Grand Old Flag

 

SONY DSCIt’s almost Flag Day folks! I’m gettin’ my stars and stripes on this Thursday, June 14, and you know why?
Because it’s also Granny’s Preschool day and I couldn’t think of another topic.

Truly, I love my country and what my flag stands for. But I don’t usually spend much time thinking about Flag Day. Saving that burst of red, white and blue for 4th of July, don’t you know.

But since small people expect me to teach them something on Thursday—or at least I like to pretend they sit at my feet thirsting after knowledge—I’ve done some research on Old Glory. It really is a Grand Old Flag.

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First:
I don’t care what anyone says. I’m choosing to believe Betsy Ross stitched the flag after a visit from George Washington. If you try to reason with me about this I’ll turn on the song “Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground” and sing along at full throttle.*

Second:
Why the song “Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground”?
Thank you for asking. It has SUCH A COOL STORY.
William Carney, slave born, soldier in the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, was the first African-American to receive the Medal of Honor.
During the Battle of Fort Wagner in 1863, under heavy fire, the color guard for Carney’s regiment was killed. Carney caught up the flag.images-2
On hands and knees, under heavy fire and with multiple serious injuries, Sgt. Carney crawled back to his regiment, making certain that the flag never touched the ground.

If you want to know more about this lovely and honorable man please look him up. He is worth your time.
Sgt. William Carney is my new love, (almost but not quite displacing Elihu Washburne). He also puts me to shame. That kind of respect for the flag and what it is meant to represent? I fall so far short.

Third:
Martin Van Buren was the first president born under the flag we know as the Stars and Stripes. Please don’t tell me what what an ineffective president he was.

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-His name was Martin. So was my dad’s.
-He was Dutch. Prick me and I bleed tulips and windmill cookies.
-His hometown is Kinderhook, New York. How can you not love a town called Kinderhook? And all its native sons and daughters?

Fourth:
The idea of Flag Day was birthed by a Wisconsin schoolteacher. I am a Wisconsin schoolteacher! (emeritus)

Fifth:
(because don’t you sort of like the idea that the U.S. isn’t quite like any place else on earth?)
We are the only country that officially pledges allegiance to the flag. Our national anthem is in homage to it, Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” honors it, we have laws protecting it and societies that tell us how to handle it. No other country does any of the aforementioned. Oh yeah. Our flag is our brand.

Sixth:                                                                                                                                                     The current pattern incorporating the 50 stars on the blue field was designed as a class project by a high schooler. He got a B-minus.

There’s so much more to learn about the flag of the United States of America.
At Granny’s Preschool we’ll probably recite the Pledge of Allegiance, do a stars and stripes craft, hear the apocryphal story of Betsy Ross and eat red, white and blue food.
But I hope that my grandchildren will begin to grasp the meaning of the flag. They’ll learn that not everything done in its name is decent or honorable or right, and many people don’t so much wave it as wield it. But what it stands for now is what it was always supposed to stand for. Liberty and justice for all.
I hope these little ones grow up willing to contend for all the good and true things Old Glory represents.

SONY DSC*This is an idle and empty threat. I can’t find any recording of “Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground” and therefore can’t sing it at any volume. Although I could recite the lyrics at the top of my voice…

Not flagging yet

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The English language needs a good budget, and a bit of self-discipline.
One minute it throws around words with extravagant abandon. Think a moment. How many words do we have for a person’s hindquarters? (Don’t think too hard, please.)
Really, we only need one. “Hindquarters.”
“Please sit on your hindquarters.”
“Those slacks are a bit tight across your hindquarters.”
The only possible improvement to “My Fair Lady” would be Eliza Doolittle screeching, “Come on Dover! Move yer bloomin’ hindquarters!”

Next thing we know,  English is going all Dave Ramsey on us. In a too-little too-late effort to conserve words, it tries to use the same one over and over.
Like flag.
English initially called it a noun and decreed it would apply to a banner or a pennant.
But even after years as a waving noun,  flag had plenty of good wear in it. So the powers holding the language pursestrings decided, “Hey. Instead of investing in a new word,  let’s use flag as a verb, too!”
A very active verb. It can indicate, tag or label something we want to save.
Don’t want to lose an email in the avalanche? Flag it. Notice how I flagged the word “flag” with bold font in this post?

Flag proved so efficient as a marker that it was stretched and repurposed as a warning. The IRS (who know how to wring value out of anything) gleefully grabbed it to flag folks just hoping to fly under the radar for another year.

Still in the penny-pincher mode, word-thrifts thought of another way to get more mileage out of flag.
Stuck with a flat tire on the side of the road and want to signal a passing motorist to stop? Need to hail a cab in New York City? Here I am, says the weary flag. Use me.

Even the most frugal of word hoarders know when a word is getting threadbare. Flag was almost ready for the rag pile, so they agreed its final use would be undemanding.
Flag can be used to describe someone running out of steam, out of energy, fading fast.
So appropriate.
Flagging, tagging, lagging, flag has served us well.

Perhaps its greatest moment comes when bragging on what it stands for. Here in the United States our Flag stands for tradition and innovation, great courage and greater kindness, a history checkered with triumph and tragedy, pride and shame.

Our flag reminds us that we’re in this together, and we better figure out how to make it work. It reminds us that we’ve always had fractures and divisiveness. We always will.
You’re in this together, our flag tells us. Figure it out.

When the word gods start squandering words left and right again (they come up with dozens to describe “under the influence” when one will do—Idiot) they may take away some of flag’s other functions.
It won’t let one go without a fight.
Knowing we need something to rally around, something to remind us that we’re puny parts of an amazing whole,
Flag doesn’t blanch and turn pale. We don’t wave a white flag. We wave one bursting with robust color.

Our flag is still there. When we stomp off our separate ways, petty grudges or potent factions dividing us, it keeps dragging us back. We’re in this together. We best figure it out.