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'Storybook Christmas' girl is all grown up
 Mike Copeland  / 

At age 4, little Brittany Guderian had big blue eyes, a self-inflicted mullet and a love for books. Her parents placed her in a local Head Start program, and in that classroom a photographer captured her image.

The rest, as they say, is history. Brittany Guderian, now Brittany Attaway and mom to three children, is all grown up, having served as the poster “child” for A Storybook Christmas the past 23 years.

Her face, now known to thousands, has appeared in countless ads for the program that embraces the magic of reading. Few knew her name.

Attaway said she cherishes her brush with fame that has colored most of her life. It strengthened her love for the written word. To this day, her grandmother clips her photo each time it appears, to be included in a time-worn scrapbook. Attaway said she wouldn’t change a thing, at least where Storybook Christmas is involved.

Attaway has faced challenges. She had her first child at age 17, during a phase in her life that produced a War-and-Peace-sized supply of second thoughts, nearly died two years ago, and today juggles obligations as a wife, mother and student as she trains to become a paralegal.

What keeps her going, she said, is the best book she knows: The Bible.

“I read it as often as I can,” said Attaway, who also enjoys devouring articles about politics, crime and the law. She attended schools in the La Vega Independent School District, but left at age 16, before graduating. After getting her life squared away, she said, she pursued and received a General Educational Development certificate — and later moved on to McLennan Community College to study medical office technology.

At every turn, she said, she turns to God for direction and strength.

Her go-to verse in times of uncertainty is found in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, where in verse 29:11, the prophet says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” said Attaway, quoting the words by memory. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Incredibly, she said, she grew even closer to God in November 2016, when blinding headaches and blurred vision forced her to see a doctor. She thought her ailments were related to her pregnancy, the birth of her third child, Jraven, now 2-years-old, and the medication she was taking for chronic pain.

Alarmed by test results, her physician phoned Attaway with an urgent message to meet him at Providence Health Center’s emergency room. She was anemic, her blood count dangerously low, and the medical staff ordered a transfusion. She was admitted to the hospital, and visitors dropped by throughout the evening, assuring they would help in any way possible.

“I just told them to pray,” said Attaway. “I do have a rare blood type, RH-negative, and I was wondering if there had been a problem finding some. I kept asking, ‘Is the blood here?’ I was saying one last prayer, and it finally arrived. I said, ‘Thank you, Lord,’ and I was so relieved. My husband was with me the entire time, laid with me nearly all night. I will never forget that day, November 17, 2016. I remember everything about it.”

She and the young man who would become her husband, Justin Attaway, met while working at a Sonic drive-in. He was a cook, she a car-hop. He now is employed at the Manitou North American plant on Imperial Drive.

“We got married in 2009, and have been together ever since,” she said.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Brittany Attaway, center, looks over clippings and a copy of the book she was holding with her family Annaliese, 9, husband Justin, Jraven, 2, and Caleb, 11, inside their Robinson Home.

Family and close friends have known about Brittany’s notoriety since the beginning. They joke about how cute she looks in that photo, her unusual haircut, which they laughingly describe as a mullet — short in the front and long on the sides and in the back. Actually, she says, the styling was her mother’s attempt to repair the damage Brittany had inflicted.

“I had cut my bangs, and moma tried to make do with what was left. It was the only hairstyle that didn’t make me look like a boy,” said Attaway.

Her parents are no longer together, but Attaway said their life lessons still serve her well.

“We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor, either,” she said. “We were taught to be grateful and to value what we had. We were middle-class. We got everything we needed, and a little of what we wanted.”

Attaway loves to cook, collect recipes, decorate, and her favorite meal is lasagna with garlic bread and a salad. When she has time, and the mood strikes, she enjoys walking trails in a Woodway park, often with her three kiddos: Jraven, the youngest, 9-year-old Annaliese and 11-year-old Caleb. They enjoy bonding with nature and each other, said Attaway, whose husband occasionally accompanies them.

No cell phones or electronic devices are allowed on these trips. Sometimes Brittanny will bring along a camera and take pictures. She loves sunsets.

