The Old World
Every day since we returned from Ottawa my leg seemed to grow stronger. I completed my physiotherapy by the end of May and my leg felt almost as good as new. When Josh and I made our regular visits to the YMCA to work out, I began to run on the track. I was a bit hesitant at first. My right leg would develop a slight muscle ache before the left one, but after a few trips around the track, it evened out. I could see that Josh was a nervous wreck running beside me, but it quickly became apparent that what Dr. Trebber had told me was absolutely correct. My days of pain from my injured leg were over.
That spring, Josh and I attended the Ontario Hunter Education course and both received our Ontario hunting accreditation. Josh also received his youth firearms license. We hoped to go deer hunting in the fall and wild turkey hunting the next spring.
In preparation for hunting, I purchased a Remington 870 pump action shotgun with three different barrels. It came with a short smooth bore barrel with interchangeable choke that we could use for hunting turkey along with a long smooth bore barrel for waterfowl and a rifled slug barrel for big game hunting. Having obtained my restricted firearms license, I also purchased two handguns primarily for target shooting, but also with home defense in mind. The first pistol was a 9mm Beretta model 92F which was immortalized by Mel Gibson's character in the original "Lethal Weapon" movie. The other pistol was a Smith & Wesson Model 686 .357 Magnum revolver.
Both Josh and I joined the gun club and we managed to get down to the range almost every weekend to practice our skills. Given the recent unpleasantness with Bob, there was no doubt about it, Susan was afraid of guns. Although her fear was real and justified, Josh and I did manage to talk her into joining us one Saturday for a lesson in defensive handgun shooting. If not a lesson, at least she could watch and learn - hopefully to dispelled some of that fear.
"Ok Susan, just relax and enjoy yourself," I said as we got ourselves setup on the firing line. We started off on the indoor pistol range. No doubt about it, she was nervous and she hadn't even put a gun in her hand yet. In all her life, she never had. Her eyes darted from me to the hand guns sitting on the counter in front of us and back again. Obviously, the experience in her bedroom was having a deeper impact that I thought.
"The basic safety rules are as follows." I explained before picking up any of the guns. "First, always treat every gun as if it is loaded until you personally confirm otherwise. Second, never point a gun at anything that you do not want to shoot. Third, always keep the muzzle pointed down range. Fourth, always keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire."
"Ok, makes sense," she said a little nervously.
"Ok Susan, just take this Beretta in your hand. I promise it's not loaded."
"Relax Mom," Josh said. "Shooting is fun!"
I needed to start Susan on the Beretta 92F. It's an easy pistol to operate and its 9mm ammunition has very little recoil. Slowly and deliberately, Josh and I loaded four magazines with 10 rounds each while she watched. Then I picked up the pistol and locked the slide back.
I picked up the unload gun. "Susan, this gun isn't loaded, so nothing bad is going to happen." I placed the gun in Susan's right hand and she felt the weight of it. Then I showed her how to correctly position her trigger finger alongside the frame and out of the trigger guard until she was ready to shoot.
"Ok, the way the pistol is right now, the slide is locked back. To release the slide, press that button on the side with your left thumb," I instructed. Susan did as I said and the slide flew forward and locked into place. "If the pistol was loaded, you'd now be ready to shoot. Go ahead and pull the trigger."
Susan pointed the gun toward the target and pulled the trigger. It simply went click since there was no cartridge in the chamber. She nodded her head – her fears were lessening.
"The way the gun is right now is the way that you'll find it in my gun safe," I said. "Next to it, you'll find the magazines which will need to be loaded into the gun. Some people refer to them as clips. To load the gun, tilt your wrist to the right so that you can see the slot where the magazine fits into the pistol grip. Actually we call it the magazine well." Susan looked at the gun, twisted her wrist, looked at the mag well, "then pick up a mag in your left hand and slip it into the mag well."
Susan gingerly picked up a magazine and slipped it into the pistol. "Like that?" she asked.
"Right Mom. Now give it a little tap so that you're sure it's seated," Josh said.
Susan tapped the base of the mag and verified that it was seated correctly.
"Very good Susan. Now you need to cock the pistol and that will put the first round in the chamber. This pistol is double action capable so that you don't actually have to cock the hammer to fire it if there is a round in the chamber. Since we just loaded it, there's no round in the chamber so you have to pull the slide all the way back as far as it will go and then release it. Don't be dainty with it, just pull it back and let it fly."
Susan looked at me a bit perplexed, then tugged on the slide and with some effort managed to chamber the first round. "Like that?" she asked.
"You got it mom," Josh said.
"Ok, you're ready to shoot. Don't worry about the recoil. There isn't much recoil from a 9mm and this pistol does a pretty good job of absorbing what little there is. Line up the sights on the target, take a deep breath, hold it and then squeeze the trigger."
Josh and I watched as Susan aimed the pistol and fired her first round. The pistol jumped slightly in her hand but she kept it under control. I winked at Josh when I saw the smile on her face.
"Nicely done. You have nine more rounds before we have to reload," I instructed.
"You keep saying 'rounds'.... what do you mean Tom?" She asked.
"Susan, the short answer is it's a bullet loaded and ready to fire." I began. "Nowadays, a round is technically a term used to describe casing filled with a propellant and a primer that ignites the propellant forcing a projectile at the end of the casing that leaves the barrel of the weapon. The term a "round" came from the days of old when the projectile was a cannon ball. In its earliest form, the round cannon ball was made from dressed stone, but somewhere around the 17th century they started making them from iron. For the most part, round shot was used by naval guns during most of the age of sail, being replaced after the invention by Benjamin Robins of the extruded bullet around the mid-19th century. It was also used as the most accurate projectile that could be fired by a smooth-bore cannon, used to batter the fortifications, or fixed emplacements, and as a long-range anti-personnel weapon. In land battles, round shot would often plough through many ranks of troops, causing multiple casualties. It could bounce when it hit the ground, striking men at each bounce. Round shot has the disadvantage of not being tightly fitted into the bore.... the barrel of the cannon.... if it did fit too snugly, it would jam. So, the loose fitting ball caused the shot to "rattle" down the gun barrel and leave the barrel at an angle unless wadding was used behind the ball to fill the diameter of the barrel. They call that wadding 'sabot'. In the 1860s, some round shots were equipped with winglets in order to benefit from the rifling of cannons. Such round shot would benefit from gyroscopic stability, thereby improving their trajectory."
Both Susan and Josh were smiling at me.
Josh started to giggle. "Dad you're a walking encyclopedia. I knew that a round was a bullet, but now I know why it's called a round." He started laughing. "How did you ever learn all that stuff?"
