They are raising a flag over a new bank building. I can see them doing it while I sit at a stoplight.
Folks in business suits cut a red ribbon with giant scissors. A group of Junior ROTC uniforms stand around the flagpole. A photographer. It’s a small ordeal.
I’ll bet there’s free finger food inside.
I’m a sucker for the flag. Always have been. At Boy Scout camp I helped fold the flag—a job of congressional importance.
The week before camp, my pal and I practiced folding bed sheets in the backyard.
Mishandling such obligations is a grievous offense in the Scouts—second only to horse thievery and using the “S” word on the camp bus.
The year before, there had been an incident. Kevin Simpson and Jerry Miller had taken to arguing over a certain brunette during the flag ceremony. While they folded, tempers flared.
Stars and Stripes hit the dirt, and a fight ensued. One of the Scoutmasters had to be revived with cold water.
Kevin and Jerry, as I understand, are still peeling potatoes in federal prison.
I folded my first flag on a June morning. Birds made noise. Cold dew hung in the air. Myriads of khaki uniforms gathered. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so responsible.
Thirteen folds. Then, I marched the flag to the Scoutmaster. He took it, and I gave a three-finger salute.
He whispered, “Look behind you, son.”
I turned to see hundreds of freckle-faces in the camp, all saluting in my direction Serious faces. A few Scoutmasters were veterans. They saluted with as much sincerity as any boy ever had.
Some things stick with you, I guess.
Junior ROTC raised the flag over the bank. The wind caught it and hurled it over the building. The word majestic comes to mind.
A state trooper on the highway shoulder showed full-salute. The truck in front of me rolled down windows and hollered. I couldn’t hear what he said, but I sure as hell hope it was patriotic.
Because my ancestors and relatives slept in battleship hulls, jumped from airplanes, and died on foreign soil. My granddaddy was buried in uniform.
My father volunteered for service but was denied because of his deaf ear. So he, and others like him, waved Old Glory over construction sites, and painted flags on barns.
Listen, I know you probably didn’t want to read about a flag. But when I see thirteen stripes soar above an average building, on an average afternoon, I feel something.
It’s not pride. It’s not patriotism. It’s affection for ancient ideas. For fifty-six signatures on a piece of parchment. For baseball. For amber waves of grain, the rocket’s red glare, and for the vet on the beach who has no calf muscles.
For us, no matter how hard we may argue.
And for three colors.