Farewells and Welcome Home
The next morning, the day that I'd been dreading, arrived. It was a bright and sunny day and the usual crew got up with me to go for our morning run. For Jake, Sean, and Charles it would be their last run with me for that summer. I knew that Al and Dana would be picking them up shortly after lunch.
We decided to make the most of the morning and after the run, I took my crew along with Bryan and his crew and we went out on the lake in the canoes. As usual Josh paired up with me and we headed out. Josh and I were planning a canoe trip to Algonquin park in the early fall and I was glad to see that Josh still had great form when it came to paddling a canoe. I also couldn't help but notice that Sean and Jake, who were sharing a canoe, also had excellent form. Both boys were strong for their age and size and they did very well, even in strong currents. I formulated an idea on my mind and decided to run it by Josh.
"Hey Josh, what do you think about inviting Sean and Jake on our Algonquin canoe trip this fall?"
"Cool, that sounds like a great idea," he responded. I didn't expect anything different from him.
"Ok, don't say anything to them and I'll run it by Mr. and Ms. Burger first."
"Ok, my lips are sealed." Josh said with a grin.
After our canoe trip, we headed to the dining hall and ate a somewhat subdued lunch. Although most of my boys were staying on all summer, we were all going to miss Sean and Jake.
After lunch, we headed back to the cabin and I made sure that Sean and Jake got packed up and didn't forget anything.
"Brutus, look under the bed," I said. Brutus barked happily and then went under the bunk beds that Sean and Jake had been sharing. It was a trick that I'd taught him before we left home. He'd go under a bed and retrieve anything that was left there. Sure enough he emerged a moment later with a pair of gray boxer briefs clutched between his teeth. His tail wagged a mile a minute as he ran around the cabin with his prize.
"Hey those are mine!" Sean said and ran after him. Brutus played a bit of "keep-away" but gave up pretty soon in exchange for a pat on the head.
"I'm going to miss you, Brutus." Sean said.
Just after 1:30, a Lexux SUV pulled up out front of the cabin. Al and Dana had arrived. Sean and Jake both took off as if propelled by rocket boosters and greeted their parents. A moment later, with Brutus at my side, I joined them outside.
I had to smile, Jake, talking at about a mile a minute was giving Al and Dana a complete rundown of the entire week and didn't appear to be missing many details. When he got to the part about Sean and his Microsoft Certification, Sean proudly displayed the framed certificate for his parents.
"It sounds like you two had quite the week," Al said.
"We're so proud of both of you," Dana added.
"Great to see you again Al," I said and offered him my hand. I shook hands with Dana as well right afterwards.
"They weren't any trouble I hope?" Dana asked earning eye rolls from the two boys.
"On the contrary," I grinned. "It was a pleasure to have them and the truth be known, I'm really going to miss having them around. You have every reason to be proud of both of them. Actually Jake was great with a twelve-year-old that was going through some scary stuff."
"I'm glad to hear that," Al said. "You boys had better go get your bags. We have a long way to go and we still have to go get the girls on the other side." By then, Stéphane and Charles had noticed that their ride was here and were in the process of preparing to leave.
I took the opportunity to speak to Al and Dana without the boys around. "It really was a pleasure having your boys here. You have a pair of truly remarkable young men there. They both seem to have exceptional music abilities on the guitar. I can't say enough good things about them. I'm thrilled to no end that they are such good friends with Josh."
"It's nice of you to say so. We feel the same way about Josh. He's been a really positive influence on Sean and he's helped him to work through a few things from his past."
"I'm glad. I wanted to run something by you before mentioning it to the boys. Josh and I are planning a canoe trip to Algonquin Park, which isn't that far from here this fall. Jake and Sean are very strong paddlers and we'd love to have them join us. We're probably going to time it for late September to coincide with a PD day at Josh's school. That would give us a good three days at the park."
"I think it's a great idea," Al said.
"I do too. I think it would be great for the boys," Dana added.
"Fantastic. I'll be in touch to finalize the details as soon as we get back after Labour Day."
Jake emerged from the cabin, deposited his gear into the back of the Lexus, and then came over to join his parents.
"Well Jake, I guess this is it. It's been a real pleasure having you here," I said and offered my hand.
"Thanks Tom," Jake said, ignoring my hand and giving me a quick "guy's hug" which brought a smile to my face.
"You're more than welcome kiddo. Thank you."
Sean emerged next and after loading his gear came over to stand next to his brother.
I offered Sean my hand, which he accepted. "Take care Sean," I said. "It's been great having you. Thank you again for everything you did on that website."
"Thank's Tom," Sean said. His voice sounding just a touch husky. "I had a great time."
"I was just talking to your parents and they've given you guys permission to join Josh and me for a canoe trip in Algonquin Park in September.... if you want to that is!"
"Of course we want to!" Jake shouted and bumped knuckles with me.
"For sure," Sean said with a huge grin on his face.
"Ok it's settled. The four of us will have a great Algonquin canoe adventure together."
Just then Marcus came running up to Jake and gave him a quick hug. "Thanks Jake.... you put me on the right track."
"Hey Marcus, I'm glad I could help." Jake replied. "You have a ways to go, but you're gonna be OK. Just listen to Mark and follow his lead and he and Michael will get you through the worst of it."
I spoke to Al and Dana for a few more minutes as the boys said their goodbyes, then climbed into the Lexus. Just as Al was about to pull away, the back door opened and Sean popped out. He ran up to me and caught me entirely by surprise when he gave me a brief hug just as his brother had. "Thanks again Tom, I'm going to miss you and everyone else. Thanks for the computer certification too."
"You're more than welcome kiddo," I replied. I knew that Sean wasn't known for being affectionate and showing his feelings and I knew what a big deal it was to get a hug from him.
He whispered in my ear. "What happened to the string?"
