Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2013 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)


Thanks to David of Hope, he has done a tremendous job on Chapter 68. This chapter is two-thirds his work. I am greatful for his continued assistance.

Regards,

Scribe1971.


Chapter 68 - Back to the Old World

"Our hopes are high. Our faith in the people is great. Our courage is strong and our dreams for this beautiful country will never die." .....Pierre Eliot Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

It felt like another first time event for Bryan and me going to work on Monday morning after such a great weekend; how could any experience top the excitement and happiness that we'd had this past weekend? Before we left the ranch, we did have to adjust the dog's routine because we were no longer waiting for a school bus in the mornings. Instead we walked Brutus and Daisy down to Grant's house where they joined up with Freddy and Hamish to start their day together.

With out a doubt, we were full of pride as we took the boys to work with us that Monday morning. Our first stop before we went upstairs was to get all the kids crammed into Darren and Grant's office to get them new access cards. While the new cards were being prepared, we explained the new rules about how other members of the family and programming, personnel staff were only people allowed into our quadrants unless they were invited. Also we warned them that if they were outside of the area, they were not to discuss anything about programming at all. The areas outside of the programming wing were to be considered public and we couldn't afford to have our program ideas stolen from us before we had them copyrighted. Once Bryan and I were sure they understood the ramifications of that, we left Darren and Grant's security office and escorted the kids to the horseshoe upstairs.

Robert and the kids were certainly happy to see one another and they quickly swamped Robert with questions about Jessica.

Robert was grinning from ear to ear. "Guys, on behalf of Travis and me and our family, I'd like to thank all of you.... Shelly, Josh and Kevin in particular for the wonderful way you treated Jessica at the barbeque. As of this morning, she's still on cloud nine and can't wait until the next time she can meet all of you again. Mom and Dad were thrilled to see her so happy and positive. You can be sure that I'll keep you posted about her condition. In the meantime guys, we're here to work and I have a lot of programs lined up for you to test. Do you think you're ready?"

"You betcha!" "Sure thing!" "Oh, we're ready alright!" "Yeah man!" The enthusiasm of the kids as they charged to their computer stations and booted up their computers was spontaneous as Robert went around and handed each of them a disc. Bryan and I were pumped as we headed for our offices.

Opening our email that morning was overwhelming for many of us. Most of the emails were addressed to 'All Staff' - that being everyone within our Intranet system, thanking all of us for the wonderful time they had at the staff barbeque. Those that hadn't attended would know that if an event of this type were to be held again, they should attend.

To save time, I gave a reply to 'All Staff' thanking them for coming and contributing so much to the success of the day and we would probably have another barbeque next year although no weddings were in the works.

At lunchtime we decided to introduce the kids to the gym. Today Bryan and I didn't want to get them into a sweaty regimented routine - just show them what they could do with the various pieces of equipment and if they agreed, they were more than welcome to join us every day at lunchtime.

With the lightest weights, each of the kids tried their weight-lifting skills. Actually I was more concerned about Shelly, Eddie, and the twins, but right away the older teens were there to get them to adjust their bodies and equipment to get the exercise right.

Naturally Josh, Mark, Michael, and Kevin had to show off how much they could bench press. Although Mark, then Michael only did it once with some straining, they goaded Bryan into trying it.

"You think I can't do that piddlly weight?" Bryan asked with a grin as he sat on the bench listening to the giggling teens.

"Don't hurt yourself Dad," Michael teased with a giggle.

Naturally it was no effort for Bryan. He did two reps effortlessly. As he got up, he said, "Here Tom, try it."

I took his spot on the bench and gripped the bar and without showing any effort, I lifted the weight, pressed it twice, and placed it back on the rack. I wondered if it was time to show the boys some real strength. "Boys, that's pretty good for guys your size.... Bryan add fifty to each side." I knew that would be a challenge for me, but it was only one rep. I numbed my mind so that all the strain would be in my arms - I didn't want it to show in my face or neck. After I pressed the added weight, I racked the bar and swung myself up allowing the air to escape quietly from lungs.

Michael and Mark were gaped-mouthed. "Try that one Bryan," I said with a wink.

He looked at me with a raised brow, "You think I can't?"

"I know you can, just take a deep breath." I replied.

As with me, I could tell he was concentrating not to show any strain in front of the boys and after the lift, just eased his deep breath out as he swung his body up off the bench.

He winked at me with a small grin and turned to the saucer-eyed boys. "Just another lesson boys.... never underestimate the power of a dad, and just so you know Kevin, your Dad is stronger than Tom or I."

"Maybe by the end of the summer, with a bit of effort, you boys will be able to press that weight," I said.

"Matthew, Richard and me too?" Eddie exclaimed.

"Well it may take a few years for you three, but you have to start sometime.... it's not something you can do overnight just because you grew taller. It takes time and patience to build up your body. If you try and let nature take its course, one day you'll be just a strong as Tom and I," Bryan added.

"Remember there's a difference between being muscle bound and being strong. Now let's grab a bite to eat and get back to work," I said. As we quickly made our way to the restaurant to get a sandwich to go, I warned the kids, "No one, under any circumstances is to exercise in the gym alone. Just like swimming in the pool at home, always use the buddy system. If you're keen on the idea of lunchtime exercise, bring your gym bags tomorrow and we'll get all of you into a routine."

When we got back to the horseshoe, Robert was already working at his station. Once we told him where we'd been, his face beamed with a smile of expectancy. "I.... I didn't know there was gym in the building."

"Bring your gear tomorrow and join us," Bryan said, "we could always use a hand keeping these characters in line."

"Thank you sir, I'd like that." Robert was very enthused.

As we went back to our offices, Bryan and I noticed that Grant and Darren's crew were still working on the wiring in the ceiling.

By the end of our work day, Bryan and I had accomplished what we set out to do - polishing the edges of the Diane Davis Accounting Program to get it ready for distribution. Gerald and Andy had already applied the copyright for it and we'd given James all the details for his marketing group. We hoped that by the end of the week it would be ready to distribute to our retail outlets.

I was about to shut down my computer and Bryan and I were going to collect the boys to head home fifteen minutes early when Tricia, the receptionist buzzed my extension.

"Tom, you have a visitor," she announced. "A Mr. Rollins."

"I didn't think I had anything on the schedule for this afternoon, we were about to head home," I said.

"He says it's important. He's from the Legion."

 "Royal Canadian Legion? Ok send him up," I replied. As Bryan stood there waiting, I told him that if I was going to make time for any surprise visitor before going home for the Canada Day Weekend, it would be for a veteran.

"I'll go meet him at the elevator," Bryan said.

I sat back down behind my desk, shut down my computer, and a moment later my office door opened. Bryan showed a distinguished looking elderly man into my office. I immediately noticed the maroon airborne beret that he was wearing with his Royal Canadian Legion tunic. I stood up, walked around the desk and offered my hand.

"Mr. Rollins, I'm Tom Davis. What can I do for you this afternoon?"

He accepted my hand in a surprisingly firm grip as we took a seat the chairs in front of my desk. "Call me Fred," the old man said with a smile "Actually, I'm here to see what I can do for you."

"Oh really?" I smiled, actually caught by surprise as Bryan sat in another chair that he took from the conference table.

 "I knew your uncle. In fact, I served with him in the Devil's Brigade and then in the Airborne. I was his platoon sergeant and I was there the day he died. I was one of the men whose life he saved that day."

"It's an honour to meet you," I replied.

 "You did a hell of job getting him that VC. I always thought he deserved it. I pushed for it myself at the time, but with the excitement of the war ending and everyone going home, it got lost in the shuffle."

"You really need to meet my son Josh. He was primarily responsible for getting him the medal."

"I've heard of Josh," Fred said with a laugh. "He gave that old wind-bag of a PM of ours a real dressing down!"

"Yes, he certainly has a way with people," Bryan said with a big smile.

 "In any case, I'm here on behalf of the legion and the First Canadian Parachute Battalion veterans association. We wanted to inquire as to what you had in mind for Lt. Davis's medal?"

 "Actually, next week, we are heading off to the Netherlands. The whole family is going and we're going to visit Holten again and share the medal with the people of that town and the descendants of one of the boys that he saved. The boy.... he's much older now of course!"

"Fantastic. What about when you come back?" Fred asked. "We would like to offer you a place of honour for the medal at our regimental museum."

 "Well, that is something we definitely need to consider. We were thinking about placing it in the War Museum in Ottawa, but I know they already have a few VCs. Placing it with Uncle Ryan's regiment would be a nice gesture."

"We would welcome it and take great care of it," Fred replied. "If you like, I'll reach out to some of my contacts in the Netherlands and let them know you're coming. I know the media over there will be very interested in this."

 "We were mainly going to see the Devries family, but I understand how important this sort of thing is to the Dutch people.... so go ahead," I replied.

"Consider it done," Fred said as he stood up and offered his hand. I shook his hand and followed him and Bryan to the door. While Bryan took Fred Rollins to the elevator, I headed to the horseshoe to gather up the boys.

When we arrived back at the ranch, Hamish had the dogs patiently waiting for us at the front of the main house. Grant had already dropped Kevin off and he was enthusiastically roughing it up with Freddy as we pulled into the driveway. All was well with the dogs once our boys jumped out of the Explorer and gave them an enthusiastic greeting.

I had a feeling that this week was going to drag for all of us as we looked forward to spending a short week in Europe.

Tuesday morning, Trevor popped his head into my office. "Tom you gotta come and watch this."

I followed Trevor to the Mac pod where I saw Robert at the keyboard with Weston sitting beside him giving him subtle suggestions.

Quietly, Trevor explained, "Tom, yesterday, I got a call from a man who tried to open the eMemories program on his Mac using a 'Virtual PC Windows 98 for Mac' program, but it wouldn't work for him. I thought I'd touch base with Weston about it first." I continued to watch as Robert concentrated, then pointed to a line of data on the screen, then with his left hand, type some code, under Weston's instructions. Then scroll the cursor to another line of data, and repeat the same process.

"Hold it there Robert," Weston said. "Run it and see if it works to that point." Turning to me he said, "Tom, when Trevor called me about the problem, I went down to London Drugs and got a copy of the Virtual PC for Mac. When the PC/Mac program did exactly what the client complained about, I phoned the manufacturer of the Virtual PC for Mac program and we realized after bantering the problem back and forth that the PC/Mac program wouldn't reach down into the complex areas of the eMemories program."

"It works that far Mr. Laing," Robert said.

"Good, hang on a minute," Weston continued, "so I did a little investigating downstairs behind closed doors and learned how the PC/Mac program reaches to the Mac and realized what code was required to make eMemories adaptable to the Mac. That's what Robert and I are doing now. Remembering that you said Robert had some familiarity with the Mac operating system, I thought I'd use him to try this out."

"In essence you're making eMemories a Mac application," I said.

"Just this copy on this machine," Weston replied. "By the way," he continued, pointing to Robert, "He's good."

I looked from Weston to Robert and back again. "We could be doing this to all our programs and put both applications on a single disk," I said more as a question and a suggestion.

Weston nodded. I looked at Robert and thought for a moment. "Robert, do you think this is something you'd like to do for all our programs?"

"Well, yes sir I sure would enjoy it, but I might need some guidance along the way," he replied.

"What do you think Weston, could you give Robert a hand on occasion if he hit a glitch?" I asked.

"It wouldn't be a problem. Robert's a fast learner. I'll bet he'll be teaching me a thing or two before we're done," Weston replied.

"OK then," I said making a snap decision, "let's see if you can get this copy of eMemories converted to work on a Mac without using Virtual PC.... then we'll see if we should pursue our other programs. Keep me posted. Trevor, if they do get it to work, we'll give your customer a free copy."

"Good deal," Trevor replied as he turned to leave, "keep me posted."

I went back to Bryan's office and filled him in on what was happening. He picked up his phone and put it on the speaker.

"Hey Bryan."

"Hi James. What have you and Ethel got going out for eMemories.... say in the next week?" Bryan asked.

"Our first shipment of a thousand is going out to Future Shop on Friday afternoon. I think Ethel has another three or four ready to go tomorrow to individual customers." James replied.

"James, there's a possibility that we'll have an update to the program before the end of the week," I said.

"Hey there Tom, what does the update include?" James asked.

"Weston and Robert are working on a version right now for the Mac. If it works, I was thinking of packaging the new Mac version and the existing PC version together on the same disc as eMemories Version 2," I replied.

"Oh boy," James sighed, "what comes to mind right away is the issue of copyright. It's no problem on the PC side, but we won't be able to use the Apple logos in any form. It could take them months to decide that our product is safe for their machines. We can use our existing packaging and stick on a label that says PC and Mac. It's kinda cheezy looking, but it's a quick fix. Let me talk it over with Andy and Gerald and we'll get back to you on the copyright issues."

"Good James, but in the meantime can you call Future Shop and let them know our status with the program?" Bryan asked.

"Definitely and I'll call London Drugs as well. I think we should offer them a swap for their existing stock." James replied.

"Ok James, but don't make those calls until we know if we can get the Mac version to work," I said.

"You got it Tom, however I am going to talk to Andy and Gerald and let them know where we stand. Call you later guys."

Bryan hung up his phone. "He's right, I never thought of the Apple logo. They could have hung us out to dry if we weren't authorized to use it. I want to see how Robert and Weston are making out."

As we arrived back at the Mac pod, we overheard Robert talking to Weston. "Sir, this is becoming very repetitive. Could we put an 'if' statement at the front of the program with a symbol and tell it to execute this line we're repeating when it hits that symbol?"

"That means undoing everything we've done so far," Weston replied.

Robert grinned, "Better now than later and it will save a lot of program memory and disc space."

"I know you're right Robert," Weston said. "OK, copy the line of code into memory and we'll go back to the top."

Weston watched closely as Robert followed through with his thought. Slowly, Robert typed the 'if' statement, pasted the code, and inserted the new symbol.

"OK, do a search and replace for the line of code and we'll see if it works," Weston said. "Don't do a 'replace all' though, until we confirm that the 'if' statement works."

Bryan and I grabbed a pair of chairs that weren't occupied and watched the two of them insert the new symbol and try the program over and over again. It was tedious work and the strain was starting to show on Robert.

After watching the process for a half hour, Josh came through from the horseshoe. I motioned him to be quiet.

"OK Robert," Weston said after a few more minutes, "we're back to where we were. It's time for a break. Save it and we'll run it when we get back."

Robert rubbed the back of his neck and his eyes with a smile.

"What's up Josh?" I asked.

"I came looking for Robert," Josh replied. "Eddie's having a problem with a program that just stopped. None of us can make it work. No one was answering their phones, so I came looking."

"OK Josh, let's have a look at it," Robert replied. "It might be just a command function."

Bryan, Weston, and I followed Robert and Josh over to Eddie's station. The four of us stood back to observe. More than anything I wanted to see the interaction between Robert and the kids.

"OK Eddie, play it slowly and explain it while you're going through it," Robert said as each of the kids watched on their upper monitors.

Eddie started the program and displayed it on the upper screen. "This is a great 3D maze program," Eddie explained as he started on the instruction screen. "According to the instructions, you use your arrow keys to make your maze. There's no precautions or anything special in the instructions, but if I try to make a wall behind another one that I've already drawn, it hangs up." Then Eddie went to the start screen and started in the centre of the screen, building wall after wall keeping them a good distance from each other. The 3D effect was very impressive. However when he reversed direction and went to put a wall in between two existing walls, the program hung up. It only took a minute to reach that point. "Did you see what I tried to do?" he asked.

"Yeah, I did," Robert replied. "Let's see," he said as he bent down and reached around Eddie to use the keyboard. He quit the program and with a new command, went into the programming mode and opened the file. "Ron's program," he said before he scrolled through the code. After a few pages of scrolling, he paused and stared at a spot that caught his attention. Standing up, he picked up Eddie's phone and dialed. "Ron, it's Robert. I'm at Eddie's station and we're hung up on your maze program. I think I found the spot. Could you come have a look? ....Good man."

I was amused. With any senior member of the family or a person of authority, Robert always used their surname, sir, or ma'am, but with the programmers or the kids he maintained a friendly first name basis.

Ron was startled when he came around the end of the horseshoe and saw Bryan, Weston and I observing.

I smiled and pointed to Robert and Eddie; I didn't want Ron to be intimidated. The only reason I stayed there was that this was the first time I'd ever seen this interaction between the kids and Robert at a professional level and it was fascinating.

"Ron," Robert said, "Eddie showed me the program as it's supposed to work and where he kept getting hung up, so I went into the code and I think this is where the problem may be." He pointed to the code displayed on the upper screen and circled a spot in the code where there was two periods.

"Oh my God!" Ron exclaimed as grabbed the mouse and scrolled up to the top of the program code. "This is an old copy! Eddie I'm sorry this was an earlier version that had some glitches. I hope to God I haven't formatted the disc that the new one's on. I'll be right back."

I had a number of things going through my mind at that moment. How embarrassed Ron felt, how frustrated Eddie might feel, but as I looked from Bryan to Weston, I realized the value that Robert's presence in the horseshoe had become.

Just as that thought reached a conclusion, Ron appeared around the end of the horseshoe again with a big smile holding another disc. "Guys, I'm truly sorry for this. I didn't mean to waste your time," he said as he handed the new disc to Eddie. Turning to Bryan and me, he continued, "I honestly didn't mean for that to happen."

"Hey it's OK Ron," I said. "We're only here because of another matter that Robert's working on. I know you have a great imagination and something like this could happen to any one." It was true - Ron was one of our good programmers.

"No harm done," Bryan added, "in fact this incident has showed us something more important, but totally unrelated. Believe me, you're forgiven."

Right away Eddie had inserted the new disk and had the program running properly as the rest of us watched.

"Robert, how often does something like this happen.... where you have to give the kids that kind of assistance?" I asked.

"This particular problem with the wrong disk hasn't happened before," Robert replied, "but usually it's just a matter of getting them to use the program properly, according to the directions. On the other hand though, when they get hung up because they tried something not in the instructions, sometimes it shows that an improvement can be made to the program. They're pretty thorough."

"Robert, you seemed to move seamlessly.... adapt quickly from the Mac to the PC platform.... even the coding," Bryan said, "Didn't you find it confusing?"