"Actually Josh," I replied with a giggle, now realizing that I'd gone into a long tirade about the subject, "I wasn't always this smart. There was a time when I had to ask the same question. It was my Dad that gave me the answer."
"Oh darn!" Josh exclaimed laughing, "now I have to remember all that stuff so I can teach it to my kids some day."
Susan started laughing at that comment. "I was happy with the short answer!"
Once we recovered from our laughing bout, Josh said, "Go ahead Mom, shoot some holes in that target down there."
Susan fired the remaining nine rounds in the pistol before she handed the gun back to me with the slide locked back. "Notice how the slide stays back when you're out of rounds? I'll show you how to reload it in just a moment."
I set the pistol down and reeled in the target. She hadn't done too badly. Eight of her ten shots were in the black and three were close to bulls-eyes. "Not bad at all Susan. That's at least seven or eight kill shots there. Just remember that if you ever have to shoot at a person, always aim for the centre of mass. The chest and torso presents the biggest target."
"Aim small, miss small," Josh said.
"Makes sense," Susan grinned. "This is actually kind of fun." Josh and I were pleased. She gained some confidence and lost some of the fear.
I showed her how to reload the pistol and release the slide. Then she fired out the remaining three magazines gaining confidence with each one. When she was done, Josh took a turn. His target reeled in just a bit better than Susan's. Then I loaded up the .357 Magnum and put some rounds down range. When I reeled in the target, Susan whistled when she saw that I had shot a tight grouping of 18 rounds all within the bulls-eye circle.
"You really do know how to shoot," she said.
"That's nothing," Josh said proudly. "You should see him on the action range!"
I blushed slightly. "Don't forget, I had military training," I said.
"I bet you're better than most though," Josh said. "I think being a good shot is something you got from your dad. Show mom the action range!"
"Ok, let's go give it a shot," I said.
The action range is an outdoor range that features obstacles and pop up targets that include "hostiles and friendlies" as well as colour coded targets with certain colours demanding single shots with others demanding double or even triple taps. Scoring is based on accuracy and the speed at which you make the shots. I reloaded all of my magazines before inserting them into the mag pouches on my gun belt; I then holstered the Beretta and entered the range. I gave Josh the thumbs up to press the button to start the sequence.
The first target popped up directly in front of me. It was red meaning it was a double tap target so I drew the pistol and quickly fired two rounds into it. Immediately, a yellow target popped up to the right and I fired a single round into it. As soon as it went down, a green 'good-guy' target popped up in front along with two yellows and a red to my left. I swept the green target without firing and quickly fired two rounds into the red target and one into each of the yellow targets and then two into a second red target that popped up suddenly before I ejected the spent magazine and inserted a fresh one. The sequence continued like that until the last and most difficult set popped up. Three red targets appeared partially obscured by green "hostage" targets. With the final six rounds, I quickly double tapped each of the red targets without so much as scratching one of the greens.
I then made the gun safe and exited the range where I encountered a brightly smiling Josh and a very impressed looking Susan.
"That was great Dad!" Josh said and hugged me.
"I can see why you're a good pilot with reaction times like that!" Susan said.
Other spectators had stopped to watch and they all clapped and applauded. When the computer finished calculating my score it flashed on the screen. I had scored a 94 out of a possible 100 points. I had hit all the targets, but lost a couple of points here and there on reloads.
As we left the range that afternoon, I had a serious conversation with Susan about the guns and shooting. "Susan, you did pretty well today. I doubt that Bob will ever be able to bother us again and I doubt that any of his friends will have any interest in doing so, but now you know how to shoot if the need should ever arise."
"It's a skill that I hope I don't ever have to use," she said.
"I know but this is important," I continued. "The law says that the pistol has to be locked up unloaded in a vault or safe. You've seen my digital safe and that's where it will be locked along with some loaded magazines. Since you're not licensed, I can't legally tell you the combination, but if you should guess it, if and when the need arises, you won't have a problem."
"How would I guess it?" She asked.
"I might be careless about choosing an obvious combo such as the birth date of someone important to us in the mm/dd/yy format," I said as I tilted my head in Josh's direction.
"I get you," Susan replied with a wry smile.
I truly hoped that none of us would ever have to fire one of my guns at another person, but I was glad to know that both Susan and Josh were up to the task should that need ever arise.
Deer, wild turkeys, moose, bears, grouse, rabbits and pheasant were another story! Josh and I were really looking forward to going deer hunting in the fall. The meat that we would hopefully harvest would be great, but I was looking forward to the bonding time between us, which would be even better.
I used some of my time off from class to make some phone calls and I began the process of trying to market my multimedia application. Josh, Mark, Bryan, and I had brainstormed together to come up with a title for the program and we finally decided on eMemories. Before going a step further, I had to copyright it, which was an easy process.
I spoke to a number of software publishers as well as a number of investment companies and was beginning to get discouraged with their lack of enthusiasm, actually downright refusal to even look at it.
Then I hit pay dirt. I spoke at length to Emmett Hastings, who we had met on our cross country travels.
I arranged to send copies of the application along with technical documentation to the technicians at Emmett's company and the plan was for them to go over it with a fine tooth comb and then have me come down and visit them in the fall.
"From what you've shown me, I am truly impressed," he said over the phone. "I want to have my people look it over and kick the tires, but I really see some potential here for us to do business."
"I'm very pleased to hear that!" I replied.
"We just opened up a New York branch office and I'm thinking that I should fly you down to the Big Apple this fall so we can hammer out the details."
"That would be wonderful," I replied.
That afternoon when Josh returned home from school I shared the news with him and he was just about over the moon. So were Mark and Bryan when I called them and filled them in on the details.
Two Saturdays after we took Susan to the range was the cadet corps annual inspection. It was the last parade day before the program shut down for the summer. Many of the cadets would go off to summer cadet camp while others, like Josh, would go to regular camps or simply stay home.
The annual inspection is the biggest event of the year and it showcases the things that the cadets have learned over the year. The whole corps is inspected by an invited dignitary and the various teams and clubs within the corps such as the band, the colour party and the drill team showed off their stuff.
I was the officer who was in charge of the precision drill team which Josh was a part of. We had practiced long and hard and we had put together an impressive display that we hoped would wow the assembled audience of the cadets' family members.
All of the cadets looked immaculate as they marched onto the parade square and formed up in their flights. I was truly impressed by all of the kids and the efforts that they had put into preparing their uniforms and rehearsing the events of that day. I stood on the reviewing stand with my fellow officers along with the mayor who had been invited as the inspecting dignitary. The colour party marched past first carrying the flag and the cadet corps banner followed by the band and then the four flights in order. Josh and Kevin were both in flight two and both of them stood out amongst the others.
