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Monday, Dec. 25, 2023
Good morning to you!

For the past two years, I have shared a now-classic Christmas story in this email newsletter. I also published it in CITYVIEW magazine and in the Guthrie County Times Vedette. I am doing so again today. Call it tradition, as that is what the story is all about.

The piece was written in 1977 by Bob Hullihan, a writer for The Des Moines Register. Michael Gartner, who was the editor then, asked Hullihan to write a Christmas story for the newspaper. Hullihan obliged, and it ran in the Register. Years later, when Gartner co-owned The Tribune in Ames, he ran it there as well.

Sixteen years ago, Gartner reached out to me and told me how much he valued traditions. He then asked that I consider running Hullihan’s story in CITYVIEW. I wholeheartedly agreed to it, but I wanted to add a strong visual element, too, so I asked cartoonist Brian Duffy to draw the images for me. He did, and the combination was truly wonderful.

The next year, Gartner reached out and asked if I was planning to run the story again.

“Again? The same story we ran last year?” I replied.

“Yes, it is a great tradition that I think you should continue,” Gartner told me. “But it’s your call,” he said.

I reluctantly ran the story again, ironically missing the underlying message about traditions and the changing of the guard that are prevalent in the story. So I read Hullihan’s Christmas classic again. And again. And again.

Sixteen years have passed, and I have been running that story with various versions of artwork from Duffy every year and re-reading it each year, too. I expanded the tradition of the story to the Daily Umbrella as well, and I hope to continue to do so for years to come. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do and can make its reading a tradition as well.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Shane Goodman
President and Publisher
Big Green Umbrella Media
515-953-4822, ext. 305

See Shane Goodman's previous columns here.

’Twas the night before…

Story by Robert Hullihan, Illustrations by Brian Duffy

Our Christmas classic for the holidays

Publisher’s note: Forty-four years ago, when Michael Gartner was editor of The Des Moines Register, he walked over to the desk of writer Bob Hullihan and said, “How about writing me a Christmas classic for the holidays?” Hullihan said, “Sure.” And he did. It ran in the Register and years later in the Ames Tribune. Gartner sent the story to me in 2007 and asked that I consider running it in Cityview. I did, and it has been running each year since as part of our holiday tradition. Merry Christmas. — Shane Goodman, publisher, editor

The waterbug had grown old and weary. And he was alone. He was the only one of his kind left in the house. He knew he would never survive the next spring cleaning. He could not scurry away from the poison sprays anymore. Still, the waterbug had been so clever in his youth, and he had lived so long, that now he was the senior creature in the house. He knew that he had a last duty to perform.

So, as Christmas Eve approached, he called a meeting of all the creatures in the house. They met at a dark joint in the woodwork. It was a place that had happy memories of youth for the old waterbug. Once he had gathered with old friends here. Now all the old friends were gone. The waterbug did not recognize any of the young creatures who began to assemble around him.


There was a pair of silverfish, shameless and brazen because they had grown up in one of the popular novels on the bookshelf. An insolent young spider came. Her web was deep in a stereo set. She greeted the old waterbug with: “Hey, old daddy… what’s happenin’?” Three ladybugs arrived, carefully made up and proud of their beauty. A cricket who lived in the television set came in and began acting like a game show host.

The old waterbug looked at the creatures sadly. He knew he was dealing with a new generation. But he cleared his throat and began:

“Now I know you are all new creatures in the house. This will be your first Christmas Eve here. It is my duty to tell you that there must be no stirring on that night. We are under a severe and clear directive. Not a creature in this house may stir on Christmas Eve, especially not the mice. It is a Tradition.”

When he said that, the old waterbug stared directly at a wild young mouse who had come late to the meeting. The mouse had been born in the fields of summer and had only come into the house when the nights grew cold. The old waterbug drew himself up in all of his brittle majesty. He sensed that be would have trouble with the mouse. The mouse was wild and resentful and, yes, he was a troublemaker.

“Wait a minute,” said the mouse. “Whose tradition? That’s a human tradition you’re talking about. It has nothing to do with us creatures! We can stir around all we want to, Christmas Eve or not!”

“Right on, man,” said the spider.

“Stay tuned, stay tuned,” shouted the cricket. The silverfish giggled indecently and the ladybugs batted their long eyelashes.

“And why should we cooperate with the humans, anyway?” the mouse shouted, wild now with rebellion. “They’re trying to kill all of us. Why, right now, there’s a trap set for me in the basement. And you, you poor doddering old waterbug, you can scarcely get your breath from all the poison they’ve sprayed at you! Stir? I’ll show you stirring! I’m going to race around this house all Christmas Eve, and I just hope the other creatures will join me.”

It was a full-scale revolt. The old waterbug could only draw a painful breath and thunder at the creatures: “Stop! This is quite enough. Creatures have always obeyed the Tradition on Christmas Eve. It’s been handed down from generation to generation. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what it means, but there will be no stirring of creatures in this house on Christmas Eve! Is that understood? I am senior creature here, and you will answer to me!”

