec, the rules changed. All signs were in French with smaller English versions which were a little tougher to see.

Mark was shocked. “Did we just enter a foreign country?” he exclaimed from the back seat.

“Not really Mark,” Bryan explained. “This is that part of Canada where our founding fathers made that important Canadian historical decision that the French could keep their language and culture. It’s one of those wonderful things that makes Canada quite unique. Our country was built by the French and the English and Canada has the largest French speaking population in the world outside of France.”

“Actually there are many languages spoken in Canada,” I said. “Believe it or not, aside from English, a few years ago, German was the most populous other cultural representation in Canada. I can imagine that with the latest influx from the Far East, one of the Asian populations may be taking that spot soon. Nowadays, when you go into a big city, you can see many cultural areas in the city that aren’t English. Do you remember what the west end of Danforth Avenue looked like in Toronto?”

“That’s right Tom,” Mark replied, “it’s all Greek... even the signs!”

“Bryan, you have to make a left turn at the next intersection.” Josh said, also from the back seat.

Riding shotgun, I turned and looked at Josh and all I got in return was a smart aleck grin and a wink. I'd been watching the signs and in my own monolingual way, was trying to relate our destination to them, but at that point, with little success. About a mile down the street that Josh had directed us onto, I saw a sign that said, "Musée Canadien Des Civilisations", with an arrow pointing to the right.

"I think that's it Bryan," I said.

"Oh good!" Mark commented. "I hope they have a restaurant. I'm starving!"

"Me too!" Josh exclaimed.

Bryan followed the pavement arrows to the parking lot and found a spot not too far from the entrance. Other parking spots nearby had signs in front of them, but I had no idea what they said.

"I hope this isn't a restricted parking area," Bryan commented as we got out of the car.

"You're OK here Bryan," Josh said matter-of-factly.

Bryan looked around, shrugged his shoulders, "OK then, let's go find that restaurant. I didn't realize it until just now, but when you can't understand the signs, driving IS more stressful. I understand the international signs of stop, yield, east, west, north, and south, but the rest of it gives me a headache trying to decipher it while concentrating on the traffic."

I started to laugh. “Sorry Bryan, I’m glad it’s you instead of me. Do you want one of my pills?”

“NO, it’s not that bad, but I’m not going to let you have the stress.” He smiled as he rubbed my shoulder.

From the outside, the building housing the museum is a work of art itself. Designed by renowned aboriginal architect, Douglas J. Cardinal, the building captures undulating natural shapes of the landscapes, incorporating flora indigenous to the area.

Josh and Mark were walking in the lead, as we entered the main lobby.

Once inside, Josh said, “The restaurant is just down this passage.”

I was still busy looking for a sign that would give me a clue and as we were following Josh, then saw a sign - “Restaurant”.

As we approached the reception area, a mature lady approached us.

"Messieurs, bon après-midi, combien êtes-vous dans votre groupe?" She spoke with a
cheery voice, but I had no idea what she had said.
(Good afternoon gentlemen, how many in your party?)

Before I had a chance to even think of how to reply, Josh said with a wide
smile, just as fluently as the hostess had spoken, "Bon après-midi, Madame. Il y a juste nous quatre."
(Good afternoon Madam. There's just the four of us)

My lower jaw came close to hitting my chest. I looked at Bryan and he was
in the same shape. Mark just stared at Josh -- eyes bulging.

Our hostess, still being very gracious said, "Très bien, Monsieur. Veuillez
venir par ici."
(Very good sir. Come this way.)

Again, with Josh in the lead, we followed. I was shaking my head running my
hand through my hair, surprised and sooooo full of pride at Josh's command
of the French language.

The hostess led our way to the table, and as we seated ourselves, she said,
"Qu'est-ce que je peux vous servir à boire?"
(What may I get you to drink?)

Again, Josh came to the rescue and translated her words to us. Bryan and I
ordered coffee and Mark wanted a Coke.

"Deux cafés et deux coke, s'il-vous plaît, Madame." Josh said.
(Two coffees and two Cokes please Madam.)

I looked at Josh across the table from me and stared at him, laughing because I couldn’t contain my surprize. “Josh, I AM SO PROUD of you! How did you learn to speak French so fluently?”

“It’s no big deal Dad. I’ve been taking it at school for a few years now.” Josh said nonchalantly.

“NO BIG DEAL!” Bryan exclaimed as he reached across the table and tousled Josh’s hair. “You’re a life saver! We’d have been completely lost here just speaking English. Sometimes you just blow me away!”

With that remark, Mark chimed in laughing, “Hey bro, I thought that was Tommy’s job!”

Although his remark deserved a chastisement, Bryan and I, very red-faced, couldn’t stop giggling as we looked down at the table, hoping no one in the restaurant was embarrassed by the outburst of laughter at our table.

Once we calmed ourselves, we looked at the menu, then at Josh. We were clueless and Josh was grinning with the advantage he had over us.

“OK guys, tell me what you want?” he said smiling.

So with Josh’s language ability, we ordered lunch, ate and were soon on our way to look at the exhibits and the building.

The museum has two main exhibition paths in addition to revolving, short-term special exhibitions. The first main exhibition, Canada Hall, narrates the 1000-year history of Canada from the time of first contact between Vikings and First Nations to the present. The second exhibition is the First Peoples Hall, an exhibition that narrates the living history of First Nations people, touching upon pre-European Native life, the shock of contact, and the present. The First Peoples Hall is noteworthy for the groundbreaking, intensive collaboration that occurred between Museum curators and First Nations representatives during the long planning stages for the hall. The First Peoples Hall is a direct outcome of the Task Force on Museums and First Peoples, a joint project between the Assembly of First Nations, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian Museums Associations. We were overwhelmed by the massive Grand Hall.

The recreation of six Northwest Coast family homes is a spectacular sight in the Grand Hall, capturing the scene of a Pacific Northwest village with massive totem poles, village buildings and a North American forest backdrop. Remarkably, the homes were made by First Nations artisans who are descended from the original villagers, using large cedar timbers imported from the Pacific Northwest. The backdrop is considered to be the largest print of a photograph, in the world. The grouping of totem poles is the largest indoor display of totem poles in the world.

