A Second Chance -- Chapter 30

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

Hope you all enjoy this: Dawn

MONDAY, May 23, 2016 (Victoria Day Holiday in Canada)

Rachael was up well before dawn on Monday and crept through the house, trying to be quiet and not wake her mother or Bobby. In the bathroom, she discovered that her period seemed to be nearly over, and said a quick prayer of thanks for it having been so painless. Then she went downstairs and quietly slipped out the door.

Then she left for her Grandpa’s house. He was already awake, and she made them each a bowl of cereal and some toast for breakfast. After about 15 minutes a van pulled up at his driveway and inside were Mikki, Carly, Larissa, and Larissa’s mom, driving. Mikki had piles of camera equipment stacked up in the back of the van. Rachael helped Grandpa, wearing an old, loose-fitting uniform, into the front passenger seat, and then crawled into the back with the girls.

Grandpa soon realized that Mme. Hafleur preferred speaking French, and they were soon chatting away in the front. Rachael also spoke in French, directing the woman downtown to where the cenotaph was through the dark streets.

As soon as they arrived the girls piled out of the van and Mikki directed them in setting up the equipment. Even for late May there was a chill in the pre-dawn air, so Rachael asked Grandpa and Mme. Hafleur to stay in the van where it was warmer.

Mikki was in charge. Larissa and Rachael helped her set up, while Carly read her lines for the introduction they hoped to shoot today. There was also a section there for the wrap-up, in case they were able to get to it as well. Rachael had written both during the past week, and all four girls had agreed that they were happy with them.

The sun was just peaking over the horizon when Mikki was ready. Carly was on first, wearing a nice, conservative dress that Larissa had picked out for her from her ample clothing collection. Rachael held up a big umbrella thing that reflected the light on Carly’s face and front to Mikki’s satisfaction.

Carly recited: “In the Town of Ingersoll, the cenotaph monument is different from most Ontario towns, where only the names of the fallen are recorded. Here the names of everyone who served are listed: those who died in battle, as well as those who returned,” Carly said. “Staff Sergeant Pierre Verdun is listed on the monument, but it is not his name he is looking for. It is the name of those he served with: those who survived, and those who did not. Almost all of the veterans of World War II are gone now: those who were not taken by battle have been taken by time. But the names on the cenotaph record the names of all, and for Sgt. Verdun, he can find the names of the men who he served with. Including that of Corporal George Stiller who served with Sgt. Verdun from the start of the war until a fateful day in June, 1944.”

“And cut,” Mikki said. “That was good, but I think we can do better.”

It took five more attempts to get the few seconds of video done. Carly kept stumbling over the words, until finally Rachael took the script away from her, and had her say it from memory in her own words. That worked, and although she changed a word here or there, it was now smooth and natural. Mikki made her do it one more time, and that was even better, without the nervous frustration from trying to follow the script perfectly.

“Okay, now the part introducing Larissa,” Mikki said. “If we can get that in two or three takes, the sun will be perfect for doing Grandpa’s role.”

This time Carly was not on camera, and she just had to narrate as Larissa came up to the cenotaph and looked around until she found the name she was looking for, Sgt. Pierre Verdun. She would then touch the name, running her finger along it, and then turn to the camera and smile.

Carly read, and felt less pressure, because Mikki said if the words were not perfect, then they could redo the sound. “In early 2016, more than 70 years after the liberation of France by allied soldiers, a young French family moved to Canada. Back in France their daughter, Larissa, had often seen the graves of the fallen Canadians who died freeing her nation. Like all students there, she had annually gone to the graves of the fallen, to remember them, and to honor them. When she moved to the strange and cold country of Canada, she was surprised to learn that one of these veterans still lived, only a few short blocks from her home, and she was able to meet him in person.” At that point Larissa found Grandpa’s name on the cenotaph, and turned and smiled.

“Cut,” Mikki called out. “That was perfect Larissa. Perfect Carly. But let’s do one more take. The sun is not quite right for Grandpa yet.”

A few minutes later Rachael helped Grandpa out of the van, and Mme. Hafleur also got out, impressed by what her daughter and friends were doing.

