When I was a kid, I was in the Cub Scouts. I never made it all the way to full boy scout, the local group disbanded before I could get that far. Anyway, our scoutmaster, (I’ll call him Jake) was a big lanky tough guy, the guy from whom I learned to kill cattle quickly and how to saddle a horse without it drawing a breath so the flank billet doesn’t loosen up on you. I idolized the guy, and spent half as much time with him as with my own father, for a couple of years.
I also spent a lot of time with Jake’s son, Rock, who was close to my age, and his daughter, Elisabeth, who was two years younger.

They lived on a piece of property that you could land a plane on, they had horses, some livestock, each year they dug up a fresh evergreen for a christmas tree and put it in a washtub in the living room. After Christmas, Jake would plant the tree in a hole dug in the front yard. They had fourteen of these blue spruces along the edge of their driveway, one for every Christmas they lived in that house.

Anyway, in about my fifteenth year, they moved on. Jake got a job with some packaging company in the south, and he packed up the whole family and left. We didn’t hear anything from them all summer, but that fall, the mom and the kids came by to visit just after thanksgiving. We went another several weeks without hearing from them, and then dad woke me up in the middle of the night.

it was a school night, and he didn’t do that. Ever. he just said ‘get up, I need your help’. I got dressed and we drove south on old 41 for hours before he spoke. “Jake left his wife and kids” was all he said. When we stopped, it was in a campground south of Kentland, Indiana. Jake’s wife and two kids were in a fifth-wheel trailer that he just dropped off and left, told them not to expect to see him ever again.

Some other friends of the wife were already there, helping to sort through clothes and put enough portability into their lives to be able to move on. Dad and I boxed the rest of their posessions and put them into the truck. THe mom and daughter went of with her friend and the son and I and dad moved on down the road in the truck. The trailer was going to be reposessed the next day. We drove the whole way home in silence, only the occasional sound of dad striking matches on his grizzled beard to relight his pipe.

The boy, Rock, was completely silent, and i had no idea what to say to him, at all. I had my dad, he didn’t, anymore. When we got home we loaded all the stuff into the garage where it would be warm, and dad left for work. He was already so close to go-to-work time it only made sense. Rock and I went to bed, he in the folding bed that always lived in my bedroom for company. We slept only a few hours before I had to get up for school. Rock, having no school to go to, slept more or less until I got home.

IN the next week we did a lot of juggling of who was sleeping where, what to do with their horses (they had two) and how to deal with their lives. The mother got a job almost immediately with a local doctor, they rented a tiny farmhouse on the outskirts of Valparaiso, and they got settled in at schools etc. just in time for christmas break. I can’t talk much about what kind of Christmas they had that year without breaking down, still. After all these years. I know that from that Christmas on I never cared much for presents, I considered the health and presence of my friends and family all the Christmas I need. i still do.

Our family made sure they had food and heat and cars that worked, for years. More than one night Dad and I drove the 40 miles from Cedar Lake to Valpo to fix a furnace, or a car, or drag a dead horse from a stall for the processor. We sacrificed a lot that they might be able to have a life, any life. That, my friends, is what it’s about. Merry Christmas.