We didn’t take in the Canadian Children's Museum but we sure did enjoy the movie that was showing at the IMAX movie theatre.

With that wonderful tour and experience under our belts, we headed back to Ottawa.

Throughout our visits to all the sights, much to Josh’s chagrin, more and more people recognized him from his encounter with the Prime Minister and were stopping to shake his hand. He also received countless phone calls from his friends back in Toronto who had seen him on the news and in the newspapers.

Following the medal ceremony, we had collected a stack of newspapers which featured Josh on the front cover speaking to the Prime Minister. There were even editorials written about the things that Josh had said. One of them, which appeared in a major national newspaper, asked the question, “If this intelligent, courageous, well spoken and photogenic thirteen-year-old boy gets it, why can’t those we elected to serve us, understand what’s happening to the people in this country?”

Josh took it all in stride, but I could tell that he wanted all the excitement to die down. The four of us actually thought that it would all fade away pretty quick, however, not one of us realized that it was about to be kicked up a notch.

On our last afternoon in Ottawa before flying back to Calgary, we settled into our hotel room for an early evening. Josh and Mark had ordered literally a ton of food from room service and we were all spread about the room doing our own thing waiting for it to arrive.

Bryan was stretched out on his bed reading a book, Mark was surfing the Internet with my laptop, I was reading the latest MacLean’s news magazine and Josh and propped up against me doing a little channel surfing.

Josh found an episode of the comedy show, “The Royal Canadian Air Farce” on the CBC. The “Air Farce” is a sketch comedy show that specializes in poking fun at politicians and current events. Best of all, the comedians in the show are made up so well that they are nearly dead ringers for the politicos that they portray. They even sound somewhat like the people they are lampooning. It was a show that Josh and I frequently watched while we were at home.

“Cool, it’s the Air Farce,” Josh said happily and set down the remote control.

I closed my magazine and decided to watch the program with Josh. Josh adopted his usual TV watching position as the first skit started. It was obvious that it was a new episode of the show and not a rerun. The first sketch featured an actor portraying the prime minister making some outlandish comments about taxes. As he droned on, a new character made his debut.

One of the other comedians who made up the cast entered dressed in what appeared to be a British schoolboy uniform and he was carrying one of those giant lollypops. He listened for a moment while making faces at the camera and then he turned around and stomped on the “Prime Minister’s” foot and began to berate him in what was obviously supposed to be a young boy’s voice. They even “bleeped out” some of the things he said as if he was using profanities!

I knew immediately who that was supposed to be, and I turned my head and exchanged looks with Bryan who had dropped his book and was staring gape mouthed at the television screen.

Even Mark had been drawn away from his web surfing and was watching intently as the new character, who had been identified as “Naughty Josh” carried on.

Josh was strangely silent as he watched the skit. When the skit was over and they switched to a commercial, he turned around and looked at all three of us in turn. He had a bemused look on his face. “That was supposed to be me, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah…. I think it was,” I said carefully. “I wouldn’t be offended by it Joshy, it’s a satire.”

“Offended? I think it’s hilarious!” Josh replied and broke into raucous laughter. “This is so cool; I get to be a character on the Air Farce!”

“You’re a character alright,” Mark deadpanned.

“I’ll deal with you later,” Josh retorted with a grin.

We all had a good laugh over it and nearly missed the knock at the door when our food arrived. Josh sprang up and ran to the door, took possession of the food and paid the man who delivered it.

“I’m starving,” he announced as he returned with the mountain of food.

“I’m glad you’re taking it so well,” Bryan remarked. “Some people might have been angry to be portrayed that way.”

“They made the Prime Minister look worse than they made me look,” Josh reasoned.

The four of us watched the rest of the show intently and, not surprisingly, “Naughty Josh” made several appearances throughout the show. Sometimes he was wearing the schoolboy uniform and sometimes he was wearing one of those unfortunate sailor suits that people used to dress boys up in. He always had the giant lollypop and he always came out of nowhere to berate the prime minister every time he said something stupid!

About ten minutes after the show ended, Josh’s cell phone began ringing. It was Susan.

“Hey mom,” Josh said happily. “I know! We just saw it. It was great!”

Josh seemed to be listening intently to his mother. I smiled at the furrow in his brow as he listened intently to what Susan was saying to him.

“NO WAY!?!? That is so cool,” he hollered suddenly. “When do they want to do it?”

Josh suddenly had three sets of eyes staring at him. Obviously, he had just received some good news, but none of us had any idea as to what that was.

“I can’t wait to tell everyone,” Josh said enthusiastically. “Bye Mom. I love you,” he said and hung up his phone.

I was about to ask him what was going on when he jumped up on the chair with me and planted himself in my lap.

“Guess what?” he said.

“What?” I asked carefully.

“I’m going to be on TV!” Josh replied.

“WHAT?” Mark exclaimed.

“You’ve already been on TV,” Bryan said.

“I know, but Mom said the producer from the Air Farce called her today and they want me to be on the show in a skit with ‘Naughty Josh’,” Josh shouted.

“FANTASTIC!” I replied and hugged Josh tightly. The Air Farce has a reputation for featuring the real life people they lampoon. Many politicians and celebrities make regular cameo appearances on the show and when we got back to Toronto, Josh was evidently going to do the same.

“Congratulations Josh,” Bryan said.

“Yeah way to go bro,” Mark added.

“Mom said that the producer told her that the audience absolutely loved, ‘Naughty Josh’ during the taping of that episode, and they couldn’t get enough of him. He’s going to be a regular character like ‘Mike from Canmore’.”

‘Mike from Canmore’ is a bumbling, but lovable, bumpkin who appears regularly on the show and makes life miserable for the politicians. In actual fact, the actor who portrays ‘Mike from Canmore’ also portrayed the character of ‘Naughty Josh’.

Around 8:30, my own cell phone began to ring. I looked at the call display and saw a 604 area code and my heart nearly stopped. Burnaby is in 604. I knew it would be about 11:30 PM in British Columbia, an unusual late hour to be making a phone call.

