A lesson from the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950
The week of Thanksgiving 1950 brought The Great Appalachian Storm (just one of many “storms of the century”) to West Virginia. It dropped up to five feet of snow in The Mountain State. In Morgantown, where my dad lived with his mom and grandparents, nearly that much fell in a matter of a day or two.
However, a more powerful — and certainly longer-lasting storm — hit the household that day. It was then that my grandmother Margaret Barrick, my Dad, Mathers (Mike); and, my great-grandparents, Max and Anna Mathers, all learned that my dad’s brother, Lt. George M. Barrick Jr., was dead. He had been Missing in Action in Korea since the first days of the war in July.
I recall a photo of my dad shoveling snow off of the flat roof over the front porch of their home on Park Street after hearing the news. He is between two walls of snow, having dug out a path across the roof. Years later, just months before his passing in early 2015, I gathered up the courage to ask Dad about that day and about those long months waiting for news about his beloved big brother. Until then, it had been a taboo topic.
He recalled some details with precision, others as if in a fog. As for the snow shoveling, he shared with me that it helped him take out his anger. It didn’t work. He humored our mom as much as he could around Thanksgiving, but he generally wasn’t very happy. He had no Norman Rockewell recollections of Thanksgiving.
In fact, if we believe the Hollywood version of Thanksgiving, it rarely is a Rockwell scene. More often than not, it is portrayed as a time of turmoil among family and friends. Most of us have probably laughed at the scenes of uncomfortable people around the dining room table because there is truth in the comedic sketch. Admittedly, we sometimes spend time with people with whom we’d rather not be, so the conflict rings true.
There is a place for humor, but at the moment, I think we have a matter that requires our serious attention. We are in a time when a large plurality of the people I come across dwell on their grievances. Some people, it seems, aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy.
I’ll admit that if I spend more than a few minutes reading news headlines, I’m peeved as well. So, I resolve to be very discerning in how I spend my time reading about current events. I also resolve to spend this Thanksgiving — and every day — counting my blessings rather than airing my grievances. I know others feel the same way. This can, and must, be a time of healing as we count our shared blessings.
My uncle’s portrait is in my study. It is a reminder to me that, while in time snow will melt, the effects of war cast shadows that last generations. His potential and all he had hoped for were cut short by grievances between global leaders that gambled away the lives of millions of people through miscalculations. He had returned from World War II a hero. He had married and with his wife Sara, had a son. Within days of his arrival in Japan on a routine occupational assignment, the North Koreans had invaded the South Koreans.
The first proxy war of the Cold War had begun and my uncle found himself smack in the middle of it. Within weeks he was dead. It took nearly a year, however, for the remains of Lt. George M. Barrick Jr. to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Even that ceremony did not bring closure to his death. Seventy-one years later, the Korean War remains just that. Equally important, to me personally, is what I was denied. My sisters and I never got to know our uncle. We never learned intimately his sense of humor. We failed to see his love for his family. His love story ended tragically. He never got to enjoy being a dad. In fact, his son died young, arguably from the loss of his father.
So, it’s time to quit counting my grievances. It’s time to count my blessings. The second list is endless. With that in mind, why dwell on the first, now or any season?
© Michael M. Barrick, 2021.