On Christmas Day, the Attaway family and in-laws up from Houston will eat their traditional meal at Summer Palace. Later she will see her parents — Kelli LeDuc and Richard Solomon — and may visit her grandmother in Bellmead.

Everything revolves around family for Brittany — the little Bible she bought for Caleb, books by Dr. Seuss, grandma’s lighted nativity scene, collecting recipes, decorating, making a house a home. Loving one another with one thing in mind: “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”

That’s Philippians 4:13, and it appears on her Facebook page.

As for that photo, Attaway said she continues to grin and bear it. It’s a part of her past for which she’s taken a lot of ribbing. But she cherishes the thought.

This will be the 28th year for Storybook Christmas. Championed locally by longtime Tribune-Herald staffer Ann Roznovsky, who passed away in December last year, the nonprofit organization has given more than 450,000 new books to underprivileged children in McLennan County.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Brittany Guderian, now Brittany Attaway, has been the the poster “child” for A Storybook Christmas the past 23 years.

Top 10 Stories of 2018: Former Baylor frat president's case captured the nation's attention
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

Since Baylor University has been embroiled in scandal over the way school officials have handled sexual assault complaints, there is no such thing any more as a routine sexual assault complaint involving a Baylor student.

Still, the social media outrage, petition drives, email-writing campaigns and national news stories generated in the wake of the Jacob Anderson sexual assault case late in the year reached unexpected and towering levels on a number of fronts.

Protests were lodged against the plea agreement the former Baylor University fraternity president reached with the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office. The judge who decided to accept it was bombarded with petitions, emails, letters and calls to his office from people from all over the country who urged him to kick the offer back and set a trial date.

The victim and her family wrote scathing emails to the judge, saying the DA’s office broke promises to them regarding her fight for justice and also urging the judge to reject the plea agreement and give her her day in court.

Ultimately, 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother, after reviewing an extensive presentence report and other information, accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Anderson to deferred probation for three years after his no contest plea to a reduced charge of unlawful restraint. As part of the plea bargain, prosecutors dropped four counts of sexual assault, Anderson will not have to register as a sex offender and won’t serve any jail time.

Following the sentencing hearing, Strother again was flooded with phone calls, emails and letters, many of them profane and threatening to him and his family. A petition drive was started to remove the judge from office. Some groups promised he would have an opponent next election, despite the fact that the judge, at 75, can’t run again after completing the last two years of his current term.

A student at the University of Texas at Dallas who said she was outraged after learning Anderson enrolled there after leaving Baylor, sponsored an online petition that called for school officials to kick him out of school. Two days later, they did, informing Anderson, who graduated this month with a finance degree, that he could not walk across the stage to get his diploma, set foot on campus again or attend graduate school there.

“We were completely caught off-guard by all of this,” said Fort Worth attorney Tim Moore, one of Anderson’s attorneys. “We had no earthly idea that it would get blown up like it did. It was just pure social media, the ability to reach out. Everybody has a voice now, but I could not have anticipated that any of this would happen.”

The former Baylor student who said Anderson raped her at a fraternity party in 2016 told the judge in an emotional victim-impact statement that she was devastated by the plea bargain and his decision to accept it.

“When I was completely unconscious, he dumped me face down in the dirt and left me there to die,” she said. “He had taken what he wanted, had proven his power over my body. He then walked home and went to bed without a second thought to the ravaged, half-dead woman he had left behind.”

Moore and his co-counsel, Mark Daniel, declined comment as they left the courthouse that day. However, after the petition drive to remove Anderson from UT-Dallas gained momentum, they pushed back, saying that the woman’s statement was “riddled with distortions and misrepresentations.”

They said there was no evidence to support her initial claim that she was drugged at the party or that Anderson choked her. They said she made statements to two students that the incident “may have been consensual” and seemed “calm and collected” immediately afterward.

The woman, who sought medical treatment at the hospital that night, has a civil lawsuit pending against Anderson, the Baylor chapter of Phi Delta Theta fraternity and the elderly owner of the home where the party was held.

Associated Press — Ray Thompson/  

Baylor West Virginia Football

Baylor head coach Matt Rhule (right) complains to the officials during the second half.

