This is something I cobbled together a few years back. Just an exercise, it got kind of interesting for me and so I kept it. I hope you enjoy it.
"A Flag Tale"
by benning 2002
The warm summer breeze felt good on my face, the fragrance of wildflowers tickled my nose, and the thrum of the Cicadas rose and fell in the air. Out of the corner of my eye I could see PopPop swaying along toward the flagpole carrying his old flag. I sighed and sank a bit deeper into the glider cushions, pretending to ignore the old man.
Every year it was the same thing: finish the morning’s chores, help PopPop get out his old tattered flag, watch him put it up, and listen to his boring war stories. Something about Independence Day seemed to get him nostalgic, and I hated it. Who wouldn’t have? Here I’d be, wasting a perfectly good summer day sitting there hearing his wispy, faltering voice recount the glory of his war years. I’d much rather have been playing ball with the fellers down at the field, or swimming at the lake, and waiting for the Fireworks at the Town Square in the evening.
But, no, that wasn’t allowed. Nope! Mom and Dad made us all stay here until PopPop was through with his remembrances for another year.
I sighed again, turning my head to watch him struggle with the lanyard and hoist that ratty old banner. Jeepers, it was ugly! Faded so badly the red stripes were pink, and the blue field was practically little more than a memory!
I heard the screen door creak open and bang closed again. Mom came by and handed me a tall glass of iced tea.
“Why don’t you take this to PopPop, Jack?”
I sighed again, and unwound from my soft place on the glider. Summer vacation, and here I was being treated like a slave or a maid or something.
“Why do we have'ta do this, Mom?” I stood and took the wet, cold glass. “Every stupid year. Shoot, I can prolly recite PopPop’s stories by heart.”
Mom smiled wryly. ”Jack, it’s important to him. It’s important to your Dad and me, too.”
“But it’s so boring, Mom,” I whined.
“Try putting yourself in his place, Jack. When he begins to talk about the war, just imagine that it’s you he’s talking about, and see what happens.”
I gave her one of my patented “Are-you-out-of-your-mind” looks, and trudged heavily off the porch.
PopPop had that silly flag up to the top of the pole by that time, and was standing back, shading his eyes and watching it flutter in the breeze.
I held the glass of iced tea out to him.
“Mom sent ya some iced tea, PopPop.”
He turned his head and smiled up at me, taking the glass and gesturing at the flag.
“Mighty proud old flag, ain’t she?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I replied.
He squinted at me, sipping the cold liquid. “Bored with me already, boy?”
“I just don’t see why I can’t be playing ball with the other guys, PopPop,” I mumbled.
“Summer vacation is short enough as it is.”
He put a thin arm around my shoulders and patted my neck.
“Always in such a hurry to be at something, Jack. Don’t think I don’t remember how that feels. But some things are more important than baseball, or swimming at the lake,” he winked at me, “or even doing your chores.”
He looked up at the flapping banner and sighed deeply.
“Help me up to the porch, will ya, boy?”
We turned and he held my arm as we walked slowly back across the lawn, and up the steps of the front porch. He made his way to the glider and eased himself down onto it with a soft grunt, and inched himself back into the seat. The glass shook momentarily in his hand but he didn’t spill a drop. PopPop caught me watching that glass and chuckled.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I spilled a drink, Jack.”
All I could do was smile.
He sipped his tea and watched the leaves moving on the trees.
“So you think what I have to say is boring, eh?”
I couldn’t answer him. I didn’t want to be disrespectful. But he went on as if I had answered.
“I used to cringe when my Great-granddad would tell his war stories, Jack,” he said. ”Did I ever tell you that?”
“He fought in the Civil War. Some Regiment or other out of Pennsylvania. And, LORD, did I hate listening to him go on about it. You’d’ve thought the old man had been in every battle, and had won them all, single-handed!”
He chuckled, and I did, too.
PopPop smiled at me and asked me “Do you know why I’m so danged proud of that flag, Jack?”
“’Cause you carried it in the war?”
“Well, that’s part of it, I guess, and maybe that’s what it was at first for me. But as time went on and the war kind of faded away in folks’ memory, it started to become more important.”
“More important? Than carrying it in battle?”
He sipped his iced tea and sighed contentedly. “I swear your mother makes the coldest, sweetest tea in the whole country!”
He gazed up at that old flag and said “That old, worn out piece of cloth stands for something, boy, something bigger than any war, or any battle.
"No matter how frayed the edges get, no matter how faded those colors, as long as that flag, and others like it still wave, there’s Freedom in this old world.”
He looked at me as I stood by the porch rail, watching him.
“That flag is just a symbol, boy, but it’s a symbol of the finest experiment in the history of the world. Self-government. Government by consent of the governed. This is the only place in the world where it works. And we forget that. All too often. Wars end, we come home, and we take up as if all’s right in the world. We get back to business, as we ought to do. And we forget that in most of the world, folks don’t have the right to just get back to business. We forget that so many men and women have shed their blood, given up their possessions, and even died to protect the Liberty that old flag symbolizes.”
I turned and craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the faded banner of PopPop’s. It was probably my imagination, but the red stripes seemed a little deeper, the blue a bit darker.
“Jack, when we crossed the Rhine against the Nazis, and I tied that flag to a lamppost in the very first town we entered, I wasn’t so much taking possession, as I was planting a little piece of Liberty, right there in Nazi Germany.
“When those grunts raised the flag on Iwo Jima it was the same thing, though they might not’ve realized it just then.”
I heard him grunt a little and I turned to see him struggling to get out of the glider. I stepped over and took his hand and pulled him up. He rubbed his thigh - the one where the leg ends just below the knee - and helped him to the railing. He closed his eyes and breathed in the summer air.
I could just hear him whisper, “The sweet smell of Liberty,” before he smiled up at me and said, “It’s an old flag, Jack; old and ratty, faded and tattered. But that flag is the symbol of this country of ours. There isn’t a finer flag in the whole wide world. Nor is there a finer Nation on the face of the earth.”
This time it was me who put an arm around his shoulders. “I guess you’re right, PopPop,” I said. “I didn’t think about what it meant.”
His thin arm tightened around my waist. “We rarely, do, Jack; we rarely do.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My sister, Emily, and her husband, Frank, came by a little while later and we all gathered for our traditional Independence Day meal, and listened to PopPop tell his favorite war stories. This time I put myself in his place and saw those stories a whole different way. They meant something to me, even if they hadn’t been my stories at all.
PopPop passed away a little after the New Year, and he left me that ugly old flag, along with the two medals he'd won in the war. They were the only things of any value that I think he had - those and his memories, and his family, and his country.
I still have that flag. It’s gently folded in a display box that sits on a shelf above my desk. I look at it every day, and remember PopPop. And I thank the LORD for this great country.