This is the story of exactly how
Jean Bronson Gillis Burson became acquainted with
who told the story to her children and is now written as imagined by her daughter Sharman Burson Ramsey.
The story you are about to read is true. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.
The name is Aloysius I. Wishus. Friends call me Alliwishus.
This is the city. Santaland. The North Pole. I work here. I am an elf. I wear a green tassled hat.
There are many stories in the city. This is mine.
I served hundreds of years as a Messenger in the Warrior Branch of the Guardian Angels dreaming of the day I would advance to being a Warrior Angel. But, no matter how many buckets of rain I lifted, I could not get strong enough to throw a lightning bolt. I was way too little to be a Warrior Angel like I really wanted to be. I only got laughed at when I showed up for the tryouts. They were very loving laughs, to be sure. Fond chuckles, perhaps. After all, these were heavenly beings. It was embarrassing all the same.
So when The Master approved the idea of everyone giving to others on His birthday and set up Santa Service to help carry this out, I saw this as my opportunity. It was the job of all the elves in this branch of Santa Service to plant in the hearts of parents and fellow men the desire to fulfill the wishes and prayers of little children, the most vulnerable of all human beings. I am now a member of the Wishus clan and proudly wear the coveted green cap. Our badge of service.
I work out of the Reading Room at Santa's Workshop in the uncharted regions of the North Pole. Usually the frigid air didn't faze me where I sit there on my stool. But that day I felt cold right down to my very bones. The chubby cheeks and the tip of the cute long, turned up nose belonging to my friend Alisha Wishus, whose stool was directly opposite mine at the table, were reddened with the bite of the frost. I knew mine probably were too. Ali never looked up. Alexander did. And scowled ferociously at me.
But, it wasn't Alisha not even knowing my name, or Alexander’s attitude, or even the weather that chilled me most; it was the despair in the letters I read and the prayers of my charges that I passed on to The Master.
December 20, 1944
All I want is my daddy home for Christmas.
The letters came in English, French, German, Russian, Italian . . . nearly every language spoken on the face of the earth. Yet the message was the same. Daddies and brothers were on the killing fields. Those who loved them wanted a miracle.
At the same time it seemed the prayers of all in my charge reached
me with such a force it reminded me of the last time Halley's Comet
passed the earth. They struck me like a typhoon with a vortex so
empty it threatened to suck all the hope from the world.
Reluctantly, I passed the prayers on to the Master. I knew the
pain the Master felt at the evil in the hearts of men that brought the
children such suffering.
Finally, I decided enough was enough. I had sat there on the
stool long enough. So I slid down the leg of my stool clutching a
sheaf of letters tightly in my fist. I flipped the white tassel on the
end of my cap out of my eyes. I marched determinedly to the Main
Office. The bells on the end of my turned up shoes jingled with false
Once again I wished I were bigger, more imposing. Who would believe a tiny little thing like me could really make a difference? I only knew I had to try!
At my timid knock, a muffled voice called out, “Enter.”
Santa, wearing work jeans and a flannel shirt instead of his dress velvet and fur, sat upon a worn overstuffed wing chair on a dais in the center of the control room. Around him were hundreds of monitors scanning the earth. Santa's usually cheery countenance today matched my own mournful look. The kindness and compassion that gleamed from Santa's warm brown eyes under his shaggy white brows encouraged me so I straightened myself to my full six inch height and cleared my throat.
"Sir, I know the Warrior Angels told us to stay out of the War Zone. But my charges need me. I know their voices like no other. Doing something . . . anything . . . is better than sitting around doing nothing!"
"AlliWishus, surely you realize how important your work is right here. The Master needs you to quicken within humans the desire to love their fellow man. It is the most important work that can possibly be done."
"Yes, sir, I realize that, but long distance is not my style," I said, puffing out my chest, hoping Santa would notice how much stronger I had become lifting al those buckets of rain drops. "It's been a long time since I made my rounds in that part of the world, sir."
Santa stared at the monitor focused on the Ardennes Forest of Belgium near Luxembourg. "War is the great cancer of the world. So much suffering . . . and yet they waste their talents and their resources inventing even more horrible weapons."
