Jess Mercer
(© 2009 by the author)

  The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...

A coda signifies the ending of a composition.
Thusly this Coda brings to a close the Drew Trilogy,

The occupants of the black stretch-limousine sit stiffly in their dark suits, white shirts, and somber ties without saying anything. The four young men in their early twenties, sitting on the jump seats, tug at their snug collars with long fingers, rewarded by a warning tap from the hand of the sole female in the group. They drop their hands and look at each other, then with love at the small gray-headed man sitting facing them, but he sees nothing.

After what seems an eternity to all of them, especially the young men, the limousine glides to smooth halt in front of an old stone church. The driver comes around and opens the door. The four youths exit first, followed by the woman, then a tall slim middle-aged man with black hair and deeply tanned skin. Two more middle-aged men emerge from the rear seat, then the darker skinned man leans back in and says quietly, "Dad, we're here."

There's little reaction until the man leans further in and gently takes the older man's hand in his and gives a gentle tug. Slowly gaining consciousness as if from a trance, the older man reluctantly emerges from the limousine and leans heavily against the younger man. They mount the steps, the woman, escorted by the youths, and lastly the two remaining middle-aged men together.

As they enter the narthex, they are greeted solemnly by the pastor wearing an unornamented white robe. His stole is white brocade with a elaborate crosses embroidered in gold thread near the fringed ends. From a heavy gold chain about his neck, a gold pectoral crucifix rests against his chest. They wait until the coffin, draped in a white pall with a large cross embroidered in white, the only ornamentation, is positioned for the processional.

With his elbow, Andy punches Sergei and whispers, "Mike's playing, but I don’t know how." Looking at the organist, they can see tears trickling down his face as he segues into Komm Süsser Tod by Bach, the piece that had been requested long before in a joking session with his fathers. The piece grows in intensity and volume until virtually all of the instrument's resources are in play, then begins to recede into the final almost inaudible measures.

A single note on the organ chimes and the processional begins. The crucifer leads with the processional cross held high, followed by an acolyte carrying the tall Pascal candle. Eric follows the coffin reading from the servicebook. Each member of the family dips fingers lightly into the holy water in the baptismal font and makes the sign of the cross, then follow in procession to the second pew, genuflect, and enter the pew, taking their seats. An usher hands each a printed order of service. Drew lowers the kneeler then sinks to his knees in prayer as do they all; though the others hear Drew crying softly.

The crucifer continues to the altar rail, bows, and sets the processional cross in its holder while the acolyte places the Pascal candle at the head of the coffin, now resting in the crossing at the foot of the chancel steps. As the men move to the transept, Eric pauses before the coffin, makes the sign of the cross over it and moves on up to the altar, bows, then sits as Mike continues to play. A few late-comers slip in and are escorted up the side aisle to the transept where few seats remain.

Eric stands and begins the liturgy for the Burial 0f the Dead. Reaching the place where the homily is usually given, Eric moves to the top of the chancel steps and says, "Other than his family members who were present, very few know that only a few weeks ago I had the great joy and pastoral privilege of baptizing Gregory Torrence into the faith his partner and sons embraced some years ago." He smiles." That removed any shadow from my having blessed the commitment of their lives to each other not long after they moved to the university here from their previous positions at the university's marine science campus at Manteo." On hearing this, audible gasps are heard among the mourners.

With a smile, Eric continues, "Yes, I am well aware that I was pushing the limits set by the synod and risking censure from our bishop. I would gladly do it again, for only the smallest of minds would find something untoward in the loving relationship these two gentle men created for themselves, a love that surrounded all within their circle of influence. With that love, they selflessly brought into being the extended family that mourns here.

"There is no cause to mourn; rejoice in thanksgiving for their goodness and generosity, yes, even to strangers for the greater part of this extended family is not of blood, but created by and in love and caring. If you would remember Greg Torrence, let it be by emulating his example. Amen."

As Eric kneels on the prie-dieu for the prayers, so do we all. The prayers completed, he steps to the altar and consecrates the Host and wine, then offers the Eucharist, first to Drew and the family members, then to the congregation. Other than the family, few approached the altar, so after The Lord's Prayer, Eric steps down to the coffin and offers the commendation. Knowing that Tor's body is to be cremated, he lastly chants the canticle.

When Mike segues into the recessional after the Benedicamus and Benediction, the processional cross leading, next the coffin, followed by Eric. Drew steps out into the aisle, genuflects, stops again at the baptismal font and makes the sign of the cross with holy water and walks slowly down the steps, pausing to speak with Eric as does each of the family. It is over.

They are hardly seated back in the limousine before the youths are pulling off their ties. Andrea starts to admonish them, but Drew stops her. "Let them be, Dear. Tor's probably watching and cheering them on. He hated a tie even more than they do. You don't know how many mornings I listened to him swearing over the fact that he wound up in a profession that had ties in the dress code." He reaches up and pulls off his own tie. "Ah, that's much better." He looks over at Stephan with a slight smile. "You still have to tie Luc's for him?"

Stephan nods. "He's too stubborn to learn, but you'd think after all this time with me tying it every morning he'd finally catch on as to how it's done, but, no. He would just loosen it enough to get over his head and leave it tied if I'd let him."

"Damn right. Stupid to have to do it over every day. It's such a petty thing anyway. I swear, I think the idiot that invented these things was a sadistic hangman."

Drew endured with an abstracted grace the condolences of close friends and colleagues from the university that came by the house, saying little as the guests drank coffee and nibbled finger food. Stephan had Andy, Serge, Jon, and Toby well in hand with a new computer game at his house, much to the relief of the others. Luc relieved Andrea in the kitchen so that her attention could be placed on Drew while Tommy greeted the guests.

The moment Mike entered, Drew grabbed him in a hug and kissed him, thanking him for excelling at his art when he knew Mike was grieving as much as he. In a lull, Drew sat reflectively thinking of the music Mike had played.

When the last of the guests had departed and the house was set in order once more, Tom and Andrea left for their home. Despite the pleas of Tommy and Andrea to stay the night with them, Drew wanted to stay at home surrounded by familiar things. He knew that he would feel Tor's presence here. 'I won't be alone for Mike will be in his room, a comfort while I make the adjustment to a life without Tor,' he thought.

Mike fixed drinks for Drew and himself. They simply sat in silence, with Drew reminiscing until the glasses they held were empty.

It seemed only a day or so ago that Mike had come into his office with a puzzled look on his face.

"Dad, do you know why the dean of the music school would want to see me?"

"It's unlikely to be a matter of marine science, so it must be a question of music."

"I suppose. But damn, I'm not connected with that department in any way." Mike shrugged. "I guess I'll find out in about an hour. Since I'm here, I'm gonna steal a cup of your coffee and waste your time."

"Fine with me. Pour me another while you're up." Actually, Drew was happy with the interruption, he was weary from reviewing student projects.

After chatting of things of common interest, Mike stood and put his coffee cup on the shelf by the small coffeemaker. "I'll be going, Dad. See you at home for dinner."

"I hope you'll get it started; I'm stuck for another couple of hours, and you know how well Tor cooks."

Mike grimaces. "Did you have to remind me?"

Drew grins at his son. "Just added impetus."

"Yeah. See ya later, old man."

Two hours later found Mike moving mechanically in the kitchen finishing preparations for dinner. He could not have said what he was doing, for he was still in a state of mental shock. "It can't be," he kept muttering to himself.

When Tor and Drew entered the house, Mike took the pot roast with potatoes, carrots, onions from the crock-pot, and made rich gravy.

"Smells good," Tor comments.

"Better thank Drew. He started the roast in the crock pot this morning." Mike shakes his head. "Get washed while I dish it up."

When they were at the table and Mike had said the grace, they filled their plates.

"What did the dean want?" Drew asked.