Again, this would be a non-synced scene, with Carly reading off camera. When Mikki was ready, Rachael got her umbrella, and held it up as Larissa took Grandpa’s arm and helped him, especially up the rather high step the cenotaph steles stood on. He searched for the names, and then his finger lit on the one of Corporal Stiller. In perfect timing a tear came to Grandpa’s eyes, as he traced around the poppy symbol beside the name that designated a fallen hero.

Carly read: “It is the name of George Stiller that Sgt. Verdun is looking for today. George was 18 when he enlisted, and 21 when he crossed over to France. They were not in the first wave on D-Day, but several days later they were clearing the way for several Canadian divisions, when they came to a concentration of Nazi defenders, determined not to let the Canadians through. George lost his life that day, and since that time has rested in a war cemetery several miles away from where he fell.”

“Cut,” Mikki said. “There is no way I’ll be able to duplicate Grandpa’s face, and that tear. It is perfect. You can get down now, Grandpa.”

“No. I think I will stay here for a bit, if this young lady will oblige me.”

“I will do anything you want, sir,” Larissa said softly. “We owe so much to you, and to all of the others named here.” Grandpa’s hand went from one name to another. A few were men he served with, but as a Van Doo, these were few. But there were many other names that he recognized from men he met at the Legion after the war. His finger went from one to the other, and he sighed. The girls and Mme. Hafleur were able to pack up the van before he finished.

Larissa gently helped him down the step. “Don’t get old, girls,” he said somberly. “It is no fun being the last of your generation.”

“They call it the greatest generation,” Rachael said, “and there is a good reason for that. And perhaps you are here still so that you can pass the story on to us younger ones. Remember:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

“Oooh, we need to get that into the video,” Mikki said. “Will you be able to remember it?”

“I will never forget it,” Rachael said. Grandpa looked over to her and smiled.

“Yes, you will always hold that torch high, won’t you?” The somber mood from the cenotaph was gone. “What now?”

“Lunch next,” Rachael said. “Then we will film a bit in your living room, telling the story of that day. It will only take a few minutes for us to whip up some sandwiches for you.”

“I love your sandwiches,” Grandpa said. “But it is my turn to treat. How often does an old soldier get to take five pretty young ladies to lunch? Should we go to that café your Mom worked at?”

“Anywhere but there,” Rachael said. “It looks like that little place down the street there is open. Let’s go in.”

Mme. Hafleur insisted on paying the tip for the meal. Grandpa had forgotten his wallet, but his embarrassment eased when Rachael noted that she had his debit card, and was able to pay for the meal with his money using it.

The group went back to Grandpa’s house, and Mikki set the living room up as a studio. This time all the reflectors and lights were on tripods, which left Rachael without anything to do. Carly’s role was also minimal, since this scene, the longest and most important one in the movie, would just be Larissa asking Grandpa to describe that day. Each pass through took about 15 minutes, and after the second one Mikki decided that they were into a point of diminishing returns. Grandpa was not an actor, and telling the same story over and over to the same person didn’t seem to fit his temperament.

“I think we have some good stuff,” Mikki said. “No sense going at it again. Now I just want to get a shot of the medal. Then we just have to put it together with the file Larissa’s uncle shot in France.”

M. Hafleur had shot a perfect scene. Only 30 seconds long, it started with a wide view shot of the cemetery, with the stones lined up row on row in that triangle kind of effect that a camera creates. He then zoomed in, and also walked closer until there was a full frame of George’s gravestone. It had been a beautiful, sunny day, and the inscription on the stone could be clearly read. The video had bounced slightly as he had walked forward, but only Mikki noticed, and said she could stabilize the image.

Another bonus had come from the National Film Board, who turned up an 18 second newsreel clip of the King presenting Grandpa with his medal.

As Mikki was getting her medal photos shot, including a shot of the newspaper article, Rachael heard giggles from outside. It was Marc, Jerry and Bobby, playing with Miss Lajoie’s dogs.

“Whatcha doin’?” Bobby asked as he rolled between the two dogs, who now considered him a member of their pack and loved playing with him.

