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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: A Christmas Cavil

Donna Reed is photographed on a Hollywood set on Dec. 21, 1978. (AP Photo)

Dan Squint woke with a start. There at the foot of his bed stood Squint’s old golf buddy Roger Scowl.

Oh, it was nothing. Just the beginning of a now-annual torment, the visitations of long-dead Scowl and the Christmas ghosts to badger Squint about his life of spending. Four years in a row!

“Hello, Roger. Make yourself at home.”

“Dan, we really must talk.”

Roger Scowl once cut a dashing figure in the dining room at Whispering Sycamores – cream turtleneck and blue blazer, Royal Stewart pants for the holiday parties. But now look at him: A dirty Old Navy t-shirt with the neck all wrung out. Cargo shorts and pull-on Sketchers.

“We talked last year, and the year before that.”

“And the years before that, yes. And yet.”

“And yet nothing. Have you seen the new wake boat? We added another pier! What a summer for the grandkids!”

“We’ve tried so hard to say: The money’s not the thing and you can’t take it with you.”

“But you’re wrong, Roger. The money is the thing and will keep me with it! If my wealth never dies, I never die – the Dan Squint Family Trust ad infinitum. You passed away with poor wealth advisory, my friend, and are now forgotten.”

“I’ll see myself out, Dan. The first of the ghosts will make herself known shortly.”

It was a long and boring night.


The Ghost of Christmas Past appeared this year in the form of Donna Reed, and Dan was of course a little flabbergasted. “Hello, Mrs. Bailey,” he said. Donna Reed flashed that golden smile.

She took Dan to a Christmas morning long ago, in a bungalow living room outside Chicago, where nine-year-old Dan was opening a familiar-shaped box. It had the right heft. Wrapped in gold with a silver ribbon. Yes!

Lionel train.jpg

It was a Lionel engine but the wrong Lionel engine. “I told you mom! The green F3, not the red one!” It was a bad memory.

“I’m still upset about that goddamned train,” Dan barked at Donna Reed. “Why are you showing me this?”

The next ghost was a bit of a come-down – Bette Midler, who wasn’t even dead yet and whose Twitter posts were known to Dan Squint and disliked by him. It seemed each year of these visits, the Christmas ghosts sought to irritate Dan as much as frighten him.

Bette Midler took Dan to a CVS pharmacy and then to Walgreens. Neither had any children’s Tylenol. Whole shelves of medicines lay bare. Sniffling and coughing kids cried in shopping carts. Moms in winter coats and sweatpants, unwashed hair in hats, stared through Dan with vacant eyes.

“Get me out of here, Bette!” Dan yelped.

They went to an urgent care clinic where the next available appointment was tomorrow afternoon.

“This is what socialized medicine looks like!” Dan said.

Bette Midler made a face, and reached for her iPhone.

“Take me home!” Dan said.

“Not yet,” said Bette.

They stood inside a cramped old mobile home, the kitchen counters piled with Domino’s boxes, Taco Bell wrappers, empty Mountain Dew bottles. A little boy named James sat at the coffee table writing a letter to Santa.

“Please forgive daddy, Santa. He won’t be home for Christmas.”

“Why not?” Dan asked the ghost.

“Daddy pawned a gun to pay for Christmas.”

“So what?”

“Daddy is a felon and can’t have guns.”

“But daddy could have a job to pay for Christmas! And so could mommy. James can do better. There are programs, the charities.”


The last wraith was the worst. Just unbelievable. He appeared as LeBron James. Thank god he didn’t talk.

LeBron drove Dan around town in a Kia hybrid. They passed the crowded drive-throughs at Low Bob’s Discount Tobacco and McDonald’s, watched the bumper car scene in the Wal-Mart lot.

“Who would wait in these lines?” Dan asked.

They drove past the cemetery, which had no traffic at all. Dan had seen enough.

“You wanna show me something?” Dan asked LeBron. “Show me Hunter Biden’s laptop!”

LeBron shook his head.

“You want me to say something? All right, I’ll say it:

Merry Christmas and God bless me, everyone!”

Music: “Why I’m Grieving,” by The A’s

Email Brett McNeil

Brett McNeil is a writer and essayist in Mishawaka, Indiana. His radio essays have aired on WVPE and WBEZ and his writing has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, Crain’s Chicago Business and elsewhere. He is a former newspaper reporter and columnist and is the recipient of writing awards from the Chicago Headline Club, Illinois Press Association and Inland Press Association. Brett is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois Chicago. He works as an investigator in a law office. Reach him by email here