Regular readers know that there are three things I’ll defend to the death: my God, my family, and my country. I stand -weeping- while the National Anthem plays. I’m the lady who will say (not so nicely either) Boy, you better take that hat off your head. Don’t make me do it for you. I place my hand over my heart and say the pledge. I stand (in my own living room) during the National Anthem. I go out of my way to shake a veteran’s hand and thank them for their service (that is the least I can do). Up until my recent Northern visit, I considered myself a patriot.
My friends, I have failed.
Traveling through the two-lane roads of Maine my heart could barely contain the patriotism I saw on display. I’ve already established that I grew up in rural western North Carolina and admittedly don’t get out much, so I was unprepared for what I saw in Maine.
My southern friends, the Yanks fly Old Glory all the time!
Now I know some of y’all (y’all meaning Southerners) fly the Red, White and Blue daily. I bet my Southern friend Shellie Rushing Tomlinson has a flag waving on her front porch every single morning. She starts her radio show with the pledge and shares my stance on defending the aforementioned three things. But some Southerners need to step up.
By way of example let me share what happened when my husband and I went to a small public park. It was dusk and someone was lowering the flag. Hedge bushes circled the flagpole and prevented me from seeing who was lowering the flag. Moments later a middle-age man carrying carried the properly-folded flag in one hand. His limp was noticeable. The other hand was wrapped around a cane, the leash of his trusty Labrador laced through his fingers. His gate slow, with purpose. Let me clarify, I consider this man was a real public servant. I assume he was not a government employee, but a patriotic public servant lowering the flag. I presume he did this daily where by comparison, the flags in Atlanta stay out every single day, and night.
There, in the City Park, I witnessed love in action. That man personified the patriotism of the people in Maine, a love for country beyond compare. Still at the Park, I brought my hand to my heart, turned to my husband, whispered, “Did you see that?” We both stood, tears stinging our eyes. We, the son of a Marine and the daughter of an Army Sergeant. We, whose patriotic lineage can be traced back several generations were so touched and humbled by this man’s dedication that we fought back tears. To this man I say, “Thank you. Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for showing me how a true patriot acts.”
Writing this now, I am still moved to tears.
Back on the two-lane road, pride filled my heart. I, a Southerner of lowly plank-house (shack) descendants, longed to be a New England Patriot. I began noticing the numerous specialty car tags with the word “Veteran” pressed into metal. It seemed like every car boasted a veteran tag. Again my eyes again grew wet as we drove beneath flags draped from the power poles. We stayed in Stetson, Maine where Old Glory waved from almost every single power pole. This was common. There were flags painted on rooftops, flags painted on trucks, flags on mailboxes. Homeowners painted buildings red; God provided the blue and white.
With each passing day I became more embarrassed. Back home, I don’t fly a single flag. Even though I don’t live in a subdivision or near a road where people would see a flag on my porch; they can see my mailbox.
My friends, Some gave all.
The greatest gift.
Everything. The most sacred thing, an unselfish act. Some gave their life for my freedom, for your freedom. And they weren’t sitting in an air conditioned home when they offered this gift. They were hungry, sleepy, exhausted, and most-likely afraid. These patriots wanted to be home with their family, but instead they listened to a calling, something my pitiful words can not adequately describe in this blog. I know that being a patriot is more than hanging a flag. Many strangers, whom I shall never meet, were duty-bound to keep me free just so I could write this post. Can you feel the gravity of their sacrifice? Someone died so I could have free speech and for that I can never thank them enough.
Momma’s lost children. Dad’s punched walls with grief. Wives mourned their husbands and the children of these brave men and women . . . well, isn’t it the fatherless and the motherless children who suffer the most? Isn’t it they who stumble through life with a hole in their heart?
So today I want to thank the people of Maine, the Patriots of Maine, for showing me that patriotism isn’t just one week in July, or Memorial day, or Labor Day, or on September 11. True patriotism is a way of life. So let’s dust off Old Glory and fly her with pride.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends and Fried Bologna Sandwiches (Mercer University Press). In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes and Stress-free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. She loves hearing from you. Visit her website at reneawinchester.com or follow her on Twitter at Reneawinchester