"Well when I first went onto the Mac this morning, it took a while to re-adapt and understand the different values etcetera, but once I had the mindset, it was easier. Then swinging back to the PC with Eddie was like old home week."

I looked from Weston to Bryan to Robert with a grin. I could almost feel it coming.

"YOU AREN'T GOING TO MOVE ROBERT OVER TO THE MACS? WE NEED HIM HERE!" Mark exclaimed.

"We do Dad!" Josh agreed while the others added to the confusion with their, "That's right."

"OK guys, settle down," I said. "Right now, Robert has an urgent special assignment to work on the Mac with eMemories and if it works, it'll be a great benefit to the corporation AND.... if it works, what do you think Weston, can we put a full blown Mac here in the horseshoe?"

"I knew that 4% contingency would come in handy," Weston replied with a big smile.

"Weston, we have a 1000 copy order scheduled for Future Shop for shipment on Friday," Bryan explained. "Do you think we can have the new version ready for copying to meet that deadline?"

"Too soon to tell Bryan. Ask me at four o'clock." Weston replied.

"If we can't get it done, I could always come in next week and finish it," Robert said.

"No." Bryan said emphatically as he pointed his index finger at Robert. "No one.... as of 4:30 on Friday afternoon will be working in this building. The building will be closed up solid for a week.... AND don't even question the matter," he added to all the questioning faces.

At noon, Robert said he would have to pass on the gym today because he wanted to continue working on the Mac conversion.

That afternoon, before we went home, Weston reported that Robert would definitely have the program conversion completed and tested by Wednesday afternoon. That gave us Thursday and Friday to make new copies, labels and make our shipments before we closed up for our week's vacation.

Wednesday morning after coffee break, we had our weekly scheduled brainstorming session with all the programmers. As usual we held the meeting in the oversized audio-visual conference room that could accommodate all of us. We started by going around the room with each programmer explaining what was new on their plate and the ideas that they had developed or wanted to develop during the last week, which resulted in each of us adding our contribution to the idea. This usually ended up with a lot of bantering back and forth until a logical conclusion was to be pursued. Sometimes there would be more than one conclusion ending up with two programs being created out of one idea.

Oddly enough Ralph Grayson was unusually quiet, lacking his usual exuberance during this particular session. At one point I had to ask, "Ralph, what do you think about the idea?"

His reply was empty. "I think it's a good idea and it'll probably work." He had no new tact or his usual light-hearted humour to add to the situation.

"OK ladies and gents," I continued, "I have an announcement to make to confirm any of the scuttlebutt you've heard. Robert and Weston aren't here at this meeting this morning because they're working on an Apple version of eMemories and it should be completed this afternoon and out to market before we close on Friday. Because of Robert's astute insight into the nature of Apple programming, we're going to make that one of the focuses in the immediate future for all our programs. We intend to reissue all the programs that we've created so far or any new programs with both platforms on the same disc. For anyone here who has some experience or interest with Apple programming, or would like to learn it, we'd like you to let us know.... it's no longer a segment of this industry we can ignore." I paused for a reaction, but there was none. I especially expected an exuberant response from Ralph. "Now I have a question to ask and I want your answers to be honest and forthright. Robert, the teenagers and the kids in the horseshoe.... are they doing a good job, meeting your expectations, or are they aggravating your progress?"

"I'm going to speak first," Ron said as he stood up. "In spite of the wrong disc debacle yesterday, I find that Robert is very keen and mature in his approach. Sometimes I find the kids react a little bit out of frustration. They aren't being mean, they just seem a bit frustrated because a program wasn't meeting their expectations. The teens are more mature.... actually more mature than I'd ever expect from someone their age."

I looked around the room at mostly nodding heads. Mabel, one of our female programmers waved her hand back and forth.

"Mabel, you have something to add." I said.

"Well Tom.... although I know they're part of your family.... your kids.... however intimidating that fact may be, I'm not afraid to say what I think. Although I agree with everything Ron said, and maybe I don't take criticism too well especially from someone without programming experience, I find it annoying, well damned aggravating when I'm in the middle of something and one of the kids interrupt me about a program that I thought I'd put to bed. Robert and the teens are better, they wait until I'm ready to take my attention away from the screen. Now I haven't thought this through, but I'd like to suggest something and I hope it isn't a waste of time. We have this meeting every week to hammer out our thoughts and get new ideas when in fact we could be sitting at our computers creating new programs, but I always get something out of this meeting and I can schedule my work around it, so it isn't a total waste of productive time. My thought is.... could we schedule a weekly meeting with the guys from the horseshoe to discuss their thoughts about the programs they've been testing instead of being bombarded at a time when it isn't so convenient?"

I looked around the room, but I didn't see any nodding heads or smiling faces, some were even looking at the table tops or the floor. Although I should have been concerned with everyone's reaction, I somehow found it amusing. I looked at Bryan and he was grinning as well.

Smiling I said, "Why don't I feel or hear any agreement with Mabel's suggestion?"

You could have heard a pin drop during that five second silence.

"All right guys," Mabel demanded, "if I'm being a bitch, you better say so."

"Whoa right there Mabel," I said pointing to her. "You are not being a bitch. You're a trusted, hard-working employee who is expressing her honest opinion, which.... is appreciated." I looked around the room, and except for Mabel, no one was making eye contact. I let the embarrassment of my statement sink in for a few moments. "All right guys, without trust and honesty this company is a failure. It's here and it's now.... out with it." I demanded.

"Mabel's right Tom," Ron finally said. "We don't like to criticize the kids in the horseshoe because they are part of the family that owns this business. I guess if we try to put them in their place, we think they'd go running to you guys and we might be out of a job."

I started to giggle covering my mouth as I watched a few nodding heads. I looked at Bryan and he had a big smile as well. "OK Bryan, you take it from here." I was ready to burst out laughing.

Bryan was shaking his head with a grin from ear to ear. "OK folks. First of all those kids in the horseshoe are not here to be spoiled.... they get enough of that at home. Yes it's Robert's job to oversee them, but you're forgetting the most important thing.... you are their bosses. No doubt about it.... they're impetuous, eager, impatient.... but taking that all into account, they are not here to brow-beat you, make your life or your jobs miserable. More than anything they're here to learn and you're their teachers. As their teachers they have to learn what your objectives are with a given program in order for them to give it a proper review. In addition, they have to learn simple respect and courteous business practices. I think that Tom and I know all of you well enough to realize that you won't intentionally intimidate them, but rest assured that we will back you up if there's any dispute between you and any one of the kids. Remember they're only here for the summer. Now, having said that.... what do you think of Mabel's idea?"

"It sounds good to me," one of the other programmers said, "however I'd like to suggest that maybe we could have two short meetings a week.... no more than an hour long with them. What I mean is, that the kids probably haven't the same attention span that adults have and they may zone out after an hour."

"If that's the case," Ron added, "I like Mabel's idea, but I'd like to add that only the programmers that need to, should attend."

Now I saw the nodding heads that I wanted to see. "OK then, when would you like to have the meetings?" I asked.

"I think Wednesday morning before coffee break," Mabel suggested, "then we can add their thoughts to our own to make a better solution at this meeting after coffee break."

"I'd suggest we schedule a second meeting for Friday afternoon before coffee," Ron added.

I look around the room. "Any objections?" There was silence accompanied by smiling faces. "Ralph?" I questioned because he wasn't smiling.

"Yeah, that'll work." Once again his deadpan response was unusually shallow for him.

I wondered about Ralph's response later that afternoon after the meeting adjourned. I mentioned it to Bryan as we sipped coffee in his office just before three.

"Ralph seemed pre-occupied at this morning's meeting. I thought he'd be gung-ho to learn how to program on the Macs," I said.

"Yeah, he almost seems despondent," Bryan added. "Maybe with a week off, he'll have chance to shake it."

"I hope you're right, but I also noticed it when he was leaving the barbeque."

"We both did and I think others did as well," Bryan added.

"Aside from Ralph, there's Robert. It's going to have to be his job to organize which programmers are going to be at those review meetings," I said.

"Yes that's another addition to his plate," Bryan added. "It's hard to believe that he's only part time and yet so valuable. I think we have to encourage him with a raise."

"Considering his enthusiasm and natural talent, I agree. He's at the bottom of the five levels.... let's bump him up to the middle level." I suggested.

"Good idea, let's get him in here and we'll explain his new responsibilities and his raise. I think he'll be pleased." Bryan said as he picked up his phone. "Robert, have you got a minute to come to my office?"

Within a minute, Robert and Weston entered Bryan's office and I stood up and closed the door. Weston had a big smile on his face and his head was nodding.

"We've just finished the conversion and it works!" he exclaimed as he held up the disc. "Both versions are on the same disc and the master is on the file server."

"Great news Weston!" Bryan exclaimed. "Take it down to James and let him take it from there. There might still be an issue with the use of the Apple logo and he's going to coordinate that issue with Andy and Gerald before we give it to Ethel. Oh, and don't forget the free copy to Trevor's customer that pointed out the problem."

"Gotcha!" He replied as he left the office.

"Robert, have a seat while we fill you in on some of things that went on in this morning's meeting," Bryan said.

"First Robert, did you enjoy doing that conversion and do you still feel the same way about taking on the challenge to make the rest of our programs compatible with the Apple platform?" I asked.

