We keep getting told by national and so-called social media that we are living in very divisive times with an America that seems split right down the middle. We get messages and news feeds that render our nation as being full of right and leftist political extremists, mass murderers, lots of bad cops, greedy corporations, sham politicians and a very small sliver of families and people just trying to get by, stay out of the way and be left alone.

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

Well, we haven’t traveled much since the pandemic, so we really don’t know much about what our fellow Americans have been doing except for what we see on TV. We know better than to turn on FOX, CNN or talk radio to learn the truth, be told some real facts or be treated with honesty. Even though we’ve been tightly sheltered in place for the past 15 months, we refuse to believe all these harsh and dispirited rants that seep through our cell phones and steal our attention.

We believe 99% of America is just like us folks here in Sonoma County. If we were to take off on a cross-country tour this summer, we bet we’d see lots of the same scenes no matter where we might stop for a night or pull off the interstate for a side trip.

Try to picture an America the way we’d like to see it. Use our own minds and our own eyes and ears. What do we see? Well, if a bunch of curious Americans came to Sonoma County to check us out, we know what they’d find. They would see a lot of family-style happenings, multi-generational farmers, earnest hard-working immigrants, smart and aspiring young people, dedicated public servants, entrepreneurs, wine magicians, too many homeless people, lots of homegrown talent in culinary arts, hospitality and smart tech, and proud matriarchs and patriarchs being followed around by eager and devoted children of our next generation.

Lots of times when we say we’re “just like family” about a workplace or group of friends, we often mean the dysfunctional kind that likes to argue but always make up in the end. The half million residents of Sonoma County could be seen as a family if “family” means sharing values, working together, trading goods and services and always looking to welcome new family members. Our politics can be different but our belief in fairness and equality must be singular.

On average, Sonoma County sees about 5,000 babies born each year and over the past several years our annual deaths have averaged 8,300. In between, a few thousand people move away from Sonoma County and others move in and take their place.

We don’t fully understand the march of generations, how new babies being born this year are nurtured and guided to eventually take the places of the patriarchs and matriarchs we just read about in our weekly obituary pages. By example, take Healdsburg’s Henry Hersch who died May 20 at age 95. He was a dynamic community leader who helped save the Healdsburg hospital from closure and was a mentor and guiding force to many. Which of last week’s newborn babies will take Henry’s place? For the America we want to see, the values and vision of people like Henry Hersch must be sustained and passed on.

Last week, this author lost one of his very best friends, Terry Gould, of Graton and Sebastopol. Terry was the kind of friend we cannot replace, but time will tell us differently. Terry was a father, husband, friend, music lover, gardener’s gardener, wine sipper and not much more. He didn’t have to be because he excelled at all those roles. He was a sweetheart.

We believe America, just like Sonoma County’s collective and imaginary families, is full of sweethearts. Henry Hersch was a sweetheart, too, and if we raise all our babies to be sweethearts like Terry, Henry and the many other elders that come to mind, we’ll be just fine, no matter what our angry TVs try to tell us.

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