Piece of Mind: Showing the flag is least we can do

There was a ritual in my parents’ household during my youth. On the mornings of Flag Day, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day and Veterans Day, Dad retrieved our American flag from a shelf in the front hall closet, unfolded it, attached it to its slender pole and displayed it from an aluminum bracket that was permanently affixed to an exterior wall just outside our front door.

There the flag waved in the breeze throughout the holiday until just before sundown, when my father would summon me to help him fold it and put it away. Otherwise a somewhat happy-go-lucky type of man who seemed to me to have been put on Earth expressly for the purpose of having a good time, Dad nonetheless took this job very seriously. His easy laughter was mute during the times he had the flag in his hands. It was, he believed, his solemn duty to treat this symbol with deep respect — even reverence.

I don’t recall any words being spoken as we folded the flag together, unless he felt the need to remind me to take my time and get it right. Nearly silently he managed to impart the lesson that if we failed to fold it properly — or in some other manner stumbled with our flag etiquette — we would be committing a grievous insult to our country.

Until he trusted me to get my triangles straight, Dad had me hold the edge of the flag that represents the union — the field of stars — while he took the edge that’s all stripes. Together we folded the flag in half width-wise, then in half width-wise once again. I was left standing still, holding a square-shaped field of stars. After confirming our lines were straight, Dad finished the job by folding up the flag, triangle by triangle, stepping closer to me with each move, until he reached the union, which was then folded into a triangle and tucked into the rest of the flag. This task done, the flag was placed back in its muslin storage bag until the next patriotic holiday.

Our family was not in the minority when it came to displaying the flag with regularity. Most of our La Cañada neighbors did the same thing. About a dozen years after my parents sold the old homestead, my husband and I bought a house on a street where, on our first Independence Day there, an American flag could be seen waving from nearly everyone else’s front stoop. Stirred by this show of patriotism in our new neighborhood, we purchased a flag too, and flew it on all the appropriate dates, until we somehow managed to break its pole and never got around to replacing it. I’ve noticed fewer and fewer flags gracing our neighbors’ homes each time a patriotic day arrives on the calendar. Perhaps we’re all relying on the city’s display of flags along Foothill Boulevard this Independence Day to demonstrate our collective patriotism.

When I think of Dad, and reflect on all the others who have not taken their citizenship for granted, I am ashamed that we’ve let this doorstep ritual lapse. It’s not just a sweet, heart-warming tradition to respect a symbol of our country. It is probably the very least we can do.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. She can be reached at ccormaci@valleysun.net or carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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