Glimpsing the Future
The welcome home party broke up around nine that night. Throughout the festivities, Brutus continued to stick close to Richard and Matthew. It was almost a sad moment when they had to say goodbye as the boys got into James and Anne's car to go home. When the last of the guests had left, Brutus walked from one to another of us – finally deciding to lie by Susan's feet.
"Good choice Brutus," she said with a smile as she gave him a little scratch behind the ear.
When the last of the guests left, we forced ourselves to unload the Jeep and then we crashed for the night. It was wonderful being back in my own bed in my own house for the first time in a couple of months. It was even nicer having Bryan next to me. As our bedroom activities subsided, he agreed with me - we were soul mates – to always be there for one another whenever possible.
Waking up in the morning with my arm across his chest and his arm around my shoulder felt even more comforting until Brutus jumped up on the bed and gave both of us a tongue bath. Right behind him was Josh and Mark standing at the door with big smiles.
"Hard night huh?" Mark said smiling. "What a pair of lazys. Josh, Brutus, and I have already finished our morning five K run and you two are still in bed."
"Morning boys," Bryan said smiling. "What time is it?"
"Almost seven o'clock." Josh replied.
"You went running too Josh?" I asked.
"Yeah Dad, I want to get in shape for the Terry Fox run.... remember?"
"Oooo, right! Alright guys, if you can get Brutus off the bed, we'll get up." I said laughing.
Bryan and I hit the bathroom; circling around each other as we took turns at the shower, the sink, and the porcelain throne.
It was Labour Day, so Bryan, Mark, Josh, and I decided to have some fun before Bryan and Mark had to be at the airport. The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) was still going on at the CNE grounds and the annual Air Show was to take place that afternoon.
After eating a great breakfast with Susan, Josh and I put our gear from the trip away, then the four of us headed to the Exhibition. We all piled into the Jeep and headed downtown. Much to my relief, Bryan took the wheel and gave me a well-deserved break from driving.
He surprised me when he went a few blocks off the direct route, but we knew where he was headed. He slowed the Jeep to a crawling idle as we went by Mark and Bryan's old house. There was a for sale sign posted on the unkempt lawn, the windows were bare and the house appeared empty.
"Fuckin' asshole." Bryan said quietly.
Mark giggled quietly. "Off into his own sunset."
"On that, I think we all agree," Josh added.
"You want me to find out what happened?" I asked Bryan.
Bryan took a deep breath and sighed. "No," he said almost in a whisper and a wink. "I already know. I took the liberty of phoning Darren after you left Calgary and asked if he'd keep an eye on the old man and let me know if he heard of anything that happened to him. He.... uh.... got into a fight at a bar and died two weeks ago, actually right after you left Calgary. Darren was great.... he arranged a pine box funeral that the city does for welfare folks and street crawlers.... the old man didn't have a penny to his name. I called the landlord and he said he'd call it even if he could have all the furniture and other stuff. Mark and I didn't want any of it."
"Bryan I'm so sorry I wasn't here for you," I said.
"Tom, don't be," he said. "Mark and I are over all that shit. We're actually relieved. The important thing about this whole thing is that you were here at the right time for Mark and that's all that counts," he concluded as he sped up and headed for the CNE.
The Exhibition Grounds are located on the shores of Lake Ontario on the west side of downtown Toronto. To the north, the CN Tower and the rest of the city skyline towers above. The CNE is the world's largest annual fair and it includes static displays from the military, emergency services, companies, clubs and organizations along with a whole lot of amusement rides. You can also cross a bridge over Lakeshore Boulevard to Ontario Place which features even more rides and exhibits including an IMAX theatre. The CNE runs from mid-August until Labour Day each year and on the last three days, it features the Canadian International Air Show. It was the air show that we were primarily interested in.
The air show was scheduled to start at one PM which gave us the better part of three hours to explore and enjoy some rides. Mark and Josh conspired to try to scare the crap out of Bryan and me by taking us on all the scariest rides they could find. Of course both Bryan and I were old pros when it came to amusement park rides and the boys had no luck in their little scheme.
In between the rides, we visited a number of the buildings including the automotive building which featured a large agricultural display and the Coliseum which featured a "Super Dogs" show. The show featured dogs running through obstacle courses and doing tricks.
"Brutus and Daisy could probably do that stuff," Josh said.
"No doubt," Mark replied. "I'm still amazed at how Brutus pulled Richard out of the water at the lake."
"You should have seen it," I added. "We just stood there amazed and watched him do it."
"Daisy has started fetching the paper for me each morning," Bryan said with a chuckle. "We didn't teach her how to do it; she just started doing it on her own. When she comes back from her morning run with Mark, she picks it up in her teeth and carries it around until I get up and then she drops it at my feet."
"I read that retrievers love to retrieve things," Josh said. "Brutus loves playing fetch more than any other game."
"Amazing dogs," I replied. "Who's looking after Daisy while you're here?" I asked.
"We have a great neighbour, Mr. Senflex. He's retired and Daisy really likes him. He says that it's great because she gets him out walking and she doesn't pull on the lead when he walks her. He loves dogs, but he doesn't want to get another dog at his age."
After we left the Coliseum, we headed over to the Canadian Armed Forces display. They boys looked as if they were in Disneyland. The display included a Leopard C2 main battle tank, armored personnel carriers, trucks Jeeps, a Griffon helicopter, a CF-18 fighter and a CT-114 tutor jet in the Snowbirds paint scheme. The boys were able to climb inside all of the vehicles including the jets and there were military personnel all over the place to answer questions.
One of the vehicles was a Cougar, which was the same type of vehicle that I'd had my accident in. I stood and looked quietly at the interior for a moment when I felt Josh's hand on my shoulder.
"It was one like this that you got hurt in wasn't it?" He asked softly.
"Yeah, it was. I was sitting over there," I said and pointed to the loader's seat.
Josh climbed in and sat down in the loader's seat and looked around. The ammunition rack was behind him and the breach for the main gun was in front of him.
"When it rolled, I banged my head on the ammo rack and I caught my leg in the cabling down there below the turret," I said while I pointed to the things that I was describing.