"Yes sir, now that it's done, I can say that I did enjoy doing it and yes, I'm looking forward to continuing with the other programs." His reply was confident.

"That's good Robert. We will be installing a full-blown Macintosh computer into your station as soon as Weston can arrange it, then you can proceed with the conversion programs, but the more important thing is to oversee the work of the kids in the horseshoe." I said.

"Sir, I'd like that. The kids listen and they respond so well. To me they seem so eager to please. I know these last few days have been tougher for them because they had to go to the programmers directly."

I smiled. "Yes Robert, that's one of the things we discussed at the meeting this morning. The programmers generally don't like the interruptions and they're suggesting that instead of the kids going back to them program by program, that you and the kids save your comments and suggestions for a short meeting twice a week."

"I suppose that would work sir, but I don't think it would be necessary for all the programmers to attend every meeting.... just those that wrote the programs that we've reviewed during a given period." I was surprised that Robert had snapped to the same conclusion as the programmers.

"That was exactly the same suggestion they came up with," Bryan said with a giggle. "However, it would mean that you would have to coordinate who should attend those meetings and inform them at least two hours before the meeting. Do you think you can coordinate that?"

"I don't think it would be a problem to send out an email to the appropriate programmers. When would the meetings be held?" Robert asked.

"The programmers would like them on Wednesday mornings around nine and another on Fridays just after lunch."

"That would mean a Tuesday afternoon e-mail and another first thing on Friday morning.... that's easy." Robert said with some enthusiasm.

I smiled at Robert's confident attitude. "Robert, you're carrying a very full plate for a part time student.... which brings us to the next thing that Bryan and I have discussed.... value."

"Value?" Robert questioned.

"Definitely Robert," Bryan responded. "When we hired you, our thought was that you would get some programming experience at your own pace. We weren't expecting anything more than that except to be a senior figure that the horseshoe kids could turn to for support. We're overwhelmed with the way you've fulfilled that part of your work, which was quite apparent to us from what we saw yesterday with Eddie's problem. Before that though, you reworked Dianne's accounting program, which is being distributed this week at a commercial level making the corporation another bundle of money. Now you're confident that you can take on the mandate to convert all our programs to the Mac platform, give support to the kids as they do their work, plus coordinate meetings between the kids and the programmers. In many ways those duties include responsibilities that some of our senior programmers wouldn't take on."

"Sir they aren't heavy or serious responsibilities.... they're just things that have to be done to keep the office running a bit smoother. I'd have thought that any of the programmers would jump at the chance to do the conversions. I just want to do whatever I can to help out."

"Well no one jumped at the chance at this morning's meeting when we offered the challenge.... they may come around later. In the meantime, it's your job, but I think with the supervision and coordination efforts you'll have, it may cut back on your time for the conversions," I said.

"Thinking out loud sir, I'd like to delegate the coordination of the meetings to one of the teens," Robert said thoughtfully. "Anyone of them could do it, Josh is a natural for it, but.... if it's OK with you, I think Kevin would be my choice because he's the odd man out. Josh has Shelly and I wouldn't want to relegate her to what might appear as a clerk's position, especially with her web designing talent, then there's Mark and Michael as a team and I wouldn't want to create any jealousy between them." Smiling he continued, "it's not just because of Kevin's amazing influence on Jessica or his little compass trick, but because of his understanding personality that portrays a mature sincerity. That's there in all of them, but I feel Kevin craves the responsibility that could enhance it."

Suddenly I recalled Kevin's initiation of the boys' speeches that rebelled against Mildred Burton and his questioning attitude when he attended air cadets. I realized that Robert had explained what I had observed in Kevin since the beginning of the year, but had never fully comprehended. Bryan and I were glaring at one another - obviously he'd had the same revelation.

I started to giggle. "Robert you just made us realize something that we've seen for almost a year, but never realized what it was. You're right.... Kevin's the man for the job."

"However Robert," Bryan added with a big smile, "all of this puts you in a managerial category which is just the excuse Tom and I need to raise your salary."

"Wha...!" Robert looked stunned. "S... Sir, I'm just a part time working student. I.... I've barely been here for six months."

"Nonetheless, you now have the title of Manager, Apple Conversion and Program Testing Group and we can't have a manager at a junior level salary, so we're going to bump your salary as of the first of July to a programmers level three," Bryan said.

Robert was at a loss for words as his eyes darted between Bryan and me. I smiled and nodded my head.

Robert's smile reflected the happiest I'd ever seen him. "Sir you have no idea how happy this will make my family. It's been a bit tougher lately with Jessica's cancer, but this will help to take the edge off Mom and Dad's expenses."

Suddenly it hit me. What does he mean, 'Mom and Dad' 'MY family'? "Robert," I said quietly, "is Travis your brother?"

"No sir," he was still smiling. "The Enderbeck's took me in when I was fourteen after an unfortunate incident with my parents."

"Was it illness or an accident?" Bryan asked seriously.

The smile left Robert's face as he leaned forward and looked sadly at the floor. "I think I could have dealt with that easier.... it came about in October my first year in high school. My parents and I were just getting out of the car. The boy next door, Lenny, was on their driveway, and he yelled across, 'Hey Pansyhead, wanna shoot some hoops.' We were always calling each other dumb names." His eyes drifted from the floor and he made eye contact with Bryan and me again. I'd never seen this sadness in Robert's eyes before. "Lenny and I were best friends.... in many ways, still are.... we grew up together.... he.... he knew I was gay before I did. One day.... we were twelve, we were looking at porn magazines and he noticed that I was more interested in.... the male anatomy than he was. He was all for the females. He didn't make fun of me or anything.... he was just very understanding.... looking back, that was amazing for a twelve-year-old. Two years later.... that awful day, after we took the groceries in the house, my parents questioned me about Lenny's comment. The jig was up.... I had to admit to them that I was gay. They changed, both of them, in an instant.... suddenly they were screaming homophobic hate at me. My father belted me a few times across the head before he bodily threw me out the front door with orders to never come back." Taking a deep breath, Robert looked at the floor before he continued. "Sir, parental love is just one of those things that you assume is always there when you're growing up. All those years.... yes we went to church almost every Sunday, but I.... I didn't realize my mother and father were bible-belt rednecks. I'm sorry sirs, that's crude."

"Not at all Robert." Bryan said. "Mark and I had a similar circumstance with our father."

"Actually Michael has an aunt and uncle like that as well," I said. "Was there ever any reconciliation attempted?"

Robert shook his head slightly. "No sir," he said sadly. "I went to Lenny's house and phoned Travis. Travis and I were already very close in all ways.... had been from the first time we met at the beginning of the summer.... his parents knew about us and accepted us as boyfriends. I explained what happened and they came and got me and took me into their home. All I had to my name were the clothes I was wearing. The phone calls between my father and Travis' dad that night were not encouraging. Anything that was in my parent's house was theirs. The next day I went with the Enderbecks to the mall to get new clothes for me. My parents were walking towards us and as soon as they saw me, they jerked their heads and looked the other way. I stopped dead in my tracks as I watched them walk by. It hit me like a ton of bricks and Jessie saw it right away. She jumped in front of me and pointed her finger at me. She said, 'You're my brother and that's very important to me. If you think they gave you a hard time, wait 'til you see what your sister can do.' Then she wrapped her arms around me. At ten years old that was amazing. When I met Shelly the first time, I realized how much alike they are. I was amazed how much money the Enderbecks spent on me that day and I promised myself that I'd do what ever I could to pay them back. They're great parents and I didn't realize what real family love I'd missed all my life. Mom and Dad work hard to support us.... Dad teaches grade five and Mom works as a government clerk with Social Services, so I know they have a hard time making ends meet. Travis and I sign every paycheck we get over to Dad and he gives us an allowance. Dad bought a new car and he gave Travis and me the old one so we could get back and forth to university. We're lucky that Travis can take the bus to his summer job, so I can use the car to get out here."

"Travis has a summer job as well?" I asked.

"Yes sir, he wants to be a lawyer when he graduates, so he was lucky to get a gopher job downtown at Edgar Delaney's Law Offices. It doesn't pay much, but every bit helps."

I glanced at the smirk on Bryan's lips. "Robert, you know Gerald Morrison?"

"Yes sir, he's part of the legal department downstairs," Robert replied.

"Hmmm," I pondered if Robert knew that Gerald actually worked for Edgar Delaney. "Yes he is in some ways, but that's another matter." I decided to let that subject drop until Bryan and I could talk with Andy and Gerald. "Did your parents give the Enderbecks parental rights over you?"

"Yes sir, it was a few months later that Dad showed us the legal papers and he said that my parents didn't contest the matter. I now had a new Mom and Dad.... a new family that loved me for who I am."

"I'm happy for you," Bryan said smiling. "Mark and I didn't have that opportunity. Right now though we have to get the kids in here and explain the new arrangements."

With a phone call to Josh, we soon had all the kids seated around Bryan's conference table.

"OK guys," Bryan announced as he remained standing, "as a result of the programmers meeting this morning there's going to be some important changes made to your responsibilities in this corporation." Did that ever get their attention. "First of all, I'm proud to announce a promotion for your immediate boss. Robert's new title is, Manager, Apple Conversion and Program Testing Group."