After the march past, the mayor along with Major Poole inspected the formed up cadets and then the mayor made her remarks. Following the mayor, Major Poole made a speech and the proceeded with the presenting of various awards. The last award to be given out was a trophy given to the best first year cadet.
"This year we had a fine group of new recruits and choosing one to recognize above the others was very difficult," Major Poole said. "In the end, the task was impossible, so we decided to honour two cadets equally. These two fine young cadets have distinguished themselves in many ways and are both equally deserving of this award. Would Leading Air Cadet Chambers and Leading Air Cadet Brown please step forward?"
I smiled brightly as Josh and Kevin snapped smartly to attention and marched up to the reviewing stand before halting and saluting the Major.
Major Poole handed the large trophy to the two boys and posed for photos before the trophy was placed back on the table. Josh and Kevin were about to march back to their flight when Major Poole stopped them.
"It is also my great honour to promote Leading Air Cadet Chambers and Leading Air Cadet Brown the rank of Corporal," Major Poole said to a loud applause. He then handed each of the boys his new rank badges and shook their hands before they fell out and returned to their flight.
After the rest of the promotions were announced, it was time for the various teams to perform. The band went first and while they were entertaining the crowd, I got the precision drill team formed up and ready.
"Ok cadets, let's do it," I said. "Listen to the cadence, keep count of your paces and do it just like you did in our last practice."
The cadets changed into special drill team boots that had metal plates, called cleats, on the heels which made loud clicking sounds when they marched or stomped their feet while snapping to attention. Once they were formed up, I headed out and took my place in front of the microphone on the reviewing stand.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you the 845 Squadron Precision Drill Team. These twenty fine cadets have been practicing this demonstration all year and I truly hope that they will impress you as much as they have impressed me as their instructor."
The clacking of the cleats on their boots sounded like a metronome as they marched to the centre of the parade ground. Each cadet was carrying a Lee Enfield Rifle on his/her shoulder.
The team reached the centre of the parade ground and then halted. Without a word of command, they began executing a series of precise stationary and marching drill movements. Some of the more impressive maneuvers involved the Lee Enfield Rifles that each cadet carried. In their grand finale, each cadet, one after the other executed a present arms and when the last cadet had done so, they each executed a perfect "Queen Anne Salute" in a ripple style from the right most file to the left.
The performance had been absolutely flawless and the entire thing had been executed without a single word of command being issued. The audience was on their feet clapping and cheering for a solid minute.
"Outstanding job Tom," Major Poole said as he leaned over towards me. "Well done."
"It's the cadets sir," I said, "They want to succeed.... all I did was show them the direction."
A short while later the cadets were dismissed and they headed their separate ways for the summer. Before everyone left, I assembled the members of the drill team for a pep talk.
"Cadets, that was an outstanding performance," I began. "Major Poole's words were 'well done.' I can only reinforce that by saying I am proud of all of you and you deserve to be proud of yourselves. You gave your parents a hell of a performance today and I want you to know that all of us on that stage took notice."
Sergeant Morrison, the senior cadet on the squad snapped to attention and saluted. "Sir! on behalf of the drill team we'd like to thank you for outstanding leadership and encouragement."
I returned the cadet Sergeant's salute. "You're more than welcome sergeant and that goes for all of you. Have a safe summer and I hope to see all of you back here in the fall," I said.
After all the other cadets from the drill team left, it was just Kevin and Josh left. "Congratulations to both of you," I said.
"Thanks Dad," Josh said and hugged me tightly.
"Yeah thanks Tom, I mean sir," Kevin said sheepishly.
"Tom is ok when were alone Kev," I said and shook the very happy boy's hand.
Outside we met up with Susan, Ethel, and Grant. Josh ran to Susan for a hug while Grant picked up his son in a powerful bear hug and swung him around before placing him gently back on his feet. "I'm really proud of you son," he said warmly.
"Thanks Dad," he said with a smile and then hugged his mom.
Grant approached me next with his hand out. "I can't thank you enough. You worked some real magic with these kids on that drill team. I've never seen such a professional bunch."
"We all had a fun and that's what really counts," I replied as I returned his handshake.
"Dad did you tell Tom and Josh and Ms. Chambers the good news?" Kevin asked.
"I was about to," Grant said with a smile. "Tom, I've been transferred to 23 Division and my new partner is none other than your friend Darren Higgins. The two of us are going to head up the new youth bureau."
"Congratulations," I said. "Darren is a really good guy. He was my Dad's partner."
"I'm really looking forward to working with him," Grant said sincerely. It was obvious that he had turned the corner and watching him interact with his wife and son gave me a sense of satisfaction that Josh and I had played at least a small part in that.
I awoke the next day to a bright and sunny June Sunday morning and found a smiling Josh sitting on my bed next to me.
"Morning Dad," he said happily. "Happy Father's Day."
"Hey Joshy," I said with a smile. "Thanks son." I held out my arms and Josh leaned in to give me a very warm hug.
"I have two presents for you Dad," he said after he finally released me. He reached behind his back and handed me a package.
"Thanks Joshy! You shouldn't have," I replied and reached out to ruffle his hair.
"Of course I should have. Open it," he said.
I unwrapped the paper and saw that it contained a navy blue bomber jacket of the type that air force pilots wear. It had the flag on one shoulder and the Canadian Forces logo on the other. It was just like the one that Susan had given him for his birthday except that the name ribbon had my name on it.
"Thanks Joshy, I really like it," I said enthusiastically and leaned over to kiss his forehead.
"This one is a bit different," Josh said as he handed me another package.
"Nothings gonna jump out at me is it?" I asked with a raised eyebrow.
"No, not this time," he said with a giggle.
I unwrapped the package and saw that it contained a picture frame. There was no picture inside the frame, rather there was a typed page and a blue first place ribbon stuck on it.
"I wrote that at school last year for Thanksgiving," Josh explained. "The teacher really liked it and she entered it into a contest and I won first place. I hope you like it."
"Of course I'll like it son, you did it," I replied and began to read. I barely got through the first paragraph before I felt the lump form in my throat and my eyes were positively leaking by the time I finished it. It read:
What I am Most Thankful For
By Josh Chambers
I have a lot to be thankful for, but I am thankful for one thing more than anything else. I am thankful for my Dad. My Dad isn't my biological father, but he is much more than that. My Dad is my best friend, my protector, my greatest teacher and more than that, I know that he loves me more than life itself.
