Look For Elves

February 28th, 2020

Elf Hat

(published in The Daily Memphian)

Christmas is long gone, but those of us who believe in elves know that work has begun in earnest for the next season. The workshop is busy. Hands and eyes guided by years and years of experience, by love of the process, by patience and pride, are shaping and sanding and creating magic things. 

I know. I’ve been there.

Years ago, I made a TV spot for a Christmas decoration company in New York. The concept was Santa’s workshop ­– not a huge operation but a place of personal purpose.

We scouted the city and found it – a woodworking shop in Greenwich Village.

Now we needed elves. Santa would only be in the background. Elves were going to speak for the quality of their work. As you’re probably aware, elves are shy and hard to find, so we cast about 30 little people to fill the workshop.

I flew up for the casting. The cab driver couldn’t find the building because all I had was an address but no cross street. As we looked for numbers, I suddenly told him to stop, paid him, and popped out of the cab.

Walking along the sidewalk side-by-side were two little people with huge portfolios. I just followed them to the address, into the elevator, and into a waiting room full of little people and portfolios. The principal I cast for the major speaking part had actually been a Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz.

We made the spot and, people, it was Santa’s workshop, and those folks were elves if only for the moment, if only for the magic. It even snowed a little in the city while we were shooting.

My friend, Dan Swanson, is an attorney at St. Jude, a member of the choir at Grace-St. Luke’s, and, I suspect, an elf. In fact, I believe his wife, Robin, is probably an elf as well. They both take great pleasure in small things, in things just so, in things made by hand, and in time and things shared with others.

Dan recently finished a dining room table – made by hand, by touch, by feel – from the wood of two oak trees that stood in the front yard of Robin’s childhood home in Minnesota. Dan has already made 13 identical boxes from the wood and Robin has given them to family members, each with a personal message inside and a pic of the trees and the house. The table is exquisite, not just because of the skill in making it, but because of the love in it and in the making of it. It shows in the detail. It fills the boxes.

Our son, Gaines, is remaking and reshaping a farmhouse in Germantown, parts of it dating from 1872, with his hands and his imagination, all the while living in it, working out of it. His wife, Courtney, and our three grandchildren are all in as well. They are quite literally making a home. There are elves out there and somewhere in our DNA.

In the time of fleeting texts and ceaseless emoji, of tireless and tiresome tweets – in the time of Amazon, porch-delivered culture, and impersonal personal communication – look for things crafted over time, words chosen with care, relationships built from deeper places.      

Look for the magic. Look for elves.

I’m a Memphian, and I still believe.

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