The Black Forest
In that part of their country that the Germans call the Black Forest was born a boy on December 6, 1795. He was a cherubic boy with brilliant blue eyes and a mouth that was always smiling.
However, even in his first few hours of life this boy had already experienced great sadness. For this little tot with the abundant paunch had been left on his own in the Black Forest by his mother. She did not want to be a mother. She was a very unhappy woman whose unhappiness kept her mind in a fog and could not think straight. She thought that it would be better for the baby to die than to grow up an orphan. So with cloudy intentions she left her newborn son at the roots of a gnarly old tree.
She wept a little and then she was gone.
Shortly after the sad woman left, the little baby began to cry for he was hungry and he was cold. But there were no ears to hear his mournful wails. And thus the little baby spent his first night of his long life alone and without anybody to feed and fend for him.
In the morning the winds picked up. The snow that blanketed the Black Forest’s floor was blown about to form monstrous banks that took the most menacing of shapes. Trolls and goblins could not be as frightening in appearance as some of these drifts. One of these fearful snow banks began to creep slowly toward the baby. It was almost as if it had the murderous intent of suffocating the child.
He was growing very weak. He was terribly afraid. Even before attaining the concept of death the little boy was upon its frightful gates. He wanted to cry but his snow-clogged lungs did not afford him the opportunity to bawl his protest against cruel life.
Now, somewhere nearby to the sad little boy were four curious beings that had lost their way because of the unexpected blizzard. These creatures called themselves elves. They were musty green tunics that covered very little of their bandy legs which were bare to the wind. On their feet were silly shoes with long toes that curled up over their arches. Their faces were of the type that little girls would call sweet. They had button-noses and big oval eyes that seemed to see more than there was to see. Upon the tops of their heads were mops of curly hair that listened more to the wind than to the comb. Two were redheads while the other two were blonds.
Normally, elves are quite cheerful and footloose but on this particular morning with the fierce winds beating against their small bodies, any notion of joyfulness was as hard for them to grip as a bar of soap in the bathtub.
Ho was the leader of this forlorn, lost group. His wild red hair was a good indication of the angry fire that burned within him on this day. He carried a staff that helped him trudge through the snow. A burst of chilling wind pushed him into the bank.
He got up angrier than ever and began swinging his staff at the other three.
“Who pushed me down?” he growled in his chipmunk-like voice.
“It was not I!” cried blond-haired chubby Diddo.
“Nor I!” added the other fair-haired member of the company. Unlike Diddo, Hum was thin.
“If it was me I would have made sure that you would have stayed down!” said flame-haired Kiddo. “It is because of your lousy directions Ho that I shan’t be home for Christmas!”
“How dare you say that it was my fault!” snapped Ho. “It was your idea Kiddo that we stay one night longer to help the cobbler. And for what? He did not even say thank you! He took all the credit for those wonderful shoes that Hum designed. If we would have left when I said we should have, we would never have been caught in this storm!”
Hum sighed, “They were magical shoes, weren’t they? I think if I put my mind to it I could even make a reindeer fly!”
“Hush Hum! Don’t get carried away with your tongue. You were just lucky with those shoes, that is all!” Kiddo smirked.
“You’re just jealous that you can’t make anything, that is all!” Hum mocked the way that Kiddo spoke.
“I’m not jealous at all! I’ve made better things than your shoes many a time in my life!”
“Yeah? Name one!” Hum challenged. He was ready to start brawling. His chestnut-sized fists were held up towards Kiddo.
“I’ll break your nose, you stupid little elf!” Kiddo hissed. His fists were up as well.
“Hey!” Diddo cried.
At that moment Ho stepped in. “What is wrong with the two of you? Elves don’t fight!”
“Elves don’t call each other stupid either!” Hum snarled. He started to move in closer to Kiddo.
“They do when they are!” Kiddo replied. He threw a punch at Hum but Hum swiftly stepped out of its way.
