What About Mrs. Claus?
Summary: On Christmas Day, six-year-old Joe has some questions about Mrs. Claus. Older brother Adam has answers!
Author's Note: This story was written as a continuation of my "elf" series, stories written a few Christmases ago. While those stories (An Elf Named Cartwright and A Cartwright Named Santa) are not "required reading," they provide background for some things mentioned in passing in this new tale.
After all the presents under the tree were opened, Little Joe sought out Hop Sing, so the housekeeper could fulfill his promise to stitch Santa's sleigh bell to Joe's elf hat. The bell was one of a kind - a gift from Santa to a very special boy for being such a good elf. Hop Sing wore an earsplitting grin, all through his work, thinking of how clever Santa had been to write a letter to Joe - in hopes of putting to rest Joe's efforts to meet jolly old St. Nick in person.
Cutting the thread, Hop Sing put away his needle, then slid the newly adorned hat over Joe's head, giving the brim a tug, to cover the boy's ears.
"There, you tly out." He held up a finger in warning as he added, "But you only have today to wear hat, then put away 'til next year."
Joe nodded in understanding. Adam had already explained that his elf duties would be over at sundown tonight and that in order to keep the hat in good shape for next year, he should tuck it away someplace safe.
But the day was still young!
Joe began to prance about, eyes growing merry at the sound of the jingling sleigh bell. "Thanks, Hop Sing. Just wait till I tell Grandma Ester. She sure is gonna be surprised to hear Santa put this bell in my stocking. But it ain't never would have happened, it she didn't make me this elf hat, would it?"
The cook shrugged. "Hop Sing not know. But bell look good on hat." He swooshed the air with the back of his hand as he encouraged, "You go show hat to fah-tha and big bruh-thu. Hop Sing need to get back to kitchen now, or boy not have lunch."
"Okay, Hop Sing. Thanks." With genuine affection, Joe hugged
the little man, then ran off to do as he was told.
Dashing into the living room, Joe gushed to his family, "Look! Don't my bell look perfect on the hat? Hear it jingle? I sound just like Santa's sleigh. Don't I, Pa?"
The boy hopped around in front of the fireplace, to give his family a proper demonstration.
Hoss grinned. "Why, Joe, you shore do sound like Santa's sleigh, all right."
With twinkling eyes, Ben and Adam nodded in agreement.
Coming to an abrupt standstill, Joe walked to the plank table to pick up the letter from Santa, which he'd found on his bedside table when he awoke that morning. Picking up the paper, the boy frowned slightly, then went to Adam to ask, "Can you read this again, Adam? I want to check somethin'."
Raising a wary eyebrow, Adam asked carefully, "Check somethin'?"
Bobbing his head, Joe answered, "Yeah. Can you please read it one more time?"
Catching his own question pass across their father's face, Adam looked back at the boy. "Sure, Joe. I'll be happy to." His eyes dropped to the page.
Dear Little Joe,
Thank you for your letter. Your father and brothers are right. I am a little shy. My elves and I, here at the North Pole, love making gifts for good boys and girls, but we are embarrassed when people make too much of a fuss over us. Our work makes us happy and knowing we make boys like you happy is all the thanks we need.
You are a very good elf. Please plan to hire on again next year. Elves like you are hard to come by. To show my appreciation, I put something extra special in your stocking, for being Santa's helper.
Have a Merry Christmas and give your pa and brothers a kiss from me and Mrs. Claus.
All eyes focused on the little elf as he began to pace in front of the fireplace, ridges forming across his brow as he rubbed his chin and muttered, "Hmmmm."
Adam, Hoss and Pa all looked at each other, their minds forming the same thought: Uh oh. Now what?
Spinning on his heel, Joe found his oldest brother's eyes, his own wide with wonder.
"Adam, what about Mrs. Claus?"
Scratching the back of his neck, Adam stared back, his face a question mark. "How do you mean, buddy? What about Mrs. Claus?"
Pointing to the paper hanging limply in Adam's hand, Joe answered, "Well, in there, Santa says that he and his elves is shy, but he don't say nothin' 'bout how Mrs. Claus thinks on it all. All Santa says is that she sent a kiss with him."
