The other day, I shoveled snow. The slushy kind that if not tended to pronto could freeze in an instant and capture footprints to last the winter. While I worked, my mind flitted through adult duties—Christmas details and shopping lists. But then as unexpected as thoughts of watermelon in January, a magical, summer memory floated in. And I recalled an elusive elf who had once captivated us all.
We first learned of Mr. Little Guy from a local news segment. The man who spoke about him had a pixelated face for anonymity, and he explained the elf resided on Lake Harriet in a hole in the base of an ash tree behind a miniature wood door with a brass lion’s head knocker. Although no one had ever seen Mr. Little Guy, his writing proved his existence; since 1995, between Memorial and Labor Days, he typed messages back to his fans. And he wrote two thousand letters each year, his little house serving as a post office for incoming and outgoing correspondence.
“Can we write to him too?” Ricka tore her gaze from the TV screen to look at me.
I nodded. “Of course.”
The girls scrambled off for stationery and pens.
Later, as I read Dicka’s note, she assessed my reaction, a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.
Hey, Little Guy! How small are you really? What do you eat? Do you have a wife and children? What do you do for fun? Do you even wear any clothes? I bet all my questions are going to make your little head explode! Ha ha! Love, Dicka
I jutted out my lower lip. “Poor Mr. Little Guy. Picture his tiny head.” I flicked my fingers. “Poof.”
Giggling, Dicka scurried with her sisters off to bed. But sleep for the girls crept in as easily as it did the night before Christmas.
The next day, Husband muscled our bikes onto the car’s bike rack, and we zoomed off to Lake Harriet. After we unloaded, we pedaled half-way around the lake, and Flicka was the first to spy Mr. Little Guy’s home beyond the foot path. A small garden circled the tree, assuring us we had come to the right place. The girls jumped from their bikes and made a beeline for the tiny door.
Other children had nestled gifts in the tree’s hollow—a shell, flowers, a stone, a quarter, a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy—and lots of letters. The girls’ eyes gleamed as they stuffed their own letters inside. Then I eyed a Ziploc bag, bulging with responses from Mr. Little Guy.
“Do you think he’ll write back to us by tomorrow?” Eagerness dripped from Ricka’s voice.
I assessed the stack of letters from other fans. “I don’t think so. Let’s try back in a week or two. I think he needs time.”
The girls blew off their disappointment, and we climbed back on our bikes to finish the jaunt around the lake.
For two weeks, I warded off the barrage of requests to pay another visit to Mr. Little Guy’s place. Finally, Husband loaded up our bikes and we took off. We zipped half-way around Lake Harriet again, and when the beloved little home came into view, the girls abandoned their bikes. Ricka even flung open the door to the elf’s home without knocking first. Flicka snatched out the Ziploc bag. I opened it and removed the stack of notes—all on silver papers the size of business cards.
“Let’s see if Mr. Little Guy wrote to you.” I handed part of the pile to Husband, doled out some to Flicka, and then began thumbing through the rest. Ricka and Dicka hopped around nearby, needling us for answers. We finished our search.
“Ah, girls.” Husband clicked his tongue. “Looks like he didn’t have time to write back yet. We’ll have to check in next week.”
I returned the notes to the Ziploc bag, tucked it inside the hollow of the tree for the next searchers, and then picked through the other contents. “The notes you wrote him are gone, so that’s a good sign. At least he got them.”
Grumbling, the girls mounted their bikes, and we made the long haul back to the car.
Another week passed. Husband humped the bikes back onto the rack, and we sped off for answers. We pedaled our way around Lake Harriet to The Spot and did a repeat of the previous visit, whipping through the Ziploc’s treasures in hopes of retrieving our own.
And there they were on tiny silver papers in all their shimmering glory: three answers to three letters from three weeks earlier. Each girl grabbed her own letter.
“He eats minnow pizza!” A smile split Dicka’s face.
Ricka nodded, her eyes shining. “He’s taller than his younger brother, but shorter than his older one.”
“His name is Thom, and his wife’s name is Martha.” Flicka breezed through the information. “And his daughter’s name is Alta Lucia. She’s a princess elf.” Then she shot out a laugh that would’ve startled Mr. Little Guy if he had been home.
I reached for their notes when they were done, hoping to learn something of the elf life too. Mr. Little Guy told of playing elfball and catching rides across the water on the backs of ducks. But he explained that being an elf wasn’t all hijinks and samba dancing. He and the other elves were pretty ordinary—and a lot like us Big People. He wrote: I put on my jodhpurs both legs at the same time just like you. And I fry up my minnows in olive oil like you too.
But what caught me was the final sentence of each note:
I believe in you.
Dicka pushed up the kickstand on her bike and threw one leg over the bar. Then she cupped a hand to her mouth and hollered. “I believe in you too, Mr. Little Guy!”
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.