I was at our little town’s High School Basketball games a few weeks ago. Yessirree, I actually got out of the house, free as a jaybird for one glorious evening! Out to cheer during a fun game of local sports, and then maybe share a meal with good friends and family at Bassett’s Restaurant afterwards.
I love the corny, campiness of an evening like that. Maybe it’s the time of life I’m in. Maybe it’s the fact that I appreciate the Mayberry, old-fashioned Americana in which we are lucky enough to live. Maybe I’m just an uninspired, lack-luster dork. Any or all of those are possible, but whatever the reason, I was in heaven.
The game was fairly well-attended; the bleachers 75% filled. The PA turned on with a pop and crackle, and all were asked to rise for our National Anthem.
This is where the trouble started.
I was near the top of the bleachers, and a few rows down from me were some high-school aged, good looking young men. A group of them, sans parents. They were eating pizza and laughing amongst themselves, enjoying the evening much like I was. When the announcement for the National Anthem came, and everyone stood up, the young men eventually did so, but one young man didn’t put his pizza down, and another continued to talk to his friend, with his back turned to the flag.
Now, you see, I have a family history rich in patriotism. One of my brothers attended the Naval Academy and became a Navy pilot. My father paid a brief stint in the army in the ‘50’s. My step-father was a colonel and retired in the ‘80’s. I have ancestors listed in nearly every war going back to the French and Indian War. What I’m saying is that my family has paid its dues to keep our nation together. Our freedom was won partly on the backs of people whose very blood courses through me and my children.
So facing the flag respectfully with your hand on your heart during the National Anthem? Taking an ever-so-short moment out of your day to consider the people who died so that you can enjoy a campy evening of high school basketball unhindered by communism or socialism, or any other ‘ism that would come and take our hard won freedom…..yeah, it’s a big deal to me.
I didn’t clear my throat. I didn’t give a polite “Ah-hem.” I leaned forward on my newly-built knee, snapped my fingers in front of their faces, and jerked an angry, pointed finger at the flag. The two, who had the courage to look back at me, received a most disconcerting stink-eye, not only from me, but from every ancestor who sacrificed, or ultimately died for that flag, and everything that it stands for. I could just imagine the hurt those dead men and women would feel, having been forgotten so quickly, having been rendered irrelevant, for even the mere moment of a song, by children who live in the very spoils of their past battles. Friends, I was peeved.
Critter witnessed the whole, and asked me why I had done that. I looked at him with an “Et Tu, Brute?!” incredulousness, and his innocent eyebrows told me all I needed to learn about my own shortcomings.
Those boys could not respect the depth of meaning of that flag and its anthem because obviously no one had told them everything that went into it, past a textbook story. My son could easily have been one of those young men, had that exact moment not shown me my own negligence in teaching him about our family’s sacrifices, our country’s sacrifices. My son could have been the kid noisily chewing the pizza during that quiet minute of selfless respect we are asked to take out of our day.
We talked. I tried to draw a picture of life as it could have been for him. I attempted to illustrate life as it is today in other, less fortunate countries. I tried to tell a story of sacrifice and the gift of freedom paid for with blood, or health, or ultimate happiness. How do you tell this to an 11-year-old boy during a basketball game?
So when I started to lose him, I gave up and concluded with, “…and if I EVER see you not take your hat off, or not put your hand on your heart, or eat pizza when the anthem is being played, so help me God…..” because as any good parent, we default to the unfinished threat.
Obviously, my son has the movie “The Last Of The Mohicans” in his near future, and maybe an evening sitting on the couch with his Grandma Jane going through the 200-year-old family bible.
And the next time that anthem is played, by golly, he’ll know WHY he is standing.