Flagged

There are two American flags in a Ziploc in the back of my SUV. I’ve been carrying them inside a basket with jumper cables, bug spray, and a pair of fleece mittens for a while now. When we cleaned out my parents’ house, I offered to bring the flags to the VFW or a fire station or somewhere to give them a proper burning. But I never got around to it, so I’ve been driving them around. I’ve been tempted to throw them in the dumpster. No one would ever know, except for me—and maybe my mother, who died a few years ago but seemed to know everything I did and I doubt she’s stopped now.

She’s the one who taught me the proper way to display and care for a flag. We had many flag ceremonies in our Girl Scout troop, and I still remember that when the color guard is advancing, you should hold the American flag slightly higher than the others and slide it last into its stand. It’s always posted on its own right, not the left. I remember once we had a burning ceremony at the camp where she and I worked to dispose of a tattered flag. Dad built a little raft and we put the flag on top, set it on fire, and pushed it onto the pond where it floated with the water snakes and skitterbugs until it charred to nothing. We sang “God Bless America” or something.

But now Dad’s at the VA, where he and his roommate nod at each other shyly, where all the men wear baseball caps tucked over their eyes, and where we aren’t allowed to burn flags in the recreation room. Maybe I’ll bring the flag in my house, and put it in the marble-topped dresser. At least there it’s protected, safe, dry. My mother was the one who taught me how to fold the length of a flag in thirds. She always let me start the triangle at the stripes end, and I’d roll the flag neatly into itself, and then tuck the tail inside the fold. Afterward, all that was left showing was bright blue fabric and stars.