I know, I know. It’s been a while. I have been very busy with my new job as Chief of Staff for County Commissioner Doug Chew in Westmoreland County PA since May and that has been pretty time consuming. Doug was a friend for a number of years and when his previous Chief decided to move on to other things in the middle of his tour, I was asked to help fill the gap.
It’s a pretty good gig.
The pay is about half of what I was making before I officially retired five years ago but you get to do a lot of different things that help people around the county. We are dealing with the national mental health crisis, drug abuse, crime, housing, veteran’s affairs, again, children and youth issues, education, workforce education, lack of workers, lack of skilled workers in key segments, voting issues, police and emergency management systems and the aftermath of the Covid shutdown.
No two days are the same. Fortunately, the three commissioners are working together pretty well to address the big rock issues. While we are split along party lines on some things, all three have used the lessons learned during the Covid crisis to come up with solutions that are acceptable to their base. On the most part anyway. Both sides have radical fringe groups that remind us on a regular basis that not everyone will be pleased.
One of my more pleasant tasks is participating in the planning for our County’s 250 year anniversary celebration next month. I have been fascinated with Pennsylvania’s history since I was a kid. We are surrounded with the history associated with America’s formation as a nation and you can’t go very far in Westmoreland County and all of Pennsylvania without seeing the signs and monuments. While we did study the Native American tribes that used the area as a base, the coming of the Europeans is what catapulted the region into the books of American lore.
Even today, there are enough wide open spaces in the county that you can quickly become overcome by the beauty of the place in all of its seasons. Lush forests, rivers and creeks leading to lakes, hills that rise and fall like the sun rises and sets, and colors that change to entertain the senses. Right now we are lazily drifting into fall and I cherish the brilliant sunsets that blaze red through the changing leaves on the big oak trees.
The smells are also ever changing. Spring brings the smell of the new crops and vegetation coming to live after a hard winter. Summer has a sweetness to it form the many maple trees in the valleys and ridges. The name of the township where my house is located is called Sewickley Township (which is lined with the Big and Little Sewickley creeks). Sewickley means “Sweet Waters”. The Indians called the creek that since the creek would often have fallen maple trees that leached their sweet nectar into the flowing waters.
As I said, fall brings the colors and the cold. Winter quickly follows and depending on the year, you can see mountains of snow or just bitter cold winds. I can almost imagine the early settlers huddled in their small shacks trying to keep warm. But the smell of burning wood for fireplaces still permeates the area.
While we are celebrating the 250th anniversary of our founding, the incursion of Europeans started long before that date. First in small numbers of hunters and trappers, later in larger groups of people determined to have a new land with freedom unimaginable in their old homes. Europe lurched from war to war and powerful ruling families consolidated their hold over the peasants as civilizations developed. This consolidated power meant you were often told where you could live and work and what religion you wanted to practice. You also paid whatever tribute you were told in order to maintain your basic safety. Armies are expensive and it was the armies and navies that held helped the kings and potentates to rule.
But the land that would be called America was still viewed by many as open and filled with opportunities. So groups of people came and began to build something new. The native population watched and more often than not tried to resist. But in the end, technology and sheer brute force changed everything. Once the wheels of civilization started moving under the power of technology, the land changed hands and a new country was born.
Westmoreland County was much larger in its beginning than it is now. It included Pittsburg and surrounding areas. Those would later break away during the beginning of the industrial revolution. But the county is still filled with great promise. Older industries have died off but the county is slowly and surely adapting to that change. It’s nice to have a small role in that change. I had imagined that my work life was largely over but right now I feel like it’s the most important work I have ever done.
Which brings me to the title of today’s piece. Who Owns History?
I am sure that the Native Americans will have their own version of events that brought us to today. I am sure the descendants of the settlers will also have their own version. I am native to Western Pennsylvania and I have my own version of what history looks like. While my DNA indicates that I am 96 percent European, I have only lived in Europe for about fourteen months and that was during my naval service. So I am not really anything but an American that was born and raised in western Pennsylvania. My burial place will probably be at a small national cemetery not far from here where my existence will be forgotten with the passage of a few beloved nieces and nephews when their time comes.
I once heard it said that history is written by the conquerors. After all, when the dust settled, whoever won the last battle controls the printing press. I am looking forward to hearing the many stories that will emerge over the next year. Life seems to be richer when there is a story behind every tree, every creek, every hill, every mountain, and every life.
But I am also looking forward to seeing tomorrow as well. I hear it’s going to be amazing.