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My wife and I had a garage sale a week ago, not so much voluntarily. We usually resist the urge to have a garage sale.

At a certain point, though, a house just gets too cluttered. The approach of winter weather (and the nudge of a spouse after the first morning frost) also compels me to reconvert that big, warm-weather storage space with the large automatic door back into what most people would call a garage.

So we devoted evenings and a weekend to preparing our loot for sale. In full-on purge mode, I pulled out some Halloween decorations. Time for them to haunt someone else's home. An orange-and-black plastic pumpkin man, originally designed to have a light bulb inserted through a hole in the back to illuminate his smile, was among the spooky items. Into the sale they went.

Hours later, Mr. Pumpkin Man mysteriously showed up inside our house. How did he get there?

"I can't sell that," my lovely bride said, to my disbelief. It had sat undisrupted on a shelf for years, but this cheap plastic homage to Halloween meant something to her. It had been around the Sandlin family Halloweens for decades.

It's just plastic, but its presence over the years had given it meaning beyond its real-world worth.

From the outside looking in, it can be difficult to grasp how an inanimate object, rather disposable when viewed with dispassionate eyes, carries significance for others for no other reason than it was present at key moments in their lives.

Similarly diverse reactions come to so-called "historic" properties or even statues installed long ago. One person sees historic; another just sees old. For some, a monument's presence is viewed as innocuous; for others, it communicates a message that reopens old wounds.

Bentonville and Benton County have a problem in the form of a Confederate soldier statue installed on the downtown square 111 years ago. Benton County owns the square, but it's also Bentonville's problem because that square is the heart of the town. There's no disowning it just because someone else owns it.

The statue has never bothered me. But I'm a white Southerner who enjoys Civil War history. The statue was never intended to bother me.

It does bother others who are wary of its origins and what its continued presence says about contemporary community values. The statue is a generic Confederate soldier erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy at a time when a lot of statues were going up in the South. Defenders say they were intended to honor the men and boys who defended their home states. That so many were installed more than four decades after hostilities ended suggests other possible motivations, the most heinous being an effort to remind black people who was still in charge, regardless of who won or lost the war.

Some of today's defenders, I'm convinced, don't want to see it removed simply because it's always been there. It's just an object, but it's familiar. It's a lifelong connection. And they just don't see the harm.

But if Bentonville or Benton County were to install a monument on the square today, would it be this Confederate soldier? What's that say about it's continued presence in the heart of the city?

If a piece of art were commissioned for the square today, wouldn't it be something to see a bas-relief that marches to observer through the significant history of the area? The Civil War might be part of it, but it would include so much more, just as the city and county represent so much more than a Confederate statue.

If that happened, it might be easier to see the art on the square as a reflection a long and varied history, rather than a continuing affirmation of inhumane values of long ago.

Commentary on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: A monument stands for something

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