The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 18, 2011

Tom Lavis | Better be nice or there will be elf to pay

Tom Lavis

— As a youngster, I always pondered how Santa determined who was naughty or nice.

That sword hung over my head each December as my parents warned me that one false move could spell doom when it came to me getting gifts.

I wondered how that was determined because one of the kids on my block, Butch, always got Christmas gifts.

This troublemaker stole my cat’s-eye marbles in the summer and beat me up at the bus stop in the fall for taking the seat he normally occupied.

When you are 6 years old, losing your favorite marbles was devastating. These glass orbs were a soft pastel in color with darker swirls of colors in the middle, giving them the appearance of cat’s eyes.

It was bad when Butch swiped my cat’s-eyes, but it really hurt when he made off with my shooters.

Some of my friends used oversized ball bearings as shooters. Their dads got them at the coal mines or steel mills where they worked.

But I had the real thing.

Game marbles were about as round as malted milk balls, but the hefty shooters were much bigger. If you weren’t careful, the glass would chip and diminish the marble’s value.

Butch never bothered stealing the chipped marbles.

If Noah Webster wanted to use a picture illustrating the word naughty in his dictionary, Butch would have been the perfect choice.

But with a name like Noah, he most likely had the naughty beat out of him by guys such as Butch.

But the Butches of the world beware – there’s a new watchdog in town whose job it is to let Santa know who is naughty or nice.

I became aware of this little tattletale while visiting two of my grandchildren recently.

As my daughter implored her 5-year-old son to put away his toys, she said the strangest thing.

“Boxy is watching, and you-know-who is going to hear about it,” she said.

My daughter pointed to the ceiling fan in the living room. There, perched on one of the fan’s paddles, was a little, chubby-cheeked elf doll dressed in a red and white suit and red elf hat.

Gone are the threats of misbehaving children getting nothing in their stockings but lumps of coal.

As the song says: “He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

The cyber generation has exposed the secret of Santa’s spy network, the Elf on the Shelf.

It’s a simple concept that even I can grasp.

Each elf is sent by Santa, along with a storybook, to watch over little girls and boys during the days leading up to Christmas. Each night, he flies home to the North Pole to report on how good or bad their charge has been. In the morning, this silly Elf hides himself in the house and waits for the children to find him.

Log onto Facebook and see how many young families are enjoying the elves.

Photos are posted of various elves who have been adopted and given silly names, such as Hermie (not the dentist), Buzz, Jasper, Jingle and Jangle.

By hiding in a new spot each morning, the scout elf and the family play an ongoing game of hide and seek.

My daughter listened from another room one morning as my grandson told Boxy, who was nestled in a stocking hanging on the tree, what he wanted for Christmas.

One of my daughter’s friends put a makeshift parachute on her daughter’s elf and placed him in a tree outside their front window.

She told her daughter that the elf, Bennie, had been riding on Rudolph before parachuting to the ground.

The little girl, showing a lot of insight for a tyke, wondered why the elf just didn’t fly home.

The mother told the girl that a full moon disrupted her elf’s magic powers.

It’s too bad there wasn’t an elf on Butch’s shelf when I needed help.

However, times change. The last I heard, Butch is no longer on the naughty list. He’s out on good behavior.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.