"That's pretty cramped," Bryan said as he and Mark arrived.
"Pretty cool vehicle," Mark said.
"It's the same type that he had his accident in," Josh said.
"Davis? Is that you?" A voice said from behind me.
I turned and it took a second to register, but standing in front of me, now a Warrant Officer, was my former Sergeant and section commander Rob Phillips. "Sergeant or should I say Warrant Phillips! It's good to see you again."
Warrant Officer Phillips snapped to attention and fired off a salute. "It's nice to see you again too sir," he said. "I heard about your settlement and promotion."
"Don't worry about the sir stuff," I said. "I'm retired."
"And it's too bad too. You were a damned good soldier and you'd have made a hell of a platoon commander"
"Thank you Warrant, that means a lot coming from you. How have you been since the accident?"
Warrant Phillips held out his right arm and showed us the long scar ending just below his elbow. "They put me back together ok, but I've certainly got the scar to remind me."
We spoke with Warrant Officer Phillips for a few more minutes and they made our way to the air force section of the display. We all knew it was what Mark really wanted to see.
Mark and Josh both got to climb inside the cockpit of the CF-18 hornet jet and we took pictures of each of them sitting at the controls. Mark asked the pilot who was manning the display all sorts of questions and even got to try on a flight helmet at oxygen mask.
"I really want to fly one of these one day," Mark said.
"If you put your mind to it, I'm sure you will," I replied.
"How do I get started? I'm going to join Air Cadets, but what else can I do?" Mark asked the pilot who had been showing us the aircraft.
"You need to be an officer in order to be a pilot, so your best bet will be to get accepted into Royal Military College in Kingston after you finish high school. I went there myself. I was class of 1990."
"Is it hard to get accepted?" Mark asked.
"It can be. They have very high standards and they turn down an average of 25 applicants for each one that gets accepted. You need to have excellent marks, be very physically fit, be able to demonstrate leadership and involvement in team sports and participated in volunteer work. Air Cadets will be an excellent start."
"Sounds like you're already on the right track," Bryan said.
"For sure. You're smart and you can run circles around me," Josh added.
"I really am serious about this. After we flew those planes I decided I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Maybe even become an astronaut like Chris Hadfield."
"Mark, you can do whatever you set your mind to," I said.
After we finished checking out the CF-18, both boys got to sit side-by-side in the seats of the CT-114 Tutor jet. It was an older Canadian designed aircraft that had until recently been the standard jet trainer for Canadian fighter pilots. It had been replaced by the BAE Hawk and was only currently used by the Snowbirds aerobatic team.
After we finished with the military display, we headed to the food building and grabbed lunch. The food building is one of the best parts of the CNE. The entire building is like a giant food court and you can get just about any type of food you could imagine there. The prices were also fantastic.
Bryan and I decided on Fish and Chips, Mark went for spicy Buffalo wings and Josh had a Mexican taco platter. Each of us picked up a plastic Coca Cola polar bear cup for $5. The reusable cup holds about 750ml of coke and can be refilled for $1 at any Coke stand within the CNE grounds. We all made sure to refill our cups before heading down to the Lakeshore for the air show.
Being old pros at seeing the air show, we knew that the best seats were on the Ontario Place side so we crossed the bridge to Ontario Place and headed towards the air show viewing area. We found a nice grassy area with plenty of shade that gave us a perfect view of show center. The planes would all perform out over Lake Ontario and we could see a line of police and fire boats setup keeping other boat traffic out of the area.
The show began with an impressive display of the USAF Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds in their F16 jets performed a breathtaking aerobatic display that lasted nearly half an hour. After the Thunderbirds, there were a number of civilian stunt pilots and a display by a team of pilots flying restored WWII Royal Canadian Air Force Harvard trainers. The bright yellow propeller driven planes made a very distinct noise as they thundered overhead.
After the Harvards, a USAF B2 Spirit stealth bomber made an appearance followed by a USAF F15 Eagle. The Eagle was followed by a Canadian Forces CF-18 Hornet painted in red and white with a giant red maple leaf painted on the lower side. The aircraft did an impressive display of high speed and low speed aerobatic maneuvers before seeming to exit the viewing area. We all thought that it was gone, but were suddenly treated to a very unique sight. The modern day CF-18 reappeared flying in close formation with a fully restored RCAF Spitfire and one of only two flying examples of Lancaster Bombers left in the world. It was amazing to see WWII planes flying alongside a modern day jet fighter. They called it the "heritage flight".
After a number of other displays by military and civilian aircraft, the highlight of the show made their appearance, the Snowbirds. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are a precision aerobatic team made up of active duty fighter pilots who fly dozens of air shows each year all over North America. They are one of the few nine plane aerobatic teams that perform at air shows.
They began their show by flying some impressive maneuvers in a giant formation and then they broke up and began flying in smaller groups. In one of their more breathtaking moves, two aircraft fly right at each other at over 400 knots and then break at the last second seeming to miss one another by mere feet.
When the Snowbirds finished their display, we got up and headed back towards the Exhibition grounds.
"What time do you guys need to leave?" I asked Bryan.
"Our flight is wheels up at 7:30 PM, so we should be at the airport by around 6:30 or so."
"Hmmm," I said.
"I know that 'hmmm' sound," Bryan chuckled. "What are you up to?"
"Well, a little bird just happened to tell me that the IMAX theatre is showing the movie 'The Dream Is Alive' and it starts in about twenty minutes. Mark would love it .... it's all about a shuttle mission and we've got time to see it and still get you guys to Pearson for your flight home."
"I saw that one a few years ago. He'd love it. Let's see what the boys think."
"See what we think about what?" Josh asked as he and Mark came up behind us.
"What are you two plotting this time?" Mark asked.
"Well," I replied. "We thought we might torture the two of you by making you sit through a big screen IMAX film called 'The Dream Is Alive'. It's about a complete shuttle mission from training to launch and finally landing."
"Really?" Mark asked with a gigantic grin on his face.
"Really," Bryan replied. Unless you'd rather go on some more rides and take another shot at making Tom and I puke!"
