David of Hope has really come through for me here and has done a tremendous job on Chapter 67. This chapter is entirely the work of 'David of Hope'. He wrote all of this chapter on my behalf and for that I am greatful for his continued assistance.
Two weeks before the wedding, I had to check with everyone at the ranch to make sure they had their passports and they were up-to-date. I had something special going on in the back of my mind that I thought would be appropriate for summer break during the first week of July. Bryan thought it was a great idea and thought that our extended family would too.
The first thing Thursday morning before the barbeque/wedding weekend, our household followed it's usual routine with Mark, Michael and I going for a run with Kevin and the dogs. However, when we got to the main gates, there was a big semi parked with a 40-foot trailer. Quince was looking up at the driver giving directions on where he was to go. I knew that one of the tents was to be set-up behind Susan's house and other two spread across the lawn towards the main house. Rather than interrupt Quince and our own routine, we just waved and started heading back to the main house, leaving Kevin and Freddie to finish their run back to their house.
After our shower and breakfast, Bryan, I, and our two dogs accompanied the boys to the north gate with Arnold. On the way, I asked, "Well boys what's on the agenda today?"
"This is a great day," Josh replied, "Today the students get to be the teachers while the teachers are grading our final exams and stuff."
"Now that should be interesting," Bryan laughed as Kevin joined us with Freddie. "What are you bunch of scallywags going to teach?"
"Well Kevin and I are going to be in the auditorium debating the value of public interference versus the intent of a governing party in Canada." Josh replied enthusiastically.
"That is a heavy, heavy subject." I said.
"Probably boring too," Mark added with a laugh.
"Actually we have it pretty well rehearsed because we have to repeat it for five classes over five periods." Kevin said.
"Who wins?" I asked.
"Oh come on Dad, you should know the answer to that," Josh replied. "The public of course!"
"So what are you two going to be doing while all that's going on?" Bryan asked Michael and Mark.
"We're going to be in the gym teaching the kids for five periods how to build up their stamina." Michael replied.
"Yeah, it's going to be great.... we're going to run them ragged." Mark added with a grin.
I was still laughing as all the parents who had joined us with their kids, had a farewell hug party. Before the kids were allowed to board the bus, Arnold always had a greeting for the driver.
"How's it going Billy?" He asked.
"Everything's 'A OK' Arnold." It was always the same answer, and then the kids were allowed to board the bus. We found out that if Billy's answer was anything else, he suspected trouble and the kids were to be taken away from the gate while Arnold dealt with the 'problem'. No problem yet.
Once the bus was out of sight, Hamish joined us. "Irene's busy today gettin' all the cleanin' ladies to do their final cleanin' before the weekend. I'm goin' on with my own chores to get ready for the big day. Come on there dogs, you want to go for a ride in the truck over to the neighbours?" He called. "We gotta see what we can do 'bout gettin' the use of a tractor and a hay wagon." He said to the group of us. Totally full of exuberance, the dogs romped after him for their day's activities.
We loved our morning routines.
Once I sat down at my desk at work, the first thing I saw when I started up my computer, was that Susan had sent out an email to all staff that said there would be a brief wedding ceremony before the barbeque, but that no wedding gifts were to be provided. The good wishes of the staff was all that was required and the order of the day was summertime casual dress and if they wished to, they were to bring their swim suits.
Then I read Darren's email that gave everyone the time to be at the office building to board the coaches that would take them to the ranch.
I'd just read the email when my cell phone rang. The only I.D. showing was an 'Out of Area' with a number I didn't recognize.
Expecting someone with a sales pitch, I answered, "May I help you?"
"My name is Carl. Is this Tom Davis?" I recognized the voice right away.
"Carl Drabinski! What a surprise! I suppose I should have called you to let you know well our business is doing, but-"
"No need Tom," he interrupted, "my partner and I are on our annual country-wide tour of businesses that Mr. Goldman has a financial interest in to get a first hand look and feel of their operations. Right now we're leaving Butte Montana and we should be in Calgary in about an hour or so."
"Great timing Carl," I said. "I hope you can stay for the weekend. You're just in time to be a part of our first staff barbeque at the ranch on Saturday. Bryan and I will be at the airport to pick you up. What's your flight number?"
"No flight number Tom. We're using the Goldman executive jet and we'll be directed to the general aviation facilities at the south side of the airport so we can have private customs inspections."
"Good Carl, we'll be there to meet you in an hour." I answered.
"See you then Tom." He ended the call.
Excited, I shut down my computer and went into Bryan's office. "Bryan, I hope you can drop everything.... we've got to go to the airport and greet some special visitors."
He turned from his computer and looked at me out of the corner of his eye with a quizzical grin. "I hope they don't have a half-baked plan to make us rich."
I laughed. "Not these gentlemen. They already have."
Once he realized to whom I might be referring to, his jaw dropped. "Einrich Goldman!" he exclaimed.
"Not quite.... Carl Drabinski and his partner."
"The man who pulled the business plan out of the trash?" He asked with a bright smile.
"The one and only," I answered with a grin.
Right away Bryan shut down his computer and jumped out of his chair.
As we left Bryan's office, we made our way through the programming pods and simply announced that we'd be back in two hours hopefully with very interested parties - to which Ralph Grayson replied with a big smile, "Oh boy! Bosses are away. Party time!"
"Not until the barbeque," I answered with a laugh.
Ralph had turned out to be a natural leader with the programmers. He was always there with a helpful hint or an intuitive way of solving an area where one of the programmers were hung up. At the weekly brainstorming meetings we had with the programmers, Bryan and I were always surprised at his suggestions and the new ideas he didn't hesitate to bring forward and he did it all with a humorous confidence.
Although our visitors deserved the luxury of a limousine, we decided that they'd have to be happy with the Jeep on such short notice. It had just been serviced, washed, and cleaned - and we weren't people to put on airs.
We approached a guard house at the closed south entrance gate of the airport. "Gentlemen, what can I do for you?" the guard asked as I rolled down the window.
"We're here to pick up Carl Drabinski coming in on the Einrich Goldman Corporate jet."
"Your names please."
"Tom Davis and Bryan Callahan." I answered.
"One moment sir," he said as he spoke into his lapel microphone and related our information. After a short conversation, he went to the gate and opened it. As I pulled up to him, I paused to thank him and he gave us directions where to park and where the jet would be docking.
It was a short wait until we saw the Goldman Lear jet come into view and taxi to an indiscriminate spot near the terminal. As soon as the engines were shut down and the stair was lowered, a Canadian customs agent came out of the building and went into the jet. Within a few minutes he exited with Carl and another man following him each carrying an attaché case and small suitcase.
As I waved in his direction, Carl and his partner started towards us as Bryan and I closed the distance. When we reached them, they dropped their suitcases and we shook hands introducing our partners.
"Tom I'd like you to meet my partner, Vincent Breaglia. Vincent is the head man in charge of finances with Goldman Holdings." Carl said.
Vincent was every bit as handsome as Carl although he had the shoulders and build of a football player. Compared to Bryan and I, they both looked overdressed in their expensive business suits and ties while Bryan and I had on light dockers and sport shirts - our usual dress for a day at the office, although we did keep sports jackets, ties, spare pants and dress shirts in our offices.
"Carl, Vincent, I'd like you to meet my partner in business and in life, Bryan Callahan." I said.
"Vincent, it's a pleasure and Carl, we owe you our future." Bryan said as an introduction and he shook their hands. "Carl, if you hadn't picked that business plan out of the trash, we wouldn't be where we are today."
"Gentlemen, I know you're both important business men and we're impressed, but I think you'll want to lose the suit jackets and ties before we go into the office." I suggested as Bryan and I picked up their suitcases and headed for the Jeep.
"I'm all for that," Vincent agreed. "Your weather here is a bit warmer than we expected."
"Tell us you'll be able to stay with us over the weekend," Bryan inquired.
"Actually yes Bryan," Carl answered, "the jet needs to be serviced, and this is the closest facility we could find on short notice."
"Great, but how about your pilots?" I asked.
"They'll be staying at the airport hotel and supervising the maintenance procedures to the plane. They're husband and wife and this is a working holiday for them as well." Carl replied. "I know this is short notice and a trip here wasn't on our itinerary at first, but Mr. Goldman phoned yesterday and insisted we include your venture."
As I unlocked the doors to the Jeep, Vincent remarked with a smile, "You got all this money and you drive a Jeep?"
I realized the humour in his remark. "Yes I do. Bryan drives a Ford Explorer the same year as this. We like to keep a low profile. When we moved here we did go on a car-shopping trip and bought new vehicles for everyone in our extended family. They had sold theirs back in Ontario and BC so they could drive the moving vans. Once our boys get their driving licenses, we'll get new vehicles and give them our vehicles to drive until they finish college." I drove up to the main gate and waved at the guard as he opened the gate for us.
"You moved yourselves," Carl asked suspiciously.
"Sure did! It was a great adventure - four families from Ontario in four moving vans. I flew my plane out to our ranch with Josh and two other teens from Toronto." I replied.
"A ranch?" Vincent asked.
"Yes it's a big place on a full section of land.... 640 acres. We have six houses and several out buildings. What we don't use as a homestead is rented out for pasture and crops to a local farmer. Believe me gentlemen, we have lots of very comfortable accommodation for you." Bryan replied.
"You have a plane?" Carl asked.
"Yes, it's just a Cessna. All our boys have their pilot's licenses and Bryan has started working on his." I replied.
"You're not heading for downtown," Vincent observed as I pulled onto the highway.
"No," I replied, "our office building is just north of the airport. You may have flown over it on your final approach." I glanced in the rear view mirror to see a surprised look between Carl and Vincent.
"In our business, we don't need to be in the hub of the business world." Bryan explained. "We can perform all our business functions over the internet."
"Here we are gentlemen," I said as I made a left turn into the property entrance, driving slowing so they could read our new large low lawn sign.
Computer Software Development
"Your tomorrow - here and now"
"This is a rather large piece of property and was originally intended to include three buildings of the same size and design as the one we purchased." I added as I turned the corner to drive around the outside of the building and into the underground parking.
"You purchased this property?" Vincent questioned.
"I think we stole it for nineteen million," Bryan said with a smile. "They were asking twenty, but with the restaurant and all the ceilings and floor finishes that hadn't been completed, we were able to negotiate it down." Once again, Vincent and Carl shared a surprised glance between them as we got out of the Jeep, and waited while Vincent and Carl dropped their coats and ties, then picked up their laptops and attaché cases before we headed for the elevator. "Don't look too surprised gentlemen, if this building were an office tower downtown of equal square footage, it would have been eighteen stories high and cost five times more."
"Maybe twenty times more if it were located in Manhattan." Vincent added.
We got off the elevator at the first floor and I led the way across the main reception area. "Gentlemen, our first stop has to be at the security office to get you unrestricted passage for all the departments."
"We have to have a security clearance?" Carl questioned, "and you're going to allow us complete access?"
"Well everything but the file server room, for that you'll have to be accompanied by Bryan, Weston, Barbara or myself." I answered. "For the most part though, I imagine that Bryan and I will be with you to give you a feel for the place, but just in case you wish to go around on your own, you'll be able to do so."
Over the course of the spring, Bryan and I had become more paranoid about who could get into the programming, personnel, and finance areas, so we had new swipe cards handed out to everyone and had the door controls reprogrammed as well. Now, except for security and the department heads, staff that didn't work in the IT department, finance, personnel, or programming areas, and needed access, had to be invited in.
After I introduced our visitors to Grant, he had a worried look cross his face.
"Gentlemen, I'm going to be blunt, are you here to pull in the purse strings?" Grant asked. Up until that moment, that thought hadn't crossed my mind, but now that the question was asked, my anxiety level rose quickly.
"Definitely not," Vincent replied with a big smile. "Actually, we're here to learn about how you have an operation of this size organized and offer any advice we can to make things better for your bottom line."
"Grant, I'm sure that's a thought that's going to cross many minds around here as we tour the building," Bryan said.
"Quite right," Darren agreed. "I'll put the bug in Susan's ear to spread the word that your intentions during your visit are positive."
Once Darren and Grant's secretary had produced the appropriate access swipe cards to Carl and Vincent, we left their office and paused facing the atrium. They were awed. I told them that we'd be back to have a closer look at it after they had a tour of the lower floor.
We went down the first floor corridor past the restaurant and the daycare centre and showed them our gymnasium, then over to Harold Stemming's office and work area.
Harold had done a great job of setting up his area with a small workshop on one side, his office in the centre with all the manuals needed for the maintenance of the building, and on the other side, a change and locker room for his staff.
After greetings, salutations and introductions, Bryan asked, "Harold, I noticed some electrical work going on in the ceilings at a few areas of the building for the past few days. What's that all about?"
"Actually it's some security upgrade thing for the doors that Darren is having done." Harold replied. "That's all I know for sure. The contractor was down here going over the buildings drawings for a while and then they went to work."
"Fair enough Harold, we'll have a talk to Darren about it." I said as we left his area.
On the way back to the atrium, I was proud to take them in to meet Anne. Altogether, there were thirty children of various ages in the daycare centre. It was amazing how Anne and her three assistants had all the kids grouped into their own age groups and had them all busy doing simple age-related activities. The babies and infants were in another room. After I introduced Anne to our visitors as my sister-in-law, Bryan added, "DOCTOR Anne Davis."
I know Carl and Vincent were impressed.
When we were back in the corridor, Vincent asked, "How much do you charge employees for daycare?"
I was a bit surprised at his question. "We.... we don't charge the parents anything for daycare. We can't penalize parents for having kids. We judge the parents on their abilities to do their job.... and if you think we're soft-hearted about that, we're not. We have let three employees go after three months because their performance just didn't meet the job requirements. One of them had a child here in daycare. We do our best for our employees and give them every chance through education, but if they don't measure up, in time we just cut our losses."
"Free daycare!" Carl exclaimed. "What a perk!"
"Yes, and it builds loyalty, honesty and trust." Bryan said as we entered the restaurant.
As we sat there with a coffee and Danish, I explained about the rest of the building and who in our family headed each division. Naturally, Vincent said he'd like to spend some time with Mom to see how the money was being handled and Carl wanted to check out the marketing aspects. I couldn't understand why at the time.
I went on to tell them about the children of our extended family, in particular, Josh, Mark, and Michael, and their connection to the business. Bryan and I could have gone on talking about Josh, Mark, Michael, and the other kids and our adventures with them for hours.
"I realize there's a passion between the two of you for your family business, but it's more.... you're also very proud of them." Carl concluded with a smile.
Bryan and I were smiling and as we guided our visitors up to the second floor along the stone pathway that followed the stream through the tropical plants of the atrium. Carl commented, "In New York we have great office buildings and they're nicely landscaped with various potted plants and the odd fountain, but I didn't imagine anything like this from the outside of this building."
"It's especially nice when it's snowing and blowing outside in the middle of winter," I said.
We had a quick visit with Andy in his area. It was mostly unoccupied except for two paralegals and two secretaries for the present, but was set up with four offices around the perimeter and fifteen triangular computer stations in the centre. Andy had the enjoyment of the corner office right below mine. The office beside his was occupied as a satellite office, by one of the lawyers, Gerald Morrison from Edgar Delaney, our corporate lawyer, in case we needed some head-to-head corporate advice at a moments notice. Gerald Morrison's presence in our building was suggested by Edgar Delaney as our demands for their services increased. Gerald was very knowledgeable and cooperative in all our executive meetings.
It all started with the settlement of the Burton estate as Bryan and I acted on part of George Burton, that included dealings that were necessary with the bank, the sheriff's office, the insurance company and the courts and the number of trips that Bryan and I had to their offices in the heart of downtown Calgary and in turn, their office rep was making to our offices out here in the boonies. As things turned out, George Burton only had to make one more trip from Saskatchewan to sign the final papers, putting him in charge of the estate's remaining funds that were to be held in trust for Michael for another three years.
Ongoing with that was the legal Davis-Callahan restructuring into smaller corporations, namely: Davis Legal Services Corporation under Andy, Davis-Callahan Technical Group under Trevor, Davis-Callahan Marketing Group under James, and the Davis-Callahan Financial Group under the direction of Mom. They decided to use the title of 'group' instead of corporation because their work was tied so closely to the programming area.
Yes, with Mom already managing all these smaller units of the overall incorporated envelope and under the assumption that wealth makes wealth, Gerald Morrison suggested that we take an all-encompassing look to the future. We may end up in the money borrowing business or the set-up of various charitable foundations under our umbrella so Bryan and I thought that it was a good idea.
In addition, although Andy was taking child protection family law, Gerald was coaching him about contract law before Andy started his final year at university.
From there we went across the end of the atrium concourse into the Trevor's Technical Support area. As a research group, the Technical Support Group was always researching new computers, upgrades to be made to our existing equipment, and their detailed maintenance, which included a large library of manuals. The people of this group and their interaction with Weston and the programmers was essential to the corporation so that everyone in all the other departments could remain focused on their specific line of work.
After Trevor had explained all of this to Carl and Vincent, he led them to the oversized Technical Training room. Our visitors were very impressed as Trevor explained the many ways the room could be set up in a moments notice with various table configurations, the various locations of screens, and the closed wireless intranet system for the forty laptop computers programmed just for the training room and the many teaching advantages to the system.
From there, I led Carl and Vincent into what was initially planned as the Technical Training area which we had now set up as a quiet area with a library for recreational reading not related to computers.
