Wearing This Ragged Old Flag

Age is the learning time—kind of sad you don’t really know yourself until it’s about time to leave. I wonder if God thinks about this—does God just evolve? Why? (never mind, that’s another subject)

I’m blunt and too fast—miss the truth easily, such as this Christmas when I was given a striking Ralph Lauren sweater, knitted with a gold lamé thread into soft wool. In the middle, though, over my heart, was a beautifully woven American flag. I frowned. I can’t walk around Beverly Hills wearing an American flag, gleaming and spunky as it once was when we pledged allegiance to it every morning at the John Thomas Dye School (then called the Town and Country School, having it’s 90th birthday next month).  

We’d sing the National Anthem, and little as we were, we guessed the soldiers and sailors fighting overseas would feel better for this. They would know we were with them for victory. We knew the flag was fought over during the Civil War, but a lot of kids we knew had already raised the flag and saluted it in front yards before going to school. And I remembered my sister and I standing when father raised a smaller flag under old glory when our brother, his son, was born. There were salutes. The flag was blue and had the name Jeb on it.

I was always excited by parades, by the great American marching songs. The music of our land is so beautiful. I’ve been grateful to live through packs of American History protests, wars, the rise of evil and the assurance that here in America it would damn well fall (or as said in the old days, “darn” well). The glory of victories in battles during World War II—the fall of the Un-American Committee—the terror of the Cold War and hiding under school desks in case of Atom Bombs (as well as the concern when it was us who did drop the bomb!).

There was always a strong comfort of the Allied Forces—the gratitude and pride we felt being part of the League of Nations, the promise of the United Nations and its power. Our flag waved high—held its dignity and kept its values pretty steady.

But then there’s now. I remember watching the election returns in 2016 with one of my granddaughters. We were crying. “This could not be true,” but I’d been around long enough to trace the root American lust for vulgarity, the paradox of uptight prudery, and gun-packing boisterous buddy gangs just wild for uproar, really rouses the pallid, rabbit-faced right wingers. Some guys who linked up to throw out writers suspected for reading Tolstoy during the Red-bashing early 50’s America felt gone and lost. They’re the base here, the pack that’s been turning our allies away; they made last year memorable for despair, revulsion as the Senate sat still while crying kids were smuggled into cages only God knows where.

The underbelly had pulled up its baggy drawers and lumbered onto stage. We were confused during the end of 1918, unclear what days were holidays. Which? When? To go? Where? Then: on January 3rd, I watched the women ease into their place in Congress. I saw the backbone, the pride and power. This is America. We’re not done yet. We’ll save the day, one at a time. I felt courage and pride. Nancy Pelosi, suddenly heroic. There’s dancing, of course! And we’ll take down the Mother-effer.

Then, I was back writing, focusing on the edit of Go Find Out, my anthology, playing Johnny Cash. I heard a song I hadn’t listened to before called “Ragged Old Flag,” kind of a ballad what old glory’s survived been through. Cash refers to flag as her, of course, the flag’s one of us. “Threadbare and wearing thin, but she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in.” She could bare a lot more, Cash said. I guess I ought to check out that sweater. It might be the very brave, resolute thing to sport that sweater, to wear this flag. Wear my flag, and if anyone’s got a problem, I’ll tell them America’s survived worse gunfights, bigger storms, beaten fiercer villains and blasted out far more cunning and destructive powers.

I’m guessing my flag’s still there. I surely missed the message the generous giver had in mind. Because I’m still here too. And it’s been a close call!