My Dad is always there for me. He listens to me, he talks to me, he spends time with me, he takes me places and he looks after me when I'm sick. If I'm afraid, he makes me feel safe. If I'm sad, he makes me feel happy. If I'm hurt, he makes me feel better.
I spent the summer with my Dad and we explored the whole country together. He showed me places and people that I would never have been able to see otherwise. He taught me the value in helping other people and making other people happy. He is selfless and caring and he is strong too. He always makes sure that I'm looked after before he looks after himself.
I know that my Dad would do anything for me and would help me through any trouble. I know no matter what happens he will always love me and be there to support me. My Dad is teaching me everything that I need to know to grow into a good man and to be a good Dad one day. I am thankful and very lucky to have him in my life and I hope that one day I will be at least half the man and half the Dad that he has been to me.
I am thankful for my Dad and I hope he knows just how lucky I am to have him.
"Joshy," I finally managed to croak out. "Joshy, this is beautiful. I am so lucky. I am so blessed to have a son like you. You are going to be every bit the man and every bit the Dad that I am. You're a wonderful caring person and I am honoured to be your Dad." I reached out and pulled him against my chest and hugged him for dear life. We held each other for a solid two minutes without saying a word.
When we finally released each other, I kissed his forehead and we locked eyes for a few seconds before Josh smiled. "You're welcome Dad. I meant everything that I wrote."
"I know you did kiddo. I meant what I said too. I'm honoured. I'm in awe of who you are and who you are on the way to becoming. I have the greatest job in the world. I'm getting to watch you grow from an amazing boy into an incredible man."
Josh thought about it for a moment and looked a bit troubled. "You know Dad, you don't have to worry about anything. I mean, I know I'm growing up and one day I'll marry Shelly, but you'll always be my Dad. I'll need you even when I'm grown up."
"Joshy, I know that. I really do. Watching you grow up is a little sad, but it's also wonderful. It's a little sad because I know that one day you'll outgrow wanting to snuggle and cuddle, but I know that when that time comes, it won't mean that we love each other any less or need each other any less."
"I haven't grown out of it yet," he said with a smile as he stretched out and cuddled up with me again. "Besides, I'm not going to stop hugging you when you need it no matter how old or how big I get."
I wrapped my arms around him and leaned my cheek against the top of his head. He must have just showered because the scent of shampoo was fresh. "I know kiddo. One day you're going to start a new branch of our family with Shelly. The two of you are going to make beautiful babies together and make me a very proud grandpa."
Josh blushed slightly but smiled at me. "You think so?"
"Of course I think so. How could you not? Shelly is a knockout and you're the most handsome boy that I've ever seen. You're also the smartest and most loving boy ever and I can't wait to spoil your kids rotten!" I laughed.
"I have no doubt that you'll do that," Josh chuckled.
"I hope Mark gives me some beautiful grandkids too one day," I said thoughtfully.
"How could he do that if he isn't going to be with a woman?" Josh asked surprised.
"I guess he could adopt or he and his partner could use a surrogate mother."
"What's a surrogate?"
"It's a woman that they would sign a legal contract with, who would be impregnated with Mark's or his partner's sperm and she would carry the baby to term and then turn him or her over to Mark and his partner shortly after birth."
"I get it," Josh said. "That way the baby would actually be his biological child."
"That's right. Adoption would definitely be an option though. There are plenty of deserving children without families. It's sad that older kids have a very hard time getting adopted. By the time a child gets to be your age the chances of him or her getting adopted is pretty slim. People only seem to want babies or very young children."
"That's too bad. What happens to those older kids?" Josh said with concern in his voice.
"It depends. If they're lucky they end up in loving foster homes. If they aren't so lucky, they can end up in group homes. Even a good group home isn't nearly as good as a parent. They get fed and sheltered, but they miss out on the love of a parent."
"To me that's as important as food and shelter," Josh observed thoughtfully. "I'd go crazy if I didn't have you or Mom. Just look at me now compared to how I was before you came into my life."
"Joshy, you and Mark are textbook examples of why it's so important for a boy, especially one at your age, to have a Dad in his life."
"You once told me that this would be a tough time in my life. It isn't though. Because of you, this is the best time of my life," he said sincerely and once again rested his head against my chest.
"Son, you have no idea how much you've done for me. After everything that I'd been through, after the accident wrecked my career, I was in bad shape. I was in near constant pain and I was getting depressed. It was like magic when I met you. Something in me clicked. I started feeling this need to nurture someone. I'd never experienced that before and I started to feel joy and happiness again in my life."
"You never thought about…." Josh paused for a second, "you know, hurting yourself, did you?" Josh asked softly.
"No, I never thought about that. Suicide isn't in my nature. There's no value to be gained by it. You know me, I've never quit anything and suicide would have been the ultimate act of a quitter. I was just going through the motions of life though. I wasn't really enjoying my life."
"It makes me sick to think that Mark once thought about it," Josh said. "It's hard to believe that things were that bad for him in those days."
"That would have been such an unbelievably sad day and great loss to the country and the world. Today though, he has just great ambitions.... right now to be a fighter pilot, but maybe one day he may want to be an astronaut." I replied. "Mark is a special kid and it would have been all of our loss. He's come so far though that I don't worry about him anymore. I know that as long as we keep on loving him, he'll be ok."
"I know he loves you a whole lot too. That first night when he and Bryan were here and you were in the hospital, I told them all about what happened and he got so upset when I told him what Bob did with the gun. When he stays over and shares my bed, we normally don't sleep that close, but that night he virtually clung to me. I didn't mind. I knew he was upset and he is my brother and I do love him."
"I told you that you're an amazing young man Josh," I said warmly. "That's what family is about. It's about looking after each other and loving each other."
"I can hear your heart again," Josh smiled. "I like listening to it."
I put my hand on the back of his head and gently stroked his hair and neck. I watched Josh lie there silently with his head against my chest and as I often did, I said a silent prayer of thanks for having him in my life. I knew that he was more than just in my life. In many ways, that wonderful, thoughtful and loving boy was my life.
On Josh's last day of school before summer holidays, Susan and I went to his school towards the end of the day to attend the eighth grade graduation ceremony. It was Josh's last day in office as Student's Council President and he was graduating at the top of his class. He was a shoe in for class valedictorian and we were eagerly awaiting his speech.
After the middle school diplomas were handed out, Josh took his place at the podium and proceeded to deliver a stirring and inspirational speech to his fellow students. In later years such rousing speeches, almost always delivered off the cuff, would be his hallmark.