The boy began his pacing again.
"Ya know, Adam, ya don't really hear too much about Mrs. Claus, do ya?"
Standing abruptly, Ben headed for his smoking table, to refill his pipe. He didn't dare look at his eldest son, for fear of bursting into what would be very inappropriate laughter. As he reached for his tobacco pouch, he found himself thinking of the boy's mother, clearly picturing her green eyes sparkling with glee.
Oh, my love, how you must be enjoying this. Little Joe has your imagination, Marie. He sure does keep us guessing, as to what he'll hit us with next. But if I know Adam, he's going to rise to this latest challenge, with that flare of his.
Clearing his throat, Adam concentrated on carefully folding the letter in his hands.
"Well, Joe, now that you mention it, I have to admit, folks don't talk that much about Mrs. Claus. Doesn't seem fair, does it?"
Joe shook his head. "Uh uh. 'Cause I bet she prob'ly gots lots ta do with gettin' all those toys finished - 'cause ladies got the delicate touch, plus they know what little girls want, 'cause they was one once. Besides that, Mrs. Claus prob'ly's got to cook for all those elves and Santa, ta keep 'em fixed for energy, right?"
Hoss coughed, then abruptly left the room, calling back over his shoulder, "Jest gonna see how Hop Sing's comin' with lunch. I'll be right back."
Ben bit his lip, eyes tearing with unshed laughter. His chest filled with warmth, listening to Adam calmly answer the little elf gazing up at him in expectation.
"I expect you've got it right, Joe. A man - even an elf-sized one - needs to eat, to keep up his strength and energy. And those fellas at the North Pole have a heck of a big job facing them, don't they, getting everything ready to roll by December twenty-fourth?"
Joe nodded, moving closer, drawn in by his older brother's certain knowledge on the subject. When he got within reach, Adam scooped him up and settled him on his lap. Sliding an arm around Joe's shoulders, Adam continued to sketch out life at the North Pole.
"Just think how long that dinner table must be ... has to seat at least a hundred at a time I'd guess. Though I figure there's probably two hundred elves at the North Pole, in order to get all the gifts made in time for children all over the world. Likely as not though, they eat in shifts."
Joe nodded, eyes begging for more. Adam rubbed his chin, concealing a brief smile, then continued.
"As for Mrs. Claus, I expect that besides all her supervising of the girls' toys, not to mention feeding that little army of elves, she probably feeds the reindeer too, don't you think, Joe?"
Tipping his head to one side, Joe considered the question, then shook his head.
Lips pursed in veto, Joe continued to shake his head before answering, "Nah. I figure Santa's got special elf hands for that duty."
Eyes sparkling, Adam sent their father a wink. His face grew thoughtful as he gave his little brother's counter some serious consideration.
"Hmmmm. Yep, I think you've got something there, Joe. Santa's probably got elves to make toys, elves for taking care of his stock and elves to help Mrs. Claus in the kitchen even, do you think?"
Eyes rounding, Joe bobbed his head. "Well, sure." He tossed a hand in the direction of the kitchen. "You think on it, Adam. Hop Sing, he takes care of four fellas: Pa, you, Hoss and me. But ... like you said, Santa's got hundreds of elves. Mrs. Claus can't be'spected ta feed all them helpers all by herself. That's a lotta eggs ta crack inta a pan in the mornin'. Right?"
Adam heard the slam of the kitchen door, followed by the retreating sound of Hop Sing's high-pitched laughter, likely heading toward the chicken coop.
His attention quickly returned to the boy perched on his lap.
Eyebrows dipping, Joe puzzled aloud, "You think she's got girl elves, ta help her with the cookin'? I figure there's gotta be boy and girl elves, right?" The boy leaned forward to explain, "'Cause there's always gotta be a boy and girl ... else you don't get the babies. Hmmm. Wonder how big a baby elf would be?"
Ben cleared his throat, then abruptly strolled out of the room, calling over his shoulder, "Just wanna see how Hop Sing's coming along with lunch, son."
Adam began to wonder if he and Joe would be getting lunch. A tug to his thick flannel shirt sleeve reminded him of more immediate matters.
