Raising the Flag

There are many Memorial Day weekend traditions that people enjoy. Most of them tend to involve barbecues and beaches, bathing suits and sunbathing. Few take the time to truly appreciate the meaning of the holiday itself.

I’ve written in the past of attending the annual service which takes place at Calverton National Cemetery, a mere two hours taken out of the weekend to pay respects to those who have come before us and sacrificed so much for this nation. This brought to mind another, perhaps less traditional, “ceremony” which my grandfather and great uncle used to enact each Memorial Day, and then again at Labor Day.

Both veterans themselves, they had held on to their service uniforms and, ill-fitting as they were, would dig them out and don bits and pieces of them each year to take part in the annual “flag raising” in my grandfather’s backyard. For as long as I can remember, there stood a flagpole at one end of the lush green lawn, and from that pole hung Old Glory, proudly waving in the wind, for the entire summer. 

My grandfather and uncle would unfurl this flag each May and, with a mix of reverence and humor as they paraded in their snug jackets and trousers, would carefully raise it – and then, salute proudly. Come September, this same succession of events would take place in reverse, and the flag would be carefully put away for another season. 

As a child, I can’t say I truly understood what was going on, nor did I appreciate the significance of the ordeal. Sure, there was a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor to go along with the solemnity; but make no mistake; they took it all very seriously. Thankfully, there are pictures from a few of these ceremonies… along with the memories to last a lifetime.

Last summer, as my grandparents’ house stood empty for the first time in 56 years, a “For Sale” sign staked on the front lawn, the family gathered one late spring afternoon to begin the process of going through belongings. The ceremonies of days gone by a distant memory at this point, a somewhat tattered flag still hung from the pole. Inspired, the “children” decided to raise a brand new flag, one last time, in honor of my grandfather, and all the wonderful summers spent in that backyard. 

As for the old flag, the last one my grandfather had hung, I kept it. And each time I drive by the old house, now filled with a new couple starting their lives, I look to see if the old flagpole still stands. It does, and the flag remains.


{Published: May 31st, 2017}

Jamie Lynn RyanComment