“We are just finishing up our video of Grandpa in the war,” Rachael said.

“Can I be in it?” Bobby begged. “I want to shoot at the Nazis. Bang, bang, bang.”

“No, Bobby. You can’t,” she said. “You are a bit too little to pass as a soldier. But you have just given me an idea. And where’s Momma?”

“The baker man, Geoff, came by and they went off for another driving lesson. She said I had to come down here and see if you would look after me. If you won’t I have to go home and read in the house.”

“Yeah, you can stay. You have your friends anyway. Is Miss Lajoie going to let you walk the dogs?”

“Yes, she went to get the leashes.”

“Well, take a good long walk. I want to talk to the girls for a minute.”

Rachael went inside, and saw that Mikki was packing the last of her gear. “All done, except for the editing,” she said. “I think we have a pretty good video.”

“Want to make it a great video?” Rachael asked.

“What? How?” Carly said.

“What if, while Grandpa is telling his story, we have actual live action of what he was describing? We could shoot it in black and white, and have shots of him, or a young man acting as him, throwing the grenades, and shooting his rifle off at the Germans.”

Mikki’s eyes went wide. “That would be perfect. As I was shooting Larissa and him talking I was bothered that it was such a long scene with no real action. We could cut back and forth between them talking and the action shots. It would be great.”

“But where would we get actors? That costs a lot of money, doesn’t it?” Carly said.

“I think that if we ask the Legion, they will find us some soldiers: with authentic uniforms and weapons,” Rachael said. “In fact, I bet there are a lot of high school seniors who had a grandpa over there that would love to honor them that way. And in the credits, we could mention the boy’s name, and then the name of the grandfather.

“I’ll call the Legion,” Rachael continued. “I know a bunch of guys from there who helped drive Grandpa to dinner. We’ll have to shoot it next week, won’t we? To give Mikki time to edit it together?”

“Two weeks would still leave enough time,” Mikki said, “if you guys are going to help with the editing. I can use both Macs at home, and have one or the other of you doing things on the one while I work on the other. It’s going to take a week or so though.”

“I don’t care if it isn’t perfect for the project,” Rachael said. “We can keep working on it into the summer if it will make it better. I think Mr. Churchill will accept it in an unfinished state, if we are close. Heck, I bet he would give us an A just on what we have shot so far.”

With that the girls were driven home, and Rachael stayed and helped Grandpa lay back for his nap. Soon after, including a little cleaning of the living room, she heard the boys come back. The dogs were returned to their kennels, and when Rachael went out, she heard Jerry prodding Bobby, saying “Ask her.”

Rachael wasn’t 100 percent trusting of Jerry. After all, he and Jeb had attacked Bobby only a few weeks ago, so her interest was piqued. “Ask me what?” she said.

Bobby got nervous. “The guys both have bikes, and I don’t. I tried telling them that Mom doesn’t have the money for a bike, but they wanted me to ask you.”

Rachael tousled her brother’s hair, still messy from rolling in the grass with the dogs. “You know, Bobby, you really are a good kid. Not wanting to ask for something and make Momma feel bad. But I think there is a little more money now. We probably can’t afford a new bike for you, but a used one might be possible. And I think I know just the place. Let’s go to church.”

“On a Monday?” Marc was rather astounded at the idea. As they walked closer, Jerry balked. “That isn’t my church,” he said, stopping.

“Mine either,” Marc said. Rachael knew that he was Catholic, from talking with Larissa. She didn’t know what faith Jerry followed.

“It doesn’t matter boys,” she explained. “You can visit other churches without hurting your own church. In fact, it would be a good thing if people could see how others pray. It is the same God, isn’t it?”

That seemed to mollify them, and they resumed walking. Rachael led them around the back, where she saw the shed door was open. She popped inside, hoping to find Gary, either working or relaxing, although she had doubts that he ever relaxed. The shed showed signs of his attention. In only a few days it had turned from an unwieldy junk pile of garbage into a semi-orderly arranged area. There was now a tool bench that had a head of rusty tools at one end, but at the other there was a wall adorned with clean and useful tools. Of the larger items, an attempt at organization was made, with appliances and power tools arranged near each other. There were several refrigerators currently in states of tear down. Then Rachael saw what she was hoping to find. There was an area with perhaps a half dozen bicycles hanging from rafters.

