Every night, as we slept, the elves changed position. One would hide in the refrigerator, to make sure we didn't sneak mouthfuls of spray whipped cream that was supposed to be for the pies. One might sit in the bathroom, making sure we cleaned the counters after washing our hands, or making sure we brushed our teeth before bed. Another might nestle in a wall hanging in the den, checking that we didn't fight over the television channels or forget to pick up our messes after playing. Yet another might sit in the hall and listen to us play with each other or our friends, making sure we remembered our manners. Still another might sit on a bedroom bookshelf, to see whether we stayed up too late past bedtime, or forgot to pick up our clothes.
And each morning, we'd race around the house to find out where the elves had moved, what new posts they'd assumed. And on Christmas day, not a trace of the elves would be found, all having decamped and returned to the North Pole with Santa.
The elves were the most magical part of Christmas for us. We knew Santa took a personal interest in us and our doings, and that he really did care whether we were naughty or nice. The elves reminded us, at least during the Christmas season, that our good behavior was important, and that temptation could be resisted if we were thoughtful.
When we got older and the grandchildren came, it was a joy to see the elves resume their appearances, albeit with a force reduced by one, and with considerable battle-scars from many years of service. Each grandchild would hunt for elves when visiting Nan and Pop's house, and the elves always found the most interesting places to hide: within the Christmas tree branches, in the light fixtures, in the manger scene.
After forty-something years of elves monitoring the house and only leaving upon Santa's visit, we found all the elves in attendance still on Christmas morning this year. Had they gotten lazy? Did they believe there was impending bad behavior among the grandchildren for which they needed to be on the scene? Did they miss their ride? Decide to take a later sleigh?
Any of these things could be true, but my own theory is that with this year being our first Christmas without Poppy, the elves stayed to remind us of him, and to comfort us in those moments when we missed him most.
Merry Christmas, Poppy; I miss you. It wasn't the same without you, but we did our best.