Mike looked up. "You aren't going to believe this. I'm not sure I do either."

"What?" Tor demands.

"You both know of Doctor Zimmer, the university organist?"

Drew and Tor nod.

"Well, he's retiring, and the dean plans to name him University Organist Emeritus. He told me there isn't an organ scholar in the PhD program, so on Doctor Zimmer's recommendation, they are appointing me the university organist."

"Damn!" Tor yells in surprise. "That's unheard of! I mean someone who isn't even in the music department holding such a position."

Drew gets up and hugs Mike. "You never cease to make Tor and me proud. I just hope this won't be a burden on you. Maybe Tor and I can lighten your teaching load a little."

"Yeah. There's a new instructor coming in next semester. He's certainly qualified to take a couple of your classes or labs. Whatever you want." Tor adds.

"Finish your dinner, Tor, you, too, Dad. It's not that big a deal. I'll have to play the one traditional faculty recital a year and play for the general convocation and graduation, maybe a special occasion now and then." Mike grins. "But! It brings me a nice additional stipend, too. Now maybe I can get that Jaguar I've been looking at."

Tor shakes his head. "I might have guessed. An indecent amount of money for a car and more to pay the speeding tickets old Leadfoot here is going to be racking up. I'll bet within a month Mike'll know every highway patrolman in the district by his first name."

"Aw, dad, you know I'm not that bad."

"Perhaps not, but you do bend the speed limits rather freely," Drew says. "If a Jag is capable of as much speed as I've heard, I hope you will be sensible in your use of it."

"Gee, I don't even have it yet, and I'm getting flack. Remember, I'm not one of the students; I'm a responsible professor."

Tor shakes his head. "Professor, yes, but at times I have to wonder about the responsible part. That's why we love you, babe, you make a fine appearance on campus and have a reputation for sound scholarship, but when you're home you're still the little boy Drew and I love."

"Gotta let off the pressure somehow."

"Don't we all." Drew comments. "And when does this new position become official?"

"Because there will be several faculty changes, new assistants and all, there will be a special convocation at the beginning of second semester."

"And I suppose you expect us to be there?" Tor asks snidely.

"Naturally. You have both always supported Tommy and me in every way." He grins. "It's a dad thing, isn't it?"

Tor hugs him. "Like we would miss celebrating with you, love."

Drew's reminiscences are broken when Mike takes the empty glass from his hand. "Dad, let me help you up to bed. I know you're worn out and need to rest."

When he was in the oversize bed made to fit Tor's height, and Mike had gone on to his own room, Drew hugged a pillow to himself, hoping to mitigate the loneliness he felt as his mind wandered over the myriad of events within their lives together.

It was during our second semester on the main campus that Tor began to grouse about missing swimming. It was so easy when we were at the Institute. We kept swim wear and towels in our lockers and, after changing in our office, just ran down the pier and dove into the warm brackish waters of the sound.

So when Tor found it necessary to spend a week at the institute to indoctrinate two of the assistant professors on handling students while out on the research vessel, I spent the first evening reviewing all the brochures and other material I had gathered on the QT. The next morning I took most of my office hour making phone calls to the three local swimming pool contractors.

After talking with the three of them and checking them out with the Better Business Bureau, I chose to go with the builder having fiberglass units in the standard rectangular shape. I was also impressed with his many questions about usage and, after he realized that the pool would be used by all three of our households, he suggested that I should choose the largest size designed for home use. Not only was his reputation impeccable, but he had a pool the size I wanted in stock and offered me a nice discount on it. His crew is ready to start work immediately after lunch if I wish. He assures me he can have the pool completely installed, equipment operating, and a flagstone patio laid from pool to house by Friday noon. Moreover, he guarantees his work with a bond.

I tell my associate to cover my one lab this afternoon and both of my classes tomorrow. I want to watch the beginning of the work and remain at home the next day to make certain the contractor does his work reliably. There are also underground utilities to point out. Once the backhoe is at work digging the hole to accommodate the pool, I walk over to Tom's.

"Drew! What are you doing home? Is anything wrong?" Andrea asks when I walk into the kitchen where she is loading the dishwasher.

"Nothing. I wanted to tell you to keep the kids home this week. I'm having a bit of work done back of the house and I don't want them messing around and possibly getting hurt."

"Then you and Tor best be over here most of the time. You know how they run in and out. What are you having done?"

I can't resist teasing her a little. "Well, I don't know if I should tell you. I'm told women can't keep secrets."

Andrea stomps her foot in vexation. "That's a male chauvinist fabrication and you know it."

I have to grin. "Just don't tell the guys. I want to surprise Tor. He was complaining about not being able to swim much, so I'm having a pool put in. It should be done Friday, but it will be Monday before we get the chemicals regulated. I suppose we could cook out Friday night and take a swim in cold water before I put the chemicals in. Maybe it won't be too cold if the contractor checks out the heater."

"You know the boys will be wild. I hope Tom and I are invited to use it?"

I lean in and kiss her. "Now why would I want to exclude family? It's for all of us."

The boys do come over, but, by some miracle, never once even glance out the window into the back yard. I suppose it was because I had closed the drapes when I heard them at the door. As promised, the work is finished late Thursday afternoon and I am delighted. Some landscaping of the area and it will look worthy of Southern Living.

After looking at the basic planting the landscaper has done, I get back in the house just as I hear Tor's car in the drive.

"Damn Friday traffic!" He yells in greeting.

"Some hello that is," I respond and hug him. "Did you at least get some swimming in?"

"Only when one of those damned idiots fell overboard and I had to go in after him. Dear God, those so-called assistant professors can't even pass basic swimming and they’re being trusted with students." Tor shakes his head in disgust. "I could use a swim now; it's so damned hot the air conditioner in the car could barely keep up. One of these days we're going to have to get a pool."

Just to tease him, I start taking off my clothes. He looks at me as if I've lost my mind, especially when I stand before him in my swimsuit. "Well, you wanted to swim, so come on."

"Swim in what? We don't have a pool."

I take him by the hand and pull him over to the patio doors. "Take a look."

Tor stands at the patio door with his mouth open. Finally he stammers, " It wasn't there when I left."

"Finished it today. The heater hasn't been running long so water, which comes from a deep well, is cold and the chemicals aren't in yet, but it should be good for ….."

"Oh, wow!"

"I ain't believing this!"

Andy and Sergei have rounded the corner of the house and stopped in shock.

Tor grins. "Hell, I'm not waiting." He pulls away and dashes for the stairs and our room to change.

I slide the patio door open. "Okay, guys, go get your suits on. Tor and I are going in now."

"Yeah!" They disappear more rapidly than they arrived. When they return, they are accompanied by Tommy, Andrea, Mike, Stephan, and Luc, with Sergei not far behind.

Tor grins at all of them. "Might as well join us. Drew says it's a family thing."

Andrea bends down and puts her fingers in the water, then shivers. "Too cold. I can wait until it's heated."

"Granpa Tor, catch me." Before anyone can stop him, little Andy launches himself fearlessly into the pool. Tor pulls him out of the water, lifts him up, and swats him firmly on the behind.

Andy's face scrunches up and tears start. "Granpa spank," he says unbelievingly.

"Yes, I did, you little devil and you'll get worse if you do it again. This is not a play toy like your wading pool and you can get hurt. Drew and I will teach you how to swim, but until then you are not to get near this pool unless an adult asks you to get in. Do you understand me?"

Seeing Tor swat Andy's behind brings Sergei's planned jump into the water to a screeching halt.

Andy nods, sniffles a bit, then hugs Tor. "I sorry."

"Good." Tor nuzzles the back of his neck. "I love you, you little imp, that's why I don't want you to get hurt. Tomorrow we will go into town and get you a life jacket, a float, and some toys, then you can play in the shallow end when someone is with you."

"I love you, Granpa."

