Serving elf duty during Colfax’s Winterfest

By: Pauline Nevins
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I never thanked my neighbor Sue for coaxing me to join the Friends of the Colfax Library shortly after Jim and I moved to the foothills 14 years ago. Too late I learned that membership in the Friends’ group meant mandatory elf duty in Santa’s Village during the annual Colfax Winterfest.

My first year I was loaned an oversized elf outfit covered in fuzz balls. The next year I decked myself out in a new costume purchased on the internet along with a pair of curly-toed shoes. I had no idea there were so many elf outfits — some, I noted, would shock Santa and the children. A pair of elf ears rounded out my ensemble. These ears fascinated one boy waiting in line for Santa. He couldn’t take his eyes off them. Then he paid me a nice compliment. “Are you really an elf?” he whispered.

During my early elf years, the fire department chauffeured Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves in the Winterfest’s Parade of Lights. Our seats were located on top of the fire truck. This fact was conveniently omitted from my elf orientation. Try climbing a ladder in curly-toed shoes with no tread.

I must have looked as wobbly as I felt up there on the roof because the next year we were ushered into the cab of the fire truck. The change helped Santa who wasn’t getting any younger and had undergone several surgeries. He never complained. And if any children were waiting for him after the evening parade he’d return to Santa’s Village no matter how late it was. By the way, I always thought that when Santa smiled he looked a lot like Dave Molloy.

The first Mrs. Claus, aka Sharon Gieras, former mayor of Colfax, had the nerve to relocate to the wild North Coast a few years ago with husband Henry. Active Colfax volunteers, the couple didn’t lose any time assisting groups in their new community.

Speaking of losing no time. School teacher, Kristi Parnham, jumped at the chance to become Santa’s second wife. Although Kristi looked the part in her wig, spectacles and gorgeous burgundy velvet dress, her cover was almost blown one year. As Kristi handed a little girl one of the gift bags donated by the Friends and wished her a Merry Christmas, the child gave Kristi a squinty look and said, “You sound just like my teacher.”

There has been a rotation of Friends’ members, elves and helpers over the years — too many to name them all. Chief Elf, Heidi Johnson, past president of the Friends of the Colfax Library, shows up every year. Her energy and enthusiasm kept me elfing, year after year. Teri Murch, always upbeat and organized, has been a constant presence. She managed to juggle a Friends’ membership and elf duties while holding down a full-time realtor job. Sue Carmichael, my recruiter, has performed elf duties a lot longer than I have despite having mobility issues. Our go-to guy has been Joe, someone my mother would have called, “a brick” — affectionate British slang for a reliable person. Joe has been our muscle whenever needed — used book sales, hanging decorations, you name it. He looks his happiest, though, handing out giant candy canes at the entrance to Santa’s Village.

My elf duty was to shiver outside handing blank envelopes to parents instructing them to fill in name and address. Later the envelopes were stuffed with Santa photographs taken by Kevin and Karen Pierce, two more long-time volunteers.

This year, for the second year in a row, Santa’s Village will be held indoors at the Colfax Train Depot where volunteers will have transformed the waiting room into a festive workshop. I will not be helping.

I have hung up my elf uniform after 10 years of service. This year I’m free to wander among the vendor booths on Main Street. I’ll make my way up School Street to the Sierra Community Center and join a crowd slurping soup and munching on garlic bread prepared by the Colfax Soroptimists. I understand this is their 31st soup kitchen — an annual fundraiser that benefits the local community. Warmed by the soup I’ll wander back to the town center in time for the Parade of Lights.

I enjoyed my time as a Friend of the Colfax Library. I’m proud of our group’s role in the expansion and renovation of the library and in supplementing library resources. A fresh team of volunteers has recently been recruited and they pledge to continue the good works.

Each year after Winterfest I’d moan to my husband, Jim, about my cold hands and feet. But my heart was always warm. And how could it not be, looking at the faces of the little children when they first glimpsed Santa.

I’ll thank my recruiter Sue next time I see her.

Pauline Nevins is the author of “Bonkers for Conkers,” a compilation of personal essays, and the memoir, “‘Fudge’ The Downs and Ups of a Biracial, Half-Irish British War Baby.” Pauline is a member of Auburn’s Gold Country Writers. Her email address is