Right away the kids let out a hoop and holler filled with congratulations for Robert.

"OK guys, settle down, there's more and remember that you're getting this from the horses mouth..."

"You're not a horse Bryan!" Matthew interrupted with a laugh. "I thought you were the president."

"In this building, I'm who ever I want to be and now is a time to be serious." Bryan paused for a moment while their giggles settled. "In the first instance," he continued, "Robert is your boss.... your manager. However he answers to several bosses.... as do each of you.... each one of those programmers out there and Tom and I are here to tell you what we told the programmers this morning. You're in a business environment and we're all here to achieve the same goal.... the production of good software programs. Now that takes a lot of concentration on the part of the programmers to produce them. Although it doesn't appear that way, it's not an informal setting here in the office like it is at home or down in the restaurant. Although a programmer doesn't look like they're doing anything, they are still concentrating with very extreme effort to find some little detail in their program coding. Sometimes any distraction can take them ten minutes or more to get back into the mindset they had before the interruption. Now they know that this is something you didn't understand, and it's a learning curve for all of us. I think Robert can explain what he'd like to do about it."

"The change that Mr. Callahan referred to is big for all of us at the horseshoe," Robert began with a smile. "First off I know that things have been a bit hay-wire this week with me working over at the Mac pod, so all of you have been going over to the programmers by yourselves. No problem really because you had no choice, but in some cases it did interrupt their concentration. What the programmers have suggested is that we hold all our suggestions for a few days and have a meeting with them twice a week. What that means though, is that only the programmers whose programs we've reviewed and tested, need to attend those meetings. However we have to let those programmers know that they need to attend those meetings by e-mail a few hours or so before the meetings. So that takes a bit of coordination between ourselves.... to collect the names of the programmers, the names of the programs, who did the review and testing, and when the meeting will take place. Does that make sense?"

"You mean that we're going to have our own special meeting with the programmers just for the work we do?" Matthew asked.

"Yes Matthew that's exactly what it means." Robert replied, "twice a week."

"Golly I didn't think we were that important!" Richard added.

"Guys, don't ever think that!" I said. "Everyone in this building is just as important as everyone else. Bryan and I are no more important than the housekeeping staff that come through here every night and vacuum and dust. It's all a part of the same goal.... to work with one another without any conflict." I paused to let that sink in. "Robert, you have more to add."

"Yes sir. Soon after we get back from our week off, there'll be a Mac machine installed in my station at the horseshoe and I'll be busy still helping you with your reviews and testing plus converting our existing programs to the Mac platform. The problem that arises is the coordination of the meetings with the programmers twice a week. Our meetings with the programmers will be on Wednesday mornings at nine and Fridays at two. That means we have to have a list of who needs to attend and what programs we've reviewed and send that information to the appropriate programmers by e-mail before closing on Tuesdays and before noon on Fridays. Any questions?"

"It's easy for each of us to keep a list for you Robert," Eddie said.

"I could compile all the lists that would be ready for your email," Shelly added.

"Actually this is just a one-man job," Josh said. "Collect the lists, compile them, and send out an e-mail."

"That could be the agenda for the meeting," Kevin added.

"An agenda?" Eddie questioned.

"Well yeah," Kevin said. "If you're going to have a meeting, you have to have a chairman.... sorry chairperson.... and an agenda that can be followed in order for the chairperson to maintain the focus of the meeting."

"Golly this sounds likes it's very important!" Matthew exclaimed.

"It is, Matthew," Mark said, "otherwise we wouldn't be there."

Bryan and I were sitting there with smiles as we wondered where Robert was letting this scenario lead them.

"Are you going to be the chairperson Robert?" Richard asked.

"Actually Richard, if I had to make a choice," Robert said with a smile, "I would choose one of the teenagers to be the coordinator of the lists, e-mailing them to the appropriate programmers and chair the meetings and keep everything together by following the agenda. Any idea whom I would want for that position?"

"Well, I'm not a teenager so it's not me. So I'd pick Kevin, but I think you'd pick Josh." Richard replied.

"Why Kevin?" Robert asked still smiling.

"Well the chairperson and the agenda thing was his idea." Matthew replied.

"Kevin? Who do you think it should be?" Robert asked.

"Josh of course," Kevin replied. "He has the experience for that sort of thing more than I do."

"My vote's for Kevin," Josh replied with a sly smile and a wink to that suggestion.

"It's gotta be Kevin," Mark added.

"Kevin!" Shelly and the others added enthusiastically in turn.

"There you go Kevin. Will you accept the position of coordinator?" Robert asked.

"You guys really mean it?" Kevin asked.

"You bet, man!" "For sure!" "Yes sir!" "You're the man for the job." Michael and the others responded.

"Then I guess I better accept," Kevin said with a big smile.

Smiling, Robert glanced over to Bryan and me with a wink.

"Ok guys, I think we can skip this Friday's meeting, but we'll have our first meeting with the programmers on Wednesday after our week off," Robert said. "Kevin, you can send out a memo to that effect to the programmers before we leave today."

"I have one thing to add," Bryan said. "Kevin, when you're sending out these emails, blind-copy Tom and me. It's just so we can keep track of the overall production. We certainly aren't keeping track of any one person or their individual production. The purpose is to indicate the overall production and how soon we have to get the copyrights formalized and then let James and Ethel know what's coming to their departments."

"WOW! What a production line!" Eddie exclaimed.

"AND always know.... each of you are a very big part of it," I added.

"AND just for the record," Robert said, "each of you read my mind. Kevin was my choice right from the beginning because he is the man for the job and it honestly has nothing to do with Jessica and Travis."

"I'm going to try real hard to believe that Robert," Josh said smiling. Then seriously asked, "Dad, I have to ask.... what's with Ralph this week? Has he got a serious program he's working on?"

"Not that I know of," I answered. "Why do you ask?"

"He's pretty moody this week," Shelly answered.

"Spends a lot of time on his laptop," Kevin added.

"Well guys, maybe he's having some personal problems and he just needs some time and space to think it through. Let's see how he is after our week off." Bryan said.

"Ok this meeting is over," I said smiling just to change the mood, "and it's time for all of you to get back to work.... and just so you know, you're all doing a great job. The programmers do appreciate your reviews although they don't like to admit it."

Once Robert and the kids had left Bryan's office, Bryan asked, "Do you think we should try to work some magic for Robert and Travis?"

"A talk with Andy and Gerald wouldn't hurt." I suggested, looking at the time. It was 4:00 PM. "Maybe they already know about their situation. I doubt that Robert knows about the connection."

Bryan picked up his phone. "Gerald, Tom and I want to come down and have a short meeting with you and Andy. Have you got the time right now?" "....Good Man."

As we walked towards Gerald's office door, I noticed one of his clerks chatting on the phone checking out her nails while the other was concentrating between her screen and the paper work on her desk.

"Gentlemen, I want to make this quick," I said, "Do either of you know Travis Enderbeck?"

"Is that the same Travis we met at the barbeque with uh....?" Gerald asked.

"Robert.... his boyfriend," Andy completed the thought.

"Yes," I replied. "Actually Robert White lives with Travis' family, the Enderbecks. Does that name ring a bell Gerald?"

"No, I can't recall that name." Gerald replied.

"Long story short," I continued, "the Enderbecks aren't wealthy by any means. Travis Enderbeck and Robert White are a bit tighter than just boyfriends. I feel they share a love of family just as strong as Bryan and I do. The Enderbecks have a daughter Jessica, a cancer patient which adds to their financial burden. As you know, Robert is a part time student who works in our programming department and has become an asset almost too good to be true."

"Hmm.... usually when I hear that expression, I get suspicious because it often turns out to be close to the truth in itself," Gerald commented. "However I've met Robert and maybe my suspicions may be unfounded. He is a very impressive personality."

"Well from what I learned about him from the kids, I feel pretty confident in Tom's statement," Andy added.

"Believe me, Robert is as good as gold to us right now," I said.

"So what has all this to do with us?" Andy asked.

"Right! What we came to say is, Travis and Robert have the use of one car between them," Bryan said, "Fortunately Travis' job is downtown and he can take the bus to work, whereas we have little public transportation this far away from town. Travis wants to become a lawyer and right now has a summer job as a gopher.... at Edgar Delaney's office."

"Well!" Gerald exclaimed. "We can't have that can we. Andy we sure as hell don't need Lynn Decker out there filing her nails all the time," Gerald said as he picked up his phone. "Edgar Delaney please, Gerald Morrison calling." "I'm fine Edgar. Edgar next week the Davis-Callahan office will be closed completely and I want to come back to home base for the week and catch up on some other case work. Are there a couple of cubicles available for Lynn Decker and me?" "Good, I'll see you Tuesday morning." He hung up the phone with a big smile.

"Do you guys realize what you're doing?" Andy asked smiling.

"Well we have a great deal of confidence in Robert and I'm sure that if Travis is just half as talented and ambitious as Robert, he'll be a benefit to both of you," I said.

"True Tom, but I don't mean that. You've got Robert, a part time university student and if we have Travis working here, and I hope sometime in about three years to have Kevin working here part time as a university student.... Davis-Callahan could be running a number of apprenticeship type programs for promising students."