With some apprehension, I answered the call. “Hello?”

“Hi Tom, this is Debbie Mason. I hope I didn’t get you at a bad time?”

“Hi Debbie, not at all. We’re still in Ottawa and we were just hanging around watching TV. How’s Shelly doing?” When I said that, I saw Josh’s head snap around and stare at me intently.

“That’s kind of what I was calling about,” Debbie said. “I can’t really explain it, but she’s actually doing better these days. We didn’t expect her to see Christmas, but she seems to be improving. The doctors keep telling us not to get our hopes up, because they can’t explain what’s happening.”

“Wow! I’m relieved to hear that. Josh will be glad to hear it too.” I said with a smile as I started to breathe easier once again. Josh’s eyes brightened at my reaction.

“That’s the other reason that I’m calling. I think somehow Josh has something to do with this. Somehow, he reached her and gave her the will to fight. She saw you guys on TV and she saw Josh talking to the Prime Minister and she was so excited. She wants to talk to him.”

“Sure thing. Here he is,” I said still smiling, and handed the phone to Josh. “Josh, its Debbie, Shelly’s mom. Shelly wants to talk to you.”

Josh accepted the offered cell phone and spent the next few minutes reliving, with excitement in his voice, the experience of getting his medal, speaking to the Prime Minister, and touring Ottawa.

“Dad,” he asked a moment later, holding the phone to his chest, “Can we stop in Burnaby on the way to the coast to visit Shelly and her family? They really want to see us again.”

“We sure can bud. It’s just southeast of Vancouver and we can definitely drop in for a visit,” I replied.

Josh rewarded me with one of his brightest grins and then resumed his conversation with Shelly. He finally handed the phone back to me about ten minutes later. “Debbie wants to talk to you,” he said.

“Hi Debbie,” I said after taking the phone from Josh.

“Are you sure that coming here won’t take you out of your way?” Debbie asked.

“Not at all. We were planning on driving right through, but there’s no reason that we can’t trim a day off somewhere else to stay for a visit.”

“You’re more than welcome to stay here with us. We have plenty of room and Shelly really perks up when she sees or talks to Josh. She’s watched that CD that Josh made for her about a hundred times already,” Debbie chuckled.

“We’re both looking forward to it. We’re heading back to Calgary tomorrow, then we’re going to spend a few days there before pushing west again. Our plan was to be in Victoria by August 1st, so I’d expect us to arrive in Burnaby by around the 28th.”

“That’ll be fine. Shelly is so excited. I haven’t seen her this perky in a long time.”

After making our plans, we said our goodbyes and hung up. I’d barely set the phone down before Josh wrapped me up in a big hug.

“Thanks Dad,” he said and rested his head on my shoulder. “I really want to see Shelly again.”

“I’m glad you want to see her again, and it’s my pleasure bud. Debbie says that Shelly perks up quite a bit when she sees you or hears from you. You must have made quite an impression on her. The doctors can’t explain the improvement in her health and that we shouldn’t get our hopes up, but let’s do whatever we can to give her some happiness.”

“Well gents, we have an early flight tomorrow morning, so we’d better consider turning in,” Bryan said. “We have to be at the airport by around 8:00.”

“What time will we get back to Calgary?” Mark asked.

“We’re wheels up at 9:10 AM and it’s a three hour flight. With the time difference, we’ll arrive at about 10:00 AM Mountain Time,” Bryan replied.

Josh and I looked at each other and then began laughing like a pair of lunatics.

“Are we missing something?” Mark asked.

“I think they’re just nuts Mark,” Bryan replied.

“We’re all nuts,” I said still giggling.

Josh and I proceeded to tell them about our earlier time-zone misadventures, which got us all laughing again.

“The waitress in the restaurant thought I was out of my mind,” Josh said between giggles.

“You are out of your mind,” Mark replied which triggered a friendly wrestling match between him and Josh.

“Oh boy Bryan, I think we might have to sedate these two in order to get them to sleep tonight,” I laughed.

That remark led Mark and Josh to stop wrestling each other and go after me. Seeing that, it was an unfair two against one fight, Bryan jumped in and evened out the odds.

It didn’t take us long to overpower the boys and get them settled in for the night. We all drifted off to sleep pretty quickly. We’d thoroughly enjoyed the Ottawa excursion, but we were looking forward to getting back to Calgary.

The next morning, we caught our flight as planned. The plane departed towards the east and then looped back over the city, which afforded us one last look at the nation’s capitol from the air. Using my video camera, Josh managed to shoot some pretty decent airborne footage of the Parliament buildings and the Chateau Laurier hotel.

About an hour into the flight, the flight attendants began handing out refreshments. When the attendant covering our area of the plane arrived at our row, she recognized us immediately.

“Aren’t you the boys who received the medals the other day?” She asked.

“We sure are,” Mark answered.

She looked at Josh and her eyes lit up. “You’re Josh aren’t you? I loved what you said to the Prime Minister,” she said and handed each of us an extra package of cookies and bottle or orange juice. “It isn’t every day that we have a celebrity on board,” she said with a smile.

We thought that was the end of it, but about ten minutes later the captain came on the intercom.

“Attention passengers, this is the captain speaking. It is my great pleasure to announce that we have some bonified heroes flying with us today. The gentlemen in row 8 seats A, B and C right and A left were recently awarded medals for bravery and one of these young men is none other than Josh Chambers, the young man we all saw giving advice to our Prime Minister.”

At that point, the whole cabin broke into applause. We all simply blushed, smiled, and waved. A few people came over to shake our hands and some even had their pictures taken with us.

After everything died down, the flight attendant returned. “Would you boys like to visit the cockpit?” She asked Mark and Josh.

“Is the pope Catholic?” Mark asked borrowing one of my favourite expressions.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” she replied with a bright smile.

Josh and Mark where on their feet in a flash and they eagerly followed the flight attendant up the isle to the cockpit of the 737.

“Those two are really going to love this,” Bryan observed.