As Santa indicated the monitor he had been watching, I saw many of my charges of every nation fighting one another. Above them, unseen by the earthly combatants, I watched ferocious spiritual warriors, the forces of Good and Evil. I knew only the prayers of the godly would shift the direction of the battle.
Something compelled him toward that war zone. I would not,
could not, back down. I took a deep breath and clenched my
fist. "I simply must go, sir."
I could see that Santa was about to say "no" when a light started flashing on the headpiece Santa wore. Santa put his finger to his earpiece and nodded. With a look of surprise, he turned to me and said, "Permission is granted. The Master has called you to special duty." Then with a nod of his head and with a twinkle of affection in his eye, Santa dismissed me.
As the door closed behind me, I heard Santa mumble to himself, "Such a great spirit for such a little being."
I sighed in relief and then hurried back to the Reading Room where I grabbed my green quilted cape and carefully pulled my wings through the slits. Then I rode the escalator up to the Telekinetic Teleport on the roof of the remodeled Workshop. Before you could say "Rudolph" I was transported to the site of the German counterattack against the American troops.
The sight was so distressing that I did not notice the thunderbolt thrown by an Angel of Darkness that caught me in the left wing hurling me through the air. I tumbled down into the snow, my wing hanging uselessly behind me.
So this is pain, I thought. This is what human beings fear so.
I winced. In spite of the pain I felt closer than ever to
those I'd come to serve. I now realized why The Master felt
He had to come to Earth as a man.
Lying there in the snow with a broken wing, in the middle of a bomb
gutted village in France was not exactly the time to be philosophical,
I thought to myself. I had things to do. But there was nothing to
do except lie there until the monitors scanned me and help was sent.
Jean Gillis and her Commandng Officer
Meanwhile, one of the American nurses who had landed at Cherbourg after the D-Day invasion the previous January was having a bad day as well. Jean Gillis had been immediately assigned to a hospital train that traveled from the front lines back to Paris and then to Cherbourg to deliver injured soldiers to transport ships bound for England or America for more intensive care. Not the romantic France of her teenage day dreams, she thought as she trudged through the snow back to her quarters after receiving the stiff tongue lashing from her superior.
She had a few hours off so when an officer, King Kallen, invited her to go for a ride, she accepted. A motor cycle! Being on a battlefield halfway around the world can make a South Alabama girl do things she would have had sense enough not to do at home. Even though she was wearing just about every piece of clothing the Army issued its nurses, she was still shivering. Yet while speeding through the snow covered town, for a few minutes there was a peace in her soul...a while to forget the war, the misery, the mangled men too young to die, and the unnamed heaviness.
They rode through the empty streets of the battle scarred village with the icy wind whipping their faces turning their eyelashes turn into icicles. She smiled recklessly when King laughed as he booted the speed making her squeal. "Just hang on tight," he teased.
"Stop this thing! I want to get off!" she hollered, embarrassing herself with the high pitched squeal that followed. King just gave a deep macho laugh and went faster.
Hold on!" When he turned his attention back to the road, he saw they were right on a puddle
"Hang on!" he'd yelled as they hit the slush. The motorcycle went out of control, immediately sending them into a slide. Jean went flying off the motorcycle. She tumbled over and over and landed right at the feet of Captain Chadwick, the head of nursing.
Humiliated, she looked up at her commanding officer, totally unable to get up. Bound as she was by layers of clothing all she could do was flutter like a turtle flipped on its back. Captain Chadwick looked down her long patrician nose at her, that country bumpkin nurse under her command. King rushed over to help while she fluttered helplessly and spun occasionally on the ice at Chadwick's feet.
"Don't touch me!" she'd told King Kallen as he tried to get a grip around her padded body and pull her to her feet. How dare he get her in that situationjust because he had to show off! The Captain reached down to give her a hand with no trace of amusement or understanding on her face.
"Back to quarters, Lieutenant Gillis," the Captain ordered. "On foot!"
Bruised and embarrassed she waddled...waddled!!!...back toward the hotel in which she was quartered with as much dignity as her bruised and extremely well-padded body could muster. It was because of the bruises and the care she took with her steps that she saw me.
"Help!" I called.
She stopped and looked around, but saw nothing.
