Fonticulus Fides

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Uncle John's Christmas Story

My dad's elder brother John used to enthrall me with this story when I was a kid. At family gatherings, I used to sit on the floor by his chair (on the beer can side, not the cigarette side – he always had both going) and listen to him tell stories until I was told to go play with the other children.

Anyway, this is the story he told every Christmas when I was a little girl. I can’t attest to how truthful it is – John being John – but it’s a good story nonetheless.

John's trade was sheet-metal work. He started out as an apprentice when he was something like 14 – he was at his full height by then and had completed his eighth grade education. He enlisted in the Navy shortly after Pearl Harbor – he was only 17 but lied about his birth date in order to serve. He spent his time in the South Pacific, patching up boats as they floated and sending them back to the action, but he never saw any combat himself.

After the war, he returned to Chicago and continued his job as a sheet-metal worker. He joined the union (big union people, my dad’s family) and was guaranteed a steady income and a very nice pension, if he made it to full retirement age. Most sheet metal workers had to retire early because the work is so hard on the body. But my uncle was too tough to let history stop him – he was going to retire on a full pension, come what may.

Christmas Eve sometime in the late 60s, John pulled a second shift on the job site, counting on double pay (holiday rates) for a total of 16 hours. Four times the wage in just one day – John couldn’t resist that. Just as his second shift was starting, it began to snow. Some of the other fellows who had agreed to work the double changed their minds. "It looks bad," they said, choosing to go home lest they get snowed in and miss Christmas with their families. John stubbornly stayed on, with a handful of others. But they kept checking the weather and one by one, they all clocked out early.

Except John. He stayed until the bell rang, hoping his foreman would reward him with an extra bonus.

When he finally left, there were 14 inches of new snow on the ground – thick, wet drifts, courtesy of Lake Michigan and a hefty wind. It took him almost half an hour to locate his little yellow Volkswagen Beetle under the drifts. Actually, it wasn’t his car, it was his daughter’s. His car was sitting at home in the driveway, waiting for some sort of repair he hadn’t had time to take care of yet.

Using a shovel borrowed from the work site, John dug the driver’s side and rear out of the drift and then started up the engine to let the car warm up while he shoveled out a path to the street. The Chicago street plows had been by several times already, so he figured once he got to the street and then on the Eisenhower Expressway, he wouldn’t have any trouble getting home.

It took a long time to dig a path to the street, but John just whistled Christmas carols as he worked and thought about the best way to spend that extra money he had coming to him. A couple of times, he went back to the car to warm up a little, but all the Beetle could afford was shelter from the wind – the heater either was on the blink or just couldn’t compete with the outside temperatures.

John finally started on his way shortly after midnight, Christmas morning. The little Volkswagen was surprisingly easy to handle in the snow, John thought. He drove about three miles on city streets, then got up on the expressway and turned southwest, toward his home in the suburbs. The plows had been out on the Ike, too, but it was snowing harder than ever and the wind was blowing so bad, drifts were practically forming right before his eyes.

Then all of the sudden, the Volkswagen began to sputter. John looked down at the gages and slapped himself on the forehead – he was out of gas. He’d let the car run the whole time he was shoveling and spent most of the little gas that was in the tank while it had been idling.

John guided the car to the side of the road and weighed his options. He was about seven miles from home. The wind would be mostly at his back, but it was bitterly cold, and the snow was blinding. John calculated that he might make it home walking, but it would take a good three hours. And he couldn’t risk frostbite on his toes or fingers – that would mean early retirement and losing his pension.

He thought about getting to a gas station, but he was at least three-quarters of a mile from the nearest exit, and then he wasn’t even sure how close any gas station would be to the off ramp, let alone one open at 1 a.m. on Christmas morning. Anyway, he only had a handful of change on him.

He was already feeling the cold. John took off his gloves and blew on his fingers to warm them, stamping his feet on the floorboards to keep the blood flowing. He fished a cigarette out of his pocket, but his lighter was empty, so he couldn't smoke it.