Tor holds him out to Tom. "Want a wet son?"

Tom shakes his head. "Let Andrea have him. I'm going home and change. Hot as it is, that water just looks too good."

"Us, too," Luc says. "We'll bring some hamburgers and stuff and cook out to inaugurate this great looking grill." I'd had a new gas grill, a sink, and a small fridge installed under the covered portion of the patio near the kitchen door since we like to grill frequently.

The impromptu party becomes a huge success. It's a bit early for mosquitoes so the outside lighting for the pool is enjoyed to the fullest. With Tor watching, Andy and Sergei are allowed in the shallow end of the pool where they splash around and throw an old rubber ball to one another. It's Sergei who howls the loudest when Luc drags him out of the water. If any of us had thought about it, we would have understood, because the buoyancy makes it so easy for him to stand and move with his one leg. But he throws a tantrum which ends when Luc swats his firm little butt and tells him he won't get to swim again until he can behave.

If Andy and Sergei hold that enthusiasm for the water, Tor and I can easily teach them to swim. They already dog paddle well, but seven years of age is an excellent time to begin teaching them to swim and water safety.

I finally drift off into a restless sleep. For the first time, it's near nine when I awaken. Mike comes to the door. "Ready for some coffee, Dad?"

"Let me get washed up and dressed. I'll take it in the kitchen."

"It's really nice out. I'll put it and your juice on the patio."

I'm glad Mike has the week off. It's a comfort to have him in the house with me; it cuts the loneliness that would permeate my soul if he weren't. He has a good associate taking his classes and labs. My retirement won't seem such a delight now. Tor and I had gotten very little of the travel we talked about actually done.

When Mike finished his doctorial degree, his one request was for the four of us to go on a tour of England organized for organists. Tommy was unable to go, having to use the time to settle into his new position in the university's library. With some misgiving, particularly on the part of Tor, we went, only to enjoy ourselves to the fullest. Most all of the host organists were gracious and entertaining with tales of their instruments. Mike was thrilled to get to play some of the finest instruments in the UK. His greatest thrill was playing the superb instrument in York Minster. "It's a dream come true, Dad," he told Tor and me after we returned to our hotel to get ready for dinner.

I'm on my second cup of coffee when our lawyer calls to tell me our lockbox at the bank has been sealed and our joint account frozen until an accounting can be made for tax purposes and to inquire if I need funds. It's no big thing as we also maintained separate personal accounts for just such an event. I'm in no hurry as I already know the contents of the will. I tell our lawyer to do what he can do without me being present, then to call me for an appointment.

I've hardly ended the call when the phone rings again. This time it's the mortuary informing me that Tor's ashes may be picked up at my convenience. I immediately dial Curtis' home number. He retired not to many years before Tor and I, but I don't know the new head of the Institute. I explain what I want and he tells me he had expected my call and has already made the arrangements I asked for. I decide Sunday will be an appropriate time and less likely to interfere with the Institute's schedule. Eric will ride down with me immediately after his last Mass is over.

I dread having to tell some of our family that they cannot accompany me, but Tor was specific. I would rather be alone as Tor wished, but there is no way I will leave either of our sons home. That evening I talk with Mike and Tom privately. They understand, though they are upset, knowing Andrea, the boys, Luc and Stephan will be unhappy at being excluded from this last goodbye.

At about fifteen-thirty hours on Sunday afternoon I shall commend Tor to the ocean he loved so much for the last time. A bronze plaque already mounted on a space of the church's columbarium memorializes our love, for one day my ashes will join Tor’s.

The week passes faster than I thought possible as I take care of the myriad of minutiae that arise in an estate settlement. Sunday morning I dress casually in jeans and sweatshirt, as do Mike and Tom. With a large thermos of coffee in Mike's Jaguar, we pick up Eric, who is letting his new vicar conduct a low non-Eucharistic Mass at ten-thirty. Eric is wearing his black suit and clerical collar.

We grab a sandwich and iced tea for a light lunch at the house that we still own in Manteo, change our shoes for the deck shoes we wear on the boat to protect the deck from scratching and us from slipping, then drive to the Institute. Two lines hold the research vessel to the dock, the twin diesel engines rumbling softly. Gary stands on deck, ready to help us board. I hand him the container then step aboard as nimbly as I always have. Eric, Mike, and Tom follow.

"It's good to see you again, but not under the circumstances," Gary says softly as he hands the metal container back to me. "I'm glad you asked me to take you out. Ain't nothin' else I could do fer ya, but it means a whole lot fer me to be able to do this."

"Tor wanted no one else, nor do I. You know where to go."

Gary nods and climbs the ladder to the bridge. A taciturn man, I suspect is Johnny, appears on the dock to cast off the lines. Mike and Tom catch them then join Eric and me on the well-padded bench across the stern. How familiar and comforting the gentle motion of the vessel and the rumble of the twin diesel engines are. I close my eyes and feel Tor next to me.

Nearly an hour later, I feel the vessel slow to a point that we remain essentially stationary; the bow pointing into the slight breeze. I stand between Mike and Tom whose arms steady me as I slowly remove the lid from the container and look down at the gray ash and bits of bone that had been Tor. I look at Mike and Tom but both shake their heads, it is my duty alone.

Eric has donned his stole and recites the Committal. I lift the open container. "You saved me and gave me life and purpose, Tor, but most important was your undying love. You also loved the sea, calling it your second home. Return to your home, my love." I tilt the container and let the light breeze carry Tor’s ashes out over the Gulf Stream. When the container is empty, I drop it into the ocean and make the sign of the cross. "Farewell, my dearest love, until we are reunited for eternity."

Mike wipes his streaming eyes and chokes out, "I love you, Dad. I owe you and Dad Drew everything. I shall always try to honor you with my work." He makes the sign of the cross and sits beside me.

Tom simply stands gazing expressionless out to sea. Finally he mutters a few words in Cherokee, turns and sits on my other side. I see him wipe a solitary tear from his light brown cheek.

Gary lowers the black emblem, I notice for the first time, that had been flying from the top of the mast. After raising the American flag to the top of the mast from its half-staff position, Gary sounds the horn, moves the throttles forward, and the vessel begins to move back toward the inlet.

It's not that late when we're back home but, emotionally drained, I'm ready for bed. I tell Mike goodnight and go to fix a cup of tea to carry to the bedroom. How I loved that huge king-sized bed. Now without Tor's muscular figure sprawled haphazardly across the mattress' length it looks vacant, leaving me wondering if I'll ever be able to sleep in it alone.

Again as it has with each night, sleep is slow to come. I lie, eyes unfocused, and let my mind wander unfettered.

Quint was frequently after Tor and me, or Tommy to purchase the one remaining lot in our cul-de-sac. We all had good reasons for putting him off, though Tommy, Tor and I would have benefited most as the lot is between our property and Tommy’s. It's a wedge shaped lot, fairly narrow at the street and widening considerably as it extends back, each lot in our cul-de-sac is two full acres. It is almost a copy of Tom's lot, which adjoins it on the other side. At the far back is a small attractive pond. Unfortunately, it is on the edge of undeveloped woodlands, so sighting a snake near the pond is not uncommon. The kids had been warned time and again about going near the pond, but it was our pool that ended infractions of the rule and not infrequent parental punishment. That alone made the investment in our pool worthwhile to me.

Some two years after we moved into our home, Mike wanders over to my office, where Tor and I are having a cup of coffee during our break, and says that he'll take Tor and I to dinner that evening.

"Great idea, Mike. I don't feel like messing in the kitchen and you know what Tor's cooking is like. Besides, he's being a grouch, so I couldn't please him no matter what I fixed. Let's go into town." I say, setting my empty glass on the table beside my chair.

"What about the munchkins?" Mike asks.