With a grin and a wink, I quietly replied, "Sean, officially I don't know what you're talking about.... but unofficially, it's a secret."
He laughed all the way back to the Lexus.
My eyes were a bit moist as I waved at the Lexus watching it pull away. I thought to myself, 'That's what this job is all about'. Just then, Josh came over to me and wrapped me in a hug.
"Dad, I had a short dream last night." Josh sounded a bit apprehensive and melancholy. "He.... he was dressed in the Canadian uniform. He said, 'Thank you my honourable friend'.... but his lips didn't move.... then he saluted. Dad, I.... I've never had a dream like that before. It felt so real. I think I'm getting too engrossed in the website petition and that my brain was getting scrambled or something."
I smiled at the coincidence that had now become a reality. "Josh it's OK! I have those kinds of dreams all the time. I had one last night son, almost identical to yours."
"You mean.... it.... he was real?"
"Only you and I would know that for sure," I smiled. "Son, never be afraid of your dreams.... accept them for what they are. Some may be a warning of something yet to happen.... others come as just a pleasant message to let us know that we're on the right track."
"You really believe that?"
"Definitely Josh....," I gave him a big grin, "...and you can take this to the bank as well.... I know you're on the right track."
"Thanks Dad." He gave me another quick hug and a big smile before he took off. "I gotta catch up with Howie and the gang," he yelled back.
I took the opportunity to drop into the office to talk with Rachel about leaving early.
"JUST the man I want to see!" Rachel boomed as I walked through the door. "Tom I have two new fourteen-year-old boys coming in this morning and I'm going to assign them to your cabin."
"No problem Rachel.... we have the space with Jake and Sean gone. Have they ever been here before?" I asked.
"Four years ago, but they were very withdrawn and really kept to themselves. Now that they're fourteen, maybe things will be different. Of all the councilors, I know you'll be the one to solve a lot of their problems and get them out of their shell."
"I love a challenge Rachel, but the reason I came in was to ask you if our gang.... Josh, Bryan, Michael, and Kevin.... can quit our summer stint on the Friday before Labour Day." Susan wants us to get home and have at least one day before we get back to school and of course, Bryan, Michael, and Mark have to fly back to Calgary on the Sunday before Labour Day."
"I was thinking the same thing.... that the kids need a few days to reacclimatize at home before they go back to school. Leave it with me. Andy and I will contact the parents and see if they can come on Thursday afternoon to pick up their kids. We may have to shuttle a few of them over to the bus depot in Huntsville because it's a workday for their parents. Either way, the maintenance crew will be pleased. They'll have a few extra days to clean up and stow everything, and close up the cabins for the winter. I'll let you know."
"Thanks Rachel, I know Susan will be pleased." I said as I walked out the door.
I was just walking down the steps of the office when the two new campers assigned to me to replace Sean and Jake in the CIT program arrived. They were identical twins – Grady and Carson. They seemed somewhat reserved, even after their parents had left, which aroused my curiosity. The first thing I noticed – they were dressed exactly the same – not even a 'C' or 'G' monogram to tell them apart. Even the haircut with a part in the centre was identical.
After saying goodbye to their parents, then getting their welcome to Tonawanka and registering at the office, we started our walk over to Cabin 6. So far, their attitude reflected a state of being withdrawn.
As we walked, I asked, "Well boys, I can't tell you apart. How do your parents do it?"
"Sometimes they can't," both boys answered in unison. I tuned into the fact that neither of them smiled.
"You answered like you were one person. Would you prefer to be two people?" I asked.
In unison again, they stopped, tilted their heads, looked at me, and then stared at each other. There movements were almost animated. I'd heard of this sort of thing going on between twins, but it was the first time I'd witnessed it and I was feeling a bit weird about it. Finally, one of them looked at me while his brother continued to stare at his twin.
Looking at me with a broad smile, he said, "Hi, I'm Carson and sometimes I'd like to be different than my brother."
Then Grady smiled and turned his head to me. "I'm Grady. Carson and I are very close. Most times we know what the other is thinking and sometimes we feel the happiness or pain that the other is feeling. Yeah, we're weird that way, but I'd enjoy just trying to be me while we're here."
"Good deal boys, let's get you settled in then," I said with a smile as my weirded-out feeling washed away. "First thing, let's start with getting the two of you to dress different from each other."
After I showed the boys their bunks and where they could stow their bags, they started to change their shirts. One chose a bright green shirt and the other chose a bright yellow shirt.
"Green for Grady," he said with a smile, then took out a brush and started brushing his hair into the centre making every effort to bring it to a peak.
Then Carson took the brush and tried very hard to make his short hair just lay straight like bangs on his forehead. "That'll do for now until we get it washed and wetted down."
"I have twin nephews," I said, "and like you, they look so much alike, but their Mom has never gone to the extreme of dressing them exactly alike. They'll be coming here for a two-week stint in August. In a few months, they'll be eight years old. I think you'll enjoy comparing notes with them."
I went on and explained the simple rules of the cabin and that they were here to learn a few things, but mostly to have fun at no one else's expense. Then we went to join Howie and the others that were in the middle of a soccer game.
After the introducing Carson and Grady to the group, Howie took charge and reassigned a few of the players. I was assigned to fill out the team from Cabin 5 and the twins stayed with the boys from Cabin 6.
As the game progressed, it became obvious that Cabin 6 was the stronger team with the twins. To me, it appeared that the twins had their thought radar going full strength. They dominated the play for the next half-hour. Finally, Bryan called a halt to the lop-sided game.
"OK! That's it, we concede." Bryan exclaimed. Then looking at the twins, he laughed, "Next time we're going to split the two of you up. What a pair of ringers."
"Actually, we don't play that much soccer," Carson said.
"Except at school," Grady added. "Our folks don't like us to play rough contact sports."