"What? Oh, yes, you're right, Joe. There have to be girl elves. Otherwise, who would Santa's elves dance with, at the New Year's Eve party?"
Joe snapped his fingers. "Hey, yeah, that's right."
But even as Adam gave himself a mental pat on the back, he could see that Joe's mind was churning up more challenges.
"So, Adam, what about Mrs. Claus?"
Hearing the distinct sound of Pa's muffled chuckle from the kitchen entrance, Adam cleared his throat. "Well, what else did you want to know, Joe?"
The boy's brow rippled with deep thought. Index finger poised in the air, he replied, "Well, like ... do ya think she's got other gear, 'sides that dress that matches Santa's suit? You know, like a regular gal? 'Cause, ladies seem like they worry about havin' a special dress, for this or that ... you know, like maybe for that North Pole New Year's Eve party. And ... do ya think she's a gossip, when she gets in the kitchen with those girl elves?" Giving Adam his most knowing look, Joe reminded him, "'Cause ladies seem like they always haveta be tellin' other ladies somethin', whenever they see each other." As evidence, the boy added, "I see 'em rushin' up to each other all the time, when I'm waitin' outside the General Store for Pa, Adam. They hug each other, like it's been near forever since they saw each other - even if they're neighbors - then they start whisperin'."
Joe frowned. "Or do ya think Mrs. Claus runs a real tight ship? Pa says when a man's gots lots of fellas workin' for him, he can't let 'em spend too much time jawin', else he won't get his wage out of 'em - and that if a feller really wants ta earn a dollar, he better give a dollar's work. Ya think elves get paid in hard cash - or do they get what Mr. Hastings calls their cut in goods?"
Eyes swelling, Joe grinned. "I'd sure like it if Santa paid me in some toys, Adam, but I guess when a elf is first startin' out, he's gotta show he's willin' ta work hard, 'fore he gets any kinda real wage."
The boy paused to take in a much-needed gulp of air. His eyes played over his older brother's face as he waited for his answers.
Taking a moment to sniff the air, Adam cocked an eyebrow.
"Smells to me like lunch is ready, Joe. And if I'm going to properly answer all your questions, I need energy. So how about you and I go claim our places at the table? Then, once I have a bite or two, I'll give you my thoughts on Mrs. Claus. Okay?"
Tongue sweeping across his lips, as he caught a good whiff of turkey soup, Joe nodded. "Yeah, I'm gettin' pretty hungry, too, Adam." Remembering that he was not allowed to wear his hat at the table, Joe slid it off his head, then draped it over the back of Adam's chair.
"I'll leave this here, so as not ta rile Pa."
As the two brothers took their spots at the table, the rest of the family joined them from the kitchen, with Hop Sing on their heels, carrying a huge tureen of steaming hot soup - generous bites of turkey, lots of chopped onion and carrots, all in a seasoned broth that warmed the body from head to toe, while giving the taste buds a taste of heaven. He ladled out a portion for each of them, then returned to the kitchen to bring back a plate of his fresh sliced buttered brown bread.
After swallowing a healthy spoonful of the luscious soup, Adam said, "Thanks, Hop Sing. It's delicious. No one makes soup better than you do - not even Mrs. Claus."
As the rest of the family echoed their thanks, the cook gave an appreciative bow.
"Hop Sing glad you like, but he glad he not have to cook for two hundled Cartlight."
Grinning widely, he left the room, looking forward to having his tea while keeping one ear open for more stories about the North Pole.
Spoon poised over his bowl, Joe urged, "Did you think up my answers, Adam?"
Dabbing his lips with his napkin, Adam glanced at each member of the family. Chocolate eyes gleamed; blue eyes twinkled; and green eyes glowed with wonder.
Reaching for a slice of bread, Adam nodded. "Yep, I've been thinking all right." He eyed his brother's full soup bowl. "But I'll only fill you in on what I know if you start eating your lunch, Joe."
Joe slurped in a good mouthful, dribbling a fair portion down his chin in the process. With a sweep of his tongue, he managed to retrieve a fair amount, then used the napkin Pa handed him to mop off the rest. After several, more successful spoonfuls, the boy said, "I'm eatin', Adam."