"Gentlemen, this is a multi-purpose area," I explained. "Originally, the whole area was to be used exclusively as the Technical Training area headed by Howard Burton." I pointed to the photographs that we had hanging on the wall. "However, in January we had an upset in our extended family when Angela and Howard were in a fatal accident and we decided that we could privatize the technical training sessions as we required them, which is now part of Trevor's mandate."
Carl raised an eyebrow as he looked at the photographs. "Michael's parents?"
"Yes.... as a result of their passing, we became Michael's legal guardians." I clarified.
"At the far end we turned Howard's office into a First Aid room stocked with Band-Aids, Aspirin and Tylenol," Bryan further explained. "Once we were set up and running we had a visit from Occupational Health and Safety and rather than put a rudimentary first aid kit in each department to satisfy their request, we set up that central spot. Actually they were more concerned about safety measures being taken for the maintenance people who worked in Harold Stemming's area. We're office workers so anything more serious than a paper cut or headache, we either call in the medics or take the injury to the hospital. One of the girls from personnel looks after the supplies for the First Aid room together with all the other supply cupboards for pens, letterhead and paper for all the printers. We furnished the quiet reading area in front of that with bookshelves, magazine racks those sofas and lounge chairs for use by all the staff during lunch hours. We use this end of the area nearest the training room with these circular tables as an overflow area for the technical training room in case they need to have break-out groups during one of the training seminars."
From there, we went back onto the concourse and headed for Debbie Mason's Customer Service Centre. All of her phone lines were busy as her group fielded calls from customers and potential customers about our software, directing them to the appropriate area when they themselves couldn't answer.
Bryan explained that most of the questions were forwarded to our technical support group, but some of the customer inquiries ended up at our desks as development material for new programs.
At our bi-weekly executive meetings, Debbie was always a keen participant as she went through the current record of inquires. She listened intently to our responses as we educated her about various software capabilities.
As the four of us went up the glass-enclosed elevator to the third floor, Carl looked out at the atrium as it unfolded below us and commented, "This is absolutely fascinating.... the contrast between the lush greenery and the brown steel of the building structure."
"Carl, that's nice of you to say," I said, "but it's nothing compared to the vistas that you get from the skyscrapers in New York."
"True, but to have this environment in a three-story building is a thing of beauty," he added.
"Some people call it the jungle," Bryan said with a laugh, "but for me it makes it a pleasure to come to work."
We left the elevator and went into Ethel's graphics department. We stayed near the doorway because there was a whirlwind of activity packaging up boxes with new labels on the new CD software as someone was nursing the print coming out of the plotter - a beautiful poster of our new software for use in the retail outlet.
"Gentlemen, this is where it all comes together," I said proudly. "Once the programs are written, tested, approved and copyrighted they're sent over here for duplicating onto CD's, and packaged with descriptive instructions about the product together with the graphics designed over there by a commercial artist. In addition, the CD cases are shrink-wrapped, boxed together with the other promotional materials such as posters and is shipped out to the retail outlet at our loading dock downstairs. As you can see, they're in the middle of preparing a shipment right now, and I see a few faces from other departments helping. Although everyone may have a specific duty in the corporation, if help is needed in another area, no one hesitates to jump into another department and pick up the slack."
"You said 'retailer'," Vincent observed with a frown. "You only distribute to one retailer."
"For the time being, yes," Bryan answered. "In addition to the thousand or so individual requests we've received from the computer magazine ads, we've been shipping exclusively to a new venture that London Drugs has branched into recently for the past two months to see how the public is going to nibble at it. So far it's been very positive. London Drugs is a Canadian outlet that has diversified into things other than health needs, including housewares and other electronic gadgets including a small computer section in each store. They're strictly in Western Canada, with most stores located in British Columbia, a number here in Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer, and one or two each in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Considering the response we've had from that exposure, we've approached another nation-wide chain called Future Shop. Our marketing department next door is presently trying to finalize an agreement with them."
"Is that where we're headed next?" Carl asked with some enthusiasm.
"Yes we are," I answered as I led our group through the corridor between the two conference rooms and headed directly for James' corner office.
After I introduced them, Carl exclaimed, "James Davis! It's a pleasure to meet you. It was because of the interview you had with 'Business Week', that Mr. Goldman insisted we come here."
"It's a pleasure to meet you too," James answered quietly as he shook their hands, "I placed a lot of ads in many computer magazines and I did place just one small ad in 'Business Week' as a feeler, but.... I don't remember having an interview with 'Business Week'."
At this point Bryan and I were perplexed.
Carl opened his attaché case. "Well James, have a look at the article on Page 26," he said as he handed James a copy of the 'Business Week' magazine.
While James read the article with a grin, Vincent explained that Enrich Goldman had a small financial interest in the magazine's initial publication as a private lender and that he and the publisher had remained life-long friends.
"It's amazing that he was able to write all those positive remarks from a simple phone call!" James exclaimed. "I thought he was just trying to determine that we were who and what we said we were before he published the ad."
James handed me the magazine. Bryan and I looked at the article that was only three short paragraphs long, but the header and opening paragraph to the article sent a chill through me. It said:
|A Canadian venture, Davis-Callahan Corp. has a unique vision that has taken an innovative tact in the computing world - a vision that in the opinion of this editor will be an asset to everyone's lives.|
The other two short paragraphs spoke of 'eMemories' and the value it could have in a business or domestic presentation, followed by a reference to the ad.
"Good Grief!" Bryan exclaimed. "We're going to be busy.
"It feels like our benefactor is still watching over us." I added.
"In a way, he is Tom," Carl said, "which is the other part of the reason he asked us to come here. I'm sure that Mr. Goldman had nothing to do with that article that came from your own initiatives here, but it demonstrates that your abilities and those of your family deserve as much encouragement as possible. James, that was an innovative chance you took placing the ad in 'Business Week' and it paid off. All risks should turn out this positive."
"I have some additional good news," James said. "We ironed out the wrinkles with Future Shop.... they've agreed not to undercut the retail price less than London Drugs price here in their Western Canada outlets, but they want to sell our software at their other stores in Ontario and eastern provinces for 2% less. It'll be a big order once we sign the agreement."
"I'll bet the profit sheet is going to have a number of figures in it very soon," I said.
"OK!" Vincent exclaimed. "Now you're talking about my area. Would it be possible to see the profit and loss in the books?"
"Actually that's our next port of call," Bryan said with a smile. "Diane is in charge of all the bookkeeping for the corporations."
After bidding James farewell, we headed along the concourse to the opposite corner of the third floor and after a needed pause at the washrooms for all four of us, we entered the double doors into the finance and personnel areas.
First we headed to Susan's office, but we ended up finding her in Mom's office. The two of them were undoubtedly conferring about Saturday's wedding plans.
"Pardon us for interrupting ladies, but I'd like you meet Carl Drabinski, Mr. Goldman's personal business assistant and Mr. Vincent Breaglia, Mr. Goldman's personnel advisor in charge of finances. Gentlemen, first I'll introduce you to Susan. Gentlemen, this is Susan Chambers, Josh's mom, soon to be Susan Higgins and the lady responsible for getting us off the ground with all our staffing needs in addition to all the other little details that it takes to keep an operation like this running smoothly." I said introducing our visitors.
"Mr. Drabinski, Mr. Breaglia," Susan began as she shook their hands, "This is a welcome surprise. I'm sure that you didn't expect all of this that day you picked the business plan from the trash."
"No indeed, uh.... Susan," Carl answered, "you're going to be getting married to Darren Higgins?"
"I most definitely am and I hope both of you will stay for the weekend and enjoy the festivities." Susan said.
"We'd be honoured." Vincent replied.
"Gentlemen, I'd love nothing better than to stay here and talk about this corporation and our hiring policies, but I have to get back to my desk and finalize so many things before I take off for three weeks." Susan said before she left Mom's office.
"Vincent this is my Mom, Diane and the person you're so enthusiastically waiting to see." I said as a matter of introduction.
"Gentlemen, this is indeed a pleasure and I can't thank your employer enough for saving these two geniuses from a life of drudgery, struggling to get a small business off the ground. Due to Einrich Goldman's generosity, what they have accomplished in six short months is remarkable, not just for our families, but for all the happy employees we have here."
"I'm sure that if Mr. Goldman saw this operation, he would feel exactly the same way about Tom and Bryan and the investment he's made in their future." Carl replied.
"Gentlemen, Diane, would it be possible to have a look at the current state of your intake and expenditures?" Vincent asked.
"Of course," Mom replied. "Just give me a moment." She picked up her phone and said, "Gretta, I'm taking you off-line for just a minute."
Then she typed a command into her computer, inserted a CD. "I'm going to copy our current files onto that disk so we can work from that. While that's copying the files, let me give you an overall picture of how we set up the books. First there is the Serenity Ranch Corporation, totally separate from the Davis-Callahan Corporation. The money for the purchase of the Serenity Ranch and all the initial improvements that were made came from the thirteen-million-reward-money that was split equally between Bryan and Tom. Although they retain the title of ownership, our legal boys downstairs have worked so much legalese through a number of wills, each member of our extended family has an equal share together with all the succession titles to the children in the event of whatever may happen to one or more of the parents for both corporations. Tom and Bryan paid for all the moving expenses, added the airstrip and hanger, Tom bought the airplane, but together they bought the off-road machines, installed a skating rink, a firing range bunker, and there's been two private flights that has been paid for and the creation of a cemetery where we placed Mr. and Mrs. Burton remains. In addition, all of us contribute to the upkeep of Serenity and the education funds for the children. Oh, the copy has finished."
Mom typed another command and picked up her phone. "Gretta, you're back on line." Then turning back to Vincent, "The expenses and income for Serenity are laid out similar to the ones for this corporation, but I'll show you through the Davis-Callahan ledgers first."
Tilting her computer monitor so Vincent and the rest us could see the screen, I saw two menu buttons - one for Serenity and the other for Davis-Callahan. She continued after clicking on the Davis-Callahan menu button. "The only real income we have for the ranch comes from the rental of the pastures. Now about this corporation which is taken from the one-hundred-million loan. As you can see, on this expense menu, we start with the purchase of this building, its outfitting costs including outfitting the restaurant, all the furnishings and equipment and company owned vehicles for the principals of the corporation. All the bills that get paid out of the expense area aren't paid for until Tom and Bryan approve them. Further down," she pressed one of the menu buttons, "we have the operating expenses, and further down we have the wages and deductions of the employees," she said with the push of another menu button.
"Hold it right there," Vincent said. He reached over and followed the lines of data with his finger, then looked at me. "Tom, you make less than your best-paid programmers. Bryan, you too..... Diane, you make less than your assistant, the same for Susan. Why?"
"Gentlemen, our housing needs are paid for." Mom began her explanation, "In fact if I click on one of the principles names, Tom for example, we can see his deductions. In addition to mandatory deductions for income tax, health care, Canada Pension, company pension, Unemployment Insurance etc. as with all the family principles in the corporation, there is a whopping one-third deduction transferred every month to the Serenity Corporation for the maintenance and upkeep of that property. That money goes towards food, housekeeping staff, grounds-keeping staff, a special security detail always on duty and related expenses for special occasions. By the time the family principles get their take-home money, it's just above pocket money status with which we have to personally budget the purchase clothes for our own families and other personal items. Naturally, each of us have other personal funds that we received when we sold our homes that we can draw on in our personal accounts. In the case of the Higgins-Brown Securities, a separate corporation which looks after their own finances, we pay them for their services and of course they make out a transfer of monies to Serenity. Eventually the same will be true for Andy's Legal Group. In addition, we do receive a rental income from the caterer that runs the restaurant and of course, there's the interest that's building up resulting from the investments of the remaining 35 million we haven't touched to date. At this next level we have the balance sheets for income from the products that have been sold."
"You're almost running at a profit.... income versus expenditures," Vincent commented as looked thoughtfully at the screen full of figures.
"Yes," Mom replied as she clicked on another button. "If we look at the balance sheets, at the present rate we should be showing a profit within three months.... maybe two." She clicked on a button that turned the figures into a bar graph showing the increasing rate of the income levels from the first of February.
"Mom, where did you get that very impressive program?" I asked. I was surprised at its ease of use and professional intricacies.
"Tom!" she exclaimed, "Don't be silly. You're running a computer programming enterprise here. I just have to step outside my office door and there are almost eighty programmers to choose from. However when I first set-up this system, I was using a simple Excel program with all the formulas, but it was difficult to navigate through all the cells. So, with a dummy copy of my Excel program, I approached the only programmer you had on staff at the time.... Robert. He's such a nice boy. Once I explained all the levels and how I wanted to bounce through it, he took on the challenge and said it wouldn't be a problem. He had it to me in a day and he was only working afternoons at the time. It doesn't even look like an Excel program anymore. Works like a charm too."
"I can see that," I said.
"That young man has more talents than we knew." Bryan added quietly.
"It's an impressive system Diane," Vincent said. "I think it would make a good model for six other businesses that Goldman is involved with."
"Well, what I can do is have Gretta take this disc and change the names of the corporations to 'A' and 'B' and revise all the employee names to just their initials and give it to you in that form," Mom suggested.
"Mom, as soon as Gretta has made the changes, we'll have to call the program something, uh...." I hesitated.
"The Diane Davis Accounting System." Bryan suggested.
"Yes," I continued, "and then we'll have it copyrighted and run it through the system for graphics and distribution. Not to worry Vincent, in the meantime, you'll get a free copy before you leave here today."
"That would be great Tom and I can appreciate your thoughts to produce this for the public." Vincent replied. "From my point of view, it will be a big seller because it saves a lot of bookkeeping program manipulation on the computer."
"Good. Now I'll quickly go over the menus for the Serenity Corporation." Mom said as she bounced through the expenses of the Ranch. I was so impressed how well she had categorized all the areas that were needed to maintain our home. The Burton funeral expenses were under a heading called bereavement and cemetery. Once Vincent had nodded his understanding, Mom said with a chuckle, "Good, now if you'll excuse me, Susan and I have to finalize some wedding plans."
She got up from her desk and headed for Gretta's station with the disc in hand.
As we left Mom's office, I explained, "Gentlemen, there are eight pods here each with three computer stations. These four pods are devoted to the personnel department and the other four are devoted to the finance department. We're finding that this open concept is great for maintaining a comfortable interaction between the employees of each department. The programmers use the remainder of the pods. The main part of the programming area is beyond those conference rooms."
Carl and Vincent just nodded as we walked toward the back of the horseshoe.
"This structure is what is known as the horseshoe. It's more impressive from the other side." Bryan said as we walked around the end of it.
"WOW!" Carl exclaimed. "What does all of this do?" Robert was a bit startled and looked up at the four of us standing there.
"Gentlemen this set-up is one of our pride and joys. Our teenagers designed this 12-person station as a testing facility. They'll all be here next week after school lets out. This young man is a university student, Robert White. Robert, I'd like you to meet Carl Drabinski and Vincent Breaglia, two gentlemen visiting here on behalf of our benefactor, Einrich Goldman." I said.
Robert's jaw dropped before he recovered and stood up. " Gen.... Gentlemen, this is an honour." He reached out and shook hands. He looked at Bryan and I wide-eyed. Almost in a whisper, he said, "Sirs, I.... I didn't know."
The four of us smiled as Robert calmed to the revelation. "Robert, your reaction is understandable, we just don't broadcast the fact to everyone." Bryan explained.
"You deserve a pat on the back Robert. You wrote a program overtop of Mom's Excel accounting program." I continued.
"It was nothing special sir." Robert replied in his own humble way. "Once I understood the categories and how she wanted to navigate through it, it became quite simple to design it and make it work."
"It's a small piece of genius Robert." Vincent added. "You're to be commended for a job well done and from what I understand from your bosses here, that program is going to make this corporation a bit of money."
"I'm not a genius Mr. Breaglia, it's Mr. Davis and Mr. Callahan that are the geniuses and of course the people like Weston Laing in our IT department and Ralph Grayson over there and the other programmers. They write the programs and I just get to test them and make my comments."
"And you also keep the kids in line when they're manning these stations," Bryan added.
"Giving them the guidance they crave is the best part of my job." Robert said with a confident smile.
"Keep up the good work Robert," I said smiling. "You're a very valuable employee in more ways than one."
From there we turned and walked through the corridor between the conference rooms of this wing into the larger portion of the programming area. All the pods were partially occupied except for the Apple computer pod stations, which remained unmanned.
"Gentlemen, I think our heart and souls thrive because of this area." I said.
"Well, we sure do enjoy our work," Bryan added with a smile.
"I can see that. Tom, you program for Macs as well?" Carl asked as he looked at the pod with the Macintosh computers.
"Well we do have this one pod for now at Weston's suggestion, but we've been so busy writing for the PC side of things, that we haven't even considered hiring anyone for that part of the computing world." I replied.
"Tom, a word to the wise," Carl said, "Don't sell the Apple Corporation short. They are just as innovative and inventive as your operation is. One day, something is going to really spark that Corporation and they'll be the envy of the computing world. I'd suggest you seriously think about adding their platform to your programs."
I knew that aspect of our business was something that Bryan and I had put aside, but together with Weston's recommendation and now Carl's, I knew it was going to be something we should jump on ASAP.
I guided the four of us to my office. Carl and Vincent were immediately attracted to the view.
"My God, there's a plane going into the airport right now!" Carl exclaimed.
"Carl, it's a view I never get tired of, but sometimes when I'm concentrating, I have to close the blinds because it's so distracting. It's all Bryan's fault though.... he insisted that I have the corner office." I said with a laugh.
"You deserve it," Bryan and Carl said together.
I looked at Vincent and asked, "Do you think great minds think alike?"
"In this case, yes Tom." Vincent replied. "We chose our partners wisely."
"Tom, may we borrow the use of your conference table here and write a brief report of what we've seen here," Carl asked.
"By all means," I answered. "I'd like you be as judgmental and critical of our operation as you can be. It'll show us where we can make improvements. While you're doing that, Bryan and I are going to have a visit with Darren about all this new wiring."
Not to disturb everyone, Bryan and I headed for the back stair and headed down to the first floor. "It's not like Darren to go ahead with something without telling us," I said as we descended.
"I agree, however maybe it's nothing important, just rewiring the doors," Bryan added to my thought.
As soon as we entered the security office, Darren looked up from the paper work on his desktop, but said nothing.
"Darren we mentioned to Harold about the new wiring. He said you had ordered the work. We're just curious, what it's all about?" I asked. Grant looked up from his desk and stared intently at us - his face full of concern.
Darren rubbed his hand over his chin and looked dead serious from Bryan to me. "Boys, what I'm going to tell you is strictly on a need to know basis. I was going to tell you about it after the work was completed." He looked down at his desktop in thought before he took a deep sigh, pulled out a white ball from his desk drawer, and twirled it around his fingers before looking up at us again. "The three of us in this office together with Weston and Barbara are the only ones that know what's going to happen in this building and you know how paranoid we are about security. Quince started my thoughts about the situation after he had been here for those few days getting to know the faces that would be coming to the barbeque. Quince and I had a long conversation one night since then and he pointed out a deficiency in our security system here. As a result of that conversation, three things are going to happen.... whether you like it or not."
That statement certainly startled Bryan and I. This certainly wasn't Darren's normal manner.
He paused and maintained his serious façade. "As a background, Quince and I talked about the situation that is going to probably happen as a result of the 9-11 attacks. You'd have to be a blind man not to realize that the American involvement in the Middle East is going to escalate into a conflict and that the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks will not let it rest there. Bear in mind that the fanatics that are involved in this type of chaos blend well into our society. When you consider that the work you produce is totally secretive until it hits the market..... actually the international market, we too may be a part of that conflict in a second hand sort of way. We have a very strong affiliation with the American money that started this enterprise and right now we have two high profile Americans walking the halls and offices of this building. All we can do here is to try to protect ourselves from that terrorist type of thing..... mainly because we hire any nationality strictly based on their skills, which is the proper way to run a business. In addition, think of our proximity to the airport and the way that security is being beefed up there since 9-11. If airports become targets of the future, we're right in the line of fire. Now.... the men who are installing the new wiring into the ceilings are operating a bit like covert spies, explaining their work away as a simple wiring upgrade. The wiring is only the preliminary part that can be completed with little disturbance to the working staff. While the building is empty of all staff during the vacation week, these security boys will be installing these little cameras throughout the building."
Bryan and I examined the little ball that Darren handed us. One side was flattened with two screw holes in it. I held it up close to the light and I could see a small lens behind the white enclosure.
"If you install it against the white ceiling, you probably won't see it." I said.
"Quite right." Darren replied. "There's going to be eight installed in each quadrant plus four in each conference room. All together there will be over a hundred of them, however none in the washrooms. There's going to be another thirty outside and in the underground parking garage and another dozen or so in the daycare and the restaurant plus a number in the atrium."
I was trying to digest everything Darren had said. This whole scenario was really concerning me.
"Tom, I can see.... what your thinking." Darren said as he stared at me. "You're thinking this is Canada and it would never happen here. Hopefully you're right. Your thought that we are a peace-loving nation and we welcome anyone to our shores that share our ideals is still valid. Up until this point that thinking has worked. Canada is a safe haven for those down trodden people that have been persecuted in their own lands, but maybe.... just maybe we can no longer trust that premise against the ruthless radicals that would love to penetrate an unsuspecting land such as this. I mentioned that we hire all people of all nationalities and yes, we do a criminal record check, but you never know about the cracks in the systems that we can't control. Even the RCMP and CSIS can have a bad day. Remember too that our troops are engaged in the fighting in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda has specifically threatened this country with retaliation."
"Darren, you sure can paint a frightening picture." Bryan said.
"It is.... and it isn't if you don't know about it. That's why we don't need for anyone else to know about it. The people that work in this building should be totally unaware of the security precautions, so they can just go ahead and do their work without looking over their shoulder all the time, totally oblivious to any perceived or imagined threat. We're trying to avoid the 'big brother is watching' syndrome."
"Ignorance is bliss?" I asked.
"Pretty well," Darren replied. "Now, the second thing that's going to be built during the office shut down is the monitoring room. You have that huge empty storage room next to the IT Unit. We're going to use two-thirds of that room. At the end of the new monitoring room, we're going to install a hallway from our interior corridor right through to the outside of the building. Both ends will have security coded doors. Half way through that new hallway, we're going to install another security door that the monitoring team will use to enter the monitoring room. No one will know what those doors are for. Initially we're going to try a ten-person monitoring team.... that's about eighteen monitors for each person. We'll evaluate the situation through time and add more staff if or when we need to."
"The world has changed even more than I thought it had." I said resigning myself to the need. "Darren, I hope this security system never has to be put to the test, and maybe I don't have to say this, but our kids are the most important people in this building. Make sure the horseshoe is very well covered."
"Good point, I agree.... and we'll also be concentrating in and around the family offices. Before I go on," Darren said, "beyond the seven of us here and in the IT department, no one, even those of our families, need to know about this system."
Bryan and I nodded in agreement.
"The third thing that's going to happen, but not a part of the additional security system is a stand-by generator. According to Quince we had a reasonable winter last year without severe winds and ice storms, however he said that with most winters there could be power outages because of weather. At present he has a portable gas powered stand-by generator at the Serenity Shack that he can put into operation at a moments notice to keep the security system at the ranch going. In this building, we have nothing."
"Holy Crap!" Bryan exclaimed. "That could be a complete catastrophe for our business!"
"That was Weston's thought as well, Bryan," Grant commented with a smile. "I think you can understand why I was concerned about the purse strings. We were fortunate this last winter though. Right now, all we have is the battery powered emergency lights throughout the building to meet fire code requirements so anyone here would be able to find their way out before the batteries wound down. The new system that's going to be installed this summer consists of a steel clad concrete block building, to match the main building, which will enclose two diesel generators. One will be dedicated primarily to the computer circuits and the other to the lighting and other receptacles. Each generator will run off two 1000-gallon underground tanks. The tank for the office lighting will shut down when it reaches a half-full level. When the tank serving the computer generator runs out, it will automatically switch to the remaining 500 gallons left in the other tank. With this system we can run the business for four or five days."
"Two days without office lighting and heat?" I asked.
"Heat isn't a problem with the natural gas furnaces, but that's right Tom, however the computers will keep on running and surely the power grid will be up and running before the five days are over." Darren replied. "I know I can be hung out to dry for the overkill of this upgrade, but look at the upside.... we're adding a very big chunk of value to this building and the property in general just as we have to the ranch with all its security upgrades."
That made me laugh. "Darren, I'm glad that Quince brought all this to your attention and it is worthwhile. However, we aren't thinking of liquidating at this point. After a short talk with James and Mom this morning we're going to be raking in a pretty tidy sum and with all the new programs that we have coming on line, we're going to be in business at this location for a long time."
Bryan smiled in agreement. "And thanks to you and Quince, safe and secure in this location."
"OK then. The billing for the emergency generators and related costs are going to be billed directly to Davis-Callahan, however here's the kicker." Darren continued. "The cost for the new security system, including the monitor room construction and outfitting is going to be paid by Grant and I directly, in order to maintain the level of secrecy of its existence. We are however, going to recoup our costs over the next twelve months with a new line item on our monthly bill to Davis-Callahan called 'miscellaneous security upgrades'. That way there's no paper trail to identify its existence. I just hope that Diane and Gretta will cooperate without making a fuss."
"Not a problem Darren." I said. "We initial all the bills before they're paid for. Once in a while Mom will have something highlighted, but with a little explanation they get paid. Sometimes it's a pain in the butt at the first of the month, but it's a good final check."
"Good. By the time Susan and I get back from our honeymoon, the monitoring system will be up and running and all the bugs will be out of it."
"Have you told Susan where you're going on your honeymoon yet?" I asked.
"No, I think I'll wait to tell her the night before the wedding. I know she'll be thrilled and I can't thank you boys enough for the gift." Darren replied.
"It was our pleasure Darren, Bryan said. "Now I think we'd better get upstairs and find out how our guests are managing."
As Bryan and I headed for the rear staircase, we stopped at the storage room. It took up half of the wing and it was empty. I was glad the space was finally going to be used for something.
"Thank God for Quince," Bryan said as we climbed the stairs to the third floor.
"Darren and Grant too," I added.
When we got to the third floor exit, we saw Carl and Vincent on the concourse looking down at the atrium.
"Gentlemen, if you're ready, how about if we hit the restaurant for an early lunch and discuss your thoughts about our business." Bryan suggested.
"Will our briefcases and laptops be safe in your office," Carl asked.
"I'll lock the door just to put our minds at rest," I said.
"Well gentlemen, how bad are we doing?" I asked once the four of us sat down in a quiet booth.
"First of all," Carl began, "I didn't know what to expect when we were flying here. The only background I had to fall back on was obtained from your business plan for eMemories. I was a bit skeptical that maybe that would be a one-time-wonder and you might be floundering trying to get your business to progress from that point. Now after having seen all that you have accomplished during the last six months I'm rather overwhelmed." As Carl studied the menu he continued, "To have a set-up like this running like a top in such a short time amazes me. There's no disorganization where people are panicking trying to figure out where is this or that or stressed to meet a deadline as you usually see in a business starting up."
"Strictly from the financial point of view," Vincent added, "although you've spent a good chunk of money getting your enterprise this far, at the end of the day I believe that you've spent the money wisely. I say that because of the equity you have just in this building. More to the point that you will soon be making a profit, is a definite plus. Many of Goldman's interests have never done that in the first two years."
"Well that sounds positive," I said.
"Great news, but.... what's the downside," Bryan asked with a smile after we placed our orders.
"I'm not sure if it is a downside Bryan," Carl said. "My first image of the building from the road was that it was a factory. When we got off the elevator I noticed the big atrium and thought as I do with many of the hotels in New York that they're wasting revenue-generating space for the purpose of impressing their clientele. Considering the three floors in this building, it could have made useable floor space. It wasn't until we started going through the offices on the second floor that I realized what a benefit it was to those stations that didn't have a view to the outside. I thought if I were working in this environment, I'd enjoy that view versus nothing at all. Related to that also, I noticed that only about two of the three computer stations are in use throughout the building. The only area that's near full capacity is the Graphics and packaging department. It seems you could do some consolidation in other areas and rent out some of the space."
"That was our first impression before we purchased the building," Bryan countered, "however, after the space planners decided it would be best if we turned the vast open spaces into the quadrants separated by conference rooms, it made sense. Today, considering the volume of work and the fact that we could relocate one of the quadrant occupants, say Finance and Personnel to enlarge the programming department, we will undoubtedly be making a shift in the future.... also enlarging the graphics department as another example and squeeze the marketing department. That being said, I think we will be close to capacity by the end of the year. Our only drawback will be in the programming department. Finding brilliant programmers with good imaginations just haven't reached the market place yet, so maybe that area is fairly well set."
"The point being," I added, "if we were to do a consolidation today in order to create a rental space, sometime, maybe in the near future, we'd have to kick the renter out so we could take over the space. In the meantime all of us are working in an over-spacious environment that makes our jobs more comfortable. I can see your point about the atrium as well because it is a high maintenance factor in the building versus the income revenue aspect if it wasn't there, but it seems sometime in the future we may have some pretty important people, like yourselves, visiting here and it does make a visit here more pleasant and impressive. Sometimes background images can sell a product."
"After we've finished our lunch, how would you like to come with Tom and I to see our 'other' corporation?" Bryan asked.
"I'm looking forward to it!" Carl exclaimed. "How about you Vincent?"
"For sure man!" Vincent replied. "It's been a while since we've gone 'western'."
"Good," I added. "We won't be riding horses, roping calves or milking cows, but I think you'll enjoy the experience just the same."
Once we finished our lunch, picked up our visitors attaché cases and laptops, Vincent's disc from Gretta, and said goodbye to our staff, Bryan and I were off for the weekend. It was going to be a surprise for the kids to see us home before they got off the bus.
On the way home, I made a little detour into a small strip mall, where they had a western clothing store. Bryan knew what I was up to, but Vincent and Carl had no idea.
"There's one thing you must have if you're visiting Calgary," I said as we entered the store.
Both of them were full of smiles with their new white Stetsons and I was sure that they would appreciate them on Saturday during these long hot days of summer.
Once we arrived at the gate to Serenity, they were impressed just as Bryan and I were the first time we came here.
"Sorry gentlemen, its time for more security clearance." I announced as I parked the Jeep just past the entrance and all four of us got out and made our way to the secluded Serenity Shack. On our way I explained the nature of the security system we had at the ranch and its implications. The air inside the shack was comfortably cool.
Quince was there checking the monitors with a pen and clipboard in hand. "Be with you in a moment gentlemen," he said as he concentrated viewing two of the monitors. Pointing to the two monitors, he said, "Arnold, we're going to have to splice into the line between those two cameras and run an overhead line to power the cameras we're adding to the tents. Let's code them so we can monitor them to those three monitors over there."
"That's a good quick easy fix Quince. I'll wait 'til the tents are fully erected." Arnold said.
Turning to the four of us, Quince asked, "OK Tom, Bryan, what can I do for you and these two gentlemen?"
Once I introduced Carl and Vincent and explained who they were, Quince proclaimed with a big smile, "Oooookaaaay gentlemen, if you'll stand against the wall over there, I'll have to take your picture so that the security staff will know you're one of the good guys at the wedding. You're the last people in the world we'd want to be insulted for this occasion." While he snapped the pictures, he asked, "What's your favourite.... grilled beef, grilled chicken, grilled salmon or grilled vegetables on a skewer?"
"Salmon sounds good to me," Vincent replied.
"I'd like the chicken please. When will it be ready?" Carl asked with a smile.
"Right after the wedding ceremony Saturday afternoon," Quince said with a laugh as he marked the information on his clipboard.
"I could starve before then," Carl still smiling.
"Oh no you won't!" Bryan said laughing. "I'm sure that I can rustle up some grub for dinner today."
"Yeah," I said smiling, "If Mark were here right now I know he'd say, 'More baked brown beans around the ol' campfire eh Dad'."
"Mark sounds like a comedian," Vincent said.
"At times, he is.... sometimes a little embarrassing until you know he's just pulling your leg." Bryan said, "however, in reality he has a heart of pure gold."
"Quince, all kidding aside, I'd like to thank you for the upgrade at the office." I said. "Darren and Grant are getting it done."
"Hey it was no problem Tom." Quince said. "It made sense to me and with all I have to do around here, I'm just glad I don't have to be in charge of that too."
"It's very reassuring that you have all our interests at heart," Bryan said.
"Hey, it's just my job and I like doing it, plus this family has become very important to me too."
"I know that.... especially now when one of your bosses is getting married." I said with a smile as we left the office.
We hopped back in the Jeep and I drove us up to the main house and parked in the garage. "We have a short walk to the front door. We can't have our most honoured guests going through the back door to the kitchen." I said with a smile.
"No, no, no," Carl protested. "Remember when you were in New York City, I took you through the back door. The back door to the kitchen is just fine for us."
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders as we picked up their suitcases and headed for the mudroom.
Once we were into the kitchen, Vincent gasped. "WOW! Man.... could I ever enjoy this kitchen!"
"It's my favourite room too," Bryan said with a smile.
"Gentlemen, you'll have to forgive Vincent.... he loves cooking and although we live in a spacious, modern penthouse, our kitchen is less than a third the size of this." Carl revealed.
"Hey, I'm Italian.... cooking's a part of me, we cook for every occasion.... any excuse will do," Vincent added as Bryan and I laughed. "If you'd let me, I'd love to cook a fine Italian dinner for your entire family tonight."
I started laughing. "Vincent you don't know what you're getting yourself into.... that would be a meal for twenty-two.... sorry make that twenty-four people. Usually when we have a family meal together, everyone brings a pot of food and we share the cooking."
"Bryan, could we go shopping and get twenty-four veal chops?" Vincent asked.
"Right this way," Bryan replied with a smile as he led Vincent to the walk-in refrigerator through to the walk-in freezer.
Vincent's mouth dropped. "OH MY GOD!" he exclaimed. "This is heaven." When they came out of the walk-in, they both had both hands full of wrapped meat that they placed on the counter.
"Do you have some chicken, lasagna noodles, mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta, oregano, basil, onions, garlic, …?" Vincent inquired at a mile a minute.
Bryan smiled and held up his hand as he led him to the walk-in pantry. Again Vincent was overwhelmed, "What I wouldn't do for...!" He exclaimed. He came out of the pantry and looked at me. "Oh man this is too good to be true. Honest guys, I'd love nothing better than to cook an Italian meal in this fabulous kitchen."