"They like us to perform in individual competitions like swimming," Carson continued.
They were completing each other's sentences. Before their conversation got out of control, I said, "I think a quick swim before lunch is in order guys.... I don't know about you, but I'm sweaty and stinky. What'd'ya say?"
Arousing shouts of 'yeaaahs' gave Bryan and me the answer.
Once we all had our trunks on, Bryan and I took the opportunity to explain the need of using a buddy system when there were so many of us in the water. It didn't take long before everyone had more or less paired up.
The twins had only brought one pair of swim trucks each and of course, they matched. Once they had their hair wet and stuck to their skulls, we could no longer tell them apart. They were good sports about it though – they both answered to each other's name.
Before long, after I'd thrown Josh up in the air a few times, someone suggested we have a go at King of the Mountain. With Josh on my shoulders, Mark on Bryan's, Marcus on Michael's, and the others evenly paired up, we had a free-for-all mock battle. It was a lot of fun and I thought that Bryan and Mark were going to win, but again, Mark and Bryan did the honourable thing and when Michael and Marcus had made a final shove, I knew that Mark and Bryan had faked a loss of balance before spilling into the lake. We all cheered the victorious winners. Marcus was thrilled.
Although a bit tired, we had the group of boys do three short laps between Bryan and I. First lap was the Australian crawl, then a lap doing the backstroke, and finally the breast stroke. No doubt about it – they were all good swimmers.
I felt confident that they could each pass the first aid Lifeguard course. I knew Howie and some of the second year boys had already passed the course, but a refresher course could always help keep their skills honed. I spoke the thought over with Andy and Rachel and they agreed that it would be a good addition to this year's CIT program.
The rest of the summer seemed to fly by. Some things were routine – like our nightly camp fire chats, the talent shows, our runs in the mornings and a weekly climb to the top of Mount Tonawonka for an overnight camp out with the new campers, exposing them to the wonders of the starlit sky and various wildlife on the trail as we made our way there and back.
I watched with pride as my CIT campers grew and matured into capable potential junior counselors. Our cabin continued to be a place of fun and laughter and everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives.
It seemed whenever Mark had any spare time, he was after Michael and Marcus to participate in a new form of exercise. Sometimes it was chin-ups, push-ups, or a rigorous competitive swim. Never a slacker, Mark always worked as hard or harder as the other two. Mark's encouragement was great and the program he had going was working for the three of them. Marcus was losing his rotund appearance and starting to show signs of the distribution of weight after the third week, while Mark and Michael were gaining more muscle tone. For his part, Michael was always keeping check on Marcus' sugar levels and meter readings.
Josh was thoroughly enjoying having the whole summer to spend with Shelly and Mark was equally thrilled over being around Michael constantly.
Matthew and Richard came to Camp Tonawonka for two weeks in August. It had been their first time away from home and they were going to love every moment of it. I think it was actually more traumatic for Anne and James than it was for them. They knew that Uncle Tom, Uncle Bryan, Josh, Mark, Brutus, and Daisy were around, so they had nothing to worry about – or have a chance to be homesick. It was quite amazing how the two of them were starting to grow up. They'd be eight years old the following year and they were growing like weeds.
When I introduced Richard and Matthew to Carson and Grady there was silence after each of them had said hi. After a few moments of staring, Richard broke the silence. "You can do that too?" he asked his mouth gaped open in awe.
Carson smiled. "Yes, but can you?"
"We didn't know if it was real or not, so we didn't tell anybody," Matthew replied.
"It's scary," Richard added.
"Don't be afraid of it," Grady said. "You'll always be individuals separate from each other, but you'll always have a bond where you know what the other is feeling, whether it be happiness, sadness or hurt."
"The main thing is to use it to help one another and never do anything to hurt anyone else." Carson added.
Matthew and Richard looked at each other and smiled then went to Carson and Grady and gave them a quick hug.
"Thank you," my nephews said in unison.
The spectacle of the interaction between the two sets of twins had Josh, Bryan, Mark, Michael and I dumbfounded, but we accepted it with a lot of trust.
Although my nephews were assigned to a different cabin and in a different program than Cabin 6, it seemed every spare moment they could, Carson and Grady would round them up to take them swimming or a short hike. For sure, Josh, Bryan, Mark, and I were surprised and maybe a bit disappointed that we didn't get to spend more quality time with the younger twins, but in those two short weeks, my nephews were having the time of their young lives.
With a bit of cajoling, Rachel allowed us to take Richard and Matthew for an overnight camp out to the top of Mount Tonawonka. For the most part they got to ride on the shoulders of Grady and Carson, but when it came time to bed down, they wanted to sleep with their favourites - Josh and I - so we did end up having some quality time with them after all was said and done. Our evening of star gazing and the pleasure of a fireside chat was the highlight of their stay at camp - or so I thought.
On the way down the mountain the next morning, I had the impression that Mark and Michael were hatching a scheme. Their voices were rather quiet with a few giggles as we made our way back to camp.
When Bryan asked Mark what it was all about, he said it was going to be a surprise and that we'd have to wait for talent night.
At the next talent show, no one had been told what the program was, so as we sat on the bench, Bryan and I had a chance to review our agenda for the kids for the coming week of camp. We'd covered all the usual things on the curriculum, so we decided that it would be one last trip up the mountain and a lot of canoeing, swimming, and games. All the boys in our cabins had passed their Lifeguard Course and their certificates should be arriving in the mail on Monday. We were both happy about that.
Forever dutiful, Bryan had the video camera with him. He'd taped all the performances this summer and kept a record that could be sent to all the campers.
The smiling lone figure of one of the older twins took to the platform and stood there waiting for the din of the audience chatter to subside. He was wearing a baseball cap, so I couldn't tell which twin he was.