Putting his gloves back on, he got out of the car to see if his daughter had any emergency supplies stashed in the trunk. He found the spare tire, a flashlight, and a flare, but no matches to light it...nor a cigarette. No blanket, no food.

He pocketed the flashlight and slammed the trunk lid down. The snow was already starting to drift around the tires of the car. He took a handful of it and ate it to quell his thirst, then did 50 jumping jacks to warm himself up and climbed back into the car. He cracked the passenger-side window open a bit to allow for oxygen, and sat there, thinking.

His chances of another car passing him on the road weren’t good, and he knew it. He figured the snow couldn’t last more than a couple hours, so he’d better just wait it out.

He spent the time singing Christmas carols and mentally spending the extra earnings he was counting on. Every 20 minutes or so, he’d hop out of the car to do jumping jacks, clear the snow from the back tail lights – just in case somebody happened to drive by – eat a handful of snow, and climb back inside.

But he was mightily tired. A double shift, then all that shoveling. John was finding it harder and harder to stay awake. He knew that if he fell asleep in the car, he’d die there. He slapped his forearms against his chest, stomped his feet, laid his cheek against the cold window, sang louder and louder…and still, he fell asleep.

* * * * *

In a tiny walk-up apartment nearby, a young couple was anxiously watching the snow and praying that it would stop. The woman’s belly was swollen with their firstborn, and the contractions had already started coming five minutes apart.

"We have to get you to the hospital," the husband said.

"We’ll never make it," she gasped between contractions.

"It’s five minutes on the Ike."

"Not in this blizzard!"

The husband jumped up, "Well, we have to do something," he said. He picked up the phone and dialed the operator.

"My wife is in labor, and we don’t think we can make it to the hospital," he said. "Can you get us an ambulance?"

The operator apologized. All the rescue vehicles were already out on calls. Soonest anybody could be there was an hour or two. "Fine," he said, "I’ll take her myself." The operator offered to call the hospital to say they were on the way, and he agreed, telling her the route he planned to take.

Grimly, the husband slammed the receiver back into its cradle and fetched coats and blankets. "We’re on our own," he told his wife, "and I am taking you to the hospital, now."

The poor woman huddled in the back seat, alternately terrified and stricken with labor pains. "Drive slowly," she begged. "Don’t get us killed." And then another pain would overtake her.

He drove carefully, easing onto the Eisenhower with his emergency lights flashing. The plows had given up, so the roads were worse than he thought. Five miles to the hospital, and he was sure it would take them at least a half-hour to get there.

Four miles to go. Every time his wife shrieked in the back seat, he jumped. But he set his jaw and kept right on going.

Three miles to go, and she cried out again, "Baby’s coming! Baby’s coming!"

He panicked, "Don’t let it!"

"I can’t help it! Stop the car, please, stop! Stop and help me!"

He pulled in behind a snowdrift, hoping that would block the wind. He had no idea what he was going to do – he didn’t know how to deliver a baby!

But as he climbed out of the car, he saw the flashing lights of a police car coming up behind him. The operator must have notified the police for them! He stepped out into lane, waving his arms. The squad car stopped alongside the couple’s vehicle and two cops jumped out.

"My wife is in the back seat, she’s having a baby!"

The husband opened the back door and climbed in behind his wife, while one cop went around to go to the other side. The officer slipped as he turned in front of the car, putting his hand out to the snowdrift to stop his fall. But it wasn’t a snowdrift, it was something solid, completely covered with snow.

It was uncle John’s Volkswagen.

The cop called to his partner to check out the other car while he helped deliver the baby. John was sound asleep and headed toward hypothermia. When they got him to the hospital, his body temperature was very low, but there was no frost-bite, and he recovered completely, going on to be the first man ever to reach full pension retirement age from the Chicago Sheet Metal Workers Union.

"And that," Uncle John would say to finish the story, "is how one Christmas morning, God used another newborn baby to save my life, after sending the Christ Child to save my soul."

We've now spent quite a few Christmases without Uncle John here to tell the story. But I guess he’ll be spending the Holy Day singing "Gloria, gloria, in excelsis Deo" with the choirs of angels. He never could get enough of that song.

