I'd like to take this opportunity, at this blessed time, to look back at the paltry 130-plus columns I wrote in 2008 and remember some people I'll never forget:

Ed Smith, a disabled 83-year-old WW II Navy vet who was homeless and living on the streets of Minneapolis with his only friend, a therapy dog named Puffy. Ed and Puffy came in out of the cold in February, after the mercury hit 14-below, with the help of county outreach workers and St. Stephen's Human Services. At last word, Ed and Puffy were safely ensconced in senior housing.

Dwan Fairbanks, widow of Specialist Jacob Fairbanks, a soldier from St. Paul who died in Iraq. Jake was battling depression and anxiety after his first tour in Iraq, and went back for a second tour convinced he might die. He did, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, leaving Dwan and the couple's children struggling for answers. In August, on what would have been their anniversary, Dwan spent the day at Jake's grave at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, lost in grief. Said the chaplain at Jake's funeral: "Only soldiers understand how the terrors of war and the horrors of the battlefield affect the soul."

Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte, the Chaska voyageurs who graduated early from high school so they could paddle their canoe 2,250 miles to Hudson Bay and get home in time to take their girlfriends to the State Fair. They made it with two months to spare, braving ice, snow, floodwaters, waves, sickness and a disastrous encounter with an exploding canister of bear spray to re-trace Eric Sevareid's famous trip and halving his time, reaching the Bay in just 49 days. At last word, the two were in college at Minnesota State, Mankato, where I hope they are still making waves.

Katricia and Robert Daniels, a mother and her 10-year-old son, murdered in a duplex on 1st Avenue South in Minneapolis, beaten savagely, without reason or mercy in an attack that left the house spattered and the neighborhood degraded. Two teens are in jail, each accusing the other. A neighbor, Angel Madison, told me the house where the killings occurred was the site of a previous shooting of a man who ran outside and bled to death in the grass. "I don't even like to look out my window anymore," Angel said. "You don't want a cemetery next door. That's how I feel. It's like I'm living next to a cemetery."

Joan Kennedy and Dickie Steele, a pair of brave lovebirds who got married in August despite the fact Dickie, 53, is in a wheelchair, immobilized with Lou Gehrig's disease and unable to speak except with his eyes. Which speak volumes: When it was his turn to answer whether he would take Joan for his wife, he raised his eyebrows, twice: The signal for "Yes." Some disapproved of the marriage -- done in a church but without a license. But Joan and Dickie were unfazed: "As long as we're OK with God, we don't care what the government thinks," Joan said. "Dickie never complains or says 'Why me?' He has a fabulous way of living to the fullest. He has more heart and soul than anyone I've ever met."

Christina Brown: The feisty 79-year-old from New Hope, in a leg brace and eye patch after a car accident, was arrested after a dispute at the customer service counter at a Target store. She thought she could get a $30 cash refund when she returned some items and proved the store already had cashed her check. Wrong. When the manager, whom she called "Mr. Nasty," threatened to have her arrested if she didn't leave, she called the cops herself. "Fine," she told Mr. Nasty. "I may meet a better class of people in jail."

The Dragon Divas: Women warriors and cancer survivors who race in Dragon Boat festivals, facing their disease by pulling together. They always (so far) finish last, as they did in Grand Marais when I met them, but they win the real race. "Cancer may reoccur, and death may happen," said Lynne Schriver-Sheedy of Vadnais Heights. "It's what you do in between that matters. What you do is live. What we are doing, in this Dragon Boat, is living."

Gary Mathes, a 60-year-old bearded guy from Alaska who stood in downtown St. Paul during the GOP National Convention holding a sign that said "Vote 4 Jesus" and witnessing for the Lord. He received a warm reception from many cops and citizens who liked his style and shared his Plague on Both Your Houses view of politics. Jesus, Mathes said, wouldn't like either party: "We're a whore-mongering, war-mongering, wife-beating, child-mistreating, beer-and-whiskey drinking nation," he told me. "We're a Christian nation, hanging on by a thread."

Aren't we?

ncoleman@startribune.com • 612-673-4400