“The two of them really are flight enthusiasts. What’s the plan for the day after we land?”

“I think a day of rest and relaxation would be in order. Maybe we can grab a bite out tonight and take in a movie. There’s bound to be something playing that the boy’s will enjoy,” Bryan replied.

“You’ll have to show us the sights. I mean, if we’re going to move to Calgary, we had better start getting familiar with it,” I chuckled.

“It’s a cinch to navigate around Calgary. You’ll pick it up in no time. I figure tomorrow would be a good day to check out the tower, the dome, some of the sights downtown. We can also check out the Olympic park. Do you like mountain biking?”

“I’ve ridden a mountain bike, but never on a mountain. Why do you ask?”

“They turned part of the old ski hill into a really fantastic mountain bike track. You ride up with your bike on the ski lift and then ride down. Quite a rush.”

“Josh would probably enjoy it, but I had better be careful with my leg.”

“Damn. I forgot about that,” Bryan answered regretfully.

“I wish I could forget about it. It usually doesn’t bother me unless I run or bang it around. If I fell off the bike, I’d probably regret it quite profoundly.”

“You seem to be able to walk ok,” Bryan observed.

“Yeah, I can walk or hike all I want, I just can’t stress it. The impact of running jars it and causes extreme pain. I have quite a bit of stainless steel down there.”

“Not good. I’ll bet you had a long recovery after that.”

“It was pure hell.”

“We’ll have to get your telescope out again and take it out on the prairies,” Bryan said thoughtfully.

“Yeah, would be nice. I’d love to pick up an adapter to attach either the video camera or the digital camera to the eyepiece. We could get some spectacular photos.”

“I’ll bet you that Henry’s has an adapter that would fit. We can swing by there today after we get settled in.”

“Good plan. How about the night life? We’ll be in town for three nights. I’m sure we can slip away for a while on one of those nights,” I said.

“Plenty of night life. Why don’t we spend the day tomorrow wearing out the boys and then leave them for the evening with some DVDs and all the pizza they can eat and we’ll go clubbing. Maybe even hit the casino,” Bryan suggested.

“Good plan, but that’s a lot of pizza. We’re talking about OUR boys here!” I laughed.

Bryan laughed too. “You know, I don’t remember eating anywhere near as much as those two when I was thirteen.”

“Same here,” I replied.

“That was the coolest!” Josh enthused as he and Mark returned to their seats.

“Yeah, it was amazing. You should have seen the view out the front windows,” Mark added.

“It’s all computer screens and stuff, there aren’t any dials and gauges like in a Cessna,” Josh said excitedly. “I told the pilot that I’m learning how to fly and that you’re a pilot already. He said flying one of these big things isn’t all that different from flying a Cessna. He and the copilot both said they learned to fly in Cessnas.”

“I told them about my plan to join Air Cadets and they thought it was a great idea. The co-pilot said he was an air cadet when he was a kid. He said that’s where he learned how to fly,” Mark said excitedly.

The boys were on cloud nine after their visit to the cockpit. The two of them were chattering back and forth at about a thousand miles per hour. Bryan and I just smiled and listened to the pair of them while enjoying their boyish enthusiasm and energy.

When we finally landed in Calgary and left the plane, the pilot was waiting at the exit. He shook hands with all of us and the boys thanked him profusely.

“Thanks for entertaining the boys. They really enjoyed that,” I said as I shook the captain’s hand.

“It was my pleasure. They’re both remarkable young men,” he replied with a smile. “Thanks for flying WestJet.”

After claiming our baggage, we grabbed a cab and twenty minutes later, we were going through the front door or Bryan and Mark’s house. We dropped our bags and started the first of several loads of laundry. With all that taken care of, we all met in the living room.

“I’m sure that I know the answer to this one, but are you guys hungry?” I asked.

“Do bears shit in the woods?” Josh snickered.

“Ok gang, let’s grab some lunch; I think we have all the stuff we need to make some tacos. We can relax for the afternoon and then head out to do some shopping,” Bryan suggested.

“Good plan. We’ll eat out tonight and maybe check out a movie,” I added.

“COOL!” Josh and Mark replied in unison.

“How about we see ‘Fight Club’,” Mark suggested. “My friend Bill saw it and he said it was pretty good.”

“That’s the one with Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, right?” I asked.

“Yep. Bill said it was kinda weird but still good,” Mark replied.

“Well then, ‘Fight Club’ it is,” Bryan said and patted Mark on the shoulder.

“Can we make the tacos?” Josh asked. “We won’t make a mess.”

“Not that I believe that the pair of you won’t make a mess, but go ahead,” Bryan laughed.

Mark blew a raspberry at his brother and then he and Josh fled into the kitchen to begin preparing our lunch. It was only 11:00 AM but to us, it was 1:00 PM and we were all hungry. Thank God for microwaves!

“Want a beer? I think we still have a few in the fridge,” Bryan asked.

“Sure, I could go for a cold one,” I replied.

Bryan went into the kitchen to grab us a couple of beers while I fired up my laptop. Bryan and Mark had a high speed cable Internet connection and I wanted to connect in and check my email. Just as I was logging into my PC, I felt something very cold and wet tough the back of my neck.

“Yikes!” I shouted and must have jumped about a foot out of my chair.

When I turned around, Bryan was standing there grinning with two very cold bottles of beer in his hand and behind him was a smiling Mark with my video camera taping the whole thing!

“Gotcha!” Bryan laughed.

“I’ll Gotcha the two of you in a moment,” I replied as I accepted one of the offered beers.

“Did you get him?” a smiling Josh asked as he entered the living room.

“Oh, so you were in on this too??? Traitor!” I said teasing Josh.

“Traitor, eh?” Josh smirked and then seized my newly opened bottle of Molson Canadian and took a deep chug.

“Hey! Save some for me,” I protested.

Josh handed me the bottle and then ran laughing with Mark back to the kitchen.

From the sounds coming from the kitchen, Mark and Josh were having a ball making lunch. Neither Bryan nor I had the courage to peek in there and see what kind of mess they were making. We just had to trust them that they wouldn’t do anything too outrageous. While they had their fun, it gave us a chance to talk.
 