And now you know why.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Out of the mouth of a real babe

I was downtown with the kids today around 5:30 p.m. and was politely stopped by Dan from Channel 8 news. He wanted a comment about our mayor's plan to purchase cameras to mount over street lights for snapping photos of people who run red lights. I believe the idea is to catch more people when a police officer doesn't happen to be handy.

I hadn't looked into the cost and effectiveness of these gizmos personally, so I demurred, saying I just hadn't had a chance to research the issue yet. Dan offered to give me all the information, but I demurred again and said I needed to get the children home for dinner. Honestly, though, my hair was being swept around by the wind, and even though I always have a lot to say about everything, I just didn't want to do it on TV looking like that!

On the way to our mini-van, Scooter (the four-year-old) asked me why I didn't want my picture on television.

"Oh, I couldn't really answer his question, and I'm not pretty enough to be on TV."

"But I am!" she protested.

Yeah, she's got a lot of confidence. But honestly, she is a real babe, so she can carry it off.


Friday, November 07, 2008

Fighting the Freedom of Choice Act

If you are interested in joining the fight against the Freedom of Choice Act, you might want to visit this site, which includes a petition to sign and other information.

Personally, I'm hoping that President-Elect Obama will be too busy futzing with the economy and dealing with foreign affairs to keep his promise to Planned Parenthood. In the meantime, let us all pray that our "unalienable right to life" will be protected for ALL Americans, even those awaiting birth.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Insert Tears Here

My friend Mrs. B-B and I have been trading darling stories about our children today. Here's one for the ages.

Zooey, age 9, has been begging me to set up a Yahoo e-mail account for him. I've been trying to put it off in the hopes that it's not that important to him yet, but no luck. Finally, he asked if he should discuss it with his dad, and I said sure. So he went off to plan his attack.

After the kids were in bed, my husband found Zooey's crib sheet. It reads:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dad, can I have an account on Yahoo! too?* I have my user name and password ready to go. Please?

(give pleading look)

(If he says no, pretend to cry.)

(If he says yes, say, "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!" and give him a big hug.)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

After he was done laughing, my husband said, "It's not a good plan. He should know by now that if I say no, crying isn't going to get him anywhere.


*I completely love his attention to copyrights -- he put the exclamation point in Yahoo!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Note to Joe Biden

Pope John XXIII was a Jesus guy on abortion.

Pope John Paul II was a Jesus guy on abortion.

If you try to say that you're a John XXIII guy, not a John Paul II guy, you're very, very, very confused. The Church is not divided on the issue of abortion, much as you, Nancy Pelosi and other politicians would like to think otherwise.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Funniest thing I heard all weekend

My husband, upon entering the kitchen:

"Wow, look at you, putting up food for the winter just like the pioneers!"

(I was microwaving corn, cutting it off the cob and freezing it in Zip-loc bags because I had too much for us to consume that night. Yeah, just like the pioneers!)


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What a life!

As this interesting piece in the Washington Post points out, there is a huge, huge difference between the way pro-choice people and the way pro-life people look at babies with disabilities.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Coolest Music Teacher Ever!

In preparation for today's feast of Saint Gregory the Great, our parish's own Sister Mary has been teaching the upper grades some Gregorian chant. Zooey, being a 4th grader, is now in the "upper grades." He was really excited to be part of the chant at this morning's Mass...which, alas, I had to miss because of work obligations, and, alack, my husband had to miss because of an emergency dental appointment.

I'm sure it was lovely...I need to talk Sister Mary into letting the children sing chant for a regular Mass some Sunday. (If I talk her into it, she can talk Father into it...)

I'll tell you what, the kids at public school aren't learning Gregorian chant as part of their regular curriculum!


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Theology At Dinner

My husband works a later shift, so the kids and I usually have dinner without Daddy. Since school started last week, I've been trying to make it a point to ask the kids what they learned each day. With three kids -- a 4th-grader, a 1st-grader and a preschooler -- that can take a very long time, so I'm sort of limiting it to one or two subjects a day. Monday was spelling and reading. Tuesday was P.E. and math. Yesterday, I decided to be a good Catholic mom and ask about religion.

