Just the Other Day: Flag Poles

A really fun part of any adventure should be the journey to the destination. For worthy reasons, we didn’t get to the campsite until close to midnight. We quietly pulled into our space, got in the Scamp and went right to sleep, so as not to disturb the neighbors by making a ruckus. I could set up our camper in the morning.


It’s nearly the first thing I do when setting up our campsite, sometimes even before the Scamp is unhooked from the van; raising the American flag.


In the cool, fresh morning air in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, I stood, looking up at her, flying on top of the ten-foot pole mounted on my trailer. The red and white stripes rolling slowly like waves, billowing gently in the breeze. The dark blue field of brilliant white stars dancing just like the stars in the sky at night.


Feelings and emotions moved through me: pride, safety, honor, strength and humility were just a few. Standing alone, I placed my right hand over my heart: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”


Shortly after, a lady passed on her bike with her little grey schnauzer trotting on its leash ahead of her. She said, “I like your flag.” As she peddled on. Then, a Jeep, with the top down, drove by. The passenger waved; the driver saluted the flag. I saw an Army bumper sticker on the back when they passed. Another lady walking two dogs pointed up and said, “That’s pretty cool.”


I learned an appreciation and respect for our flag starting in kindergarten. I recalled those days at Horace Mann Elementary School, in Ottumwa, Iowa, so many years ago. The first thing in the morning, before class started, the students would gather around the half-circle driveway in front of the two-story brick building; the flagpole stood in the center in a small grassy area. The custodian would raise the flag, then together we would recite the pledge of allegiance.


My family moved to Madison, Wisconsin when I was in the third grade. Frank Allis School was also a brick structure, with an extra tall foundation. It had a Federal style main entrance. About ten steps led up to the porch where four white columns stood two stories tall, to the pitched roof above. Black colonial style lanterns hung on each side of the heavy wooden front doors. From the steps all the way to the street was a wide concrete sidewalk. In the middle was a small circle with a very tall flagpole. I remember the student body gathering around it to say the pledge as well.


In 1975 we moved back to Ottumwa, where I attended Washington Junior High School, it was hands down, the coolest school building of them all. Constructed in the late 1800’s with classic, large cut brownstone, it was a three-story building with a very high, steep pitched roof. The school stood proudly on a hilltop overlooking the Des Moines River valley below. Between the first and second floors across the front, in a band of lighter colored stone or maybe concrete, it read, “Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”


A small limestone retaining wall, about thirty inches high, ran across the front of the property, parallel to the sidewalk.  There were four or five steps up to the walkway made of paving blocks that sloped steadily uphill toward the building. It got wider at the top, almost like a martini glass, creating a large area where students could congregate before and after school. At the top there was another retaining wall, about three feet tall, with a staircase on either side leading to the front doors. The flagpole was in the grassy area above that wall.


It was always a good feeling to get off the school bus and see the American flag flying high on the hill in front of my school. I liked watching it wave and flow in the breeze. When the wind was a little stronger, the flag would make a snapping sound; like when you take a towel from the dryer and give it a quick shake and it snaps and cracks like a whip. I liked hearing that.


More than once, I found myself mesmerized in a classroom by the steady metallic clanking sound of the clips holding the flag, slapping rhythmically in the wind against the steel flagpole. Even though I couldn’t see it, I knew the flag was there.


As I stood gazing at the flag on my Scamp, I thought about how blessed I am to live in this country. I reflected on the many places I have been able to visit and how fortunate I am to have the freedom to fly that flag so proudly, wherever my travels take me.


I considered all the schools I attended where I learned the history of this flag and all the things she stands for; the many places it has flown all around the world. I said a prayer for all those who fought for and served our country, under this flag. All these thoughts raised goosebumps on my arms. I did learn to appreciate and respect this flag at a very young age and I always will.


Now, on a cool morning in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, I found all these years later, the American flag has the same effect on me today. I was taken in, watching Old Glory wave in the breeze. I had work to do. I hadn’t even disconnected the camper from the van yet, but I was completely mesmerized hearing the steady metallic clanking sound of the clips holding the flag, slapping rhythmically in the wind against the steel flagpole.