1972: In kindergarten, draw a beautiful Flag Day poster that includes not just a stick figure girl, but also a flag, and birds flying in formation to create a fourteen, as in June 14 (albeit with a backward 4.) Dictate an artist’s statement to your teacher, Miss Strite, who will write it down in perfect kindergarten-teacher-print-font. This is the same Miss Strite who taught both your older sister and brother, so that when you show up for the first day of kindergarten she will say, “I remember you, Nancy! Your sister brought you in for show and tell right after you were born!”
Wonder why your parents, brother, and sister giggle when you bring the poster home a few days later.
1976: Your mother will haul out the poster and display it because it’s the Bicentennial and everything is about America and 1776 and red white and blue that year. You spend 50% of 1976 wearing a poke bonnet. Your siblings bust a gut laughing when they see the poster again, and don’t spare your feelings, because you are now 10 and they believe you can take what they dish out. “Look what you wrote,” they say by way of explanation, after Mom pins the poster in the landing of the basement stairway, where much of the family’s fine art production is showcased.
“She’s looking at the flag because she knows it’s Flag Day and she’s pretty happy about it.”
“Not really happy, just pretty happy. A subdued kind of happy. There are other things she is happier about than Flag Day,” they continue, now on a roll in the way of older siblings that make the youngest sibling enraged. The Bicentennial ends, the poke bonnet is put in storage, but “Pretty happy about it” is now ensconced in the family lexicon, shorthand for “things are fine, but there are other things that are more fine.”
1977-1981-ish: when June 14 rolls around, seethe all day because you, my friend, are hearing your kindergarten prose repeated to you by your family from dawn to dusk, and you’re the only one who won’t think it’s funny. During this era the poster will suffer water stains and tears, but like Old Glory, it will continue to wave.
1982: There is a new framing store in the new mall and your mom will be on a tear, framing the finest selections of every child’s artwork. She must be feeling nostalgic because the older kids are off at college. For Christmas that year, your sister’s elementary school painting of horses grazing in a meadow will be framed and given to her. You, of course, get the framed Flag Day poster.
1992: By now you too have graduated college and grad school and have started your new married life. Your parents will be shipping you boxes of stuff from their house by the metric ton, relieved to make your things your problem. One of the first boxes contains the Flag Day poster. Trying to explain it to your new husband why this particular piece of art was framed and why you can’t just throw it out makes you wonder whether love really is enough to bridge your differences.
1993 – 2010ish: Like clockwork, on June 14, your phone blows up with three calls: one from your parents, one from your sister, and one from your brother. As soon as you say hello, they all recite the line they know by heart: “She’s looking at the flag because she knows it’s Flag Day and she’s pretty happy about it.” You can hear the shrug they make on the word “pretty” across the phone lines. She’s been happier about other things, but it’s June 14, Flag Day, and that is lower-case- ok with her.
2010 – 2014: Your parents and siblings are busy, they’re getting older. Sometimes they forget to make the Flag Day call, and that makes you indignant. If they don’t call you, you call them and recite the forty-year old artist statement to them, then give them a minute to laugh at you. Tradition is tradition.
2015: Invite a couple friends over for a Flag Day barbeque and center the poster on the fireplace mantle. Flag Day may not be a major holiday, but by this point you consider it your own.
And you’re pretty happy about it.
These days the poster rests under a bed of California stars.