"Let 'em eat at home for once. I'll be damned if I'm eating at McDonalds. If we're going out, I'm having a decent dinner," Tor says flatly.

We wind up at the faculty club where, to my delight, lobster is the featured special of the evening. Lobster for each of us, a nice fresh green salad, and a very decent Riesling to accompany. By the time we've finished Tor has mellowed out to the point he comments favorably on the piano player who has been providing quiet dinner music - without vocals, thank God.

Mike smiles. "He's adequate and playing what he knows how to play. No doubt he's some poor music major trying to make a few extra bucks. I feel sorry for those kids because the teachers aren't going to tell any of them that they'll never be more than barely adequate. They let them go on with stars in their eyes, when, if they're lucky, they may get a half way decent job playing in a night club or a nice dining room like this."

"Is that why you didn't want to go on with music?" Tor asks.

Mike nods. "I have a lot of fun with music, but I love what you and Drew taught me about the ocean. I might have been lucky enough to make the top one percent as a music major, but I'd have to make the top one-tenth of that one percent to have a remunerative career. Even then, the choice would be teaching or working hard to build a successful career as a recitalist." He looks Tor straight in the eyes. "There are damn few organ recitalists of repute and they travel almost constantly, having to play on whatever instrument is available, most of them awful. With no real time to familiarize themselves with the instrument, it makes for a hell of a life! Besides, I'm enjoying life right where I am." He stands. "I'm ready if you are."

Mike stops by the piano and drops a five in the oversize brandy snifter serving as a tip container.

"Thank you," the pianist says automatically, then glances up. "Oh, Doctor Torrence. Thank you very much, Sir. I wish I could hear you play sometime. One of the guys in our performance class goes to your church and says you really tear that organ up on Sunday."

Mike grins. "I hope he doesn't mean that literally, as that organ is going to have to last a long time. I only wish it were larger. You're welcome any Sunday."

"I wish. I play for a small country church so I can't get there for a service."

"Leave your phone number on my office door and I'll give you a call sometime when I'm practicing, if you want."

"Fantastic. I'd really appreciate that, Sir."

I add five bucks to his tips as does Tor. It's easy to tell this poor kid works hard for very little return. His love of music is obvious, but I feel sorry for him after what Mike has said about his ability.

Back at home I start a pot of coffee. Mike asks to talk to us and comes to the table with a sheaf of blueprints in hand.

Once we’re all seated, coffee in hand, Tor asks, "So what’s on your mind?"

Mike grins. "First of all, I've bought the lot next door."

"Why the hell did you do that? We certainly don't need it." Tor says.

"Because." Mike grins. "You know I’ve always thought these houses are not wide enough to balance with the height. I asked Quint about it one afternoon and he said he would do some checking, since he’s the sole agent for this whole sub-division. He dropped these off at my office this morning."

Mike spreads out the blueprints. "This is the way the houses were supposed to look, but the costs made them prohibitive."

From the artists’ rendering, the house we're in should be more than double in size and would need the two acre plot. I'm wondering what Mike has in mind. "Okay, so what? It does make the house lovely and balanced, but we don’t need the room," I say.

"Oh, but I do," Mike replies.

"For what?" Tor growls, a sure sign he’s interested.

"I’m tired of traveling to the church to practice and it’s impossible to get access to one of the instruments on campus because of student use. I plan to buy a large electronic, now that I've found one that sounds like the real thing, and practice here at home when I find it convenient."

"And just how do you propose paying for all this, Mr. Moneybags?" Tor asks with his usual sarcasm.

Mike's grin grows broader. "Tor, you and Dad remember when you rescued me from that hell hole and I told you that my mom had just gone off and left me with that woman?"

Drew nods. "How could we ever forget?"

"Well about six months ago I got a call in my office from some lawyer who had a detective track me down. It turned out that not long after she left, mom was in an accident which left her with a serious concussion and no memory of me nor of where she had been. The hospital stay broke her drug habit. With much counseling, she went to work and made something of herself. She married a man who was a self-made millionaire. I guess they were happy, but he died some four years ago and left her everything. She died last fall. Their lawyer was their executor and he found my picture as a kid with my name and the name of the woman and town where she left me. I guess mom had forgotten the picture or it meant nothing to her, so it was the lawyer who had to find me, if possible, to settle her estate. Somehow he did, so after taxes, his fees, and all that, I still got a little over two million.

"If you and Drew approve, now that we have the extra land needed, I want to expand our house so that it looks as it was supposed to and use the extra space for my music room. It will also give me a bedroom suite with a large study and room for my library."

Tor looks at me. I look back at him and nod.

"You know Drew and I are thrilled at your good fortune, Mike. You may certainly spend your money any way you choose, so this is your project." Tor looks thoughtful. "It'll probably be beneficial to you and to us. You know that sooner or later this house will be completely yours. I only ask that the wall between the new addition and this house be so soundproofed that we won't hear the organ when you're blasting away at full organ as I know you like to play."

Mike jumps up and hugs us both. "Thanks so much, Tor, Dad. As slow as things are right now, the contractor that built this place originally can start work day after tomorrow. He promises to keep from interrupting us until the last possible moment, when he has to cut doorways into this part of the house."

"What are you going to tell the rest of the family, Mike? They'll be curious as all get out," I ask.

"Tomorrow is Friday, so I'll turn my one lab over to my assistant and cook dinner for all of us. I can tell them all at the same time after we've eaten."

"The kitchen's all yours, babe," I tell him.

That evening, Mike smiles at the assembled family. "Find your places at the table and dinner will be served."

Enlisting the help of the boys who placed the salads on the table, Mike brought in a platter of tiny young asparagus, then a large bowl of rice and a steaming dish of beef stroganoff, finally returning with small lightly-sweetened dinner rolls from our favorite bakery. After the grace by Eric who has, for all practical purposes, become a member of our family and often eats dinner with us, the boys could hardly wait to fix their plates to begin their feeding frenzy.

Satiated, the adults started to rise from the table. Mike says, "Stay, if you will, I need to tell you guys something." He tells them that he has come into some unexpected money and will be adding on to our house so that it will look as the architect envisioned it.

"Why?" Tom asks. "Lord knows this house is big enough for our dads and you without making it any bigger."

"I've been wanting a good electronic organ and a music room where I can practice without bothering anyone else. I also need a library for all my books and I’d like more room for my lab. That's what most of the new addition will comprise, plus a bedroom suite and a study."

Tom nods. "Yeah, I know you have a hard time getting to practice. Go for it, big brother. I'm glad for you."

"Thanks, Tom. I just wanted you all to know what was going to be going on so you can hopefully keep the munchkins out of the way. I'd rather have nothing than have one of them hurt."

"I know of one whose behind is going to hurt if I find him anywhere near all that construction," Andrea says quickly.

"Make that two, Andrea," Luc adds.

"Thanks, guys. You know our dads and I will keep an eye on them when we're home, but we're not around when they get out of school."

Tor, Drew, and I put our heads together over the original blueprints and make changes to accommodate my ideas. My dads' comments and suggestions are frequently on target and make considerable savings in costs when construction begins.

The interior is in the completion stage, the exterior brickwork, the slowest part of the project, has begun when a large tractor-trailer bearing the logo of an organ builder in Needham, Massachusetts pulls up to the front of the music room where beautifully carved double doors have been installed. Four burley men get out of the cab to open the back.

Fortunately, I had been notified of their arrival, so I'm home to direct them in the installation. I watch fascinated as they open eight large crates, removing the speaker assemblies for the organ. They return and remove a low, sizable, wheeled, carpeted platform which they place just over the threshold of the main doors.

Andrea had been watching with interest from our yard and told me later, with a snicker, that one of the big men said, "Oh, shit, here goes."