"Well that might be fun," Josh said, "but the theatre will be air conditioned and it sounds like something that would be right up Mark's alley," Josh chuckled.
"Alright, let's go!" I said.
The cool air conditioned interior of the IMAX theatre was a welcome break from the sizzling heat of that bright and sunny September Monday. We took our seats about half-way up the massive three story high screen and waited for the movie to begin.
Compared to standard film, an IMAX movie is utterly breathtaking. The screens are massive and the sound system makes the floor rumble beneath your feet. You feel as if you are actually part of the action taking place on the screen in front of you. Bryan was sitting on my right with Mark on my left and Josh was to Bryan's right. On the way into the theatre, we loaded ourselves up with popcorn and drinks and were seated with about a minute to spare before the movie started.
Just ahead of the feature presentation there was a laser display that demonstrated the capabilities of the IMAX theatre and there were a number of commercials. Most of them were fairly forgettable, but one of them sent goose bumps down all of our backs.
The commercial featured a young man who was probably about my age walking down a rocky beach obviously in deep thought. He was wearing a backpack with a Canadian flag sewn onto it. The young man stopped and gazed up at the cliffs lining the beach and then pulled out his cell phone.
The scene changed to show a phone ringing in the hallway of a house. An old man enters the scene and answers the phone. It's the young man on the beach.
"Hi Grandpa, I'm calling from France," he said.
"Well hello," the old man replied. "It's great to hear from you. Are the girls in Paris as pretty as I remember them?"
The young man paused. "I'm not in Paris, Grandpa," the young man said. "I'm in Dieppe."
The old man closed his eyes tightly for a moment before replying. The camera panned to the wall behind him and showed two black and white photos of the old man in his younger days wearing an army uniform.
"Oh," he paused. "I'm glad that you're there."
The young man thought for a second. "I just wanted to call and say… thank you."
The commercial, which was for a cell phone company, ended with the logo of the company and a note reminding people to take the time to thank a veteran for our freedom.
We all glanced at one another in the darkened theatre. "Look at my arm," I said and held my forearm out to Bryan. "I've got goose bumps."
"Same here," he replied. "That was a hell of a commercial."
The movie began shortly afterwards and it was everything that we expected and more. The launch scene had us practically clinging to our seats as the theatre seats shook and rumbled around us. The space scenes were so life-like that you could almost experience the sensation of vertigo from watching them. Throughout the movie, I glanced over at Mark and watched him. His eyes were riveted to the screen. As much as the simulated air combat experience had cemented a career goal in his mind, this movie did the same.
I was pretty sure that from that day forward, Mark's dual goals would be to become a fighter pilot and to fly in space. None of us who loved him and knew him well had any doubt that both goals were well within his reach. Each of us would also do whatever we could to support him in achieving those goals.
After we left the theatre Mark and Josh surprised us with a request.
"Dad, that commercial got us thinking," Josh said. "Mark and I were talking about next summer."
"Yeah. Remember that you said I could pick where we would all go next summer?" Mark asked. "We've picked a place."
"Where would you like to go?" Bryan asked.
I already guessed the answer before Josh spoke.
"We want to go to Europe and see places like Vimy Ridge, Normandy, and Dieppe," Josh said.
Bryan and I looked at each other and exchanged the type of non-verbal communications that only those close and in tune with one another can understand and then I answered for both of us. "I think that can be arranged," I smiled.
Bryan nodded agreement and then we found ourselves in another of the four-way hugs that were so common in our little family. "I think it would be a great learning experience for all of us," Bryan said.
With that, it was decided at our level, and pending Susan's approval, we'd visit historic Europe for a couple of weeks during the summer of 2001.
Sadly, our day together came to a close all too soon. Once again, the four of us found ourselves standing at the departure gate of an airport exchanging emotional goodbyes.
I pulled Bryan into a tight hug. "These departures are getting old really quick," I said. "I much prefer airport greetings than goodbyes."
"Me too. You take care of yourself and have a good semester. You two look after each other and Susan too. Give my love to everyone else."
"I will. Love you Bry," I said.
"Love you too. Call me tomorrow and tell me how your first day went back at school."
"I will," I replied and then after a short pause, released Bryan from my embrace.
Mark came to me next while Josh went to Bryan. I pulled the boy into a firm bear hug. "So long for now Mark," I said. "Have fun back at school with your friends and keep your eyes on the prize. You're going to be the best damned fighter pilot in the world one day and a hell of an astronaut too."
Mark smiled warmly. "I hope so. I'm going to try. I love you Tom. I'm going to miss you guys."
"I love you too kiddo. Remember, we'll be together again in a couple of months for Christmas. Look out for your brother for me, ok?"
"I will," Mark said and with that he and Bryan went through the gate and headed home to Calgary, leaving Josh and I with a lump in our throats and an ache in our gut.
Over the next few weeks, Josh and I got back into our normal routines. As much as we had enjoyed the excitement of being on the road for two months, it was a bit of a relief to be back to a regular routine. It wasn't mundane – just a relief. We kept in constant touch with Bryan and Mark and we made the most of our long distance relationships.
In addition to keeping up with my school work, I kept working on my multimedia authoring program. With Bryan's help in writing the code and with both Josh and Mark assisting with testing, the program was coming along nicely. Josh and I worked with the program to begin to assemble all the photos and video clips that we'd shot during our trip into an interesting interactive presentation.
Josh of course also kept in touch with Shelly and her family. Shelly continued to show remarkable improvement and was responding very well to the experimental drug therapy that she was receiving. There was of course the possibility of having to come up with significant funds to pay for additional doses of the drug down the road and Josh was wracking his mind trying to come up with ways to help out.
The degree to which Josh had matured and grown during the summer became abundantly clear shortly after he returned to school. The school was well aware of how he had spent his summer and they talked him into giving a presentation in front of the whole school in exchange for extra credit.
We decided that the students at Josh's school would make an excellent initial test audience for our presentation and the two of us worked to create a fast paced and engaging presentation for Josh to deliver. Both Susan and I took a day off school and work to be there to watch him. Both Susan and I were pretty anxious about the presentation before Josh started, but by the time he was done, we were both awestruck.
