“Well, don't blame me, blame Wal-Mart,” said Hooter as he launched his empty Copenhagen can at the trashcan.
“Quit that,” scolded Aunt Pinky. “I'd think you'd figure you're in enough trouble as it is.”
“I've got to admit, this feels a whole lot like dejavu for the zillionth time,” grinned Hooter.
In fact, had someone captured the moment on Kodak's finest, it would have been the mirror image of lots of similar moments before, albeit moments taking place three decades hence: Hooter and his aunt waiting in the office of one educational professional or another to discuss Hooter's most recent politically incorrect indiscretion.
Today, the office happened to be that of Horace Highbottom, the latest in a long line of circuit preachers to bring the Word to Rio Rojo United Methodist Church. The current charge was that of encouraging minors to participate in pagan holidays.
Highbottom was thinner than a squashed tapeworm with the translucent skin to match. By and large the females of the congregation, especially those who had to dye their hair every week, counted it a coup that a preacher of Highbottom's experience would be assigned to Apache Flats. Although he cut a frail figure, Highbottom did possess a confidence that made those in his flock seldom question his beginnings.
Actually, Horace Highbottom had answered the Call later than most, approximately 10 years ago, aged 50-something at the time. Those that knew his background found it divinely coincidental that he opened up the door and said yes at about the time the dot-com crash had sucked his trust fund dry.
Consequently, the men in the church viewed Highbottom as more discard than coup. It was only Aunt Pinky's threats that had gotten Hooter to the meeting.
Every Flood Starts With a Drip
Highbottom swept into the office, his ever-present white hankie held to his nose. “Please, don't get up.”
That suited Hooter fine since he had no intentions of getting up.
“And, how are we today,” asked the preacher with a patronizing smile. “I trust you are reveling in the magnificent weather we've been blessed with today.”
“Would be,” said Hooter, “If I didn't have to be here.” Covertly, Pinky pinched Hooter hard on the leg, just like old times.
“Indeed,” said Highbottom, taking time out to cough. “I'm sorry to take you away from your work, Mr. McCormick. We'll keep this as short as possible. I'm sure, though, that your aunt told you that we've received a complaint about your Sunday school lesson last week which we must address.”
Aunt Pinky gave her nephew the look that meant he'd best sit up straight. “I'm sure Hooter will answer any question you have and do so honestly.”
Highbottom coughed and dabbed at his red, oversized nostrils yet again. “Forgive me, these allergies seem to get worse every day; the work of the devil, I tell you.”
“You ought to have a shot of Aunt Pinky's home remedy,” said Hooter with a grin. “Good for what ails you.” He glanced at his aunt and got no small degree of pleasure watching her face turn whiter than a bleached egg shell. Her eye brightener was legendary in these parts for perking up those afflicted with every kind of malady, chronic and otherwise. No one knew the exact recipe but had narrowed the ingredients down to jalapeno sauce, Evercleer, lemon juice and at least a little Tabasco for taste.
“Indeed,” said Highbottom, brightening up with hope. “What is in this secret concoction of yours?”
“Oh a little of this and a little of that,” said Pinky, forcing a smile as she pinched Hooter again, harder this time. “It's really more for colds and snake bites. Never has done much for allergies. Unfortunately, I'm all out right now, anyway.”
“Pity,” said Highbottom, coughing deeper and more loudly, if that was possible. “Now, where were we. Ah yes. Mr. McCormick we had a complaint about your lesson Sunday.”
Hooter had served as a substitute teacher for the kindergarten class.
“Who complained?” demanded Hooter. Far as he knew, he and his kids had a good lesson that day—something Hooter took a great deal of pride in—and he couldn't stand a snitch.
“Now that's not important,” said Highbottom. “What is germane to the conversation is that we did have a complaint. Specifically, Mr. McCormick, we just can't be encouraging the youth of this church to participate in such a dangerous and unchristian holiday as Halloween. All satan needs is a crack in the dam, next thing you know the whole foundation collapses.”
Aunt Pinky had told Hooter there had been a complaint, but said she didn't know why. When he heard the problem had to do with Halloween, both Hooter and his aunt looked perplexed, especially given the solemn tones and shaking head Highbottom was using to speak of the offense.
