Santa's Feathered Helpers
by Stephanie Streeter

from DVRC Journal Fall/Winter 96

This is the best time of the day, thought five year old Jenny Harrison as she ran across the living room to her father.

Jenny was finished with her bath and her teeth were brushed. She was all ready for bed, dressed in her nightgown, robe and favorite bunny slippers.

Now that all that "stuff," as Jenny called it, was over, she could snuggle into her father’s lap and listen to him read her a bedtime story.

Listening to her father read stories was what made the half-hour before going to bed Jenny’s favorite time of day. She loved the way her father had a different voice for every character in her books. He could make her laugh until she sneezed with his animal voices, and even frighten her a little bit when he used his wicked witch voice.

On this cold December night, as Jenny settled into her father’s lap next to the nice warm fire burning in the fireplace, she said, "Daddy, I want to ask you something before you read to me."

"Okay," said Mr. Harrison, "It must be pretty important to make you wrinkle up your forehead so that your face looks like a prune!"

"It is Daddy," replied Jenny, frowning even harder so that her eyebrows met above her nose.

Then she smiled and with a little giggle said, "But Mommy says when I’m serious or thinking hard my forehead looks like an old-fashioned washboard, not a prune! Anyway, today in kindergarten our teacher told us because Christmas was almost here we had to try to be extra nice. Then she played us a song and the song said Santa knows when we’ve been good or bad so we had to be good for goodness sake."

"Your teacher and the song are right. You should be good all the time, but it doesn’t hurt to be especially good before Christmas," said Mr. Harrison.

"Well I know that. What I really want to know is how Santa can know what every kid is doing when he’s so busy making toys and taking care of his reindeer. He doesn’t have time to check up on me. So, who does it?" demanded Jenny.

Mr. Harrison scratched his chin trying to think of an answer when suddenly, Jenny and her father heard someone say, "Whooo?"

Both Harrisons quickly turned around and peered behind their chair, but neither Jenny or her father could see who was speaking.

"Who, indeed?" asked the mysterious voice.

"Daddy, look!" said Jenny all excited while pointing at the window. "The big owl that lives in our apple tree is talking to us!"

"Well Jenny, the owl is perched on the branch outside our window, but I don’t think he can talk to us," replied her father.

"I beg to differ, sir," answered the owl in a very important sounding voice.

Jenny clapped her hands in delight while her father sat as still as a statue. Mr. Harrison was too astonished to move or speak. Finally he pulled himself together, shook his head and said, "Well I’ll be darned. An owl, a talking great horned owl!"

"Most assuredly, sir. As anyone can plainly see, I have all the required parts of an owl; feathers, wings, talons and, I might add, very beautiful, big yellow eyes. As for my talking abilities, that should be obvious to you since we have been engaged in conversation for the past several minutes," responded the self-important owl.

"Now that we have clarified these trivial matters," continued the owl, "let us please get to the important matter at hand, namely answering the question of who tells Santa Claus which children have been good or bad."

"Yes, oh yes, please tell us Mr. Owl," implored Jenny.

"It will be my pleasure, young lady. Listen very carefully for I am about to tell you and your father about some of Santa’s helpers that very few people know about."

"Not elves?" asked Jenny interrupting the owl’s story.

"Most definitely not elves. Now, where was I? Ah yes, Santa’s other helpers, and to my way of thinking even more important than mere elves. You see, while Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves are all busy making toys in their North Pole workshop, owls are busy all over the world checking to see which boys and girls are good and which are bad. They tell Santa which children are kind and helpful all year round, not just at Christmas time."

"Owls! Owls like you are watching kids like me?" demanded Jenny.

"Certainly not like me," replied the owl puffing up his feathers all over. "Great horned owls are much too busy making sure other owls do what owls are supposed to do!"

"He must be very important," whispered Jenny in her father’s ear.

"Well, according to him anyway," her father whispered back.

"Ahem, ahem," said the owl clearing his throat quite loudly. "If I might have your undivided attention, I shall return to my story. The owls that assist Santa by telling him which children are deserving of toys are always the small owls. Why, the owl that reports to Santa about you, Jenny, is the red screech owl that lives in the hollow of your neighbor’s hickory tree."

"I know that owl," cried Jenny. "You know the one Daddy. We see it sometimes when we drive past Mr. and Mrs. Baker’s house at night."

Jenny paused, took a deep breath and, looking straight into the owl’s huge yellow eyes, said in a doubtful voice, "I don’t know. I just can’t believe that owls check up on kids for Santa Claus!"

Puffing himself up once more the owl replied, "Who better than owls, might I ask?" Owls can see better than people both day and night, so we can watch you no matter what time it is. Furthermore, owls fly about on silent wings so that children never know that we are nearby. And, of course, owls have outstanding hearing, we can always hear what children are saying, even if they whisper."

"The facts speak for themselves. Owls are perfect for the job," continued the owl, who by this time was puffed up to twice his normal size. "Being the superior animals that we are, I am not in the least bit surprised by Santa’s choice. Why, he’s almost as wise as an owl!"

"That’s quite a story," said Mr. Harrison. "However, it can’t be true because you said that a screech owl watches over Jenny and I know for a fact that there are no screech owls in, oh, let’s say Mexico or England."

"Not true?" demanded the owl. "Owls always tell the truth. I am afraid, good sir, the mistake is yours because you did not pay close enough attention to my story. If I might refresh your memory, you will recall that I said small owls check up on children and report their deeds to Santa. In Jenny’s case, her small owl is a screech owl; however, the owls that help Santa in Mexico are the pygmy owls, and his helpers in England are the little owls. Both types of owls are small in stature but not in deed. Have I made the point clear for you, sir?"

"He got you on that one. Daddy," giggled Jenny.

"He sure did," responded Mr. Harrison. "I guess that’s why he’s called a wise old owl."

"Indeed," replied the owl in agreement, while nodding his head in a most solemn way.

Jenny gave a big yawn and rubbed her eyes which prompted her father to remark, "This has been a bedtime story that’s lasted well past your bedtime, sweetie. I think it’s time for you to go to sleep. I’ll bet your little screech owl knows you’re late getting to bed, and on a school night, too."

"Most definitely," confirmed the owl with a blink of his eyes.

Jenny gave her father a goodnight kiss, thanked the owl for answering her question then hurried to bed. She snuggled in quickly because she was very, very tired. She gave another big yawn, rolled over and glanced out the window before closing her eyes. Jenny blinked and looked again; there on her window sill sat the great horned owl!

"Mr. Owl," Jenny said in surprise, "What are you doing here? I thought the little red screech owl was supposed to be watching me."

"He is, my dear child. But you see he is very shy and he wanted me to tell you he is very glad you are one of his children. You have been very good, and kind and considerate and nothing makes him happier than flying to the North Pole with a good report to Santa about one of his children."

"How nice," sighed Jenny as she fell asleep.

"Quite so," answered the owl as he flew off into the night.

The End