Trump, Democrats hold firm to their views on border wall

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump met Monday with his Homeland Security secretary and other officials to discuss border security issues as a partial government shutdown over his U.S.-Mexico border wall entered Christmas without a clear resolution in sight.

Though both sides have traded offers over the dollars, they remain far apart on the wall. The White House insisted Trump will reject any deal that does not include money for a wall or fence; Democrats held firm in their opposition to a wall or other physical barrier.

In a joint statement Monday, the Democratic leaders of Congress, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, said that as long as Trump keeps listening to the House Freedom Caucus and others on the right flank, there is no easy resolution to the impasse.

“It’s Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” the leaders said. They pointed to problems beyond the shutdown, including the plunging stock market and the president’s firing of the defense secretary. “The president wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out of it.”

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said a counteroffer was presented over the weekend to Schumer. Mulvaney would only say the offer was between Trump’s $5.7 billion request and $1.3 billion Democrats have offered.

“We moved off of the five and we hope they move up from their 1.3,” Mulvaney said Sunday, a day after a senior administration official insisted Congress would have to cave into Trump’s spending demand for the shutdown to end. The comments highlighted Trump’s unpredictable negotiating style.

A Democratic aide granted anonymity to discuss the private talks confirmed the White House offered $2.5 billion, an initial $2.1 billion plus $400 million Democrats called a “slush fund” for the president’s other immigration priorities.

Mulvaney said he was awaiting a response from Schumer, whose office said the parties remained “very far apart.”

Trump chimed in from the White House, where he has been cooped up since the shutdown began early Saturday.

“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security,” Trump tweeted. “At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!”

Trump put off plans to head to his Florida estate for Christmas. His wife, first lady Melania Trump, returned from Florida to spend the holiday with him.

The president’s border security meeting Monday afternoon included Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other department officials, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Senate negotiators continued talks behind the scenes with Democrats and Republicans. The House and Senate briefly gaveled into session on Christmas Eve before closing again with no further action.

In their statement, Pelosi and Schumer said “different people from the same White House are saying different things about what the president would accept or not accept to end his Trump Shutdown, making it impossible to know where they stand at any given moment.”

Trump blamed Democrats for the stalemate, tweeting Monday that “Virtually every Democrat we are dealing with today strongly supported a Border Wall or Fence. It was only when I made it an important part of my campaign, because people and drugs were pouring into our Country unchecked, that they turned against it. Desperately needed!”

However, an AP Fact Check found that U.S. arrests on the Mexican border jumped 78 percent in November from a year earlier to the highest level in Trump’s presidency. Increased arrests indicate that more people are trying to cross the border illegally.

Several Cabinet departments and agencies have been closed since Saturday after their funding lapsed. The closure affects hundreds of thousands of federal workers across the country and was expected to last at least through Thursday, when the House and Senate meet again.

Monday and Tuesday, Christmas Eve and Christmas, respectively, are federal holidays, meaning the government is closed anyway. That means Wednesday is the first day the public could begin to feel the effects of lost government services, Mulvaney said.

The routines of about 800,000 federal employees, meanwhile, were about to be disrupted.

More than half of those employees deemed essential, including U.S. Secret Service agents and Transportation Security Administration agents, must work without pay, though retroactive pay is expected. Another 380,000 were to be furloughed, meaning they will not report to work but would also be paid later. Legislation ensuring workers receive back pay was expected to clear Congress.

Mulvaney predicted the shutdown could stretch into January, when Democrats assume control of the House.

“It’s very possible that this shutdown will go beyond the 28th and into the new Congress,” he said.

Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, countered: “If Director Mulvaney says the Trump Shutdown will last into the New Year, believe him, because it’s their shutdown.” Trump recently declared he’d be “proud” to shut down the government over border issues.

Trump promised during the campaign to build a border wall. Progress toward funding the wall has been slow and Trump sees the final days of the GOP’s complete control of Congress as his last chance to force the issue. Some Republicans also oppose building a wall.

Susan Walsh  


FILE — In this Dec. 8, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump, center, stands with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left of Trump, during the pregame ceremonies at the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. As the first two years of President Donald Trump’s administration close, Republican allies still haven’t figured out how best to influence a leader who takes cues from the forces that swept him to office and seems to fear losing them above all else. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)