Josh began standing behind a podium speaking into a microphone on a stand. He had a laser pointer in his hand and our presentation, which he controlled from my laptop was projected on a large screen behind him. He also had a remote control, so that he could advance to the next video clip or slide. As Josh began, everyone quickly realized that they were experiencing something special.
The screen slowly faded from blank to first screen shot. It was a full size picture of Susan's smiling face. WHAT? That wasn't in the script! Susan let out an embarrassed squeal and buried her face in her hands.
"That's my Mom saying goodbye to us as we started our trip," Josh began. "Now think about it.... without our Mom's, none of us would be here today would we?"
That introduction got the audience laughing and applauding right away. Then he started on the pics and video clips starting with the ceremony at Camp Tonawonka.
I had lived the experiences that Josh was talking about and yet I was enthralled listening to him and watching him reenact our vacation. It was like I was experiencing the whole journey all over again.
He didn't stay behind the podium for long. Without an ounce of stage fright, Josh unhooked the microphone from the stand and began to pace animatedly across the stage. As he spoke, the raw emotion of the experiences that we'd had, came through loud and clear in his descriptions. He paced and gestured and strutted about that stage like an actor giving the performance of his life. The entire audience was caught up in the presentation and they found themselves laughing, clapping, cheering, and even at times crying, especially when he told the story of how we rescued Daisy and Brutus.
Even the teachers and parents in the audience couldn't help themselves but get caught up in the whole spectacle. Every single person in the auditorium was on the edge of their seats, hanging on every word as Josh spoke.
When he got to the part where the four of us were camping in Jasper, he showed another full head shot – this time it was Mark.
"Look closely at that face," he said seriously. "That's Mark Callahan, my best friend, my brother. Yes, he was awarded the Star of Courage medal together with my Dad and I. Imagine what he will look like in about fifteen years. You want to know how far he's going to go in life? Don't blink or you might find him on the moon and beyond. My bet is that Mark's going to be the best astronaut that Canada will ever have." I didn't remember that being in the script.
Then he went on with our trip through West Edmonton Mall and of course, when he got to our trip around the Badlands and Drumheller, he had to show a full-face view of Shelley. Another unscripted slide, at least as far as I was concerned.
"Isn't she cute? Her name is Shelley," he said smiling. "Maybe fifteen years from now if you should meet me, you'll probably find her nearby. I'll tell you a bit more about her later."
Then he returned to the script that I was familiar with and described our trip to Ottawa and the medal ceremony. He was very strong in his description of the Prime Minister; complimenting him for the courage, knowledge, and diplomatic talents that it takes to be the Prime Minister of Canada. Josh didn't mention any of the things that he'd said to the Prime Minister – when we put the presentation together; we agreed that was a matter of public record.
Using the Museum of Natural History as a backdrop, Josh went off the script one more time. This time it was a great shot of Bryan.
"Handsome, isn't he?" Josh smiled again. "This is Bryan Callahan. Sorry ladies, he's taken, but I must say he's doing a great job of providing mature guidance for my best friend and brother, Mark. Actually, he's Mark's older brother. A very good computer geek and I know if anything was to happen to my Mom or Dad, he'd be there in an instant to help me out. It's amazing how people walk into your life and become more than your friend. That's our Bryan."
Throughout the presentation, his descriptions of the places we traveled through, from the mile 0 in Victoria to the other mile 0 in St. Johns Newfoundland, and the people we met were so descriptive, warm, and accurate. I'm sure the whole audience shared my view that Josh loved all the people he met.
When Josh got to the scripted presentation of our fishing trip with Richard and Matthew at Rice Lake, I knew the presentation was coming to an end and I breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't centred me out. Little did I know.
As he completed his talk about Rice Lake, as scripted, the picture faded away, and was replaced with a collage of three head shots I didn't know we had. On the left was a picture of Rosie, the toothless lady from the rest area near Hope BC; in the centre was a picture of the Prime Minister, and on the right was a picture of me.
My heart was in my throat – where was he going with this?
"Heroes," he began. "When I was putting the final touches to this presentation...." he looked directly at me with a smile and winked, "I wondered who were my heroes in addition to my Mom, Bryan and Mark. Remember Rosie from the rest area and how enthusiastic she was to be in the movies. She was one of my heroes because of the simple thoughts that ran through her mind and yet, she strived to have a comfortable life regardless of the walls that ignorant people put in her way. I felt her struggle and I felt her happiness in spite of that struggle. That was why I chose her to represent all the people, the heroes like her, that are in a similar situation. She wouldn't harm a soul and you can see that kindness in her eyes. Naturally, we all recognize the man in the middle as our Prime Minister. I look in his eyes and I see the burden of justice.... not for just you and me, but also for all the Rosies' that live in this great country of ours. I see the burden of stress that he takes on from all of the people of Canada. Knowing what the Prime Minister's job entails before he was elected, he still had the courage to take on those burdens. That truly should make him a hero to every Canadian. I'm sure you recognize the man on the right, Tom Davis. You've seen him in the background of some of the videos and pictures. Yes, he too has received the Star of Courage from the Governor General for acts of bravery in the face of great personal peril. By itself, that makes this man my real hero, but one of the early things that Tom taught me was.... any man can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a dad."
The screen faded and was replaced with just the picture of me as I was receiving the medal.
"My biological father had more or less abandoned me, and after he died, Tommy became my Dad.... my hero. Is he smart? You better believe it.... he wrote the multimedia computer program that's running this presentation. He planned this whole trip across Canada." He looked directly at Susan and me. "Mom, I love you, but Dad.... you're my real hero and I love you too."
I thought the presentation had come to an end as my picture faded from the screen, but Josh pressed the remote again and the picture of Shelley returned to the screen as Josh approached the edge of the stage and sat down with his legs dangling. He surveyed the assembled students and spoke from the heart.