“It’s hard to believe that three weeks will be over in just a few more days,” Bryan observed.

“Tell me about it. It’s been a blast. Josh and I have fallen in love with Alberta. It’s not a question of if we are going to move out here; it’s a question of when.”

“When that time comes, you’re both welcome here. It’s going to be tough for Mark and I to say goodbye even though it’s going to be temporary,” Bryan replied thoughtfully.

“I know. Josh and I are having the time of our lives exploring the country. We still have BC, the north and the entire eastern portion of the country to cover. It’s still going to be tough when we leave. It’s going to be a long thirty months.”

“It’ll fly by. We’ll have plenty of visits back and forth and the time will pass before we know it.”

“I hope so,” I replied.

Before long, Mark poked his head into the living room and announced that lunch was ready. Bryan and I followed him into the dining room and we were both pleasantly surprised to see that the boys had done a real bang up job of preparing a rather large batch of Old El Paso tacos. They had shredded piles of lettuce and other toppings and they had put out bowls of salsa and sour cream. The tacos ended up tasting as good as the looked and before long we were all full.

After we finished our lunch, Bryan and I cleaned the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher while the boys relaxed and plotted out the sites they wanted to see over the four days that we’d spend in Calgary.

With our mundane chores taken care of, we all climbed into my Jeep and we headed off to do our shopping. On the way to the grocery store, we stopped at Henry’s cameras and I picked up an adapter for my telescope, which would allow me to attach my digital camera and my video camera and take some spectacular astronomical photos.

After leaving Henry’s we raided the local Safeway store and loaded up on enough provisions to keep us all well fed for the next few days. Josh and I also replenished our supplies of canned drinks, bottled water and other food items for the next leg of the trip. After we left Calgary, we’d head west to explore British Columbia and then we’d head north to Whitehorse in the Yukon and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.

During the far northern portion of the trip, we’d be spending large amounts of time in areas that are little more than raw wilderness with no other human beings for miles around. Before starting that leg of the trip, we were going to need to ensure that we were very well stocked with supplies including fuel for the Jeep. We also planned on visiting a local Chrysler/Jeep dealership to have the Jeep fully checked out and serviced just to ensure that we wouldn’t have any problems far from civilization.

“You know, I was thinking about something. During the northern leg of this trip, we’re really going to be cut off from the outside world for large periods of time. I wonder if we should look into picking up a satellite phone.”

“Won’t our cell phones work?” Josh asked.

“Not very well Josh. They only put cell towers up in places where there are enough people using them to make it worthwhile,” Bryan answered.

“Aren’t those things expensive?” Mark asked.

“Probably,” I replied. “I’m just not sure how expensive. We do have the FRS radios and the CB, but it might be worthwhile to at least look into getting a sat phone.”

“Where do we get one?” Josh asked.

“There’s a high end electronics store a few blocks away,” Bryan said. “They probably carry them.”

“Alright then, lead the way!”

Bryan led us to a really futuristic looking store right in the heart of downtown Calgary. It looked like a Future Shop or Best Buy on steroids. They have so much cool stuff in there that all four of us could have spend several days, not to mention our entire bank accounts, in there. In the end, we managed to pry ourselves away after dropping only $1,200 on a new Globalstar mobile satellite phone. The phone could be used anywhere in the world and I was able to get a pay per use service package which included a small monthly fee coupled with a relatively large per minute charge of $1.25. I could have purchased a package that included a certain number of monthly minutes, but there would be no point. The phone would rarely be used and it was more cost effective to pay more for the minutes that I actually used than it was to pay for a bunch of minutes each month that I wouldn’t likely need.

The phone itself looked just like a handheld cell phone except that it had a much larger antenna. Along with the phone, we purchased extra batteries, a carrying case, and a rapid car charger. As soon as we arrived back at Bryan and Mark’s house, we plugged it in to charge it up.

After putting away all the groceries, we relaxed for a little while and then got ready for our evening out. Bryan and Mark both suggested a little steakhouse about ten minutes away from the house. Both Josh and my eyes lit up at the thought of more Alberta steaks grilled over an open flame and we readily agreed.

Dinner, as expected, was amazing. We ploughed through some of the finest steaks that any of us had eaten along with all the trimmings. Dessert was equally amazing. Josh and I opted for the deep fried ice cream, Mark had the ‘Death by Chocolate’ chocolate brownie with ice cream and Bryan had the cherry cheesecake. Of course, we all sampled bits of each other’s desserts and they were all amazing.

From the restaurant, we headed off to the Crowfoot Crossing Cineplex to watch ‘Fight Club’. It turned out to be a very good movie. It was full of plot twists and had some very strange themes. The surprise ending caught us all off guard. While we all thoroughly enjoyed it, in hindsight, it wasn’t exactly the type of movie that Susan would have approved of Josh seeing. We both agreed that we’d keep our mouths zipped about it.

We debated heading out northeast of the city to try out the camera mount for the telescope, but we decided against it. We had a full day planned the next day and we figured it would be better to get a good night’s sleep.

By the time we reached the house, the boys were starting to doze off in the back of the Jeep. “Hey guys, we’re home,” I said gently.

Two sets of droopy, sleepy eyes flicked open and the boys managed to haul themselves out of the Jeep and into the house.

“You guys look like you’re ready for bed,” Bryan remarked.

“Uh huh,” Mark said. “Goodnight.”

“Yeah, goodnight,” Josh agreed.

The two boys trudged off to Mark’s bedroom while Bryan and I sat down and turned on the nightly news. After a few minutes, I decided to go tuck the boys in.

I knocked softly on Mark’s door.

“Come in,” came the muffled reply from inside.

I entered the room and approached the bunk beds. Josh was in the top bunk. I reached out and gently ruffled his hair and pulled the covers right up to his chin. “Goodnight son,” I said and kissed him on the forehead.

Josh rolled over and hugged me tightly. “Goodnight Dad. I love you.”

“I love you too kiddo. See you in the morning,” I replied.

