by: Wes Ishmael

Few would have thought less of Aunt Pinky and Nelda Isselfrick if either or both had refused to coordinate their church's living Nativity. They had ram-rodded the last one in Apache Flats six years earlier, a disaster of epic proportions.

The pair had insisted that Hooter find a camel so at least one wise man could ride into the scene. Against his better judgment Hooter did find one: an ungainly, wormy specimen that went by the name of Thirsty. Hooter didn't discover until too late that the camel's owner kept Thirsty calm by letting him guzzle brandy.

It was that a happy, half-snockered camel that got loose, escaped from his owner and staggered toward the other livestock. Between the foul smell and novel sight, the assorted calves, lambs and colts scattered faster than if someone had dropped a firecracker amongst them. The stampede sent the crowd running helter-skelter, too, except for 2-year-old Alvin Rodriguez who toddled toward the cartoonish creature.

Though the opposite seemed true amid the chaos, Alvin had been in little danger. Hooter intercepted Thirsty, meaning to tattoo the beast with a 2X4. As he was raising the board, though, a stray kitten Hooter had been keeping warm inside his vest pounced upon the curious camel's tender muzzle in a hissing, claw-clinging fit. The last anyone saw of Thirsty, he was heading south fast as he could go.

Long story short, Aunt Pinky and Nelda blamed Hooter, blamed the camel, blamed demon rum and swore they would never again be part of what had been an annual Apache Flats tradition.

Understandably, the adults who had attended the fiasco never talked about it, much less suggested its reincarnation.

Put Up or Shut Up

Some of the students in the church's joint Sunday School had attended the last living Nativity, but they were too young to remember. Cousin Charlie was leading them through the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah.

Scooter Jacobs interrupted to say than his Uncle Delmar had told him how glorious the town's living Nativity had been, especially the last one.

Others chimed in that they too had heard about it, “And, weren't you just saying, Mr. Charlie that we should figure out something we could do for the community?”

“Yeah but…”

“Gee whiz,” said Alvin Rodriguez. “That angel scared the bejeebers out of the Shepherds, but that didn't keep them from going to see baby Jesus.”

“Yeah,” said Alvin's little brother, Hector. Alvin, of course, had been the curious tike toddling to meet the camel, though he didn't remember.

“And, how far you reckon those wise men traveled just to bring presents?” Alvin wondered. “It seems like we could surely present one lousy living Nativity.”

“Yeah,” said Carl Womack. “We always talk about what we ought to do in this class but we never get out and do anything.”

“Can you think of a better Christmas present for the community?” Bugsy had asked Cousin Charlie.

Quick enough, as often happens, parents climbed on their kids' bandwagon. Just like that, the entire town agreed it was high time to leave the past, climb back on the horse and present the best living Nativity the county had ever seen.

Asking Nelda and Aunt Pinky to coordinate was obvious. Despite their interminable rivalry and cat fighting, they were the best event organizers in the county, in part because no one had the heart or guts to tell them no.

“Do you think there's a chance in the world they'd consider it?” Peetie Womack asked Hooter.

“I expect there's every chance they'll do it,” Hooter replied.

“I don't know how,” Peetie worried. “According to my missus, they seemed dead-set against it the last time it came up at their quilting club.”

“All we have to do is tell each one of them that the other one has agreed. You know they won't stand for that. And by the time they figure it out, what we said to begin with will then be true.”


So it was that Rio Rojo County's matriarchs, despite their protests and secret happiness at the prospects, were once again at the helm of a new living Nativity.

“You sure you don't want a camel?” Hooter had asked, just for fun.

“If I so much as see a picture of one I'll tan your hide every day for the next year Hooter McCormick,” Aunt Pinky scowled.

“And I'll tan it the next year,” Nelda Isselfrick growled, sticking the end of her cane in Hooter's chest.

“You've got the list,” Aunt Pinky said. “No more and no less. Each one penned—and none of those portable panels that could never have existed back then—or else haltered and hard-tied to a post in the ground. Savvy?”