"Hi, I'm Carson-"
"NO YOU'RE NOT," a shout came from a voice in the audience. "I'M CARSON!" The other twin shouted as he ran up onto the platform and stood beside his brother. He was dressed exactly like his brother, so we had no way of distinguishing them.
"No, I'm Carson," the first twin said.
"If your Carson, WHO am I?" the first twin asked.
"WHO'S ON FIRST!" one of my nephews shouted from the back of the audience. That started the crowd laughing as he came running up onto the platform - dressed exactly like the older twins. "AND I'M RICHARD!"
"WHAT!" My other nephew shouted from the back of the audience as he ran up and stood beside his brother on the platform - dressed exactly like the older twins and his brother. "I'M RICHARD!" he exclaimed.
"No, I'm Richard, and What's on second." my first nephew said. Again, the crowd burst into laughter. Then I knew this reprise of Mark and Michael's performance was going to be priceless.
"You are not, YOU'RE Matthew," my second nephew retorted as he pointed to the second older twin, "and I DON'T KNOW WHO he is." He said pointing to one of the older twins.
The second older twin exclaimed, "I don't know's on third and Who's on first and I'M CARSON!"
"You are not, you're Grady," his brother exclaimed, "and I DON'T GIVE A DARN WHO they are." He said pointing the younger twins.
Then each set of twins exchanged places with their brothers.
One of the younger twins said, "I Don't Give a Darn is the short stop and Who's on first! I'm Matthew."
"You are not Matthew, I'm Matthew," his brother said.
The older twin asked, "WHY did you say your name was Richard?"
The other older twin interrupted, "WHY'S in the outfield and I'm Grady."
"You are not, I'm Grady," his brother retorted.
On and on it went, with the audience in stitches as the four twins performed their variation of the 'Who's on First' by Abbott and Costello. No one had any idea which twin was which, especially when one of my nephews announced that he himself was Grady, followed by one of the older twins announcing he was Matthew.
The whole performance was directed by Mark and Michael as they sat cross-legged on the ground in front of the platform, subtly pointing from one twin to the other to indicate who was to speak and when. The timing was spontaneous and fast throughout the whole performance.
After about five minutes, once the shouting on the platform got to a fevered pitch, the first older twin looked at the other three over his shoulder and shouted, "STOP!"
Everything went silent. The other three twins faced the audience, stood at attention, and slowly turned their heads to stare at the first older twin. The four held their stare as Shelly gracefully walked onto the platform followed by four younger female campers. Shelley took her place behind the keyboard and the other girls stood in a line behind the four twins.
Then the first older twin turned his head to the audience and said, "I am the real Carson McCormick."
His brother turned his head to the audience and said, "I am the real Grady McCormick."
My first nephew turned his head and said, "I am the real Richard Davis."
Lastly, Matthew turned his head to the audience and said quieter than the others, "I am the real Matthew Davis and I'm getting tired." He looked so cute as he wearily shook his head.
The audience was wildly appreciative with their cheers and whistles.
As the roar diminished, from their spots on the ground, Mark and Michael directed the boys and girls to exchange places, while Shelly started the musical introduction to 'So Long, Farewell' from 'The Sound of Music'.
Individually their voices weren't too strong, but when the eight of them sang as a group, the harmony was sweet. Before they left the stage, Shelly introduced each of the girls to another round of applause.
Then Josh walked on to the platform and stood behind Shelly and together they sang the duet 'Perhaps Love' made famous by John Denver and Placido Domingo. That was a sweet finale.
When Anne and James came to pick up Matthew and Richard, my nephews had a plan hatched with Grady and Carson. Naturally, Bryan, I, and all the boys in Cabins 5 and 6 were in on it. When James and Anne pulled up and got out of their car, I ran up to them and gave them a hug.
"Anne! James! I can't believe how much fun the twins have had while they were here. They've changed so much." I said as a matter of introduction.
Just then Carson and Grady came running out of Cabin 6. "Mommy! Daddy!" they shouted excitedly as they ran up to James and Anne and pulled each of them into a hug. "We missed you so much," they said in unison.
The looks on James and Annes' faces were priceless.
"WHAT.... What have you done to our sons?" James exclaimed.
"What's on second Daddy. We'll be right back," Grady said.
"We just have to get our gear," Carson added. Then the two of them ran back into the cabin. Everyone was trying so hard to stifle their giggles.
"WHO are those boys?" Anne shouted. "I don't recognize them anymore!"
Josh came forward and gave Anne a hug. "Who's on first Anne," he deadpanned. "It's amazing what a bit of fresh air can do, isn't it?"
Suddenly Anne looked very perplexed and worried. "I don't know how this could have happened," she said.
Bryan walked over to Anne, pulled her into a hug, and kissed her cheek. "I don't know's on third, but don't worry, your boys are going to be fine strapping big boys some day."
Then Matthew and Richard came out of the cabin with their duffel bags and backpacks, smiling as they ran as fast as they could to their parents. At last, the pent up laughter burst from everyone.
Anne was in tears as she hugged each of them. I guess we'd scared her a bit too much. James was grinning, but at the same time shooting darts at me as he hugged Matthew and Richard.
"Don't blame me bro," I pleaded as Carson and Grady approached, "it was their idea."
James stood there shaking his head slowly. "You two deserve an academy award for that performance," he said as he shook Grady and Carson's hands.
"Hi Mr. Davis. I'm Grady McCormick. We've had so much fun with your boys during the past two weeks."
"It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Davis. I'm Carson. I think its Matthew and Richard that deserve the awards. This was really their idea. They're great kids."
Just then my latest nephew, Timothy, woke up in the car. James went into the back seat and took him out of his car seat. Right away the twins went over to see their brother, each of them giving him a kiss on the cheek. All of us had a chance to 'ooo' and 'awwww' over the little tyke. He was happy - especially after Anne started to feed him his bottle. It was obvious that James was proud by the never-ending smile of his face.
