My parents are not the examples upon which marriages should be modeled. Due to that, and that they split when I was a young teen, my memories of positive moments between them are rare. One day when Dad got home from work, he and Mother began doing this excited, monosyllabic grunt thing, gesturing to the kitchen window which looked over the front yard, words only happening sporadically – no complete sentences that I could discern. They obviously knew what they were talking about, but I was clueless. That NEVER happened.
I eventually got the story. It turns out that as Dad was backing out of the driveway that morning and Mother was watching out the window, they both noticed the flag at the same moment. It was Monday. Dad always put the flag out on Sunday. And they had forgotten to bring it in.
They were both mortified. And I noticed.
One day we were attending a concert in the park featuring our city orchestra. When they played the National Anthem, a couple near us sitting on a blanket stayed sitting and my normally super-cool father glared and looked like he was about to say something.
And I noticed.
There was a day that a “Special Announcement” interrupted my afternoon cartoon and I ran and got Mother, since I knew she was interested in stuff like that. She hurried out and I heard something about a former president having died, a name I didn’t recognize. I looked at her to see if she knew who they were talking about, and there stood my mom, hand on her mouth, tears streaming down her face.
And I noticed.
I knew Sousa marches before I knew Bobby Sherman. The Fourth of July celebration at our fairgrounds was the biggest event of the year for us. As an adult, the first home improvement we made on my new house was installing a flag holder on the porch rail.
Over the years, I’ve found myself despairing over whether people still feel that way, whether they’re still raising their children to respect the flag and patriotism.
Before Sept. 11, 2001, when flag flying regained its popularity, I was attending a high school football game in the district where I taught. One of my students came up to sit by me. He had on a well-worn cap and was gripping popcorn in one hand and hot chocolate in the other. He no sooner sat down then the band struck up the opening chords to the Star Spangled Banner. We stood and my little sixth grade fella looked nervously around. Finally, his eyes desperate, he held his popcorn out to me.
“Can you hold this?” he asked in a stage whisper.
Curious, I took it, then watched in wonder as he quickly used his free hand to whip his cap off his head and tuck it under his arm. Retrieving his popcorn, he smiled his thanks and turned back to the flag.
Somewhere along the way, this little guy had noticed too. When I told his parents the story, they looked at me like I had sprouted a second head. I mean, they smiled politely and nodded, but the obvious unspoken part was, “Well, duh. What did you expect him to do?” So yeah, he’d had opportunity to notice.
Just a few days ago, I had the privilege of taking my 14-year-old granddaughter to my church’s patriotic pre-Fourth service. It’s a small church which I suddenly found myself looking at through her teen eyes. The majority of our members have hair even more gray than mine. Nearly everyone was decked out in red, white, and blue. We stood as the color guard made up of Vietnam and maybe even Korean-era vets from the local VFW marched in carrying the flag, their faces intent, their march in sync. I was a little afraid to look at her.
Then the band played the National Anthem and the choir led us in singing the familiar words and I did what I almost always do – I got tears in my eyes and could barely sing the last few words. I looked over at her then, and she met my look with her own tear-filled eyes.
I should have known. She comes from a long line of noticers.