By Sue Illroz
Each time Plymouth resident Nancy Tkacz is in a store and sees a toy elf made of felt with a plastic face, her eyes fill with tears.
That's because she recalls a special Christmas time memory involving her three children - Mason, now 29; Aaron, 28 and Brook, 24. Mason and Brook reside in Manitowoc, and Aaron in Greet, S.C.
When they were children, their grandmother, the late Joyce York, bought three 12-inch elves at the former Schuette's Department Store in Manitowoc. At first, she used them as decorations on her Christmas tree.
But later, "She told the children that the elves were Santa's helpers and that they kept an eye on the children, to see if they were good or naughty," Tkacz said.
"My mother would move the elves around in different places, while the children were visiting her, so my kids believe that the elves were magic and were moving around and keeping an eye on them.
"She would be holding an elf in her hand, and then she would distract the children somehow and quickly move the elf to another spot."
When one of the kids saw an elf in a different place, they would say, 'The elf moved,' she noted.
"And each one had their own magic elf." Tkacz said. "All three of them believed in the elves longer than they believed in Santa Claus.
"They were 11 or 12 before we told them, and Brook said when she found out th elves were not magic, she was heart-broken."
Tkacz recalled an incident that occurred when Mason was a first-grader. "Mason told the kids at school about his magic elf," she said. "And his teacher knew that Mason's grandelf had followed him to school," Tkacz said.
"Then, during the day, Mason's teacher moved his elf around the classroom. The other kids in his class would ask him how the elf moved, and he said, 'My elf is magic.'
"They thought that was so neat and wished they could have their own magic elves," she said.
When Tkacz's children reached adulthood and moved out of her home, their grandmother gave each one his or her elf. Aaron's wife Becky named his elf Sven.
"She says he looks Swedish," Tkacz explained.
Mason's friends know the story about his magic elf. "So when his friends visit him, they move the elf around," Tkacz said. "Also, Mason and his wife Jenny are looking forward to passing this tradition on to their family. They are expecting a baby girl -- Rose Olivia in March."
Mason said he enjoys having his friends move his elf around, as the practice enhances the memories he holds of his family tradition.
"When we were younger, we enjoyed trying to figure out how the elves moved," Mason recalled. "It was a puzzle."
"As we grew older, we didn't believe they were moving on their own, but we were looking for evidence. My family was pretty slick and we never caught them.
"I guess my favorite memory of the magic elves tradition is that even when we realized the elves were not magic, no family members admitted to moving them around," Mason said. "They kept pretending they didn't know anything, about how they were moving."
Brook keeps her elf on a shelf in her bedroom. And Aaron's elf is in his guest room.
Tkacz enjoys seeing the elves when she visits her children in their homes. But she has fond memories of the years that the elves resided in her mother's home in Manitowoc. One reason is that the elves' presence resulted in good behavior for her children - that is, during the weeks before Christmas.
"The tradition of the magic elves knit our family together," she said. "It was fun, and we shared something special."