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Chico is Leaving It All On the Field

Near closing time in the men’s Clothing Clearance Corner on the first floor of Penney’s at the Chico Mall, a young girl is replacing the piles of tossed clothing left by the numbed shoppers from Paradise frantic for cheap basic clothing. Some of them are camped in tents somewhere close by the mall; for how long nobody knows. But this young, quietly lovely girl is putting the Clothing Clearance Corner back in apple pie order as the store’s dismal day closes. I take my few finds from the Clothing Clearance Corner and, leaving, say, “That seems like a thankless task.”

“Not at all,” she replies. “Not at all.”

“Really? Why the hell not?”

“Hey, I do this job every day in this store. It’s my assigned task and usually its okay but I only do it for the money because it gets really monotonous, meaningless.”

She’s a student, I perceive.

“But today those people really needed these clothes in this corner because of the price. And tomorrow more people like that will really need them too. And so I want to make this the best I can for them. So I’m going to put it all back on hangers and arrange them by size. It will be right by the morning. You better go. We’re closing. Thank you for coming in.”

Just a young girl working late in the Clothing Clearance Corner. Doing one of those little jobs; one of those jobs that actually make the world turn. She was leaving it all on the field.

At the ends of the neighborhood streets, I see people setting up tables and I see the people of the neighborhoods coming out onto the main streets and putting out whatever they have to give there for the taking if needed. They are literally leaving it all on the field.

At the Elks Lodge after I picked up some bedding and a few new pillows and looked out over acres of goods being laid out for the taking, from flats of pet food to cribs and playpens (someplace safe to rest your baby that is not on your hip). As I was leaving to see the East Avenue Church scene an Elk (My late father was a member of this lodge up until his death in 1972); a brother, I say, of my father waves me over and opens the back seat of my car and puts in two cases of one liter bottles of San Pellegrino . The Elks are leaving it all on the field.

In the 24-Hour Walgreens Pharmacy on East Avenue, the pharmacists have been working overlapping shifts since the fire swept over Paradise last Thursday. These people and their back up staff work seemingly rock solid for hours on end. They fill and file and dispense medications which people from Paradise do not have with them. This is a demanding and thankless and exhausting task. And yet — I am the witness — they have been doing this without letup. Many have come in from surrounding towns, from Redding, to help and to keep the medications needed by a town of 30,000 displaced into a city of 80,000. Yes, the Walgreens pharmacists are leaving it all on the field.

Today, after the banking holiday of Monday, there was what can only be described as a run on the banks. Not a hostile or panicked run on the banks but just an overwhelming number of people needing to get their money straight in one way or another… such as “My ATM Card and My ID were melted in my wallet when my pants burst into flame.”  Please understand that today in Chico that is a  reasonable statement. And the bankers all showed up looking cool and formal and professional and competent and moved the vast lines of people through with all hands on deck and cleared up a myriad of money crises. One banker I spoke with came up from Santa Rosa on his day off to help the team. He was a sharp dressed man. He and the other bankers were leaving it all on the field.

They all were leaving it all on the field everywhere in Chico. From Penny’s in the Mall to the Birkenstocks Store downtown on Broadway. In big jobs, and in small jobs, there was a long train of people working at the top of their game no matter what their game was. It has been days of this now in Chico; days of there being no big jobs or small jobs but only the unremitting effort the people to help their fellow citizens no matter what.

And since none of the Acronym Agencies have really shown up yet, this has all been done without any real government organization. Instead, it has been like watching a spontaneous Humanitarian Olympics rise up out of the town itself; and once started it has become as self-organizing and self-sustaining as the fire itself. Today as I moved around Chico I saw a town, untouched itself by the flames, rise up to restore and rebuild the lives of their fellow citizens of Paradise; lives that the fire had stolen. And by the end of the day, you could feel, palpably feel, that Chico knew it would win. Chico was leaving it all on the field.

Tomorrow? Chico will do the same.


