Sam Burnham, Curator
Veterans Day has always been important in our home but it has recently taken a step up. Originally Armistice Day, the observance originated from the storied 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the armistice took effect, halting all hostilities of The Great War, World War I, “The War to End All Wars.”
The war’s nickname failed to be prophetic. Despite the brutality and the horrors of modern technology mixed with traditional fighting styles, the world failed to lose its appetite for armed conflict. The unresolved issues were aggravated by the terms of the treaty that ended the war and the fight continued just two decades later. World War II would grow to overshadow its predecessor in history and much of The Great War has been forgotten, which is unfortunate.
To make the distinctions, Memorial Day is for those who have their lives in war, Armed Forces Day are for those currently serving, and Veterans Day is for those who served previously.
Our family has a long history of military service. My mother has 7 brothers which include 2 soldiers and 4 marines. I have lost count of the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen in the ranks of my cousins, great aunts and uncles, and my grandfather.
Now my oldest son is currently a sailor and training for a planned deployment in the near future. That took things to a new level. While I know Veterans Day is not meant for current active duty personnel, he has given me an even greater appreciation for our veterans. Seeing your own flesh and blood standing in uniform is quite an experience. I’d be lying if I said I have no fear. But that fear takes a backseat to the pride that his dedication has built. I understand the sacrifice of service better now. That empty seat at our dinner table is a constant reminder of the cost of freedom.
While we may debate the motivations of the politicians who call for war, we should never question the honor, duty, and commitment of the men and women who actually serve in harm’s way, far from Washington’s marble halls, those who fly, sail, and march into danger so that others won’t have to. Veteran’s Day is our reminder of those who have already stood their watch and returned to civilian life, at least as much as possible.
As many of these people struggle with where they have been, what they have seen, and what they have done, we must never forget that there are sacrifices made besides death. Perhaps some are worse.
So as we ponder Veterans Day, let us be thankful, let us be understanding, let us be mindful. Take a moment to thank a veteran. Take time to appreciate, hopefully even understand a veteran. We at least owe them that.
A special thank you to all our veterans from All the Biscuits in Georgia, and particularly to the sailors, from our Navy family to yours.
Sam Burnham, Curator
It has been a horrible year. It has been a great year. This has been a frustrating year. This has been a blessed year. Rather than dive too far into the Dickens references, let me just say this year has had more than its share of challenges. But it has also had more than its share of blessings.
If you look hard enough, you’ll see both in every life. Oftentimes the contrast is not very stark. You’ll often find blessings and curses, evil and good, mingled together. They oppose each other and fight for the same space, each one trying to displace the other. We have to recognize this struggle and we have to know how to handle it, especially at this time of year.
With Halloween behind us, we find ourselves at the start of the holiday season. Already the rush has started. If we aren’t careful, it will take charge. Stress and social pressure can besiege us and ruin this season, sapping any enjoyment we would find.
The rush compels us. Commercialism already has Christmas in the stores. Candy, music, decor, all crying out to us to buy something, spend our money, “that’s what this season is all about.”
Well that’s just not good enough.
This year I’m starting right now. In a life made of years that are filled with evil and good, we are faced with a choice. It’s like the old anecdote about the grandfather explaining to his grandson that he has two wolves living inside of him, one good and one evil. He continues explaining that they are constantly fighting to determine which path he takes. The point of his story is that the wolf that wins is the one he feeds.
And so we have a choice to make. We can feed greed, commercialism, anxiety, social pressure discontentment, or despair. We can focus on the bad that has befallen us, the trials we’ve succumbed to, the battles we’ve lost, our failures. We can wallow in self pity and let our holiday season be stolen by unhappiness. We can feed that bad wolf a steady diet that he will thrive on. He will determine how our life is lived.
Or we can make a different choice.
We can focus on gratitude, thankfulness, empathy, hope, forgiveness, and contentment. We can feed that good wolf. We can look around us and see our greatest blessings, which are rarely things. We can focus on a better tomorrow based on the strong, well fed, and healthy good wolf inside us. We can focus on Thanksgiving, which is all about gratitude for provision, for safety, for family, for friendship. We can make our holiday about these things. We can focus on the Incarnation: God with us in the form of His Son and Grace that restores all things.
You cant buy any of that at a store. They don’t have any of it at the mall. It’s not available at Amazon. It’s free, but it ain’t easy. It requires us to make a choice every moment of every day. And that’s the choice I plan to make this season. I’d ask you to join along, not for my sake but for your own. Find opportunities to be grateful, thankful, content. Identify those blessings we’re all prone to overlook. Feed that good wolf.
Our individual efforts, our willingness and attentiveness to make these choices are the hope of our society. They are the hope this season.
Let’s celebrate this season well.
Sam Burnham, Curator
Tis the season for stories of the macabre, the grotesque, the suspenseful. The modern genre of horror has often strayed into an overuse of violence and gore in place of suspense and psychological thrills. I don’t care much for the blood and gore of the slasher genre but I love the old style. Hitchcock was a master. Stephen King’s 1408 and the movie adaptation of the same are also good examples.
The South has a long tradition in this genre. Although Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, he was raised in Richmond and attended the University of Virginia briefly. Poe is but one well known pen in a sea of Southern ink that has given America ghost stories, and of course our most famous literary class - Southern Gothic.
The stories are the fruit of a grotesque history. Our region has seen the War for Independence, slavery, the War of 1812, the Trail of Tears, The War Between the States (specifically Sherman’s March), Reconstruction, Jim Crow. Death and tragedy have stalked The South since settlers arrived at Roanoke Island. Disease and pestilence have ravaged this land. Cities like Savannah and Charleston are filled with ghost stories and much of the region remained, until relatively recently, a frontier only inhabited by the strong willed, who often succumbed to its hazards. This history and the personal tragedy invested in it led writers, including Poe, to delve deep into tragedy, mystery, intrigue, and suspense
Poe himself pointed to the past when searching for America’s best ghost story. As my friend Sean Busick relates: “Grayling, or Murder Will Out,” Poe wrote “it is really an admirable tale, nobly conceived and skillfully carried into execution—the best ghost story ever written by an American….”
That’s a pretty strong endorsement.
Simms was the most important writer in America’s antebellum period. The South Carolinian is remembered and celebrated by the Simms Initiatives at the University of South Carolina. A few years ago they teamed up to create this video playlist, a reading of that best American ghost story, Grayling or Murder Will Out. I have decided to link the playlist here for anyone who’d like to hear it read aloud. It’s an appropriate story for a good Southerner at Halloween.
[This story can be found in print in The collection The Wigwam and the Cabin. More information on Simms and Grayling can be found at the link above, where Sean Busick is mentioned in red.]
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire