Three Colors

I hung an American flag on our house today. We just moved in. We have only been living in Birmingham for three days, but I thought it was time we flew the Stars and Stripes.

This house dates back to 1923, so this porch has probably seen its share of flags.

When Lindbergh flew across the pond, a flag whipped from these columns. When the Depression hit, and people stood in 10-mile breadlines, there was a flag here. When the kid who grew up in this old house went off to join a global war, and died in Europe, Old Glory was flying from the eaves.

So I went to the hardware store to buy a flag.

“Yeah, we got flags,” said 80-year-old hardware store employee, Steadman. “But I tell you right upfront,” he added, “flying a flag ain’t cheap.”

I thought Steadman was speaking poetically, but as it turned out, he was speaking from his wallet. Flags cost a small fortune.

First there was the oak flagpole ($35.99), then the mounting hardware ($29.99), the flag hooks ($4.99 apiece), the masonry screws ($8.99), the masonry drill bit ($19.99), and of course, the flag itself ($69.99). For those keeping tally, that’s a grand total of $154.94. It would have been cheaper just to get a flag tattooed on my forehead.

But the American flag speaks to me. I wish I could give you some high-minded patriotic reason for why I spent hours hanging the Star Spangled Banner from my house, I wish I could be ultra poetic and tell you what a great citizen I am. But I’m not a poet. And my reasons are much more low-rent than that.

I just really like American flags.

I love being American. When I was young, people my age were hellbent on traveling to Europe to become internationally conscious. I was so jealous of my friend, Justin, who studied journalism in college. He visited Spain, Portugal, and France on a student exchange program. In one year he traveled through Europe, Nepal, Thailand, India, and (Why not?) Greenland.

Me? I couldn’t afford college. And the farthest from home I’d ever been was Texarkana.

So my lack of travel made me feel bad about myself. I counted myself as a failure. I was a dropout and a roughneck who lived in a doublewide and could hardly afford a McRib sandwich, let alone a holiday in Barcelona.

But that all changed one summer when I made a decision. I told myself, hey, so what if I couldn’t see the globe, I live in a pretty great country, and I was going to see America.

So that’s what I did.

I was 18 when I drove to the Grand Canyon in my truck. I slept in a tent hammock for four weeks, hiking and eating dangerous amounts of pinto beans. I wandered isolated trails on the canyon’s North Rim.

One morning at sunrise, I strolled to Point Imperial, the highest point on the North Rim. I arrived just as the orange sun was peeking above the craggy canyon horizon.

That’s when I noticed someone had shoved a lone American flag into a crevice of rock, right on the canyon’s edge. It was a massive flag, flapping loudly, like a flock of geese getting ready to take flight. I have no idea what the flag was doing there, but it was an impressive sight.

In a brief moment, my heart swelled with inexplicable pride. I was thinking to myself, I might never see Montreux, or Bangkok, or Bordeaux, but I am American, and that’s enough.

My ponytailed ancestors brandished Flintlock muskets and knee breeches. They tossed tea into the Boston Harbor and spit in the king’s eye. They died so I could stand right here, right now, and feel the exact way I was feeling. Proud.

Then it occurred to me that although I would probably never become a college student, or a poet, or a great thinker, or a seasoned traveler, big freaking deal. That didn’t mean I wasn’t lucky. I was. I was American, and that’s lucky enough.

There are 44 million Ukranians right now who are ravaged by the hell of war, meanwhile I live in a jacuzzi of luxury. If that’s not lucky, I don’t care to know what is.

You and I come from a country that fosters artists, thinkers, poets, craftsmen, and saints. People who left an indelible mark on the world. Such geniuses as John Singer Sargent, Satchel Paige, Flannery O’Connor, Samuel Clemens, Fred Rogers, Fanny Crosby, Harriet Tubman, Jack London, Norman Rockwell, Charles Kuralt, and of course, Gary Larson.

So today I stood on a ladder and I honored them. I held a cordless drill and paid tribute to my forefathers and foremothers.

After I had mounted the flag I stood back to appreciate my handiwork. A few kids on bikes stopped to watch. A sudden wind gust blew in. Our nation’s colors were immediately unfurled, and in a dramatic moment, the kids stood silent in slack-jawed admiration. Finally, one of the children said reverently, “I think it’s crooked.”

Like the man said, flying a flag ain’t cheap.

74 comments

  1. Dianna Harshfield - March 10, 2022 7:02 am

    Love this young man. As a retired art teacher and long time fan of yours…every spring I used thumb tacks and hung a flag at the front on the room. The kids used oil pastels and crushed it. Their work was always amazing. I wish I could send all of the examples I have. Once in a while, my students asked if they could do their country’s flag and of course I said yes. I miss teaching.

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  2. Randy Bills - March 10, 2022 7:08 am

    I needed to read this because, these days, in this climate, flying flags where i live generally means MAGA, with an unadulterated worship of the previous president. They are presented with an almost ‘go ahead, and challenge me. I’ll beat you up so you never question my patriotism again’ attitude. Thank you for resetting my view and attitude. I needed to remember to give grace before judgement.

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    • Bob E - March 10, 2022 3:00 pm

      I would hope Trump ‘non-supporters’ do not judge any American flag displays and displayers as antagonistic or dangerous. Unfortunately many news and social media push that theory. I’m certain that patriots of all persuasions who fly the FLAG intend to show their love of country and not their hatred of the ‘other side’.

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      • Kathryn - March 14, 2022 8:49 pm

        I wish you were correct; however, these days I often see American flags flying next to confederate flags and flags bearing swastikas, both representing groups who were vanquished by Americans. I do not recognize these individuals who fly Old Glory next to these to be patriots in ANY sense of the word!

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        • JT - March 16, 2022 5:03 am

          Often? I doubt that.

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  3. Sandi. - March 10, 2022 7:53 am

    I have a sweet Cuban friend who moved to the U.S. several years ago and finally became an American citizen in 2018. The test was hard, but she studied harder and was determined to pass it. She often says that nothing makes her more proud than seeing the American flag flying and how grateful she is to live here. It certainly causes me to never take for granted what our beautiful flag stands for. God bless America, land that I love!

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  4. Karen Erwin-Brown - March 10, 2022 8:39 am

    ok I had to look up craftsmen, and saints. People who left an indelible mark on the world. Such geniuses as John Singer Sargent. I did recognize one of the works I saw. glad you got up that flag. Hope you will be able to find that kitchen soon. I have a flag that was once on my Dad’s coffin. It’s in a lovely display box. enjoy the city.

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  5. Joy Jacobs - March 10, 2022 10:12 am

    Thanks so much. Exactly what I needed this morning. 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

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  6. Cindy - March 10, 2022 10:20 am

    Beautiful, but I hope to read one day that you are proud of yourself in all you have done and forget well maybe not forget but have moved on from regrets.

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  7. Meredith Smith - March 10, 2022 10:25 am

    Congratulations on your new home. You are a good man to think to fly the flag first thing. (Say that three times fast!). We fly a new flag every year, because the ends get tattered in a year, and it’s disrespectful to fly a tattered flag…at least in my opinion. I’ve been reading all of your columns from the time you looked at your new house until the time you and Jamie moved. I think you two will fit right in! Again, Congratulations! If I were near you (I’m out East), I’d be right there to lend a hand. So consider this my hug 🤗 to both you and Jamie and blessings on your new life and adventures in Birmingham!

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  8. Audra S Isenhour - March 10, 2022 10:56 am

    There will always be at least one American flag flying outside my home and one carefully folded
    on a shelf in my living room. The one that blows in the breeze is because I know the history of my Nation and it’s struggles and love it more for them. The one in my living room is to honor my late husband who served the country he loved for 23 years in a military he was proud of. I just had to replace an old flag outside and you are right Sean, not cheap and a handful for this old lady, but it must fly.