If this essay pleased or informed you DONATE HERE to help me recover after being burned out in the Paradise fire with my thanks.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Punditarian November 14, 2018, 2:46 AM

    Thank you sir. How beautiful. In writing this column, you too are leaving it all on the field. What a glorious country we live in, what a glorious people we are. And it doesn’t have to be like this only after a disaster. “God bless us every one.”

  • Dan Patterson November 14, 2018, 4:42 AM

    “Sharp”. I got that reference and the honor it bestows, intentional or not.
    Best to everyone on the survival and recovery. Other than money what will help?

  • Jaynemi November 14, 2018, 4:44 AM

    The entire story from start to finish left me all choked up. Verklempt.
    I agree with Punditarian, you, too, are leaving it all on the field.
    May God bless you and keep you.

  • Marica November 14, 2018, 6:22 AM

    There, but for the grace of God, go I.

    Whether they acknowledge it or not, that’s what moves the folks of Chico.

  • ca November 14, 2018, 6:45 AM

    Thank you, GVDL.

    Reminding all that all is not lost – by one who lost damned near all – is grace.

    Thank you.

  • Terry November 14, 2018, 7:26 AM

    AD has been my home page for over ten years now. Gerard is like a brother even though we have never met face to face. This whole nightmare tears at my heart but reinforces my belief in our American heritage and culture. And yes, In God We Trust.

  • ghostsniper November 14, 2018, 7:31 AM

    And how many times did you hear narcissistic retards scream “racist” or any of that “otherness” nonsense? Not a one, I imagine. Funny, idn’t it, how the pressure of hardship can bring out the diamond in people. Soft, easiness brings out the opposite.

    I saw this same sort of behavior after hurricane Charlie – people helping people just because that is what people do. The cops were not able to direct traffic at the inoperable traffic lights and like clockwork each driver patiently waited their turn as the clock hands went around the intersection. Everybody in the same sunk boat bailing like their lives depended on it.

    THIS is part of the spirit of Americanism and it resides in the very soul of all patriots everywhere. Never lose sight of this, regardless of the myriad distractions, for that is all they are, meaningless annoyances meant to be swept away like so much litter. Be the best you can, be American. Ever onward.

  • BillH November 14, 2018, 7:32 AM

    The longer you can keep the Acronym Agencies out, the better off everyone will be. Let the Acronym Agencies clean up the mess in Paradise, from what I’ve seen in photos they can’t make it any worse, although I may have to eat those words if they do in fact go in for a cleanup.

  • JD November 14, 2018, 8:59 AM

    Thank you, Gerard, for showing me that disasters STILL bring out the best in people. I wrote
    a paper on this theme in high school and it’s gratifying to see that it hasn’t changed no matter
    what the “media” says and does. May God bless you and keep you writing.

  • Toni November 14, 2018, 9:31 AM

    Gerard, your choice of moving to Paradise to be near your mother has many rewards even though the fire has destroyed almost everything. Your heart, your mind, your eye for spying beauty, and your gift of writing your glorious stories.

  • Gordon Scott November 14, 2018, 9:34 AM

    I read this to my wife, who has just returned from a trip. I mentioned that a friend in California had lost his home, and that I had done a little to help.

    She listened, with her mouth open, and tears filling her eyes. At the end I said, “Gerard is a very good writer. She just nodded.

  • Clayton in Mississippi November 14, 2018, 9:42 AM

    It’s such a minor typo I’m almost embarrassed to dwell upon it, but I grew up paying attention to the difference — the department store where you shopped is JCPenney, Not “Penny” — note that second “e” between the “n” and “y”
    And, “Thank you”, for another outstanding installment of American Digest.
    ~~ J. C. Pennylegion

  • Gordon Scott November 14, 2018, 9:44 AM

    As for the acronym agencies, I have done some disaster relief work with, but not for, them. They try to do good things. They are very clumsy, and not at all efficient. Much of the resources will be wasted. They don’t know what Paradise needs, and are not really good at getting it there. But they try.

  • Sam L. November 14, 2018, 10:10 AM

    I can hear Edward R. Murrow saying, “This. Is. America.”