"This adventure that I experienced this summer with my Dad was the best time of my life. We got to see and experience everything that you could imagine from coast-to-coast-to-coast. Every Canadian should get the chance to do this. What I just showed you was what Canada really is. It's ours. All of it is ours. The oceans. The lakes. The mountains. The tundra. The prairies. The forests and the cities all belong to each and every one of us. It's up to us to keep it and protect it. We are the future. That's what I learned. We aren't just kids along for the ride. We can make a difference. We don't have to stand and watch things happen. We can do our part to make a difference. If every one of us in every school in Canada makes the effort, we can make this country even better than it is now. We can get to know others in other provinces and learn about the way they live and they can learn about us. The more that we all get to know about each other, the better we'll understand one another and respect one another. We can do things like the Terry Fox run and try to beat cancer. I'm going to do just that. I'm going to run in the Terry Fox run for Shelly and all the other kids who have cancer."
He pressed the remote again and the picture of Shelley faded as one of Terry Fox faded in.
"You can too. You can run or you can sponsor someone who is going to run. We can do what Terry did and we CAN make a difference. Thank you for listening."
Josh stood up to return the microphone to the stand and at that moment the applause was thunderous. Teachers, parents, and students were on their feet cheering and clapping. Susan and I were too. I turned my head and looked at Susan who was absolutely wide-eyed with wonder and proud by what she'd just seen her son do. The standing ovation lasted for more than two minutes before the principal managed to get everyone quieted down. When he thanked Josh for his presentation, the cheering started up once again.
Susan and I left the auditorium to wait for Josh outside. We were both literally thunderstruck by what we had just witnessed.
"Did you help him write that last bit?" Susan asked.
"Not me. I helped with the presentation, but he sure didn't stick to the script," I replied. "He even did some last minute changes in the program I didn't know about. I had no idea that he was going to do that last bit. It all came from his heart. Makes me proud."
"Good Lord! I can't believe that was Josh up there. It was like watching a professional."
Just then Josh arrived.
"Hi Mom, hi Dad," he said happily. "Did you like the presentation?"
"Like it? I loved it honey," Susan replied. "You were absolutely amazing. You had everyone hanging on every word."
"You tweaked the content of the program! That last bit was great," I exclaimed. "Did you write that on your own?"
"Actually, I didn't write it," he said. "I just thought of those extra things as I was saying it," he replied nonchalantly as if it was no big deal.
"You adlibbed that whole closing speech?" I asked completely dumbfounded.
"Yeah, I guess. I just said what I felt from here," he said and pointed at his chest. Almost as amazing as what he had said, was the fact that it was so incredible and was absolutely beyond him.
"Amazing!" Susan said with wonder in her voice as she pulled Josh into a hug.
Before long Josh was swarmed by dozens of his friends who were all firing questions and comments at him like some kind of media scrum. I smiled to myself and, as I often did, marveled at my son and how amazing he truly was. Josh was forever full of surprises and his transformation over the summer was amazing. He'd clearly been awakened to the larger country and indeed the larger world out there and he had embraced it. None of us knew it at the time, but emotionally charged and riveting speeches would later become the hallmark that would help to propel him to his ultimate destiny.
That night, I stopped by Josh's bedroom to say goodnight. I sat down on the edge of his bed reached out to gently caress his forehead and ruffle his short spiky hair. "You were absolutely amazing today son," I said.
"Really? I thought it was ok," he replied modestly.
"It was a lot more than just ok," I replied. "You had everyone in the palm of your hand. If you had told everyone to jump up and down and cluck like a chicken, we'd have done it."
"I had a lot of fun up there. I thought I'd be nervous in front of the whole school, but I wasn't nervous at all. It came so natural..... I wanted them to feel what I experienced on the trip."
"You looked and sounded great kiddo," I said warmly. "If you can keep that up, you will change the world one day Josh. If you can get people to listen to you and follow you, you can really make a difference."
"I can't wait to do the taping at the Air Farce next week," Josh said with a yawn.
"It'll be great," I replied.
"Do you think they'll let me say something about the Terry Fox run and Shelly?"
"Josh, I think you could sell ice to Eskimos. Ask them. The worst they can do is say no," I said.
"That's true. Hey Dad, you remember Mr. Donalson at the Chrysler dealer in Calgary?"
"Yeah, of course I do. He gave us a two-grand tune-up on the Jeep."
"Well.... do you think he'd appreciate it if we donated some of that money to sponsor a Terry Fox runner?"
I grinned. What a wonderful thought. "Josh," I said with a proud smile, "I'll phone him tomorrow and I'll TELL him that's where his generosity was spent."
"Thanks Dad. I love you," Josh said and held out his arms for a hug.
I hugged him closely and replied, "Goodnight son. I love you too."
"'Night Dad." He had the wonderful Josh grin on his face as he closed his eyes.
The next day I phoned Mr. Donalson during my lunch period to tell him where his generosity was going to be used. He was thrilled.
"Mr. Davis, the cheque is in the mail...." he announced. "I'll make it out to Josh Chambers right now."
Once again, I explained that he already advised us to use the benefits of the tune-up and that was what we were doing. I didn't want him to pay again. However, much to my chagrin, he insisted and that was the way the conversation ended.
I obtained a video tape of Josh's performance from the school, digitized it with my multimedia program, compressed the file, and then emailed it to Bryan and Mark. Within an hour, my phone was ringing.
"Hello?" I answered.
"What did you do to him?" Bryan asked with a chuckle.
"Yes Josh! Mark and I watched that video and if it was half as amazing in person as it was on the computer it must have been incredible."
"I lived the experience and I was eating out of his hand," I replied, "and I had nothing to do with the comments he made about you and Mark. He adlibbed all that and added it to the presentation after I thought we had it finished. The same with Susan and me. We had no idea..... actually, I was amazed that he caught onto the intricacies of the multimedia program so fast."
"He almost had me crying when he added those personal touches. It was sweet. I can really see him speaking to a larger forum one day," Bryan replied. "I look at the political leaders we have today and not one of them could deliver a performance like that."
"And he's only thirteen," I said. "Imagine what he'll be like in 20 years or so."
"Let me go on record as saying that I am officially a believer in your dreams!"
"You and me both!" I chuckled.