He threw a fist himself but Kiddo showed equal skill in eluding it. This went on for several more rounds before an exasperated Ho broke them up by saying, “Quit acting silly! Your fighting will not get us home any quicker. Does anybody have any idea where we are?”
“I judge that we are in a forest by all the trees that are around here,” Kiddo suggested. His hand held his chin and one of his eyes were closed while the other one studied the surroundings.
“It can’t be a forest!” Hum disagreed. “Because you are not supposed to see the forest for the trees. So if you see the trees, you cannot see the forest!”
“But isn’t a forest made of trees?” Kiddo asked. His anger towards Hum was long forgotten.
“I think it is,” Hum answered. There was a querulous expression on his face.
“So when you see a forest you see trees,” Ho concluded. Diddo and Kiddo agreed with him.
But Hum could not agree. “No. If you see trees, you can’t see the forest. All you see are trees. You can’t be sure if there is a forest there.”
“I guess you are right,” Kiddo responded after some reflection. “It is like being underwater. You don’t know if you are in a river, a lake, a sea, or an ocean.”
“There is no ocean around here, is there?” Diddo asked Ho.
“How should I know? I am lost. I don’t know where anything is!”
Hum tapped Ho on the shoulder and said, “Do you see that tree over there?”
“So you know where that tree is now, don’t you?”
“So you are not lost now!” Hum concluded.
“If you are not lost now Ho, can you tell me if there is an ocean nearby?” Diddo asked.
Ho mulled over what was just said. Finally he answered, “I guess you are right Diddo. I am not lost now. There is an ocean within ten thousand miles from here.”
“Good! Which way?” Diddo chirped.
Ho proceeded to point in every direction. “There is an ocean there. There is an ocean there. There is an ocean there …”
“You just pointed at that tree over there!” Hum protested. “That is not an ocean! That is a tree! The very tree that I showed you before! You don’t know an ocean from a tree! My, are you lost!”
“Great!” moaned Diddo. “Now we know nothing!”
“Don’t say ‘we’ Diddo. I know that that is a tree and because that is a tree, we are not in the forest!” Hum said proudly.
“Will you shut up Hum!” Ho yelled out with frustration.
Diddo was about to say something but he didn’t because Ho was glaring angrily at him. Diddo was smart enough to know when to be quiet.
After silencing Hum and Diddo, Ho was about to do the same to Kiddo. But somewhere along the line, Kiddo had disappeared.
“Where’s Kiddo?” Ho cried.
“I’m over here!”
The other elves saw their flame-haired associate by Hum’s tree.
“What are you doing over there?” Ho asked.
Elves’ voices carry very well over distances. And elves have very sharp ears. Although Ho and Kiddo were hundreds of meters apart, they talked to each other as if they were only separated by inches.
“Well, I know that we know where this tree is, so I thought, if I go this tree I might be able to see other things that we might know.”
“Good thinking!” Diddo cheered.
“Well, what do you see?” Ho inquired.
“Nothing that I know. But I see things that I don’t know.”
“And what do you see that you don’t know?” Ho huffed with exasperation.
“I don’t see any exasperation.”
“What do you see?” Ho said forcefully. He was getting very angry.
“Well, for instance,” Kiddo began, “I see this baby over here by my feet. But I don’t know who he is. And I see another tree from here but I don’t know that tree either.”
“You know that you are not in a forest because of all the trees!” Hum shouted.
“But trees and forests are the same thing!” Diddo protested.
“Wait a minute!” Ho hollered.
The other elves waited sixty seconds before Ho continued. “Did you say that you see a baby Kiddo?”
“No. I didn’t say that I saw a baby Kiddo but I do see a baby human,” Kiddo responded.
“Great!” Diddo cheered exuberantly. “Now we know two things. We’re learning fast, aren’t we Ho?” But Ho did not answer for he was running towards Kiddo.
