Ecclesiastes 2:26 "For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind."
Joy is free. I was never more joyful than Christmas time on a Catholic boarding school campus empty of students and most staff between 1988 and 1994.
One of the most joyful days of my life took place a little before Christmas Day in 1994 at La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Indiana.
The campus is stunning and rings a lovely spring fed lake with massive pines, hickory, elm, maple and oak trees.
My wife Mary, daughter Nora and son Conor lived in a four bedroom house attached to La Lumiere School's Becket House - home to twenty-three young men in their junior year and in our care. Becket House was one of three male houses for boarders - the others were Newman for freshman and sophomores and Aquinas for seniors.
My role was to supervise studies, make sure that the rooms managed to stay as hygienic and orderly as possible, give the guys some sense family and make sure that the natural inclinations of seventeen and eighteen year old males had some checks.
The guys were great. They spoiled my kids and loved my wife. Me, they tolerated - I can be a huge pain in the ass. No, really. The campus emptied after semester exams.
We needed a Christmas tree -The campus was empty but for a very few people.
The Hickeys had the run of the place.
I was still driving a 1974 Ford four door that I bought off of Dave Raiche before leaving Bishop McNamara High School for this wonderful teaching job that included housing for my young family and free meals. Te Ford kept me grounded and reminded me of what Diocesan Catholic school payclecks are all about - La Lumiere is a Catholic Independent School - better pay and perquisites. I was able to purchase a newish Buick Skylark that Mary used for her work at Le Mans Academy in Rolling Prairie and to convey the kids around to baby sitters, school and regular transport.
I drove the Ford on campus and used it only for very short trips to stores and gas stations on Route 20. Today, I would use the Blue Beast to haul home a Christmas tree from field on far northeast corner of campus, where maverick pines grew. Didn't cost me nickel one.
The night before it had snowed fiercely, as it often does in northwest Indiana, leaving thick tufts of white stuff between patches of green and brown pine needles. It was cold.
Mary and the kids wanted to go cut the tree with me. I had a very good Craftsman bow saw and ta hick Chinese army corduroy hat, a replica of a Russian fur hat, that embarrassed Nora no end. On it went.
" No, Dad! Not the Russia Hat! Someone might see us!"
Nora was nine and in second grade at Notre Dame Parish School in Michigan City. Nora and her vain little chums played the knee-cap tragedy of Nancy Kerrigan on patches of ice in the playground. The little strumpets would jog onto the ice and fall grabbing their knees in feigned pain and anguish and cry out, like knee assassinated Olympic skater, " Why? Why? Why,?' after Tonya Harding took a hammer to her.
That game is indicative of the level vanity-sophistication possessed by Nora and her pals, who just 'might' see me wearing the 'Russia Hat.'
Mary bundled the whining wench and her joyfully grinning little brother as tight as ticks into JC Penny winter wear, scarves and gloves and boots and we went out to the blue Ford.
We drove down the hill between Becket and Augustine House from Becket Parking onto the Burma Road that ran up and past the Academic Center and Aquinas House and through the road cut by the maintenance crew to the fields. The road weaves through magnificent tall pines planted in the 1930's when the La Lumiere School campus had been a Civilian Conservation Corps site. Poor young city kids from Gary and Chicago planted these pines still at Grenadier Guard attention.
The snow started again and it was cold. Mary, Nora and Conor bravely stepped out of the car for a nano second and bolted back in - " This is Big Daddy work, fella; go get your family a nice one," said my gorgeous redheaded queen of obvious irony. " Don't lose a finger, Big Boy!"
Off I trudged through deep drifts and pelting snow.
I found a six footer and full and cut it down. Then dragged its corpse back to the Ford. I tied the tree to the roof and got into the car. I shifted to Low. The Ford shuddered and went deader than Kelsey's nuts.
I popped the hood and monkeyed with wires from the distributor to the battery and nothing.
Not a spark.
" Well, this certainly is Merry Christmas," whined my nine year old wounded Nancy Kerrigan re-enacttress.
" March or Die," I replied and began singing, "Marche de la Légion Etrangère" (Le Boudin).
"Tiens, voilà du boudin, voilà du boudin, voilà du boudin! . . ."
" Not funny, Dad!!!!!!!!!! Why did you make us come with you? Oh, this is some Merry Christmas!"
" Chill pill, Nora," ordered the boss of the Hickey latch-up and Red Haired Mary led her duo of unhappy and snow crusted little woodchoppers through the field and into the pines.
Conor was happy and worried about the Blue Beast.
I would have Greg and Shawn from maintenance jump the old flivver and get it back to some running order.
Mary and the two kids set off on foot back to the campus proper without any sort of a look back. Hot Chocolate and a warm house and Dad could catch up.
I dragged the ever heavier Douglas Fir back to Becket House, like corpse of Sam Magee. onceBack at Becket House, I trimmed off the stump and branches, bounced the big pine on the snow shoveled ( yours truly) concrete patio outside the house and fixed it to its stand.
We set the majestic pine up in our living room. Mary garnished the tree with wooden ornaments that she had made, or traded for with other Art teachers and coiled of thick old timey lights.
It was a joy. My joy increased with birth of Clare in 1995 - the image of her mother. Mary died in 1998. The kids are all grown up. Nora is married to much better man than I could ever hope to be; Conor is a skilled tradesman and still a joyfully happy young man.
We had great tree in 1994.
Didn't cost nothing. I tend to forget that, 'grasping for the wind.'