Tuesday, July 3, 2007
The Confederate Flag
I’m disappointed that I can’t hang the Confederate flag. I didn’t come all the way down south not to be able to hang the Confederate flag. But contrary to what some southerners think, and what I, myself, have been accused of thinking, we northerners are not all mean and rude and I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. It’s a disappointment, but if it makes black people feel bad, I’m not doing it.
Obviously, the flag means different things to different people. When I moved down here, I learned about the Civil War. Up in Jersey, I must have been playing hooky when the teacher went over that page in history class. The only thing I knew about it was that the south still thought it was going on. Someone would say, “They’re still fighting the war down there,” and we’d laugh. It was funny. Like how milking cows and biscuits-and-gravy can be funny. But once I got down here, I learned it was no joke. This Civil War stuff was no laughing matter.
Every day there is something in the paper about it. There was a whole series about it in the newspaper that ran for quite a while right behind the Dear Annie column and the daily horoscopes, two important things to read. There are Civil War reenactments, veterans’ groups who gather on the marble steps of court houses to demand their right to fly the flag and clubs composed of daughters who are the descendents of Confederate soldiers. Even my property is something of a tourist attraction due to the war. It appears that a flag carrier during the Battle of Gettysburg is buried in the family cemetery and this makes the Civil War hobbyists want to come up and take a look. They bring digital cameras, picnic lunches and make etchings from the tombstones.
It’s all pretty important, but to me, the flag makes me think of sweet things like strawberry perfume, Boones Farm Apple Wine and incense. I am in cut-off jeans, hairbrush in my back pocket, pack of Marlboros in the other, at a party in someone’s back yard where there is no grass but there are woods people keep going in and out of to do things. I am leaning against the porch rail casually where a Confederate flag hangs on one side and a skull-and-crossbones flag hangs on the other. I am listening to The Outlaws and having a crush on the guy on the Harley who is in overalls and looks like Jesus smoking a joint. Ever since then, I wanted to go south.
It took me a while to get down here—almost thirty years—but I made it and wanted the whole southern experience. I downloaded some Molly Hatchet and Marshall Tucker onto some CDs. Alright, my husband did it for me. Then I planted some tomatoes, learned to cut wood, make biscuits, alright, they’re frozen, and put my truck into 4-wheel drive. Now all I had to do was hang the flag and I’d be all set. But then I read about how it makes the black people feel.
It broke my heart. At first I was mad. The flag has nothing to do with slavery! It’s about southern rock! I considered ignoring what I learned. Just pretending I didn’t know. Other people were hanging it. In fact, the brothers Dewey and Fred in the double wide down the road had one hanging right on their barn. Facing the road. Why couldn’t I?
When I was in Bell’s Country store buying plum jam, a book called Amish Home Remedies, wind chimes and sweet potato pies, I saw the flags. My hand lingered over one, folded up neatly in a cellophane package. It was made out of 2-ply, 100% woven spun polyester and it stated right on the label that it was the most durable flag material ever created. I looked up at the samples on the wall one more time.
But I couldn’t do it. My hand moved over to the American flags and I picked up a bunting folded up accordion style and held together in a cardboard sleeve. I thought of sweet things like funnel cakes, crab cakes and Madam Marie the fortune teller. I am in cut-offs, hairbrush in my back pocket, Marlboros in the other, on the boardwalk where ticking clicking wheels and ringing bells drown out the ocean on the beach where people keep going to and from. I am leaning against the pipe rail fence listening to Born in the USA and having a crush on the guy in the record stand. He looks like Bruce himself.
I grabbed four buntings and brought them up front. I’ve always wanted buntings but I never had a place to hang them. Now I have a rocking chair front porch with a railing just right. Two on one side and two on the other. American flags don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.