That second week back at school proved to be a banner week for Josh. It started with is presentation on our trip on Monday and ended with Student Council elections on Thursday and Friday.
Josh, as an eighth grader threw his hat in the ring for president of the Student's Council. There were four other kids running against him, but it wasn't even close. The election took place on Thursday and the results were announced at the end of classes that day. Out of 479 votes cast, Josh received 342. It was a landslide and definitely a preview of things to come.
In order to give the students the full experience, the whole thing was run just like a real election and on Friday, the winning candidates were administered an oath of office in front of the school. Susan and I both made sure to attend the ceremony.
The principal was behind the podium and the stage was lined with the Canada, Ontario, and city of Toronto flags. As president-elect of the student's council, Josh was called first to take his oath. The oath was a slightly modified version of the oath that the Prime Minister of Canada takes when he/she is sworn in.
Josh stood and faced the principal.
"Josh, raise your right hand and repeat after me," the principal said.
Josh raised his right hand and placed his left hand on a copy of the Bible. Since it was a public school, students had the choice of swearing or affirming their oath. Josh chose to swear his.
"I, please state your name, do solemnly promise and swear," The principal said.
"I, Joshua Michael Chambers do solemnly promise and swear," Josh repeated.
"That I will truly and faithfully and to the best of my skills and knowledge," the principal continued.
"That I will truly and faithfully and to the best of my skills and knowledge," Josh repeated once again in a loud clear voice.
"Execute the powers and trusts reposed in me as president of the student's council,"
"Execute the powers and trusts reposed in me as president of the student's council,"
"So help me God," the principal finished.
"So help me God," Josh stated with a huge smile on his face.
The assembled students clapped and cheered as Josh took his seat and looked on as the other executive members of the student's council were administered their oaths of office.
"You know," Susan whispered to me. "Somehow I get the distinct feeling, call it mother's intuition, that this won't be the last time that we watch him swear an oath."
I smiled back at her. "You know, I think you might just be right about that," I replied.
After the ceremony ended, I watched Josh interact with the other kids as he made his way towards us. It was actually quite amazing. Middle Schools tended to be hot beds of cliques and groups. People always struggled to fit into one group or the other and some groups looked down on others. Josh seemed to be above it all. He seemed to transcend the politics of adolescence and he seemed to fit in with and be perfectly at ease with just about anyone. Even the runner up for student's council president, who by default became vice president, seemed to hold no grudge against Josh. Indeed, Josh stood and shook the boy's hand after he was sworn in. Bryan coined it perfectly when he said on several occasions, that people just can't help but like him. He was right. Josh seemed to be liked and admired by everyone and to his credit, he took it all in stride and it never went to his head.
When Josh finally broke away from the crowd, he ran to Susan and me. Unlike most boys his age, he didn't think twice about giving each of us a warm hug in public.
"Congratulations Mr. President," I said with a grin.
"Thanks Dad!" he replied. "That was really fun," he enthused.
"You were great up there," Susan said. "I'm very proud of you."
"They checked the records and I won the biggest landslide ever!" He said proudly.
"So what are you going to do now that you've won?" I asked.
"I've already got a meeting with the principal and the boys and girls phys ed. teachers. We have to get to work quickly. We're going to try to arrange to have an official Terry Fox run here at the school."
"Amazing! You've only just been sworn in and you're already getting down to work," Susan chuckled. "That's my boy!"
It was typical Josh. Make the most of every situation and make it quick!
The following Monday was another important day for both of us. I received a call from Major William Poole who was the commanding officer of 845 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Cadets. My paperwork had come through and I was now, as soon as I signed on the dotted line the training officer for the air cadet squadron. I was being reactivated into the Cadet Instructor Cadre (CIC) and given the rank of Captain. I'd be in charge of all training activities related to flight operations.
That Monday night I went down to sign the papers and pick up my uniform. Josh went with me and we got him officially signed up as an Air Cadet. After being issued his uniform, he was sent to join the other new recruits in the recruit training flight while I met the other officers and civilian instructors of the squadron. I changed into my new uniform, complete with peaked hat and a pair of golden pilot wings, and then went for a tour of the school that was used by the cadet squadron for its training nights. I was being shown around by a fellow training officer, Captain Frank Aldrich. Captain Aldrich was tasked with general training and I'd spend much of my time with the squadron working fairly closely with him.
The gymnasium was used as a parade ground and when we walked in; the recruit flight was formed up and was already learning basic drill maneuvers. I grinned faintly when Josh saw me in my uniform for the first time and did a bit of a double take.
I stood and watched for a little while as Josh and his fellow recruits were put through their paces. I was pleased to see that Josh did very well and didn't make many mistakes. That particular cadet squadron was one of the largest. It had over 200 cadets and, including Josh, there were 25 new recruits who had just joined up.
"Looks like we've got a good bunch in this group," Frank said as we headed out and down the hallway to resume our tour.
"For sure," I agreed. "I'm actually quite impressed with what I've seen so far."
"It's going to be great having you around," Frank said. "I'm not a pilot and I found that I was kind of shoe-horned into teaching some of that stuff."
"I'm happy to be here. To be quite honest, I jumped at the opportunity to get back into uniform." I filled Frank in on my past military experiences.
"Christ. That's pretty rough. Quite a change from armored reconnaissance to this. At least you don't have to worry about anyone shooting at you around here!"
"That's for sure. I figured that if I could at least do some good and teach some of these kids a thing or two it'll be worth it. Some of these boys and girls will be tomorrow's fighter pilots and astronauts."
"Good way to look at it," Frank replied.
That evening at closing parade, I was formally introduced to the assembled squadron as their new flight training officer and I had an opportunity to speak briefly to the cadets. I gave them some details as to my flight experience and how I came to be a pilot partially as a result of my family lineage. The kids, who ranged in age from thirteen to eighteen, were very receptive, and after the squadron was dismissed, I had more than a few approach me and introduce themselves. By the time I left with Josh, my right arm was almost worn out from returning so many salutes!
"You look awesome in that uniform," Josh said enthusiastically as we headed to the Jeep to drive home.