Grinning, the older brother nodded. "Very well, buddy. Let's see now ... there was a question about clothes ... I expect Mr. and Mrs. Claus probably wear their Santa outfits most of the time, except when they go to bed of course -likely as not, Mrs. Claus made them each a nice red flannel nightshirt for bedtime. Now, during the day, Mrs. Claus likely puts an apron over her Santa outfit, for when she's working in the kitchen. But you figure, since she and Mr. Claus work all the year round to see that all those toys get made in time for the next Christmas ... well ... those suits they wear are kind of like their work uniform. The elves expect them to wear them."
Joe interjected, "But what about when they go home to their own igloo house at night, they don't gotta wear that uniform then, right?"
Adam took a swallow of soup, then watched Joe do likewise, before answering the boy.
"Hmmm. Well, I figure with all the hours they put in, it's probably easier to just wear the suits, right up 'till bedtime, Joe. That's a real thick, warm outfit. If I were living at the North Pole, I think I'd rather not have to undress any more than I had to."
Joe shivered at the thought of ice flooring beneath his bare feet, then warmed his insides with another steamy spoonful of soup.
"Yeah, I think that might be right, Adam. But what about for the party?"
Adam's eyes sparked with the possibilities.
"Ah, yes, the New Year's Eve Party." Setting his spoon on his plate, Adam handed his empty bowl to Pa. Giving his eldest an appreciative wink, Ben dished him up another full serving - to make sure the storyteller kept up his strength!
"Well, Joe, I figure Santa's quite a dancer, and Mrs. Claus likes to be whirled all around the dance floor."
Hoss interjected, with an ear-to-ear grin, "Do they got a special igloo dancehall, Adam?"
Ben nodded. "Yes, I was wondering that myself."
Joe looked at Hoss, then Pa, seeing anticipation in their eyes. He nodded anxiously at Adam, that he should answer.
Taking time to chew another bite of bread, Adam fairly glowed, as the story continued to blossom in his mind.
"Well, since Santa's elves knew how much he liked to dance, I'll wager they built that hall, special for him, years ago, maybe as a birthday surprise." Adam winked. "But you know something, Joe?" The boy shook his head, holding his breath, edging forward in his chair. "I hear it was actually Mrs. Claus' idea, that she just happened to let slip to one of her kitchen elf helpers one day. Seems that particular elf was the one to mention things to, if you wanted the word spread on anything."
Joe winked back. "Oh. So there is gossip up there." The boy tapped his chin with his forefinger, then nodded thoughtfully. "Guess it's what Charlie always says, huh, Hoss?"
Hoss opened his mouth, then closed it again, when he considered that some of Charlie's sayings were fairly colorful - too colorful to repeat in front of Pa. He answered a bit cautiously, "Oh? What's that, Little Joe?"
The boy rolled his eyes, then threw out his hands as he answered, "You know, that girls is the same everywheres."
Hoss grin returned, amid his father's and older brother's appreciative chuckles. He wrinkled his nose as he commented, "Well, no matter whose idea it was, it was right nice of those little fellers to do something like that fer their bosses."
Picking up his coffee cup, Ben hid a proud grin, for two brothers who played so well off each other to give the youngest such a magical day.
Joe needled, "So what did Mr. and Mrs. Claus wear to the dance, Adam?"
Grabbing the coffee pot, Adam topped up his cup, then waggled the pot in Pa's direction. At Ben's nod, Adam filled his cup too before turning back to Joe.
"Well, buddy, for dancing, a man doesn't want to wear something too bulky, like that padded red outfit Santa wears for every day. No sir. For the dance floor, Santa has a fine, tailored, black wool suit, set off nicely with a red woolen vest, and a black silk string tie.
And Mrs. Claus ... she gets decked out in a dress of creamy satin. She wears tiny colorful bows in her silver hair - red ones at Christmas time, but other colors for different occasions during the year. Like on Santa's birthday, she wears his favorite color - robin's egg blue."