Grady and Carson were a bit withdrawn as they watched their car pull away with my twin nephews inside it. They looked at Bryan and me. "They're really sweet kids," they said in unison. By supper time they were back to their same happy selves. I was pleased that they'd had the experience with my nephews and I was sure that my nephews would remember them with equal appreciation.
By the time the summer came to an end, it proved to be a difficult thing to say goodbye.
Shelly and Trevor left on the Wednesday before Labour Day. Josh came along for the ride to the airport and shared an emotional goodbye with Shelly. This summer had been an amazing experience for both of them and had truly served to bring them closer together.
Back at camp, as each parent arrived to collect their son, I experienced the pangs of separation. Over the summer we'd all bonded and it was like saying goodbye to sons or little brothers. The last parents to arrive were Marcus' Mom and Dad.
For a moment, his parents didn't recognize him. It wasn't surprising given that he had lost a lot of weight, grown taller and filled out nicely over the course of the summer. The chubby little boy they had dropped off had been replaced by a lean and fit teenager thanks to Mark and Michael.
Marcus looked a bit worried as he approached his parents.
"Marcus," Josh spoke quietly, "Take it easy, it'll take a while for them to get used to the new you."
"Huh?" Marcus looked doubtful.
"You have changed a lot over this summer Marcus." I confirmed.
Slowly the lot of us made our way towards his parents who had their backs to us while they spoke to Rachel.
"Mom." Marcus's newly deepened voice gently filled the quiet air.
"You mean that he's controlling it with diet and pills?" Marcus' mother said ignoring the voice.
"That's right," Rachel replied with a big smile.
Slowly Marcus raised his hand and placed it on gently on his Mother's shoulder. "Mom." He said again filling the quiet.
Both parents turned and looked towards the smiling face behind them. His mother's jaw dropped - his father's broadened into a smile. The resemblance between the 'new' Marcus and his father was obvious.
His mother covered her mouth in shock and stared before grabbing him into a mother-smothering embrace. "Marcus, oh Lordy how you've changed. You are definitely your father's son. You have no idea how much we missed you."
"Son you are a sight for sore eyes," Marcus' dad said in a voice just slightly deeper than Marcus'. Right away the lot of us standing there started laughing - not just the physical resemblance, but the voice as well - plus we were enjoying the happy reunion as much as this family was.
Although every kid was special to us, our farewell to Marcus was like an expression of triumph.
Finally it was just us left. The kids were all gone. Josh, Mark, Michael, Kevin, Bryan, the two dogs and I would stay one more night and leave early Friday morning. We all moved into cabin six for our final night and Andy came down and joined us as well. We stayed up most of the night chatting and laughing and sharing the memories of that summer.
At one point, Bryan and I fessed up about the way we'd spooked our campers throughout the last part of the summer with our midnight pranks. It cost us some heavy noogies from Josh, Mark, Michael, and Kevin, but it was all in good fun and we had a great laugh over it that evening.
They were memories to last a lifetime. They were the memories of a perfect summer.
We drove south the next morning and after having lunch at Webbers, we headed back to Toronto.
As we were driving up Kevin's street, I said, "Bryan.... Mark.... prepare yourselves for a surprise."
Josh knew what I meant, but Kevin, Bryan, Mark, and Michael looked at me with a big question mark on their faces as I pulled into the driveway. Naturally, Kevin would take everything for granted, but Bryan and Mark had never met his dad, Grant.
As soon as I put the Jeep into park, Kevin opened the door and the front door of the house flew opened, and Freddy came running out followed by Ethel to greet Kevin. Brutus and Daisy immediately scrambled around the boys and took off to meet Freddy on their own doggy level. While the rest of us got out of the Jeep, Grant came out of the front door.
Right after Kevin hugged his Mom; Grant picked up his son in a huge bear hug and swung him around. Kevin had grown two inches that summer, but Grant barely noticed. The love in this family was profound since the forgotten events of last Christmas.
Bryan and Mark were beaming as I introduced them to Grant. Grant's expression was equally ecstatic as he shook their hands. "You fellas are the other part of this family that helped to bring me back. I can't thank you enough."
Mark looked seriously at Grant. "Sir, it makes me happy to know that you became a dad that MY father could never be. Kevin is one lucky guy. It was really my pleasure to help in any way I could."
Bryan and Grant looked at each other, smiling. Bryan shrugged his shoulder and said, "He's my brother Grant, what can I say?"
"Just be proud Bryan," Grant replied.
"I have every reason to be," Bryan said.
After a bit of pandemonium getting Kevin's gear out of the Jeep and Brutus and Daisy back in - they just wanted to stay and play with Freddy - we were on the last leg of our trip home.
Michael was a bit perplexed by our short visit at the Brown residence. So while we drove, Josh and Mark filled him in about the events of our Christmas vacation - and what had happened since.
Susan was thrilled to see all of us as we pulled into the driveway. Naturally Josh got the first hug, then Bryan, then Mark, and then Michael. She hung onto Michael's shoulders and looked back and forth between Mark and Michael.
"You boys make a great couple!" she exclaimed. "Welcome to the family Michael!"
Michael and Mark were beaming, but speechless as Susan turned to go into the house.
Finally I called out, "Hey! How about me?"
She turned with a surprised look on her face and ran at me. Susan had changed over the summer - she had lost some weight and had her hair restyled. We grabbed each other into a hug and she kissed my cheek.
"Welcome home Tom.... you're my miracle worker!" she exclaimed.
"It's not me Susan," I said as I kissed her cheek, "Look around.... it's all of us."
She did and she saw five smiling faces beaming back at her.
"AND you must be Daisy!" Susan exclaimed. Immediately Daisy went over to her wagging her tail. Susan kneeled down and gave her a neck ruffle. Then Brutus let out a low happy howl wanting his turn. "There's my Brutus.... my hero!" she exclaimed as Brutus got his happy ruffle too.
