For now, the flag is still flying

Friday, September 13, 2002

There was no U.S. flag flying at our home on Sept. 11, 2001.

We had a flag, one of those kit flags with an aluminum pole, a bracket and a gold plastic eagle. This flag had served us well for more than 20 years, making occasional appearances as appropriate holidays rolled around.

But until last year, Sept. 11 wasn't a national holiday. Officially, it still isn't. My guess is Sept. 11 will be a day of reflection and remembrance for many years to come. At our house, it will be a flag-flying day.

Of course, every day has become a flag-flying day at our house. It's been that way since Sept. 12, 2001. That's when I put up our flag beside the front door. It stayed there. The bright street light in front of the house brightens the flag at night.

As the days and months have passed, the flag has been a constant reminder of a changed world.

I can't tell you exactly when I first became aware of my own patriotic stirrings. But for many years I have noticed a lump in my throat when I hear the national anthem or when I see the Stars and Stripes in a parade. For me, the most stirring part of TV coverage of events like the Olympics is when the national anthems of the winners' homelands are played.

So when I got up the day after last year's terrorist attacks, I went to the basement and got the flag and put it out.

At first, I thought the flag would stay up for a few days. Then I thought a month of flag flying would be appropriate. When Oct. 11 rolled around, I thought it would be nice to keep the flag up until Thanksgiving.

Every time I came to another point on the calendar that made me think about taking down the flag, I decided to leave it up. By summer, it made sense to leave the flag up at least until the first anniversary.

But the old flag was beginning to show its age.

I went to a store that sells flags and bought a bigger flag attached to a fine wooden pole. I mounted the new plastic bracket on the stone fireplace. Almost as soon as I put up the new flag, I started to regret my purchase.

For one thing, in bright daylight the new flag showed how cheaply it was made. Apparently, most of the purchase price went for the wood pole.

Then came the official announcement last week that Gov. Bob Holden had authorized the flying of the flag at half-staff on Sept. 11 in honor of them terrorists' victims. My new flag could not be raised and lowered.

Off I went to a store that sells flags. In anticipation of the Sept. 11 anniversary, the store was well-stocked. It had big flags and little flags. It had metal poles and wood poles. But the only flag that could be raised and lowered was an expensive model with a 28-foot pole meant to be set permanently in the ground. As much as I would like to have such a flag, we don't have an appropriate place for one at our house. And the cost was more than I was prepared to spend.

Before I left the store, it occurred to me that I could solve two problems at one time -- and still have some cash left in the checking account.

I could buy a new, American-made U.S. flag with sewn stripes and embroidered stars for a few dollars. And, in the store's hardware department, I could get a couple of eye screws, a couple of small pulleys and some nylon rope.

A plan was forming.

With my purchases in a plastic bag, I arrived home and went to work. I took the cheap flag off the splendid wood pole. I used my indispensable cordless drill, a pair of pliers and some old-fashioned ingenuity. Within a few minutes, I had produced a fully functional halyard for the splendid new flag. And I could raise and lower the flag.

On Wednesday, my flag flew at half-staff.

Today, the flag's still flying. I thought maybe a year would be long enough. As it turns out, it's not. I don't know for sure when the flag will come down. I suppose I'll know when the time is right -- if it comes.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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