BETWEEN THE LINES - Magic in the attic

Tuesday, December 4, 2001

Today, I'd like to step aside in order to share this article, sent to us by our friend Joan Rodgers, a longtime newspaper editor who now runs Parent Magazine. Here's hoping there's a little magic in your attics this Christmas.

Two women I know grew up with the most remarkable character in their house. An elf lived in the attic.

Instead of an attic door and stairs, this house had a small, square opening in the ceiling. The opening was in the hallway, where the oil furnace stood under the floor. The grate lay flush with the floor, and throughout the cold months, the girls could walk across the grate and feel the heat rush up and warm them.

The attic opening was covered with a square board.

If someone wanted to store something, he had to pull a kitchen chair over and stand on it. After he pushed the board away and stuck his head up into the attic, he had to shine a flashlight around, because the attic had no light.

The girls were not allowed to stand high and do this, because it was dangerous for little ones. Besides, they weren't tall enough.

Their father always did the storing and retrieving of items. And every year at Christmas time, he would climb on the chair, slide the board aside and pull out the boxes of Christmas decorations.

Then he would poke his head back into the darkness and have a conversation with an elf named Reginald.

The father spoke in a normal, fatherly voice, but the elf had a high, peculiar voice.

For some reason, the girls were never allowed to see Reginald, but they never questioned this. They would tell their father what they

wanted the elf to know, and their father would relay the message. Then they would

hear the elf's high-pitched, rapid-fire responses.

"Can we tell him what we want for Christmas?" they would shout excitedly, and their father would tell the elf what they had asked.

"What do you want for Christmas?" Reginald would fire back.

"A doll baby that wets," one girl would say.

"A doll baby that cries real tears," the other would chime in.

The father would repeat this, and Reginald would call out from the dark, "OK. One doll baby that wets and one doll baby that cries real tears. I'll tell Santa."

The girls felt a thrill and, in spite of the furnace's warmth, a little shiver from the excitement and strangeness of it all.

"Anything else?" Reginald always asked.

"And fruitsandnutsandcandyandhelpthepoorchildren," the girls would sing out, jumping up and down. Their parents had taught them to say this, and it seemed like one word to them. The father repeated it.

"Oh, Santa likes to help the poor children!" Reginald would squeak.

"Fruitsandnutsandcandyandhelpthepoorchildren. Will there be anything else?"

"Tell Santa Claus we'll leave him some cookies and milk on Christmas Eve," the girls, then their father, would say.

"OK. I'll tell him," Reginald promised.

And there in the hallway, toasty warm from the blazing furnace, the girls' eyes sparkled, and they were sure they knew exactly what Reginald looked like, even though he had never emerged from the darkness.

When they were grown, it seemed impossible to think that they had never actually seen him.

And this is part of the holiday story - the power of parents who care so much that they take time to create magic for their children.

Parents who do it so well that, years later, two grown sisters can tell you that Reginald wore a dark brown suit of clothes, of course, even though their father - and Reginald - never ever mentioned his appearance.

Reginald's high, brown hat was cone-shaped, the sisters say, and rounded at the point. He was middle-aged, with a potbelly and a bulbous red nose.

And he was a little scary, only because he was from a faraway place, but they knew he loved them very much.