"Down here," I said.
There, only inches from her army issue boots, I lay, to her eyes a tiny creature with gossamer wings that shone brightly and then began to flicker. I laughed as Jean wiped her eyes, thinking snowflakes and her bumped head were causing her eyes to play tricks on her. She blinked hard and when she looked back, I was still there. Even my eyes ached with the pain. Curious, she lifted me gently from the snow and brought me close to her face. I knew her well, though she had never seen me before. I smiled and nestled even more trustingly in the palm of her hand. I had the advantage. I could read her thoughts.
“What am I doing,” she muttered to herself. “Nursing manuals don’t cover elves. This is crazy. They don’t cover them because they don’t exist!” she reminded herself. “Then what is this warm light in my hand?”
She looked around wondering if she looked as foolish as she
felt. Who would believe her if she were to ask for help from
someone else? Captain Callahan would have her committed to the
mental ward. She scurried through the darkness back to the
nurses' quarters in the quaint hotel. There she laid me on the
examining table in the dispensary they had set up in one of the
conference rooms. All she could find was a tongue depressor to
set my fragile wing.
I might not be real, she thought, but I certainly felt real in her hands and the pain on my face was real enough to pull at her heart.
"So, where do you come from, little one?" she asked, as I
grimaced. "And how does one tend to a fiction of one's
imagination?" Being in France in the middle of a war zone wasn't
exactly the sanest thing she'd ever done any way you looked at
it. Besides, somehow, strange as it was, the tiny creature seemed
I didn’t get my feelings hurt. I’d made great effort not to be discovered when I was about my task.
Well, I’ll just have to improvise, she decided. The nuns, her teachers back at Saint Margaret's Hospital in Montgomery where I trained in Nursing, always thought I was crazy. But even they had never dreamed I would presume to nurse an elf back to health!
I groaned so Jean crushed a granule of aspirin in a spoon and added a dash of Coke. I sipped the nectar and licked my lips.
What now, she thought? If I leave him and he rolls off the table someone might step on him. There was nothing to do but carry me to her room she finally decided.
There she placed me on a pile of gauze in her duffel bag. I
knew she slept little that night worried about me, her vulnerable, very
tiny, new friend. But, even I could tell that the dull light
around me grew brighter as the night wore on.
The next morning she was supposed to set out for another tour on the
hospital train. She lifted the duffel in which I lay as carefully
as she could. I could tell the knot on her head from the motor cycle
accident the day before throbbed and gave her pain. She wondered…was
she imagining . . . But, there I sat … on top of the sheets and towels
in the duffel bag, glimmering away on a pile of gauze. Her strange
encounter of the night before. I grinned at her.
Might as well enjoy the experience, I figured.
She shook her head and secured the duffel in the corner of her
assigned compartment on the train, which, luckily, she was to occupy
She did for me what she did for other patients, force fluids and
make me as comfortable as possible. She shared an aspirin with
me. With an eye dropper she gave me drops of something she called
Coca Cola. I wrinkled my face at the unfamiliar taste, burped and
then licked my lips.
“More, please,” I said, smacking my lips as we did in the North Pole to indicate my desire for more.
I asked, "What nectar is this? Is it from some flower I do not know?" Jean giggled.
"No," she answered. "A druggist invented this in Columbus,
Georgia, and served it at his soda fountain. Folks from all over
liked it so much somebody got the idea of bottling it." She caught
herself talking to me. Sure and begorra, she thought, her Scots-Irish
heritage was coming out. Talking to the wee ones, she was.
No doubt if anyone walked past it would look as if she were talking to
I chuckled at her thoughts but didn’t say anything. I didn’t want her to know I had that power.
"We've never had it in the North Pole," I said. A sudden pain
caught me and she saw me wince. She gave me another granule of
aspirin. The strange light that surrounded me grew steadier as I,
the odd little creature she thought of me as, gained strength.
Jean closed the door to the compartment and using only the light of
a torch she called a flashlight hurried to join the nurses in checking
the supplies for their run to the front lines.
The horrible sounds of war exploded around us. Planes issued a
stacatto of bullets and the ground shook with explosions. I don't know
if I really heard the agonizing screams of injured men and women or
just knew it in my soul but the pain of their pain was nearly
unbearable. I grew more and more impatient to get to my work.
