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River Town Chronicles: A valentine for our police and fire departments

My wife, Tia, and I had just eaten dinner at Gen Hoe, the Chinese restaurant on Geneva’s East Side. We felt pleasingly full, having ordered egg rolls, wonton soup, and the chef’s special, a platter of shrimp, chicken, barbecue pork, and mixed vegetables.

Although early, before 6 p.m., winter’s darkness and cold curtained the town. Heading west on State Street, we chatted about nothing in particular until approaching the river when blue and red lights flashed in my rearview mirror.

“Huh,” I thought, “some poor sap getting pulled over.”

Slowing, I waited for the lights to race pass. They didn’t. “I think we’re getting stopped,” I said and turned into the dam’s parking lot. The lights followed, and after we parked, a white spotlight reflected off the sideview mirror.

A figure appeared outside my window. “Good evening,” I greeted the officer. “We’re just coming back from the Gen Hoe.”

She replied with a friendly salutation, then told us a rear brake light was out. Tia said she’d recently taken the car to Fuller’s to have one fixed. After checking the requisite papers in her car, the officer returned with a warning ticket.

“You’re one of the officers,” Tia said excitedly, “who responded to calls when my mom would accidentally set off her emergency alarm bracelet. I am so appreciative of what you and others in the police and fire departments did for her. You were always so kind and forgiving.”

I, too, thanked her for her service. Her stopping us surely had been a relatively easy inquiry, but it could have gone down differently. She could have been stopping someone driving under the influence with a gun and an attitude. Or worse.

Driving home, I thought of something that happened more than 20 years ago. On a freezing, black night like this one, fire trucks screamed up our quiet street. Racing outside, we discovered a fire had started in our next-door neighbor’s basement. As I stood in the driveway watching smoke billow out of the house, a neighbor from a few doors down said, “I think the fire’s spreading.”

“Thanks for that thought,” I said, imagining an excited orange spark taking a liking to our roof.

But it didn’t spread. The Geneva and surrounding towns’ fire departments are to thank for their quick and expert response.

At the Christmas Walk this year, Geneva posted garbage trucks at cross streets to deter crazies from mowing down celebratory crowds. Or maybe the Public Works folks knew parking would be bad, and drove their families down in company vehicles, who knows?

Hey, just kidding. Anyway, our police department knows the cliche “It can’t happen here” is a wish that could get people killed if believed.

This is a valentine for the men and women in Kane County who pull graveyard shifts, work overtime and risk their lives to guard our safety and welfare. We don’t say “Thank you” enough.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches English at Marmion Academy and moderates a writing workshop. His fiction, essays and poetry have appeared in numerous literary journals. Contact him at

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