I started giggling as I watched this sophisticated business man start acting like a kid in a candy store. "It's a deal Vincent," Bryan said laughing with Carl and I, "so long as you'll let me assist."
Vincent's smile made his whole face glow at the prospects. "I think we can all be a part of this. Hell, it can't be just me, let's make it we." Vincent said with a smile. Carl and I agreed although admitted that we weren't gourmet cooks by any means as we made our way to the main stair. "Let's see, I'll get Tom on the soup, you on the veal and Carl on dessert and I'll look after the lasagna." Vincent mumbled a plan from his thoughts.
"Vincent, whatever it is you have in mind, I know we'll love it, but first let's get you settled to your bedrooms." I said.
"Make that bedroom Tom." Carl said with a smile.
"Of course," I said a bit embarrassed. "The reason I said bedrooms is because we have a wing with three bedrooms here on the first floor and this wing is all yours to occupy."
Going down the hall, we summarily introduced them to the laundry room, the utility room, the two bedrooms with the shared bathroom between them and finally into their bedroom.
"The bed's on a raised platform!" Carl exclaimed. "Vincent, we're going to be sleeping like royalty."
"There's a walk-in closet over there where you can hang your clothes and the bathroom is over here," I said as I opened the door trying to keep a straight face.
"A bidet! A urinal! We don't have such accommodation in our finest suites in New York! This is a ranch house in Calgary?" Carl asked.
"Maybe not your usual ranch house," I admitted, "but the realtor referred to it as the main house and the name has kinda stuck. Now let's give you the dime tour of the rest of the house and then we can get down to the business of preparing dinner."
Once we had Carl and Vincent settled into their bedroom, we went back to the main foyer and up to the second floor where I showed them Mark and Michael's room.
"They share a room?" Carl asked.
"Yes they do and they usually share the same bunk as well." I replied with a smile.
"They're gay." Carl said more as a statement than a question.
I just nodded my head before we made our way to Josh's room. "Josh doesn't have a boyfriend?" Vincent asked.
"No," I answered laughing, "he already has a girlfriend that lives on the ranch.... Trevor's daughter, Shelly."
Then we showed them our room.
"This is the same as the room downstairs!" Vincent exclaimed. "Well except your bed isn't on a pedestal."
As we left our bedroom, Carl took the time to study the gallery. "Tom, I look at that and then I look at you and your whole character, at least in my eyes, has changed. Notwithstanding what you did on 9-11, until I looked at these medals and pictures I thought of you as just a regular sort of guy."
"Well I am the same person you met in New York and the same person I was just a few minutes ago," I said.
"Yes, but knowing this, you're now a man of discipline, of virtue, a patriot, a man who loves his country and you take it all in stride. I can imagine that the same is true for Josh and Mark. Most people with these accomplishments would have their awards displayed prominently near their main entrance, and it would be the main topic of conversation for every visitor.... but not you."
"He's always has been that way Carl, however you forgot the word humility." Bryan said with a grin as I gently bounced my elbow into his ribs. This kind of acknowledgement of my life was embarrassing not just for me, but for Mark and Josh too.
When we got to the dining room, I explained that it would definitely accommodate all of us once we added all the leaves and pulled out the end leaves and we had lots of chairs around the house for everyone's place. After a complete tour of the first floor and the basement, we ended up back at the kitchen.
"OK guys, it's two o'clock... supper will be at six." Vincent announced as he went to the pantry and started pulling out the ingredients for the main course.
I immediately called Irene, Susan, and Darren at the office who said he'd pass the message on to Trevor, Debbie, Grant, and Ethel that a complete Italian dinner was at six at the main house and that they didn't have to bring a thing.
As I concentrated on the chopping of the noodles, vegetables, and beef for the soup, Vincent was giving Bryan the recipe for the veal. Carl was kept busy with the flour and other ingredients that were going into the Cavallucci. I thought that was a very exotic name for dessert and Vincent explained that it was a rich Christmas pastry with a very chewy centre. He hoped that everyone would still have room for it after the sumptuous portion of veal, lasagna, and brussel sprouts and baby carrots.
As he was preparing the layers for his chicken lasagna, Vincent continued to oversee the rest of us in our preparations with a lot of encouragement. Although I knew what I was doing and how it was necessary to get the soup on the stove to brew so that all the ingredients would mix their flavors, Bryan also knew how to prepare veal parmesan, Vincent still had a few special ingredients and methods that he wanted in this meal. Most of his time was spent with Carl in order to get the pastry rolled to the right consistency and getting the filling just so.
Vincent was an immaculate cook, continuously cleaning up as he went along and he insisted that we do the same. Once the soup was brewing and Vincent's lasagna was in the oven for a three-hour bake, we all started on the preparation of the salad. We used two of the biggest mixing bowls that Bryan had and the four of us stood ripping and tearing lettuce, then added chopped cucumber, tomatoes, radishes, sliced cabbage, and a ton of other ingredients. When Vincent asked about sesame seeds, we told him that we couldn't have any in the house because of Michael's allergy. He pulled out two Delicious apples and a brick of cheddar cheese that he started to cut into small cubes. The apple, he said, would be peeled, diced, and added at the last along with the dressing. This was definitely going to be a salad that I'd never experienced before.
The flavours of the soup brewing were filling the kitchen and each of us took a tablespoon to test it. Once again, playing the part of the master chef, Vincent had to add just a dash of salt and a pinch of pepper with a grin. That made the three of us laugh because of the size of the pot.
At 3:15, we went into the dining room and started pulling out leaves from the end of the china cabinet and extending the leaves at the ends of the table. Carl and Vincent were impressed. Then came the five white table cloths that were used to cover its immense length.
I started to pull out the china from the cabinet and spread them around, but Vincent stopped me.
"Tom let's take those to the kitchen and put each serving on the plate, the same for the salad, soup and dessert. The ambiance of this room deserves the meal to be presented on the plate as a work of art."
"I suppose you want a row of candles down the centre of the table," Bryan said with a laugh.
In all seriousness, Vincent replied, "That would be good."
"Ok," Bryan said thoughtfully, "if you guys look after the dishes and place settings, I'll see what I can do to dig up some candles. Tom, I'll need you to give me a hand."
I was a bit lost at that point - we'd never had candles at our dinners, but I followed Bryan to the garage. He went into the fourth bay and started pulling a few plastic bins from the shelves.
"You check that one, I'll check this one," he said. "You have no idea how much I'm enjoying this dinner prep."
"Oh yes I do," I said as I took the top off the bin, looking at Christmas decorations. "You haven't quit smiling since we started." I started to dig through the levels and I found a box that had six red tapered candles with holders. "Found some," I said.
Bryan in turn found five cream coloured ones that were about two inches in diameter and twelve inches long. "I think these might be better," Bryan said as he held one up. "I was only kidding about the candles."
"I know, but Vincent wants it done right." I said.
We put everything away and headed back to the kitchen where we found Vincent and Carl stacking dishes, soup on top of salad on top of main dinner plate. Dessert and bread plates were stacked separately. Once he saw the candles, Vincent looked at our 'kitchen everyday' dishes and pulled out five bread plates and he and Bryan headed for the dining room.
"It's going to take the four of us four trips for each course to serve this dinner," Carl said. "I hope you don't mind, but Vincent really does like to entertain."
"I can see that," I said, "all the way through the preparations, he's never quit smiling.... and he's such a good organizer. I'm glad he's enjoying it."
"This vacation business trip has been wonderful for him." Carl added. "He's usually over stressed when he's in the office. Every night it takes him an hour at home to unwind before we go out for dinner."
"Well, I think he's going to be a very tired man by the time we all finish this dinner." I said as Bryan and Vincent came back into the kitchen. "Now if we can take a half hour off, we can go up to the north gate and meet the kids getting off the school bus."
"Yeah we have lots of time." Vincent said. "The veal doesn't have to go into the oven until five and everything else is ready as it can be up to this point. I'm really enjoying this."
As we walked to the front door, Bryan said, "I know you are. Isn't it nice to have a big kitchen?"
"Loving ever minute of it," Vincent replied.
As we strolled, I explained who lived in each of the houses and the experience we had putting up Christmas lights when Arnold caught up to us. We didn't have time to go off the road and look into the other buildings; I thought I could leave that until tomorrow. As we approached the north gate, we saw Hamish there with Brutus, Daisy, and Freddie patiently waiting for their masters.
Although the dogs gave us a quick glance and a slight wag of their tails when they saw us, they continued to anxiously sit there looking up the road for the bus.
"Hamish, I'd like you to meet Carl Drabinski and Vincent Breaglia. These two gentlemen are from New York City and are hosting the dinner tonight at six o'clock." I said.
"A pleasure ta meet ya gents," Hamish said as he extended his hand. "Judgin' by your names, now I can understand why we're eatin' Italian."
"I'm the one who loves to do the cooking," Vincent said. "I hope you'll enjoy it."
"I'm sure we will." Hamish said as the bus came to a stop at the gate. Right away the dogs started letting out happy howls, ready to pounce on the first body out of the bus.
The first to get out was Eddie followed by the twins, then Kevin, followed by Michael and Mark. Finally Josh came out and held out his hand for Shelly to take the last step down. What a gentleman!
As the kids excitedly gave each of the dogs a petting, Vincent quietly asked me, "Do you think the kids could serve the meals to the adults? It might just add the right touch to the experience."
The imagery struck me and I loved the idea and just nodded my head as Josh, Michael, and Mark jostled through the other kids and gave Bryan a hug before they came to me, with a hug and their, 'Hi Dad' and 'what are you guys doing home so soon?'
"Ok boys, I want you to meet two important gentlemen... the first is Carl Drabinski and-"
"THE Carl Drabinski," Josh and Mark exclaimed together. "The one that works for Mr. Goldman?" Mark asked.
"That's him!" I said with a giggle.
Right away Mark and Josh had him into a hug. "You're the greatest!" Mark said.
"Thank you for helping our Dad after 9-11 Mr. Drabinski." Josh said as Michael took his turn giving Carl a hug.
"We owe you so much," Shelley said as she hugged him. It didn't take long before all the kids were over to Carl hugging him and saying 'Thank you', while Vincent, Bryan and I looked on laughing being completely ignored.
"All right you guys, listen up," Bryan announced. "We have another guest here. His name is Vincent Breaglia and he's Mr. Goldman's executive in charge of finances. Vincent say hello to all the children of the ranch. First is our three sons, Josh, Mark and Michael, then Trevor and Debbie's daughter Shelly and their son Eddie, Kevin is Grant and Ethel's son, and last but not least are these two munchkins, James and Anne's sons, Richard and Matthew. Not only is he Mr. Goldman's finance man, but he's prepared a four course Italian dinner for all of us tonight at six o'clock."
Right away all the kids let out a loud cheer and went over, but instead of shaking a stranger's hand, gave him a hug as well.
"Holy Mary!" Vincent exclaimed after he released Eddie. "You are a wonderful collection of God's creation. I have a big favour to ask all of you though. D'ya think you could accept the honour of serving the dinner to your parents tonight?"
Right away their surprised faces turned to wide smiles and they all exclaimed, "YES!"
"Good!" Vincent replied, "show up at Tom and Bryan's at quarter to six and I'll explain how everything will work."
As we strolled home with the dogs, the kids exuberance became quiet mumblings between them and each of them said, 'see at quarter to six' as they left the group. There were only the seven of us strolling our way to the main house as I explained about the tour we had at the office, while we listened to Michael, Mark and Josh tell us about the kind of day they had 'teaching' school.
Once the boys had gone to their rooms and changed, they came downstairs, ready for action. They looked at the dining room and zipped into action getting all the chairs from the rest of the house and placing them while Bryan took Carl to the wine cellar and picked up three bottles of white wine, compliments of the Stemmings at Christmas, which had to be properly chilled.
Then Vincent came from the kitchen and showed Bryan, Carl and the boys how to place one of the settings for what was becoming a very formal dinner. I was shown how to do the fold, nip, and tuck for the linen napkins to stand in the middle of the place settings. When we were finished, the table did look stunning compared to the many less formal meals we'd had at this table.
Right on the dot of quarter to six the other kids arrived and excitedly swamped the bar at the kitchen watching Vincent preparing a cream sauce for pouring over the vegetables.
All three dogs were there too, but with a kind command, understood they had to stay in the foyer until the adults arrived.
Vincent's instructions were simple. Meet the adults at the door and escort them to their place at the table. The parents were to sit at the far wall and the kids were to sit along the side closest to the kitchen. Carl was going to be in charge of pouring the wine, ginger ale for the kids and Grant, coffee and tea. When Vincent completed each course, he would stand and the kids would all stand with him, collect the dirty dishes, and take them to the kitchen, before the serving of the next course. Bryan and I were to assist Vincent in the kitchen dishing each course in their designated bowl or plate.
The front door opened and the 'guests of honour' had arrived.
While Bryan and I were busy ladling soup into twenty-four bowls, Vincent made a quick appearance at the main foyer to announce that dinner would be ready immediately and that they were to be seated.
He spent an extra few minutes fussing over Timmy. Fortunately, Anne and James had bought a high chair to keep at the main house for our family dinners. Timmy was now a year-and-a-half and growing like a weed. His language skills were still filled with some gibberish, but was coming on strong because of his exposure to all the kids.
While the other kids seated their parents, Kevin and Josh fed the dogs some kibble before joining the serving duties with the other kids.
Once all the parents and adults were seated, all the kids were back to the kitchen picking up bowls of soup and taking them into the dining room. When Vincent, Bryan, and I entered with our bowls, Carl had just finished pouring the wine, Shelly had finished distributing the dinner buns to the bread plates and the four of us sat down.
As he took his seat, Vincent announced, "I have to tell you that this soup was prepared by Tom.... Bryan prepared the veal parmesan, Carl prepared the Cavallucci, and the four of us had a go at the salad. The lasagna was all my doing." He bowed his head and quickly said, "Dear Lord, we thank you for the hospitality and love of this family and the opportunity to consume this bountiful harvest. Amen."
Mom chuckled. "Vincent we're all here to thank you and Carl for coming to see us and I know of a pastor that could take lessons from you."
That set the mood for the table as we all had a laugh over that comment. As we enjoyed the flavours of the soup, I related the story of the wake we had with Michael's aunt and uncle after Harold and Angela's funeral.
Vincent finished his soup, stood and the kids followed suit as did Bryan and I as we headed for the kitchen with dirty bowls. The kids stacked the dirty dishes carefully on the back counter while Bryan and I quickly filled bowls with salad fixings, Vincent quickly added diced apple and a mild Italian vinaigrette. When the final trip was made from the table with the soup bowls, the kids started taking the bowls of salad through to the dining room. Although, everyone was taking their chore seriously, it was Eddie, Matthew, and Richard that were enjoying it the most - their silent proud smiles were endless.
When Vincent finished his salad, he stood and that got the kids in motion again. Resting his hand on our shoulders he said, "Carl, gentlemen, this time it's going to take the four of us."
While the kids were performing the cleanup chore from the salad course, Vincent put the Cavallucci into the oven and started an assembly line, placing a large portion of lasagna on the warmed plate together with shredded cheese, passed it to Bryan who added his veal parmesan, who passed it to Carl who added the brussel sprouts and baby carrots and then to me where I added a string of cream sauce to the vegetables, and a quick sprinkle of paprika to the edge of the dish, as Vincent had shown me, before I placed the finished dinner on the bar counter. His touches were a work of art. We worked quickly and efficiently and had eight dishes already served up as the kids started to take them to the dining room. The older boys and Shelly could take two dishes at a time, but the youngsters were happy to be taking one at a time. Again, we servers took our own dishes in with us.
The compliments started pouring out as the four of us sat down. The ladies were all pleading for the recipes for the lasagna and veal parmesan as they tasted every morsel. Considering the amount of work Vincent put into the five-layer chicken lasagna, all the compliments were deserved. Even the Olive Garden couldn't come this close. With Josh, Mark, and Michael's encouragement, the twins and Eddie started to enjoy the flavour of the brussel sprouts. I think Vincent's cream sauce did the trick.
By the time I finished my last bite, I was stuffed just as a few others proclaimed the same condition. Vincent's smile gleamed as he accepted all the accolades.
Suddenly he jumped up, not quite tipping his chair, and exclaimed, "Carl! The little horses!" He and Carl picked up their plates and quickly went to the kitchen, which got all the kids in motion again.
Bryan and I went to the kitchen and refilled the coffee carafes and the teapots amidst the confusion and went around the table refilling cups. Then another trip refilling the small cream jugs.
When the kids started taking the servings from the counter, each was decorated with a small dab of whipped cream and was served with a glass of water. It did take a bit longer to get everyone served the dessert course.
As Vincent sat down, he explained this rich Christmas pastry was well known for its chewy texture. Honey, coriander, candied fruits, almonds and flour made up the list of ingredients for Cavallucci. The name most likely originated in 16th century Siena, an area of the Tuscany region of Italy, where the pastries were traditionally served to stable-workers by rich aristocrats at Christmas. Cavallucci literally means, 'little horses'.
Rich was an understatement and I understood why a glass of water was nearby to help dilute the heavy, very sweet flavour. Fortunately, the portions were small.
Except for the kids, everyone was moaning from the four-course fullness in their stomachs. The kids were laughing at our expressions.
