Season’s greetings everyone.
Please find below a little story I wrote that I hope you may find worthy of sharing with the blind children in your life.
If you prefer, you can also hear a narrated audio version.
A long long time ago, so long ago that even your teacher hadn’t been born yet, so that makes it a really really long time ago, a stylish, shiny elf-driving car pulled into the long driveway at Santa’s busy workshop.
Out of the car stepped Mrs Scott, a smartly-dressed elf wearing a business suit and black patent leather high-heeled shoes.
They made such a loud clop, clop, clop sound on the cobblestones leading to the gingerbread front door of the workshop, that Harold, the chief elf, heard his visitor coming, even over the sound of all the toys being made and packed.
He met Mrs Scott at the door of the workshop, greeting her with a wide smile, a firm handshake and a laugh that was squeaky and high-pitched, yet somehow when you heard it, you could tell it was coming right from his wobbly little tummy. He immediately felt under-dressed in the overalls he was wearing while he was helping out on one of the assembly lines. Yet despite Mrs Scott looking immaculate, and Harold looking decidedly shabby, Harold was the boss, and she had something he needed.
“Come in, come in! You must be from the elf-improvement school,” Harold exclaimed.
Harold ushered Mrs Scott into his office, and one of the kitchen elves was asked to make her a cup of tea. Making all those toys and sorting them for Santa made all the elves hungry like a wolf, so Santa’s workshop had a big kitchen where all kinds of delicious treats were being made for the elves to eat whenever they got hungry.
Mrs Scott had been the director of the School of Elf Improvement for five years, but this was the first time she had visited Santa’s workshop. If elves were ever lucky enough to get a job with Santa, almost no one left. That meant that even though there were many elves graduating every year from the School of Elf Improvement, not many got the ultimate prize, the job of working for Santa.
Mrs Scott was at Santa’s workshop on this day, because Harold had called her late one night on her elf-phone, saying that with more children than ever in the world, they could use a bit more help.
After the tea arrived, and Mrs Scott had sampled some of the delectable fairy cakes from the workshop kitchen, she opened her briefcase and they got down to business.
“As you can appreciate,” she said, “every elf would love to work here at Santa’s workshop, but I know you can only use the cleverest, most capable elves. You have so much to do! So I’ve brought you three elf-assessments to take a look at.”
Mrs Scott took out three beautifully spiral-bound leather folders, with the name of an elf etched in gold on the front cover of each one.
“This is Huey”, she said. “Huey loves building musical instruments. During one of his exams, he built a piano, a clarinet, a huge noisy drum kit, a Didgeridoo, a nose flute and a plinkety plankety, all in under an hour. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mrs Scott beamed.
“Well now,” said Harold looking impressed, “I’ve heard of most of those things of course, we have lots of them being built in the workshop right now actually, but what’s a plinkety plankety?”
“Oh,” said Mrs Scott, beaming with pride, “it’s a new instrument Huey invented himself! If he doesn’t come to work here, I’m sure he’ll be producing it for one of the big toy companies before the year is out.”
“Hmmm,” said Harold, “he sounds wonderful and would make a great addition to the team I’m sure, but the thing is, we’re not really having any trouble keeping up with musical instruments. Who else do you have?”
“Well,” said Mrs Scott, moving the second leather-bound volume to the top of the pile, “this is Stewy. Now Stewy is a genius at making toy kitchens, and all the things to go in the toy kitchens. Do you know,” she said, getting so excited that she spilled a bit of fairy cake all down her front, so it was just as well that her garments were elf-cleaning, “the other day, Stewy made a toy kitchen with a fridge that really gets cold? But that’s not the half of it. It only works when you put chocolate in the fridge. Put any other food in that thing, and nothing happens. Outstanding piece of work.”
“Very clever,” said Harold, “although I’m not convinced the boys and girls will want a fridge that only keeps one thing cool. And we do have some good engineers here. Still, he’s worth considering. And who is the last elf you wanted to show me?”
“Ah, well,” said Mrs Scott, suddenly looking a little fidgety, “I really wasn’t sure about whether to suggest Louis or not. Louis is special.”
There was something in the way Mrs Scott used the word “special” that immediately peaked Harold’s curiosity.
“What exactly do you mean by special?”