“First off…” started Hooter, but Highbottom cut him off.
“As you know, the precursor to Halloween was a pagan holiday,” said Highbottom. He'd leaned back in his chair, holding his hands in his lap, fingertips pressed together, trying his best to look scholarly. “Further, as you are no doubt aware, Halloween is still celebrated as holy day of sorts by those who worship the dark side.”
“Really, pastor Highbottom, I don't think…” tried Pinky. He cut her off, too.
“I understand that many people today, even the most devout Christians, fail to see the incipient danger of celebrating a holiday that seems innocent to most. That, Mr. McCormick, is precisely why it is so imperative that our Sunday school teachers set the highest of examples for our youth.”
Finally, there was silence. Hooter didn't know whether to laugh or be mad. Aunt Pinky settled for just being mad.
“Well,” sniffled Highbottom. “Have you got any explanations?”
“All kinds of them,” said Hooter. “First, I don't remember telling the young'uns anything about Halloween, specifically. Second, if I knew where the complaint came from, it would help me pinpoint the trouble.”
“Very well,” said Highbottom, “Not that it makes a wit of difference, it wasn't so much a complaint as some fortuitous information that alerted me to the grave potential involved. When I saw young Frankie Roberts running down the hall just before service, and I asked him how Sunday school was, he told me with the greatest of excitement that it was I believe he said specifically, really cool, and that you all had been talking about ghosts and such. Then he said something about dressing up like a giant eye for Halloween. Explain that to me if you will.” Sniff.
“Well sir, best as can recollect, Frankie was telling us about the untimely death of his pet skunk, P.J. I always start them off with a time for prayers of concern and thanksgiving,” explained Hooter.
“And, young Franklin was concerned about his skunk?”
“Yes sir. And, when he related to the class that P.J.'s eye was as big as a truck when he keeled over, the rest of them got extra concerned right quick.”
“As big as a truck?” wheezed the flummoxed preacher.
“That's just what Sally Jacobs asked him. If his eye really was as big as a truck, then Sally reckoned how it was no ordinary skunk, but had to be at least part monster,” continued Hooter. He could see the destination of this interrogation and was settling in to enjoy the ride.
“Just what does that have to do with Halloween?”
“Not a thing, far as I can tell. But it must have been the monster part that made Homer Rodriguez chime in with the fact that he'd seen a pot load of Halloween costumes at Wal-Mart in Lubbock, and he'd decided right there on the spot to go trick-or-treatin' as Frankenstein this year.”
“Ahaa!” announced preacher Highbottom. “So, you were talking with your class about Halloween.”
“No sir, I wasn't. They were, and just for that short bit. I headed them off at the pass and started my lesson on what Pentecost is.”
“But Pentecost isn't even this time of year,” said Highbottom, shaking his head in dismay.”
“Not officially, no,” allowed Hooter. “I don't suppose the Holy Spirit puts much weight in a calendar, do you? Besides, I always teach on that.”
By now, Highbottom was sweating more than a Sumo wrestler on Bourbon Street at high noon. Shaking his head and mopping his brow, he pushed onward. “But where did this business about ghosts come in?”
“Homer related how at his aunt's church they call it the Holy Ghost. I was awful proud of him. These kids are sharp, you know? Any way, about then, Frankie said if Homer was going as Frankenstein, then he'd go as a ghost. And, Sally told him, ‘Hey, in honor of P.J. why don't you dress up as a big ol' eyeball, one as big as a truck.”
The preacher was concentrating on the story, head resting on his hands. “I think I'm beginning to see where the misunderstanding occurred.”
“Well, I should think so,” said Aunt Pinky indignantly. “I can't believe this is what all of the fuss was about. This very church has a Trick or Treat party for the kids every year. Besides which, if my history is correct, Halloween began as All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, which the early church began to counter the Pagan holiday you were talking about.”
Highbottom was looking more confused by the minute.
“Besides,” said Hooter, “If it makes you feel any better, the last preacher we had always figured sitting in church all the time doesn't make you a Christian any more than crawling through a henhouse makes you a chicken. He was a real demon when it came to bobbing for apples.”