“Why did you shout ‘exuberantly’ Diddo?” Hum asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know what the word means,” Diddo confided to Hum.
“You should not say things that you don’t mean!” Hum admonished Diddo.
“Would you two pea-brains shut up and get over here!” Ho shouted at them. The leader of the little elf company was holding a naked, shivering baby in his arms.
“He’s a sweet little thing, isn’t he?” Kiddo commented. The infant was sucking on the elf’s little finger.
“A hungry tot,” Hum observed.
“I wonder if he can tell us which way is home?” Diddo asked.
“Don’t be silly Diddo! The little guy can’t talk.”
“We talk and we are little!” Diddo said feeling that he had beaten Hum in the argument.
“But we are not young Diddo. This little tot is so young that I bet you that he doesn’t even have a name yet,” Ho said. He began tickling the baby’s belly. The infant began to laugh.
“A merry little fellow, isn’t he?” Kiddo chuckled.
“Poor thing! I wonder what he was doing out here all alone in the woods?” Ho sighed.
“Maybe he is just lost like us?” Hum speculated.
“A baby this size does not get lost. Someone loses him!” Ho stated.
“Do you mean to say that someone purposefully left him out here?” Hum began to shiver more from the thought than from the cold.
“We don’t know that for sure but there is a strong possibility that you are right Hum.”
“What kind of person would do that to such a poor little thing?” Kiddo cried.
“These are rough times Kiddo. If a grateful cobber can’t even say thank you to those that helped him, you know that there are others who would resort to more terrible deeds,” Ho said somberly. He noticed the troubled expression on Diddo’s face. “What’s the matter Diddo?”
The elf looked at him and said, “I was just thinking of names.”
“You said that this child might not even have a name.”
“Yes, I did say that. But I might not be right,” Ho said.
“Well, no matter. I think that we should name this child,” Diddo suggested.
“We are not the child’s parents. It is the right of the parent to name the child,” Ho responded.
“But where are the child’s parents?”
“That we don’t know Diddo.”
“We know where this tree is though,” Diddo said forlornly.
“It is not in the forest,” Hum added sadly.
The baby started to cry. Ho tried to tickle the child but it was of no use. The baby began to cry even louder.
“I think that he is hungry,” Ho said.
“No, I think that he is cold,” Kiddo said.
“I think that he wants a name,” Diddo said.
“I think that he wants his Mammy,” Hum said.
“Perhaps we are all right,” Ho suggested.
“I don’t think that Diddo is right. The baby is too young to know what a name is,” Hum argued.
This made Diddo angry. “Do you know what a name is Hum?”
“Of course I do!”
“Well, tell me, what is a name?”
“A name is something that you call something else.” Hum was pleased with his definition.
“That is right. It is that simple!” Diddo scoffed. “Are you meaning to say that this child would not know something as simple as that? Are you calling the child stupid?”
“I call you stupid!” Hum huffed. His fists came up.
“Oh no, not again!” Ho sighed.
“I’ll tell you what a name is!”
“Who said that?” Diddo and Hum said together.
“I did!” A woman came out from behind a tree. She wore a long dress whose hem was stained by the snow. She held a shawl tightly wrapped around herself.
“Who are you?” Ho inquired with a nervous edge to his voice. Elves do not like being spotted by grown-up people. Perhaps, it is for this reason that so many human adults do not believe in elves. They never see them.
“I am the child’s mother,” the woman stated flatly.
“And now you have come back for him?” Ho asked.
“Why was the baby out here in the cold forest by himself in the first place?” Ho demanded to know.
“I have my reasons and I am afraid that not one of them is reason enough. What I have done is heinous and criminal and a lifetime of suffering would not suffice for punishment for even thinking of doing such a cruel act.”
“I’ll say!” said Kiddo.
“What will you say?” Diddo whispered to Kiddo.
“Never mind,” Kiddo answered.
“You’ll say never mind? Why?”