The old waterbug dismissed the meeting, but he made one more attempt to establish his authority as the creatures left. “And you silverfish,” he shouted. “If we ever have another meeting like this, I want you to come fully dressed. I will not tolerate nudity!” But the silverfish just giggled in their naughty way and wiggled off to get back into their popular novel. The old waterbug watched them go; he had never been more discouraged in his life.

He began to think about the wild, young mouse and the fiery way he had spoken out. The old waterbug did not understand the mouse at all, but he rather admired him. He did not want the mouse to come to harm. The old waterbug thought about the trap set in the basement. He thought about the day when the mouse, being young, would foolishly attempt to take the bait. Perhaps, in an act of bravado, he would try to do it that very Christmas Eve. The old waterbug sighed and thought about what he must do.

He crawled painfully through the rooms of the house until he came to the Christmas decorations. For hours he gnawed away at a sprig of holly until he had removed a small piece of it. He carried it into the basement and found the trap set for the mouse. Risking his life, the old waterbug carefully pushed the cheese bait off the trap and replaced it with the bit of holly. He didn’t get back to his dark place under the drain until dawn. He was exhausted.

The very next night was Christmas Eve. The little wild mouse came bounding out of his hole determined to stir around the house all night. He saw the trap with its bit of holly and stopped short. He knew at once that this was the work of the old waterbug. “Why, the old fool,” thought the mouse, “he knows I don’t eat that stuff.” And then the mouse realized that was the point. The old waterbug had brought a gift of warning and good will. They might never understand one another, but they could wish one another well.

The little mouse thought about that idea as he went on through the house to the Christmas tree, where he was to meet the other creatures. He had promised to lead them “in a night of stirring around in this house that they won’t soon forget.” The silverfish, the ladybugs, the spider and the cricket were waiting for him. But they were strangely silent. None of them had ever seen a Christmas tree lighted before. It awed them.

The mouse looked at the tree and knew he had never seen anything so beautiful, not even in the fields of summer. He didn’t understand what it was. He thought, “This must be the Tradition the old waterbug is so hyper about.” Dimly, the mouse knew that something was on display here that surpassed all the creatures and all humanity. The mouse made a decision and quickly told the other creatures what to do. He knew the old waterbug would be coming out soon to see what was going on.

And, sure enough, the old waterbug came crawling slowly out, but he stopped in confusion when he saw what the creatures were doing. The little mouse stood motionless among the tiny plastic animals around a manger. The spider had spun a brilliant web on the tree, and it shimmered in the lights. The silverfish and the ladybugs hung like glittering ornaments from one limb of the tree, and the cricket quietly sang a simple, peaceful song.

The old waterbug looked carefully at what the creatures were doing. He wanted to remember this sight for all the rest of his life. Then he turned and crawled back to his place under the drain. He slept deeply and, for the first time in many nights, he did not have a nightmare about the dreaded Orkin man who would surely come for him in the spring. He knew that the Tradition had been passed on.

The little mouse watched from the corner of his eye as the old waterbug left. Then he stepped out from among the tiny plastic animals and called to the rest of the creatures. “All right, fellas. Let’s knock it off for the rest of the night, OK?”

All the creatures went quietly back to their places. Something had happened to them when they made their display for the old waterbug. They did not understand it, but they felt good about it.

Not one of the creatures stirred for the rest of the night. ♦


Your Clear Mortgage forecast

Rain continues until sometime this evening. We'll see a few snow showers Tuesday with minor accumulations possible. A very light mix is possible Wednesday. Have a Merry Christmas!

For help with pre-approvals or refinancing, get in touch with Originating Branch Manager Carrie Hansen at carrie.mortgage.


 2023 winners

Trang Pham opened Egg Roll Ladies (ERL) this year. And a non-profit company. ERL is set up more like Grateful Chef than typical cafes. You buy frozen pho broth and all the trimmings. You can buy traditional or American style spring rolls. She did that as a single mom who still works full time for the Army. Both my radio partner, George Formaro, and I agree she is the most impressive young restaurateur we have met since George was young. Vivacious personality, incredible business acumen, imagination and a very good chef. This woman is going to be magnificent for decades to come.

Pork belly. This year it popped up on menus all over town — from sports bars to the best fine dining establishments. It's also easy to make at home, and top butchers like Fareway sell heritage breed bellies, like Duroc.

Connor Moberly. The Southeast Polk quarterback had been disrespected going into this season. "Sure he was a winner but he had Xavier Nwankpo to throw to, Kadyn Proctor to protect him and Abu Sama to hand off to." Those superstars are playing big time college ball now and Moberly led his team to an undefeated season without them.

— Jim Duncan, jd91446@aol.com

Morning chuckle

The answer to yesterday's riddle:

What's the most fitting name of a TV news reporter? JUST-IN! Bonus: Watch tonight’s newscast with co-hosts Alotta Nutten and
Isaya Wattsup. - Sent from S. Hill Watkins. Other answers from Irving Stone. And clever quips also from Rex Post and Gail Tomlinson.

Today's riddle

Where do double agents shop for groceries?

Have a guess? Email tammy@iowalivingmagazines.com


To advertise in this daily newsletter, contact Jolene Goodman at jolene@iowalivingmagazines.com, or call 515-953-4822 ext. 319.

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