Christmas always was a special time in the Goodman household.
Decorating the Christmas tree; folding down page corners of the annual Sears catalog advertising the latest toys; staying up late to watch Perry Como’s Christmas special; hosting Christmas Eve gatherings of aunts, uncles and cousins, complete with a full spread of food; and music — so much music — as the family gathered around the piano to sing Christmas carols in the living room …
“It was just always a big deal in our house,” said Cathy Goodman, 57, who today lives only a couple of homes up the street from the one she grew up at in Dubuque. “There was always lots of food, lots of celebrating, lots of family and music, music, music.”
One of four children of Geri Goodman, a longtime Dubuque pianist, the seeds of music were planted early in Cathy — a vocalist and graphic designer by day — and her siblings.
“It all started with midnight Mass,” she said. “Because Mom played piano, all of us were expected to get involved at a young age. For the longest time, we hated it, but then came the time when Mom decided that she didn’t want to do it anymore and pulled us out of it as well. We were angry. It had become such a part of us.”
The Christmas bug continued to bite as Cathy moved out on her own.
“Christmas became an obsession,” she said. “In my first tiny apartment, I remember roping garland everywhere and hanging up lights. Moving into bigger spaces has only allowed me to get more stuff. I have tubs and tubs in the basement — all red and green, of course. I have ornaments all over. About 80% of them, I could tell you when I bought them and even what I was wearing when I did, or who gave them to me. I have eight Christmas trees and get one real tree every year. I have a very specific process as to the first decoration to go up and the last to come down.”
Even her trio of dogs get in on the festivities.
“They all have Christmas collars they get to pick out,” Cathy said, with a laugh. “I set them down, and whichever one they seem to sniff or chew on more gets to be their collar.”
Cathy also has worked to carry on her family’s musical legacy through the merriness of the holiday season. In 2005, she teamed up with her mom to release a CD titled, “A Very Geri Christmas and a Cathy New Year.” And since 2007, she has produced the annual holiday revue, “Snowbiz.”
This year’s performances, paired with a lunch and a dinner, took place on Dec. 1 at the Grande Ballroom of the Hotel Julien Dubuque.
Each year, it includes six vocalists dubbed The Mistletones, a name that took hold after Cathy and another group of vocalists performed as part of a different holiday revue. Today, the singers include Cathy, sister Tori Richter, Abby Foley, Jake Tebbe, Jacob Herrmann and Mark Oppedahl.
That outfit, which also performs at private parties, is backed by a seven-piece big band comprised of bassist and brother-in-law Dave Richter, pianist Terry Dillon, drummer Masa Iwasaki, saxophonist Ken Kilian, trombonist Marty Busch and trumpets Gary Kirst and Ben Drury.
The show, which features an assortment of holiday classics with a few lesser-known tunes sprinkled in, netted the Dubuque Area Convention & Visitor’s Bureau’s People’s Choice Award in 2016. In 2019, it again was recognized with a Best of Dubuque award.
“My music library easily includes about 5,000 songs,” Cathy said. “It’s an amazing group. When all of those vocal harmonies come together … “
In addition to “Snowbiz,” Cathy also is the founder of a local theatrical improvisation troupe known as the Brew Ha Ha Players. It performs holiday themed murder mystery dinners in partnership with Stone Cliff Winery in the Star Brewery at the Port of Dubuque.
Performances are from 5 to 7 p.m. and include a four-course meal.
Two shows will take place later this month, including “Ho, Ho, Homicide” on Sunday, Dec. 11; and the Brew Ha Ha Players’ original show, “Cut Loose Tree Farm” on Sunday, Dec. 18. Reservations are required by 5 p.m. the Friday prior to each performance by calling
563-583-6100, ext. 203. Tickets are $59.95, plus tax.
Continuing the spread of holiday cheer, previous years saw Cathy participating in the Mathias Ham Historic Site’s Christmas offerings. She also volunteers with Toys for Tots, in addition to wrapping gifts — a hobby of which she is particularly fond.
Fittingly this year, Cathy’s niece, Katy Richter, also will bring a little holiday cheer to the tri-states, returning to Dubuque from New York to perform as the guest soloist for the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra’s series of holiday concerts on Saturday, Dec. 3, and Sunday, Dec. 4.
The season culminates with an annual holiday party Cathy hosts for family and her closest friends, where music inevitably becomes the focal point.
“I host a Christmas Eve-eve party every year on Dec. 23,” she said. “Mom still plays at the piano, and everyone sings. People are always blown away by the music. I think, for me, my love of Christmas is about family and the memories — celebrating old ones and creating new ones. Ironically, I’ve never been Christmas caroling, so there is still an opportunity for that.”
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.