“You baffle yourself more than a star can shine!” Ho said to Diddo. The senior elf returned his attention to the woman.
“More than a star can shine? What in the world has that got to do with anything?” Diddo commented to Kiddo.
“Never mind Diddo and just listen! Maybe you’ll learn something!” Kiddo retorted.
“What’s there to learn?” Diddo replied. “This woman did a very stupid thing and now she wants to correct her mistake. What’s to learn in that?”
“We can learn reasons so that these mistakes will not be made again,” Ho snapped angrily.
“An ounce of prevention Diddo!” Hum said to the bewildered elf.
Diddo began to dig into his pockets while Ho resumed his questioning. “I don’t know if it is wise for us to give you your baby back. What’s to keep you from doing this again?”
The woman reddened and her anguish was plain for all to see. She began fumbling for words but she was doing a poor job of defending herself.
“If you can’t defend yourself, how can you defend this poor child?” Ho asked.
“This is how!” Diddo exclaimed. In his hand was a leather pouch.
“What is that?” Ho demanded.
“It is an ounce of prevention!” Diddo announced. He poured the crystal contents of the pouch into his hand. Once the pouch was empty, he blew the crystals into the woman’s face.
“There!” the little elf said. “You won’t ever do that again!”
The woman coughed and then she sneezed. At length, she lifted her face from her hands and looked directly into Diddo’s eyes. To him she said, “I shall be by my baby’s side for as long as he needs the warmth and succor of a mother. I pray that that shall be a long, long time!” There was a newfound strength in her voice. She kissed Diddo on his cheek.
Diddo blushed eleven and a half shades of red. “You see!” he said finally. “A little elfin magic can make the world a happy place!”
“Elfin magic is nothing more than the power of goodness!” Hum added. “Why, with elfin magic I swear that someday that I could even make a reindeer fly!”
“I believe that you will!” the woman said with happy tears in her eyes.
“That’s ridiculous!” Kiddo scoffed.
“What? That a reindeer can fly?” Hum said gruffingly.
“No,” replied Kiddo. “It is ridiculous to believe that that dust that Diddo blew onto the woman will make her a good mother. I can’t believe that!”
“Ho, Hum, tell him!” Diddo said.
Ho and Hum looked at each other. They knew that Diddo’s dust was authentic and did what he said it did.
“What are you Kiddo?” Ho asked.
“Why, I am an elf, you know that Ho!” Kiddo answered. He thought what he had just said over and then he exclaimed with his eyes all aglow, “Of course! I am an elf! Of course, the dust will work!”
The woman was amused with the elves. She was grateful to them as well. She asked them if she could repay them in any manner.
“Just your thanks is thanks enough!” Ho answered.
Right upon the heels of Ho’s words, Diddo said, “You could let me name your child!”
Ho looked angrily at Diddo. “You can’t take that privilege away from a parent!”
Diddo shrank and apologized.
“You don’t have to say that you’re sorry, little one,” the woman cooed. “If it weren’t for you, I would not be a parent. I’ll let you name my child because I know that you know how important a name is!”
“Of course you do!” the woman laughed. “You know that a name is something that you live with all of your life and that it should not be treated lightly.”
“Of course I do!”
“What do you want to name my son?”
“Ah! … ah!… ah! … I don’t know!” Diddo shrugged.
“Come now, little one. My child will lead an enchanted life if he is named by an elf!”
“That he would be, Madam!” Ho said with pride in his people. He knew that he was fortunate to have been born an elf.
“I know what to call him!” Diddo exclaimed loudly.
“What will you call the child Diddo?” Ho asked.
“You can’t call the child a saint!” Ho roared. “Only the Church can do that!”
“But look at him Ho! Isn’t he the picture of a saint?”
