From December 2004
By Bobby Neal Winters
As many of you know, even from my place of exile in Kansas, I keep in touch with the goings-on in my Native State by talking to my brother on the phone. This keeps me from putting on too many airs, and airs is about the worst thing you can have.
The other day I called him up, and after talking a while, I saw he didn’t seem his usual self.
“What’s the matter, Bubba?” I asked. Even though his name is Jerry, I’ve taken to calling him “Bubba” since he started wearing that irritating goatee.
“You’ll think it’s silly,” he said.
“Ah, come on,” I urged. “What’s the matter?”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone, and I could hear the TV in the background, but then he spoke.
“I’m worried about Christmas,” he said, seeming dead serious. I could understand seasonal blues because I get them myself.
“It’s coming,” I said. “Not much we can do about that.” I thought this would comfort him.
“But it might not,” came his voice, sounding as sad as a man whose wife had left him for his best friend and taken the family truck with all his fishing tackle in the back with her when she left.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “December 25 is right around the corner.”
“It’s not the date that I’m worried about,” he said grimly. “It’s Santa Claus.”
He had my attention then, because Santa Claus is a fellow Okie. He was born just south of Stringtown. He got into the Christmas business and had to leave the state, and now he’s got the kind of job that all little Okies dream of having when they grow up, working one night a year, and then running down to Alaska to hunt and fish the rest of the year while a bunch of elves work under the wife’s watchful eye.
“What about Santa Claus?” I asked.
“I’m afraid something bad might have happened to him,” he said.
I was growing frustrated. My brother has the bad habit sharing bad news iceberg-fashion. He shows you a little, and then slams you with the rest when it’s too late.
“Spill it, Bubba,” I said.
“Well,” he drawled out. “I was over at the ball game the other night when one of my students asked me if I’d like to buy some deer jerky. I said that I would and followed him out to his car where he opened the trunk and extracted a zip-lock bag of it from a brown paper sack.”
“So?” I asked.
“He had a flashlight, and when he shined it in the trunk, I saw the brown paper sack was marked ‘Dancer.’”
“Is that it?” I asked. I was growing just a little impatient because this was getting nowhere fast, but like I said, my brother does things at his own speed.
“Since ‘Dancer’ is the name of one of the reindeer,” he said, “it got me to thinking. Then when I gave him the money, he opened his car door, so he could put it in one of those bank bags with the zipper, and his dome light came on. When it did, I could see his steering wheel was wrapped in red felt.”
This was beginning to sound pretty sinister to me.
“What are you implying here?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “after the jerky and the red felt, I started putting a few things together. One of my students who lives on the road between East Jesse and US highway 377 had heard eight shots one night last week. Then I’d heard they had to cancel one of Santa’s appearances down in the mall in Ardmore.”
Now, my brother had me concerned. In that part of the world, it is common knowledge that when Santa makes personal appearances this time of year his route from Fort Smith to Ardmore takes him over the area my brother had described.
“What do you think happened?” I asked.
“Well,” he drawled out, “Santa sometimes likes to land on that road, check his deer’s harness, and take a swig of peppermint schnapps before going on to Ardmore, or so I’m told. It could be he disturbed some boys who were out spotlighting deer.”
“What about Santa?” I asked, very worried. “They didn’t kill him, did they?”
“Oh, no,” he said, “They wouldn’t’ve done that. Besides it explains something. The shots were heard on a Wednesday night, and that same Wednesday, a fat man that turned up in a Pentecostal church meeting in his underwear and a red stocking hat claiming to be Santa Claus. The folks there were scared, called him ‘Satan Claws,’ and had the sheriff come and get him. He’s still in jail being held as a vagrant.”
“Well, why don’t you just go and bail him out?” I asked.
My brother paused for a while, and I could hear Wheel of Fortune in the background.
“Hello, are you still there?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I thought about bailing him out, but then I remembered there were only eight shots. What about Rudolph? I didn’t see any red nose glowing in that car trunk. That means Rudolph is still loose. If I could catch him before I bailed Santa out that would give me some leverage with the old guy. Maybe I could get on as his assistant or something.”
It was at that point I hung up the phone. Time to go deer hunting.