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    • William Stocks - March 11, 2022 6:18 pm

      We’ve had a Flag on our flagpole in the front yard for nearly 25 years. It’s an honor that gives me pride and thankfulness for living in this great country.

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  9. Carolyn Kelley - March 10, 2022 11:12 am

    There’s no price to high to be an American 🇺🇸 ❤️🇺🇸

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  10. Sonya Tuttle - March 10, 2022 11:24 am

    Hallelujah. Patriotism surfaces! We need heaps more of it from the younger generation. Oldies like us KNOW and appreciate our flag.

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  11. Sonya Tuttle - March 10, 2022 11:27 am

    Hallelujah, patriotism surfaces! Our younger generation needs it. We oldies KNOW. We respect and appreciate it!

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    • Te - March 10, 2022 12:59 pm

      Amen!

      Reply
  12. Emily Walls Ray - March 10, 2022 11:39 am

    Well said, Pilgrim. Well said.
    Emily Walls Ray, American Alabamian

    Reply
  13. Debbie - March 10, 2022 11:58 am

    For the 37 years we’ve lived in this house, we’ve flown a flag from our front porch. We’ve gotten letters occasionally from passers by complimenting us on the beauty of our flag. No, it’s not cheap, but my heart swells with pride at the sight of the red, white, and blue flying. Our country needs us to be proud of being an American…

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  14. Ann - March 10, 2022 12:06 pm

    Well written 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

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  15. Ruth+Ann - March 10, 2022 12:28 pm

    The flag pole that was attached to the front of my house broke a couple of months ago and I’ve procrastinated about replacing it. After reading your column today, I put that at the top of my to do list. My late husband was a navy veteran. I love the USA. Lee Greenwood for president!

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  16. Carter Anthony - March 10, 2022 12:45 pm

    I served 4 years in the USAF during the Vietnam War in your NW FL at the biggest and baddest AFB in the world. I’ve always flown a flag on my front porch. Four years ago in a new home my contractor mounted our flag in the mortar. After falling 4 times and being put back up by me I had a young man mount it in the brick. He said it was better mounted in the brick than the mortar which makes sense. My across the street neighbor said my flag was going to keep falling because it’s too big. I said yes it is too big and it’s just perfect.

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  17. Steve Townley - March 10, 2022 12:46 pm

    Better than “lucky”, we are Blessed from Whom all Blessings flow. May He Bless and Protect those in harms way today.

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  18. Te - March 10, 2022 12:58 pm

    Amen! Never have I been more proud to be an American than now when the future of our great nation is on the line. Thanks, Sean.

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  19. CM - March 10, 2022 1:31 pm

    ❤️

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  20. stephenpe - March 10, 2022 1:32 pm

    I have flown the American flag for many years now. And kept my neighbors flying until she died a little over a year ago. Unlike you I made it to college in the mid 70s. A bargain it was. And unlike you I made it to Europe in the 80s and saw how the some of the world lived. College didnt really prepare me for the children I would teach for forty years but my travels gave me some real perspective about where our great great grandfathers came from. Life is more than a journey. It is an education if you pay attention whether you get diplomas or not. Your writing brings much joy to people. Makes others think. People need to read more and think than just listen to politicians. YOu are certainly doing your part, Sean. I will soon have a Ukrainian flag on my garage that says I support those people. My other flag says Im an American. I hope you and the missus flourish in Alabama.

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  21. Rosemary - March 10, 2022 1:42 pm

    Thank you! Thank you! God bless America!

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  22. Rickey Creel - March 10, 2022 1:43 pm

    I wasn’t going to reply, but saw the MAGA comment above. I’ll simply ask: Why, when you see our flag flying, do you assume those doing so are Republicans?

