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Thoughts on the 4th of July

As we head into the 4th of July weekend, I feel compelled to consider our freedoms, our flag and how grateful I am to be a citizen of our great nation. No matter our troubles, no matter our challenges, I am an American. And I am grateful. I am grateful for those who have protected our freedoms. I am grateful for those who question our direction to make us think more deeply on it. I am grateful for our unique culture of courage and fortitude. I am grateful for the those who came before and hopeful for those who will come after. I am grateful that I still get tears in my eyes watching fireworks and hearing the Star Spangled Banner on the 4th of July. I am grateful for hot dogs on barbecues and fireworks in town squares. I am grateful for children’s faces silhouetted, dazzled by colorful celebratory explosions in the night sky. I am grateful for liberty and for the pursuit of happiness. I am grateful for religious freedom. I am grateful for red, white and blue snow cones. I am grateful that Ray Charles’ rendition of America the Beautiful moves me deeply. I am grateful that, while we are not a perfect nation, will never be a perfect nation, we strive for better in our country, even when we disagree on what that is. I am a grateful American.

Last summer we spent 4th of July in the town where this man made his home so I thought I’d share a work of his today.

RAGGED OLD FLAG

Written by Johnny Cash

I walked through a county courthouse square,
On a park bench an old man was sitting there.
I said, “Your old courthouse is kinda run down.”
He said, “Naw, it’ll do for our little town.”
I said, “Your flagpole has leaned a little bit,
And that’s a Ragged Old Flag you got hanging on it.
He said, “Have a seat”, and I sat down.
“Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town?”
I said, “I think it is.” He said, “I don’t like to brag,
But we’re kinda proud of that Ragged Old Flag.”

“You see, we got a little hole in that flag there
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing _Oh Say Can You See_.
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin’ at its seams.”

“And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag, but she waved on through.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on that Ragged Old Flag.”

“On Flanders Field in World War I
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun.
She turned blood red in World War II
She hung limp and low by the time it was through.
She was in Korea and Vietnam.
She went where she was sent by her Uncle Sam.”

“She waved from our ships upon the briny foam,
And now they’ve about quit waving her back here at home.
In her own good land she’s been abused —
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied and refused.”

“And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land.
And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin,
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in.
‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more.”

“So we raise her up every morning,
Take her down every night.
We don’t let her touch the ground
And we fold her up right.
On second thought I DO like to brag,
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that Ragged Old Flag.”

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On Father’s Day: Simple is Good-Even with Love

I don’t usually write on Sundays. For me it’s a day with my family and a day for spiritual reflection. But today I am far away from my dad and I miss him. We live too far apart, he and I. Because my husband and I spent many years in the military life and, after the fact, found a job closer to, yet still two states away from our family, we’ve been far away “home” for almost ten years now. So today, being Father’s Day, I am, understandably thinking about my Dad.

You see, I’m particularly lucky. My Dad chose me to be his daughter and my twin brothers to be his sons when I was not quite six and they were only four. He was nearly thirty years old at the time and traded in bachelorhood for an insta-family that came with one headstrong little girl. I cannot say I made it easy on him. But he loved me anyway. He still does. And my memories of him are simple and meaningful ones. I remember watching him color in giant coloring books with my brothers on a coffee table in the house we lived in with my mother before they were married. And I remember him teaching me how to shoot a .22 rifle at a target-being amazed that a right handed girl was a left handed shot and pretty darn good at it. He called me Annie Oakley. I remember him working long hard hours on a ranch and being a volunteer firefighter. And how he knew everyone in town, it seemed. It was a rare thing to meet someone who didn’t know my dad or who didn’t like him. When I describe my dad to people who have never met him I often say…well…he’s kind of like the Andy Taylor (from the Andy Griffith Show) of our small town. But there are two memories that stand out for me in vivid brilliant technicolor in my mind. They are brief and telling about my Dad and his love for me.

The first is when I was in junior high school. I was a pudgy kid and only started to grow out of it somewhere around the seventh or eighth grade. I never felt particularly pretty. I was most certainly one of the nerds or dorks-you know-good grades, very shy, not very coordinated and definitely not popular. But I was a nice kid. A good kid. I had a good heart. One day, and I cannot recall at all the reason why, my Dad picked me up from school when I usually walked home. It was uncharacteristic of me to confide in my Dad about such things but I mentioned to him how I wished I could wear makeup like some of the other girls. It was the 80’s and blue eyeliner was very popular at the time. And pink lipstick. My Dad looked at me thoughtfully for a moment. I remember him turning his eyes back to the road as he pulled away from the curb. I half expected him to tell me I was silly or remind me I wasn’t old enough yet in our house to wear make up. But he did neither. He said, “You know. The thing is-it’s girls who like all that color, which is fine. But boys don’t like that clown makeup. Boys like girls who look natural and like themselves.” And he just kept driving. That was all he said. But it was powerful stuff to an adolescent girl who was starting to like boys and starting to try and figure out her place in the world. It stuck with me and became a powerful part of who I am and what I still see in the mirror.

Many years later I was married. I did not marry young. I was past thirty when I had my first child. My parents had taken time off to come and be with me near my due date for my first child because my husband was deployed to Iraq for a full year. My son was born very near to Christmas-time and while I am a strong, strong woman, I was standing in my kitchen holding a days-old infant when a song came on the radio that suddenly became the final emotional straw for me. I broke. I stood there at the kitchen sink quietly crying as I missed my husband and grieved that he was not with us for our first child’s birth or for this baby’s first Christmas. I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me so I cried quietly. My Dad had come into the small kitchen and he saw me there crying. He said nothing to me. He stood a moment and then, saying nothing at all, my mostly undemonstrative Dad put his arms around me and my baby and hugged us to him in a way that said all that needed saying. When I stopped crying my dad kissed the top of my head and walked away. We never talked about it. It was just something that simply…was.

And that is my Dad. His love is simple and genuine. Sometimes he does things that can drive me bananas. As I’m sure I do for him. But I have no doubt that my Dad loves me. He may not say it often, but he shows it in simple, emotionally economical ways that leave no question. So while there are Dads out there that are fancier and more eloquent than my Dad, I learned what simple and honest love is from him. I’m lucky. My Dad chose me when I was nearly six. And it made all the difference in my world.

Thank you Dad. I love you.

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