"Sure were better'n dan dem baked brown beans around de ol' campfire eh Josh?" Mark asked with a grin.
Right away Vincent, Carl, Bryan and I burst out laughing as they'd realized how well I'd come to know Mark's thinking.
"Your right bro, an' a darn sight better'n dem gooey things in foil packages that the astronauts and us have to eat when we're camping." Josh said teasing me.
"All right, that's enough out of you two!" Susan exclaimed. "Vincent this meal was truly delicious and what made it even better was that none of we ladies had to prepare anything. We can't thank you enough."
"Thank you Susan," Vincent said as he leaned back in his chair. "It was my pleasure to work in a kitchen like that. It's so well organized, but remember I had a lot of help from Bryan, Tom, and Carl. Even with the four of us in that kitchen, there was a lot of room for us to move around without getting in each other's way.... and of course, the kids.... it wouldn't have gotten to the table without them."
"The only problem is Vincent," Susan added, "if I split my wedding dress on Saturday because of this meal, I'll announce to everyone that you're my dress maker."
We were all laughing as the boys started to get out of their chairs to start the cleanup, and Mom stood up. "Oh no you don't! Sit back down there. You've been serving us all night long and anyone who didn't prepare the meal or serve the meal has to do the cleanup. Let's go to it ladies and gents."
With that, all the ladies, Andy, Hamish, Trevor, Darren, Grant, and James started to pick up their dishes as well as everyone else's and headed for the kitchen. Before Anne joined in, she took Timmy out of his high chair and placed him in Vincent's arms.
"He won't be a problem," Anne said as she picked up a pile of dishes and headed for the kitchen. "He'll probably fall asleep in fifteen minutes."
"You are as cute as a button!" Vincent exclaimed with a huge smile, holding Timmy six inches away from his face.
Timmy pointed his index finger, touched his own nose, and said, "Me," then he placed his index finger on Vincent's nose.
"Vin... cent," Vincent said slowly with a huge smile.
Keeping his finger on the tip Vincent's nose, Timmy said with a laugh, swinging his head around to rest of us in the room, "Mistah Cent!"
"That's the best nickname I've ever been given," Vincent replied laughing as Timmy settled down from his giggle and let his hand wonder over to Vincent's ear and back to his mouth. Vincent kissed Timmy's hand as Timmy yawned while we watched his eyes start to close.
"That dinner has even made him tired," I said.
"I can't believe that he didn't make strange with me," Vincent observed.
"With a family this size, he's used to being held by anyone." Bryan said. "We all love him and he knows it."
Carl looked at Vincent. "We need to get one of our own."
"Yeah," Vincent said quietly as Timmy rested his head to Vincent's shoulder, "Money doesn't buy everything does it?"
The rest of us remained quiet while Shelly sang, almost whispered the words to 'Hush little baby, don't say a word, papa's going to buy you a mocking bird, And if that mocking bird....' Timmy was sound asleep.
When all was quiet again, Vincent said, "I come from a large staunch Catholic family that doesn't understand Carl and I. It finally took one of my brothers to point out to them that some of our family members were descendants of the Romans and Greeks. Back in those times, relationships between two men were common and accepted. Fortunately my brothers and sisters accepted that premise and I.... we were allowed to be a part of their families and able to hold my young nieces and nephews. The older generations still haven't come around to that thinking yet. Although Carl and I are devoted to our jobs and especially our employer, Einrich Goldman, it's not without its sacrifice."
"Knowing Mr. Goldman as I do and his family values," I said, "I'm sure he would give both of you time off to start a family of your own."
"I doubt it Tom," Carl said. "Many times he's said that no one knows how he thinks better than Vincent and I."
"Carl, you know how big he is on family.... we're.... we're sitting here in the reward money he gave me for saving Val's life which I couldn't have done without the help of Kennedy. Mr. Goldman knows the value of family love. Maybe you could delegate some of the work you do to someone else, so that your job is to oversee and your hours of work could become a six-hour day."
"I'd suggest that you don't let money stand in the way of your love for a child that needs it," Kevin said.
"And don't let the lack of money lead to greed and.... well.... unworthy conduct," Michael said. "I think that's the best way I can put it after what our Dads went through with my parents."
"Bryan has always been the most caring person in my life except for my mom. Now it's this family that cares for and loves me more than anything. I'd hate to deprive any child of mine of that love." Mark added.
"The love and trust of a baby is more valuable than all the money in the world." Shelly said.
"Vincent, what you said about money not buying everything.... that's quite true." Josh said quietly. "It didn't make anyone in our big family any happier unless we used the money properly. Without it, we still would have been very happy and struggled to get to the level where we are right now, but the money accelerated that and we're here now instead of five years from now. You may have a lot of money in five years, but that's a long time to wait for your happiness. In five years, you'll regret that you didn't seek your happiness now. It's kinda like.... let the love in your heart relieve the pain in your soul. I'll bet Mr. Goldman knows that too."
"These kids are smarter than their years Tom. This day has really been an eye-opener," Vincent said. "Carl we have to make a change in our thinking."
"I just hope we can make Mr. Goldman understand." Carl said.
"Well if he doesn't," Bryan kidded, "you could always consider becoming Canadians and work for Davis-Callahan."
"That's a very generous offer Bryan. Thank you," Carl replied with a big smile, "but we're New Yorkers forever."
"Yup!" Mark exclaimed with a giggle, "Ya kin take da boy outta da city, but ya can't take da city outta da boy!"
"Well, we're certainly going to attempt to do something about that tomorrow," I said as I winked at Bryan.
With that Mom came out of the kitchen and said, "Well boys and girls, everything is washed and dried. We'll leave it to you to put all the good china away and put the table and chairs back the way you want them. Thanks again Vincent, boys.... the dinner was one that I'll remember forever."
James came over to Vincent to take Timmy from him, but Vincent had to give Timmy a kiss on the forehead before he handed him over. "He's a treasure James."
With a big smile, James said, "Maybe once he's potty trained." Timmy was still sound asleep.
"Hey, we're working on it Dad," Matthew said.
"Yeah, he's starting to get the idea," Richard added.
"I know boys and we appreciate all that you do for your little brother." James said.
It didn't take long before the families had gathered, gave us their thanks and hugs, and Vincent proclaiming over and over, his thanks and the pleasure he had preparing it. Our extended family left together to seek out the comfort of their own homes, leaving the seven of us to deal with the dishes, dirty tablecloths, napkins, and chairs. It took no time at all with the help of the boys and we had the house back to normal.
After being cooped up in the house all afternoon, it was nice to come out on the porch and enjoy some fresh night air as Brutus and Daisy went about their nightly bathroom duties.
It was 10:30 and almost completely dark, the peace of our hectic day was overwhelmed by the still air and clear sky. Vincent quietly exclaimed as he pointed to the sky, "Carl, look at the stars!"
"I think that's why they named it Serenity," Michael said.
Josh and Mark started looking up at the sky, named Mars, Jupiter, and the big dipper, things they'd learned at Camp Tonawonka.
"Gentlemen," Carl yawned. "It's been a long day and it's time for me to hit the sheets and go off to dreamland."
"I can't thank all of you enough for helping with that dinner tonight. It was something I really enjoyed." Vincent said one more time as he and Carl made their way to their bedroom and we coaxed the boys and dogs into the house.
"Tomorrow might be the last day of school, but you still have be on time to meet the school bus," Bryan warned as the boys made their way up the stair. "What have you got in mind for tomorrow?" he asked me.
"I was thinking of taking them on the quads and making our way around the acreage. We can give them jeans to wear.... Vincent is about your size and I think Carl can get into a pair of mine.... it'll be a blast to expose them to some of our roughneck ways."
"Let's take some fishing gear with us and see how they enjoy that down by the creek." Bryan suggested. I thought that was a good idea too.
We turned off the lights throughout the house and went into Mark and Michael's room. Right away Michael asked, "Dad, did they come here to renege on the loan?"
"No way son," Bryan answered. "They just wanted to see what progress we'd made since last September and suggest ways in which we could improve our operation."
"Did they like the office?" Mark asked.
"Initially they had some concerns, but when we sat down and talked about it, they understood why things are the way they are. By the way, they were very impressed with the horseshoe." I answered.
Mark didn't say anything; he just looked from Bryan to me with a wide impish grin and a wink.
"You have every right to be proud, Mark," Bryan said as he kissed his forehead. "Now get to sleep."
"Yes boys, we'll be out for our run in seven hours," I said as I kissed their foreheads. "Love you both."
"Love you too Dad," they replied in unison as we closed their door and headed to Josh's room.
"So Josh, did you enjoy your dinner?" Bryan asked.
"It was delicious." Josh replied. "Dad, I know that Carl and Vincent are really smart.... they'd have to be to manage all of Mr. Goldman's holdings, and they're great family people too, but they're a bit scared about commitment to a family of their own."
"I think in their own way, they'd make great Dads," I said.
"I know they would," Josh said, "I hope what I said tonight didn't offend them."
Bryan and I had a giggle. "Since when did something you say ever offend anyone?" I asked kidding.
Josh started to laugh quietly. "Ya think the Prime Minister?" he asked.
"Go to sleep Naughty Josh," I said with a giggle. "Love you," I continued before I kissed his forehead.
"Not to worry, Josh. You said just the right thing to change their thinking. I love you," Bryan said before he kissed his forehead.
"Love you too, Dad Dad," Josh replied as we left the room, comfortable that our house was at peace.
It had been a long day and as soon as our heads hit the pillows, Bryan and I were happy to let our consciousness have a rest.
Friday morning, I awoke to the alarm and started my day as I had every morning. Once the boys and I had completed our run, we entered the house with the dogs to find that Bryan, Vincent, Carl, and Josh were preparing our breakfast. All four of them were giggling like crazy as they swirled around the kitchen.
"Bang.... hers and mash!" Josh exclaimed. "Never heard of it."
"Well it sure isn't Italian," Vincent said with a laugh.
"Don't know what you guys are talking about, but it sure sounds sexy!" Mark exclaimed, which got more laughter going on behind the counter.
"Come on guys," I said, "Let's have our shower and get dressed before we go any further with that subject." I wasn't about to explain the meaning behind the name of the meal.
By the time the three of us came downstairs, our breakfast was waiting for us on the counter. As we climbed onto the stools, I look at the work of art that they'd prepared for us. Although we'd had Eggs Benedict before, this was indeed an exceptional presentation with just the little touches that only Vincent could give a meal. We dove in and almost made the breakfast disappear into mid air.
"Are you sure you didn't miss your calling Vincent?" I asked as I took the last forkful of hash browns.
"Sometimes, like now, I think I had," Vincent replied, "but when I look at a list of figures, the organization and the analysis just whips through my mind and I can spot any mistake immediately or the proper flow of them. My teachers said it was a gift. Working with food though is my hobby. I'm very relaxed when I'm working in the kitchen. Unfortunately, my teachers and my parents got their way and I followed the path of least resistance with my career. By the time I finished university, one of my professors had introduced me to Mr. Goldman, and I was hooked. He's an amazing employer."
"I feel the same way when I'm in a debate," Josh said.
"Your logic and your way to express yourself is a gift you have Josh." Carl said.
"Yeah, but I'm not sure where it's going to take me." Josh added.
"Just follow your instincts and bravely go where no man has gone before," Vincent said with a smile.
"Hey, that's where Michael and I are going," Mark said.
"Oh really?" Carl asked.
"Yeah, Mark and I are going to be in the Royal Canadian Air Force and become fighter pilots." Michael said.
"Right on!" Mark said, "but I want to hear about these sexy bang hers and mash."
Vincent grinned and winked at me. "Well Mark," he began slowly in a sultry voice, "first.... you have to have a couple of fat.... juicy.... firm.... gorgeous.... sausages...." Vincent deliberately dropped his hand slowly to his crotch and gently pulled his finger over his fly before bringing it slowly back to the counter top. At that point you could see the anticipation in Mark and Michael's eyes and open mouths. "You have to inspect it carefully. Make sure that the enclosing sheath is totally intact so that nothing will escape." Bryan, Josh, and I were stifling our giggle as Vincent continued with hand gestures. "Then.... after you've washed your hands.... you take the member.... in your thumb and finger.... and.... drop it into the frying pan!"
"HUH!" Mark exclaimed as the rest of us broke out laughing. Michael and Mark both looked stunned until they realized what Vincent was talking about. "You got me!"
"You're talking about.... real sausages.... right?" Michael asked.
"Yes we are," Bryan said through his giggles.
"But, but.... what's this about bang hers and mash?" Mark asked.
"It's bangers, Mark, not bang hers. It's an old English dish made principally from fried sausages, mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy together with onions, and any other side vegetable you want to serve with it. Actually when it's prepared properly, it can be a delicious meal." Vincent explained.
"So sausages are bangers?" Mark asked.
"Yes son, now that's your lesson from the kitchen for today," Bryan said. "It's time for us to hit the trail to the north gate."
"You going to miss going to school after today?" I teased as we made our way to the north gate.
"No!" "Definitely NOT!" "Get real Dad!" Their answers all blurred together which got Vincent, Carl, Bryan and I laughing.
"Tomorrow is the wedding and the barbeque!" Michael exclaimed.
"That'll be fun, but then on Sunday we get to do the laundry. What could be more fun than that? NOT!" Mark scowled.
"Monday is going to be really special guys," Josh said. "We get to work at the office and bug all the programmers with their ideas."
"Then after a week of that, we get to go on vacation for a week." I added with some enthusiasm. Bryan and I still hadn't told anyone of what we were planning for the whole family for that week.
"Yeah, this working for a living is going to be pretty good." Michael said laughing with Josh and Mark.
Once again we waved to all kids as the school bus pulled away from the gate. We said goodbye to all the other parents as they hopped into their cars and headed to the office and the dogs took off with Hamish. Brutus, Daisy, and Freddie loved their routine everyday.
"Well gents," I began with a smile, "are you ready for a day of trail breakin', shootin', hootin', and hollarin' on the ranch?"
"You mean we're going to have fight off the bad guys at the OK corral?" Carl asked with an expectant grin.
"Not quite," I said as we headed for the firing range.
It was a wonderful experience for Bryan and I as we showed both Carl and Vincent our arsenal of guns and rifles. Surprisingly they were both well experienced.
"How did you learn to shoot so well?" I asked.
"Well Tom, in New York City," Vincent replied, "Mr. Goldman doesn't travel too far without his bodyguards and for the most part we're included in that enclave. Although it was just out of curiosity, we got talking about their guns and their training and well.... they took us aside when they could and taught us the ins and outs of what it takes to protect yourself with a weapon."
"We've taught all our boys the proper use of this collection and they're great shots as well." I continued. "You never know when it'll come in handy. Of course Grant and Darren, and our security staff here make a fair bit of use of this firing range as well, just to keep their skills honed."
"Do you guys carry a weapon?" Bryan asked.
"Not in Canada. We consider ourselves to be in safe territory and they're locked up in the plane right now." Carl replied.
As we made our way back to the main house we went over to the ranch cemetery and showed them where Howard and Angela were buried.
When Carl asked, "What were the circumstances that led to their passing?", I looked at Bryan and he nodded. I started to explain all the details of the whole ordeal and together we told them the details of how our family all came together to look out for Michael's welfare. By the time Bryan and I got to the part about John and Mildred at the dinner table again, their sad expressions had changed from sadness to a giddy laughs.
"There's no doubt about your love for those boys." Vincent said.
"And there's no doubt about how much they love you." Carl added.
Those two comments coming from what were almost strangers, gave Bryan and I a lift.
From there, we showed them the, now ice-free, skating rink.
"OK guys, it's time to get the two of you all duded up into a pair of jeans and comfortable ranchin' shirts. We got some trails to break out yonder there on the western horizon." I said.
"You.... you said we wouldn't be riding horses." Carl said with some hesitation in his voice.
I smiled and winked, but that only made matters worse - a look of absolute fear came over his face.
"Carl, I'm sorry." I said sincerely. "I didn't mean to tease you. We aren't using horses or any live animals for that matter. We'll be using off-road quads.... you'll enjoy it."
Carl let out a deep breath as Vincent put a protective arm around Carl's shoulder. "Sorry, but horses scare the living shit out of me!" he confessed.
"We had a bad experience in Central Park with a cop and his horse." Vincent explained. "Something spooked the horse and he reared-up right in front of us. The horses hoof just grazed Carl's arm, but the memory has stayed with us."
"That's understandable," Bryan said, "they are a big animal, but we don't want you to get your Armani duds ruined if we get bogged down in some dirt, so we'll get you changed into a pair of jeans and hopefully we'll be able to get you some boots that fit as well."
While Vincent and Carl changed into the jeans and shirts that I'd pulled out of our closet, Bryan pulled seven pounds of baby back ribs out of the fridge and got them into two slow cookers with some sweet and sour sauce and I got busy preparing sandwiches and drinks to take with us.
When Carl and Vincent came into the kitchen, Vincent said, "Howdy pardner! I'm ready ta git out on the range. Ya think I can pass as a westerner."
"Yes, for sure," Bryan replied, "the clothes fit both of you great, but you'll have to lose the white Stetsons... they're a dead giveaway. We'll get some baseball caps to wear for this trip."
