Here is Don’s recollection of the events from December 24, 1973.
I was a cub reporter at the time—not yet seasoned enough to have learned that an act of kindness, whether large or small, is sometimes found in the most unlikely of places and at the most needed of times.
On Christmas Eve, ‘The Boss’ had made this deal. If we all got our work done early, he would put the paper “to bed” a few hours early, giving us employees a few extra hours to be with our families.
Since I had the police beat, my main task was to check in at the local police department to learn whether there had been a crime such as a bank robbery or jail break to inform the public about.
“Nope, nothing here,” the police chief said anticipating my first question, adding with a chuckle, “It is too cold for the local criminals.”
As he did every morning, he handed me the police blotter, a hand-written list of the calls made to the police department. With my finger, I went down the list. Mostly piddily, as usual. There was, however, one entry which caught my attention from the North side, the poor part of town. A husband called to report his family’s clothes had been stolen.
How terrible, I thought, especially on this day. The next day, an entry from the same man, reporting that all of their clothes had been found. I had a hunch there might be a story there. I asked the officer, “You know the scoop?”
“Nope,” he replied. “In that neighborhood, you never know.”
I hopped into my Volkswagen Beetle and made a beeline to the neighborhood in search of the crime scene. With a notepad in one hand and lead pencil in the other, I knocked on the door.
I said I was hoping to write a story about her “incident.” She was holding a baby in her arms, two little boys were hiding behind her skirt.
She explained that this had not been a good time for her family. Her husband had been ill and lost his job. Preparing for Christmas, she washed all their clothes. The dryer was on the fritz again, the landlord hadn’t gotten around to fixing it. She could have taken the wet clothes to the laundromat on the other side of town. “But,” she whispered, “that costs money.” Instead, she hung them on the clothesline behind the house.
When she checked a short time later, she discovered that all of the clothes were gone. Stolen! That was when she called the police for the first time. A couple of hours later, there was a knock at her door. By the time she got there, no one was there. Instead, there was a large cardboard box at the front door. In it were all the clothes: dried, pressed and folded. And there was a note: “Wish we could do more. Merry Christmas.”
Arriving back at the newspaper office, I hollered out for the first—and only—time in my career, “Hold the presses!”
“This better be good,” the Boss growled.
“Since your story is late,” the crabby layout person said, “best I can do is try to squeeze it into page 7.”
“Page 7,” I shrieked. “The obituary page? No way!” I insisted, “My Christmas story goes on Page 1—and put it above the fold.”
My late-breaking story had delayed everything about an hour. By the time the press was warming up, the carrier boys were arriving, some with shiny new Schwinn bicycles, others with beat-up hand-me-downs. Each boy would fold about a hundred newspapers and tuck them into a canvas bag over his shoulder, to be tossed onto awaiting front porches.
When the printing began, The Boss and I were the only staff members remaining. He pulled the first one off the press. There it was, My Christmas story on page 1—above the fold.
“Good job,” The Boss said with a rare smile and even rarer pat on the back. “Because of your story the whole town will have a better Christmas, So will I.”