By Jack Cawthon|
Trooper B. S. Bludsoe had served the Tri-Holler region for more years than he cared to remember. It was Christmas Eve and he had gone back to his office and was catching up on some paper work when the expected call came in at 9:17 from an excited, almost hysterical Arley Cleeter.
Cleeter reported that Joseph and two Wise Men were down and that a flock of shepherds was taking on a crazed mob inside a Big Puf house of worship. Bludsoe sighed, grabbed the Santa suit he had thoughtfully prepared and headed out for the annual Big Puf Christmas pageant.
Bludsoe had plenty of heart if no stripes for his sleeves. He was the kind of cop the holler folks loved, but who his superiors hated. He tended to wink at burned-out tail- lights, gave warnings for homemade inspection stickers and tipped his siren at underage drivers.
On the many attempts made to transfer him out of the region the folks had gone complaining to Bobby Gene Bubba, Big Puf's big delegate, all 300 pounds of him, and the forces in Charleston had relented.
Bludsoe had developed a mild case of cruiser belly over the years, the usual occupational hazard, but he had never drawn his gun and had never faced a life-or-death situation unless you counted the crazed serial killer from New Jersey who had sought sanctuary in the hills, hiding with some relatives.
After some locals turned him in, Bludsoe, with the help of a Conservation officer, had taken the man into custody. The killer was crying, trembling and begging to be "shipped back to New Jersey away from them crazy hillbillies."
Arley heard what sounded like a siren coming up the holler, only he could swear that it was playing "Jingle Bells." This had been one crazy night, the ex-Pennsylvanian thought.
It was Arley's first Christmas after coming to the holler and he had wished he had stayed at home with something peaceful such as War and Peace.
The annual pageant was the work of Sister Hannah who, never learning from experience, took on the task of director along with the role of Mary. Homer Bob, Okey Hanshaw and Burvil were cast as the three Wise Men, which wasn't exactly type casting.
Burvil also had a limp-on part as Tiny Tim and carried a crutch as a lame, and armed Wise Man.(One year three Pratlow brothers from over on Little Wheeze Crick had been given the parts but they became lost traveling from the east through Blue Tick Crick and the program was delayed.)
The pageant was moving along fine, Arley told me later, until the Wise Men appeared. Homer Bob, in a rather unwise move, had downed a bottle of Old Al Hag before his appearance on stage. As a result, he headed straight for Hannah, his old flame, but who now was in her semi-virginal role as Mary.
Joseph, protective of his wife, even if it was theatrical, swung at Homer Bob, and Burvil swung his crutch at Joseph. As they both went down a burly shepherd popped Okey, and the count was two Wise Men down with a third one disabled without his crutch. Arley, at this point, made for the door and put in the call to Bludsoe.
The cruiser siren was playing "Jingle Bells" and the lights were flashing red and green, Bludsoe's personal touch for the season, when it came to a stop. With a "Merry Christmas" to Arley, Bludsoe began pulling on his Santa suit.
With the screams coming from the church as background, Bludsoe reached into the trunk of his cruiser and pulled out a huge bag. As he tromped through the door, Arley heard a loud "Ho, ho, Merry Christmas," and the noise stopped deader than a two-hundred-dollar used car.
Arley found out the full story some time later. All year long Bludsoe would collect odds and ends, toys, coats, clothing of all sorts, and save it for this one big evening. Of course, there usually was a big public brawl, but no one had ever been seriously injured and Bludsoe had figured it was no worse than last-minute shoppers in a big city fighting over presents in a big department store.
He had had wives come up and thank him for allowing their husbands to be knocked senseless and one had told him that it had usually taken $50 worth of Black Velvet to achieve the same effort, money that could be much better spent on the family.
Bludsoe always left the gathering with a pack full of home-baked goodies. He was stuffing a ham sandwich into his mouth, Arley related, when he came out and thanked him for making the call.
With a tip of his Santa hat and a "ho, ho, ho" he got into his cruiser, gave a wink, turned on the red and greens, and playing "White Christmas" on the siren, down the holler he went.
I asked Arley if he had had enough of this nonsense and if he was ready to move out. He looked at me as like I was crazy and told me that up in Pennsylvania all he had had for diversion were a few women and television.
He had stored up several volumes of War and Peace and Bludsoe had promised to deliver to him some boxes of the training manual for state policemen and he figured he could stay warm the rest of the winter by burning the whole lot.
I guess the moral of this story is that some outsiders do know how to adjust to life in the hills.