"Fellow students, today we are about to embark on the next phase of our lives as students. Today marks the end of our careers as middle school students. It also marks our transition into young adulthood. As with every ending, it is a bit sad. It's sad because many of us will be going our separate ways. Many of us will be going to different high schools in the fall. Some of us will lose touch with friends who were with us for the past two years. But while this is a sad occasion we must remember that every ending is also a new beginning and beginnings, while often scary, are wonderful. Today is not a day to mourn or to be sad. Today is a day to remember the good times that we've had together and to be hopeful for the future. When each of us leaves this place today, we will step into our futures. We will step into the unknown and we will do so with the sense of confidence and a sense of wonder that our teachers have given us and that we have given each other. Middle school isn't an easy period in life and neither will high school be, but together we've made it through this phase of our education. We will make it through the next phase as well and we will thrive. All of us are the future. We are the leaders of tomorrow. This room is filled with doctors, lawyers, soldiers, pilots, police officers, teachers, business people, writers, movie stars and artists. Each and every one of us will achieve our own destiny whatever that may be. Whatever the future holds, we will always have the fond memories of this place and of each other. In closing, as my final act as your student's council president and as a student of this school, I would like to offer a quote from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as my farewell to each of you. 'And whether we shall meet again I know not. Therefore our everlasting farewell take: Forever, and forever, farewell. If we do meet again, why, we shall smile; If not, why then, this parting was well made.'"
With that Josh took a bow and stepped down from the podium as the thunderous applause of the assembled students, teachers and parents washed over him. The applause went on for more than a minute and everyone was on their feet in a standing ovation. There were a lot of moist eyes in that crowd, mine and Susan's included.
When Josh returned to his seat between us, the applause was still going on and students were reaching out to shake his hand and pat him on the back. When the principal finally managed to quite the crowd, I put my arm around Josh and whispered to him "Joshy, that was amazing. Did you write that out before hand?"
"Only the Shakespeare quote," he replied and handed me a small card with the line from Julius Caesar written on it.
I was dumbfounded. "You did that whole thing on your feet?" I asked.
"Yeah," he replied with a grin as if it wasn't anything special.
I glanced over his head at Susan and smiled while shaking my head. Once again, the two of us were awestruck by Josh.
After the assembly broke up, Susan treated us both to a dinner at the Mandarin. The next day we'd be leaving bright and early for Europe and Susan wanted to celebrate Josh's graduation from middle school and to have one final night together before we took off.
When we got to the restaurant, we bumped into Kevin who was there with Grant and Ethel. "Hey Josh!" Kevin said happily as he saw us come in the front door. "Ms. Chambers and Tom! It's good to see you as well!"
We exchanged greetings with Kevin and his parents and the six of us decided to dine together. When we got to our table Grant looked over at Josh. "Josh, that was an utterly amazing speech that you gave today,"
Josh blushed slightly and smiled. "Thanks Mr. Brown," he said.
"Can we get a copy of it?" Ethel asked.
"I think we can copy the video for you," Josh said.
"A written copy is ok," Grant said. "We don't want you to go to any trouble."
"He didn't actually write it down," I said proudly.
"That was entirely off the cuff?" Ethel asked.
"That's our Josh!" Susan replied. The pride was obvious in her voice.
"Seriously dude, you ought to run for office or something," Kevin said. "You could be Prime Minister if you wanted to be!"
Josh smiled back. "Hmmm Prime Minister Josh Chambers," he said thoughtfully. "I like the sound of that!"
"I do too kiddo," I replied sincerely.
"You've got my vote," Grant added.
As was expected, Susan, Ethel, Grant and I were left in the dust by the boys when it came to trips to the buffet. Both Kevin and Josh were lean kids but both of them managed to pack the food away like it was going out of style. The adults in the group were drinking coffee before the boys had even started into dessert. They finally hit that part of the buffet after about four plates of food each. Finally, after two helpings of dessert including massive sundaes the two bottomless pits surrendered and we asked for the bill.
Susan insisted on paying the bill for the whole group and while we were waiting for her change, we got to discussing summer camp.
"I'm looking forward to Europe, but I'm almost looking forward to summer camp even more," Josh observed.
"I've never been to camp," Kevin replied sadly.
"Never?" Josh asked incredulously.
"I guess we never thought that you were interested," Ethel said.
"I suppose that it's too late to get you in now," Grant said.
"Maybe not," I replied as Josh looked hopefully at me. I pulled out my cell phone and called Andy's phone.
"Andy, how's it going bro? Yeah, we're set for tomorrow. You'll be by at around 9 right?"
"For sure," he replied. "Mark and Bryan are going to be wiped out flying out so early!"
"I have a question for you about Tonawonka," I said.
"Let me guess…" he chuckled.
"You know me too well," I replied. "Josh's good friend Kevin has never been and we were wondering if we could squeeze him in somehow. He's a great kid and I know I'd be happy to have him in my group," I added and glanced over at Kevin and gave him a wink.
"Well I was going to discuss this with you tomorrow, but it just so happens that we have room for not one but two more boys in the 13 – 14 year old range. I was going to see if perhaps Michael would want to join us as well."
"That's fantastic!" I said enthusiastically and I glanced over at Josh and Kevin who high fived each other. "Mark will be over the moon."
After I discussed the specifics with Andy, I hung up and turned to the Browns.
"Andy says we've got room and as long as Kevin doesn't mind suffering through six weeks in my cabin group, he'd be welcome to join us."
"YES!" Kevin shouted and surprisingly hugged me tightly for a second before backing off with a sheepish look on his face. "Sorry Tom." He said.
"Nothing to be sorry about bud. I wouldn't recommend that while we're in uniform at cadets, but I'm ok with it 'off duty' as it were."
"You boys are so good to us," Ethel said.
"I don't know how to thank you," Grant said. "I knew your old man by reputation and he was a great guy. Looks like the apple didn't fall far from the tree," Grant said as he shook my hand firmly.
As we sipped our coffee and prepared to leave we all sat back and smiled as we watched Josh and Kevin excitedly talk about summer camp and the adventures that lay ahead. It was heartwarming just to watch the pair be nothing more than carefree boys about to embark on a wonderful summer adventure. Before we left, we exchanged email addresses and I promised to send him a copy of the video we'd taken of the graduation ceremony.
"That was a really nice thing you did for Kevin tonight," Josh said as I was tucking him into bed.
"He's a great kid and I'm glad I could help," I replied. "I can't wait to tell Mark that Michael will be welcome to join us. I'm going to call Bryan tonight and see if I can get in touch with Michael's parents to work out the details."