Ho looked at the baby. There was a twinkle in the little eyes and a good humor in the cheeks. It was hard to believe that this child could ever have been abandoned. He knew that the child would never be abandoned again because of Diddo’s magic dust. Well, it wasn’t truly magic. Diddo simply made the woman believe in herself. It was the good old power of suggestion. If an elf says that you are something then you have got to believe the elf because elves don’t lie. Soon you would become what the elf said that you were.
“Why Nicholas?” the woman asked.
“Well, I always liked the name Nick and also because if we didn’t find the child, we would have been lost. So it was Nick or Lost. I thought why not put the two names together. Nick or Lost. Say it fast enough and it sounds like Nicholas. Right?”
Hum began to say it fast. “Nick or Lost. Nickorlost. Nickorlast. Nicorlas. Nicolas. Nicholas. Hey! You are right Diddo! I would never have believed that I would say that! You are right Diddo! You mad little elf!”
“I still do not approve of you calling the child a saint, Diddo,” Ho said, shaking his head.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea!” Hum piped. “Let’s say Saint Nicholas very fast and see what we come up with!”
“That sounds like fun Hum! Let’s do it!” Kiddo was clapping his hands.
“Okay, we’ll try it out,” Ho said. “We’ll begin on the count of three. Ready?”
“Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholus. Saint Icholus. Sint Icolus. Senticolus. Senticolous. Senty Clus. Senta Clus. Senta Claus. Santa Claus. San an Claus. Sand and Claws.”
“Okay, hold it! We’re not naming a beach crab here, are we? We’re naming a baby!” Ho protested.
“I kind of like Santa Claus,” the woman said. She looked at the baby who was still in Ho’s arms. She began cooing, “Hello Santa Claus! Hello Santa Claus!”
The baby began to bubble with joy.
“That’s it then! We’ll call the baby Santa Claus!” Ho handed the child back to his mother. “Here’s your Santa Claus, Madam!”
“Why, I thank you!” she said and began tickling the child. “Is there anything that I can do for you in repayment?”
“Sure!” Kiddo said quickly. “You can tell us where we are and how we can get back home!”
“Well, I can tell that you are a long way from home. This is the Black Forest of Germany but I do not know where your home is.”
“See! I told you that it was a forest!” Kiddo said to Hum.
“It can’t be because there are trees!” Hum complained.
“Well, it is called the Black Forest!” the woman smiled.
“Then, it’s a misnomer!” Hum exclaimed.
“No, it isn’t a misnomer!” the woman laughed. “I am Miss Gnomer and this is a forest! Believe me!”
Hum began to grumble about how humans always misnamed places and things.
“Never mind him, Miss Gnomer,” Ho said. “He’s always like that. No matter where we go, Hum gets himself confused. But this time it is not only Hum that is confused. I am afraid that we all are. Can you tell us which direction our home lies?”
“Where is your home?”
“The North Pole.”
“Then your home lies to the north!” Miss Gnomer said with assurance.
“Why with assurance?” Kiddo asked.
“Well, you want to make sure that you get there, right?”
“Right?” Ho asked.
Miss Gnomer faced to the right. “Yes! North is to the right. Just go right and you will never go wrong.”
“That’s what right means, isn’t it?” Diddo remarked.
“That’s right!” Miss Gnomer replied.
“Well, we can’t tarry any longer, Madam. Take care of your child and take care of yourself. Please try to keep in touch with us. We would like to see how the child progresses,” Ho said for the group.
“I will do that!” Miss Gnomer promised by putting her hand to her heart.
“Come elves! Let’s be off! We want to be home before Christmas!” Ho called out.
The elves waved good-bye to the woman and her child. As they began to walk away, the baby started to babble. It sounded like “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
Ho turned around and said, “Yes?” He looked at the child and knew that it wasn’t baby talk. The baby’s eyes said it all and that was thank you.
And then Ho turned to the right and started trudging through the snow.
Behind him, he could hear Diddo mutter, “Sure! I give the baby a name and see to it that he has a good mother. But all that he can say is Ho! What did Ho do for him?”