Everyday Orinda – November 2019

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Pioneer Days and PG&E

    As I await the pre-planned electricity shutoff by PG&E as a wildfire prevention measure, I, like most Orindans, am maniacally eager to complete my To-Do List. Minimally prepared yet anxiously cleaning house to combat the fear of the unknown, it feels a lot like the days leading up to the birth of my first child.
    However, as you read this, hopefully this throwback to candlelight and Pioneer Days will have passed, safely and uneventfully.
    All of this PG&E interference is messing up my joyful autumn vibe. I’ve always loved this season of vibrant foliage and beautiful, blinding sunlight. In addition to the quirky way that Orindans only trick-or-treat in certain neighborhoods, our fair city has many original autumnal traditions. It’s no surprise that my mind is wandering toward First Thanksgiving at the Wagner Ranch Nature Area, and its director, beloved educator and naturalist Toris Jeager. With this impending power shut-down, I am kicking myself for not paying closer attention to Toris’ lessons and instructions, as she taught our kids the necessary life skills of our resourceful and hardworking pioneer predecessors.
    Unfortunately, I remember only the incidentals, like how my oldest daughter’s fifth-grade class was the last to be allowed to dress as Pilgrims and Native Americans for their First Thanksgiving re-enactment. Embracing the moment, I was thrilled to present to my daughter authentic matching mother/daughter Pilgrim apparel, complete with those funky Pilgrim bonnets.  
    My girl couldn’t have been more disappointed. She wanted to dress as a Native American. All the kids did.
    “Fine,” I snapped. “But I’ve already spent way too much time finding us these awesome costumes,” I exaggerated. Truth be told, a generous neighbor, a former elementary school mom whose kids were grown, casually inquired in passing if I’d like to take them off her hands. “If you want to go as a Native American, then be my guest,” I said, “I’m sure you can find a costume.”
    I knew she wouldn’t make the effort. We went as matching Pilgrims, but I had to promise not to stand anywhere near her all day.
    The following year, when my middle daughter’s fifth-grade class participated in First Thanksgiving, a memo went out — we still received neon-colored paper memos back then, in our child’s Friday Folder — explaining that students would no longer be permitted to attend First Thanksgiving dressed as Native Americans, as it was disrespectful.
    I could understand where this reasoning was coming from, but at the same time it presented an amusing conundrum. My middle daughter had informed me weeks prior to her First Thanksgiving event that there was “no way” she was wearing “that Pilgrim dress.” Considering that I had to access every motherly manipulation and bribe at my disposal to get her to wear a dress to Spring Sing (cut me some slack, readers, I’m from the South) I knew she would not take this news well.
    That particular transition year, 2009, First Thanksgiving was a bit confusing. Despite the students’ insistence that they meant no disrespect to the Native American population — in fact, in the students’ minds they felt it was completely the opposite of disrespect, as someone named ‘Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag’ sounded infinitely cooler than someone named Edward Winslow – the school district held firm. Eventually, however, a compromise was reached: students who wished to dress as Native Americans could instead wear tie-dyed T-shirts in fall colors. Allison Bingham and the thoughtful and generous team of fifth-grade teachers at Glorietta even scheduled a day for the students to make these shirts.  
    Eventually, the entire costume aspect of First Thanksgiving was disbanded. And, given how much our historical perspective of Thanksgiving has evolved, even since 2009, I would have guessed that by now this event was probably re-named the Harvest Festival. Glorietta educator Allison Bingham brought me up to date: “The school district thought about changing it, but in the end, they didn’t; it’s still First Thanksgiving.” Bingham added, “We teach the kids about the falsehoods of the First Thanksgiving now too.”
    I’m off to check the batteries in my flashlight and see if I can unearth any of Toris’ Wagner Ranch Nature Area recipes in case this power outage drags on. All of them, except that vile acorn mash, were pretty tasty. If I only had an adobe oven and Toris Jaeger as my neighbor, I’d be set.

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