Chilly Today, Hot Tamale

"It's my own fault." Carl Fenter tugged his jacket closer against the abnormal bite of cold morning wind. "The rest of the family is home, where it's warm."

Just another one of his brilliant ideas - a big tamale feast after tonight's Christmas Eve service at church - and look where it landed him: waiting in a line 50 people deep.

Who would've guessed that every tamale shop in the city would be sold out the day before Christmas? But they were, as Carl knew. He'd been driving all over El Paso that morning. Determined to bring home the tamales, Carl tried one last tienda, an old favorite out in Canutillo.

When he arrived, a fresh batch was due off the steamer in 45 minutes. Taking his place at the end of the snaking line of tamale-seekers, he watched the woman in front of him remove her jacket to drape around her shivering youngster. It wasn't long before she, too, shuddered in the chilly wind. After only a moment's hesitation, Carl shed his own jacket and offered it to the grateful mother.

Together, they cheered when the line crept forward at last, and smiling people exited the shop toting steamy bags. Finally, Carl got inside the door and inched his way closer to the counter, the woman now first in line.

"Sorry folks," the clerk announced, "that's the last of the tamales."

"No way!" Carl groaned with everyone else lined up behind him.

"But," stressed the man at the counter, "we'll have a final batch ready in, oh, about two hours."

Defeated, Carl backed away, but the young mother grabbed his arm.

"You're leaving?"

"I have to," Carl glanced at his watch. "I promised to put up luminarias at my church."

"I'll get your order of tamales and bring them to your house."

Carl's brow furrowed. "I couldn't ask you to do that."

"But it's the least I can do. You lent me your coat." Her smile overrode his objections. "Just give me your address." She and her little girl settled in for the long wait.

And at exactly noon on Christmas Eve, they delivered four dozen fragrant tamales - along with Carl's brown jacket - to his home.

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