Nearly 30 years ago I stood in the shade of a willow tree overlooking a Civil War battleground in Georgia, contemplating the blood that had been spilled on those now lush, green grasses carpeting the rolling hills of Kennesaw Mountain.
After living in the Deep South for close to 10 years, the last several of which were spent in Atlanta, I felt I had a different perspective from many southerners regarding that period of our nation’s history. Admittedly, having come from Oregon, I felt a certain kinship to The South’s identity as a rebel.
After returning to Florence in 1996, I spent the next 20 years living in Old Town across from the Port of Siuslaw boardwalk. We grew accustomed to the arrival of the Davis Carnival during the annual Rhododendron Festival and living so close that we could practically high-five riders on the Tilt-o-Whirl without leaving the couch.
The banging together of carnival rides late Wednesday night signaled the beginning of four days of craziness that transforms our quiet community of about 8,000 into a beautiful example of controlled chaos shared by upwards of 20,000 diverse visitors.
I am incredibly saddened by the news this morning about the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history, spurred by an act of hatred against a group of people targeted for their choice in living life. Not only because of the lives lost in Orlando, but the atmosphere of hatred that is continuing to grow in our country. A nation that was founded on equality and the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness is falling victim to the notion that hate is a solution. This morning, along with the innocent lives lost in Orlando, I also mourn the loss of tolerance and acceptance. We reserve the right as Americans to disagree with others. We have the right NOT to support the lifestyle or religious choices others make. You can be anti gay, anti Muslim, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Ford or Chevy. But if we allow hatred to sway us into believing we have the right to not only deny those same rights to others, but to kill them for it, we will have lost everything.
As I’ve mentioned before, I lived in the South for 10 years, with six of those years spent in the suburbs of Atlanta. In the early 1990s, I was a restaurant chef operating in one of Georgia’s largest shopping malls — three stories of glass, sale banners and merchants spanning six football fields’ worth of mall space.
As you can imagine, I’ve dealt with as many personalities as there are seats in a 280-capacity dining room. The fact that Rufus Valentine dug such a deep groove in my memory should tell you a little something about the man’s character.
I’d like to tell you more.
The first time I saw Rufus Valentine was during the Braves’ heyday in February of 1992, when all of Atlanta was anticipating the spring — and a run at the World Series. Essentially, you could be completely naked; but as long as you had a Braves cap on you were considered properly attired by most Atlantans.