Hoss blushed. "Boy, that Mrs. Claus is a sentimental lady, huh, Adam?"
"She sure is, all right."
Joe pressed for more details. "What do the elves wear, Adam?"
"The elves? I hear they sure like to kick up their heels at a party, so they have fancy suits and dresses, too, but not so fancy that they outshine Mr. and Mrs. Claus."
Hoss shook his head, frowning deeply, at the very thought. "No, course they shore wouldn't. Elves are very respectful."
Joe gave a sharp nod and Adam mirrored it, adding firmly, "That's right."
Scraping the dregs from his bowl, Joe sighed.
While the little head was still bowed, Adam and Ben exchanged concerned glances. Adam shrugged, then turned to his little brother.
"What's the matter, buddy?"
Leaning his chin on a closed fist, Joe sighed again, his little imagination working overtime now.
"Golly, Adam, that must be somethin', all those little gals and guys dancin' up a storm, with their special party elf hats on. And Mr. and Mrs. Claus there, too. Ya think if I do a extra-special good job next year as Santa's helper, I might get a invite to that New Year's Eve party? Would you take me if I do?"
Adam swallowed the big lump that was trying to close his throat, all too aware that next New Year's he'd be a far distance from here, unable to bring in the New Year with his family, let alone Santa.
Sucking in a deep breath, he rose from his chair, rounded the table and scooped his little brother up for a big hug. When Joe hugged back, Adam whispered in his ear, "Little boy, if Santa sends you an invite to his New Year's Eve party, I will certainly be happy to take you."
After enjoying the warm embrace, Joe pulled away, to study his brother's face. Elusive as it might have been to someone else, Joe caught something in his brother's sad smile.
"But you don't think he will, do ya, Adam?"
Sitting down in Joe's chair, with the boy in his lap, Adam smiled softly, then explained, "Joe, the North Pole is a very special place, and Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their elves ... well ... they have a kind of magic, that only works if no one else sees them doing it.
See ... when Santa wrote you that letter, he said they were 'shy.' But that was his way of saying that they really can't be with us regular folks. It's just part of what makes it magic. It's not because they wouldn't want you to come to their party ... it's just that if you did come ... "
Joe's brow creased with the seriousness of it all. "I'd break the spell, huh, Adam?"
Adam matched his brother's expression. "I'm afraid you would, buddy. It's just not worth the risk, is it?"
After a long moment, Joe shook his head, agreeing somberly, "No, it ain't. I better just be glad to be a ... rep ... rep-ree-sent-ive, for the elfs, right, Adam?"
"Rep-re-sent-a-tive. That's right, Joe." Adam gave his brother a big smile. "You're one of a kind, buddy. Far as I know, no other kid in Virginia City, or anywhere else, has been given the honor of being Santa's elf. That should be honor enough, even without the invite, right?"
Joe grinned at the rest of his family. "Yep. Besides, we got our own party at New Year's Eve. Um, Pa? Do I get to come this year? 'Cause if elves get to go to the party up there," Joe pointed to the ceiling, "then since I'm an elf here," he pointed to the floor, "I should get to go to our party. Right?"
Eyes roving toward the ceiling, Adam held his breath, awaiting Ben's reaction. Hoss fidgeted with his spoon, wishing his bowl wasn't completely empty. But Little Joe held their father's gaze, awaiting his answer.
Ben studied his two oldest sons, fighting to master his twitching smile.
Adam sure can spin a yarn. But one thing he said is not make believe. Little Joe is most certainly 'one of a kind.'
Holding his youngest son's eyes with his own, Ben answered, "Little Joe, while I'm sorry you can't join the other elves at Santa's party, I'm glad about it too." Joe tipped his head in question, and Ben finished, "Because if you were at the North Pole, you couldn't be at the Ponderosa's party."
Hopping off Adam's lap, Joe ran to Pa, throwing himself into outstretched arms. "Yippee, then I'm invited?"
Squeezing the boy tight, Ben whispered into his ear, "Of course you are. And won't our friends and neighbors be surprised, that one of Santa's elves is away from the North Pole on New Year's!"
Wishing everyone a wonderful New Year and the magic of Christmas all the year through.