by: Wes Ishmael

An oversized, hollow, plastic snowman is no match for the West Texas wind.

Hooter had already spent entirely too long trying to anchor the latest prize in Aunt Pinky's sprawling outdoor Christmas display. The new addition had to be about seven feet tall and at least five feet around at the bottom.

“When you get him set, we put these lights behind him,” Aunt Pinky had said, holding up a complex looking array of electronics. “These and the paint on him make him glow different colors. Solar powered and all remote controlled,” she added proudly.

Though keenly aware of his poor odds for success, Hooter knew there was no arguing with his aunt.

He tried putting sand in the bottom, funneling it through the hole it came with, which was maybe the size of a 50-cent piece. He tried burying the rotund decoration halfway up to its lowest vest button. He even tried using some straw bales for a windbreak. Every time, the abominable snow ape blew over and started rolling and tumbling south, in a hurry.

Finally, Hooter looped baling wire around the throat, middle and bottom, anchoring the collars to tent pegs on four sides. The snowman held, rising just a little off the ground and shuddering.

“Good Lord, it looks like he's being strangled,” grumped Aunt Pinky. “Get him unwound. I'll put him inside if that's the best you can do. I hope for your sake that you didn't hurt the paint with all of your nonsense. Thank goodness I didn't turn you loose with the lights.”

Tripping Down Rabbit Holes

This annual failure with his aunt's Christmas decorations surely had something to do with it.

Then again, Hooter was up into the wee hours lacing the billfold he tooled for Cousin Charlie's Christmas present.

And, he'd read the first chapter of Dickens' The Christmas Carol before drifting off to sleep—reading it in the days leading up to Christmas was one of Hooter's traditions.

The first chapter always left Hooter wondering about his own generosity, that part where the two jolly gentleman show up collecting for the poor, assuming Scrooge will contribute and asking him if he wishes to be anonymous:

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

All Hooter knew as he filled up the cake box was that he'd slept fitfully and was unable to shake snatches of some of his dreams. They weren't unsettling or spooky, per se, just plain weird.

In one scene, Apache Flats was gathered for the annual Christmas pageant—as they would in fact be gathered that very night. In Hooter's dream, though, the manger scene was askew. Instead of Bugsy and Hector portraying Mary and Joseph, as planned, there was Cornelius “Flash” Highbottom III with his arm draped around Eunice Nickelcock. Flash was wearing his racing goggles.

One of the wise men was Norvis Leroy Underwood, whom no one had seen for years. Or, it could have been Leroy Norvis Underwood—the younger twin brother no one knew about—who tried to get Norvis fired as caretaker of Apache Flat's Victory Hill Cemetery, in order to take his place. The illogic of the plan tells you plenty.

LeRoy, impersonating his brother, weed-whacked Nelda Isselfrick's and Aunt Pinky's prized flowers. For sport, he'd also mulched Hooter's pumpkin patch, which was in full, radiant, yellow-orange bloom at the time. LeRoy was apprehended about five miles out of town, pedaling a purple bike; his yellow weed eater lashed to the handlebars.

Though innocent, Norvis was so embarrassed that he just faded from sight.

Instead of tiny Rosa Sanchez, the Christmas Angel, floating above the manager scene was Hooter's old running buddy, Squeak Jablowski, the bull rider cum children's magician. He was making cards disappear, one-by-one, as he hovered over the manager with a spinning bow tie, lit with every color of the rainbow.

And, there was something about the visiting preacher, distant yet familiar.

The other thing Hooter remembered was that everybody was looking off stage and yelling for him to lead out the Christmas camel.

“Hooter. . . Hoooooooter. . . H ooooooo…”

The banging on his pickup window was real enough. It was Cousin Charlie. Hooter was parked in front of the feed store. He had no idea how long he'd been there with his engine idling. Last thing he remembered, he was putting out cake.

“I was afraid you had an exhaust leak and the fumes were addling your brain,” said Cousin Charlie. He felt a certain sense of relief at getting Hooter out of the truck. “Why in the world did you lock you doors anyway? I didn't even know they still worked on this old rust bucket.”

“Huh? What?”

“You're starting to spook me, Cuz. You sure you're alright.”

“Far as I know,” Hooter said quietly.

He told Charlie everything he remembered. “…and then I heard everybody hollering for me, and there you were.”

“How long were you bouncing around that pasture?” Charlie asked with a concerned look. “Did you eat last night? What about grub this morning? You weren't over at Delmar's sampling any of his concoctions?” On and on.

“Just a dream and thinking about it.” Hooter said quietly.

Coming Up Roses

That night at the Christmas pageant, Hooter was one of the last to arrive, on purpose. He didn't know whether to run away or to be relieved when Squeak Jablowski ran up to greet him.

“What're you doing here?”

“Last minute invitation from your aunt,” Squeak explained. “Got to get ready; we'll catch up afterwards.”

Hooter looked around with a sense of caution. He didn't see Eunice or Flash, like in his dream. All of the expected children were taking their places on the stage.

One robin doesn't make a spring, Hooter thought…then again.

“Brothers and sisters, could I have your attention, please?”

The crowd turned to find the source of a voice, which sounded oddly familiar. There was a collective gasp. There stood Norvis Underwood; clean-shaven, dressed and pressed with an aura of joy about him. Or, could it be LeRoy Underwood? They were identical, after all.

The speaker sensed the confusion and the question: “Yes, I'm Norvis. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to return home and see so many familiar faces.” He stretched out his arms, inviting everyone to take a seat.

Folks were too stunned to say much. They just fell into their chairs, more or less.

“It seems fitting that I should return to share tonight's message with you and the children,” said Norvis, in a clear, strong voice. “After all, it's a message of remembrance. It's a message of redemption, love and hope.”

Norvis held up a battered Bible: “In First Samuel, the sixteenth chapter, the Lord tells Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.'”

Seeing a few nods in the audience, Norvis continued, “The Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians, the first chapter, ‘But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.'”

More nods.

“Many of you might recall that I fled when I thought I would be convicted for the actions of my brother, LeRoy.”

Hooter remembered like it was yesterday. When they caught up to him, Norvis was cruising down the highway south of Apache Flats with the throttle of the cemetery's Ford-8N tractor wide open, the brush hog swaying and squeaking on the three-point. He was leaning over the steering wheel in a crouch position, head tucked, eyes straight ahead, apparently trying to cut wind resistance. Blazing along at about five miles per hour.

“Not much there to make anyone think I had anything to offer. I certainly didn't feel like I did,” Norvis continued. “Many of you may also remember that no one knew I had a twin brother. We didn't lie about that, directly, but through our silence.

“Yet, God called me to serve Him and calls me to serve Him—me, old bedraggled Norvis LeRoy Underwood. Imagine what he can do with the likes of you.”

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