After Josh released me, I sat down on the edge of Mark’s bunk. I leaned down and kissed his forehead as I had done with Josh. “Goodnight bud,” I whispered.

“Goodnight Tommy,” Mark replied and hugged me firmly. “Tommy?” he said softly.

“Yes Mark?”

“Do you guys really have to go in a few days?” He asked softly.

“Well, we have a lot of territory to cover Marky. We’ll be back though. We’ll stop by again on our way back east and then we have the Christmas break to look forward to. You guys are coming out to visit us over Christmas.”

“I can’t wait. I’m really going to miss you guys when you leave.”

“We’re going to miss you too kiddo. Sleep tight,” I said softly and ruffled his hair. “Love you Mark.”

“I love you too,” he replied.

Just as I was leaving the boys’ room, Bryan came in to bid them goodnight. When he was done, we secured the house and the two of us retired for the night as well.

As soon as I closed the bedroom door behind me, I started yawning. Bryan quickly pulled me into a hug and rested his head on my shoulder.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said yawning, “You have me doing too.”

Together we both started yawning into each other’s ear. “I love you.” We were yawning so hard our bodies were shaking as we embraced.

“I could go to sleep just standing here,” I said softly into his ear with my eyes closed.

“This morning I couldn’t wait for this moment,” Bryan yawned again into my neck, “but now, I’m so beat, I doubt I’ll be able to get undressed before I get into bed.

Slowly, we separated and did get undressed.

As much as both of us might have liked to do a little more than sleep that night, we were both too bushed to do anything other than snuggle up and go to sleep, listening to each other breathe.

The next morning, we were up bright and early. After the four of us took our turns trooping through the shower, we loaded Mark and Bryan’s mountain bikes into the back of Bryan’s Explorer and we headed out to Humpty’s for breakfast.

After gorging ourselves on massive Humpty’s lumberjack breakfasts and hot coffee, we headed to the Calgary Saddle Dome, which was to be our first stop for the day. The Saddle Dome is very aptly named because it actually resembles the shape of a saddle. It’s the home of the famed Calgary Flames NHL hockey team as well as a number of minor league hockey teams. It is a truly spectacular facility and the tour was a lot of fun.

“You guys will have to come back during hockey season to catch a game here. Maybe you’ll even be able to see the Flames roast the Leafs!” Bryan chuckled.

Mark snickered in agreement.

“Sadly it doesn’t take much to beat the Leafs these days,” Josh replied.

“It’s been what, 35 or 36 years since they won the cup?” I asked.

“Something like that,” Bryan replied. “Calgary won it just a few years ago.”

“Sure rub it in,” I said and shook my head.

From the Saddle Dome, we headed over to the Calgary Tower. The tower isn’t the tallest building in Calgary but it does offer a spectacular view of the city and the Rocky Mountains to the west.

“Oh man, look at that view,” Josh exclaimed. He was looking to the west and it was such a clear day that the Rockies were clearly visible in all their majesty. Josh fired off a whole whack of digital photos and I used the video camera to capture a breathtaking panorama of the entire city.

“Check this out,” Mark said. “They have a glass floor!”

“Is that safe?” Josh asked as we approached the glass floor panel which looked down on the city below.

“According to this, the glass used in the floor is more than ten times stronger than the equivalent thickness of concrete,” Bryan said.

We all stepped out onto the large glass panel and the sensation of looking down at your feet and seeing nothing but air and the ground far below was a little disquieting.

“It feels like we’re standing in mid air,” Josh exclaimed.

“It’s not as high as the CN Tower in Toronto, but I think this view is much nicer,” I said to Bryan as we walked back to the observation deck windows. “That’s quite a sight,” I remarked while pointing to the place where the Bow River snaked its way through the downtown core.

“There’s actually pretty good trout fishing in there,” Bryan said. “Are you into fishing?”

“To borrow a phrase from Mark, does a bear shit in the woods?”

We both laughed heartily. “How about we grab some lunch upstairs in the Tops Grill and then head off to the Olympic Park?”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” I replied. “Hey boys, it’s feeding time,” I called to Josh and Mark.

We went upstairs and managed to secure a table on the west side of the tower facing the Rockies. After the huge breakfast that we’d eaten, we ate a relatively light lunch. Even the boys skipped dessert!

After lunch, we headed out to the Calgary Olympic Park. The Olympic Park was built for the 1988 Winter Olympics and it was now a major tourist attraction. During the summer months, the outdoor areas of the park were home to mountain bikers while the indoor rinks hosted skaters and hockey players. During the winter months, the place was a skier’s paradise.

Outside the main entrance, they have some of those boards with images on them and the faces cut out of them. Josh and Mark got behind a photo of a pair of ski jumpers while Bryan and I snapped some photos. From there, they ran over to a bobsled and climbed in pretending to be speeding down a bobsled track.

We began our visit with a guided tour of the facilities and from there, we began exploring on our own. We played a quick round of mini golf which Josh won handily and from there we went to the mountain bike trails. Josh and I waited while Mark and Bryan retrieved their bikes from the Explorer.

“Are you going to try this?” Josh asked.

“I’d love to, but I can’t chance it with my leg,” I replied.

“Good thinking, I don’t want you to get hurt again.” Josh rested his hand on my shoulder and leaned into me while we waited. “I really like Calgary. It’s an awesome city. I can’t wait to live here.”

“Same here bud,” I replied.

“It’s going to be tough saying goodbye to Mark and Bryan when we leave, but I’m kinda looking forward to it being just you and me again,” Josh said. “I love them and I can’t wait until we can all be together, but I really like it when it’s just the two of us.”

“I know what you mean kiddo. Dad and son time is important.”

Just then, Bryan and Mark arrived riding their mountain bikes.

“Cool bike,” Josh said to Mark when he screeched to a halt in front of us.

“Yeah Bryan bought it for me when I got here. He’s really into mountain biking. We ride together all the time.”

“You feel up to trying this Josh?” Bryan asked.

“Down that big hill?” Josh asked skeptically.

“Yep. Trust me; it’s load of fun,” Mark said encouragingly.

