If Ebenezer J. Scrooge had a long lost heir, it would have to be Izzie Franklin. All year long, Izzie was the happiest-go-lucky sort you'd ever hope to find, which fit perfectly his teddy bear-like demeanor and proportions.
Come Christmas, though, Izzie's spirits dropped lower than a worm's bootjack. Though he never talked much about it, the boys suspected it had to do with what must have been one of those childhoods some are forced to try to forget but never can.
Izzie's melancholy had nothing to do with the Reason for the Season. It was how so much of the world overlooked that reason that colored his blues a shade darker.
“People going hungry, folks complaining about the economy, and just look at all of this nonsense,” he'd say disgustedly flinging aside the Christmas ads from last Sunday's Lubbock paper, which always gathered dust at Lonnie Johnson's feed store until the next week. “If they'd work as hard telling people about Jesus and why we have Christmas to start with, maybe we could get somewhere.”
Now, also consider that while Izzie isn't one of those who sees the proverbial black helicopters of conspiracy hovering over his life, he does hear them from time to time. Since the presidential election he'd become even more concerned about his rights and privacy. He'd gone so far as to rig up a portable surveillance camera just inside the cattle guard of his main gate, which was about a mile from his house.
“Anybody coming in or going out, I've got them on tape, I've got the evidence,” Izzie bragged to the boys in telling them about the purchase.
“It's a shame you can't save some tape and just have it record them coming in,” said Lonnie.
“Well knucklehead, if that's the only way in and out of your place, anybody coming in has got to go back out, unless they're still there when you show up,” said Lonnie.
“That's what they want you to think, isn't it?” said Izzie quietly.
Preparing the Way
What Izzie hadn't reckoned on was that the boys quickly seized upon the surveillance camera as a way to pull off their long-planned Christmas surprise for him, while having a little fun along the way.
Given their friend's aversion to the secular trappings of Christmas, they'd decided a year ago to have Santa deliver something to Izzie he'd always coveted but never got around to building or to saving enough to start buying: a party-sized barbeque smoker. They'd begged, borrowed and pillaged most of the metal, as well as a trailer chassis. Delmar did most of the welding, though the boy's noted the longer they could keep him away from his cooler, and the more his hands would start to shake, the smoother the beads were. This was a behemoth, 6 ft. long, 2 ft. diameter, quarter-inch plate, and a firebox large enough to fuel it.
Knowing Izzie like they did, though, they didn't want him to feel beholden. Thus, came the notion of having it show up, as if by magic, as if Santa Clause himself had harnessed up a team of draft reindeer to deliver it.
Izzie's new surveillance camera made that lots easier.
“First thing is to get him a little on edge,” said Peetie. “Get him in the frame of mind to where he might be more conducive to accepting what he can't explain.”
A week before the delivery Peetie squeezed through the fence, snuck up on the surveillance camera and carefully tipped it on its back, so that it was filming the sky. Then he drove on in and began cleaning up the area where they planned to set the smoker, just enough that Izzie might notice. On his way back out he set the camera upright again.
The next day it was cousin Charlie's turn. He dust dropped a mammoth tumbleweed in front of the camera, tethered to binder twine and a rock. A strip of duct tape did the trick for Lonnie.
Hooter snuck in along the old creek bottom, the same way they'd bring the smoker. Knowing Izzie's place like his own, he cut the power, did his cleaning then stuck a neon sign in front of the camera that read: “Weather's here, wish you were beautiful.” He turned the power on long enough to film the sign, cut the power, retrieved the sign, turned the power back on and he was gone.
And on it went. Izzie hadn't said a word about the strange workings of his camera, or about the space in his backyard that was obviously becoming tidier and cleaner day by day.
“It's got to be driving him nuts,” chuckled Peetie as Izzie approached the gaggle of friends that always seemed to end up at Lonnie's feed store about the same time most days to swap market reports and swig some caffeine.
“Catch anybody lately,” said Hooter with a smile.