Bryan and I looked at each other smiling.

"Remember what I said about setting up a foundation," Gerald said. "Maybe that's off in the future, but related to that thought, I think it could start out as a scholarship program. Something for you to think about gentlemen. In the meantime, I'll be in Delany's offices next week and I'll be able to assess Travis' work habits and get to know him a bit better. Pearl's out there doing all the work and she'll be getting next week off with your firm. Hopefully I can pawn off that lazy dolt Lynn to Edgar for Travis."

"Sounds like a double helping of dessert to me," Andy added with a laugh.

"Great ideas gentlemen," Bryan said, "in the meantime, let's keep all of this to ourselves. I don't want to get anyone's hopes up. By the way Gerald, there's a kicker, I don't think Robert realizes that you're actually working for Edgar Delaney."

"I'll bear that in mind and hopefully, in a couple of weeks, we'll be able to surprise Robert." Gerald said smiling from ear to ear as my cell phone rang. It was Josh.

"Hi son, what's up?" I answered.

"Hey Dad, it's quitting time. Where are you guys?"

"We're in Gerald Morrison's office tying up a few loose ends. Be right there." I closed my phone. "Gotta go Gerald and thanks," I said as I opened his door. "See ya at home Andy."

Pearl was still at her desk working away and I noticed that Lynn had left. It was 4:30 as Bryan and I raced up the stairs to our offices, shut down our computers and joined the boys at the horseshoe all ready to go home.

For Bryan and me it had been an extraordinary day - productive in a most unexpected way.

Thursday and Friday were days of hanging tough as we looked forward with great anticipation to our European holiday.

Memories of 9/11 were still gnawing at me, but usually I could shake them off because of where I was and what I was doing at the time. Thursday evening I'd fallen asleep on the sofa reading a book in the family room while Bryan was reading some culinary book that fascinated him on the love seat. Josh had come to wake me up to say goodnight and not realizing what he was doing, he lifted the hard cover book that I had been reading and snapped it closed with a bang.

I jumped out of my skin, eyes wild, thinking I had heard that awful sound of a body hitting the ground. It took me a minute to figure out where I was and about as long for poor Josh to realize what he had done. My legs swung from the sofa to the floor in my panic.

Bryan was at my side in an instant with his arm around me. He knew exactly what to say. "Tom I'm here. You're in safe hands."

"Dad, I'm sorry. I didn't think.... I just did it and it was stupid. Was it a nightmare?" His voice trembled as he knelt in front of me, his hands on my knees. I guess the whole episode had scared him.

"Kinda Josh. It sounded so much like the sound of a body crashing on 9/11," I replied.

"Dad, remember the therapy we took after the bank robbery, well maybe you need something like that again," Josh said.

"Josh I don't know if they can help with this. In that situation, I had control of my own actions and a purpose to my actions, but on 9/11, I had no control," I responded.

"Tom, you have to give Josh's idea some serious thought," Bryan said. "Remember, anything that affects you, affects the whole family."

"Bryan's right Dad. There isn't a person at this ranch who doesn't love and care about you."

With that, Mark and Michael came from the basement laughing. They'd been practising their flying skills on the simulator. Right away their giggles ceased when they saw the situation in the family room and stopped in their tracks knowing that something was wrong.

"What's wrong?" Michael asked seriously.

"It's OK boys. Tom just had a bit of a nightmare," Bryan replied.

"No, it's not OK," Mark said emphatically. "Dad, I've watched you sometimes lately when you space out. What is it?"

"Mark, sometimes a memory of what happened in New York on 9/11 hits me and I have to shake myself out of it," I replied.

"Dad, you told me that it would take time for the wounds to heal after my mother and father died," Michael said. "For the most part it's happening. Give it time and the bad thoughts will go away."

"Maybe not in this case Michael," Mark said, "there's too many reminders around us.... like every time we see a jet liner in the sky and there doesn't seem to be a day when we don't hear something about 9/11 somewhere. I think this is more serious than losing a parent or loved one."

"I suggested therapy like what we had after the bank robbery," Josh said.

"I think that might be a better idea Dad," Michael added.

"Michael, I think you're idea of time heals all wounds is what I need to follow for now. We have a trip to Europe next week and after that, we'll see." I was trying to relieve any concerns that the boys may have had. "Come on, it's almost time for bed."

"How about a small piece of that warm coffee cake I made after supper?" Bryan asked.

That was just the topper the boys needed to change their mood. The coffee cake was delicious.

That night I got huge hugs of concern from the boys as we left them in their bedrooms. I still had to reassure Josh that he hadn't done anything wrong - it could have been anything that brought on my reaction.

Saturday was a flurry of activity as we all did our laundry and started getting our bags packed for our trip to Europe.

Sunday afternoon the phone rang. "Mr. Davis, my name is John Reynolds and I am calling on behalf of the mayor of Calgary. I know this is very short notice, but we would like to invite Josh Chambers to officiate over the official Canada Day citizenship ceremony to be held on the footsteps of city hall kicking off our Canada Day celebration."

"I'm sure he'd be thrilled. Let me get him," I set the phone down and called towards the living room, "Hey Josh! Come here for a second please."

"What's up dad?" he asked with a smile on his face as he came bounding into the kitchen.

"I have a call for you," I said and handed him the phone. I couldn't control my smile.

Josh looked puzzled and then accepted the offered receiver. "Hello?"

His face broke into a huge grin as he listened to John Reynolds deliver his spiel. "Of course I'll do it!" he replied and reached for a notepad to take down some notes.

After hanging up he turned to me, "We have to be there an hour early tomorrow Dad so that we can rehearse. I'll get to administer the oath of citizenship to around 300 new citizens! I have to get on my computer and check the Government of Canada site to see if I can get more familiar with the protocol."

Before we went to bed that night, everyone at the ranch knew what was going to happen tomorrow.

Very early Sunday morning, I awoke with a start. Another nightmare! I was drenched in sweat and had the sensation that I had been falling from a great height. The slamming sounds of bodies hitting the ground that I had heard on 9/11 seemed to echo in my head. I swung my feet out of bed and stood up. I glanced at the alarm clock and saw that it was only 3AM.

Careful not to disturb Bryan, I slipped into a pair of shorts, walked outside, followed the path to the range building and buzzed myself in. Once inside I went to the pistol safe, unlocked it and removed my father's .45 Colt 1911A1, four magazines and a box of ammo. I took a moment to load each of the four seven round magazines and send a target down range before putting on eye and ear protection.

I slipped the first magazine into the hefty pistol, racked the slide and opened fire on my target. The dull thud of the rounds as I heard them in my ear protectors was comforting in a strange way and the firm recoil of the pistol was satisfying. The whole exercise worked to clear my mind.

I had just fired the last round in the fourth magazine when I felt a gentle hand come to rest on my shoulder. It was Bryan's hand, but it was Josh I looked at, who was standing in front of him with a concerned look on his face. He too had thrown on a pair of athletic shorts and a t-shirt. "Dad?"

"Hey bud," I replied as I took off my ear protectors.. "You should be sound asleep."

"I woke up and you weren't there, so I brought him with me," Bryan said.

"Dad are you ok? It's like 3AM?" The concern in his voice was obvious.

"Yeah, I'm ok kiddo," I said as I set the pistol down and reached out to hug him.

"I'm worried about you not sleeping again. Did you have another nightmare?" Bryan asked.

"Yeah, it was the falling one again."

Josh squeezed me tighter. "Do you think maybe you should talk to someone about it again?" Josh asked.

"I think I'm ok Joshy," I replied. "It doesn't happen very often anymore and it's not as bad as it was."

"After the episode the other night, I've been reading about this sort of thing and I think you might have something called post-traumatic stress disorder. It happens to soldiers who were in combat and others who faced traumatic life-threatening situations."

"I suppose it's possible. But I am getting better," I replied.

"Believe me, it won't get entirely better on its own," Quincy, who had just entered the range said. "I've been there myself and Josh is right. You need to talk to someone about this."

"Have you had PTSD, Quincy?" Josh asked.

"I have. What I am about to tell you could land me in a world of trouble. It's classified and I could go to jail for talking about it. Back in 1998, I was part of JTF2 and my team was secretly parachuted into Kosovo ahead of the NATO bombing campaign. We were supposed to hide out in the woods and live mostly off the land while marking high value targets with a laser for the NATO planes. It was my first wartime combat deployment and everything went well until a Serbian patrol happened to stumble upon us. We were mostly working at night and sleeping during the day. I was on watch and it was my job to take them out before they discovered the rest of my team and raised the alarm. I did take them out. I managed to get behind their patrol and one by one, I took each man out with my knife. Eight men in all. Not one knew what was coming. I caught them all by surprise and cut their throats before they could react. That awful slicing sound and the horrible gurgling noise they made haunted me for a very long time. I can't tell you the number of nights I woke up hearing those sounds. Sometimes even a drain emptying or a toilet flushing was enough to set me off. I'd often find myself reaching for a knife that I no longer carried. I did get help. It took some convincing to get me, the big bad commando, the decorated combat veteran to get help, but I did and I've never looked back."

"Tom, some injuries don't leave scars," Bryan said. "They aren't visible to the eye and they are no more shameful than physical injuries."

"Thanks Quincy and thanks Josh, Bryan," I said. "I'll call someone as soon as we get back from Europe."

"Good," Quincy replied. "Now get some rest. You guys have a big day tomorrow."

With that, I secured the firearm and Josh and Bryan led me back to the house. Everyone else was still sleeping. I smiled to myself as Josh turned over my sweaty pillow to let me sleep on the dry side and then tucked me in as I nuzzled into Bryan's shoulder, his arm around me.

"Good night, Dad," he whispered, "I love you."

"I love you too son," I replied.

The next morning, we all dressed in our best and headed downtown. Josh, Mark, Michael and Kevin were all dressed in their cadet uniforms. All had their gleaming pilot wings and boots polished to a brilliant shine. Mark and Michael wore newly awarded Flight-Sergeant stripes and Josh and Kevin were newly minted Sergeants. Josh and Mark wore their Star of Courage medals and Josh wore his Order of Canada medal around his neck. Shelly was his shadow dressed in a beautiful red and white dress.

Bryan and I, together with almost everyone from the ranch found our reserved seats as Josh went to his rehearsal and the other kids chatted amongst themselves. We were in the front row and around us were VIP seats and to the left of us was the section blocked off for the soon-to-be new citizens. After the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had set up their TV cameras for a live broadcast to the rest of the country, a band started playing light tunes on the stage as the crowds began to file in. I asked Bryan if he'd set up the VCR to record today's happenings.

"Most definitely," he replied.

It was a beautiful bright and sunny day without a cloud in the sky. It almost reminded me of the morning of September 11th - without the feeling of dread. I shuddered.

"You ok?" Bryan asked, looking at me with concern.

"Bit of a flash-back, that's all," I replied.

"To be expected from time-to-time until you get on a program to help you with it," Bryan replied and squeezed my hand. I had been experiencing fewer and fewer such flashbacks since that awful day, but they still happened now and again. A little while later, the ceremonies got underway. The crowd was massive and I smiled as I looked up and saw Josh sitting on the stage amongst the dignitaries and officials. He didn't look the least bit nervous or out of place.

After a number of introductory remarks about the greatness of the things we celebrate on Canada Day, the mayor said, "I would now ask Josh Chambers, the youngest ever member of the Order of Canada to step forward and to administer the oath of citizenship to the new Canadians assembled here today"

Josh stepped forward to the podium as the citizenship judge asked the assembled citizenship candidates to stand before giving Josh a nod.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please hold your bible or holy book in your left hand, raise your right hand and repeat after me," Josh intoned.

"I, please state your full name, swear or affirm," Josh paused as the assembled candidates replied. "that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada," Josh paused again. "Her Heirs and Successors," another pause, "and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada," another pause, "and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen."

The band started up and a local singer then led the crowd in singing O'Canada to wrap up the official part of the citizenship ceremony.

"Congratulations new Canadians!" Josh said enthusiastically! "You are now citizens of this great nation, members of an exclusive club to which less than 1% of the population of the world belongs. You are now citizens of a nation with a rich heritage of being world leaders, daring warriors, caring and compassionate citizens of the world and trusted diplomats respected around the world. As you well know, this nation shines brightly in the dreams of many people around the world who seek to live in freedom, who seek the opportunity to live a better life. As the peoples of this world come together, we realize how unique each of us are as individuals. It's going to be individuals like all us here that will bring a message to this world and to other worlds as we reach to the stars, that we are a loving a peaceful peoples of this one earth in this solar system. Bill Clinton, former President of the United States, once said, 'In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect.' Today all of us here have witnessed the truth in that statement. We Canadians are creating a world where all loving families are recognized, respected, protected, and celebrated."

The whole crowd erupted into loud applause in response to Josh's remarks. He simply smiled, waved and took his seat. I, together with all the members of our extended family were, as always, proud of my son and I smiled as he shook hands with the dignitaries on the stage and winked mischievously at me after sitting down.

Sure enough, that evening the phone was ringing off the hook. Kids from school and people from work had seen the ceremony live or on the six o'clock news and wanted to talk to Josh. His little speech had warmed the hearts of our nation and I was sure that sometime in the future, he would do it again.

The next day, we were off to Europe and I knew, it was going to be another memorable trip.

It took a convoy of vehicles to carry us all to the airport and the Air Canada ticket agent nearly had a coronary when more than 20 people appeared at once to be checked in! She took it all in good stride though and before long, we were all in the International departure lounge waiting for our flight to be called.

"This is going to be so cool," Mark said. "I can't wait to get back to Europe again."

"Yeah, I can't wait to show Shelly all the sights," Josh added.

"Hopefully the DeVries girls won't be too jealous!" Michael said with a laugh.

"Hey I'm kinda available," Kevin said and we all had a good laugh.

"I'm glad Jessica wasn't here to hear you say that son," Grant kidded Kevin.

The flight was uneventful and most of us slept most of the way. The inflight movie was family friendly so the younger kids enjoyed it. The whole trip was pretty uneventful.

The first leg of our trip ended in London. Susan and Darren were aware of our landing time and were waiting to greet all of us as we entered the terminal. It was only a short visit that they could spend with Hamish and Irene before they departed on another flight for Scotland to visit their relatives. The rest of us, on the other hand had to carry on to Amsterdam on another flight.

Susan and Darren went on and on about their trip to Rome and Paris and had big smiles and a long hugs for Josh when they found out he had officiated at the Canada Day Citizenship ceremony.

It was only a short flight, just over an hour. Again it was uneventful - until we landed. I realized right away that Fred Rollins had made good on his word to inform his legion contacts here that we were coming. As we left the plane a pleasant looking woman named Gretchen wearing an airport staff name tag greeted us. "Pardon me, but are you the Davis party?" she asked?

"We are," I replied as the rest of the family gathered around me.

"Wonderful," please follow me.

None of us knew what was going on so we followed Gretchen who first led us to a customs and immigration fast-track. The immigration officers cleared all of us in a matter of moments and then we were shown into a private reception area. Inside tables were setup featuring a huge buffet dinner and there were Dutch and Canadian flags everywhere you looked. There were a number of dignitaries' present as well.

Of course most of the DeVries family was there too.

"Tom! Welcome back to the Netherlands," Thomas DeVries said as he extended his hand to me.

"It's wonderful to be back!" I replied. "This is quite the welcome!"

"Well apparently a Mr. Rollins with your Royal Canadian Legion made contact with some people here at the Veterans Institute and made these arrangements."

Before long we were all seated. The boys were sitting with the DeVries kids at one end of the long table and the adults sat and the other end. Thomas was sitting next to me. Dinner was wonderful and after dessert there were some welcoming remarks by various people including a representative of the Netherlands Veterans Institute.

"I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Mr. Tom Davis and his extended family on their return visit to our country. Mr. Davis is the grand-nephew of one of the heroes of our liberation in the second world war and he has come to share with us, a medal that was posthumously awarded to his uncle. The Second World War was a dark time for our nation. We had to face not only the barbarities of Nazi occupation but also, for many of us, the winter of 1944 was one of starvation and deprivation. Things seemed hopeless to many people. But out of that darkness came a ray of light. Our salvation came in the form of tens of thousands of young Canadians who volunteered to cross the ocean and restore our freedom. They crushed the German invaders at great cost to themselves and fed the starving. In doing so, they cemented an everlasting bond of friendship between our nations. I would like to call upon Mr. Davis to say a few words."

Surprised, I glanced at Bryan. "Oh boy," I said.

"You'll be fine," Bryan whispered.

"Go get 'em son," Darren said and patted me on the back.

As I rose to the applause of the assembled guests, I glanced at Josh and winked at him. He nodded back. In that small gesture, we communicated a great deal and I knew he was ready to save my bacon.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the warm welcome. We have visited many parts of Europe and I can't say that we ever received a warmer welcome anywhere than we did here in your beautiful country. My uncle sacrificed his life to save the lives of his men and two Dutch boys, one of whom is here in this room tonight," I said and gestured at Pieter who waved back politely. "Also here is the grandson of the other boy who was saved.... Josh Chambers. Josh is primarily responsible for my uncle receiving this honour so perhaps we can persuade him to come up here and speak."

Josh rose to his feet to loud applause and replaced me on the podium. As usual, he was about to deliver a remarkable and unscripted performance.

"Thank you so much for the warm welcome. I really enjoy being back here in your wonderful nation. I do feel a real attachment to this place. I never really understood the depth of my attachment to this country until I visited here for the first time last year and met a whole extended family, the DeVries, people that I never even knew existed. Like your nation, Canada is a peaceful country. We don't like to go to war, but we never back down from a fight when a fight is necessary. Back in the dark days of WWII, Canadians knew that it was necessary to fight. It was necessary to fight not only to keep the Nazi menace from eventually visiting our own shores, but also because it was the right thing to do. Freedom was threatened and when that happens, it is the solemn duty of free people everywhere to come to its aid. I am proud as a Canadian and as the descendant of Dutch ancestors of the role that Canada played in restoring the freedom of this wonderful country. Like Canada, the Netherlands stands for freedom, for human rights, for dignity and respect. These are common values that we share and that underpin the eternal bond that our nations share. The medal, the Victoria Cross is a powerful symbol of the dedication of one man to the cause of freedom. The dedication of one young officer to his men and the dedication of one nation to come to the aid of freedom. Thank you again for this welcome and I hope to see many of you at the Holten cemetery for the official presentation of the medal."