Smiling, she popped out of the shed. “What a mess,” Jerry said.

“You should have seen it before Gary started cleaning it up,” Rachael said. “Let’s see if he is inside the church. Probably in the basement.

Rachael’s guess was right. Gary was down in the kitchen, and he had four refrigerators torn apart, with items strewn across the floor. “Be careful boys, don’t mess up Gary’s work.” She then addressed him: “What are you up to, Gary?”

“Fixing the fridges first,” the caretaker said. “We had four down here, donated by folks that got a new one at home. None of them work correctly, although that one had a working freezer, and that one had the rest working, but not the freezer. Pastor McFarland asked if I could get it so they have one good one, but it looks like I should be able to get them all going with the parts of a couple that were in the shed.”

“I saw those,” Rachael said. “It made me think you might be down here.”

“Do you know if the fridge and stove work in the house Pastor McFarland is moving into? You live there now, don’t you?”

“Yes we do, until Sunday. And both fridge and stove work well, although they are a bit old. No older than these four though.”

“I’ll go over and check after she moves in,” Gary suggested. “Just to make sure and maybe give them a tune up. And then I have to work on the stoves here. Two have a burner or two working, but none of the ovens work. The church ladies apparently had to stop doing dinners a few years back without ovens.”

An idea started forming in Rachael’s head. “Gary, when you were living rough, you used to go to the soup kitchens in town, didn’t you?”

“Sometimes. But there was never one around this part of town.”

“Was there a place to go every night of the week?”

“No. The downtown United Church did Monday and Friday, and the Baptist Church did Tuesday and Thursday. But there was nothing on Wednesday, and of course the churches are too busy on the weekends for the likes of us.”

“You should mention that to Pastor McFarland,” Rachael said. “If you were to get the kitchen up and running, we could do a mission dinner on Wednesday’s for folks that need a good meal. I know of some places that would donate food to help out, and we all could provide labour.”

“I knew you were an Angel,” he said. “Always thinking of others. I know what it is like to have an empty stomach for days on end. I’d be willing to donate some of the money the deacon keeps giving me. I don’t need all of it, and I just put the rest back into the mission box. And he keeps giving it back to me.” He chuckled. “I wrote my name on a twenty from the first money he gave me, real small like, and put it in the collection plate on Sunday. So that night he gives me $60 more, and guess what? That same twenty came back to me. I dropped it into the collection box this morning. I wonder if I will get it again?”

Rachael laughed along with the man. “You really should keep your money. You are certainly earning it. That brings us to the reason we are here. Bobby needs a bike, and I thought I saw some in your shed. Do you want to fix one up and sell it to me?”

“Come with me,” Gary said, leading her and the boys back up out of the basement through a side door Rachael didn’t know existed, and back to the shed. Gary went to the area with the bikes, and pulled three down.

One actually looked pretty good. It was at least 20 years old, but in good shape, with good tires, although totally flat. “Too big for him,” Gary said, and put it to the side. “It isn’t safe for a boy to ride a bike that is too big. This one would work though.”

“But that’s a girl’s bike,” Jerry sneered.

“Yep, and without the crossbar it is safer,” Gary said.

“But it is a girl’s bike. Bobby is a boy,” Jerry insisted.

“Well, some people would think a girl’s bike is better than no bike at all,” Gary said. “But let’s look at this one. It is the perfect size for him. Should last him two years, maybe three depending on how fast he grows.”

“That’s a pile of cra … crud,” Jerry sneered. The bike did look like it was past its best-before date, Rachael thought. The front tire was torn open, and didn’t seem to have a tube, and the back tire had more than a few broken spokes. It looked as though someone had put a foot through it. The saddle covering was gone, with only the raw springs left, and the handlebars were bent to an odd angle.

“Can you really fix it up?” Rachael asked. “And how much will it cost?”

“I think we need about $40 for tires and parts that I can’t get or make. But by the time I finish with it, it will make that big one look like the pile of crud.”