“Nope. Nobody in or out,” said Izzie.
“But, that's what they want you to think, isn't?” said Lonnie without a smile.
“You sure that thing is working?” interjected Charlie. “Seems like by this time that even you'd get a visitor or two.”
“It's working fine, just fine. Make no mistake about that.”
Spreading the Joy
The plan was coming together better than any of the boys could have imagined. When delivery day came, all systems were go. Lonnie and Delmar called Izzie to town. Charlie and Peetie made their way up the creek bed with the smoker.
All Hooter had to do was idle through Izzie's gate, so that the surveillance camera could capture the magic moment in the growing dusk: what appeared to be Santa's sleigh and reindeer, complete with Santa, heading through the gate and up the lane to Izzie's house. The reindeer were made of paper mache and attached to a float-like structure the boys had rigged up on and around Hooter's old International beater truck. Hooter was anxious to see what it actually looked like on film as the sun was setting.
He'd wait around 10 minutes or so and then idle back out so the camera could record the departure, too. That was the plan.
What Hooter hadn't reckoned on was hitting a rock with his left front wheel, which caused Donner's foot to get caught in and ripped off by the grate of the cattle guard.
“No worries,” thought Hooter as he coasted past the camera. “He'll see the other side when I go back out. I'll have to sneak around and get that leg back, though.”
Hooter was retrieving the mangled limb when Killer showed up.
Killer is what Izzie called his tiger-striped, brockle-faced herd sire known by all to have a cantankerous disposition. He rolled Hooter twice and upended him once as Hooter made his way to a medium size Mesquite tree. That's why Hooter was now clinging precariously to the flimsy branches of the Mesquite, decked out in a Santa suit, trying to figure how he might make it back to the sleigh without being mauled by Killer.
“It was the jingle-bobs that did it,” reflected Hooter to himself. “I wondered about all those bells.” He swatted absentmindedly at the fuzzy white ball on his Santa cap, cussing the phone left back in his sleigh, the fact that he was too far from Izzie's house for anyone to hear him and all of the rest.
That's when it dawned on him: Killer obviously isn't a fan of loud noises or quick movement and there's a fair chance he's not crazy about the color red, either.
So Hooter stripped down, to his boxers, careful as he could without falling out of the tree. He rolled his furry Santa coat into a ball and cinched it tight with one end of his broad black Santa belt. He rolled up the furry Santa britches into another ball that he cinched to the belt with the draw string. Too light.
Hooter unwrapped, then rewrapped with a black Santa boot anchoring the clothes at each end of the belt.
This was all or nothing, figured Hooter. Sit here for Izzie to find, meaning the boys' surprise evaporated faster than a campaign promise. Or, find enough purchase, balance and gap between the branches to swing the Santa suit hard enough and fling it far enough to distract Killer long enough to make an escape.
Hooter swung the jingling, ringling contraption around and around as hard as he could, while Killer snorted, pawed and looked for ways to climb. He flung the festive bolo hard as he could North in a high arc. A dust devil caught it, held it, and then tossed it even further.
Killer took the bait, spinning gravel and soap weed, trying to get at that offensive, noisy intruder. Hooter took off.
It's safe to say that a middle-aged man wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a Santa hat has never covered 40 yards quicker. Just as fast, Hooter spun his sleigh around and idled back through the gate.
As it turned out, if it hadn't been for being able to show Izzie Santa calmly and safely guiding his sleigh out the exit, Izzie may have never been able to enjoy his surprise.
Hooter had barely parked his sleigh when he got a call from Lonnie.
“Izzie just called. Said to come quick and not tell anybody but the boys. Said he was in a heap of trouble.”
When they arrived, Izzie was staring wide-eyed and unblinking at his surveillance video for what was likely the umpteenth time. There on the screen stood Killer in defiance, wearing a Santa boot on one horn, contentedly munching on the Santa britches.
Izzie barely whispered, “Good Lord, my bull ate Santa Clause.”