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    • Maryann Smith - March 14, 2022 7:33 am

      Because like so much else they have weaponized it. Remember how the insurrectionists used it to beat the capitol police. I’ll never forget that

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    • Johnny - March 14, 2022 6:00 pm

      Because usually they are!!!

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  23. Ashley - March 10, 2022 1:55 pm

    What a wonderful piece, Sean. We are so blessed to live in this amazing, beautiful, free country. Thanks for the reminder!

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  24. Arnie Kring - March 10, 2022 1:57 pm

    You, and Charles Barkley, are going to make America great again!!

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  25. Paul McCutchen - March 10, 2022 1:59 pm

    Way to go Sean. You have done and seen a lot more than most, including me. You make me want to go and get a flag and put it on my front porch. I had one years ago but never replace it. Did you go to Texarkana, Texas or Texarkana, Arkansas, it makes a difference.

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  26. Rickey Creel - March 10, 2022 1:59 pm

    Because they are.

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  27. Rhonda - March 10, 2022 2:05 pm

    So BEAUTIFULLY written!!! So TRUE!! We should all be so very grateful that we are Americans!! GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!

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  28. Pat Morgan - March 10, 2022 2:14 pm

    Amen!

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  29. Pingback: Sean of the South: Three Colors | The Trussville Tribune

  30. oldandblessed - March 10, 2022 2:38 pm

    Yep. She is crooked, but she’s built on a foundation of principles that will always right her, if people of good conscience will remember those principles and ensure that she straightens up when necessary. Oh, I mean the country the flag represents.

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  31. Rich Hines - March 10, 2022 2:40 pm

    Amen brother! I fly my American flag proudly on my porch column. My cousin sent me a new one when I moved into this house two years ago. My wife and I were going to move here as a downsized retirement place but she got ALS and passed away before it was finished. I saw your book and picked it up at my local bookstore. It really helped me with my grieving. Thanks for sharing your story with me. I want to see the country too as my wife and I planned but now I go out by myself to visit friends in other states. My sister and brother in law lived in Birmingham for years and I enjoyed visiting. Good town! I hope you enjoy your new home there. I love reading your thoughts each day! Keep up the good work, Sean!🇺🇸

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  32. Gayea Deason - March 10, 2022 3:00 pm

    Having moved to a new house, I need to mount my flag. Had one waving proudly at my old house for 14 years! So impressed that mounting your American flag took such a high priority. Mine will be going up soon!

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  33. Jan - March 10, 2022 3:03 pm

    Perfect!

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  34. Sue Adams - March 10, 2022 3:21 pm

    I have been blessed to travel abroad to a few countries and it’s been great but the greatest sign I ever see is when I step through that door and the sign reads “Welcome to The United States of America”!

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    • John - March 10, 2022 3:52 pm

      Sue, me too! I traveled many times in my career and that was my favorite sight when I got to an American airport. It meant I was home. Maybe not my home residence but I was in my home. America.

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  35. LBJ - March 10, 2022 3:30 pm

    I’m a proud Army Brat. Whenever I was out for a walk with my dad, he would always stop & salute any flag we saw along our way. I watched as Veterans would walk over to him & thank him for honoring the flag they hung.
    I’ve been on Post when our flag was hoisted or lowered. Everyone stops and turns to the direction of the flag, even if they can’t see it. Salutes are rendered by those in uniform. I joined so very many others with my hand over my heart. Always gave me goosebumps.
    We have a tiny home. One of the first things we did when we bought our home was to plant a flagpole & hang Old Glory. As people drive onto our island, the side of our home is visible to all. After 9/11, my husband bought a 6’x8’ flag and hung it on that side of the house. It almost covers the entire side. It has a spotlight on it so it is very visible day and night. We lost a dear friend that day. Neighbors lost their son in that attack. They stopped one day when we were outside to tell us seeing that flag helped them to heal.
    God bless our country and all those who serve.

