Three Colors

Sean Dietrich


I hung an American flag on our house today. We just moved in. We have only been living in Birmingham for three days, but I thought it was time we flew the Stars and Stripes.

This house dates back to 1923, so this porch has probably seen its share of flags.

When Lindbergh flew across the pond, a flag whipped from these columns. When the Depression hit, and people stood in 10-mile breadlines, there was a flag here. When the kid who grew up in this old house went off to join a global war, and died in Europe, Old Glory was flying from the eaves.

So I went to the hardware store to buy a flag.

“Yeah, we got flags,” said 80-year-old hardware store employee, Steadman. “But I tell you right upfront,” he added, “flying a flag ain’t cheap.”

I thought Steadman was speaking poetically, but as it turned out, he was speaking from his wallet. Flags cost a small fortune.

First, there was the oak flagpole ($35.99), then the mounting hardware ($29.99), the flag hooks ($4.99 apiece), the masonry screws ($8.99), the masonry drill bit ($19.99) and, of course, the flag itself ($69.99). For those keeping tally, that’s a grand total of $154.94. It would have been cheaper just to get a flag tattooed on my forehead.

But the American flag speaks to me. I wish I could give you some high-minded patriotic reason for why I spent hours hanging the Star-Spangled Banner from my house, I wish I could be ultra poetic and tell you what a great citizen I am. But I’m not a poet. And my reasons are much more low-rent than that.

I just really like American flags.

I love being American. When I was young, people my age were hellbent on traveling to Europe to become internationally conscious. I was so jealous of my friend, Justin, who studied journalism in college. He visited Spain, Portugal and France on a student exchange program. In one year he traveled through Europe, Nepal, Thailand, India and (why not?) Greenland.

Me? I couldn’t afford college. And the farthest from home I’d ever been was Texarkana.

So my lack of travel made me feel bad about myself. I counted myself as a failure. I was a dropout and a roughneck who lived in a doublewide and could hardly afford a McRib sandwich, let alone a holiday in Barcelona.

But that all changed one summer when I made a decision. I told myself, hey, so what if I couldn’t see the globe, I live in a pretty great country, and I was going to see America.

So that’s what I did.

I was 18 when I drove to the Grand Canyon in my truck. I slept in a tent hammock for four weeks, hiking and eating dangerous amounts of pinto beans. I wandered isolated trails on the canyon’s North Rim.

One morning at sunrise, I strolled to Point Imperial, the highest point on the North Rim. I arrived just as the orange sun was peeking above the craggy canyon horizon.

That’s when I noticed someone had shoved a lone American flag into a crevice of rock, right on the canyon’s edge. It was a massive flag, flapping loudly, like a flock of geese getting ready to take flight. I have no idea what the flag was doing there, but it was an impressive sight.

In a brief moment, my heart swelled with inexplicable pride. I was thinking to myself, I might never see Montreux, or Bangkok or Bordeaux, but I am American, and that’s enough.

My ponytailed ancestors brandished Flintlock muskets and knee-breeches. They tossed tea into the Boston Harbor and spit in the king’s eye. They died so I could stand right here, right now, and feel the exact way I was feeling. Proud.

Then it occurred to me that although I would probably never become a college student, or a poet, or a great thinker or a seasoned traveler, big freaking deal. That didn’t mean I wasn’t lucky. I was. I was American, and that’s lucky enough.

There are 44 million Ukrainians right now who are ravaged by the hell of war, meanwhile, I live in a jacuzzi of luxury. If that’s not lucky, I don’t care to know what is.

You and I come from a country that fosters artists, thinkers, poets, craftsmen and saints. People who left an indelible mark on the world. Such geniuses as John Singer Sargent, Satchel Paige, Flannery O’Connor, Samuel Clemens, Fred Rogers, Fanny Crosby, Harriet Tubman, Jack London, Norman Rockwell, Charles Kuralt and of course, Gary Larson.

So today I stood on a ladder and I honored them. I held a cordless drill and paid tribute to my forefathers and foremothers.

After I had mounted the flag I stood back to appreciate my handiwork. A few kids on bikes stopped to watch. A sudden wind gust blew in. Our nation’s colors were immediately unfurled, and in a dramatic moment, the kids stood silent in slack-jawed admiration. Finally, one of the children said reverently, “I think it’s crooked.”

Like the man said, flying a flag ain’t cheap.


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