Our train was shrouded with darkness and puffed bravely on to tend
those brave men who fought the evil that threatened to extinguish those
human beings they thought inferior. As if the Master ever wasted His
time creating anyone or thing inferior!
Jean rubbed the knot on the back of her head. Did he say North
Pole? She dared say nothing to the other nurses; they would think
she had come down with battle fatigue and would put her in one of the
beds their injured soldiers needed so badly.
A sharp pain shot through her head and she considered consulting a doctor herself. A tiny elf from the North Pole sipping Coca Cola with aspirin and glowing stronger by the minute sounded like a hallucination. There wasn't time, even if she was so inclined. She had to make sure all the windows were covered and not a sliver of light showed. The train had to be completely shrouded so that it would not be spotted from above and bombed.
Back in the compartment I grew more and more anxious. I had felt
drawn to this area for some reason and now when I needed my strength I
was wounded and out of action, something that had never before happened
It took six hours for us to get to the front. Then, with bombs
exploding around us, Jean got busy loading patients, stacking
stretchers in racks three patients high. Those able to walk
occupied compartments with seven other patients. From the moment
they loaded, she was busy administering what pain medicine they had,
answering their cries for water, changing dressings . . . just trying
to make them as comfortable as possible in the dark jolting train.
Yet, busy as she was, several times she ran back to the compartment
to give me a dropper of the precious Coca Cola with a granule of
We were smack dab in the middle of one the most vicious battles
of World War II in Belgium...the Battle of the Bulge. I caught
the thoughts of many of my charges as I lay there. Something was about
to happen. I tested my wing. Though still weak and unsteady I managed
to lift myself from the duffel. I followed Jean into the darkened
I lifted each man and woman there up to the Master in prayer. But
none of them were the reason for my being there. My heart ached for
them. The worst cases were burns. The Infantry had come to fear
the flame throwers so much that they had trained Point Men who
specialized in sneaking up behind the enemy flame throwers to choke
them with a jerk of a neck. Their fellow soldiers relied upon the
instinct and quickness of the Point Men to protect them from the
agonizing effects of the sudden burst of flames that could envelope an
My heart pounded and I felt the same urgency that had drawn me to this place.
The only light on the rocking train was in the beam of light from
the torches carried by the nurses. It was such a "torch" that
Jean carried. She did not realize it looked like a flame that
Point Men were trained to zero in on.
A Point Man's failure could mean death to his company. I
almost didn’t recognize him. He was a gentle, lonely boy, an only child
who lived with his parents on a farm. He'd prayed for friends. He found
them when he joined the Army. But Joey had seen his entire platoon
destroyed just hours before. He had jumped frantically into the
midst of his burning friends to try and save them. But it was
impossible. He only knew he lived ... and they were dead.
The fact that he could have done nothing that would have saved them
mattered. He'd failed his friends and in his mind the shock of
seeing his friends killed obliterated everything else.
Jean struggled down the corridor carrying medications to the men
stacked in cots in the compartments. The light pierced the Point
Man's consciousness and all of his training focused itself on the
source of the potential danger. With each step danger came closer
and closer in the disturbed mind of the soldier.
Joey squatted in the corridor directly in front of the advancing
torch. He waited patiently. His target had surprised him and his
friends once. He would not fail them again.
Stealthily, in spite of his own grave burns and injuries, acquired
when he'd tried to smother the flames on his friends, he rose to
fulfill his mission. Exhausted, Jean reached out to steady
herself with the hand holding the flashlight as she swayed with the
train while still balancing the tray in one hand. Suddenly, from
the darkness, appeared a grotesque face with clawlike hands reaching
toward her, only inches from her neck. She was frozen with fear
and could not make a sound.
In her terror she saw a tiny glimmer of light beside the man's
face. Amazingly she heard a soft voice whisper, "Joey,
Joey. Time for bed, now. Santa's on his way. Joey's
been a good boy and Santa knows about the train he wants for
Christmas. Sit and sleep."