The dogs were having a great time as we unloaded the Jeep. They followed as Mark and Michael moved their things into Josh's room with the queen size bed. Josh gave up his room so they could be together, while he took the other spare bedroom. Actually, I think Brutus was familiarizing Daisy with the house and the hierarchy of the family. He and Daisy even came downstairs with Bryan and I as we stowed our gear.
After we unloaded the Jeep and stowed everything in the house, Susan treated all of us to dinner at the Mandarin.
During dinner, we went on and on about our adventures at camp. Then it was Susan's turn to talk about her summer. All of us were gracious as we listened to her prattle on about all the women things she was doing with some of her friends, which included a new diet and her trips to the gym. She wanted to feel better about herself.
Although I was smiling to myself about her motive, it was Josh that pulled our thoughts into the conversation.
"Mom, the new you looks great," Josh commented, then asked coyly, "Is there a new man in your life?"
"No Josh, don't be silly," she replied, "but let me tell you what happened last week. I was in the mall picking up a few things and I ran into Darren and Grant, Kevin's dad. I knew he'd become Darren's partner, but it was the first time I'd ever met him. They'd just returned a lost little girl to her parents.... but Grant.... MY GOD, IS HE EVER A HANDSOME HUNK OF A MAN!"
Right away all five of us burst out laughing.
"Hey, all you boys are handsome and well built, but Grant is something else. It was kind of embarrassing though.... the way he apologized and thanked for me for what happened at Christmas. Darren was a real gentleman and said that it was something I'd do for anyone in the same situation. Maybe I would, but it was still embarrassing. While we sat at the restaurant with a coffee, I learned how much Grant really loves Ethel and Kevin. Darren of course was concerned if I was being troubled by Bob's attack. Thank God, that's finally out of my system. Anyway, they didn't have time to finish their coffee before they were called out again. I phoned Ethel and congratulated her on having such a great husband.... actually I was a bit envious."
"No more bad dreams Mom?" Josh asked.
"No Josh, this summer has put all that behind me." Susan replied.
The Bob fiasco was another event that Josh and Mark had to explain to Michael, although Mark had already told him some of the story.
When we got home, Bryan set up the camera and the TV to show Susan all the fun we had at camp. When she saw a clip with Marcus in it, Mark and Michael went on to explain all the things he went through at camp. When she saw the video of the Josh, Mark, and Marcus making their speeches in the dining hall when Marcus stood on the bench, she started to weep.
She loved the clips that Bryan had taken of the talent night shows. She never stopped smiling after that, especially when she watched Josh and Shelly sing. Andy's voice surprised her no end, as did the talent night clip with the two pair of twins and the joke we played on Anne and James when they came to pick them up.
"What a terrible joke to play on Anne and James!" Susan exclaimed between bouts of laughter. "I don't care if it WAS Richard and Matthew's idea. Those little monkeys."
The last clip at the camp was when Marcus' parents came to pick him up. She was absolutely astounded at the change in him. Seeing those events so close together in time on the TV, instead of the two months that it took for them to happen, was really a surprise to all of us even though we'd lived it.
With a mischievous grin, Bryan said, "Susan, I have one last clip I think you'll enjoy." It had happened that afternoon when Kevin was ruffling Freddy with a greeting and ended shortly after Grant shook hands with Mark and Kevin.
Susan sighed deeply and with a wide smile said, "They are certainly one beautiful family."
Josh got up, went over to her, and kissed her cheek. "So are all of us Mom."
As the boys headed for the bathroom and bed, I gave Susan a hug. "Susan, I can't thank you enough for letting me be Josh's Dad. As much as we took him on a trip this summer, he and the boys also took us through a world of amazing surprises. Josh has so much to offer and he gives it without any effort."
Bryan gave Susan a hug as well. "Susan, I'm going to hate for this summer to end and go back to Calgary, but coming home here has put all the memories in perspective. It's about family and in my heart; you'll always be a part of Mark's and my family which includes Michael now."
Susan smiled. "I'll always be glad to be here to welcome you home. It's what a Mom does. Raising those boys to become everything they should be can't be done by one person, least of all me. Both of you have given those three boys balanced character and self-esteem that they wouldn't have had otherwise. For that, I love both of you. Don't ever doubt that my home is your home at any time, wherever that may be. Now let's get to bed. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I have to take the boys to the mall to get them supplies that they'll need for going back to school." She wagged her finger at us. "You two deserve a break, so sleep in all you want."
"Thank you Susan. You're really special," I said.
"Very special! Goodnight Susan." Bryan said as we followed her upstairs to say good night to the boys.
Saying goodnight to the three boys was a special happening for Bryan and I. We started with Mark and Michael. Bryan sat on the edge of Mark's side of the bed.
"Was it your best summer?" Bryan asked.
"You know it was Bryan. What you and Tommy have done for us this summer was more than any father would do. I love both of you because of everything you've done for us." Mark replied.
"Mark, we didn't do it alone. You and Michael contributed more than we did to the welfare of Marcus all summer. I love you bro," he said as he hugged his brother, kissed his forehead, and tucked him in.
"Michael, now you know for sure that you're an important part of this family. We love you just as much as Mark and Josh." I said.
"I can't believe that your family has been so accepting of me.... like being with Mark the way we are." Michael said as we hugged.
I kissed his forehead. "You mean gay Michael. In this family, always accept who you are without hesitation. By the way, you haven't met my Mom yet," I said smiling, "then you'll know what acceptance really is."
"Be good to each other," Bryan said as he closed the door and we went into say goodnight to Josh.
"The best part of this summer is being able to say goodnight to my two Dads at the same time," Josh said as we entered the room.
