To the Editor:
“Gabby, guess what,” Owen asks.
“What,” of course, is my automatic reply. Owen is 9 years old and good at getting an adult’s attention.
“Did you know the American flag once had 13 stars?”
“Yes, I did. Did you know that a star is added each time we get a new state?”
“Ooh. I have an idea.”
Now, I’m in trouble. When a 9-year-old has an idea, you’d best go along with it. Decorated Halloween sugar cookies are about to be replaced this afternoon with whatever his brilliant idea is.
“Okay, what is your idea?” What was he going to get me to do this time?
“Let’s look up the American flags on Google and print them out. Do you have any straws?”
It just so happened that I had nearly 30 straws in a drawer he went into often - the one with the scissors, tape, and random junk that accumulates in a kitchen - like he didn’t know. He found many more than 30 American flags to choose from. Some weren’t even official flags yet.
“Ooh, look. Here’s the design for 51 states. That would be Puerto Rico, right?”
“Probably. If they vote, they want to join.”
“Here is the one for 52 stars, and 53. Would that be Canada and Mexico?”
“Um… they are their own country. I don’t think they want to be a part of our country.”
“What about Central America?”
“Well, that is a region, including a number of countries, and they probably want to stay their own countries.”
Owen subsided to think about that.
I remember learning about our growth as a nation, how we grew from 13 colonies on the East Coast, filling in the continent, from California to Ohio, from Michigan to Texas. California and the Gold Rush. Texas leaving Mexico. West Virginia not wanting to be part of the Confederacy.
I believed in the idea of “Manifest Destiny” before I’d ever heard the words. We were such a wonderful nation that we were sure to expand to include the whole world one day. The U.S. of Earth.
Before Owen left the next day, all 30 straws were converted to flagpoles, soon to hang on the walls of his bedroom, at least until the next obsession. He got me thinking about the American flag.
For so many years while I was teaching, most mornings began with the Pledge of Allegiance. I didn’t like doing it because it became rote.
The short statement needed so much discussion to understand what they were saying every day. It seemed meaningless without understanding and reverence.
Now, it is a lapel pin that is required of every politician. It represents so much more than just the colonies and states.
To me, it represents our ideals in the Declaration of Independence (all men are created equal) and the Constitution (“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”) Casual usage demeans it.
When it is used to promote a particular political position, and not our ideals, I feel sick in my stomach. When one party waves it along with distasteful slogans, I want to cry.
Some have co-opted the flag, but not its ideals, and when I don’t wave the flag on every occasion, I resent those who accuse me of hating America.
I put out the flag, and wear stars and stripes on patriotic holidays and try not to discuss nuances with anyone, but then there is Owen.
One day, we will have that discussion. I have confidence someday Owen will understand.