Once we had everything packed into the quads, we were off. I had Carl with me in the lead and Vincent was with Bryan in the second quad. We knew the trail well - ever since the frost came out of the ground, someone was always taking the quads out and we had a marked trail once we got to the forested area. Just over a half hour into our excursion, I went dead slow as we traversed the trout stream that led from the pond. Once we reached the clearing where we always rested by the stream, I stopped and we got off the quads.
I watched Vincent and Carl as they stood there, not saying a thing, but just staring up into the trees.
"This is so beautiful," Carl said quietly.
"It's like having your own private Central Park without the city noise and the people," Vincent said in almost a whisper, "and it smells so clean."
I smiled at the thought, remembering the early morning run I enjoyed in New York City before all hell broke loose.
"Would the two of you like to try some fly fishing?" I asked.
"Love to!" Carl exclaimed, "but neither of us have ever been fresh water fishing before.... just deep sea."
"Well your experience on the ranch wouldn't be complete until we've taught you how to swing a rod with a fly on it." Bryan laughed.
With that we paired off and while I taught Carl, Bryan was teaching Vincent the techniques. The great part of that experience was that they both caught a fish and they weren't a bit squeamish about taking out the hook and putting the fish back in the stream. This early in the spring, the trout were too small to consider turning them into a meal.
As we sat there on a log, finishing our sandwiches, Carl and Vincent were like a pair of giddy kids reliving the experience of catching their first fresh-water fish. I looked over Carl's shoulder and said quietly, "Shhhh!" Then I pointed just past Carl's shoulder to a doe and her fawn that were grazing on a bit of grass about fifty feet from us. All four of us sat there motionless as we stared at the wonder of nature's miracle for more than a minute. I suppose the doe finally caught our scent, and nudged her fawn and they took off in a few strides through the woods beyond our sight.
"You can talk all you want about petting zoos, but THAT was the most beautiful experience I've ever had with Mother Nature." Carl said.
"I've never felt like this," Vincent said, "It was.... stunning."
"We're lucky," Bryan said, "it wasn't a bear and her cub."
"A bear!" Vincent gasped. "Can.... can we go now?"
"Yes gentlemen," I laughed, "we can go."
Our ride back to the main house was equally enjoyable for our visitors. Bryan and I let them drive. Once again they were like kids on their first amusement ride laughing all the way enjoying the power they had at their disposal, even when they splashed through the stream and got all of us just a bit wet from the experience.
Once we parked the Argos outside the garage and stowed the fishing gear, I grabbed the hose and we cleaned them up. I knew they'd be getting a lot of service tomorrow at the barbeque.
"Ok guys," I said, "Let's get changed into some dry clothes. I want to show you even more of the ranch."
By the time Bryan and I came downstairs, Carl and Vincent were in the kitchen sneaking a peek into the slow cooker.
"Can I do some double stuffed baked potatoes to go with those ribs?" Carl asked with a sparkle in his eye.
With a big smile, Bryan said, "Yes Vincent, you can do the double stuffed baked potatoes. It's better than the mashed potatoes that I had planned."
With that, Bryan and Vincent pulled out seven huge Idaho spuds from the pantry and wrapped them in foil, ready to pop into the oven. Then we were ready for our trip to the hanger.
"It won't be a long flight gents," I said, "the kids will be home soon, but I want you to get the whole visual of the ranch from above."
After we slid the hanger doors open, and wheeled the Cessna around, Vincent and Carl were chomping at the bit. Once we had them comfortably seated with their belts and headphones on, I said, "Ok Bryan, I'll be your co this time. It's just two circuits.... one clockwise and the other counter clockwise, so our passengers both get equal views.... keep it at 800 feet, then a nice side-slip landing."
"Never done a side-slip before," Bryan said.
"There's a slight breeze coming in from the west, so it'll be no problem to show you how it's done and let you get the feel of it." I reassured him as we boarded and put on our headphones, then turning to Carl and Vincent, I said, "Not to worry guys, I'm a licensed instructor."
Bryan did a great job during the takeoff while Vincent and Carl enjoyed the view. Bryan circled around and started his clockwise route. As we headed north, we saw the school bus coming down the road, while Hamish and Arnold stood with the dogs. Carl and Vincent chatted about what they were seeing and the route we'd taken on the quads that morning. Bryan had great control as he followed the property line as near as possible, and then flew a wide bank until we were headed in the opposite direction. Going in both directions, gave both of our passengers a chance to see the same vistas.
During our landing I controlled the rudder pedals, while I let Bryan control the throttle and maintain the rate of descent. I explained that if we went in straight, he would always be correcting our forward motion like a car as the wind pushed the plane off course, but by slipping slightly sideways into the wind, although the nose of the plane was sideways, we were still lowering the plane in a steady course, directly to the runway without having to make any other directional changes. Just before the moment of touchdown, I straightened the planes attitude.
Bryan was thrilled with the concept and made a perfect three-point landing. Again Vincent and Carl were full of thanks for the twenty-minute experience.
Josh, Michael, and Mark were waiting for us at the hangar with Daisy and Brutus. Once we got out of the Cessna, Carl, Vincent, and Bryan headed for the kitchen to finish dinner preparations. The boys and I swung the plane around, moved it back into the hangar, and locked it up.
"Aren't you going to be flying some of the visitors around tomorrow?" Michael asked.
"Sorry Michael." I said. "Harold and I discussed the idea, but we decided that there were just too many visitors that would be lining up for a ride and it could become chaotic and a bit dangerous if people started to crowd the runway. A bit of a tough situation with just the two planes."
"Harold isn't going to be bringing his plane then?" Mark asked.
"'Fraid not Mark. The Stemmings will be coming here in one of the coaches just as if they're one of the staff."
"That'll be good," Josh said with a giggle. "We can't have a shindig like this without Verna to laugh things up."
The three of us were giggling at that comment when we entered the house. The smell of the sweet and sour ribs had filled the air and the boys almost ran to the kitchen bar. Actually I think they were salivating.
"What's for dinner?" Mark exclaimed.
"One of your favourites boys," Bryan said with a smile, "sweet and sour baby backs, but it won't be ready for another forty-five minutes. In the meantime, here's a half salmon sandwich each to tide you over."
Carl handed me one, which made me realize how hungry I was as well. That together with a small glass of milk and the four of us were satisfied until dinner was ready.
Although it was a simple meal to cook without all the pomp and circumstance of the night before, Vincent and Carl were impressed. Together with all the fixings with the baked potatoes and the broccoli, we were all stuffed by the time we finished.
While the boys did the cleanup, the four of us headed for a relaxing moment or two in the family room. Carl and Vincent grabbed the loveseat, while Bryan and I sat in the middle of the sofa.
"Today we experienced things that were so far removed from our day to day business world in New York." Carl said smiling.
"This house, this ranch.... it's warm and cozy in spite of it's size and certainly suits your character," Vincent said. "It makes our penthouse seem almost sterile."
"Hey there's nothing wrong with modern," Bryan said. "We have it that way at the office, all the furniture except the computer pods etc. is glass and chrome, but we like the contrast when we come home. I'll bet a lot of the entertaining you guys do is directed towards people that have to do business with Mr. Goldman and it has to be as upscale and modern as possible."
"Good guess, Bryan," Carl said. "We do entertain a number of business associates. One thing about plain and simple, you can see quickly when something isn't in its right place."
"That's true at the office too," I said with a laugh. "Bryan, Mom and I keep our clutter to a minimum, but Susan and some of the others are too busy getting on with their next accomplishment to worry about the dregs of the last one."
"The main thing is that they've accomplished so much in such a short time." Carl said as the boys and the dogs joined us.
"I'll be right back," Bryan said as he stood up and left the room.
"All the dishes done?" I asked as Josh took a seat on one side of me, Mark on the other and Michael sat cross-legged on the floor between my legs.
"Yeah," Mark replied as he cuddled into my side. "Dishwasher's full and goin' a mile a minute."
"We left the clean slow cookers on the counter.... we'll put them away when we empty the dishwasher." Josh cuddled closer as I put an arm around him.
"OK gents," Bryan said as he came back, turned on the TV and the video player, "I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of home videos, but I'm sure you're going to enjoy this one. We took you for a fly around the ranch this afternoon in the daylight, but this video shows you what it's like a night. It's not like being a part of the real thing, but at least you'll be able to imagine how great it really was." He motioned Mark to move over so he could sit next to me.
The boys and I realized it was going to be the night I'd taken them up to see the Christmas lights. As we watched the video, I started to realize that Bryan had merged several clips together using eMemories and added some instrumental Christmas music into the background.
It began on the ground with a panoramic view looking down the snow-covered road from the north gate toward the houses. Slowly he had panned each of the houses and once he passed them, he morphed into the trees slowly enveloping them with a halo, then slowly removing the artificial halo, to the complete dazzling display of all the colourful bulbs as they lit up the snow covered ground. I realized then he'd taken those clips after the Stemmings had been here for dinner.
He faded into a shot of the main house and slowly panned over to Susan and Darren's house, before panning back to the dimly lit space between the two houses, then zooming into the blackness beyond, which then brightened into a zooming view of the Cessna in the brightly lit hangar. That shot morphed into a shot of the backlit dash instruments and then a slow pan to a dark profile shot of me at the controls with the sound of the engine purring under the Christmas music, then to the dark windshield, and a pan to the ground from his side window, being lit by our landing lights as we travelled down the runway.
Everyone had been quiet throughout the video until this point. "Wow!" Michael said softly.
The higher we climbed, the more impressive the Christmas lights became. Bryan's technique with the video camera and the eMemories program turned the whole experience into a virtual flying experience, although on the TV screen, certainly not as impressive as the real thing because they were only two-dimensional images.
The video ended with our landing lights illuminating the ground brighter and brighter as the plane came closer and closer to the ground and again, with the touchdown, morphing again into the dark profile of me at the controls. For me, that was touching.
I kissed Bryan's cheek and whispered, "Thank you."
"I didn't want that to end," Carl said.
"This place is beautiful even in the winter," Vincent added.
"Almost as good as the real thing." Mark said.
"I think it was the happiest Christmas we've ever had." Josh said.
Right then Brutus perked up his ears and quietly went over to Michael, followed by Daisy. They lay on each side of Michael and rested their heads on his lap. Although his back was to me, I too realized what Michael was feeling.
I leaned forward and placed my hands on his shoulders. "It's all right son. These moments will come and go."
"Christmas was the last good time I had with them. I thought I was finished with all those crappy thoughts," he said through a sniffle. "I didn't think it would hit me again."
"Michael, I'm sorry bro. I didn't mean to trigger-" Josh said.
"You didn't Josh, it just happened. I've had lots of reminders, but they don't bother me, this time it did."
Mark left the couch quickly and sat cross-legged in front of Michael. Taking both of Michael's hands in his, he quietly said, "Michael, it's just like the memories and love you and I share, and what they mean to us, the experiences we enjoy together and what they mean to only us.... they're all very special to us.... like.... well.... bang hers and mash."
That started the giggles going for all of us before we burst out laughing as Michael grabbed Mark into a hug. "Even better than peas and carrots." Michael said through his giggles. "I'm sorry Carl, Vincent... it's just that sometimes I get a happy memory of my parents."
"Don't be sorry Michael," Carl said, "Tom and Bryan told us the whole story. You're an amazing young man to have recovered from such devastation so well."
"I'm amazed at how perceptive the dogs are," Vincent said. "It's as if they knew and they cared what Michael was feeling before any of us did."
"Not only are they smart they're.... Frau Blucher!" Josh exclaimed.
Both Brutus and Daisy stood up and started a happy bark between them - their tails wagging their back hips from side to side.
"Brutus is smarter though." I said. "Isn't that right Brutus?"
Brutus let go with his slow happy howl at the sound of the words that Susan had taught him.
Our visitors were surprised and we spent the next half hour watching the boys show a number of other tricks that the dogs knew. That evening they even learned the names of Vincent and Carl.
When the dishwasher finished, the boys headed back to the kitchen and emptied it putting all the dishes away. When they returned to the family room their hands were full of bowls of ice cream.
"Not quite as sweet as little horses," Mark giggled as he handed a bowl to Vincent, "but it's as smooth as a banger."
We spent the rest of the evening telling of our lives together, how we met and became the family that we had become and how it was that Josh and Mark had so deviously brought Bryan and I together during our trip across Canada.
Carl, in turn related how he was the only child that 'was born with the silver spoon in his mouth' and took business management in college because he understood the philosophy of ambitious men. Once he was hired on with Goldman Holdings as a junior, it wasn't very difficult to express his understanding of business management to Mr. Goldman and he was quickly moved up the ladder and learned even better ways to analyze the greed or compassion of other business people. That's where he and Vincent met and he had a bit of influence with Mr. Goldman to pay attention to the abilities of Vincent. Naturally by that time Vincent and Carl were in love. Notwithstanding, Vincent was quickly moved up the ladder as well, however only because of his abilities - not their relationship.
We ended our late evening as we had the night before with Carl and Vincent retiring to their bedroom, Bryan and I saying goodnight to the boys, and then snuggling together as we absorbed the comfort of our own bed.
June 22, 2002 turned out to be a bright sunny day in Calgary - the weather certainly cooperated - just a slight breeze instead of the heavier west wind that was usual near the foothills to the Rocky Mountains - the perfect day for a garden wedding.
The enormous tents had all been set up at Serenity - one for the ceremony, another with 30 round tables for ten with chairs for dining and dancing in, another tent for cooking and barbequing in, plus several temporary change rooms and 50 washroom buildings - all erected within the last two days.
Saturday morning, bright and early, right after the boys and I finished our run, the florists descended on the property decorating all the tents with so many floral arrangements, the musicians and sound crew arrived and got themselves setup, the barbeques arrived together with the chef and several kitchen staff, and finally the photographers.
Right at noon, five 60-passenger coaches arrived at the ranch. Quince had everything organized in addition to all the security folks that came with each of the services provided just to keep an eye out for any potential problems, and the Serenity Shack was completely manned. While the people were on their way to Serenity in the coaches, they were briefed by the security person on each coach about the wedding and the seating arrangements at the dinner tables. Before the coaches arrived, each was assigned their table numbers and had made their menu choices. Each coach load was guided by their security person down the floral-bordered pathway between the main house and Susan and Darren's house to the tent where the ceremony was to be held.
Andy, Trevor, Debbie, Ethel, Eddie, James, Anne, the twins, Michael, Mark, Kevin, Carl and Vincent, Bryan and I were at the end of the path to give a brief welcome to each of the families as the employees introduced us to each member of their families.
Eddie and the twins assured the families that there were all sorts of games organized that they could participate in after the ceremony and lunch, and that the swimming pool was open for everyone to enjoy. Not to be left out of this whole parade of people, we had the dogs at the end of the reception line on their leads being attended by a security man.
Except for the pool wing of the main house, we decided with a throng as large as this, it would be best if we kept all the houses locked up except for Susan and Darren's who, together with the actual wedding party, would be back and forth to get changed before and after the ceremony.
Of special interest was our meeting of Robert, Travis, and his sister Jessica. Travis was every bit the gentleman that Robert was. Confident in his demeanor and stature, yet easy going and friendly, he was proud to introduce us to his sister Jessica. Although her complexion was pale, her smile lit up her face like an angel in spite of the fact that she'd obviously been through chemotherapy recently. She had her head covered with a bandana and she'd also lost her eyebrows. I had a feeling that this was one of her good days.
When she met Kevin, the 'wow' smile lit up both of their faces. It's amazing how the immediate chemistry works with people. I know that Michael, Mark, Travis, Robert, Bryan, and I noticed it. Kevin explained that after the ceremony, she would certainly enjoy the company of Shelly who had been through similar experiences. I hoped that this would turn out to be one of the days that would make a positive change in her life.
A few people later came Weston and his family. We were certainly charmed by his family. His beautiful wife and their two children were so positive and happy. Then came Jenny Norwood with her beau, another member of the kitchen from the restaurant staff. She was happy and radiant and it was good to see.
On the other hand, I had a bit of a surprise when we met Ralph Grayson and his voluptuous blond girlfriend, Denise. Both were wearing bright green 'wife-beater' T's as many of the folks were, but most noticeable were the matching tattoos that they had scrolling over their left shoulder. Personally I wasn't into tattoos - I earned my scars the hard way and I had to pay for them in a different way, but to each his own.
Although most of the people there were wearing shorts, including the security staff that came with each of the services, Carl, Vincent, and I chose not to. I didn't want the reason for the scars on my leg to become a topic of conversation and of course, some people may be offended at their sight.
Although it took almost 30 minutes from the time the coaches arrived to get everyone seated in the tent prepared for the official ceremony, everything went on without a hitch. Fortunately for a gathering like this there was none of the 'his side' 'her side' of the family to be observed as you may have in a formal church setting, however the first row was reserved for our extended family.
Once we were seated, the ceremony began with Grant, as best man, and Darren travelling down the blue-carpeted path to stand at the altar waiting for Susan to make her entrance. They just got into position when the Wedding March was heard from the band in the next tent.
Josh, dressed to the nines in his tuxedo, escorted Susan down the path, holding her hand high to the altar followed her bridesmaids, Mom and Shelly. Susan was beautiful in a plain, shoulderless, ivory, almost full-length dress and a simple white veil pinned to her hair. The wedding party that stood at the very colourful altar was one of the prettiest and most handsome gatherings I'd ever pictured.