"Thanks Dad," Josh said as he held out his arms. As I always did, I leaned into his hug, squeezed him lovingly and then after releasing him, rubbed my nose against his and kissed his forehead.
"Goodnight son. I love you," I said warmly.
"Love you too Dad," he replied.
I went right down to my apartment and called Bryan. I knew it wasn't very late in Calgary and I knew that he and Mark would be turning in early since they'd have to catch their flight to Pearson International Airport at 5AM their time.
"Tom, everything ok?" Bryan asked when he answered the phone.
"Yeah Bry, everything is great. I was talking to Andy tonight about camp and it appears that we have room for two more campers in the 13 – 14 year old boy group. Josh's buddy Kevin is going to take one spot and we thought that Michael might want to take the other."
"Oh man! Mark will be so excited," Bryan chuckled.
"Excited about what?" I heard Mark ask in the background.
"Let me call his parents and see what they have to say," Bryan said.
I gave Bryan all the info so that Michael's parents could fax Michael's medical info, etc. to the camp and then we hung up so that he could make his calls. Before we hung up, I made sure to let him know that I'd be willing to pay Michael's airfare to Ontario if that was an issue.
Then I went through the process of converting the video to my PC and sending a copy to Grant and Ethel.
With that happy task taken care of, I carried my bags up to the upstairs hallway and placed them next to Josh's. Josh and I had also packed our backpacks and other gear for camp, but we left them downstairs in my apartment. Bryan and Mark would be bringing their camp gear with them and Andy would deliver it to the house after leaving us at the airport.
As our departure date for our trip to Paris had approached, both of us had become more and more excited about what lay ahead. Our passports had arrived and we'd both spent some time shopping for new clothes to bring with us. We also prepared for camp and loaded up on the clothing and other gear that we'd need.
Our plan was for Andy to drive Josh and me to the airport where we'd meet Bryan and Mark when they arrived on their flight from Calgary. We'd be able to have breakfast together and Andy would brief us all on the details of our upcoming summer camp adventure. Andy and Rachel had worked out a great plan for the four of us, but Andy insisted on keeping it under wraps until he could share it with all four of us together.
Josh and I had spent as much time as we could with Brutus knowing that we'd be away from him for two weeks while we explored the WWI and WWII battlefields of Europe. Bryan and I had discussed the trip at length and we wanted to spend most of our time in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, however we decided that another excursion was appropriate and we decided to keep that from the boys until it was time. We also wanted to visit Germany and tour some relics of the cold war such as the remains of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie.
I had set my alarm clock for 7AM the next morning, but I awoke shortly before the alarm was to go off. I showered and dressed in comfortable clothes for the flight and then went upstairs to wake Josh.
He was sleeping peacefully on his side when I entered his room. I sat on the edge of his bed and quietly watched him for a couple of moments. I always loved watching Josh sleep because he always looked so peaceful. After a couple of moments, I reached out my hand and gentle caressed the top and side of his head. He stirred slightly and let out a contented sigh before reaching out his arms and wrapping them around my waist. He appeared to still be sleeping peacefully, but he nevertheless sensed my presence and responded. It always amazed me the way he could do that. I leaned down and kissed his temple and gently whispered to him. "Joshy, time to get up."
I gently shook his shoulder and he opened his eyes and smiled at me. "Good morning Dad."
"Good morning son," I replied. "Did you sleep well?"
"Like a baby," he smiled.
"Time to get up and get ready kiddo," I said. "Andy will be here at nine."
Josh climbed out of bed, shucked out of his briefs and grabbed his towel before hugging me and then heading to the bathroom for his morning shower. While he did that, I set out some underwear, socks, a shirt and a comfortable pair of pants for him to wear. I then went about making up his bed for him. I was just finishing up when he returned from his shower. "Thanks for putting this stuff out for me Dad," he said as he slipped into the clothing that I had put out for him.
Once we were both dressed, we sat down for a light breakfast with Susan and we spent some time spoiling Brutus. We gave him a lot more cheese than normal that morning.
Andy arrived right on time at 9AM and he helped us to load our bags into his car. When everything was loaded, we said our goodbyes to Susan and promised to send her postcards. She hugged each of us and then we were on our way.
As soon as we arrived at Pearson International Airport, we checked in for our flight and checked our bags. Then we headed for the domestic arrivals area to wait for Mark and Bryan. We didn't have to wait long. They exited the secure area and when Mark saw us he came bounding down towards us.
He launched himself at me first and hugged me tightly. I smiled and returned his hug. "Hey Marky, how are you bud?" I asked.
"Great Tom, thanks for fixing it so Michael can come to camp with us. His parent's said he can go!"
"Don't thank me kiddo, thank Andy," I replied.
Mark then released me and grabbed a very surprised Andy in a tight hug while Josh and I smiled at the two of them.
"I'm glad to help, Mark. We're family, remember?"
"Of course," he replied and turned his attention to Josh.
At that moment Bryan arrived and the two of us exchanged a hug and a kiss. "The two of you look good," Bryan said noting that Josh and I were both wearing our bomber jackets. He and was wearing a Roots Canada windbreaker and Mark was wearing a bright red Roots Canada hoodie.
The five of us headed up to a small restaurant overlooking the flight line and ordered breakfast. Josh and I had already had a small breakfast with Susan, so I wasn't very hungry but Josh, having hollow legs, ate his breakfast along with the parts that I couldn't finish of mine.
"So guys, I have a plan worked out for camp," Andy said over coffee.
"I can't wait to hear it," I laughed.
"Here's the deal. Tom, I'm putting you in charge of your old cabin 6 and I'm putting Josh and Kevin in your group. Bryan, I'm putting you in charge of cabin 5 next door and I'm placing Mark and Michael with you. You'll both have 10 twelve-to-fourteen-year-old boys in your cabin group."
"Anyone I would remember?" I asked Andy.
"You bet. I'm giving you some of the boys that you've had before. Gary, George, and Ricky."
"Great! They're really nice kids."
"Cool," Josh observed. "Too bad we can't all be together though."
"I just couldn't find a way to do it kiddo, sorry." Andy said. "I need both your dad and Bryan to supervise a cabin and I didn't want to put all of you kids with one of them leaving the other with only kids they don't know."
"Makes sense," Mark said.
"Don't worry anyway…. you'll see each other a lot during the day. You boys along with Michael and Kevin are in the Outdoor Adventures/CIT program."
"What's CIT?" Josh asked.
