Saturday, December 10, 2011

“Return of the Elf”

c. 2011 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

A recent drive doing day-off chores yielded one of my favorite seasonal sights: the magical hut of ‘Christmas Tree Lady’ Paula Horbay.

Paula’s stand is located in the parking lot of Maple Leaf Plaza, in Chardon.

As a former retail manager in the county, I had many holiday encounters with this enduring local figure. Her good cheer and warm personality always made me glad to experience the Christmas season in Geauga. Indeed, her presence helped to attract extra customers for the business that I represented. It was the sort of useful partnership between local entrepreneurs that made our county strong.

When I stopped to take photographs for this newspaper, just before sunset, a local couple appeared in their conversion van. A woman inside asked if the elf-in-charge was present.

“Looks like she’s gone home for the day,” I answered. “Must’ve just gotten a shipment from the North Pole!”

The woman smiled. “We’ve bought Paula’s trees for over a dozen years.”

I nodded with reverence. “She’s part of the holiday experience… like Santa and Rudolph. Even on the hottest days of summer, people still call her the ‘Christmas Tree Lady.’ But at this time of year, it seems most proper to write something about her in my column.”

“Yes it does,” she agreed.

I fumbled with my digital camera. “Just need a picture to run with the story… if only Elf Paula was here in person!”

The woman smiled again. “We’ll come back tomorrow. Gotta have a tree for our family!”
I waved goodbye as she and her husband drove away.

Later, over a cup of coffee, I remembered this chance encounter. Reflecting on past issues of the Maple Leaf, I remembered that Paula had once sent a Yuletide poem to my mailbox. It was written in response to the suggestion that she was actually one of Santa’s elves, working in our county.

A quick search through my home archives produced her manuscript:

“Twas three weeks ‘til Christmas and all thru the North Pole; All the elves were getting their orders about when and where they should go. Santa sent one elf to make all the toys; ‘Ho Ho Ho!’ he said, ‘Make sure they're just right for all the good girls and good boys.’ Then he sat and he pondered what the next elf should do, you know it's a big job and he had no time to lose. With a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face, he knew he had to send this next elf to a very special place. The destination he sees is clearly surrounded by trees, and the elf that he chose can be identified by her clothes! Santa was chuckling not naughty, but nice, Cuz he just solved the riddle for that writer Rod Ice.”

After reading Paula’s elfin rhyme, I felt inspired with a fresh burst of holiday cheer. Half-awake in my office chair, I began to dream… and compose:

A frosty breeze
And Christmas trees
As far as eyes can see
Yes Paula’s back
With her Yuletide sack
Stuffed full of peppermint treats

December cold
Is crisp and bold
With hues of red and green
Thanks to the elf
Who works by herself
We’ll celebrate and dream

On the hill
Winds can chill
But her hut is warm and safe
Ringed by trees
And pine boughs to keep
She’ll work till Christmas Day

At this special time
Kids wait in line
To choose an evergreen
Then off they go
With bells and bows
To make their centerpiece

Flakes of snow
Bring a winter show
We expect this time of year
And Paula’s trees
Make memories
Filled with holiday cheer

The first Noel
Old stories foretell
The coming of this season
In Geauga, near
With families, dear
Love is the reason

Perhaps Paula’s best-kept secret is that she also operates the Story Book Ranch and Bunk House, on Chardon Windsor Road. The family business was established in 1951 and offers visitors a chance to experience Geauga County in a friendly, rural setting.

Contact Paula at:

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