It was a week before Christmas - six days, to be exact. The air had a holiday feel. There were carols on the radio, snow in the forecast. The sun was low in the afternoon sky, inching toward the winter solstice. There was hustle and bustle, plus the rustle of dry leaves against the hustle and bustle. It was the kind of eggnog-and-fruitcake, Old Spice-and-Chia Pet, Burl Ives-in-a-pear tree Wednesday afternoon that comes just once a year.

And I was almost hit by a car.

Which was somewhat unexpected. I wasn't looking to turn into the Ghost of Christmas Past just yet. In fact, we were on our way back from a Winter Sing, which is a trans-denominational, nonsectarian celebration of the inclement weather and traditional lack of sunlight observed all over the world this time of year, with a couple of songs thrown in that no one recognizes just to make sure everyone has to stretch. The hit of the afternoon was an old Coke jingle.

We were on the way to finish up our holiday shopping, with just one more gift to buy: an ice-cream maker for my favorite co-worker, hopefully matching the fabulous success of last year's fondue pot. We were in a particularly festive mood because Laurie had a 20-percent-off coupon.

Earlier that day, I had received a number of once-a-year emails, the kind I get only at Christmas. One was from a religious (his word) listener who chastised me for not including "Silent Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" in an ad-libbed list of Yuletide favorites. (I think I mentioned Nat King Cole and The Nutcracker. You'd have thought I led with Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis.")

There were some follow-ups from a program on dangerous Christmas toys we used to receive in the unregulated '50s and '60s. Wood-burning sets, hot ovens, exploding rockets, smelt-your-own-lead-soldier kits. And that's not including the arrows, missiles, guns, and other stuff that was supposed to be lethal. Concluded one listener: "We thought we were immortal." 10-4, Sgt. Friday.

And there was a note from Anthony Greenbank, author of the Book of Survival, who wanted to warn my holiday listeners about the inadvisability of throwing water on a flaming Christmas tree, tell them how to assist a shock victim by standing on a heap of nonconducting greeting cards, discuss the poisonous nature of real holly berries, note the increased possibility of choking on something if also drunk, mention the potential for internal injuries while toting gift-laden luggage, and remind us of the unseen danger presented by serving a roast turkey. ("Taking a 20-pound bird out of the oven could put between 200 and 300 pounds of extra pressure on the lumbar spine ... which is equivalent to two bags of cement.")

Ah, safety. Which brings me back to the car thing.

There we were, standing on the curb, me, Smiley, Laurie, and the 20-percent-off coupon. We looked to the left, we looked to the right. The coast seemed clear.

The next five seconds played like some slow-motion movie sequence. Laurie and Smiley were almost across the street, but I was still in the middle of the crosswalk when I heard Laurie scream, then a squeal of brakes. (In real life, brakes don't squeal. That's a writers' convention, like dogs going, "aarf.") I turned to see the bumper of a gold-toned SUV, which had come to a stop about one foot short of my left kneecap.

The driver turned out to be some woman in a hurry, not looking, maybe even running a stop sign. All I know is, she came out of nowhere. We exchanged a few pleasantries and she drove off, all of us rattled. And that was that.

It's funny how we repeat Christmas every year, and yet re-invent it. Same music, same ornaments, same cookies - yet inevitably some new element, big or little, bad or good, makes us pay attention, again, to what it's supposed to be about. Maybe that happens in your family, too.

And here I was, worried about the tree drying out.

Merry Christmas!

Copyright 2001 Newrite, Inc. All rights reserved. GLW's on WGN Radio AM 720 and (

Support the River Cities' Reader

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!


"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993. Now we find our ability to continue providing all the features you love in serious jeopardy without the financial support of our readers.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher