Flag Day has always represented a weird little holiday for me. As the son of a World War II veteran, my childhood was filled with images of my dad literally marching to the front of the house in the early morning hours of June 14th, cigarette dangling from his mouth, to hoist the American flag up on pole dangling from the side of our house. He’d pause for a moment, and then retire to the back deck, where, the night before, he had left an empty 2-liter soda bottle. Reaching behind one of my mother’s many potted plants, he would produce several old, waterlogged bottle rockets he’d bought from “Da Guy” (fireworks being illegal in New York). He’d jam a couple of the rockets into the 2-liter bottle, letting the fuse hang off the outside, and then use the tip of another freshly-lit cigarette to light them all at once. The bottle rockets would all sputter and smoke as they hopped around in a pathetic attempt to escape the bottle. Most simply flopped onto the deck and burst into flames or else fizzled out. Once in a while, a lucky one would escape and fly into the bright morning sun, exploding in a cloudy grey mass. That was the extent of my dad’s Flag Day celebration. And every year, I would watch him, if only to hope that none of them escaped the bottle and instead caught the deck on fire. Those were the ones that seemed to make my dad the happiest.
As my father grew older, he stopped hanging his flag out. But he taught me to respect it. There were numerous occasions, funny now but not at the time, when my 80-year-old father was inches away from, in his words, “kick da s**t outta some horse’s a**” who had refused to stand up or take his hat off during the Star-Spangled Banner at sporting events. During those years, I’d have to say that it was hard for me to see an American flag anywhere and not smile. That was because those stars and stripes immediately conjured up images of my dad, fists raised old-school style like the Notre Dame leprechaun, challenging some disrespectful guy to a fight over Old Glory.