  • DJ November 14, 2018, 10:41 AM

    Here is an interactive map that provides the condition of individual structures, most with pictures. Sorry if this has already been posted elsewhere on your blog:
    http://calfire-forestry.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=5306cc8cf38c4252830a38d467d33728&extent=-13547810.5486%2C4824920.1673%2C-13518764.4778%2C4841526.1117%2C102100

  • MarkInKansas November 14, 2018, 11:15 AM

    Gerard, this post was so moving. Never before had I shared with my siblings the sites and writers that I read. I did today.

    Our family had relatives who in Paradise many years who then moved to Chico when they got old. We have ties to the area. Thank you for this piece. You’ve personalized this for so many of us.

  • Jimmy November 14, 2018, 11:33 AM

    And here… Gerard leaving it all on the field at American Digest !

  • Teri Pittman November 14, 2018, 11:55 AM

    And this is why we can’t give up on Californians and why we can’t let politics define us. There are good people out there, regardless of who they voted for. And when the need is there, they are still willing to step up and lend a hand.

  • Suburbanbanshee November 14, 2018, 12:44 PM

    People like to talk about being more efficient and productive. Well, darn it. As can be seen here, people and companies freely doing what they want to do, the way they want to do it, can be extremely efficient.

    Obviously it’s not something you demand every day. But there are an awful lot of people who, if they see a legitimate need, are going to do their best to fill it.

    Family holds back, guests eat up. It’s the point of need and the spirit of fellowship, when even extreme acts of charity just seem like good manners. It doesn’t work if people presume upon it; but it does work if people pass it on.

    When I was growing up, a tornado flattened Xenia next door. But within a few short years, it was rebuilt — because people loved and cared and worked hard enough to make it happen. From everything I’ve heard in the news and here, it sounds like Paradise CA has plenty of stubborn and plenty of love.

  • Casey Klahn November 14, 2018, 1:03 PM

    Any job has dignity. Every job! Heartwarming to see it in this youngster at the thrift table, and of course you saw it, which we expect of you.

    Speaking of expectations, we don’t expect daily posts, yet you keep giving. Thanks, Gerard.

    My hat’s over my heart.

  • steve walsh November 14, 2018, 3:37 PM

    There are plenty of days when I really don’t like people, aka: my fellow Americans. Their offenses are usually of the inconsiderate or selfish variety. Then I read stories like that told here, and my faith and belief in humanity is rekindled. It’s nowhere near the same, but in my hometown (Boston MA area) we get storms and such that do significant damage. Snow, fallen trees, power outages, etc. People turn out to help those that are damaged more than themselves. For hours and days at a time. With no financial compensation. I love these people. They are who we really are.

  • AbigailAdams November 14, 2018, 4:41 PM

    And yet if you pointed their activities out to them they would be embarrassed by your noticing. Godly people live for these times. They don’t want them — that would be perverse — but they literally live for them, to serve and to obey God’s mandate to love their neighbors as themselves, to feed and clothe those in real need and to fuel our faith. See, it’s not the faith in humanity they wish to restore, but the recognition and faith of where their human decency springs. A minimum wage clerk at Penney’s understands this and the “sharp” dressed banker on his day off knows this. The lesson is to not forget the tender mercies of strangers leaving it on the field, and to reflect for a moment on the wellspring of their comforting acts. For the next person we meet may not have been through a literal fire but they may have also “lost everything” along the way.

    Great job capturing the sincere and loving acts of kindness and mercy by the town of Chico. Thanks.

  • Snakepit Kansas November 14, 2018, 4:59 PM

    Chico, I love that town. Never been there. God bless them.

  • Punditarian November 14, 2018, 5:01 PM

    The purest gold is that refined by cuppellation.

  • Anon November 14, 2018, 10:27 PM

    And there it is…blessed you are, Gerard.

  • Deanna Foreman November 15, 2018, 6:39 AM

    I found your blog from commenters over at theconservativetreehouse.com. Praying for you and everyone else affected. Praying for those who are able to give things, time, self.

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful stories.

  • Marica November 15, 2018, 7:03 AM

    In the midst of all of this, you corrected your spelling. Mr. Penney thanks you.

