Friends of Cressman's
On the morning of September 11th, 2020, Cressman’s owner Ty Gillett was escorted by first responders to assess the damage the Creek Fire had done to Cressman’s General Store. Ty knew the store had been lost, but he had not been to the site since evacuating on the evening of September 7th, when flames overtook the crews which had staged to fight the fire. The loss of the store, along with hundreds of homes in the community (including their own and countless neighbors and friends), was immeasurable. The forest we had known for generations was unrecognizable, and the decimated landscape left behind continues to steal the breath of all who remember what once was.
Coincidentally, the date happened to be 9/11. Local law enforcement brought a flag to post on the side of the nostalgic Cressman’s sign along the road, the lone undamaged structure. A local battalion chief quickly determined the flag was of insufficient size, and the mounting spot could be improved upon. He returned a few minutes later with a proper flag along with qualified personnel to assist with the task. A makeshift flagpole was fashioned from a charred piece of wire shelving from the store, a safety briefing was conducted, and though Ty was eager and willing to climb the ladder, he wisely decided to stay at ground level and let the professionals do the work.
Firefighters mounted the flag to the highest point on the property, and gathered together afterward for a moment of silence and a prayer. They were joined by a passing group of Cal Fire personnel who were escorting state and federal dignitaries through the fire-damaged areas. There was not a dry eye in the bunch. What had begun as a brief damage assessment had spontaneously blossomed into a beautiful, poignant, and befitting tribute to the devastation to our mountain community and the lives lost on 9/11. Then, as quickly as it had come together, those who raised the flag over Cressman’s went their separate ways, leaving Old Glory flying majestically in the smoke-filled mountain air.
For the weeks and months that followed, those who lost homes, cabins, and businesses would return to the mountain for the first time. Visitors would eventually return. All would be greeted by gut-wrenching destruction left in the wake of the fire and faced with the reality of knowing our community and forest will never look the same. For many, the “reality” of the damage would take hold as they came around the curve and saw rubble where Cressman’s once stood. Yet, the flag stood watch over all which was lost, a solemn and reverent greeting to all who passed by.
It’s a peculiar thing, how a simple piece of fabric waving in the wind can evoke such emotion. Day after day, we looked forward to coming around the curve to see that flag flying proudly. It reminds us of what we've overcome in our history. Countless times, like the attacks on 9/11, when we’ve been knocked down, yet risen from the ashes stronger than before. Regardless of which side of the aisle you stand, or which baseball team you love (or loathe), the flag continues to be a beacon of hope for all. It’s not a symbol of perfection, rather, a call for us to roll up our sleeves and keep moving forward. When we reflect on the sacrifices made for our flag over the last several hundred years, rebuilding our community doesn’t feel as daunting of a task.
The flag raised on 9/11 flew proudly for almost a year after the fire. There were many-a-day where we passed that flag with soot-covered faces, washed only by the sweat and tears of another physically and emotionally exhausting day. But there were also days where we would greet that flag with an ear-to-ear grin, seeing another property cleaned up,
another water system repaired, a rebuilt home taking shape, or having spent the day reducing fuels and planting seedlings. We all smiled the day Cressman’s re-opened in their little trailer, yet another sign of the American spirit that cannot be extinguished. A gentle reminder that the scenery isn’t what makes our community so special. That beauty and resiliency comes from us, “We the people…”
To be honest, we let those Stars and Stripes get far too tattered than we should have. It didn’t take long to realize a “proper” flag pole would need to be part of the rebuilding effort at Cressman’s. A local craftsman fabricated a stainless steel pole to replace the existing burnt-shelving pole, and Ty mounted the new “temporary” flag pole atop the sign with the help of yet another local contractor. This pole will serve until a permanent pole can be erected as Cressman’s rebuilds.
When we shared the vision with local contractors, everyone asked, “What can I do to help?” Another said, “When I drive by it at night, it needs to be lit up properly. We’ll handle the lighting and electrical.” Yet another, “I’ll take care of the concrete work.”
As the flag has flown over Cressman’s, we’ve learned just how rough the conditions can be on the flag. The beautiful thing is, the Red, White, and Blue are always swaying in the breeze. The downside, of course, is the wind never stops on the ridge, especially with the trees gone. We’ve tried several different flags and found the average lifespan of the flag is just 3 months.
So what’s the plan?
The “Flag Fund” has two goals. First and foremost, the construction of a permanent 70-80 foot flagpole and dedication monument/plaque located at Cressman’s. The second goal is to maintain a 15’x25’ flag flying proudly for generations to come.
As you can imagine, there are substantial costs associated with a project of this magnitude and material costs are crazy. Fortunately, we have several gifted contractors and friends who are willing to donate their labor and expertise to assist with the installation of the pole. We have chosen to fundraise the cost of the materials with the community’s help rather than seeking out just one or two large donors. We want to give everyone an opportunity to help “raise the flag” just as everyone is sharing the burden to rebuild.
Maintaining the flag will be accomplished by a sponsorship program. The new store will have a display case with the retired flag that was raised by our firefighters on 9/11, along with photos and a plaque. “The flag flying today was made possible by ____.”
Imagine driving by that majestic flag and knowing you played a part in making it happen. Are there more efficient ways to advertise your business, show your patriotism, or give a shout-out? Probably. Are they as cool? Heck no
How can I help?
You like that Cressman’s swag, eh? How ‘bout you buy a sticker? But not just any sticker. A super-special, quite-overly-priced-yet-extremely-patriotic special edition Cressman’s Flag Fund sticker. If you’d be willing to put $50 towards the cause, you too can be the proud owner of one of these gorgeous symbols of patriotism and community stewardship.
Will there be a secret wave or salute if you see another driver with a Cressman’s flag sticker? Possibly. Probably. We’re not sure, but there’s only one way to find out. And there’s only one way to get one of these stickers. By helping to raise the flag over our mountain.
There’s just one last thing to add. This is being done by friends of Cressman’s as a gift to them as they rebuild. But it’s also a gift for the community to enjoy, as Cressman’s has been to us. One of the blessings since the fire have been the stories shared of Cressman’s memories. Like the old school logger sharing the story of his dad lifting him up onto the counter to get candy. Countless unsolicited tales of how this little store on the mountain has etched a special place in their heart. Priceless treasures that seem a lifetime ago, especially now, yet as vivid as if it were yesterday.
Is this really necessary? We’ll leave that decision up to you. But If you want to play a part in the next chapter of Cressman’s, we’d love for you to partner with us. If you’re wondering where to buy these stickers, well, there’s a little store on the side of the road. You know the way, it’s been in the same spot for over a century. Just look for the sign. Better yet, keep an eye out for the flag.