His funeral was in the dead of summer. It was graveside. Early morning. Muggy.
His skin looked powder-white, his face wore an artificial smile. Red, white, and blue draped over his casket.
They did him up good.
Seven riflemen fired at the sky. A lone trumpet played “Taps.” If there was a dry eye in the county, it was made of glass.
Once, I went to a ball game with him. I was a boy. The organ played “The Star Spangled Banner.”
He stood, saluted, and sang in a voice that was part tenor, part Andy Griffith.
I asked why he sang so loud.
“‘Cause,” he said. “That’s one hell of a flag flying up there.”
I asked where they shot him during the War.
He lifted his arm and pointed to his armpit. “Already showed you this a hundred times,” he said.
Make that one hundred and one.
He grew up on a dirt farm. He was as tough as the callouses on his hands. He was a musician.
As a young man, he sang on a Thursday-evening gospel radio hour, flatpicking a guitar in a one-room radioshack.
He fell in love. She came from a poor family. They married before he shipped to Europe.
The night before their wedding, they slept in the same bed—on top the covers, with their clothes on.
“He was nothing if not decent,” was once said of him.
But he was more than decent. He was ten-foot tall. His heart was purple, his Case knife was sharp, his fishing rods were bamboo. He listened to the Opry, and Hit Parade. He believed in solid cars, and pretty music.
I liked to watch him play mandolin.
“Learned to play this thing in Northern Italy,” he said. “During the War.”
He could pick “Turkey in the Straw,” or “Wayfaring Stranger” at tempos that would break your neck.
Once, I saw him on the front porch of his single-wide, picking. He was old, his hands were liver-spotted. He moved his fingers so fast they looked blurry.
“How’d you learn to do that?” I asked.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he played “Amazing Grace.” He sang, but stopped midway through the third verse. He wiped his eye, but did not cry.
“Reckon that’s enough music for one day,” he said.
When the call came, my mother collapsed at the kitchen table. She buried her face in her hands.
“He’s really gone,” she said. “I can’t believe Daddy’s gone.”
His funeral was small—men born on dirt farms don’t exactly have big memorials.
But he was American, by God. And the uniformed men folded the colors which laid over his casket. A man passed the triangular-shaped flag to my mother.
“Ma’am, on behalf of the President of the United States…” the man began.
I can’t remember the rest.
What I do remember is that Granddaddy was right when he said it.
It is one hell of a flag.
And he certainly would’ve known. He helped pay for it.