Rachael went into her purse and forked out $40 from the grocery money. She had $40 saved up from the money Maria had given her for clothes, so if Momma wasn’t happy, she would use that money to reimburse the grocery funds. “Here, Gary,” this is a down payment. I want to pay you for your time, though. Keep track of the time you spend on it, and I will pay you for that.”

“No way, my angel,” Gary said. “You have already given me so much. I will start on this tonight, after I clean up the kitchen a bit. Your will have your bike on Wednesday, if you come in after school,” he told Bobby.

“I’m going to have a bike. I’m going to have a bike,” the boy chanted to himself as they walked home. Marc and Jerry turned off to go to Marc’s house, where Jerry had apparently left his bike.

“Well, the next thing we have to do is get you a helmet, and then teach you to ride,” Rachael said.

“Yeah, I need a helmet,” he said. “But I already know how to ride. Marc and Jerry would take their bikes down to the park, and I ran alongside. When we got there, they taught me how to ride. I fell down a couple times, but now I am getting pretty good: on Jerry’s anyway. Gary is right. Marc’s bike is too big for me, and I was always falling from it.”

“Wow. That surprises me. And look, there is another surprise. Geoff is parked out in front of our house. Let’s go say hello, and ask Momma if you can have a bike.”

Inside they found that there was an incredible aroma, with bags and boxes on the dining room table.

“Geoff was so impressed by your dinner yesterday he volunteered to treat us tonight. It is Chinese food,” Maria said. “I haven’t eaten Chinese since before Bobby was born.”

Of course Bobby and Rachael had never had it, although Ron-memories of Chinese food still were there. Bobby turned his nose up at some of the strange-looking food, but tried small bites of everything, and found he really liked more than half the dishes. Chicken balls were his favorites, along with the egg rolls. And rice was familiar to him, but he liked the taste of chicken-fried rice, pronouncing it ‘best rice ever.’

Over the meal, they told about the great bicycle caper with Gary, and Maria said that she would buy Bobby a brand new bike, if he didn’t like the one Gary came up with. “We have some money now,” she insisted, “with all the money from rent savings, plus the bonus money my new boss keeps throwing at me.” She gave Geoff a smile that Rachael thought might be more than just friendly.

“Yes Momma, but we shouldn’t stop being frugal. You need some savings, and there is bound to be something else come up,” Rachael said.

“Yes, but a boy needs a bike,” she said. “If the one you found doesn’t work out, I’ll get him one somehow.”

“He does need a helmet,” Rachael said. “And that isn’t an area I want to scrimp on. Can you get him one tomorrow? Gary is going to have the bike ready on Wednesday after school.”

“We could drive to the store after the bakery closes,” Geoff suggested. “You’ll have your beginner’s license by then, and can practice driving in town. It will be good experience for you, and we can go to the sporting goods store at the mall. They have helmets there, or at Canadian Tire.”

“You should be sleeping at 6:30, not shopping with me,” Maria scolded. Geoff just smiled.

“One short night won’t kill me,” he said. “And driving out there will save you guys more than an hour on the bus.”

“As long as you get your baking done on time. I’ll be the one they complain to if their bread or goodies aren’t ready and waiting for them at 9 a.m.”

Geoff left, Bobby went for his bath, and Rachael and Maria chatted about their respective days. Rachael didn’t bring it up, but it was clear that Geoff and her mom were building more than a work relationship. Rachael discussed how the movie was going, and how grandpa felt about it.

After reading to Bobby, Rachael knelt by the side of her bed.

Dear Lord

Thank you again for this wonderful life. Bless Bobby, who didn’t want to ask for a bike. His eyes got so wide when Gary said he would fix him up with one. I know Bobby will love whatever Gary can do. He always does. And Bless Gary. He is working so hard for the church. He is like a new man. A good man. A man that honors his Lord, and works so hard to atone for his former life. And Bless Grandpa. It was hard for him today, seeing all those names of friends who are gone now. But hopefully when we move in with him next week, we can give him enough love to make up for his long, hard life. And please, please, help me get Momma and Geoff together.

Amen



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