"Thanks," I said with a grin. "You'll look pretty sharp in yours too."
"It was really cool. You already taught me some of that stuff so it was pretty easy. I've already made a few friends there."
"I'm not at all surprised," I replied with a chuckle.
"The master corporal who was teaching us said that I can wear the ribbon bar for my medal on my uniform and even wear the medal on special occasions."
"That's great," I replied. I'd already made a mental note to pin the ribbon bar from the medal onto my uniform tunic.
"I wonder how Mark made out?" I said thoughtfully. "He was planning on joining up today too."
"He's probably still there with the time difference," Josh replied.
"Right. We'll have to give him a call later."
We did in fact call Mark and Bryan later that evening and found out that Mark had indeed signed up with the local cadet squadron and Bryan had also registered him for flight lessons at the local airport. Josh had also been registered with flight school and was due to start ground school that Wednesday evening. I couldn't wait to get him going on his flight lessons. We had enough time that if he did as well as I expected him to, he could be soloing almost as soon as his fourteenth birthday.
"Wow! You two look very handsome in those uniforms!" Susan said when she arrived home just after Josh and me. Josh had changed into his uniform and we modeled them for Susan. "Very sharp."
"Thanks Mom," Josh said with a grin. "Can you take a picture that I can send to Shelly?"
"I'm sure we can arrange that," Susan said.
I went and got my digital camera and handed it to Susan who took pictures of Josh and me individually and posing together. When we were done, Josh went off to change out of his uniform and to email the photos to Mark and to Shelly. I went down to my apartment to get some work done on my program.
I hadn't realized how long I'd been at it until I felt a hand come to rest on my shoulder.
"You're up late Dad," Josh said. He was standing there in a t-shirt and a pair of briefs. He had obviously been sleeping.
I looked at my watch and couldn't believe that it was nearly 2 AM. "Yikes. I didn't realize how late it was. What are you doing up? Are you ok bud?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I got up to use the bathroom and I saw your light on. I wanted to make sure you were ok," Josh replied with a yawn.
"I kind of lost myself in this thing," I replied. "It's nearly done. Bryan sent me the object libraries that he'd been working on and I wanted to get them plugged in."
"You need to get some rest," Josh said firmly.
"I know. I'll shut it down now," I replied.
"You could really make some money on this thing couldn't you?"
"It's possible," I replied.
"It's pretty amazing and easy to use. I'll bet it could be the next big thing," Josh said as he wrapped his arms around me and rested his chin on my shoulder.
"You never know what could happen if we market this properly," I replied.
With Josh still leaning on my shoulder I did a quick check of my email before shutting down the PC. There was an email marked urgent from Andy. I double clicked the message and read it.
[Tom, things are starting to happen fast. Professor Markinson did a little legal maneuvering and managed to back the plaintiffs into a corner. We've got a judicial pre-trial set for the middle of next month in front of a judge. The Judge will have the power to dismiss their claim on the spot and award us compensation if he feels that it is without merit. We're going to go after them with both barrels and try to put an end to this thing before it even gets started. Call me in the morning and I'll fill you in.
"That's good news," Josh said suddenly sounding more awake.
"It sure sounds like it. If we can get this lawsuit thrown out it'll be a load off my shoulders."
"Are you worried about it?" Josh asked.
"Kind of. I know they don't have a case, but it's still always in the back of my mind."
"Try not to worry about it Dad," Josh said tenderly. "You've got the best lawyer around and you've got all of us behind you. My former asshole relatives can't beat all of us."
I turned my head and lightly rubbed noses with Josh. "I know son. Things will work out one way or another."
With that, I shut down the computer and headed off to bed after washing up and brushing my teeth. In a reversal of roles, Josh actually tucked me in for the night, hugged me warmly, and kissed my forehead before heading back to bed himself. I drifted off to sleep wondering what I had done to deserve the love of such an amazing and caring person as Josh.
The next morning I spoke to Andy and we arranged for a time for me to meet with Professor Markinson to discuss what was going to happen in court and to prepare our witnesses. Andy said that me, Josh, the teller from the bank, bank manager along with Darren would be taking the stand for sure for our side. We may even end up calling Mark as a witness or at least reading a statement from him into the record. The plaintiffs would likely call themselves as a witness and possibly witnesses who were at the mall that day.
The rest of the week went by pretty quickly as the day of the Air Farce taping approached. Josh's first ground school lessons went very well that Wednesday night and he was looking forward to his first flight lesson on Saturday. While he was in his class at the flight school, I spent my time in the pilot's lounge working on homework and the multimedia program.
On the day of the taping, Josh and I took the subway downtown and met Susan at the CBC building on Front Street. We had time to grab dinner at the Texas Longhorn café which was located just a couple of blocks away. The three of us split a platter of chicken fajitas which were amazingly delicious.
"So are you ready to be a TV star, Josh?" Susan asked with a smile on her face.
"I can't wait to see what happens," Josh replied. "They didn't tell me what was going to happen."
"I'm sure it'll be hilarious whatever it is," I replied.
After dinner, we headed back to the CBC building. When we arrived, Josh was hustled away back stage while Susan and I were shown to the VIP seating area which was front row centre. As we waited for the live taping to begin, various comedians from the show would come on stage and do brief stand up acts in order to warm up the audience. It was a pretty full house and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
The episode would be a total of twenty-two minutes long so it would fit into a 30-minute time slot. It actually took close to two hours to shoot. Josh got a surprising amount of screen time. They were using him primarily as the straight-man to the actor playing "Naughty Josh". In that role, Josh would sometimes participate in and at other time foil "Naughty Josh's" efforts at mischief.
In one of the funniest skits, the actor playing the Prime Minister was being interviewed by a reporter and not making much sense. "Naughty Josh" came in wearing his sailor suit carrying his giant lollypop and a large cream pie. He was about to sneak up behind the PM and pie him when our real Josh came into the scene dressed in a suit and wearing an ear peace like a bodyguard.
"I don't think so," he said and took the pie from Naughty Josh.