The four of them disappeared into the trailer and two of them back slowly into view guiding the rollers of a large shipping platform down the heavy oak boards forming a ramp into the truck. Even as thick as the boards were, I could see them bend fearfully under the weight of the large three-manual console. I was happy that I had all of the information regarding the instrument and its weight to pass along to the contractor so that the floor of the new addition rests on steel beams heavy enough to carry double the load and more.

I signed the delivery slip and the truck had no more than cleared our street when a station wagon pulls up and three men get out. The well-dressed man introduces himself as the chief installer and the other two men as helpers.

I take them inside and point out the chambers for the speakers and the place where the console will normally be. With no hesitation, the two larger men begin to uncrate the speaker units and, using a small electric forklift, place them in the chambers according to the installer's directions and, after pulling the required wiring through the conduits installed earlier, connect them.

The console is placed and I am shown how to plug the console wiring in. Once that is accomplished, the installer sits down and begins to play. It is obvious that a lot of adjustment is needed, but he smiles at me. "With all the reverb in here, the sound is gorgeous. You are so fortunate to have such a room."

He glances at his watch. "We'll be back tomorrow morning to do the final voicing and adjustments. I trust you will be present?"

"I have two lectures in the morning, but I'll be here by noon."


Once again the entire family, Eric included, is gathered at our table. Mike has excelled with the dinner he spreads before us. When everyone is replete, he stands and says, "Coffee and liqueurs will be served in my new music room for those who wish them." Yes, there is a small wet bar tucked away behind invisible doors.

Concealed cove lighting gives soft illumination to the huge room, while the light from two large crystal chandeliers, dimmed to a candle glow, add sparkle to the reflections in the two huge floor-to-ceiling windows on one side of the room. Two equally large French doors, made to match the two windows opposite, open out onto the newly extended patio surrounding the pool on the other. In the center of the long room a library table occupies the space with a sofa backed up to each side. One sofa faces the large stone fireplace, the other the organ console. Two exquisite antique oriental rugs center the conversation areas. The contrast of the polished gray slate floor cause the deep subdued colours of the rugs to glow. A long low flower arrangement sits on the table, the brighter colours of the fresh flowers echoing those in the oriental rugs.

"There it is! Oh, man, I can't wait to hear this." Andy's excited voice called as he darted toward one end of the room where the huge three-manual organ console sat centered. Off to one side is a Bösendorfer concert grand.

"Now that Andy has discovered the organ, I think it's time for the recital."

Mike sat down and, switching the instrument on, played pieces he knew each person present was fond of. I had watched with interest the construction, but during the finishing, I noticed the unpleasantly accentuated reverberation time in the empty room. Now, to my surprise, the furnishings and drapes have brought it to a desirable level for music.

After sustained applause, Stephan says, "I took piano a few years before my accident and heard several large organs, but I'd swear this was real, not electronic."

"Precisely why I bought it." Mike said. "In case you are wondering, this is all my doing. I had this room designed especially for music as you could hear from the reverb time. It also will allow me to play loudly without disturbing anyone. Andrea, I think you'll like the fact that Andy can practice here and spare your ears."

"Mike, you're certainly an adult and can do as you please, but even with the good investments that you have, I know you can't afford such a grand addition to the house and that organ and piano must have cost the earth." Tom says seriously.

After explaining to them his good fortune, he said, "I played a Legacy organ on a trip I took to Boston and knew I had to have one because it sounds so good, the Bösendorfer, too. Maybe this is all foolish, but why not enjoy some of the money while I'm young and can." Here he grinned at Tom and Andrea, then at Luc and Stephan. "I've set up trusts for all the kids, present and future."

"Do you mean Sergei, too?" Luc asks.

"Of course. They might as well be brothers; they're even closer, really. I wanted to make sure their education was secure, because I'll kick their scrawny butts into next year if they don't go to college. Neither of them is stupid."

Tom is up and crushing Mike in a hug, tears running down his cheeks. "I'm so glad it's you with the money, Mike. Knowing Andy can go on to school, no matter where he wants to go, is a big load off my mind. We've started saving for that, but it's been slow."

"Yes. God bless you, Mike." Andrea has joined the hug, tears of joy flowing.

"Aw, hell. Now you all have got us doing it," Luc says as he and Steph wipe their eyes.

"Hey, Andrea, let's go adopt an half dozen Indian kids and help Mike spend his money. Maybe we can bankrupt him," Tom teases.

"Go ahead, but please keep 'em home in the morning until I wake up." Mike begs.

"Listen to this, mom," Andy calls, and opens the organ up until the house almost literally shakes. "Isn't that great? If Mike sleeps in, I can use this to wake him up."

"You do and you won't be able to sit on that bench or anything else for a week. Besides, the main power switch is keyed and I have the key, so there."

"Kill joy," Andy retorts.

After the others drifted back home. Tom, Tor, and Drew join Mike in his study for a last drink.

"I didn't think you needed all this, Mike, especially the lot that was next to ours, but I'm very relieved this whole cul-de-sac now belongs to our family." Tor admits.

"Perhaps I haven't done the wisest thing, but, despite the economy, this area is already appreciating in value. None of us will lose on our investment in our homes. Too, I have the remainder of the money in solid yield investments with a highly recommended financial counselor. He assures me it will build back up rather swiftly. And having this solves the problem of finding some place for Andy to practice on a better instrument than the second hand thing he has at home." Mike fixes his gaze on Tom. "I know you got the best electronic you could afford, Tom, but it's still a piece of junk. I hope his interest lasts because music will give him the discipline he needs. As you can see," he waves his hand around the large study, "I finally have room for all my books.

"Now for a real surprise. Sergei wants to learn piano. He really wanted to take organ, but I convinced him that he would never play well because of his foot, so we've decided it's to be piano, or perhaps harpsichord. He can play duets with Andy. However, I need to talk to Luc and Steph about it."

Tor grins. "You might have expected that with Andy studying. Monkey see, monkey do."

"Oh, well, it's not like the lessons are costing them anything."

"Still playing the favorite uncle, Mike?" Drew asks.

"Why not? Nice thing is that I don’t have a rigid schedule, so I'm not tied down." He yawns broadly and gets up. "You don’t know how much I love you guys."

Drew hugs Mike. "We love you and we're glad for you, son. Have a good rest."

With the entire enclave being made up of family it may seem we live in each others' pockets. To an extent we do, but we are also careful to respect each individual's privacy.

Now that Tor and I are in our last semester before retiring, Mike, for no discernable reason other than, perhaps, his efficiency and personal freedom, has become the center around which our entire family, including Luc, Steph, and Sergei, revolves, with Tor and I as senior advisors. Yet Mike remains stubbornly individual. After the expansion of the house and his purchase of expensive instruments, I would have said that there was nothing more he could do that would surprise us, but there is a small side of Mike that he has not revealed, and it's from this that his surprises to us come as just that. Nothing, but nothing could have prepared us for the afternoon he comes home with twin boys. They look about the same age as Andy and Sergei and would be indistinguishable from each other were it not for the fact that one of them walks with crutches, having no right foot.

"This is Jonathan," Mike says, laying his hand on the shoulder of the able twin, and this is Toby," indicating the twin on crutches. I'm going to be their foster dad for at least a while."

He doesn't get a chance to say any more as Andy and Sergei descend on the twins. "Come on, let's go swimming. Mike can watch out for us. We've got some extra Speedos if you don't have any."

The twins look at each other in complete bewilderment, overwhelmed by the sudden demand by a couple of strange kids they've never seen before and one man they've spent less than an hour with.

"Go," Mike says to the twins, "get to know your new brothers." Andy and Sergei, by sheer force of personality, coerce the twins into joining them in their pursuit of the moment, leaving the adults to talk.

Once the boys are headed towards the pool-house to change, Tor asks, "How the hell did you get yourself into this?"

"You remember when I took Sergei in last Thursday to have his stump checked? While I was waiting, Eileen, you know, from church, came in with the twins. If you remember, she's a supervisor with the Lutheran Child and Family Services. One look at her told me she was in a panic. It seems the twins had both been staying at the hospital while Toby's stump healed, but he was receiving his last check-up before being discharged and she had nowhere to place them together. Several families might have taken in Jonathan, but none of them wanted Tobias. The guys threw a fit when they thought they might be separated. Anyway, Eileen knew about us from the files on Sergei and, seeing us at church and thinking Toby might relate better to some amps, asked me to take them, at least temporarily." He grins. "Never thought I'd have a couple of kids, much less be going to parenting classes. Think the both of you are up to kid sitting the nights I go to class? It's only two hours, one night a week for four weeks."

"Mike, I believe you have completely lost your mind. Surely you can't be serious. First, the house and all, and now twins. They're adorable, but for heaven's sake." Tor looks at me and shakes his head. "I thought once we got Mike grown we'd be free, but then we got Tom followed by Luc and Steph, but mostly Andy then Sergei. Think maybe we can manage to put up with two more from time to time to please this nut case?"

Mike's expression is that of a man who has just won the lottery. "You think I'm crazy? About as much as you were when you and dad stopped and rescued a dirty, bloody little tyke from a drunken screaming bitch." He hugs Tor and me. "I have one advantage over you guys, I have some money and an extended family to make this work. You guys didn't have a hell of a lot back then except each other and lots of love, yet you took me in and gave me the world. I hadn't known what real love was until then."

Mike looks at Drew. "I won't be in until about 11 tomorrow. Tell Nicholson to cover my nine o'clock. The lecture notes are on my office desk and it's one he can handle with no prior notice."

"And just where will you be? It's students that cut classes, not professors," Drew retorts.

"Now that I'm a father, I have to get my two little monsters in school." Mike grins. "And don't say it. I remember you taking me to school several times."

"I'm not saying a word. I just hope they fit in easily. I'm certain Andy and Sergei will look out for them. You would have thought they were long lost friends the way they swooped down on the twins. Oh, yes, be sure to tell Andrea you'll take the boys to school tomorrow so she can go directly to her school."

"I will." Mike shakes his head. "Four of 'em to corral twice a day, every day. That would have a lesser person ready to be committed. I just hope Andy and Sergei don't intimidate the guys too badly."

"Not likely. Take a look." Tor jerks his head toward the patio doors overlooking the pool. The boys are playing in the water like river otters.

Andy happens to see us watching and calls loudly enough to be heard through the open door, "Mike, can me and Sergei eat with Jon and Tobe tonight?"


"Aren't you cooking?" Andy asks in surprise.

"I was planning on eating at your house," Mike replies, teasing.

"Aw! Mom's cooking corned beef and cabbage an’ I hate that stuff. It makes me fart. What's Luc cooking, Sergei?"

"He and Steph are eating at your house, too."

Andy's nose wrinkles. "Uugh. Can we eat with you and Tor, Granpa?"

"Sorry, guys. Tor and I have a dinner meeting in town tonight, so we're not cooking."

"Shit," Andy says under his breath so we aren't supposed to hear it, but Mike does. Sergei giggles when Mike dashes through the door and shakes his finger in Andy's face. "You know better than to use language like that. Do you hear it at school?"

Andy shakes his head. "Sorry, Uncle Mike, but I hear you say it a lot."

Mike drops his arm and tries to become invisible as he slinks back into the house without saying anything else.

Tor is doubled up in laughter. "Told you those chickens would come home to roost one day."

"Oh, shut up, Dad." He shakes his head. "Looks like I'll be feeding four kids tonight. Guess it'll be a trip into town for hamburgers."

"I know they'll scream to go to MacDonalds, but take 'em to Hardees for the Angus burgers; they're very good and have hardly any grease," Tor says.

"Glad you reminded me. I've been wanting to try those."

"If you don't want to go into town. There are close to six pounds of shrimp in the freezer and some crabmeat if you want to fix a casserole, scallops, too. Plenty of salad makings in the fridge." Drew adds.

"Thanks, dad. The guys will want burgers if they're given a choice." Mike smiles broadly. "I'll be glad to eat shrimp and crab with you guys anytime, so save 'em for now."

Mike slides open the door. "Okay, guys, haul ass! Get dressed so we can go into town for a burger."

"Wow! You're great, Mike," Sergei yells. The other three nod in agreement as they splash to the edge of the pool and crawl out.

Seeing them wearing only tiny Speedos, Tor remarks to Mike that the twins colouring is more like Andy's.

"It should be, they're a quarter Cherokee like Andrea. That's another reason Eileen wanted me to take them. She was planning to ask Tom and Andrea to take them, but time had run out and I just happened to be handy."

The twins remained distant with us adults for some time. Tom and Andrea were the first they began to exhibit comfort with. Mike was next in preference as he let Andy and Sergei spend almost every night with the twins. Once the twins saw that no one paid the least attention to their race, they relaxed and became eight year-olds again. What mischief Andy and Sergei couldn't think up, the twins did.

What a Thanksgiving! To give poor Andrea a break, I ask Tor and Mike to have a family dinner at our house because of the greater amount of room. Mike says he will, if I help him prepare.

As is always the case with a family meal, because of the amounts required, the cooking gets spread around. I'll roast the turkey because I have the largest oven and it will take it for a turkey big enough to feed fourteen or so of us. I won't mention the look I got from the butcher when I asked for a twenty-pound bird. There wasn't one that large available, so I settled for a fifteen pound bird, and another weighing ten pounds. From there, I had to go to a restaurant supply house to get another roaster large enough to hold the second bird. I estimate it will take all night to cook both according to the way the butcher suggested I prepare them. Mike'll make the pumpkin pies Thanksgiving morning.

Steph takes on the cornbread stuffing, made from an old family recipe, and the traditional green bean casserole. Andrea makes up a corn pudding she says comes from an old Indian recipe passed down from her great grandmother. Henry loves it but, because it's an Indian recipe, Margaret refuses to fix it herself or let the cook make it, though the cook has made it at home on a rare occasion and brought it to Henry on the sly. Tom has finally learned to do some cooking, a necessity with four hungry kids often around his table. He makes a very creditable cranberry sauce using fresh cranberries. I have sneaked a taste and think it is probably a little more tart than the kids would prefer. Eric will be bringing wines as his contribution.

The kids are outside playing a haphazard game of soccer. For a while they sat around the pool griping because I refused to let them go swimming. Tor and I will keep the pool heated and use it for exercise until freezing sets in, but a string of wet boys running in and out of the house for drinks and snacks while we're trying to prepare a holiday dinner is the last thing I need. Earlier on, Mike had given each boy a sandwich and a soda to satisfy them during the Thanksgiving Day parades they watched on the 42 inch screen LCD TV at Luc's. We plan to eat at five.

Tor thinks I haven't noticed the occasional shrimp that found its way into his mouth rather than the bowl where they were supposed to go after he shelled them, why else would the ketchup bottle be so handy. He would normally alibi by saying he is responsible for making the sauce once the shrimp are all shelled and chilled, but that won't be the case this year. Now he's grumbling as he shells the jumbo shrimp and butterflies them while Mike is making up a bit of crab imperial to use as stuffing. A few minutes under the broiler and we'll have an appetiser to die for.

Mike tried the stuffed shrimp out on Tor and me earlier when he found the crab imperial recipe in the phone book of all places. I know Tor's grumbling comes from feeling slighted as he traditionally makes up the shrimp cocktail appetizer for family occasions. We think the sauce he makes is to die for, of course if you don't like horseradish ... . The shrimp cocktail is the traditional beginning of our holiday meals, though we consume plenty at other times. We never make a trip to our home at the beach without bringing back several pounds to restock the freezer.