“Got it,” said Hooter.

Fate by Design

In fact, Hooter was worried enough that he double-checked every gate latch and knot two week's ahead of Christmas Eve when the drama would be presented. He checked and double-checked with everyone providing the stock, too.

“You're sure you broke those calves?” he asked Charlie for the umpteenth time.

“Hooter, if they were any calmer we'd have to carry them in and out of the trailer.”

“You're sure those lambs have been around people?” he demanded of Izzy Franklin.

“Hooter, they've been to three shows already. They're gentle as…well…lambs.”

“They'd better be or they're coyote bait.”

On and on it went.

Aunt Pinky and Nelda were no less worrisome with the actors. Bugsy was to play the part of Mary and Alvin was to be Joseph. Alvin's youngest brother, still in diapers, would be the baby Jesus. They and the assorted wise men and shepherds had been threatened beyond state law with any foul-ups.

Delmar Jacobs had even sworn off even eggnog until after the festivities.

Then it started to blow.

Then it started to snow.

Christmas Eve came and it was one of those infrequent but well-documented blue northers, thankfully neither an ice storm nor blizzard, but the kind of bone-chilling you avoid.

With a mix of regret and relief, Aunt Pinky and Nelda began the phone tree, telling folks that due to the weather, the living Nativity had to be cancelled.

“We'd never forgive ourselves if someone got sick or in a wreck,” Aunt Pinky told Hooter.

“Aww, you're just a little gun shy; it'll be O.K.,” Hooter tried.

Click went the phone line. The calling began.

Bugsy would have none of it. She was already dressed as Mary.

“What if someone didn't get the phone call and they show up?”

“If they do, I think they'll figure out soon enough that it has been cancelled,” Hooter said.

“How would you feel if you showed up and no one was there.”

It took little petering for Hooter to agree to take a quick trip out to Peetie's pasture where the play was to be staged. “We'll at least tack up a cancelled sign if that will make you fee better,” he told Bugsy.

About the time they got there, Alvin's family rolled in. Alvin, too, was dressed and ready. He wouldn't take no for an answer, either.

As they chatted about the hard-headedness of their children, along came Izzy with the lambs blanketed and resting on straw in the back of his pickup.

“Just in case,” he grinned.

Then came Charlie with a couple of calves.

“I didn't know if they sure meant it was cancelled or they were just thinking about it,” he said.

Next, here came the shepherds and the wise men.

Soon enough, the string of headlights reflected in the falling snow looked like one big light.

Finally, Aunt Pinky herded her Lincoln across the cattle guard and skidded to a stop beside the crowd. Unbelievably, she opened the passenger door to help Nelda out.

“You bunch of fools and heathens,” Aunt Pinky scolded. “We put out the call. Every one of you is going to catch your death. Now get back home. The Nativity is cancelled.”

“That's right,” Nelda said, a tear rolling over the wrinkles on her face. “We tried. You tried. Just let it be.

There was plenty of shuffling and stammering.

“But we can't let it be Aunt Pinky and Miss Nelda,” Bugsy said, taking a step forward.

“That's right,” said Alvin, taking Bugsy by the arm and then looking to her for an explanation on why exactly that was.

“Don't you sass me, child,” Aunt Pinky said half-heartedly.

“But we're why He came,” Bugsy said. “We're the fools and heathens He came to save, just like all those people all those years ago and everyone since.”

“But the weather,” tried Nelda.

“It's not what we had planned,” Bugsy continued, appearing to understand more with each word she spoke. “It's not what the shepherds had planned back then. It's not how anyone figured their Savior would arrive or who He would be.”

Alvin cleared his throat. “That's right. He was there then. We're here now and He's still here.”

Delmar Jacobs quietly made his way to the front of the crowd.

“The prophet Micah was a commoner, just like us,” Delmar said, opening his Bible: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah. From you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient days.”

The crowd drew closer.

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds,” Delmar read. “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

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