The preschooler came up blank. That doesn't mean she didn't get any religion instruction, though. I know the teacher well and she talks about religion all day as she teaches this Montessori-style class, so there isn't necessarily a focused religion lesson. If they are talking about wild animals, they're talking about how God created elephants to have long noses for this purpose and giraffes to have long necks for that purpose. If they are talking about apples, they are discovering the lovely star-shaped pattern of seeds that God placed in each one (cut them cross-wise to see it) and how He loaded them with nutrition. You get the idea.

The first-grader said she couldn't remember. I told her to think about it and we'd get back to her.

The fourth-grader said they had a quiz on the Old Testament. I suggested he ask me one of the questions to see if I knew the answer. The question he picked was a fill-in-the-blank: God made h____ and e____. I answered "hedges and evergreens" for fun and when Zooey tried to protest, I insisted that God did make hedges and evergreens, so I couldn't be wrong. Then I tried "hyenas and elephants" and the kids all giggled. Finally I (correctly) supplied "heaven and earth."

It was really a lovely conversation. And then Edyn, our six-year-old, dropped the ginormous bomb of a question: "When was God born?"

Ummmmmm...yeah. She always does this to me.

It's not that I don't know the answer. It's how to phrase the answer so that she and her little sister can understand. (Zooey tends to get most of that stuff thanks to really good religion teachers at our school.)

I got a piece of paper and a pen because I always do these things better with a visual aide. (When I taught 2nd Grade Sunday School in our protestant years, that flannel board got a work-out!!)

I explained that a mortal being had a beginning (conception) and an end (death). And I drew something like this to show that time line:


Then I said that an immortal being, like an angel, had a beginning (creation) and no end, with this diagram.


Then I explained that when Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, he was able to take our mortal lives and change them into immortal lives. (I skipped over the "immortal soul" part because I thought the girls were too young to understand that their bodies are mortal but their souls are immortal. Zooey jumped in and said that, and they just stared at him blankly.)


And then I explained that God is eternal, so He has no beginning and no end. He just always "IS". At first, I drew it like this:


But then I also drew a circle with arrow heads all pointing in the same direction around it (which I can't recreate here, sorry).

At this point, all the kids were gnawing at their corn-on-the-cobs and nodding, so I was thinking I was getting more points toward that Mother of the Year award.

Then somebody asked what kind of a being was mortal and didn't live forever. Zooey put in a few suggestions like snakes and bats. I threw in wart-hogs, wanting to keep to the "yucky animals we don't like" category.

Then Zooey's eyes filled with tears and he said, "I wish dogs had immortal souls."

Two little girls' chins dropped. They stared at him.

Scooter whipped her gape from Zooey to me and burst into tears. "You mean Lazlo's going to die? Lazlo isn't going to live forever and ever?!?!?!"

Lazlo is our dog, in case you didn't know.

Scooter's tears made it impossible for Zooey to hold back his own floodgates. Before I knew what was happening, both kids were on my lap, sobbing into my shoulders (one on each side -- and let me tell you, Zooey is such a big kid, that was a very dampening experience).

Edyn continued to calmly eat her chicken leg. It's not that she doesn't like the dog. I think she was just really hungry.

Anyway, I tried to console the two devastated kids with the usual stuff. "God keeps track of the sparrows," I assured them, referencing Matthew 6:26. "He's not going to forget to take care a good dog like Lazlo."

"But I'll never see her again!" Scooter cried.

"We'll see her in our photographs and in our memories," I said, figuring I might as well experiment with consolation techniques because I had NO idea how to make this sound okay. "We'll see her in our hearts."

Scooter looked down at her third shirt button.

"But I can't see into my heart!"

I decided I'd said enough. So much for the Mother of the Year award. I just hugged the kids until they thought to call the dog and hug her and assure her of their undying love, and then hugged the kids again until they had cried themselves out.



Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What a pity!

Apparently, growing up "empowered" by your feminist mother isn't all it's cracked up to be. Read the tragic tale of Rebecca Walker for the sad details.

I hope this mother and daughter reconcile soon.