Rollie Atkinson

As with most parts of life in Sonoma County, now removed by one month from the Oct. 8 wildfires, our 2017 Thanksgiving gatherings will be unlike any previous ones, with extra thoughts and prayers reserved for the victims and volunteers of our region’s greatest natural disaster in history. The timing to pause and give thanks could not be better.

Most of our families will gather and share the same traditions and recipes as they always have. But all of them will no doubt be mindful that over 5,000 families will have no homes or family tables — all burned-out victims of the fires. Many of these displaced souls will be gathering in the homes of others. A larger number of faces will fill the serving line at Thanksgiving Day community dinners, including our newest homeless population.
We are being told by government disaster officials that many of our displaced population may also need Thanksgiving invitations next year because it will take much longer than one year to rebuild 5,000 houses.
The extra seats around our Thanksgiving tables will add to our spirits as we celebrate #SonomaStrong. Maybe the passed-along stories from the fire rescues and escapes will crowd out some of the usual political quibbling that never mixes all that well with cranberry sauce and stuffing.
Our Thanksgiving prayers always seek to include all those less fortunate than ourselves. Often we peer around the world to the famished in undeveloped or strife-filled countries. This year we can look closer to home. Those millions of foreign victims are still struggling (and dying) and now have been joined by hurricane evacuees and our own wildfire casualties.
Our gatherings may be a bit more somber this year but, ultimately, showing gratitude and offering thanks is the best way to turn bad things into good. Even with the fires, we still have so much to be grateful for here in beautiful Sonoma County. We have visual reminders everywhere we go, from our farmers’ markets and art galleries to our neighborhood schools, churches and stunning outdoors.
Many families share a tradition of a leisurely walk in nature. Others join in force and volunteer at a free community dinner or food pantry.
There are many diverse traditions that define Thanksgiving gatherings in Sonoma County. A sizeable percentage of our population is not Christian but mixes their own customs and foods under the Thanksgiving holiday heading. After all, the original Pilgrims never thought of eating Dungeness crabs, although they probably had oysters.
With or without the extra faces of the fire victims at our tables, our Thanksgiving gatherings have long been blended affairs of generations, ethnicity and religious beliefs. The more the merrier, we say. When the biggest divide is between TV football lovers and haters or white meat versus dark meat eaters, we can all feel welcome and grateful.
At this newspaper, we are taking an extra pause this Thanksgiving to be thankful for another year of serving this remarkable community. We take stock of all the accomplishments and contributions so many of our readers have shared over the past year. We feel privileged to tell these stories.
We remain in awe of the generosity, compassion and understandings that are the centerpieces of our community. Sometimes it seems all the news is about disagreements, problems and tragedies. There are those stories, too, but we find ourselves printing much more good news than the other kinds. The credit and thanks goes to you, our readers, advertisers and fellow community residents.
We can think of one more uncounted blessing that may come with having extra guests and fire victims at our tables this year. Maybe we won’t have so many leftovers to gobble up or crowd our fridge.

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