The place was the Community United Methodist Church at the corner of Sixth and Rosita in Westcliffe. The occasion was their annual yard sale. The year was… a long time ago.
The lawn surrounding the modest, white church was packed with stuff. (One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.) Always in search of treasure myself, I was on the hunt. Not that I had a gun, but it is always a thrill to bag the biggest bang for my buck.
In search of a bargain, I looked through gently worn clothing, plants, plates, tools, and sporting goods. Amongst the books, I found a faded, American flag.
Opening the flag, I was shocked to see that it was a 48-star, casket flag. The name inked on the back was SCHMITZ.
I am most certainly not a flag waver, but I was touched. What family would discard a loved one’s casket flag to lie between used mattress pads, potted plants, worn-once waders, and a wonky garden gate?
And the veteran who died? Did he die in service to his country, by misadventure, or by natural causes? If he had died in service, would his family been more inclined to keep the flag?
No matter. I didn’t need to know. I took the flag home. I would hang it vertically between the pillars of our front porch. On the back of the binding, I wrote a reminder: Hang so the blue is to the observer’s left.
For years it flew every Memorial Day and 4th of July. For me, flying the flag was less about flag-and-country and more about remembering the man (maybe it was a woman) who died.
I also felt some antipathy towards the family that had discarded the flag. To some degree, I was flying the flag in their face. With each breeze and swelling of the flag, the flag and I were saying, “Shame on you!”
With the approach of this year’s Memorial Day, I took a good look at the flag. It was looking very sad – tissue paper thin – I could have read the paper through it. But I wasn’t willing to give up on the flag. So I gave the flag a gentle, cold water, hand wash hoping to brighten the faded stripes – the red (now pink) and the once white (now aged ivory).
Oh woe is me! Washing dissolved the years of dust – dust that had held the flag intact. What to do?
Given today’s political climate and our isolating island of arrogance , I am not feeling very patriotic. Blind support of flag waving makes my heart harden. And as I write this, I remember one of Gerald Scarfe’s political cartoons that I photographed in London last February.
At best, I am ambivalent about the flag… And yet… I have this emotional attachment to the deceased who deserves to be honored.
I decided to try mending the flag. If I could save it, maybe it could fly one more year. I repaired the frayed edges and ironed sheerweight Pellon on the back of the stars that were worse for wear.
Not bad! From a distance, driving down Second Street, no one will see the repairs on the back. I’m hanging the flag today, and it will fly this year. Maybe next year.
At some point, I’ll pass the flag on to the American Legion or the VFW. They will put the flag to-rest, and knowing that I remembered the forgotten vet, I can rest easy also.
As for militant flag waving, not to be confused with honoring the flag itself, I can’t look. As the Fourth of July parade approaches, I want to crawl in bed. I cannot bear to watch children marching (some march / others skip) down Main Street. My heart breaks.
It is hard to maintain any sense of innocence. If you are going to wave a flag, do me a favor: wear orange framed sunglasses, a Star War’s headband, and carry your Teddy bear.