1: Flying the Perfect Flag

1: Flying the Perfect Flag

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

Flying the Perfect Flag

Ev’ry heart beats true ‘neath the Red, White and Blue.

~George M. Cohan

“I’m ashamed to fly this flag,” I told my husband. “It’s faded and frayed. It’s time to retire it.”

He agreed. That worn-out flag had flown in front of our house every day for years. We displayed the stars and stripes because we love our country, because my dad, my husband, and three of my brothers served in the military, and because one of those brothers died in the mountains of North Vietnam.

“I’ll just run out and buy another flag,” I told my husband. Little did I know that I was at the beginning of a long and frustrating hunt for the perfect replacement.

I had a list of requirements for our new flag. None of the ones I saw measured up. Some were too flimsy. I knew they wouldn’t fly gracefully in the wind. Others were cheaply made. I knew they wouldn’t make it through one hot Southern California summer before they faded. And I wanted an American flag that was actually made in America.

I’d been looking for a flag for weeks and I was getting desperate. I’d visited all of the nearby stores without finding one that pleased me, so I drove a few extra miles to a shop that specialized in them. Most of their flags were ones that mark the seasons with pictures of bunnies or Santa Claus, or invited you to “Come in and Whine a Bit.” Even their most expensive American flags didn’t meet my high standards.

I thought about ordering one online, but I wanted to rub the material between my fingers. Was I becoming obsessive?

My search ended in my local warehouse store a few weeks before the Fourth of July. A display of American flags caught my eye. They were made of heavy material, each star and stripe individually sewn. The fabric felt crisp, thick and heavy in my hands. A gleaming flagpole that we could attach to our front porch railing was included. And right on the label was a notice: “Certified: Made in USA” I put the flag in my cart immediately and headed for the cash registers.

It seemed as if everyone had decided to check out at once. Carts were piled up as if there had been an accident on the shopping cart freeway. It was hot and it sounded as if every child in the building had decided to have a meltdown at the same time.

“It will take me forever to get out of here,” I thought. My head and my back ached as I leaned on my cart. I considered putting the flag back and going home, but I’d finally found one I liked and I wasn’t about to quit now.

“Let me pay for that,” said a man.

“Are you talking to me?” I responded.

“Yes. I’d like to buy that flag for you.”

“I can pay for it myself,” I said.

“No, let me, please.”

“I said no!”

What was going on here? Did I look as if I couldn’t pay for my own flag? Was this some sort of clever way for a total stranger to get my credit card number? If he paid for my flag, would he hit me up for a favor? I was boxed in by all the shopping carts and couldn’t get away from him. Should I call security?

“It just makes me happy to see someone flying the flag,” he said.

And then I had a hunch: “Are you a veteran?” I asked.

“Yes. My name is Brian and I was in the first Iraq War.” Tears came to his eyes. “I’m sorry. It was a long time ago, but it’s still hard. That’s my family over there in that checkout line.”

Shame washed over me. When had I become so suspicious and distrustful?

I realized that it was easy for me to give, but I didn’t want to receive. I didn’t want anyone to think I needed anything. There was an icy block of pride where my heart should have been.

I gave Brian a hug and whispered in his ear: “I lost a brother in Vietnam. I will pray that God heals any pain you may still carry. And yes, I’d be honored to fly a flag that you bought for me.”

Brian smiled, hugged me back, paid for my flag with his own credit card and left with his family.

The gift given to me by one of our country’s heroes flies from my front porch as I write this. The stars and stripes gleam in the sunlight, and the flag floats in the air in the slightest breath of wind.

It is, indeed, the perfect flag.

~Josephine Fitzpatrick

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