With the boys washed and neatly dressed, the cooks as well, we all gather around the table, standing behind our chairs for the blessing. Another holiday tradition, when a meal is involved, is that Tommy begins by chanting an Indian blessing in Cherokee. I can't help but sneak a look at the twins who are staring at Tommy, mouths agape. I see Mike look at each, a hands on each head pressing gently downward to a reverent position.

Pr. Eric, who has joined us for this festive meal, asks a more traditional blessing, after which Mike adds, "I want each of you to mention the one thing for which you are most thankful this year. I think this has been a year of greater blessings than usual. Tor, will you start?"

There's a moment while Tor thinks, then he says, "The love of my companion which has sustained me through good times and bad."

It's my turn next. "Tor's unstinting love, which is ample enough to include others and welcome them into our family."

Tommy lifts his head and smiles. "The moment I first met Mike who taught me love I'd never known before, and brought me into a family where love is endless."

"It is with this love that Tom won my heart and makes our family a joy," Andrea says with a sniffle.

"I love everybody here 'cause they're nice to us kids most of the time," Andy pipes up.

After a few hushed giggles over Andy's qualified thanks, Luc says, "Yes, love enough to encompass an outsider who is homeless because of his love. No one could love their new family more than Steph and I."

"Well said, Love," Steph replies. "I am thankful for the love that brought us into this family and for our son who had no love until he came to us."

"I love my dads. None of the other kids at school have so many dads like us. And, like Andy said, they're all nice to us most of the time."

Stephan's parents are next to Serge, and I see his mother hug Sergei to her for a moment, before he squirms to get loose. She is also holding her husband's hand and squeezes it. "Gordon will speak for us both."

"I don't even know where to begin," her husband says slowly. "Our son has given us a family we love dearly. Perhaps not the family we expected, but one just as precious. Not only that, but he has given us an extended family one can only dream of having. Millie and I are richer than King Midas and ever more grateful."

The twins are on either side of Mike, but Mike speaks first. "I know that I am most thankful for my two dads who rescued me and gave me the direction that has resulted in who and what I am today. They also taught me to love, that is why I have the joy of two wonderful sons whom I hope will learn to love freely."

"We're glad we've got a nice home and brothers who are fun, and a dad and lots of uncles, and a special nice aunt." The twins speak in unison as they often do.

Eric closes. "I am thankful to have such devoted people in my parish. They set an example for others and bring joy to all. May this and all our days be filled with the constant love present here. Amen."

"Let's eat," Andy bursts out, "it's getting cold!"

Our first Christmas with the twins is nothing short of a riot. Toby has gotten his new foot and adapts far faster than normal with Sergei to guide him. Needless to say, it was all sparked by the Christmas parades and ads on Thanksgiving Day.

"I want an I-pod for Christmas," Andy declares.

I look blankly at Mike, for I've no idea what an I-pod is or does. Mike keeps up on current technology as a hobby.

"It's a tiny solid-state player for music that one downloads from the net. They're interesting little gadgets with good sound, but," he grins, "they're damned expensive." He shakes his head. “Unless you know how to download music from CD's you have by using a computer, you have to pay for most of the pieces of music you download from the net."

"Yeah, that's what I want, too," Sergei chimes in.

The twins still have a few reservations about expressing themselves, unlike the kids, but I can see from their expressions that they think this is a fantastic idea. I nod at Mike and say nothing more. I make a mental note to phone my financial advisor tomorrow morning to see just how well my 'slush' fund is doing. After Mike's inheritance, he found a savvy financial advisor to whom Tor and I turned over our investments as well.

We all do a bit of decorating for the season, but because of the size of Mike's music room and closeness we all share, the adults decide to accept Mike's offer of having a big tree where Santa will leave all his gifts. Andrea and I will cook a stack of waffles for breakfast; they can be kept hot in the warming oven and our new dining table will seat the eleven of us with plenty of room to spare. Luc, Andrea, and I will cook Christmas dinner to be eaten in the early evening, sort of a repeat of Thanksgiving.

"Hey, Mike?"

"What do you want, pest?" is my answer to Andy's untimely breaking of my concentration as I read over a new piece of music.

"Am I gonna have a lesson today or not?"

I glance at my watch and see I should have started Andy's lesson a quarter hour ago. "I guess. Get your butt on this bench and play your part of the duet."

I sit back to listen intently. Andy is no child prodigy, but he's become quite a competent musician rather quickly. The piece is a hymn tune with variations, showy and not all that difficult. Sergei will play his part next, then I'll have them play together. If I'm satisfied, I'll drop it on them that they are playing this for a prelude for the Sunday High Mass. Eric will be delighted at their participation.

Sergei wanders in as Andy is playing the final chords, wrinkling his nose. Their choice of music and artists, if anyone trained in music would consider either to be actual artists or music, is certainly not mine and they know the consequences of even mentioning it in my presence, though Sergei will occasionally start to play snatches of such if my attention wanders during his piano lesson.

"Okay, Sergei, play your part."

Sergei grins at Andy and begins to play as forcefully as possible. On duets, he's determined to make the piano overshadow the organ. Although it is a technical impossibility even on the huge Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand, he comes close. His strength is unbelievable for a teenager.

Though I wanted to hear Sergei play his part alone, Andy soon joins in and opens the organ up. I know it's mischief, for they can't play this loud in church, but both acquit themselves beautifully. At the end they look at me with broad grins.

"Good work, guys. Good enough that you're playing this for the prelude at church on Sunday." Then I smile. "Try not to play so loud that you give the old folks heart attacks." They both laugh and nod. "Andy, keep a steady and moderate tempo on the chants. You had Eric gasping for breath when you played two weeks ago. If it had been me, I'd have picked up that big brass bound Bible on the altar and hit you with it."

He gives me a serious look. "You know I hate music that drags."

"I know, but there's a happy medium, guy. You can't say I drag the hymns."

He nods. "That's why I wanted to study with you. You make music move almost like some of the stuff Sergei and I like."

I fake a scowl. "What have I told you guys about mentioning that crap in my presence?"

"Just because you don't recognize real music when you hear it." Sergei says snidely.

I move quickly and he gets a knuckle massage on top of his head.

"Okay, okay, I give, Mike."

All of us attend church on an irregular basis, going mostly when Mike or Andy is playing something spectacular, but we have from the first made the boys say a blessing before meals, always followed by the sign of the cross. It is simply done, and no one thinks anything of it.

I'm in my office one afternoon when the phone rings. I answer and a voice asks for Dr. Michael Torrence.

"I’m sorry, but he’s giving a lecture this hour. I’m his father, perhaps I can help."

"This is Mrs. Worthington, the principal at Westwood Academy. I’m afraid we need Dr. Torrence here to resolve an incident that has taken place."

"I am the boys' grandfather. I will be there immediately. Thank you for calling."

It takes me less than ten minutes to reach the school.

After identifying myself, I am shown immediately into the principal's office. "And you are?"

"Dr. Drew Torrence. Now what seems to be the problem?"

"I happened to be in the cafeteria at lunch time. My attention was drawn to Andrew, Sergei, and the twins as they apparently said a grace over their lunch, then made some type of sign before they began to eat."

"And your point is?"

"Really, sir, it appeared to be religious in nature. We cannot permit such a display in this school."

"This is a private institution, so I cannot see the problem if a child has been taught to properly respect God and His gifts. I assure you that our children are devout and the sign of the cross is one of remembrance and reverence. I doubt you make Jewish students remove their yarmulkes."

"We don't have any children of that faith, but certainly we would not," she snaps.

I shrug. "And the difference is?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean simply that if you permit symbols of one religion, then you cannot refuse the symbols of another."

"But …"

"I'm sick and tired of this political correctness crap, and Christians always having to yield to other religions. This county was founded on freedom of religious practice and I will not make our grandsons stop a practice they have been taught is right and proper. Now if you persist, I will have my attorney contact your board of directors."