“Well, you see, Louis makes excellent use of his hearing. It’s not that his hearing is better than any of the other elves in the school, it’s just that he tends to take a lot more notice of what he’s hearing. Recently, we were manufacturing a load of ride-on toy tractors for a toy company, and one of the whizimybobs developed a fault!”
“Oh no,” said Harold, understanding exactly how serious a matter this was. “You get a problem with one of your whizimybobs and it can really set you back. Actually we had a fault with one of our whizimybobs here at Santa’s workshop last Christmas. It stopped a lot of our production for a week because no one picked up on it, and we nearly had to cancel Santa’s delivery altogether”.
“Well exactly,” said Mrs Scott. “If Louis hadn’t heard the subtle change in the machine caused by the problem with the whizimybobs, I think we would have lost the contract. We were so lucky he was around.”
“I’m intrigued,” said Harold. “We could definitely use someone with those skills. Tell me more about this Louis.”
“He’s very thorough,” said Mrs Scott. “He inspects things with his hands and often picks up on problems making things that we might miss visually. It’s been very useful to us more than once”.
“But why?” asked Harold, “why doesn’t he just use his eyes like everyone else?”
“Because his eyes don’t work,” said Mrs Scott. “Louis’s totally blind.”
“Blind?” Harold scratched his little head in utter bemusement. “How does he…how will he…what if he…I just don’t think a blind elf could work in our workshop.”
“I thought you might think that,” said Mrs Scott patiently, “but hear me out. Remember how you nearly had to cancel Christmas eve once, because it was too foggy for Santa to travel. If it wasn’t for Rudolph, kids all around the world would have gone without presents that year.”
“Oh I remember it well,” sighed Harold. “It was the most scary day of my life. I was so stressed out I was beside my elf.”
“Then surely,” continued Mrs Scott, “you know that people with a range of abilities and gifts make Santa’s workshop run more smoothly! Louis can bring skills that many of your other elves don’t have.”
“You make a good point Mrs Scott,” Harold said. “Send him to us. We’ll take him on. I don’t want anyone getting hurt and there is a lot that goes on in this workshop, but we’ll give it a try.”
Louis arrived at Santa’s workshop the next day, with his little suitcase and his long white candy cane. He put it out in front of him, so he new when he was getting close to an obstacle. If the cane hit a wall or something left on the ground, he would feel it. And after being shown around the place, he soon started remembering where all the divisions of Santa’s great workshop were located. It wasn’t that difficult for Louis. He soon noticed how different the sounds of the machinery were depending on which part of the workshop he was in. Sometimes, his sense of smell helped too. Just like his hearing, it was no better than anyone else’s, but since he didn’t have his sight, he took more notice of what his other senses were telling him.
Louis was very excited about meeting Santa, but Harold explained that since Christmas was getting close, Santa was very busy preparing, and usually, elves just starting out didn’t get a chance to meet with the big guy.
Louis settled down to work as quickly as he could, but he wasn’t happy. He felt that he wasn’t being given as much responsibility as he was capable of. Everyone was very nice to him, but they just couldn’t imagine how he could do the things that needed to get done if he wasn’t able to see. Louis tried to be patient and explain.
“Since you’ve been able to see all your life,” he said, “you use your sight. You depend on it for a lot of things and that makes sense. But I’ve never been able to see, so I don’t know any different. I get by just fine without any sight. I might do things in a different way sometimes, but I still get the job done in the end.”
Still, the elves found it hard to give Louis a fair chance. It’s not that they meant any harm, they just were scared about him being hurt.
Then, one day, a mad panic developed in the mail room at Santa’s workshop. Every day at precisely 29 o’clock, a small earthquake could be felt, as the mail from all the children who had recently written to Santa got delivered to the workshop.
The mail elves had an efficient system of sorting through the mail, and making sure that all the requests from the girls and boys got put on Santa’s list. At the end of every day, Santa would always check the list twice, to be sure all the good children had their requests noted.
But today, the mail elves had a problem they didn’t know how to solve. They had received a group of letters that were nothing like they had ever received before. The mail elves prided themselves on being able to read every single language in the world. But these letters had them stumped. Rather than being written with squiggly characters on the page, these letters felt all bumpy. Hannah, one of the mail elves, said the pages reminded her of her teenage brother Brad, who was having a major problem with pimples. The pages, she said, looked and felt a bit like Brad’s face.