“I’m going to stay down here and film you guys riding down,” I said. “We only have two bikes and two sets of safety gear so why don’t you watch with me from down here while Mark and Bryan take a run at it. If you want to try it after that, you can go ahead.”

“Okay,” Josh replied brightly.

“Have fun guys and don’t break your necks or anything else,” I said jokingly as the two brothers headed to the ski lift that would carry them to the top of the ski hill.

I truly wished that the condition of my leg would allow me to attempt the ride. It looked like a load of fun. There were numerous bumps and rises along the way and I figured that you’d pick up a lot of speed on the way down.

We watched as Mark and Bryan waved to us from the top of the hill. A second later, Mark, followed by Bryan started down the hill. They picked up a lot of speed in a big hurry and both of them seemed to catch some air as they went over a small bump. The two of them rocketed down the hill in a back-and-forth zigzag pattern. I zoomed in on Mark with the video camera and I could see the shocks on his bike working overtime.

“Wow, they’re really moving,” Josh observed.

“Think you want to try it?” I asked.

“I think so,” Josh said.

“You don’t have to do it if you won’t want to,” I said gently. “Nobody’s going to call you a chicken or anything.”

“I know; but I think I’ll try it anyway.”

A moment later, Mark and Bryan arrived at the foot of the hill. They pulled along side one another and exchanged high-fives.

“Oh man, that’s always a rush!” Mark gushed.

“You caught some nice air on that first bump,” Bryan observed. “So how about it Josh, you want to try it?”

“Oh yeah,” Josh replied enthusiastically.

“Here, take my bike and my pads,” Mark said as he climbed off his bike and began to take off his helmet, elbow and knee pads. Josh was only slightly bigger than Mark and the safety equipment and bike suited him fine without any adjustment.

A few moments later, Mark and I were standing at the bottom of the hill watching Josh and Bryan ride the ski lift to the top.

“That was pretty amazing Mark. You’ve really come a long way since you’ve been here,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. Bryan has got me into some amazing stuff. I’m playing baseball too. Do you guys want to come to my game tomorrow?”

“We wouldn’t miss it kiddo,” I replied and put my arm around his shoulders.

Josh and Bryan finally made it to the top and I could see through the viewfinder of the camera that Bryan was giving Josh some last minutes pointers and instructions. I felt more than a few butterflies in the pit of my stomach as I watched my son prepare to careen down a hill on a mountain bike.

I kept my camera lens locked onto Josh as he inched forward and began to roll down the hill. He went over the first bump a little slower and more cautiously than Mark and Bryan had done and he seemed to be trying to slow himself down a bit at first, but before long, he began to build confidence. By the time he hit the last bump near the base of the hill, he was racing along at full tilt. When he hit that bump, he went airborne and then landed neatly before skidding to a stop not far from where Mark and I stood. The grin on his face said it all.

“That was awesome,” he enthused. “I want to go again!”

He did get to do it again. In fact, he did it another 10 or 15 times, and each time he got better and better at it. The three of them spent the next couple of hours roaring down the hill and they had a great time doing it. At one point or another, each of them expressed their concern that I was getting bored, but I assured them that I wasn’t. I was enjoying watching them have fun.

By the time we were ready to leave the park, Josh had added yet another reason to his ever growing list to move to Calgary.

After leaving the park, our plan was to head home to relax, have supper and then watch some DVDs before heading out that night to try out the new camera attachment for my telescope. We had no idea that our little clan was about to grow by two.

Bryan was driving and I was sitting in the passenger seat fooling with my video camera and reviewing some of the footage that I’d shot. Josh and Mark were chattering in the back seat. Everything was perfectly normal until Josh shouted, “STOP THE TRUCK!”

Bryan immediately and instinctively hit the breaks and pulled over on the shoulder.

“What’s wrong Josh?” I asked in a shocked tone. I didn’t get an answer. Josh had already opened the door and bolted out of the Explorer. I jumped out and took of after him as fast as I could without aggravating my leg. He was running back towards a large bag lying on the shoulder of the road, partially down in the ditch. At first, I was wondering why he was so interested in the bag and then I noticed that it was moving.

Josh reached the burlap bag and I saw him pull out his pocket knife and cut it open. I was grabbing my cell phone and preparing to call 911 expecting the worst. To my surprise, two large black and tan dogs popped out of the bag like a pair of jack-in-the-boxes and began to excitedly lick Josh in the face. Their tails were moving at about a mile a minute. I returned my phone to its holster and smiled as Josh giggled at the dogs.

Mark and Bryan arrived at the same time as I did and pretty soon the dogs turned their attention to them. The dogs were mostly black with tan coloured fur on their legs, chests and faces. On close inspection, they were rather large puppies. They must have weighed about 20 pounds each. They still had the oversized paws, soft and fuzzy fur, and floppy ears of immature dogs. One was a male and the other female. They both seemed malnourished, but they were nonetheless happy to see us.

The male puppy seemed to take a real liking to Josh. He was all over him. Josh sat down on the ground and the puppy stood with his front paws on Josh’s shoulders and madly licked his face. No matter what Josh did to try to get away, he kept giving him massive “puppy kisses.”

The female puppy, which looked pretty much the same only, slightly smaller, turned her attention to Mark. She was madly giving him a tongue bath in the same way that her brother was giving one to Josh.

Boys and puppies are a natural match if ever there was one. Bryan and I looked at each other and smiled; we knew what was coming next.

“Can we keep them?” Josh and Mark said I unison.

It was evident that as much as the boys wanted to adopt the puppies, the puppies had already adopted them.

“I’ll tell you what,” Bryan began. “These little guys were obviously abandoned and they need a home, but we had better make sure that they’re healthy before decide to keep them.”

“How could anyone leave a couple of puppies in a bag on the side of a road?” Josh asked angrily.

“I don’t know kiddo. Some people are just lazy or stupid. If they didn’t want the dogs, they could have taken them to the human society for adoption. Let’s take these guys to a vet and see if they’re ok,” I replied.

“Can we keep them if they’re ok?” Mark asked.