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  36. Patricia Gibson - March 10, 2022 3:45 pm

    I look around me lately and wonder how I am so blessed to be an American. It certainly isn’t because I deserve it. Prayers for Ukraine and all the world.

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  37. F. Lester - March 10, 2022 4:21 pm

    Love, love your list of geniuses! God really, really has blessed America! (Add your name to the list!)

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  38. Nancy Carnahan - March 10, 2022 4:28 pm

    Retired AF here. My family heritage goes back to the Revolution with military service and includes my son, my husband, my dad, my brother, and two uncles.I still get chill bumps when I see a flag in a parade. Yes, we have one flying.

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  39. Mary - March 10, 2022 4:34 pm

    My father, a Navy veteran, loved this country and its flag. He had a thing about people who flew the flag but did not observe proper flag etiquette. Please make sure your flag is lit up at night. It would make my Daddy happy.

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  40. Tom Wallin - March 10, 2022 4:40 pm

    Amen, Brother. You just described you, me and millions of other Americans. We all live in the greatest country and should appreciate it every monent of our lives. Thanks for the simple yet great story.

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  41. Jocelyn piccone - March 10, 2022 5:12 pm

    Excellent read. Flying the fog of your country should always make one feel great. Everytime I see the American flag my heart swells with joy. Cheer for the red white and blue

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  42. Pat McNeill - March 10, 2022 6:28 pm

    Thank you for your pride in being an American! I, too, am proud of that fact! Flying “old glory” is important to me as well. We are so blessed each and every day that we continue to breathe in the “land of the brave and the free”.

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  43. Grace - March 10, 2022 6:38 pm

    And here I was, feeling so proud, thinking about all my members who served in all branches, tears coming to my eyes. So proud for you and your new flag and then those kids came by and, sorry, but that was funny. Kids, they are without filter.

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  44. Pam Patterson - March 10, 2022 6:56 pm

    Love your choice of notable Americans. You’re on my list, along with your counterpart, Jamie.

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  45. Dr. Patrick Boyd - March 10, 2022 7:59 pm

    I have the unique privilege of watching middle school students raise the American flag each and every morning. Every time I see those stars and bars, that breathtaking red, white, and blue rising over our school building, I get a twinge. A wink from those who bore its cost and made it possible, who’d love to see our young people performing that simple but powerful act. This is who we are. This is what we stand for. This is what we can be.

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  46. Dr. Patrick Boyd - March 10, 2022 8:05 pm

    I have the unique privilege of watching middle school students raise the American flag each morning. As that breathtaking red, white, and blue rises over our school, I get a twinge. A wink, if you will. And I know who it’s from. I’m proud to watch for them as our kids perform that simple, yet powerful act of raising a flag. This is who we are. This is what we represent. This is what we can be.

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  47. H. J. Patterson - March 10, 2022 8:39 pm

    The first item I hung on the wall of my new office 20 years ago was the 5X8 flag that was draped over the coffin of my brother-in-law and it’s my daily reminder. Long may She fly.

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  48. Jeri Blom - March 10, 2022 9:36 pm

    Sean and Jamie, your home where you live now, will be 100 years old In one year! I hope you will celebrate a Happy Birthday in a year for your house!

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  49. Linda Moon - March 10, 2022 9:55 pm

    When I first saw the title here my Sean-of-the-South-reading brain told me that surely this story would be about Jamie’s choice of colors for your new home. I was patriotically surprised and inspired by what came next: the Red, White, and Blue. And then tears, many, came. You see, driving to the Grand Canyon with two young boys who were so much like you, Sean, and standing on the North Rim with them are memories I cherish. God Bless America. God bless you, the Ukranians, and our people, too. Flannery O’Connor left her mark on me. I’ve seen her typewriter and crutches in Milledgeville, USA. And, you’re leaving your mark, too.