I smiled as I hugged and rubbed noses with him. "Josh, you've made this summer more special than any I've had before."
"You made it very special for Shelly as well," Bryan said as he hugged Josh.
"She made me feel very special too," Josh said with a grin. "I know the day we get married will make me happier than anything in this world.... including anything that's happened this summer."
"Ain't love wonderful?" Bryan said as he quickly tickled Josh's ribs.
"It sure is!" I said as I tickled Josh the same way. Josh just giggled because the affect was hampered by the layer of bedding.
"Mom said she was going to take us to the mall tomorrow to get school supplies." Josh said. "She said that we had to be quiet and let you guys sleep in."
"We may just do that Josh," Bryan said as he looked at me and winked.
"It would be good if you did. Goodnight Dad Dad," he said with that mischievous grin that made me wonder again, what was going through his mind.
"Goodnight Josh," Bryan and I said in unison as I closed the door.
After we brushed our teeth and undressed, Bryan and I were finally together in a union in the same bed. Our encounter quickly turned immediate lust into passionate love. When he rolled off of me, he pulled me to his side as we relaxed in the aftermath's foggy release.
"I.... I've never felt like this," he whispered.
"It does get better every time," I said.
"Tom I'm in love with you and that's very important to me, but what I meant was what happened at camp. I've never had that influence over so many kids before. What will happen to those kids in the future because of something I said or something I taught them? It makes me feel like I've done the most honourable thing in the world. Does it feel like that to you after summer camp?"
"Yes it does," I agreed, "but this year was so special. It was a first for you, Mark, Michael, Shelly, the twins.... it was like a family reunion. When you think about it, all we did was give them direction and let them go to it. Somehow, we made that short period of growing easier for them.... and they loved us for it. It also helped me realize how much in love I am with you too."
Bryan put his arms tightly around me and pulled me on top of him. We kissed passionately, and then he whispered, "Make me happy again."
The clock read 2:30 before we finally drifted to sleep - happy, contented, and full of gratitude and love for each other.
I heard a quiet voice, "We are so lucky to have them." I think it was Mark.
I felt my arm around the familiar body of Bryan, the left side of my head resting on his shoulder. I barely opened one eye and saw Michael, Josh, and Mark standing at the side of the bed.
"Morning boys," I mumbled as I closed my eye again relishing the comfort of the additional sleep my body desperately needed.
"Dad," I heard Josh whisper, "Mom's taking us to the mall. The dogs are walked and fed."
"Ummm-hmmm," I managed.
"Love you Dad," the whisper returned.
I sighed. "You too son." My brain wasn't thinking.
Bryan stirred and rolled towards me - I remember that, but that was sometime later. I must have rolled onto my back. I felt his warm breath hitting my shoulder. Then I felt his breath hitting my other shoulder. Huh! I opened my eyes and looked left and right to find that we had one dog between us and the other was on my right. That little movement was all it took to start their tails wagging and administering happy facial tongue baths - Daisy was doing her number on Bryan to much protest and Brutus was getting the same treatment from me.
That ended our sleep, but it was 10:30 and Bryan and I felt refreshed. I grabbed a pair of sweat pants and went upstairs to grab some cheese from the Susan's fridge. I knew if there was any in my fridge, it would be moldy - we'd been away for six weeks. After I let gave the dogs a treat and let them out into the back yard, I started a fresh batch of coffee.
Once Bryan and I had performed our morning 'S's', we went upstairs and thought of breakfast. Between sips of coffee, we worked on the ingredients for a great pan-sized omelet, which we devoured with gusto. After cleaning up, we were at a bit of a loss without the boys around.
Bryan looked in the fridge again and decided to phone Mark so he could speak to Susan.
"Hi Mark," he began, "where are you bro?" "Wow! That's great, let me speak to Susan." "Hi Susan, you're really going out of your way to make the boys happy." "Susan, you're too good to us. Reason I called.... I saw a roast of beef in the fridge, would it be alright if I cooked it up for dinner?" "Yeah, we can dig that out to go along with it." "Good show! What time will you be home?" "Great! Yeah, hang on...."
He handed me his phone. "Hi Susan," I began.
"Hi Dad," Josh giggled. "We're at the top of the CN Tower. Michael's never been here before, so Mom's treating us."
"I'm sure Michael's enjoying that." I said.
"Yeah, he says that it's a lot taller than the tower in Calgary. Then Mom wants to take us to the Royal Ontario Museum and check out all the spooky mummies."
"That's great son, but did you pick up any school supplies yet?" I asked.
"Sure thing Dad.... we had that done by eleven o'clock. Gotta go Dad. I love you."
"I love you too Son." I closed the phone and smiled.
I gave Bryan a hug as I handed him his phone smiling. "He's having the time of his life, but he's still thinking of me."
"Tom, I guess that's what families do," he laughed. "Come on, we have dinner to prepare. I'll let you start with your special potatoes and I'll get the roast seared, then we can get the rest prepared together." He looked at his watch. "We've got four hours."
So Bryan and I kibitzed around the kitchen for the next hour and a half getting all the vegetables cut up, the roast ready for the oven, and set the table in the dining room. With the roast cooking in the oven and a bunch of vegetables spread around it, we decided to take the dogs for a leisurely walk.
We enjoyed that walk - it was special - us, just being us - talking about our plans for the future - a move to Calgary for Josh and me, providing a future for the boys, the hopefully successful outcome of the marketing of my multi-media program and other trivial dreams. We tossed around a lot of things, but one thing we agreed on in the end was a name for my multi-media program - 'eMemories'. That title encompassed the essence of what it meant to us.
Once we arrived back at the house, it was time to scurry through the final dinner preparations. Bryan pulled out the roast, removed the vegetables, basted it, then drained the drippings into a dozen muffin tins. He grinned, and exclaimed, "Yorkshire Pudding!"
Susan and the boys came home right on time. While the boys emptied the car of all the parcels, Susan helped get the bowls of vegetables ready for the table; I mashed the potatoes, then carved the roast while Bryan stood over his Yorkshire Pudding.
Susan and the boys were really impressed with Bryan's culinary skills. The meal was fantastic. We did have a few scraps of the roast left over for Brutus and Daisy to mix in with their kibble. All of us were really stuffed - there were no leftovers to worry about. For an hour, we rested in the living room enjoying the aftermath of a fine dinner.
I poised the question to the boys. "Fellas, what do you think would be a good name for that multi-media program?"
"Well it is an electronic muti-media program, but I don't think EMP is very catchy." Mark suggested.
"I've used the program four times to show what we did last summer and the Terry Fox promotion," Josh pondered. "Every time I've used it, it was to show everyone what great memories I've enjoyed."
"Memories eh?" Michael said thoughtfully, "but that still ends up being electronic memory program.... EMP.... sounds dumb!"
At that point, Bryan and I started smiling. We were enjoying the thought processes that the boys were developing.
"Electronic memory?" Josh finally said. "YES! How about 'e'.... little 'e'... memory?"
Bryan and I chuckled. Mark and Michael were nodding their heads.
"How about lower case 'e', capital 'M'....emories?" I asked.
"Perfect!" Mark declared as he high-fived Josh and Michael.
"We gotcha again boys...." Bryan smiled, "....you came up with the same name that Tom and I had picked this afternoon."
"Just shows that great minds think alike." Josh said. "NOW, how about dessert?"
"Oh damn," I said looking at Bryan, "we forgot all about dessert!"
"Dessert!" Susan exclaimed. "After that big meal.... how could you! I couldn't eat another bite, besides I've got to watch my calories."
"Awww Mom, we're growing boys. We need to keep up our energy." Josh said pleadingly.
I smiled. "Well boys it was our fault because we entirely forgot about it.... so what would you like for dessert?"
"DAIRY QUEEN!" Mark exclaimed.
So it was that the five of us left Susan to watch TV, while we drove over to the Dairy Queen. It was odd as we all headed for the door, that the dogs didn't follow. When we coaxed them, they moved away from us, Daisy following Brutus' lead, and went to Susan and sat down, one on each side of her feet.
Saying goodnight to Mark and Michael was special that night because I knew it was something I wasn't going to be able to do for some time in the future. I knew I was really going to miss them. Saying goodnight to Josh was always my favourite thing to do and I had a lot those times left in my life to enjoy. Of course saying goodnight to Bryan was special too, however we did get to fall asleep before midnight and still enjoy our passion - and I knew that there would be a lot of times in the future for us to repeat the pleasure.
The next morning, after we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast with Susan, we started loading up the Jeep with our Calgary family's luggage. Brutus instinctively knew that he was going to lose the company of his sister. The summer fun that they'd enjoyed together was ending as well. With a final whimper and whine, Brutus backed away from the Jeep and sat beside Susan's feet as we pulled out of the driveway.
Once again, Bryan and I exchanged a highly emotional goodbye near the departure gates. It was no easier for Mark, Michael, and Josh, but we did have good memories of a great summer to bolster our future thoughts of one another. We parted knowing that the time in which we would no longer have to separate in this manner was fast approaching. In fact, it was much closer than any of us could ever imagine.
On Labour Day, Josh prepared himself to start high school the next morning as I went through a mountain of mail. Among my mail, was a UPS envelope from "Viva Soft" Emmet Hastings' software company. It was surprisingly good news. Enclosed were return airline tickets to New York's JFK International Airport along with documents detailing a proposed development and distribution contract for eMemories.
I had barely a week to prepare for my trip - and it was going to be a busy week. I spent as much time consulting with my professors and with Andy to get as much legal advice as I could. Andy wanted to join me, but he was scheduled to participate in a mock trial that week and couldn't get away.
Bryan called with some great news about Mark and Michael. Both boys, as air cadets with an interest in military careers, were selected by their school to attend a special visit to Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake in Alberta to observe the air force in action. His trip would coincide with my excursion to New York. More amazing was the new of the number of signatures that the memorial website for my grand uncle was accumulating. I was astounded - it was really going to be put to a vote when parliament resumed in October.
Josh and Kevin were both elected to the student's council at their school and both boys seemed to seamlessly make the adjustment from middle school to high school. I knew they both had the confidence to make friends quickly and gain the respect of their fellow students.
All in all, it promised to be a good fall and we had a lot to look forward to.
However, for some reason that I couldn't nail down, something was niggling at me - something felt wrong in the back of my mind, but I couldn't quite place it. I recalled the time the fortune teller that we'd visited during our trip west and the words 'Danger From Above' stuck in my mind. However, I shrugged it off - I was too focused on the presentation of eMemories.
Josh was thrilled about the developments with eMemories, but he seemed troubled about my trip. I figured it was just that we hadn't really been apart for three or four days in the past two years and he'd miss me.
Finally on the Monday morning of my flight, he got up extra early and together with Susan, dropped me off at the airport. Josh held on a little tighter and longer than usual when we hugged at the departure gate.
"Are you sure you have to go Dad?" He asked forlornly.
"I'm sure kiddo. This is for our future. Remember, your use of the program has made it viable, so you have a stake in it too. Don't worry, New York isn't half as dangerous as some people think it is. It's a simple ride from the airport to the office building, another to the hotel and a last one to the airport when our meetings have ended. I'll be fine and I'll be back in time for Cadets on Thursday."
"Love you Dad," he said quietly.
"Love you too son," I replied.
After another hug for Susan and one for Josh with a kiss on his forehead, I headed for the U.S. customs station.
As I boarded the plane, I looked at my watch. It was 11:00 AM, Monday, September 10, 2001.