It was Christmas Eve of 1958, and I was 6 years old. I’d woken up in the dark to pull up my covers closer. The wind was howling, and the tree branches smacked against my window.
“Dear God, please don’t let Santa freeze tonight,” I prayed. I prayed for everything. Sister Mary Matthew, my kindergarten teacher, said this was a good thing to do. Just as I finished my prayer, a blazing light shot across the sky. “Was that Santa?” I sprang out of my bed to see. The girls at school were spreading rumors that Santa wasn’t real. “Wait until I tell them I saw his sleigh.” I smiled and scooted back under the covers.
The next morning, my 4-year-old sister, Pat, woke me early. She’d already gone down the stairs and peeked under the tree. She was bouncing on my bed screaming at me, “Wake up! Wake up!”
As I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I noticed that there was white stuff on my bed. It looked like snow. How did that get here? There were footprints on my carpet, too. We followed the prints down the stairs, through the dining room, and into the kitchen. That’s when we saw it.
“Uh-oh! Somebody is in big trouble,” Pat said seriously. There were snickerdoodle crumbs all over the table and the floor. Gran’s favorite Irish teacup from Donegal was on the table, too. We were never allowed to touch that cup in case we broke it. It was a treasured possession all the way from Ireland. My little sister’s highchair was pulled up to the table. Three phone books were on the seat. What the heck was going on?
Mom and Dad came into the kitchen as we chimed in, “We did not do this! And we didn’t touch Gran’s tea cup, either.” We swore.
Mom looked at us with a doubtful expression when my dad said, “I used it last night.” Oh, he was so brave to admit that!
Pat didn’t care. “Let’s open presents!” she shouted.
My dad said, “Okay, if you don’t want to hear about the elf that was here last night, go right ahead.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! “An elf? There was an elf in my house? Tell me! Tell me!”
“I was driving home late from work when I saw something moving in the snow. I thought it was a dog, but as I got closer, I was shocked to see that it was an elf. I got out of the truck and walked closer,” Dad said. “He was pretty scared. I asked him, ‘Are you alright, buddy?’ He started to cry and said his leg hurt really badly. I told him not to worry; I’d help him. I scooped him up and brushed off the snow, and then I took him to Doc Morrison. The doctor was shocked to see us at the door. He said to me, ‘Jimmy, I have never seen an elf before! I hope I have small enough bandages for him.’ The elf liked Doc Morrison. He stopped crying and let the doc put a cast on his leg.”
I had so many questions. “Where did he come from? How big was he? What was he wearing? Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“I did try to wake you up. You wouldn’t wake up. You didn’t even feel him kiss your cheek.”
This was too much for me! “I’ve been kissed by an elf? Wait until I tell the girls at school!”
Dad continued to weave his tale. “Blitzen must have leaned too far to the left, and the elf just slipped off. I guess Blitzen didn’t notice and kept on flying with the other reindeer. The poor little guy was so scared when I found him.”
Mom suggested we open some presents and then talk more about the elf at breakfast.
As she started the bacon and French toast, Dad told us how his new buddy, Elfie, had ridden on our dog, Towzer.
“Dad,” I said, “Elves don’t ride on dogs.”
“Well, this one did. Towzer kept licking his nose and Elfie would laugh. Then he had some tea and cookies. He loved snickerdoodles! Blitzen came back for him at 2 a.m. I heard a loud tapping on the window. I was really surprised to see a big reindeer at the window. His antlers were huge! Elfie was so happy to see him. I helped him back up onto Blitzen. He gave me a big hug and said, ‘Thank you, Jimmy. I’ll try to stop by again next Christmas. You have yourself a Merry Christmas.’”
Later that afternoon, my dad was falling asleep on the couch with the Christmas lights twinkling. I leaned over the top of his head so we had upside down faces. I kissed his forehead and whispered, “Dad, this was the best Christmas of my whole life.”
He smiled and said, “Mine too, Anne. Mine too.”
Some gifts you just can’t buy in a store or online.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
P.S. This tradition has continued with all of my sisters and with our kids. Now our grandchildren experience this magic on Christmas morning, too. Every Christmas Eve, we buy a big bag of confectioners sugar, dip a doll’s foot in it, and replicate the footprints through our homes. We want to treasure the memory of our dad and his buddy, Elfie, from so many years ago. My dad is smiling in Heaven every Christmas Eve, I’m sure.
— Anne Bardsley
Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Florida, with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause and Angel Bumps. She blogs at www.annebardsley.com.