Franke: A Contemporary Christmas Carol

December 21, 2022

by Mark Franke

Anne Perry is a popular author of Victorian era mysteries. She writes several series using her stable of inter-related characters. I’ve read some and understand why she has such a fan base.

Every Christmas she releases a novella using her regular characters but not in their usual milieu of murder and depravity. The focus of these short books is on charity, redemption and forgiveness. She writes them for the Christmas season, after all. And I read each one as soon as it hits my local library.

I can’t write like Perry but I do have a true story to tell, one that might not meet Perry’s standards for her Christmas tales but still should warm the cockles of most hearts.

We know the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Ian. Here in Fort Wayne, we all have friends and neighbors who spend their winters in Florida along the west coast in the St. Petersburg area. Someone told me once that there are more Fort Wayne natives in Fort Myers in January than in Fort Wayne. I don’t intend to field test that theory as I love our seasons here, all of them. And might an early winter presage a white Christmas? My grandchildren sure hope so.

So what does Anne Perry have to do with me? My wife’s sister and her husband have a home in Ft. Myers that they had hoped would be their retirement residence . . . except that it bore the brunt of Ian, causing extensive wind and water damage. Their home didn’t quite meet the FEMA standard for demolition so they are faced with the effort and expense of rehabbing their house.

Think about the difficulty of finding a competent, reputable contractor to help with that. The state or feds run commercials to hire only licensed contractors. That may be sound advice but it is not natural law. My in-laws are a case in point.

My wife’s brother-in-law was working on his house when someone came to the door. He introduced himself as Carlos, a demolition contractor working on several houses on that street. Licensed or not, he gave the appearance of both professionalism and honesty. He was hired on the spot.

His work was excellent and priced appropriately. Now don’t get me on a high horse about the immutable law of demand and supply. Yes, costs go up after a hurricane as businesses move products and services to the affected area. I get tired of self-serving politicians screaming price-gouging whenever they see an opportunity to score a political point. Price controls may be appealing to the economically illiterate but they only harm in the long run.

Carlos did excellent work, on time and within budget. Compare this to the licensed contractor who showed up with an offer to replace the siding. His price was three times the going rate. Fortunately this is still a free country and my brother-in-law politely refused the offer. So much for governmental licensing.

But the story doesn’t end here. My wife’s sister was at a local big box lumber yard buying a shower stall wall. What she didn’t anticipate was that something this large was not going to fit into her vehicle. And forget about store delivery any time soon.

She heard a voice calling to her from across the parking lot. It was Carlos, and I’m sure you anticipated this, asking if she needed help. He offered to use his pickup truck to provide immediate delivery to their house and refused any payment for this service. He also offered to transport any other oversized products they needed. Note that this was after he had completed work at their house and was paid.

Anne Perry has it right. There are things that can’t be reduced to economic calculation. Or should I say a monetary one. Economists understand that value is subjective and personal. A dollar sign can be put on some things but not all. Another economic law is that people act rationally in their own interest. That means in their self-interest, but which ofttimes is driven by kindness.

There must be millions of Carlos types out there, people who see serving their fellow man as the motivating principle of their lives. Sure, Carlos was paid for his work at their house; after all, it is his vocation. Yet Carlos clearly does not subscribe to a purely mercenary philosophy of life. He marches to a higher drummer.

It is now the season of Advent. We Christians go through four weeks of contemplation, repentance and anticipation. Then we worship awestruck on Christmas Eve and, for many of us, return to our churches on Christmas morning for a festive service of adoration as we contemplate the ineffable miracle of the Incarnation. Nothing compares. Nor can it.

Merry Christmas, Carlos. The Star of Bethlehem shines through you.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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