"Counselor in training," Andy replied. "You'll get to learn what you need to know to become a junior counselor if you want to next year. The Outdoor adventures part of the program involves all kinds of cool stuff like hikes and camp outs. Tom, I'm putting you in charge of the boy's side of that program and you'll have an old friend along to assist. Paul, your old JC, who will be minding cabin seven will be your assistant. Your daily camp group will include fifteen boys between the ages of thirteen and fourteen."
"Boys only?" I asked.
"Yeah for that particular program we thought it was best to have separate boys and girls programs. We figured that it was important just to give the boys time to just be boys and the girls time just to be girls without having to try to be cool and impress anyone."
"Makes sense to me," I said.
"It also makes it easier to supervise the overnights," Andy chuckled.
It only took a second for Josh to realize what he meant and turn cherry red.
"Now Bryan, I know that's not really your thing," Andy said. "I've got another idea for you if you want and I think it would be right up your alley."
"You've got my attention," he replied with a smile.
"We're starting a computer camp this year and I'd like you to be the senior counselor. It's especially great for those pesky rainy days. You'd spend part of the day teaching the kids computer skills and playing computer games and you'd spend the rest of the day doing camp stuff like swimming, archery, and all the rest."
"I like the sounds of that!" Bryan replied.
"Ok, it's a done deal. Your group will include both boys and girls and will include a wider age range. You'll have an assistant as well, but I'm not sure who that will be yet."
"Oh one more thing…. I've cleared it with Rachel and we both feel that the camp could use some mascots. You're free to bring Brutus and Daisy along with you."
"COOL!" Mark and Josh replied in unison.
"Andy, would you mention that to Susan when you see her." I said. "It will get her used to the idea. She's come to rely on the security that Brutus offers her."
"Yes and I'll have to give Mr. Senflex a call and arrange to have Michael and his Dad pick up Daisy and get her on Michael's flight, but I'm sure that won't be a problem," Bryan observed.
"I almost forgot, the twins will be coming up to camp as well for two weeks in August. They're so excited to be coming to camp for the first time." Andy said smiling.
"Oh man, we'll have just about half our family up there," Josh observed with a giggle.
"The place will never be the same again!" Mark added with a giggle of his own.
After breakfast, we loaded Mark and Bryan's camp gear into Andy's car and then we headed for the departure gate. We said our goodbyes with Andy and the four of us went through security and settled ourselves into the departure lounge while we waited to board our flight.
Before long we boarded the wide body Airbus jet and took our seats. We had four seats side-by-side on the right side of the aircraft right near the front. It was going to be a long flight so we sprang for first class seats and it was well worth the money. During the early part of the flight we rotated our seats fairly frequently to give everyone a chance to see out the window. After a while, the early start took its toll on Bryan and Mark and they both drifted off to sleep. Josh quietly played his Gameboy while I read a book. Josh had the window seat and I was next to him with Mark between Bryan and me. Mark had fallen asleep with his head against my shoulder. It didn't take long before Josh and I were also sleeping soundly.
We arrived at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport pretty much right on time and retrieved our luggage and cleared customs without a hitch. With Josh's help as translator, we got to our hotel and got checked in for the night.
As much as we would have liked to take some time to see the sights in Paris, we were exhausted and ready for a hot meal and a warm bed. Josh ordered room service for us at the hotel and we ordered a bottle of red wine with dinner. Since we were in France, we let the boys each have a small glass of wine with their dinner and while they didn't care for it at first, they began to get used to it by the time the meal was over. Between the wine, the early start that morning and the rigors of travel, we were all dead to the world by 9PM that evening.
When I awoke the next morning, I glanced at my watch. It was only 5AM. When I swung my legs out of bed, I noticed that Mark was awake as well. He was sitting in chair reading a book. "Morning Mark," I whispered.
His face lit up and he replied, "Morning Tom." He set his book down and gave me a hug.
"You're up early this morning," I observed.
"I always get up this early to run in the morning," he replied.
I thought for a moment. "Do you have your running stuff with you? I've got mine and we could for a run outside if you like. Just the two of us."
"Okay!" he said enthusiastically.
It wasn't often that Mark and I had the chance to spend one-on-one time together and that was something that I wanted to change this summer. With my leg fully recovered, early morning running was one way to do that.
The two of us dressed in tee shirts, running shorts and running shoes. I left a quick note for Josh and Bryan and then the two of us slipped out of our hotel room and made our way to the lobby. We greeted the door man using our somewhat basic French skills and then we headed outside. There was a park not far from the hotel and we figured that was where we would head.
We ran at an easy pace, the two of us side-by-side in the cool morning air. The sun was not yet fully up and the streets were quiet as we trotted along. It felt good to run again without pain and it felt especially good to be sharing the moment with someone as special to me as Mark. My bond with Josh was primal and deeper than I ever imagined possible, but that didn't preclude Mark and me from sharing a bond that was almost as strong. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye and admired his form. He ran like a well oiled machine and I felt my heart swell with happiness over the role that I'd played in transforming him from the sad little boy that I had first met into the magnificent young teen who was running with me that day.
"How's the leg?" Mark asked after we had covered what must have been our first kilometer. I could hear echoes of Josh's concern in his voice.
"No pain at all," I replied. "How are you doing Marky?"
"No problem. I run like this every day," he replied.
"I didn't mean just this morning. I meant in general. How are you keeping kiddo?"
"Better than ever," he replied and turned to grin at me. "Cadets is great, baseball has been amazing, I have lots of friends.... and Michael.... well, I think he's the greatest."
"I'm glad to hear it kiddo," I replied tenderly.
"I never really knew what I was missing when it comes to a family," he said thoughtfully. "You guys are everything to me."
"You and Josh and everything to us too," I replied.
We entered the park and began following the foot trail that wound through some light vegetation and past a large pond that was full of ducks and geese. "Tom, how do you know if you're in love?" Mark asked.
"That's a tough one," I replied. "I think you just know. It's when you hate being apart from the other person and when you feel more complete when you're around them. It's like when you have a problem, you consider what that special person would want you to do. They're uppermost in your mind."
Mark digested that for a moment. "How about if they make you horny?" he asked sheepishly.
"There's that too," I chuckled. "That's when you have to determine whether it's love or lust."
"How can you tell that?" Mark asked.
"I'll tell you what I told your brother," I said as we slowed our pace and sat down on a park bench overlooking the pond. "If the feelings that you have for the other person come from your heart and from this head," I pointed at his forehead. "It's love. If they come from this head," I said and pointed to his crotch. "It's probably lust."
Mark giggled sweetly and blushed slightly. "Michael does make me horny, but it almost hurts.... like a knot in my stomach to be apart from him, so I guess its love."
