A number of years ago, we moved into a retirement community in Central Ohio before we learned we weren’t ready to be retired … yet. But that’s a whole other story. What I want to tell you about is that a day or two after we’d moved into our new home, I walked down the street and was shocked to see that the family on the corner was flying its American flag upside down. What?!! Now I am not a vexillologist (an expert on flags) but I do know that the blue field of stars is not supposed to be in the lower right hand corner! What’s was happening here? Had we moved into some sort of anti-American cult?
I hurried back up the street to another nearby neighbor’s home – who had introduced himself two days earlier and who seemed to me to be a red blooded, law abiding sort of guy who also had a flag pole and a right-side-up flag flying from it. “Uh, Dick,” I said: “What’s with the upside down American flag down on the corner?” He glanced down the street, chuckled and said: “Oh, that’s old Rufus. He puts it up upside down every once in a while and doesn’t know it. I’ll take care of it.” And he did. Within minutes, Old Glory was fluttering right side up atop old Rufe’s flag pole. Still, it left me worried to think about how many years it would be until I might do the same thing. Then, happily remembered that I didn’t have a flag pole, so I crossed that one off the bucket list.
I recalled that little episode this week when my wife donated her forty-year old sewing machine to a good cause, and also realized that June 14 is again Flag Day; has been for the past 240 years, since 1777, when the Second Continental Congress decided we needed a national symbol to fly over all our 13 newly united colonies. What I find amazing, as I watch today’s highly partisan intramural Congressional ‘wars’ going on, is that our early leaders were actually able to agree on something, even drew up a sketch of what it should look like, and didn’t need a “nuclear option” to get it passed.
Next step, find someone handy with a thimble, needle and thread. One Elizabeth Griscom ‘Betsy’ Ross, a seamstress, apparently came to someone’s mind, and is generally given credit for doing the rest, though some are not so sure. Whether she actually produced the first American flag is debated by historians. Some say not. Some say the story is a myth. Others say Betsy was actually George Washington’s official button-sew-er-on-er and even sat in the pew next to him in Church on Sunday mornings. If that was the case, can’t you just imagine the General slipping the folded parchment paper Congressional drawing to her during an interminably long-winded sermon, whispering: “See what you can do with this after you finish with my new uniform.” Whoever got the job done, she (or he) nearly produced just what Congress had in mind. With seven red stripes, six white, and a blue field (called the Union) in the upper left hand corner with a circle of thirteen stars with five points each (not six as Congress had suggested). Some reports say the new banner really never saw a flagpole until about six years later, but eventually it did fly. Needless to say, the flag has changed through the years, as our nation of States has grown; five times to be exact, the last being on August 21, 1959 when Hawaii became our fiftieth star.
One hundred forty-five years earlier, we all know the story, lawyer Frances Scott Key, aboard the British Ship HMS Tonnant to negotiate for the release of American prisoners, was forced to watch the day-and-night-long British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the battle of Baltimore. It didn’t look good at all for our valiant American lads as Key tucked himself in to his below-decks hammock that night. But, when he awakened “at dawn’s early light” on September 14th,1814, the American flag “was still there,” stoutly and defiantly waving above the battered ramparts; a thrilling moment about which Key wrote a poem, eventually set to music, in which he spoke with pride of our “star spangled” flag. Today, whether you call her the Star Spangled Banner, the Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, or simply “our American flag,” she remains the shining, steadfast symbol of our great nation. So, do her proud … whatever size you choose … and hang or fly her with pride this June 14. Just make it right side up.
Mel Grossman is a local resident and weekly columnist.