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Tragedy Enhances Thanksgiving

November 26th, 2020 by dk

It’s been almost 12 weeks since the Holiday Farm wildfire took out 431 homes, displacing more than a thousand residents. Only a few of those know when or how they will be able to return, but only one — David Scott Perry — will certainly not be coming back. The 59-year-old plumber and handyman was the fire’s only fatality.

For literally everyone else, this season brings with it a special flavor of thanksgiving. Sure, there’s still plenty of sadness all around, but all that sits atop a quiet gratitude that we’re here to be complaining about how things aren’t quite what they were or might have been. 

In a strange way, the less fortunate among us have a lesson for those who have suffered less. I’ve heard dozens of stories. Each verse is different, but the chorus is always the same.

“If my dog hadn’t woken me to go outside to pee, I never would have seen those flames coming over the ridge toward us. His small bladder saved both our lives.”

“If my neighbor had taken another few weeks to cut the tall grass on his lot across from mine, those embers falling in his yard might have kept us from reaching the road.”

“We stayed in town that night because it was too hot and there’s no air conditioning. We might have gone anyway, but didn’t feel like driving after dark.”

“If one more tree had fallen across Rt. 126 just a few minutes earlier, we might have died on that road before anyone could have reached us.”

“My daughters had a party that kept us all awake later than normal. If we had been asleep under our covers, we might have ignored the sirens.”

“The power went out, which was no big deal except I couldn’t recharge my phone. I went outside when a large branch fell on the roof. That’s when I saw the orange glow and I knew something was wrong.”

“I don’t have a car, but my neighbor was still here. He was sleeping through the whole thing. It took a shovel banging on his door to wake him up, but we got out together.”

“My neighbor made more racket than I’ve ever heard from her. If she hadn’t banged on my door with a shovel, we might not have made it out in time.”

Each story focuses on a small detail that had huge benefits. It prevented a disaster from becoming a fatality. Most involve another person. But here’s the lesson: it’s no different for any of us.

If your partner hadn’t swept those wet leaves, you might have slipped into traffic at just the wrong moment. If you hadn’t gotten the pilot light repaired, your stove might have poisoned your family. If the rattle hadn’t bothered you so much, that rusting axle might have snapped on the freeway during rush hour.

Each day is marked by a well-aimed meteor not sending our planet into nuclear meltdown. Remember David Perry and all those who have died from 2020’s numerous calamities. Then be thankful you are not among them.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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