The minister, the same minister that had presided over the interment of the Burtons, began. "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, we've been invited here to witness a special happy occasion.... the marriage of Susan Chambers and Darren Higgins. Once the short ceremony is finished, we'll make our way to the tent next door where I'm sure we'll all enjoy sharing a wedding banquet. At their request, we are going to forego the traditional marriage vows and listen to the promises of the bride and groom as they begin their new lives together. Susan, would you begin please."
Susan stared up into Darren's eyes. Her voice was clear and distinct as she spoke. "Darren, it seems like I've known you forever as if during my whole life I've been moving closer to you. In addition, in knowing you, I've come closer to myself. You unlock the doors of my heart to reveal who I am, who I've always been. I am my whole and best self with you and I love that. I trust in your abilities to protect me from all the villains that cross our path.... because you certainly have done that in the past. I can't imagine my life without you. I love your honesty and openness. You've shown me what a real man is and how true love feels. You are my fellow, my companion, held most dear; my soul, my other self, my best friend. I pledge my love will be as fine wine: better, deeper, richer, with each passing year. I pledge to you honesty, integrity, and absolute fidelity and that I will be in your absence as I am in your presence. I promise to always support you, to believe in you even when you don't believe in yourself, to encourage you and be your companion and helpmate, now and always." She bowed her head.
Darren smiled as he raised Susan's chin, looking directly into her eyes. "Susan, I almost gave up on love, then you came.... you with the vibrant eyes that devour life.... you with the purest ideals and the fiery passion to communicate those ideals.... you with the bravery to overcome any hardship.... you with the talent to surpass the effects of all villains in your life. For the knowledge and intellect with which you speak on such diverse topics, you have won my admiration. For the way in which you carry yourself with dignity and determination, you have won my respect. For your radiant skin and a smile that ignites me, you have my deepest desire. However it is for the way you look at me, as if you see through me, the way you gently coax out the best from me with your insatiable interest, the way you inspire me to be a better person simply by knowing you; that is what has won my love. I came alive when I started falling in love with you. I promise to show you everyday how completely you've moved me, and inspire in you the fire you have ignited in me. I vow to you absolute fidelity in mind, heart, and body; to stand by your side through all that may come. I am ready with all that I have, to give you the love of a lifetime."
The Minister smiled as he looked from Susan to Darren and back again. Still smiling, he said, "I have nothing to add except to say, in front of God and all these witnesses, I now pronounce you man and wife."
Susan and Darren kissed to the applause of the crowd. "So ends this ceremony and while all of you make your way to the tent next door," the Minister announced, "Susan, Darren and the wedding party will complete a little paper work and we'll join you shortly."
All of us made our way to our designated tables. Except for the head table, it was carefully planned so that there would be a mix of the departments at each table and each of the family members was assigned to a different table. Even Garrett, Lorret, Verna, and Harold Stemming didn't object to being split up so they could explain the ins and outs of the ranch. It was as if each table had a host - even Matthew, Richard, and Eddie got in the act. Actually Eddie was cajoled to switch tables with Kevin so Kevin could be near Jessica.
The menu was astounding - a choice of grilled salmon, grilled steak, grilled chicken, or a grilled vegetarian dish on skewers - each served with fresh salad to begin with, a baked potato, and dinner rolls. The entrees were huge and grilled to perfection.
At the table I was at, in addition to Carl, I had a variety of people from Marketing, Personnel, and another from Accounting. Considering the festive nature of the occasion, everyone was very easy going as they talked about their families. The couple from Personnel announced they were expecting their first child in seven months. I enjoyed answering the many questions about each of the family members and our living accommodations.
Before dessert was served, a large four-tier wedding cake was wheeled in front of the head table. In front of so many cameras, they poised with the knife before they cut into it and served a piece to everyone at the head table.
Although coffee, tea, juices, and sodas were being served throughout the dinner, it wasn't until after the dessert, a piece of wedding cake, was served, that the champagne glasses were quickly served. Although some hadn't finished their dessert, Grant stood up and clanked his glass to get everyone's attention. His handsome stature certainly had everyone's attention especially when you dress an athletic man that size in a tux.
He smiled broadly as he spoke. "Everyone.... please raise your glasses and join me in toasting Susan and Darren. As I begin this wedding speech one of the first thoughts that come to mind is.... if I'm the best man.... then why is Susan getting married to Darren?" The crowd politely chuckled at that comment. "I guess because today, I am just an average man and Darren is the best man..... and of course, I'm already married to a wonderful lady. In my extensive research to find out how to deliver a great best man speech, I learned that I am expected to sing the praises of the groom and tell you what a wonderful guy Darren is. Unfortunately, I'm a bad singer and a bad liar." Again the crowds started laughing as a few of us started to agree with him as we heckled our comments his way. "Darren.... Susan is a wonderful, beautiful, kind, and good-hearted person who deserves a great husband. Thank goodness you snapped her up before she found one."
I was beginning to wonder where Grant's sense of humour had been all the time I'd known him. "All kidding aside," he continued, "I'm honored to be here today.... I love you both and wish you many years of happy marriage. Let's raise our glasses to honour the newlyweds. Cheers! Now I believe that the son of the bride has a few words."
Josh was beaming as he stood. Once the applause had ebbed, he began. "Darren, always remember that my Mom was the first person that I loved and it's also true she loved me before you or everyone else here today. This whole day makes me the luckiest kid in the world because in addition to Tom and Bryan; Mark, Michael and I have gained another Dad who has also demonstrated his love for us in so many ways. I think that statement tells all of us here that being a blood relation isn't as important as fulfilling the role that we're assigned in life. You have to know that as your sons, we intend to make you proud as we seek our own future. I know you and Mom have found in each other the perfect partner for life's adventure. I know your marriage will be filled with happiness exceeding your wildest dreams. May both of you continue to see again, in each and every day, all the qualities in the other that made you fall in love and marry. I'm sure you will always be grateful for life's greatest gift.... a marriage based on true love. I know your true love will give both of you joy, peace, and satisfaction. Here's to my Mom and our new Dad. Cheers everyone," he concluded as he raised his glass to many cheers and applause.
Mom was the next to stand. "A wedding of two people of quality and character, so obviously right for each other, is a joy and a blessing to the world. May your fondest hopes, wishes, and dreams all come true, as you grow closer together in an unshakeable, loving bond. May your marriage be filled with sunshine, rainbows, and every kind of happiness you two so richly deserve. Congratulations, and every good wish for the best things life has to offer you." As Mom sat down, Shelly stood.
"One day," Shelly began, "Josh and I will probably be the ones being honoured at a shindig like this and it's my hope that it's with as much excitement and love as Susan and Darren are enjoying right now. I can't imagine what I would say if I were the bride.... so while we have Susan at a loss for words, I think it would be proper if the bride and groom would follow me to the dance floor for their first dance as a married couple."
Immediately the crowd burst into applause. Once Shelly had Susan and Darren in the centre of the floor, she released their hands and the band started to play softly. Andy, in his fine tenor voice, led the bride and groom slow dance singing, 'Could I Have This Dance for the Rest of My Life'. Once Andy had finished the words to the song, the band continued to play the slow melody as Susan and Darren waved to the crowd to join them.
Not to my surprise, but maybe to others it was, Josh and Shelly were the first to hit the floor, followed by Kevin and Jessica. I was WOWED! In addition to Josh and Shelly, Jessica and Kevin were very much endeared to one another's smile as they slowly moved around the floor. After the parents totally swamped the dance floor, Kevin and Josh bumped shoulders, and with a smile and a nod, switched partners. Suddenly I realized the kids were getting an early start on maturing into young adults.
I don't know what was said between the teens on that dance floor, but I knew that Josh and Shelly were working their magic.
At the end of the song, with a lot of applause for the band, Susan and Darren went up onto the bandstand to the microphone. Susan was radiant as she spoke. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a short announcement. First, thank you for coming and being witness to our wedding. Second, Darren and I hate to eat and run; however in about twenty minutes we have to board a plane to Toronto and then on to Europe for our honeymoon and right now there's a few of us that are somewhat overdressed for a country barbeque. Last, but not least, if anything goes wrong at the office during the next three weeks, I don't want to know about it."
With a broad smile, Darren said, "I can only add my thanks to all of you for coming. While we're gone I want you to know that you're all secure in the capable hands of Grant Brown. Please enjoy the rest of today and the next three weeks, I know that Susan and I will. Once again, thank you."
Slowly, the wedding party entered Darren and Susan's house to get changed into their more casual summer wear. I went to the bandstand mic and announced that in about fifteen minutes, a private jet would be arriving and that we'd appreciate if we could form two lines from Susan and Darren's back porch to the landing strip.
The trip to Europe was the wedding gift to Susan and Darren from Bryan and I. Our plan was for Susan and Darren to have the first week together and then, together with all of our extended family, join them in the Netherlands for the week after Canada Day and pay homage to my uncle and present the posthumous medal to the folks there.
With a lot of hoopla Darren and Susan came out onto their back deck just as the Bombardier jet taxied up to our end of the runway where everyone was waiting for their happy send-off. As they came to the front of the line, each of our family members gave the new bride and groom a hug and more best wishes for a good trip. Once Susan hit the top step of the airplane she threw her bouquet and it was caught to the glee and squeals of one of her single employees in the personnel department. Everyone was still cheering and waving as the jet launched itself off the runway, headed for Toronto and from there, Air Canada to Britain, Paris and then the Netherlands.
While everyone was still gathered, Bryan announced all the activities that were available for everyone to join in. Hamish had set up two sets of horseshoe pits, plus there was a hayride available that Hamish was going to run. The pool was open for anyone who wanted to go swimming plus tennis, volleyball, a 9-hole miniature golf course and a special game of bag bowling had been brought to the ranch in addition to teeter-totters and kids swings for the youngsters. For anyone who was daring enough, Mark, Michael, and Garrett would be manning the quads for anyone who wanted a trip along the trails and backwoods of the ranch.
Vincent teamed up with Bryan in a different direction while Carl and I went together visiting all the families as they participated in all the activities. At one point the four of us were teamed up on opposite sides with four other guys from various departments and played a twenty-minute round of volleyball. Mom, Ethel, Anne and Debbie enjoyed the afternoon looking after the toddlers and visiting with all the moms in the crowd.
I saw Eddie and the twins having a lot of fun with other kids their own age at a small diamond game of softball being coached by a couple of the dads and being cheered on by Trevor and the other parents of the team. Trevor said the last time he saw Shelly; she was with Robert, Kevin, Travis, and Jessica, and of course Josh.
What had happened to our teenagers, I had no idea, but I wasn't worried considering all the security staff that was around. Security fit in so well I couldn't tell if they were someone's husband or wife of someone at work or not, but I knew they were there.
We didn't meet up with Bryan and Vincent again until five o'clock when the word was spread that hamburgers, hot dogs, and grilled pineapple-ham on skewer and a side of potato salad were going to be served in a half-hour in the dining tent.
The line-up at the barbeques started immediately, we weren't going to have them served to us, but with all six barbeques going, it was only a short wait in the servery lines. This food was all served on paper plates with plastic forks this time instead of the china and silver wear at the wedding luncheon. In addition they'd set-up a drink station.
Once all the kids and the staff had their go at the line, the family joined in. Some of the teens were lining up for seconds.
That was where we finally caught up with our boys, only to hear a happy, "Hi dad!" "Hi Carl!" "Hi Vincent!" as they headed back to their tables.
"Great afternoon, sirs," Robert said with a big smile as he followed Kevin and Travis with hamburgers and hot dogs for everyone at their table.
"They're having fun," Bryan said. "We'll catch up on how much when we put them to bed."
"You put them to bed?" Vincent asked with a laugh. "Aren't they a bit old for that?"
"Well we don't put them to bed exactly, they know how to do that part," Bryan explained with a chuckle, "but we do stop by their rooms and have a goodnight talk about their secrets and answer any private questions they may have to put their minds at ease before they go to sleep. Sometimes it's just a hug of reassurance and a goodnight."
"That's amazing at their age," Carl said. "I didn't have that with my parents."
"If my dad were alive today," I said, "I think I'd still want to be doing it if we lived in the same house. It's a dad and son bond that we have with the boys.... the same as I had with my dad."
After we sat down at a table, Carl was just ready to take a second bite out of his hamburger, when his cell phone chirped.
"Hello.... good.... you're kidding.... that's right.... ok, I guess we better make it for tomorrow then.... hang on..." Turning to me, he asked, "Tom, can they land the Goldman's Lear on your runway?"
"Of course," I replied, "you saw the Bombardier land and take off, there's lots of room."
Turning back to his cell Carl said, "Yeah, you can pick us up at the Serenity Ranch landing strip.... Good, we'll be ready." Closing his cell, he turned to us. "Tom, Bryan, we were hoping to be able to stay here another day and enjoy the hospitality of your family, but apparently there's a heavy weather front coming across the Pacific headed for California on Monday and our next appointment is Monday afternoon in Sacramento. Our pilots can't guarantee that we could make our appointment if we don't get there before the storm." He turned to Vincent, and touched his nose, "Sorry there Mistah Cent, they want to leave Calgary before nine tomorrow."
"That does put a damper on my mood," Vincent said, "this is the most fun we've had together in five years. I'll be dreaming about it for months to come."
"Me too," Carl added. "The interaction of all your family members, especially what you have with Michael, Mark, and Josh should be the envy of every parent. You're the perfect examples of how to prevent juvenile delinquency. I think behind every juvenile delinquent is a neglectful parent and I guess all of us have seen examples of that. That plus everything else we've done in the last two days has been an experience that will have a direct affect on our lives until the day we die".
"You know you're welcome back here at any time," Bryan said. "You've got a lot of cooking tips to teach me Vincent."
"We'll also be expecting you back next year to check up on our progress with the corporation." I added.
"Oh I think you'll do well on your own Bryan," Vincent said smiling, "Tom you'll be well on your way to accumulating your second ten million profit by this time next year. One thing you can be assured of is that there will never be any demands made on the loan."
"You mean there was a demand clause in all that paper work I signed? AND there are times when you have called in a loan?" I asked surprised.
"Yes on both counts Tom." Vincent replied. "There was one occasion that I know of.... we were pretty sure the guy was squandering the money and cooking the books, so we turned it over to our lawyers to recoup the remainder of the loan. To be crude, those guys can be fucking ruthless. Now don't take that as a threat, you guys and the members of your family are sharp, keen, and focused and I can see where you'll want to have that loan paid back in ten years. Either way, Mr. Goldman might not cash your payment cheques. Your success may be payment enough for him."
"We're certainly not going to count on that," I said, "if your prediction of our success is only half of your expectation, we will pay back the loan even if it takes twenty years."
"I love the courage of your convictions," Carl said. "You both have a purpose based on the need to see your youngsters succeed. Put that together with the enthusiasm of the kids and you've got a winning combination. I can see where your mind has been working in the background figuring out where you'll both be in five, ten, and twenty years. My advice.... plans are a good thing, but only if they're flexible. Don't nail yourselves down to a point in time for success.... sometimes you just have to go with the flow."
Just then Quince announced with a megaphone from the corner of the tent. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have no set time to end the festivities here today, however if any of you wish to leave early, feel free to get into the first coach in the line and as soon as it's full, it will take off for the corporation office building. In the meantime, the kitchen tent will stay open with food and beverages until the last bus leaves. Please enjoy your stay here at Serenity."
"I guess that's our cue to head for the bus line so we can say goodbye to everyone," Bryan said.
With most of our family gathered around to say good bye, it took about a half-hour to fill the first bus - many of the parents with toddlers wanted to get them home and back into their routine. The second bus load included Ralph and Denise.
"Great pool, guys," Ralph said to Bryan and I. "Thanks."
"The wedding was really sweet, Mr. Callahan." I overheard Denise add as I was shaking hands with the husband of one of the other secretaries.
Then Ralph quickly added from the coach, "Come on Denny, get up here, you're holding up the line." Somehow he didn't sound too happy.
When there was only one coach left, Quince spoke to the driver. "You stay here until I give you the OK to leave."
At 8:00, the last stragglers to arrive at the last coach were Travis, Robert, Jessica, Kevin, Shelly, and Josh; each pair holding hands. The glow between Kevin and Jessica was still there, in fact Jessica had a warm glow about her, and then much to our surprise, she hugged Kevin before Travis accompanied her up the stair and into the bus.
"Everyone check in," Quince said into his lapel mic. "All clear here," was heard from twenty voices, one after the other as Quince checked each on his clipboard list. "OK bud, you're clear to go," Quince said to the driver, who immediately closed the door to the coach and left our ranch for the office building parking lot. Quince took a deep breath and exhaled with a big smile as he looked at our gathering. "WHEW! We did it!" Then into his lapel mic, he said, "OK Arnold, lock the gate.... boys, the beers on me in the dining tent."
"Quince, you did a great job," I said, "nothing went wrong to the best of my knowledge."
"That's the way it was supposed to be gentlemen." Quince said, "the people that were here didn't want anything to go wrong, they knew they would have to face the music on Monday morning at work if they caused any trouble. Now the cooks have saved my security team a steak dinner in the dining tent. The rest of you are on your own."
As Quince left all of us, I turned to the family. "While we're all together, Bryan and I have a surprise for all of you. During our week off when the office is closed, we'd appreciate it if all of you would come with us on a trip to Europe.... the Netherlands in particular. Hamish, Irene, I think it would be a great chance for you to make a side trip to Glasgow to see your brothers and sister. We just need to know if all of you will come."
