It was Christmas Eve. Some clothes were stolen. Lambert knew there was a story to write.
It was Christmas Eve nearly 50 years ago. I was a cub reporter at a small newspaper in Kansas. I was 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.
For this special day, the boss had made a deal with us employees. If we all got our work done early, he would put the paper to bed a few hours early, giving us all 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. Most were piddly, like usual. There was, however, one entry that caught my attention. 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 were found.
I had a hunch there might be a story here. Besides, I hadn't come up with a local human interest story for page one. My goal was to have one daily that would make my readers smile.
I hopped into my Volkswagen Beetle and made a beeline to the neighborhood
in search of the scene of the crime. With a notepad in one hand and lead pencil in the other, I knocked on the door and asked for the Lantises. They told me what had happened. Yes, there was a story here!
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 the story was already bursting in my head, it took only a few minutes to get it typed up.
"Since your story is late," the 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 said, “My Christmas story goes on Page 1. Put it above the fold."
My story had delayed everything about an hour. By the time the press was warming up, the carrier boys were arriving, some with shiny new Schwinns, 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 waiting front porches.
When the printing began, the boss and I were the only staff members
remaining. He pulled the first one off the press and held it up for the both of us to see. There it was, my Christmas story, page 1, above the fold. We read it together.
This is the story that appeared on Dec. 24, 1973:
"Mrs. Goldie Kraft's Christmas gift to her landlords wasn't exactly taken in the spirit it was given. The landlords Mr. and Mrs. Lantis had hung clothes on the line behind the house on Sunday. They then spent the day visiting relatives. When they came home they paid no attention to the hanging clothes. When the Lantis' realized their clothes were missing they called the police department to report the following missing items: four hand-made maternity smocks, a pair of heavy underwear, ten pair men's white socks, and two women's slacks. Police took the report, but doubted they could do much with the report.
When Mrs. Lantis went out to check the mail she noticed a bushel basket at the end of the hall, in it their clothes ironed and neatly folded. It turned out that Mrs. Kraft, who lives in an apartment in the house, realized the Lantis family's busy schedule and wanted to help out. "I wanted to bring the clothes in before it rained on them," Mrs. Kraft said.
"Good job," the boss said with a rare smile and even rarer pat on
the back. "Because of your story our town will have a better Christmas. And so will I."
My Ottawa Herald story concluded with Mr. Lantis saying: He and his wife now appreciate Mrs. Kraft's act of kindness. He said the episode brings his family a little closer to Christmas. "It made us feel a little silly too," he admitted.