He was about to put the pie down when the PM made some crack about annoying kids. Josh looked at the camera, made an exaggerated frown and then pied the PM actor himself. He then took Naughty Josh's lollypop from him and skipped off the stage. The audience roared as they looked at the dumbfounded expressions on the actors' faces. It made you think that the last part of the skit hadn't been part of the script. It was priceless.
At the end of the taping, the entire cast along with Josh and the other guest stars came out to take a bow. With the camera still rolling, Josh was able to use this opportunity to speak to the crowds. To their credit, the Air Farce actually broadcast Josh's comments later that week when the episode went to air.
"I'm the real Josh. Some of you know that. I had a great time here tonight. The people who make this show are a lot of fun. I was thrilled when they agreed to let me speak to you. I recently learned a lot about Terry Fox. His bravery and his strength have really motivated me. I don't have cancer, but someone that I love does. Her bravery facing this dreaded disease is truly an inspiration. That's true of a lot of people, but it takes a lot of research money to find a cure. I want to try to do something about that. I can't run across the country. My brother Mark might be able to, but I couldn't. I can run 10k though. I'm going to run the 10k Terry Fox run to try to raise money to help people who are sick with this terrible disease. I'd like to ask for your help. If you can participate in the run and raise money, please do it. If you can't, then please consider sponsoring someone who is running. If you don't know anyone who is running, you can sponsor me. They said they'd put my school address on the screen at the end of the show and you can send your donation there. Thanks and have a great night."
The audience rose to their feet and applauded loudly for Josh and the whole cast shook his hand one by one. By the time we left the CBC building, in addition to the Mr. Donalson's contribution, Josh had raised another $1,200 in pledges including $500 from the cast of the Air Farce.
"You were great up there honey," Susan said as she drove. Josh and I had ridden the subway into downtown so that we could ride back with Susan.
"It was cool. The guys in that show are just as funny in real life as they are on the stage. The hardest part was not laughing on stage," Josh snickered.
"I can't believe how much money you raised so far for your run. Way to go bud!"
"Thanks! It's going to be pretty tough running that far though. Mark said to make sure that I pace myself and don't try to race."
"We'll be there with you at the finish line sweetheart," Susan said.
"For sure. I'll try to meet you along the route at a few points and make sure you've got water or anything else that you need."
"Mark said to drink Gator Aid," Josh replied.
"Mark knows what he's talking about when it comes to athletics," I replied.
"He's really come a long way," Susan remarked.
"You don't know the half of it," I said. "He's like a new boy. He's decided that he wants to go to RMC to become a fighter pilot and then go on to become an astronaut."
"He can do it too," Josh said.
"I'm sure he can," Susan said.
Over the next week Josh got down to work as president of the Student's Council at his school. He was able to convince the principal and the physical education department to help him to setup an official Terry Fox run at his school. The run would take place on the Friday before the official world-wide run which was scheduled for the last weekend in September.
Air cadet training nights and flight school occupied a fair bit of both of our free time, but we still managed to spend as much time as possible with Susan, with my family and just relaxing together.
As the Terry Fox run day approached, the donations began to roll in. Only days after the episode was broadcast, envelopes with cheques in them began to arrive from right across Canada. Josh's run began to take on a life of its own. Celebrities including actors, singers and even the Prime Minister sponsored Josh on his run. Some of the cheques came with letters of encouragement and some included sad stories about relatives lost to the disease. Hundreds and even thousands of dollars were rolling in each and every day leading up to the run.
Shelly and her family saw the broadcast and they were once again completely blown away by the young boy who had come into their lives quite suddenly and helped to turn their situation around.
Shelly was improving more and more every day and the night before the run, she called Josh with some fantastic news.
"Guess what Josh," she said.
"Hmmm.... I'd guess that you're standing on your head," Josh replied.
"No silly," Shelly said. "I went to the doctor's today and I wanted to call you to tell you what he said."
"Oh yeah! What did he say?"
"He said that he's never seen anything like it before in his career, but he said that I'm in full remission."
"That's great!" Josh shouted enthusiastically.
"I know. He said that if I stay in remission I'll be cured."
"That's wonderful! I'm so happy to hear that. I can't wait to do this run tomorrow and help other people too."
"You remember your promise don't you?" Shelly asked.
"I remember," Josh replied. "I meant it too."
"You're the best. I love you Josh Chambers."
"I love you too Shelly Mason," Josh replied.
Josh was nearly doing cartwheels when he handed the phone to me so that I could speak to Debbie.
"Tom, I guess you heard the news by now eh?"
"Did I ever. That's fantastic."
"The doctors said this new drug helped a lot, but I could tell how amazed they were. They had just about every doctor in the oncology department in taking a look at the results and nobody could believe what they were seeing."
"You have no idea how happy that makes us."
"You have no idea how grateful we all are to you guys. I don't know how he did it and I don't know what in the grand scheme of things conspired to bring us all together, but somehow on some level, this is because of Josh."
"He's a remarkable young man," I replied.
"It's like he looked past her sickness and saw her for the beautiful little girl she is and he somehow passed that positive energy back to her and gave her a new reason to fight. Before she met Josh it was like she was getting ready to die. She was so tired and so fed up with fighting she was just letting go. Josh gave her what she needed. He gave her something to fight for."
"Josh can tend to have that effect on people," I chuckled.
"I guess this is going to be another serious long distance romance," Debbie laughed.
"I think so. Josh is like me. Once he gets an idea into his head, he doesn't let go. We might as well start planning the wedding now." I giggled at the thought.
"You have no idea how wonderful.... how great that makes me feel.... I'll be able to plan my daughter's wedding," Debbie said.
I was really thrilled with the good news and the happiness in her voice.
Late that night I awoke briefly when I felt Josh climb under the covers, throw his arm over my shoulders, and snuggle up against my back. I smiled briefly and then drifted back off to sleep.
All was well in our little world and things were moving inexorably towards a future that was full of promise and excitement. Whatever lay ahead of us, I knew that we'd all face it together.
I knew too, that this smart, kind, and loving boy who left an indelible mark on every life that he touched, was going places and that I had the distinct honour of guiding and supporting him along the way.