  • Ray Van Dune November 15, 2018, 7:15 AM

    The self-sufficiency of Americans is not only amazing, but fortunate, considering the bozos like California Gov. Brown they elect to “lead” them. Brown was on NPR this morning going on about climate change, and sounding like a fully-baked stoner as usual.

  • Jim November 15, 2018, 9:10 AM

    Heritage California is a very American place, far removed in spirit and action from the Moonbatia Hives which bespoil that beautiful State. I can say this, being born in San Diego and mostly raised there, along with some Orange County and Vallejo years.

    Haven’t lived in California since ’76, but visit often. It’s still America there, once away from the Hives.

    Sounds like the people of Chico would’ve fit right in during the rescue and recovery here in the Houston area with last year’s Hurricane Harvey.

    America is still the best country on Earth, no matter where you find it.

    Jim
    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  • David November 15, 2018, 4:27 PM

    To this essay and it’s eloquence, I would only say this

    Man Also Rises

    To the quiet dignity and heroism that everyday people have that makes us look up and feel our hearts swell with pride, that we share this country with such men and women.

  • Callmelennie November 15, 2018, 5:00 PM

    Gerard, you’re leaving it all over the web today. This piece is being picked up all over the right wing blogosphere. This one is a classic. It helps, no doubt, that this is coming straight from the heart

    I dont think a outside observes could have penned this

  • Dutch November 15, 2018, 6:12 PM

    Keep writing down what you see and what you feel. It is part of the chronicle of the moment. It needs to be recorded and saved. What you are witnessing and feeling will always be a part of you from here on out, and also will stand as an important history and testimony to the town of Paradise.

    The response in Chico was how it worked in ’03, here in San Diego. We were recipients when we were out, and we were able to turn it around to others when, some days later, we found out our home made it. A vivid memory for me was the first day the mailman came back. We were close to the last stop on the route. The mail truck was still absolutely full of undeliverable mail. All the mail still in the truck was for all the people that had no homes to come back to. For some reason, it hit me and knocked me down when I saw all that mail, even though I was standing at the time where so many of the homes around ours were gone. I was reconciled to the destruction in my field of vision. I was not prepared to see all that mail. The unexpected little things you see or hear, they can pierce your defenses protecting you from the enormity of the big and the obvious. Be prepared for those unexpected moments, as much as you can be.

    Watch out for the PTSD. It is out there. It will catch you in unguarded moments. Keep observing, take photographs (you will be glad you have them later, even of the bad things, and especially of the good things, because there and now are where the greatest goodnesses will be done and felt), write it all down, help others, and be helped. Stay busy. It is how you keep the stress at bay. Be prepared for occasional explosions of it in the people around you, sometimes even from those outside the disaster zone who are trying to help, as they are affected by it all as well, even from their end of things. Comfort and help those who need it, as and how you can, with an understanding of what is going on. The stress is an insidious thing. It pushes you along, further and stronger than you think you can go, but it can also take you down into a heap when you least expect it, sometimes years later. When you get angry or frustrated for no reason at all, the PTSD is what is kicking in. Those dry Santa Anas, news reports of fires, or smoke on the horizon are also going to set you off forever, most likely. They’ll raise those little hairs on the back of your neck, every time. They do that to me now, fifteen years later.

    $ on the way, sorry for the delay, payday is the 15th.

  • Deborah November 16, 2018, 6:08 PM

    “the fire this time” had a Baldwin echo…

  • Deborah November 16, 2018, 6:09 PM

    Oops! It was from the “Donations” post.

  • AesopFan November 18, 2018, 1:04 PM

    Chico is full of the same kinds of people who come to the front of the line after every disaster.
    In Louisiana, they man the Cajun Navy, rescuing the stricken after hurricanes.
    In Virginia, they are The Old Guard, standing their posts even while the winds howl.
    In Gander, Canada, they are just plain folks, sheltering thousands of plane travelers stranded on 9/11.
    After every disaster, the hearts and homes of quiet heroes are opened to those in need.
    God grant that it may ever be so.