The applause was enormous and everyone was on their feet. People literally lined up to shake Josh's hand.

"How does he do that?" Susan asked.

"He's got a gift," Grant replied.

"I can't wait to see where it takes him," Ethel added.

"I had a dream that he was Prime Minister," Susan said. "I'm not so sure it wasn't some sort of premonition!"

We all laughed, several of us, Bryan and I especially, laughed knowingly.

"I wouldn't mind being First Lady!" Shelly replied.

"I don't think you have to worry about anyone else taking the job," Mark said. "Josh is yours hook-line-and-sinker!"

By the time the whole group of us reached our hotel, we were well and truly exhausted. Luckily we had a few days to kill before the big event in at the cemetery. We spent the next day in Amsterdam - and made a point of returning to the Ann Frank House.

Josh and Mark were like old pros leading Michael, Shelly, Eddie, the twins and Kevin around like tour guides.

"It just goes to show you the power of words," Josh said to Shelly. "Today people all over the world read this girl's diary and yet reading anything by Hitler is sort of frowned upon. People see him as a lunatic and a murderer, but they see Ann as a hero."

"You're going to change the world with your words, Josh," Shelly replied.

"Maybe," Josh demurred. "Not sure how, but I'd like to make the world a better place."

We had dinner that night at "d'Vijff Vlieghen" where we had eaten a couple of times on our last visit. Everyone in our party was impressed with the food. Even the twins and Eddie managed to enjoy food that was a little more sophisticated than they were used to.

We had skipped dessert and the twins were not about to let us forget it. We were walking past one of Amsterdam's famous "caf├ęs" which had a big sign for "special brownies" in the front window.

"Dad! Let's get some brownies!" Richard said to James, tugging on his hand.

"Yeah, I love brownies!" Matthew replied.

Andy just about burst a gut laughing and when Josh and the other kids realized what was going on as they clued in to what was really being sold in that store. Bryan just looked at me and I whispered in his ear, "Those are HASH-brownies!"

He stared at me gape-mouthed for a moment and then began to laugh.

"On man! I could just picture those two after eating a plate of those," Josh laughed.

"What's so funny about special brownies?" Eddie asked.

Between gales of laughter Mom tried to answer him. "Those are grown up brownies," she said "They make you feel funny."

"Yeah, kind of like after the dentist gives you gas!" Kevin replied.

"And how do you know that young man?" Grant asked in mock consternation.

"Um....I ah....." Kevin stammered causing everyone to laugh. "I haven't tried it. I just thought that was what is must be like."

"Yeah it does that and it gives you the munchies," Andy added knowingly.

"I don't think you would like those Brownies," James finally said.

"Maybe we can find some regular brownies someplace else," Anne finally said.

The day before the big event, we arrived back in Holten at the DeVries home for a big extended family dinner much like the one we had experienced the year before. The home cooked food was unbelievably good and the hospitality was unrivaled. Gretta took an immediate interest in Kevin and, far from being jealous of Shelly, she and all the other girls treated her like she was a long lost friend.

The next day we made our way to the Holten cemetery. We arrived early so that we could visit my grand uncles grave in private before the crowds arrived. As with the previous summer, the place was immaculate and small Canadian flags flew over each grave in recognition of the recently passed Canada Day. We made our way to Uncle Ryan's grave with Josh, Mark, Michael, Kevin and I all in dress uniform the way. While the rest of the family stood back, we snapped to attention in a line and fired off a smart salute. After the salute, we stepped back and I reached into my pocket and removed the small leather box containing the Victoria Cross medal and placed it on the top of the headstone. In a well-practiced maneuver, Josh, Mark, Michael and Kevin took up positions at all four corners of the grave as a sort of honour guard.

I stepped back and the rest of the family filed past. "This is really amazing," Mom said to Susan as they stood in front of the grave. "It's amazing how linked our families were all this time and we didn't even know it."

"I've thought about it a thousand times," Susan replied.

"Six degrees of separation," Darren said. "They say that for most of us there are only six people between us and every other person on earth. Not sure I believe that, but clearly there is only one degree here!"

Before long massive crowds began to arrive at the cemetery. Even the local media showed up and took all kinds of photos and footage of the boy's holding their honour guard and the medal itself. Dignitaries, veterans, active military personnel, ordinary people all filed past and shook our hands. There were speeches by dignitaries and a children's choir sang songs. It was a very long day but not the least bit tiring. It was energizing in a strange sort of way. Never before had I been so proud of my heritage.

The next day was our last in the Netherlands for this trip. We spent the morning with the DeVries family and then headed by train back to the airport in Amsterdam, then the short flight back to London where we met up with Hamish and Irene again. Hamish and Irene were full of gratitude as they told us about their visit with their remaining relatives. I was delighted to see them so happy.

Before we departed on the long flight back to Canada, all of us enjoyed a wonderful meal together where we learned that Susan and Darren had invited Mom to spend the last week of their honeymoon with them as they toured London, a bit of Scotland and Ireland.

We were expecting another uneventful flight but, as with most things in our lives, we were about to be thrown a curve-ball. Security was much tighter since 9/11 and when the unexpected happens on a flight, people get all the more nervous. We were still over the ocean when the seatbelt light came on and the Captain made an announcement on the PA.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I do not wish to cause anyone to panic, however, we are experiencing a minor technical difficulty with the aircraft. We are not in any danger, however we are diverting to Gander Newfoundland as a precaution. Upon arrival, you will be put up in local hotels until the plane is repaired or alternate transportation can be arranged. On behalf of Air Canada, I apologize for the inconvenience."

"It's not another attack is it?" Bryan asked.

"No, I doubt it. I think they were pretty honest with people when that happened," I replied.

Sure enough, about an hour later, we landed at the tiny, remote Gander airport. We cleared customs and were loaded onto school busses and driven to the major hotel in the small town of 10,000.

"This reminds of 9/11," The driver remarked.

"Really?" I asked. "I was caught right in the middle of that event."

"So was I," the driver replied. "I was driving the bus that day we hauled the plane people to the various shelters."

"The plane people?" Josh asked. "From planes forced to land because the airspace was closed?"

"Aye," the driver replied. "We had around 10,000 people here in Gander and we took in nearly 7,000 plane people and housed and fed them for three days. 39 air planes landed here."

"That's amazing!" I said.

"That fellow from the American news. Brokaw..... he was here doing a big story about it. Said that 9/11 attacks showed us the worst in humanity, but the generosity of the people of Gander showed us the best in humanity that day."

When we arrived at the hotel, I fired up my laptop and did some research. Sure enough, when the airspace in North America was closed, over 200 US bound aircraft were diverted to Canadian airports in what the government termed Operation Yellow Ribbon. Tiny communities on the east coast received most of the planes and entire towns came together to shelter and care for over 30,000 people locked out of their own country for three days.

"I was so focused on your part of 9/11 that I never really heard much about this," Josh said thoughtfully.

"Check this out, one of the passengers took a cue from the movie 'Pay it Forward' and from now on, on every 9/11 sends out the employees from his company with $100 to carry out some random act of kindness - paying forward the treatment he received here in Gander," Bryan said as he read the screen on my laptop.

"Some of the passengers even setup scholarships for high school kids here and in other towns where the planes landed," Mark said.

"Boys, one of the things that really sticks in my mind about 9/11 isn't so much being trapped, the danger and the crimes of the terrorists, it was seeing people come together. I saw so many people.... different races, some poor, some rich, all different walks of life coming together to help one another. What Tom Brokaw said was right.... that day showed us the worst of humanity, but if you take the time to look, you will see that it also showed us some of the best."

"You were part of that "best" part, Dad," Josh said and hugged me firmly.

The next morning Josh, Mark, Michael and Kevin all joined me for an early morning run in Gander. It was a very small quaint town that we had not managed to visit on our first trip to "The Rock".

The hotel was located on the outskirts of town and about two kilometers out, we came across the Silent Witness Memorial.

"Look at this place!" Josh exclaimed.

We stopped short of a bronze statue of a man in a United States Army uniform holding the hands of two children. The statue was flanked by Canadian and American flags. The statue and the flags stood overlooking a tranquil park in which 256 trees had been specially planted. A nearby sign indicated that the park and the statue serve as a memorial to the 256 people killed on December 12, 1985 in the crash of Air Arrow flight 1285. 248 of the victims were US servicemen, most from the famed 101st airborne regiment, returning home from a peacekeeping mission. Eight crew members were also killed. It was the deadliest aviation accident to ever occur on Canadian soil.

"I didn't even know this was here," Josh said.

"I knew about the crash but not the memorial," I replied.

"It's beautiful," Mark said.

"Peaceful too," Michael added.

We arrived back at the hotel and after a shower and dressing, we joined the rest of the family for breakfast. We determined that our best bet was to catch a flight to Montreal and, after a brief layover there, catch a flight to Calgary.

"Do you think we could arrange to meet Uncle Victor and his partner at their restaurant?" Michael suggested excitedly.

"I think that sounds like a great idea," I replied and picked up my phone to make the arrangements.


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