Ragged old flag stirs up a feud
As I looked down at my desk calendar and realized that today is Patriot Day, I couldn’t help but remember a story that involved a disabled veteran, a tattered flag and an angry son-in-law.
My grandfather was about the most patriotic man you could ever meet. Paw Paw was a World Ward II veteran who still put his hand to his heart and hat to the side during the Star Spangled Banner, even at home. He had random moments of silence for historical reflection and remembrance. And he would personally try to flag down every veteran sticker truck driver to offer his thanks for their service.
So it was no surprise that he had a massive flag pole in his front yard. Our family would have a big ritual when we would replace an old or tattered flag. We would all stand under the pole as Maw Maw pulled the rope down to replace the flag. The new one would rise high above our rural neighborhood. And the tattered flag would be properly disposed off.
Paw Paw was having some health issues with his diabetes one year, and the flag maintenance was the last thing on his mind at the time.
I admit the flag got a little tattered that year. But I didn’t put too much thought into it. Surely Paw Paw will notice it.
But it was actually our neighbor’s son-in-law who decided he had better remind us that it was tattered.
I can’t remember the son-in-law’s name, but he would come to visit from time to time. And he and Paw Paw actually got along fairly well. Until the flag issue.
“Mr. James, I just thought I would tell you that Old Glory there is looking like it needs to come down,” he said to Paw Paw one day in the yard.
Paw Paw gazed up at the flag and was slightly embarrassed about it.
“Well, I just hadn’t the time to get to it yet,” Paw Paw said. “But don’t worry. I’ll get it.”
“With someone in your condition, I know it may be hard to dispose of it,” he said, looking at Paw Paw’s wheelchair. “Why don’t you let me take to the VFW? We can take care of it.”
There was no more conversation. Paw Paw hated for people to point out his disability as if he couldn’t do something.
Paw Paw did his usual “hmph” when he was frustrated and rolled his wheelchair back into the house.
That night at supper, Maw Maw could tell something was the matter with Paw Paw. He had only went for one helping of peas instead of his usual three.
“Take my flag to the VFW,” Paw Paw said, out of nowhere. “Now why would I give it to him to take to the VFW.”
Maw Maw rolled her eyes realizing what was going on.
“And what does he know about the VFW,” Paw Paw continued. “Shoot, I bet he didn’t even serve his time overseas. I bet he sat behind a computer desk in Texas during his time.”
“Now James, I’ve had enough,” Maw Maw said, getting up. “Of course he went overseas. The F stands for foreign. They don’t just let anybody in it.”
Maw Maw left us at the counter. Paw Paw continued to mumble as he shoved meat in his mouth. I have to admit, I kind of got a kick out of the whole thing.
The next day Paw Paw rolled his chair to the pole to take the flag down. He began to pull on the ropes and eased the flag down about half way. And then it stopped.
There was something wrong with the pulley system, and the flag was stuck at half mast.
Yanking at the ropes, Paw Paw finally gave up and came inside. And then we saw the son-in-law at the hedge line.
“Now what does he want,” Paw Paw asked, looking out the screen door. “I’m changing the darn thing, ain’t I.”
We made our way over to the line, and I could tell tensions were high.
“Mr. James, I meant for it be properly disposed of,” he said. “Is there a reason why it is at half mast?”
I saw Paw Paw’s face get red. And I knew it was over. I simply took my seat under the shade.
“Maybe I am mourning,” Paw Paw said.
Those two men said words I can’t even repeat. It was a heated argument, and it lasted until Maw Maw came outside and started yelling too.
Before I knew it, Paw Paw was cutting the ropes on the flag pole with his pocket knife and yanking things around until the whole thing came down.
Our neighbor ended up calling that night to apologize for her daughter’s husband’s actions. I guess it went over well because it was never brought up again.
Looking back, at the time it wasn’t funny. But now I chuckle. I rarely think about it these days.
And as I celebrate this Patriot Day I will try not to think about sad or negative reflections.
I will remember a neighboring feud that got pretty intense. A neighboring feud is almost a certainty at some point in everyone’s life.
I guess the beauty of living in America is that you can still have one every now and then.