“Do you mean kids are now writing to us in pimple?” said Harold, who had been put in charge of solving the issue because of how urgent it was.
“I don’t think any child would be quite that dotty,” Hannah replied. “But I think we need to call an elf-development meeting, to see if anyone can solve this problem. Because Santa has made it clear, we need to do whatever it takes to make sure all girls and boys who write to us have their requests read, even if we can’t always grant them all”.
Elf-development meetings didn’t happen very often so close to Christmas, but this was an emergency. All the elves from around Santa’s workshop stopped what they were doing, and gathered together at exactly elve o’clock for the big meeting.
“For the first time in our history,” Harold announced, “we have received a group of letters from girls and boys that none of our team can read. Here’s a sample.”
Harold held up a page of the dot-filled writing. Everyone stared, first at the dotty page, then blankly back at Harold. No one had any idea what the writing was, or how to read it.
“The interesting thing about this writing is,” Harold said, “if you touch it, it feels very easy to distinguish by touch, almost as if you’re supposed to read it with your hands.”
Louis’s little ears pricked up. He couldn’t see the sample, but based on the description, he was pretty sure he knew what it was.
“May I please feel a page of that writing?” Louis asked.
Harold handed Louis a page filled with the dots. Louis took the fingertips of both index fingers, and started gently running his fingers across the page. He began to speak.
“Dear Santa. My name is Sam. I’m nine, and I can’t wait until your visit. For Christmas, I would please like a cool train set, one with plenty of awesome sounds and loud whistles if you can. My sister Amy is seven. She is a pest, so I think you should bring her a frog. Love, Sam.”
“How did you do that, and more to the point, what is that dotty stuff?” Harold asked.
“It’s Braille,” said Louis. “It’s the new way for blind people to read and write. These letters are from blind boys and girls. They’re writing to you themselves. You see, Braille lets blind children write to us here at Santa’s workshop, just like sighted children can.”
Suddenly, all the elves started jumping up and down and clapping. “Hooray for Louis! Hooray for Louis!”
The elves were happy because, thanks to Louis, they could make sure that all girls and boys, including those who read Braille, could get their presents on Santa’s list.
Louis spent a lot of time in the mail room after that, but that wasn’t all he did. The elves realised that just because you’re blind, it doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable skills that others may not have. They realised that Louis just did things differently. Not better, just differently. Soon, Louis was also put in charge of whizimybob inspection. The elves used to be worried that Louis would hurt himself, because whizimybobs have so many moving parts. But they knew that Louis was careful and capable, more capable at that particular job than anyone else.
One day, Harold came into the mail room to find Louis.
“The big guy wants to see you Louis,” Harold said.
“Santa? See me? Have I done something wrong?”
“No idea,” Harold said, “I was just asked to bring you to see him.”
Louis timidly knocked on Santa’s office door. “Ho, ho, ho!” came the reply. Louis opened the door, and walked into the office, which seemed to be shaking. It turns out Santa was happy to see Louis, and Santa’s enormous belly-laughter was making the whole office bounce up and down like a carnival ride.
“I wanted to see you in person Louis,” Santa said, “to thank you so much for your gift.”
“Gift?” said a puzzled Louis.
“Oh yes,” said Santa. “You know, every year, I give lots and lots of toys to girls and boys all over the world, and that’s wonderful. But your gifts are also very precious. You see, you showed us all here at the workshop that no matter who we are, we’re all special, we’re all unique, we can all do something no one else can do. Some of us are good at some things, some of us are good at others. Some of the elves here thought that just because you couldn’t see, you couldn’t contribute as much. But they just didn’t know better. Now everyone knows you’re a very important member of our team. We’d be lost without you. You showed all of us that the best gift we can give each other at Christmas is to love and appreciate everyone around us for who they are.”
And all these years later, every year, when he’s not looking after those pesky whizimybobs, you’ll find Louis in the mail room, making sure that all the Braille letters from blind children all over the world are making it onto Santa’s list, and being checked twice. Which just goes to show, there’s nothing you can’t do, as long as you believe in your elf.