Without hesitation, Bryan answered. “Yes, IF THEY ARE ok, we can keep them, but you’ve got to promise to train them and look after them.”

“COOL! Thanks Bryan,” Mark said.

“Do you think Mom would mind?” Josh asked.

“I don’t know kiddo, we’ll have to ask her,” I replied.

“If she won’t let you keep him, we’ll keep them both,” Bryan replied.

“Will he be ok with us on our trip?” Josh asked.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” I replied. “We’ll just have to be sure to get him some food, a leash and stuff like that. We’ll also have to be sure to stay in motels that allow dogs.”

“Speaking of food; I have some bottled water and some beef jerky in the truck. I keep it there for emergencies. These little critters look like they could use something to eat and drink,” Bryan said.

“Good idea; we don’t know how long they’ve been out here.”

Bryan went back to the Explorer to retrieve the food and water while the boys and I played with the puppies. I picked up the male and gave him a good looking over. He was the cutest little fellow and he immediately began to lick my face profusely as soon as I picked him up.

“I think he likes you Dad,” Josh chuckled.

“It sure seems like it,” I replied. I wasn’t a veterinarian, but from what I could tell, he seemed to be healthy. When I set him back down, he immediately ran back to Josh. I watched as Mark played with the little female. She was running around his legs and jumping up and down.

Just before Bryan returned with the food and water, a daisy growing by the side of the road caught her eye. She ran right over and promptly grabbed the flower in her mouth and ate it!

“She just ate that daisy,” Mark laughed and picked up his puppy. “That’s what I’m going to call her: Daisy!”

“What should I call this guy?” Josh asked.

“I don’t know. He’s going to be a big strong dog when he grows up.”

“He’ll still be a friendly dog though,” Josh thought aloud. “It would be funny to give a big friendly dog a tough sounding name. What was the name of the bad guy on Popeye? Bruto? Bluto? Brutus?”

“I can’t remember. Of those three though, I like Brutus the best,” I replied.

“I do too. I think I’ll call him Brutus,” Josh said.

“Daisy and Brutus, eh?” Bryan asked as he handed Josh and Mark each a bottle of water and some beef Jerky.

The boys sat down and opened the bottles of water. We didn’t have any bowls or cups so they poured water into their cupped hands and let the puppies lap it up. In no time at all, both of the bottles of water were empty. After they finished the water, the boys each fed their puppy a small piece of beef jerky to give them some nourishment.

Getting the dogs into the Explorer posed no problem at all. Dogs seemed to be drawn to vehicles and they hopped right in with the boys. They were both a little ripe smelling from being left in the elements, so we opened the windows. Both puppies poked their heads out the windows and enjoyed the air on their faces as we drove along.

We went straight to a veterinary walk-in clinic that was not far from the house. Thankfully, the doctor wasn’t busy and was able to see us right away. After a careful examination, he declared that both puppies were in good health, but malnourished and slightly dehydrated. He estimated that the puppies were about five or six months old and that they were German Shepherd – Labrador Retriever crosses.

“That is actually a very good combination,” he said. “You tend to get the intense loyalty and intelligence of a German Shepherd and the sweet nature and even temper of the Labrador Retriever. They’ll be pretty big dogs and they’ll be great pets.”

“How big do you figure they’ll get?” Josh asked.

“Brutus will probably be about 100 pounds or so and Daisy will likely be about 90 pounds.”

“WOW! That’s big,” Mark said.

After thanking the vet, we left and headed over to the local pet shop to stock up on dog food and to buy collars, leashes, brushes, and food bowls for the latest additions to our family. With that taken care of, we needed to speak to Susan and get her ruling on having Brutus come home with Josh and me.

After feeding the dogs, Josh called Susan on the telephone.

“Hi Mom,” he said cheerfully. “We’re all fine. We had a great time at the Olympic park in Calgary today.” Josh spent a moment catching his mother up on the places that we’d visited and the things that we’d been doing.

“Guess what,” he said after a few minutes. “We found a couple of puppies. They were dumped at the side of the highway in a bag. We rescued them and took them to the vet and they’re both very healthy. There’s a boy and a girl. The girl’s name is Daisy and she’s Mark’s dog. The boy’s name is Brutus and he’s mine. Can we bring him home with us? I promise to train him and look after him,” Josh said.

Josh listened intently to his mother and then smiled broadly before handing me the phone. “She wants to talk to you,” he said.

“Hi Susan,” I said into the phone.

“Hi Tom. Are you sure that these dogs are ok?” Susan asked.

“Positive. We had them examined by a vet and they’ve been given a clean bill of health and they’ve had all their shots. They really are adorable dogs. The vet said that the mix of German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever is a really good combination. He said you get the brains and brawn of the Shepherd combined with the good nature and even temper of the Labrador.”

“I think having a dog will be good for Josh. He has always wanted one and if he’s as good as you say, bring him on home. Brutus will be welcome here,” she said.

At that time, none of us had any way of knowing just how important that decision would ultimately be.

That night, we skipped the star gazing and stayed home with the dogs. It was amazing just how smart they were. We began training right away and in no time at all, they were both learning how to obey commands, and they quickly learned that they needed to ask to go outside when they needed to go to the bathroom. It took them a little longer to get used to wearing their collars and leashes, but they both adapted and began to walk nicely with the boys.

Brutus and Daisy went to sleep in Mark’s room that night. Just before Bryan and I turned in for the night, I went in to check on the boys. When I went into the room, both dogs snapped right to attention. They were lying near the door as if they were guarding the entrance. As soon as they realized that I was a friendly, they relaxed again. It was amazing how quickly the puppies had bonded with “their” boys and they were ready to protect them.

After tucking in both of the boys, I stooped down and gave each of the puppies a pat on the head and a scratch on the belly. They both rewarded me with puppy kisses on my hand.

From there, I went and joined Bryan in bed.

Just as he had before, he showed me how gentle and caring the act of love can be. When our prolonged passions were satisfied, we both collapsed into each other’s arms and drifted contentedly off to sleep, both of us more in love than before, contemplating what lay ahead for our newly expanded family.


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