"Marky I've seen the two of you together and I think that's exactly what it is. Your eyes.... Michael's too, sparkle when you're together. You look at each other and you smile.... constantly. You guys are as perfect a match as Josh and Shelly are."
"I wish we could be more open about it though. Bryan said it would probably be best for us not to 'come out' until we get a little older. Michael's Dad said the same thing. They're cool about it, but they said other people might not be."
"They're right Marky. I know it sucks, but I think that's for the best too. There are still some ignorant people in the world and some people wouldn't be very accepting of young people your age being openly blatant in a same-sex relationship."
"Why is there so much hate and nastiness in the world?" Mark asked.
"I wish I could answer that. One of the reasons that we're taking this trip is to show you boys what can result from hatred and how nothing good can come of it. Josh experienced that first hand with Bob. He was about to kill Bob because his hatred was that powerful. Hatred has driven people, even entire countries to act so irrationally and so brutally as to defy understanding."
"That's why wars start," Mark observed.
"That's right. I told Josh once that sometimes not fighting is worse than fighting. That's what I want to show you on this trip. I want to show you guys the places where the freedom that we enjoy was won, but I also want to show you the price of that freedom and the reasons why men had to fight for it."
"I understand that, but I don't understand how some people can live their lives with hate in their heart."
"I don't either Marky. I do know that the opposite, indeed the antidote to hate is love. I fill my heart with love. Love for you and Josh and Bryan and the rest of our family. Hate is something that you learn. Look at little Timothy. He's perfectly innocent and he doesn't know what hate is. All he knows is love."
"So we have to teach him to love and not to hate as he grows up," Mark said thoughtfully.
"Exactly. Hate is a virus that is passed from person to person. It's taught from parent to child and all of us have a duty to break that chain."
Mark leaned over and snuggled warmly against me for a few moments while we sat silently and watched the ducks in the pond. Around us the city of lights was beginning to come to life. Finally, I kissed his sweaty brow.
"Did you tell Michael that you love him?" I asked.
"Almost.... once." Mark replied hesitantly. He said he wants the same things I do.... you know, to be a fighter pilot. He always wants me to be there with him."
"Sounds like love to me.... You going to tell him?" I asked.
He nodded his head with a big smile, "Yeah.... I guess I better.... if he doesn't beat me to the draw."
"Ready to head back?" I asked.
"Yeah, I'm getting hungry. Thanks for having this talk," Mark said as he nuzzled my chin before standing up to stretch.
We retraced our steps back towards to hotel and let ourselves back into our room. Josh and Bryan were both still sleeping soundly. Mark and I both stripped out of our sweaty clothes and then took turns in the shower.
When I stepped out of the shower, Mark was sitting on the top of the toilet waiting his turn. "That was a good run today Tom," he said.
"For sure," I replied. "We need to spend more one-on-one time together. Maybe we can keep up the morning running while we're at camp."
Mark's face lit up like a thousand watt light bulb "I'd really like that," he said as he hugged me. I was still soaking wet from my shower, but he was already undressed so it didn't really matter.
I had just started shaving when Josh came in and stripped down to wait for his turn in the shower. "Morning Dad," he said and hugged me tightly. "You guys were up early."
I told Josh about the run that Mark and I had taken around the park.
"I'm glad. It's good for you and Mark to spend some time together."
I smiled at Josh and tousled his hair. He was such a special kid. Far from feeling threatened by having to share me with his brother, he was happy about it.
"So it's off to Vimy Ridge today eh?" he asked.
"You got it son. This is something that I've wanted to do for a very long time," I replied.
"It's probably going to feel like the parliament buildings in Ottawa did," Josh observed thoughtfully. "You know…that 'historic' feeling that gives you goose bumps?"
"I know it well kiddo," I replied as I turned to lean down and kiss the top of his head.
Josh smiled in response and reached out to hug me.
Mark climbed out of the shower without even turning off the taps and Josh climbed right in after the pair bumped knuckled. I was done shaving so I grabbed a small towel and stood behind Mark and dried his hair for him. He smiled and leaned back against my chest.
"I'm really glad that we're here," he said.
Just as we were finishing, Josh stepped out of the shower and Bryan arrived for his turn. It was getting a bit crowded in the bathroom and given all of our state of undress, Bryan made a crack about a sausage shop which made me laugh and both Mark and Josh blush.
"What are you guys blushing for?" he teased. "Neither of you have anything to be ashamed of!"
Mark, the jock of the group who was most used to locker room antics, snapped his wet towel near his brother's rear end intentionally just missing him.
"Yikes!" Bryan shouted as he jumped into the safety of the shower stall.
Josh got an evil grin and turned on the hot water tap at full blast, but he and his equally mischievous brother were disappointed that, unlike at home, that didn't cause the hotel shower to suddenly turn ice cold.
"Too bad about the water guys," I laughed. "That was good aim with the towel though Marky."
"Oh sure! Bryan shouted over the running water. "Go ahead and encourage him!"
A little over an hour later, after filling up on fresh croissants with butter and jam, we checked out of our hotel and boarded our tour bus. We were one of the first hotel stops that morning so we actually managed to get in a pretty good driving tour of Paris. We got to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre as the bus drove around picking up members of the tour group.
The itinerary for our tour group was a tour of the battlefields of Europe. Fortunately, the tour group would be conducted by English speaking tour guides and would provide us with transportation and meals along the way. Our first stop of significance was going to be Vimy Ridge before heading to Dieppe and then on to Normandy and the Juno Beach Centre.
Once all the members of the group were picked up, we headed out into the countryside northeast of Paris. It was a very scenic drive and from having watched many war movies, the scenery felt familiar to me. The closer we got, the more the excitement was building in each of us.
We arrived at the town of Arras early that afternoon and after a wonderful lunch at a small café, we headed to the park that had been created at the site of the Vimy Battlefield.
The entrance to the site was flanked by rows of Canadian and French flags and as we entered the park, the towering Vimy monument came into view. Situated on the highest point on the ridge and rising majestically out of the sea of green grass, were the twin limestone pillars of the towering monument.
The four of us climbed off the bus and stood arm-in-arm staring upwards at the towering limestone pillars. We could feel the history of the place wash over us and each of us was lost in our own thoughts.
My own thoughts were of the love I felt for my family and of the hundreds of thousands of other young men, many barely older than Mark and Josh, who had come to this sacred place to fight. They fought not for glory, but for our freedom and they paid a terrible price for all of us.
However solemn I felt, it was dwarfed by the serious and respectful faces of Mark, Josh and Bryan and all our fellow passengers on the tour.