"You're going to take your grand uncle's Victoria Cross to the Holten to show it to the Devries, aren't you son? Mom asked.
"Yes Mom," I answered. "That's the prime reason for going. Things at the airport will be busy on the long weekend, so we'll be taking off on Tuesday morning. On the way back I want to stop in Ottawa and have them put it with all the other memorials they have of fallen soldiers."
"Well I had nothing serious planned for that week, except to hang out here at the ranch," Trevor said. "Count us in."
"Can Jake and Sean come?" Shelly asked excitedly.
"I'd sure like them to come, but I have to check with Al Burger first." I said.
"We've never been to Europe," Grant said, "it'd be a shame for us not to take you up on this opportunity."
Irene had tears in her eyes. "I never thought I'd have this chance. It would be an honour for us to come."
James and Andy just stood there with a grin as the others headed to their homes except for Kevin who wanted to hang out with our boys.
"To see Irene and Hamish so happy has made this an even better day." James said as he left to catch up to Anne and the twins.
"You sure know how to top a great day Tom." Andy said. "It's going to make it interesting to see that bit of history of our family."
Josh turned to me, "Dad, with all the work we put into the website and getting all those signatures, it's going to be a great trip to make again. Dad, it's been a hot day, we'd like to go for a swim."
"No problem son," I said, "What do you say Vincent, Carl? I'm sure we have some trunks that would fit. It has been a long hot day."
The affirmative yesses certainly changed our mood.
While we made our way to the house to change, Bryan, the boys and I filled Vincent and Carl in on why the trip to Holten was so important for us and the relationship that existed between Josh and I as a result of what had happened during the second world war.
Even the dogs were enjoying a swim in the pool. They'd had an anxious day on their leads without being able to be close to their masters. We even had a round of king of the hill, which was surprisingly won by Kevin and Michael. Those two boys were certainly agile in the water. Their technique was to grab the upper mans hands and pull them forward until they lost their balance.
Afterwards, the dogs were very calm as the boys carefully shampooed and washed the chorine out of their fur. After we'd changed, we came downstairs to find the boys and the three dogs in the kitchen with Carl.
Although we didn't have restaurant sundae dishes, Vincent was showing the boys how to make a pretty good looking banana split in a cereal bowl as he worked quickly adding all the ingredients before the ice cream melted.
"I hope today was fun for you boys," I said as the eight of us sat at the counter.
"It was great," Kevin was the first to respond quietly.
"It sure was," Josh agreed.
"It was a blast!" Michael exclaimed with a big smile.
"For me it was the crowning touch to a wonderful visit," Carl said. "Hotels and restaurants just don't cut it after you've been exposed to a family and a home like this."
"It really has been great," Vincent agreed, "but back to the grind of the world of business tomorrow."
"What! You're leaving!" Mark exclaimed. "You can't leave! We'll starve! Who's gonna cook for us? I don't think we can take another bowl of gruel or dem baked beans. We've been saving our allowances so we could send our dads to cooking school, but it'll take them years before they can cook as good as you."
"Judging by the amount of food in the larder, I'll doubt you boys will go hungry," Vincent laughed. "As far as sending Tom and Bryan to cooking school, forget it, I think they could teach the course."
Kevin had been quiet for the most of the time even when we were in the pool earlier, although he had a constant grin. Finally, I asked, "Hey Kevin, what's up?"
"Actually I was hoping to spend some time with Jessica when the office was closed," he said grinning.
"Sounds like you had a special day," Bryan said.
Kevin shrugged his shoulders. "Jessica's special. I like her and she really deserves to be happy and have some good times."
"Kevin, Jessica is special just as Shelly is very special to me," Josh said quietly, "but give her space and time to get used to the idea. You'll be able to see her on the long weekend before we leave and then again when we get back. Just sit back in the meantime and watch the changes when you see her again over and over. What I'm saying is, don't overwhelm her.... let her understand her feelings, but always be reassuring."
"It never hurt us to be away from each other for a while, did it Michael?" Mark asked.
"True," Michael said, "and it wouldn't matter if we had to do it again, distance won't make a difference in how we feel about each other."
"Think about our Dads, Kevin," Mark added, "they hardly saw each other for more than a year. I guess absence does make the heart grow fonder."
"Yeah, I guess you don't want to wear out a good thing," Kevin said with a sigh, "it'll lose its charm."
Carl, Vincent, Bryan, and I sat quietly grinning as we listened to the reasoning of these teenagers unfold.
"Even before you learn more wonderful things about her," Bryan added.
"Yeah, you're right." Kevin said, "Gotta go. Mom and Dad'll be wonderin'. See ya in the morning."
All of us gave Kevin a hug of reassurance as he left the front porch with Freddie by his side.
By ten, Bryan and I were turning out the lights after Vincent, Carl and the boys had headed for bed.
On our way to our bedroom, our first stop was to say good night to Mark and Michael.
As soon as we went into Mark and Michael's room, Mark told us excitedly what a blast they'd had with Garrett taking anyone who wanted the tour of the acreage, for a ride on the quads.
"Dad, Ralph and his girlfriend.... they had matching tattoos." Michael said seriously after they'd calmed down. "It made me think.... do you need something like that to express how you feel about someone? It's kinda like they had branded each other."
"Well Michael.... tattooing is a type of branding only instead of using a red-hot iron that sizzles the skin, they use a, hopefully, sterile needle and inject non-infectious inks," Bryan explained. "So in that way, it is a type of branding. What Ralph and his girlfriend feel for each other is probably quite special, but what they don't realize is that like Tom and I, we don't need symbols of any kind to show people what we mean to each other. We just know that we're in love with one another and we're proud to admit it if someone should ask."
"Boys, I look at tattooing as a form of scarring," I added. "I've got a few scars on my arm and my leg, even one on my head where I had to have an operation. I-"
"Is that why you're so smart?" Mark quipped with a giggle. "They gave you more brains, right?"
I grabbed at Mark's ribs and started tickling him quickly.
"Actually no son," I deadpanned after his giggles slowed to a smile. "I had an IQ of 450 and they had to take some of my brain out so I could donate them to some poor boy like you who only had an IQ of 120, which is why you're so smart."
"He got ya Mark," Michael said with a laugh.
"Actually boys," I continued, "I earned my scars the hard way.... why should I pay someone to add to my scarring? Tattooing is becoming rather popular lately, but it isn't for me."
"Do either of you think you'd like to get a tattoo?" Bryan asked.
"Not me," Mark replied, "It'd be like wearing make-up, and that's no way to represent Canada."
"Me neither," Michael replied, "I like Dad's idea. I'll earn my scars the hard way if I have to, and Mark and I will always be in love no matter what part of the world we may be in. Actually, Ralph and his girlfriend are really good looking, but they didn't look any better because of the tattoos."
"Good thoughts boys," I said as I kissed their foreheads.
"Love you Dad," they said in return as Bryan kissed them goodnight.
"Well son, was it a good day?" I asked after we entered Josh's room.
"It was an awesome day Dad," Josh replied with a big grin, "I saw everyone in a different way today.... especially Kevin. He is absolutely goofy-eyes over Jessica and I can understand why.... she's a beautiful girl."
"I was wondering if you were going to steal each other's girlfriend when you and Kevin switched partners on the dance floor," Bryan commented.
"No way! Shelly's mine forever and she'd made that pretty clear with her little speech after lunch, but I didn't mind the switch and I wanted to meet Jessica and what better way than on the dance floor. After Shelly and I got changed out of our fancy duds, and saw Mom and Darren off, the six of us went for a walk down the road. You know, between Shelly and Kevin, I don't think Jessica's problems stand a chance."
"The six of you?" I questioned.
"Yeah. Robert and Travis came with us. I guess they didn't want Jessica to get too tired without some support. Dad, Robert and Travis are special people.... I don't mean because they're gay, but because they know how to care and they don't run away from problems or take a back seat and let someone else do the work. It was really a special walk. We were almost at Kevin's house when Jessica got tired and right away Travis was beside her to offer her a pill. Kevin told them to rest on the porch of their house while he got a glass of water. He came out with ice water for Jessica and Cokes for the rest of us. He sat down beside Jessica and said, 'Jessica, I have a special present I want to give you.' He pulled out a small round thing from his shirt pocket on a gold necklace. He said, 'It's just a cheap compass but what makes it special is that it.... it always points to me. If you ever want to find me or just talk, hold it out in front of you and.... it'll always guide you to where I am.' Dad I tried to keep a straight face as he handed it to her. I mean I've never heard such a smooth line."
I started to giggle. "Kevin's falling hard for Jessica."
"Big time. When Jessica put it to the test, it was true. The compass needle always pointed to Kevin. Jessica even walked all the way around Kevin, and still it pointed to him. I thought he must have had some magnets tucked into his shirt pocket, but even with his shirt off, it still pointed to him. Naturally Jessica was wowed by his build.... he's really just like Grant.... handsome and well-built, just younger and shorter. Kevin put his shirt on and finally took the compass and put it around Jessica's neck."
"Sweet!" Bryan exclaimed.
Josh winked. "Then he kissed her forehead and he said, 'As long as you believe, it will always work for you.' Jessica just wrapped her arms around Kevin and smiled, closed her eyes and buried her head against his chest. Kevin's really right for Jessica. I didn't care what went around here for the rest of the day as we watched them hug each other. Shelly and I just floated around behind them like our feet never touched the ground. I think Robert and Travis felt the same way. It was like a magic spell while we spent the afternoon talking, walking and we went on one of Hamish's hay rides."
"How serious is Jessica's condition?" I asked.
"Serious enough," Josh answered, "it's in her left lung, but she only has one more chemo treatment left. Travis said the doctors feel she's a strong girl and she should have a full recovery. Sometimes you never know though. Dad, its important that we raise as much money as we can for cancer research.... especially for young people like Jessica. If she can beat it, anyone should be able to."
"We are so proud of you Josh," Bryan said as he kissed his forehead.
"Double that for me," I said as we rubbed noses. "Sleep tight son."
"Thanks for a great day Dad, Dad," Josh said as we closed his door.
The next morning on our run, we stopped into the security shack to inform them that a Lear was going to be landing sometime around 8:30. After completing our usual run with Kevin, we entered the main house to the appetizing smells of breakfast cooking, and Carl and Vincent's suitcases sitting at the front door.
By the time I got downstairs after my shower, Michael and Mark were already sitting at the kitchen bar full of anticipation waiting for Vincent's, Bryan's and Josh's surprise.
"OK gents," Vincent said just before he handed two dishes up to the bar counter, "this isn't something you'd find on a traditional breakfast menu."
Mark stared at his dish with a big smile. "Bangers and mash! And eggs!" He exclaimed.
The eggs were poached in the poaching dishes sitting on top of a plate covered with fried mashed potatoes. The eggs took the form of the eyes, with the nose and sausages forming a mouth and nose.
"A happy face breakfast!" Josh said with a laugh.
"Considering it was the last chance I'd have to work in this kitchen, I thought it was appropriate." Vincent said with a big smile.
It was laughable and just the right thing to start our day.
Within an hour, we were all standing in front of the hangar as we watched the Goldman Lear jet make it's landing and return to the south end of the landing strip. The hugs and handshakes between Vincent and Carl and the members of our family were certainly very sincere.
When it came to our boys, Vincent got into a group hug with them.
"You're the best cook ever," Mark said. "We're really going to miss you."
"I'd love to stay and cook for you guys for the rest of my life, but I have to think about Carl and I getting a family of our own in New York. Believe me, you're in good hands with Bryan and Tom."
The boys repeated the same gesture with Carl.
"Thanks again for helping my Dad after 9-11," Josh said sadly.
"I wish you could stay," Michael said. "You'd make a good dad."
"Boys, I'd like to stay and help you with the laundry," he said, "but duty calls. Tom, Bryan," he continued as he hugged me, "this has to be the most wonderful and emotional visit we've ever had with any of Goldman's beneficiaries."
"I didn't expect to learn so much about family life," Vincent said, as he hugged Bryan, "Normally I have to be a cold-hearted penny-pinching SOB on these trips, but you and your family have served as an example of what a success can come from the love of family."
"Never hesitate to call or come back for a visit." Bryan said. "You'll always be welcomed."
Both Carl and Vincent had tears in their eyes as they boarded the Lear. I didn't realize that we'd had such a good time with them until I saw the jet lift its wheels off the landing strip.
As I took my eyes from the jet, I looked directly at Kevin. "Alright Kevin, how did you pull off the compass trick?"
Kevin looked up at Grant with a big smile. With his arm around Kevin's shoulder, Grant said, "Sorry fellas, that's a secret between a dad and his son."
Ethel came over and put her arm around Grant's waist. "Tom, don't even try to find out how it works. They won't tell me either. All I can say is that it worked on me way back when." The three of them had one of those picture-perfect smiles as if waiting for the camera to click. It was a contagious smile that had me grinning for the rest of the day.
However, our boys remained very quiet without a smile as we worked our way through the laundry and changing of the beds for the rest of the day.
Even through dinner, there wasn't the usual banter between them while Bryan and I worked on cleaning up the kitchen when we were through.
The boys just sat on the stools at the counter watching us.
"Dad.... Dad," Josh said quietly as Bryan and I finished a last swipe of the counter tops, "there's something we wanted to give you before, but with Vincent and Carl here, we felt we had to wait. To kinda soften the blow of the bad news, we decided that each of us should write something special just for the both of you."
Both Bryan and I were wondering what was wrong as we looked at the serious faces of our sons when Josh began reading from a piece of paper.
"Today, I'm glad I have the opportunity to say
Words of thanks for your love each and every day,
You have always played a starring role
Influencing my life - body, mind, heart, and soul.
Through your steadfast example you have shown
Honor and courage - and so I have grown,
To see your faith in me unwavering -
As I chase my dreams - always encouraging.
And when my dreams lay pushed aside for a while
It was your number I would enter in the phone and dial,
For you taught me, that while days may seem grim
If I persevered, then in some unfathomable way I would win!
And win I did in ways unimaginable
With you by my side always willing and able,
So, today, I cherish the role you still play
Dad, Dad, you're the greatest... and so it will always stay!"
I was in the middle of an emotional gulp when Mark said, "I'm not a poet like Michael and Josh," he said seriously. "I can only relate my thoughts as they come to me."
Taking a deep breath, he looked seriously down at a piece of paper before he read,
"Special people enter our lives all the time and we don't recognize how special they are. We recognize them as special as we get to know them. They make me smile. They can make me mad. They can make me cry. They make me laugh. Who are the two people who can always make me smile? Even when I'm mad? Even when they make me cry? Even when they make fun of me or laugh at me. They are the two people who have always been there for me, the ones who have always loved, cared, and provided for me. They are the two most important people in the world to me. Someone I love with all my heart. They are my friends, my heroes, but most importantly you are my.... Dads. I love both of you mostly because I know you love me!"
Bryan and I were starting to tear up when Michael read his poem.
"If everyone had a dad
Who was more like both of you,
There'd be more laughing, joy, and singing;
Fewer people would be blue.
There'd be much more understanding;
Crime and hate could not prevail.
We'd all be so contented,
We wouldn't need a jail.
If everyone had a dad
Who was more like both of you,
The whole world would be blessed,
Just as I am blessed with both of you.
Whether you know it or not, you're teaching me how to live, love and be happy."
I was so full of emotion at that moment, I just wanted to hug them and tell them that whatever it was, we'd help them work through it. I was becoming very worried about what was the blow we had been softened up for.
Bryan had the same concern as he gulped. "Boys what ever your problem is, we're here to help you solve it. You know that's why we're your dads."
Slowly, the three of them slid three envelopes across the counter to Bryan and I, each of them looking down at the floor, very ashamed.
"Please don't open mine first," Michael said in a whimper.
I reached for Josh's envelope as Bryan reached for Mark's. When I opened the envelope I reached inside a pulled out its contents. It was his report card. Before I read anything on the card, I shook my head and looked at Josh who continued to look at the floor.
My mouth dropped when I looked at the grades - they were all 'A's'! At the bottom of the list was a comment. 'Josh has adapted well to the change in schools and the curriculum. He's a natural leader.'
I looked at Josh who still had his head bowed trying to control his giggles. I looked at Bryan, who was smiling, and we switched reports. Except for a 'B' in English Composition, all of Mark's grades were 'A's. The comment at the bottom of the report read, 'Mark is a fine example of what a team player should be. His sportsmanship is beyond reproach.'
Bryan and I were both smiling as we reached for Michael's envelope at the same time. Although with the setback Michael had at the beginning of the year, I wasn't expecting what I read. Once Bryan pulled the report from the envelope, I read it over his shoulder. His was just as good as Mark's, only he had a 'B' in History instead of Composition. At the bottom was written, 'Michael adapted well to his new school and was immediately accepted by all the students. He worked diligently to overcome his grief at the beginning of the year. Definitely scholarship material when he graduates in three years.'
Bryan and I were wiping tears of happiness from our eyes as we looked up at the boys.
With big smiles, they shouted in unison, "WE GOTCHA!"
They were still laughing when Bryan and I ran around the end of the counter and pulled them into a hug. I couldn't have been more proud as I hugged Michael and Josh.
That night Bryan and I realized where this weekend and our lives had taken us to this point - a family full of love and pride.