“Mrs. Claus is an elf and I can prove it”, she said.
The old woman looked at me with a sparkle in her chocolate brown eyes that had me wondering if she was serious or just trying to get my attention. Well, she had my attention already, she needn’t bother with that one so I decided to take her seriously.
She continued rummaging through boxes as she explained how she could prove such a thing.
“It was many years ago when I was just a young girl, too old for toys but too young for boys.” She winked at me and held up a small doll with black woolen hair matted from years of being crushed in a box under heavier objects.
“Or at least that’s what me mum thought.” Another wink and a thickening of her Irish accent led me to believe she was about to delve deeper into her past which had to be a very, very long time ago judging from her ancient face and gnarled hands. She handed me the doll telling me to hold it and not let go until she was finished with her story.
She continued her rummaging as she told me her tale.
“It was spring of the year that I turned fourteen when they moved into the old stone cottage down the road from me house. Everyone thought the old place would cave in soon if someone didn’t take it on. They said it was one of the last buildings left from the old days, said it was built when folks still gathered at the stones and wells on the sacred nights when the moon was their only light. Stories were told of strange lights coming from within the old cottage on the solstices and most everyone kept a wide berth when passing by the place. But I had seen those lights so I knew they were more than just stories. I knew that these people that moved into the cottage either didn’t know its reputation or didn’t care. I knew I had to get to know them.
I was a very brave child. Mum would disagree calling me reckless and impulsive. I would go exploring when she thought I was weeding the garden or tending the chickens…or sleeping. That’s how I came to see those lights I spoke of. And that’s how I came to meet Mrs. Vinclaus.
Her and her husband, Kris, spoke with an accent but I never could tell where they were from and they always simply pointed north or changed the subject when asked. They had what they called ‘extended family’ living with them which consisted of about ten men and women who seemed to me to be more like servants or employees than family. They were always doing something, mostly making things like furniture or clothing or toys when they weren‘t working on the cottage. One of them made the doll you are holding. But the most curious thing about them was how they dressed. Always in green, except for Kris, and always with hats that covered their ears. Even Mrs. Vinclaus wore hats that always covered her ears. But after visiting with them on many occasions Mrs. Vinclaus told me to call her Anna, which she pronounced like Awnay and she took her hat off to reveal perfectly pointed ears sticking out from her long raven black hair. I let out a little gasp but then smiled into her emerald green eyes.
“Go ahead,” she said with a grin,” Touch them.” And I did. And they were real!
After that She started telling me stories about their northern home and why they were living in the old cottage in Ireland for a time. She said the cottage had called out to them, that it needed to be repaired before it was lost forever. That particular cottage had been home to her ancestors for many years before her people had been driven out of Ireland. When I asked what she meant by driven out she just sighed, something she did whenever I touched on a subject she’d rather not discuss.
One cold winter evening after me parents were asleep I walked up the road to visit the Vinclaus’s and bring them a gift of apple tarts I had made for them. It was the night of winter solstice and I knew it was special for them so I wanted to show me love with this gift. When I got there a celebration was going on in the garden behind the cottage. A big fire had been lit and Anna and Kris and all their extended family were roasting things over it, singing lovely but strange songs and making all kinds of merry. I had never seen anything like this before. There was a warm glow surrounding the whole garden and little sparks of green and blue lights kept flitting around my head. I joined the festivities and had my first taste of mead, sweet, golden and warm. Some of the family played fiddles, flutes and drums and the rest of us danced. They knew all the old Irish jigs and reels and a lot of tunes I’d never heard before. A few other people from the area were in attendance as well but the Vinclaus family still out numbered us locals.
Sometime before dawn the festivities took on a slower pace with soft, sad songs being sung in both the old language and one I didn’t recognize. Light snow was falling and Kris, in his red festival clothes, was sitting on a huge old tree stump, Anna, in her velvet greens was on his lap, both smiling and swaying to the beautiful music when a garish flash of light enveloped them. At first I thought it was some supernatural light of some kind but then it instantly became quiet. The music stopped as did all conversation and all eyes were drawn toward the place where the flash had originated and a man stood with one of those new machines called a camera. Everyone seemed to be in shock for a few moments then all hell broke loose. The man was pounced upon by most of the family and a few of the locals. The camera was confiscated and the man driven out into the breaking dawn screaming like a banshee.
Kris was given the camera and in turn he handed it to his wife. “You know what to do with this, my dear,” he said.
Anna walked over to me and gave me the camera. She looked into my confused eyes and told me that only the most innocent of them could possess such a thing that could prove who they really are. She trusted me to keep their secret and only tell those who believed or needed to believe.”
“You need to believe,” she said.
“By the first of the new year they were gone leaving behind only the lovely now renovated stone cottage and this doll.” She touched the doll’s raven black hair with one of her crooked fingers.
“This note was attached to it.”
She handed me an old yellowed, crumbling piece of paper with the most beautiful fancy handwriting that read:
Whomever holds this doll that looks like me shall have my blessing of a long life filled with the wonder of magic.
Then the old woman reached into another box. As a slow satisfied smile spread across her face she pulled out a photo and held it to her chest.
“This is what’s left of the photo the man took at the celebration”, she said handing it to me. “At some point I cut away all the background that had completely faded away and painted a new one and glued them onto it.”
I looked in astonishment at the photo not just because it was clear proof of Kris and Anna’s existence, but because it was in color!
“Yes,” she chuckled,“ It seems magic was afoot that night inside that old contraption.”
I’d like to say it was the old photo that helped me believe but in the end it was the doll that accomplished the feat. When I touched its pointed ears and looked into its emerald eyes a strange tingling went up my arm and into my heart settling there like warm honey and since that day, just as Anna promised, there has been the wonder of magic filling my life. An innocent kind of wonder that is had naturally by children but seldom by adults. I have seen the lights in the woods and talked to faeries and they let me paint their portraits. And every Winter Solstice I light a fire in the back garden and call to Kris and Anna and their family with thanks for all they have given me. Then I sing an old song and dance an old jig and raise a cup of cheer to them for through that small toy they have given back the childish wonder I’d lost along life’s difficult journey.
May you find that wonder again as well.