Friday, June 23, 2006

Flag Day

Yes, it was June 14, but sitting here doing these essays is harder than I thought.

My maternal grandfather who we called Papa flew the flag. Every day was Flag Day for him. Until he and my grandmother, Nonnie, moved into town into an apartment, he had a flagpole in the yard. I can remember three different houses on the Central California coast that had a flagpole, and a view of the sea. Once he moved two blocks to get an unobstructed view of the Pacific, after houses were built that blocked his view.

My sister and I spent not a few summers with Nonnie and Papa. He put up the colors each morning and struck them each night. I learned to fold the flag. I was the only nine-year old in my school, Cub Pack, and neighborhood who knew how to fold the flag, and why it was folded that way.

The U.S. flag was always on top; then followed the California state flag, then maritime signal flags. He claimed that ships would see his flags and signal him, but I wouldn't know about that. He had some powerful binoculars, but even with those, I could barely make out the ships. The flags were important.

He showed me flags with 48 stars, 46 stars, and 50 stars. He had some ensigns from some naval vessels. My sister and I tried to make some flags out of scrap linen and crayons. He instructed us thus: The stripes alternate red and white starting with a red stripe at the top and ending with a red stripe at the bottom. A white stripe is under the blue star field. Proper proportions are 3x5.

When my sister and I were through playing with our flag creations, we just dropped them and went on to other things, as children will. Papa took them and burned them in the fireplace. "The US flag never bows to any other flag and it never touches the ground. If it does hit the ground, it is to be burned and replaced by another." We didn't make any more flags.

He died just after my 16th birthday. Nonnie and I burned his flags in our fireplace.

Then people started protesting, and burning flags. Not really cool, I thought, but at least burning is proper. Then flags started showing up on folks' asses as patches, and other places as decorations. Great hue and cry from the establishment, which, by this time, I had abandoned. (1966) Desecrating the Flag it was called. We needed a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. But cooler heads prevailed and free speech won. We could do all sorts of stuff to the flag, and not have to worry about the law.

Papa would have gone apoplectic. But I was into free speech. I had pangs of doubt about the flag cult and about free speech. We didn't fly the flag when Ms.CPB and I started a household.

I got drafted, and learned a whole new flag culture in the army. Everything on post stopped when the flag was raised and everything stopped when it was brought down: marching, cars, generals all stopped at colors.

I still like the flag and all that it stands for. (It was a little rough during Viet-Nam and Nixon, but I have matured since then.) I like it when our small village in the South sprouts flags every summer holiday. I liked it when our small suburban neighborhood in the 50s, full of war vets and post war kids, displayed the flag at each holiday. In fact, all those pictures of flags flying everywhere after 9/11 reminded me of my old neighborhood on Flag Day.

It's a good holiday. Too bad no one gets it off, paid.

I think Papa understood that the flag was the symbol for all that America stood for: the good he understood, the bad he didn't acknowledge. Patriots come in many forms: The Papas of the world and their hippie descendents both can salute the flag.


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