Editor’s Note: The story of Mr. Gonopolis and his 12 flying cows who must stand in for an ailing Santa Claus has delighted several generations of Midwestern families for the past quarter-century. Originally written and illustrated as a Christmas gift for his six nephews and nieces by Midwestern humorist Charles Smith-Dewey (under the pen name “Uncle Hyggly”), the story has been adapted as a Christmas pageant by numerous elementary schools, and audio versions of the tale have played on radio stations coast-to-coast. See woundedcoot.com for more. ‘Twas the 24th of the month that did follow November When the call did go out to one special member Of the Emergency, Substitute Santa Claus Corps And no one remembered it happening before!

Ole Gonopolis picked up his
And he heard Santa let out a
sorrowful moan
And he heard Santa tell him,
through sniffles and sneezles
That Doc Elf had told him:
“It’s possibly measles.”

“I do not feel good
and I can’t drive my sleigh
That means no gifts for
the kids Christmas Day.
The thought of those children,
all crying and sobbing
Fills Santa’s head
with a horrible throbbing!”

1810pd_dewey_1 “Mr. Gonopolis,
will you please complete
my Christmas Eve mission,
while I’m off my feet?
From every small village,
to every Metropolis
NO one I trust
quite like
Ole Gonopolis!”

Off to his barn, Ole
plowed through the snow,
Off to the skies
his 12 Holsteins must go!


“But how can that be?”
you ask, raising your eyebrow
“How can it be that
12 Holsteins can fly now?!?”
The adrenaline flowed,
as they shook with a titter,
And each bovine hair
on each bovine did flitter ...

“On Bessie, On Bossie!”
Gonopolis did holler,
A woolly red scarf
from his hand to each collar.

“On Jessie, on Sally,
on Gertrude and Mary,
On Karma, on Clara,
on Hulda and Carrie,
On Oprah, on Sigrid!”
he yelled with some gust,
“This old storage box
is beginning to rust!”


Then 48 hooves
marched in two narrow rows,
And into the sky
12 sleek milkers arose!
They departed the farm,
their tails swayin’ and switchin’,
While Mrs. Gonopolis
waved goodbye in the kitchen.

All through the night
they stuck fast to their route
Flying south to St. Paul
and then‚ “nort to D’lute.”
The wind, it blew hard,
as it waffled and wangled,
‘Til 12 Holstein cows
in 12 scarves became

They twisted and turned,
and the wagon went spinning
They were locked in a battle
– and the weather was winning!

They dropped through the skies
like a bucket of lead
They crashed to a rooftop
and crumpled like bread!

The force of their landing
did cause such a clatter ...
That it woke up the kids
(And the mom
and the dadder)

Mr. Gonopolis,
his face flushed with red,
Delivered their presents,
and then quickly fled.
The dad told the kids then:
“Get back to your beds!”

Then once again, up again,
the ladies all leapt
As they still had a schedule
which must now be kept
They flew without Sigrid
who seemed somewhat dazed,
She rode in the back
with Gonopolis a ways.

They found every house
on each one did each hoof stop,
As Gonopolis and cows
did sit down on each rooftop
Then out of the wagon
Ole jumped with a calling,
And then down the chimney
the gifts he was hauling

He tiptoed past rooms
where the children did slumber,
Each foot sliding gently
on old creaky lumber ...
And then sneaking past
where the parents were napping,
A sound from the fishbowl

He yapped and he howled
and he bayed and he barked,
While Gonopolis floundered
about in the dark!
And out of that fishbowl,
that fish he did JUMP!
Both his eyes were fastened
on one tender RUMP!

Caught in the moonlight,
those fish teeth were glistening
But up on the rooftop
those Holsteins were listening

They slipped off their scarves,
and lashed them together
It dropped down the chimney
as light as a feather

Gonopolis saw it,
he lunged with a shout,
He grabbed hold of that scarf ...
He was thankful, I’m sure,
and of that there’s no doubt.

Then out over the ocean,
they went with great speed,
With the Holstein named Clara
assuming the lead.

Well, their journey was long
and the weather was bleary,
And one by one each
Holstein cow became weary.

Gonopolis yelled,
“Now you must stay awake!”
But each joint and each bone
in each Holstein did ache

Their eyelids grew heavy,
their muscles were sagging,
And nearer the water their
udders were dragging!


Then at the moment
of sheer desperation,
Gonopolis was blessed
with a near inspiration:
“Hey all youse flies on my cows
quit your napping ...
... Open your wings,
shake them out
get them flapping!”

From all over the cows
from their tails to their heads,
A gaggle of flies
waggled out
from their beds!

The force of their wings
hummed in one massive choir
As they lifted up each
of those cows slightly higher ...
But those cows were so heavy,
and those flies were so slight,
Soon the flies would be finished
and then so would the flight!

Gonopolis was tired,
his vision was dimming,
And soon Jessie’s tail
in the water was skimming,
As first one hoof, then two hooves
then three hooves were trailing,
As first two, and then four,
and then six flies were failing

The cows sunk to their ankles,
they sunk to their thighs,
As their auxiliary engines
were dropping like ... flies ....

And then all except one
of those flies sputtered out.
And all you could see left
was poor Bessie’s snout.
And suddenly, that
was no longer about.

But in a few seconds
(that seemed like three days)
Out of the ocean
those Holsteins were raised!
Gonopolis and company
to Europe did sail ...
... perched on the back
of a large friendly whale!

Then once again, up again,
all rested and willing
They flew to the stockings
that needed some filling.

Then Mr. Gonopolis
his last chimney descended,
Turned his cows homeward,
their mission had ended.

They arrived at the farm,
with the snow gently blowing
And they drifted to sleep
as the rooster was crowing

Ole’s slumber was stolen
by a ring from the wall,
And he roused from his sleep
as he took Santa’s call.

“I’m feeling much better,
my fever has dropped,
But we were all puzzled
why you never stopped,
To pick up the presents,
the gifts and the toys
That my elves
had all wrapped
for the good girls
and boys?”

The truth hit Gonopolis
like a shovel in the head!
His knees turned to Jello,
and his face turned beet-red!
The gifts he had given
were just some things he’d ...
... found in his shed!

Maybe no one was quite
as surprised as young Harley,
Who found that his stocking
was plumb full of ... barley!

Or maybe young Frieda
who had wanted a Care Bear,
Who spent
Christmas morning
unwrapping a ...
plow share!

Gonopolis was glum,
he had failed,
he was saddened
‘Til Santa let loose
with a laugh
HE was

“Gonopolis, my friend,
you’re a success don’cha know,
It’s not the gifts that you give‚
It’s the love that you show!
Each child knows you love them,
each child knows you care,
There is no greater gift
you could possibly share!”

Then Gonopolis rested happily,
after his long stormy flight
Because he knew in his heart
that the world was all right.

Dairy Christmas to all, and to all a good night! PD

© Uncle Hyggly (Charles Smith-Dewey)

Autographed hardcover books and audio CDs of “Mr. Gonopolis and His 12 Holsteins” are available at woundedcoot.com