Miraculously, the anger and fear that had contorted the man's face
now relaxed into its natural boyish contours. He couldn't have
been more than eighteen or nineteen. Yet only moments before the
hate and rage of war had given him the look of the gargoyles carved
into the Gothic cathedrals that dotted the country.
Jean leaned against the wall suddenly breathless. The light came and rested upon her shoulder.
I sighed deeply and said. "He is one of my charges. It is only recently that he quit writing me his letters."
"His is one of the many voices that called me into this darkness," I told her sadly.
I had much to do. I had succeeded here. But my task was immense.
The light flickered and Jean knew my strength was waning.
"Thank you for coming when you did. But, you're too weak to be
up. Let me take you back." Imaginary or not, her danger had been real,
and this figment of her imagination, or Santa's elf, had saved her.
"Another drop of that strange nectar?" I whispered.
In spite of her fear she smiled. Strange thoughts whirled
through her head. But she was too busy to ask questions then and
he was too weak to talk.
Later when all the injured were settled on the transport ships headed for hospitals in England, we settled again in the hotel in Cherbourg where the nurses were quartered. We both slept soundly for hours. When she awoke she found me sitting in the duffel flexing his uninjured wing.
"I can fly with only one wing as you saw last night. It is
terribly awkward and so I must exercise to build strength. I am
needed," I tried to explain.
At last she understood. She would only have a short time to
ask the many questions that seemed so important. "Can you tell me
He continued his flexes as he answered, "My name is Alli Wishus and I am in Santa Service."
"Santa Service? Why . . . that's only make-believe."
"Now, Jean," he said to her amazement, "I have heard all your hopes
and dreams sitting in the limbs of the Mimosa tree right outside your
window. I listen to prayers as well as read letters."
Jean's emerald green eyes grew wide with amazement. How could he know so much about her?
"But, what are you doing here?" she asked when she finally could speak.
“I was watching my charges around the world and knew the dangers
around you. I was not paying attention to the dangers around me.”
“I thought I had accidentally caught that lightning bolt hurled by
the Angel of Darkness. But, I guess I was exactly where The Master
wanted me because I found you and Joey.”
Sadness clouded his face. "It seems there is so little I can
do. Yet, as I did for Joey tonight, I can remind them of a Love
that brings Peace. Wars are won, not on the battlefields, but in
the hearts of men. If men can conquer the evil within themselves,
then the collective evil of War need never be fought. Only Love can
conquer the Darkness that would destroy the Master's own."
"You, your children, and your children's children are on my
list. Remind them to be very good. They will never know
when I'll be sitting outside their window," he told her. "And
please, leave some of that bottled nectar out for Santa Claus on
"And that is how I met Alliwishus," said Grandmother. "And that is what he told me."
"Is Alliwishus watching us now, Grandmother?" asked Brooke as she
pulled her thumb from her mouth and wriggled to get more comfortable on
her grandmother’s lap.
"I see him! I see him!" her five year old brother, Drew,
yelled jumping up and down in front of the picture window.
"That was the Hannahan's car lights. Wasn't it, Grandmother?"
said Cecily, her mature seven year old granddaughter sitting on the
stool at her feet.
"Maybe, maybe not," she answered. They all sat still and
watched the lights from the fire in the fireplace and the cars on the
street flicker on the wall.
"I'll get the Coke and put it with some cookies, Grandmother," Cecily finally said, giving in to her doubts.
From watching the nightly news Grandmother knew Alliwishus' letters would now come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia, Korea, Los Angeles . . . strange exotic sounding places, and some too close to home. Hatred, fear and terror still trampled the earth. Yet the still small voice and the tiny glimmer of light never ceased bringing hope unto a hopeless world.
It was Christmas again, more than fifteen years later, and now the grandson she’d told of Alliwishus wore the same uniform she had worn when she’d discovered the tiny elf in the snow in the far-off land. Saber rattling in the Middle East threatened to take that young man to more battlefields far away.
She leaned back in her chair and thought of the fears she had for his safety. Then she remembered the Darkness of that fearful train and the Light of God’s Love that had pierced the darkness. She smiled at a light that flickered from the magnolia outside her window. Coca Cola and cookies lay on the table before her.
(More tales of Alliwishus and his friends to come.)