Sam Burnham, Curator
As I’m writing this I’m sipping coffee from my new US Navy mug and occasionally gazing over to take in a bit of the military honor guard posted at the casket of President George H.W. Bush as he lies in state in the Capitol rotunda.
I havent written much lately. Oh, we’ve updated ABG CFB but that stuff writes itself. I haven’t written here. It’s been a week since I dropped my oldest son off in Atlanta to ship to Great Lakes, Illinois for Navy boot camp. Somewhere in that experience I fell into a funk. It sapped my creativity and left me feeling a bit blue. Some time today that realization hit me. I gotta get my mind right, gotta get back on track. So that’s what I’m doing here.
I have had the blessing and honor of raising three of my heroes. The fact that my oldest will now be seen as a hero in the minds of many Americans is not lost on me. He has overcome a lot to wind up where he is. But he sees this as a calling, a duty that was his to carry out, so he signed up. I could not be more proud.
But with that pride comes sacrifice. I already miss the sound of his footsteps coming down the stairs. I miss sitting at dinner and seeing him across the table from me. I miss him sitting in the living room in the evening and asking me questions about any number of topics. And in this period of no communication, I miss just knowing how his day went.
No doubt he’s entered a new stage of life. As he steps into adulthood, there will be days I dong hear from him. That’s how life works. It’s early in this phase and it’s easy for me to still see that little boy with the chubby cheeks and the love of deep blue water. What he really is is a strong and fit man who is off on his own and proving to Uncle Sam that he deserves to serve in his Navy as a sailor.
So now I stand up. Now I do what over 200 years of Navy dads have done. I brush off despair and I move forward. I finish raising his brothers, continue caring for his mother, and I prepare to attend Pass In Review where I will see him again, this time clothed in the uniform he’s dreamed of since childhood. And that thought makes me happy.
We find ourselves at the beginning of the Thanksgiving season which will immediately give way to the Christmas season and then New Year’s.
But first things first!
We hear the story in elementary school. The dramatic crossing of the Atlantic in the Mayflower, the harsh winter, the priceless assistance of Squanto, and the laying of the foundation of American culture.
These days there's another push on this cultural iconography. People are vowing to confront their families about political matters, especially that "crazy conservative uncle." Pair this up with the insistence that the previously mentioned cultural iconography is just a ploy to cover up the evils of colonialism and the evil oppression that the Pilgrims laid over the Indians.
So let me start my commentary with a friendly reminder. About 600 Miles to the South, some 13 years earlier, the first permanent settlement was established at Jamestown. The Pilgrims were just following the lead of the pioneers. So while the northern story is thee we are taught, your American heritage is Southern. And while terrible things were done to the native population, the Powhatans and Wampanoags were not the first people in these areas. The historic record shows a long history of one "native" group brutally seizing the territory and riches of other "native" groups.
That all being said, step away from the politics, the rhetoric, the narrative, and the talking points. Politicizing Thanksgiving is a mistake. It's crude, it's foul, and it's uncalled for. It reflects a substantial lack of hometraining and your parents deserve better.
So what should you do? Ask your grandmother how she met your grandfather. I'm thankful that I asked mine that question before they were both gone. Ask your older relatives about their childhoods and growing up. Take notes. Learn where you came from. Get that crazy uncle to show you how to shoot a rifle. Be grateful that you aren't trying to survive an Atlantic crossing or those first frigid winters that the settlers faced in 1607 Virginia and 1620 Massachusetts. Be thankful these settlements worked and your life is better for it.Be thankful you have a family to spend the holiday with. Focus on gratitude, thankfulness, and contentment. Simplify your thought processes so you don't miss the obvious things.
If you simply must talk politics this Thanksgiving, plan to agree that there's too much power over our lives concentrated in mega corporations and in Washington. Vow to personally act to change that.
But mostly just eat and shoot guns.
Happy Thanksgiving from All the Biscuits in Georgia.
Sam Burnham, Curator
The Camp Fire in California is now reportedly the costliest fire in that state’s history. One story that stands out from this tragedy is the town of Paradise. I really didn’t understand the scope of it until I heard a radio interview with Loren Lighthall, principal of Paradise High School. Lighthall says his family has lost everything, including their home.
From what I’ve gathered, Paradise was much like the towns we celebrate at ABG. It was a small town in a rural area about three and a half hours north of Sacramento. I say was because the town isn’t there anymore. When NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro asked Lighthall about the reported 85% of homes destroyed by the fire, he said that assessment was most likely low. He knew of very few homes that had not been destroyed.
That was shocking.
But he wasn’t finished. He shared what he had heard from local authorities and also seen with his own eyes. Paradise was gone. Garcia-Navarro asked what he was going to do and he didn’t know. While the school buildings survived the fire, the town it serves is gone. There’s nowhere to live or work. He is unsure if there will ever again be students to attend the school.
It's saddening to ponder the fate of dead towns. We’ve come across more abandoned, ruined, or demolished towns than we can remember. But most of those were lost over a span of years. People woke up one morning in Paradise and it was gone that night. The Camp Fire claimed about 6700 structures in Paradise. So far the fire has taken 29 lives*.
Its easy to sit looking from far away and point to land management, development in interface areas, and other factors that contribute to wildfires. But the losses are too human to trivialize with politics. The death and destruction are staggering. There’s a loss of dignity that goes with leaving one’s hometown on these terms. Leaving for better opportunities is one thing. Leaving because there’s no reason to stay is another altogether. But that’s a decision many Paradise residents now face.
I’m not sure what the future holds for this small town. I'm not sure what I’d do in their place. Say a prayer or two for these folks. They certainly need it.
*A friend in California messaged to say the death toll has risen to 42 and is expected to rise. 3 firefighters have been injured and at least 228 people are missing.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire