For widow Witbee the Christmas season begins on Dec. 1. That morning she awakens while yet dark and with key in hand climbs the creaking steps to her home's attic.
Turning the lock the door yields exposing a barrier net of cobwebs. Swatting the aside she proceeds to push open the room's four windows to allow the entry of fresh air to chase out the stale.
From the shelf-lined walls, she lifts boxes of writing paper, envelopes, and pens. These she deposits atop a long desk.
Seating herself she transfers a portion of each box's contents to shallow bins at her left. In front rests a single telephone to the right lies a large ball with a handle for gripping.
At five minutes or so before 8, this summoner, as it is known, is lifted and given three vigorous shakes by the widow's hand.
In response to the resulting sound, dozens of birds ascend out of surrounding trees to make their way to the Witbee attic where they will perch and await a mission of flight.
These birds, though of differing appearance are alike in spirit.
With everybody at their posts, Widow Witbee's Christmas writing service is ready for requests.
The morning's first caller is a child not old enough to read or write.
The widow's voice is comforting as she writes down exactly what the caller wishes. She has only one rule, all callers must speak from the heart. To ensure this attached to the telephone is a Heart Reader Meter, a device capable of detecting insincere callers. When such occurs a light, bright red, comes on and the device ends the call.
All day the phone rings, requests coming in not only from those too young to read but also from adults whose hands are too weak or too hurting to write. In her writings on behalf of others, the widow relies on the cursive style enhanced with attractive loops, curves, and flourishes. Upon a letter's completion, it is inserted in a special envelope and addressed. Then one of the awaiting couriers is selected for its carry. If the destination is near, a robin, cardinal, or blue jay is given the responsibility.
If the distance is far a pigeon's help is enlisted.
Occasionally, the widow visits her memories of letters written for others. Here are a few of those visited.
Grandpa on Christmas Eve, please sit this letter beside you and I will sit your picture beside me. This way we will be side by side together in two places at once.
Santa Claus, mom said I can put out only two cookies for you because she thinks your belt is ready to burst.
Son, I can no longer write Merry Christmas but my heart here still speaks.
There are two ways to possess everything. One is to control the entire world. The other is to have such a son as you.
Aunt Joyce, tomorrow dad goes on a plane. I told him to grab a star to put in your flashlight instead of those wimpy batteries you talk about to Mommy's Mom.
When I get older maybe next week, I'm going to invent something now and give it to you at Christmas.
I'll call it Dee Dee Weedy's Mom Mom's mirror.
When you look into it you will see me seeing you.
Then you will know how very beautiful you really are.
Lewis writes from Corbin City.