“Old Glory.” That was Grandma Lily’s name for the huge American flag she hung every Fourth of July. Much bigger than an average-sized flag, Old Glory was probably seven or eight feet long. It hung on a rope between the front window of Grandma’s upper flat and an ancient elm tree on the parkway, nearly grazing the heads of those who traveled the sidewalk below.
At our Independence Day get-togethers, Grandma insisted that we gather under Old Glory and say the pledge to the flag.
“It’s important,” she said, “to honor the flag, especially on the Fourth of July.”
But, one day, the elm tree became diseased and the city cut it down. Grandma didn’t mind losing the sick tree in front of her house except that it held up Old Glory. Now, the giant flag had nowhere to fly. So, Grandma folded it up and put it away.
I never saw it again.
I don’t remember us saying the pledge together after that. I think we all knew that Grandma Lily mourned the passing of Old Glory. It was as if there had been a death in the family, and nobody talked about it.
Years later when Grandma was old, I asked her about Old Glory and the pledge to the flag. Grandma, who only had a third grade education, offered a lesson about patriotism that I’d never forget:
“Hardly anyone said the pledge when I was a girl,” she said. “It wasn’t a pledge to our flag, but it was for any old flag. And any old flag meant nothing to most folks. Your family had left Germany for a better place—America. Old Glory wasn’t just a flag to us. It meant living like God wanted, free from a government telling us what to do.
Your dad was five-years old when they made it right:
‘I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’
Then it was our pledge.
And Eisenhower? Well, he made it better by adding ‘under God’ in there. It’s because of God that your family got here. It’s because of God that we’re free.”
She might not have been educated, but Grandma Lily sure was wise.
“Whatever became of Old Glory?” I asked.
She hesitated and then shrugged her shoulders. I think Grandma Lily still couldn’t speak about the memories of her beloved flag—that yellowing old flag with the 48 stars
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love.
Psalm 33:12–18 NIV
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