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  50. Sue Sellers - March 10, 2022 10:40 pm

    When I moved to my neighborhood 2 years ago there were 12 new houses n I gave everyone a flag to fly. Most of them still fly it but a few think it’s for holidays!! Most banks use to fly them but many don’t now! Forget about politics n just be proud to be an American!

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  51. Karen - March 11, 2022 12:53 am

    What a breath of fresh air during this time of chaos and anger in this country and now a man determined to destroy an entire nation. Americans need to remember how great our nation is. Thank you.

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  52. Carolyn - March 11, 2022 1:50 am

    God Bless America!

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  53. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 11, 2022 2:37 am

    There are so many great things you can see and experience in America that we take for granted and never even take the time to go and see for ourselves. We really do forget just how lucky we are to live in this country sometimes (most of the time). I love Old Glory too. She really speaks to me. And I tell ya the sight of her blowing in the breeze can really take my breath away sometimes. There used to be an oilfield company I passed on my way to work that had one of those giant flags that you could drape a house in. And let me tell you when the breeze held her aloft? I had to pull my car over sometimes and just admire her. Similar I have cried when taking my husband to the VA hospital in okc and seen that line of flags where you pull in to the parking area all blowing in the wind together. I am reminded that it’s not really the wind holding them up but the last breath of every soldier who didn’t get to make it home. Yeah I got the leaky eyes right now just typing this thinking about. Thanks for hanging your flag today Sean. You say about $169 but we both know the cost paid was far greater than that for our freedoms as Americans. I’m glad you’re part of my American family too!

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  54. Betty Harrison Hicks. - March 11, 2022 12:14 pm

    I’m with you Sean. I stand proud too.

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  55. Deb - March 11, 2022 1:37 pm

    ….and THAT, sir, is exactly why we should help Ukraine.

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  56. Helen De Prima - March 11, 2022 1:41 pm

    I’m proud of our flag but ashamed that the crowd in DC is too craven to come to Ukraine’s aid for being proud of theirs.

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  57. Marcia - March 11, 2022 1:47 pm

    That’s beautiful, Sean, and oh so true! God bless America! She may not be perfect, but she’s home, and i wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. 🇺🇸❤️🇺🇸

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  58. Judy - March 11, 2022 1:59 pm

    One of your best, Sean…

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  59. Mark - March 11, 2022 4:05 pm

    Here, here! Proud to be an American!

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  60. Marci Welker - March 11, 2022 7:16 pm

    All this and Jesus, too. Yes we are blessed.

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  61. Rhonda - March 13, 2022 1:34 pm

    God Bless you
    God Bless us all

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  62. Kate - March 13, 2022 2:23 pm

    Thank you for reminding us of why we should all be flying an American Flag. I remember from elementary school seeing the flag raised every morning. My father was in the Air Force and stationed at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida. The flag was always important to us, but I never remember anyone really talking about it, but we knew it was to be respected.

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  63. Johnny - March 14, 2022 7:38 pm

    American flags are expensive and are worth every penny!!

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  64. Daphne Woodall - March 15, 2022 8:18 am

    Sean, as the youngest of eleven kids my parents couldn’t afford a flag for our rental home in the South. Now married almost 47 years we always hung our flag on holidays. But last year hub bought a large flag and hung at the road permanently. It proudly hangs attached high to a tree visible to those who represent a microcosm of America as they zoom by our county road. But what I hadn’t anticipated was the feeling and responsibility that flag would give me from my kitchen view. Opening the blinds each morning I’d look to be sure the flag was still there unfurled. Those Stars and Stripes took on a life for me as it waves 24/7. It makes me smile and mesmerized as its movement holds my attention; even more beautiful in the evenings. I can look down the long driveway and see it standing guard; lit by the solar light that shines on Old Glory.

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  65. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 27, 2022 5:28 am

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  66. Cheryl Andrews - April 6, 2022 6:35 pm

    Absolutely beautiful! I, too, am a proud American! And I love being an American. “That’s all I have to say about that.”

    Reply

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