Apparently the matter was dropped, for the boys report that no one has said anything further about their practice of a blessing.

As soon as school let out for the summer, the boys began to bug Tor and me for their annual holiday at the beach. Andy and Sergei immediately demand that Deke be invited as well. They have kept faithful contact through e-mail and, after another of Mike's extravagant moments, the boy's computers are equipped with a webcam and Skype, so that they now hold conversations. It took a week's removal of internet privileges to make both boys aware of reasonable time periods.

Tor, Mike, and I make arrangements and Deke's mother drops him off the morning we're to leave. The twins ignore Deke's hook as completely as the boys, since they're used to Steph's, so there's no awkwardness, just a lot of teasing back and forth with occasional cries of, "Hurry up, Dads."

Mike packs the five kids in his Jag, while Tor and I pack the luggage, coolers, and other assorted necessities in our LeSabre, then we depart in a hap-hazard convoy.

It's quite a bit warmer at the beach than it was at home, so the boys are instantly begging to go to the beach. I can tell Mike is almost as antsy, so I tell him Tor and I will unpack the cars, while he takes the kids to the beach. He'll be using a battered second-hand Jeep we bought and keep at the cottage for beach trips and fishing.

Once we've gotten everything unpacked and put into place, Tor and I grab a cold beer and relax under the huge live oak in the backyard. We both napped, for we awaken to the cries of the kids coming around the house lugging a small cooler. It's filled with shrimp, and Mike is carrying a large bag of salad makings and a bag of frozen fries. We'll feast tonight, beyond doubt.

Mike grabs a quick shower and helps me in the kitchen while Tor supervises the kids', much to their disgust, showers. We know from experience that the kids like to get a quick splash of warm water and call it a bath. Definitely not adequate to remove salt sticky beach sand.

By the time all the members of our family have had a holiday at the beach, it is almost time for school to resume. However, for the first time, Tor and I are not involved, having officially retired. Mike has become the Dean, replacing Tor. He took the position with much complaint that he preferred teaching, and only after Tor's assurance that he and I would orient Mike so that his new duties would not be as onerous as he anticipates. After a few weeks, I would swear it's Tor still in command rather than Mike.

Immediately after Christmas, Tor and I leave for a six weeks tour of New Zealand and Australia, to enjoy their summer season. Though we had planned to 'just be tourists,' Mike found the e-mail addresses of a few colleagues in our specialties and sent them notice of our itineraries, so we find ourselves 'wined and dined,' and giving an occasional lecture in return. To the great delight of both Tor and I, while in Australia, we are invited to spend a long weekend at the home of a colleague at the Gold Coast campus of Griffith University. He and three of his post grad students take us diving off shore. Tor and I are supposed to gain information on the effects of pollution on the barrier reef, instead we're both entranced by the beauty and the, unusual to us, sea life around us. Tor motions us to the surface, and as he explains that he must obtain a camera to use underwater, the face of our host clears, for he was worried that Tor was being dismissive.

The next day, Tor and I drive our hosts to exhaustion as we find more and more things to photograph. Naturally, I'm in heaven amidst all this new, to us, beauty. After a fine dinner, with wines, at the university's faculty head table, Tor gives an abbreviated version of his standard lecture on pollution. I follow with a shorter illustrated lecture on my photographic techniques.

At a reception afterward, Tor and I are flattered when the president of the university invites us both to spend a year as guest lecturers in our specialties. As much as we appreciate the kindnesses of our host and the university, we decline, explaining that we've just retired and are using the time to expand our knowledge with the possibility of publishing new work.

Our time in New Zealand was made equally enjoyable by the graciousness with which we were received by colleagues at the University of Otego in Duneden. Tor was pressed into another lecture on marine biology, while I had to spend three three-hour sessions introducing grad-students to the art of marine photography. Given the brief amount of time those selected by their professors to attend had to gain background information, I was amazed and pleased by the questions asked as I taught. I also saw several new products for underwater photography. Maybe their departments were better financed than ours, but I knew that I would be spending some serious money once I got to the photographic supply house our host assured me he would accompany me to before Tor and I left the island.

Mike meets Tor and me at the Raleigh airport. Tor and I are nearly exhausted from our trip, but strangely refreshed at the same time. After a good night's sleep, Tor and I give Mike a fully illustrated presentation of the things we accomplished.

"Danm! I thought you were going on a vacation and rest."

"We would have, except some jackass tipped off a few of our colleagues in both countries, and Drew and I were shanghaied into giving lectures." Tor retorts.

Mike grins. "Yeah! And look at those beautiful photos you were able to make. There's not a darn thing closer to us like that than the Carribean, as you well know."

We grab Mike in a family hug. "It was actually exciting to dive with people who knew what they were doing in selecting the best places to see what we wanted to find. The only near thing was that aquatic snake we showed you the pic of. He started behaving a little aggressively, so you can bet we shot up to the boat as fast as possible. Those things are reputedly one of the most deadly species known. Fortunately, our host was prepared and killed it."

As time passes, Tor and I stay busy with revising our texts and writing new books and articles, so much so, that our travel is limited primarily to the beach cottage. It comes as a shock to both of us the first time Andy and Sergei demand to do the driving on one of our trips. They certainly know the way, but neither Tor nor I had realized the kids, as we still thought of them, were now proud possessors of driving licenses. Where does time go?

Then it's high school graduation for all four of the boys, Andy, Sergei, and the twins Jonathan and Tobias. Tor and I are pleased that Andy is determined to study marine science, while Toby quickly became my shadow as soon as he saw my camera. I started him with an inexpensive digital camera, amazed at how quickly he progressed beyond its capabilities, so for Christmas he got a new digital equivalent and more to my favorite instrument.

Sergei and Jonathan continue their music, especially after Mike agreed to enroll them as private students so that they can receive arts credit for their work. Jonathan loves books as much as Tom and plans to major in library science. Only Sergei enrolls in a basic program as undecided, though he's leaning towards marine science just now.

Tor and I have to give the kids one thing, they don't ask us for help unless it's for guidance in research or writing of papers. Our professional library does get a heavy workout, however from three of them. Tom has taken Jon under his wing and made him a student assistant. Jon glows with pride.

I become a bit concerned when Tor comes close to passing out as we're leaving the stadium after the boys' graduation ceremony. We've made a token appearance since all four are staying on for post-grad degrees. I whip out my cell phone to call 911, but Tor knocks it out of my hand. "I'm okay. It's just the heat. Let's get in the car and get the AC on. I'll be okay once I cool off."

Mike and I walk on either side of him, until he's in our car, the AC going full blast. I'm still concerned, but he appears to recover quickly and gets out to congratulate the boys, all the while showing no ill effects. I decide to let it go. Should I demand that he see a doctor, he will throw a tantrum. I don't know of another PhD that hates MD's as much as Tor. That's why I've always been the one to take the kids to their doctors' appointments.

By some coincidence, Tor, Mike, and I all have new books announced by the same publisher for the same release date. We've gone to the faculty club to celebrate with a fine Maine lobster dinner and returned home for coffee and a liqueur. Mike and I have completed our toasts, but when Tor stands, he falls over before he can speak. Mike rushes to his side while I dial 911.

I watch in tears as Mike shakes his head and stands, then hugs me tightly until the doorbell chimes. After admitting the rescue squad, he takes me into the library and hands me a brandy. "Sit down and drink this, Dad. I'll be back in a minute."

After I hear the front door close, he returns to me. "Let's go to bed, Dad."

Not since he was a frightened little boy has Mike slept with me, but this night it is he holding me comfortingly. At last my eyes grow heavy.


Feedback always welcome:     

As always, my deepest gratitude to Jim (Rockhunter) for his dedicated editing.

Posted: 04/17/09