Reclaiming the American flag

More personal context

I’m working on a project, and that project is me. I’m working on reclaiming the American flag.

It isn’t easy, though. My family, to my recollection, never hung the flag outside the house. And there was never one outside of my grandmother’s house either.

Though I don’t recall ever discussing it with my parents when  I grew up, I got the clear message from my father that the overt signs of patriotism were not his thing. I’m convinced that it was a function of bigotry he experienced in the military in 1945 and 1946 and dealing with racism subsequently.

By the time I was in high school, there was an “America, love it or leave it” mentality, which I associated with literal flag waving.

The BCHS incident

When I was in eleventh grade, there was about a week when we didn’t have the Pledge of Allegiance over the loudspeaker. So one day, my homeroom teacher, Harvey, decided our class should do so. I refused to stand. That “liberty and justice for all” stuff, I felt, was a lie. The face of the homeroom teacher grew increasingly red as he repeated the request, and I remained seated.

During the first period, trigonometry, this burly adult sat a couple of seats behind me. I figured he was evaluating the newish math teacher. In fact, it was the new principal, Dr. K.

I met with him and my father, who he had called, either during lunch or after school. Dr. K asked if I were an adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses since the Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that “expelling a student who doesn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance … violates the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech and religion.” That ruling, coincidentally, was eighty years ago on this very date. (It reversed a SCOTUS ruling in Minersville School District v. Gobitis only three years earlier.)

No, I said. We worked out a compromise that I would stand for the Pledge but didn’t have to say it. Oddly, in twelfth grade, as president of the student, I recited it over the loudspeaker. By then, I had decided the words were aspirational rather than factual.

I like red, white, and blue.

I should be clear that I’ve always liked the actual flag. They were going to add a star and stripe for every state that joined the union. The fact that they pivoted back to thirteen stripes, I thought, was very clever.

I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery and the military cemetery in North Carolina where my parents are buried, and I find the rows of flags quite moving.

SCOTUS has recognized flag burning as protected speech. While I agree with the concept philosophically, it bothers me when I see it, and  I would not do so myself.

Indeed, I’m more aware of 4 U.S. Code § 8 – Respect for flag than most people who claim to revere it, for instance:

d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. (i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. I came across this pin of a flag with a cross on it; this Christo-Americanism I found highly unsettling.

And the literal embrace of the flag by djt I find utterly grotesque. (Does the fact that his birthday is June 14 somehow create a rationale in his mind?)

And yet

When the US was preparing to go to war in Iraq, and I actively opposed it in the six months before I began, the peaceniks were dubbed not “real” lovers of their country.

Still, if I Google “liberals reclaiming the flag” I find articles like this from USA Today (2018) and this from Politico (2020) and this from the New York Times (2022). I agree with most of the sentiments contained therein.

Maybe this would work for me. From NPR: “Many have chosen to fly the flag next to other symbols to give it more personal context. For some, that means raising the Stars and Stripes along with a ‘Make American Great Again’ banner. For others, the American flag is flying alongside a gay pride banner or Black Lives Matter sign.” OK, not the MAGA sign, but…

Friend Karen, 46 hours my junior


Karen (center)

If I remember correctly, my friend Karen was born c. 1 pm on March 9, and I was born c. 3 pm (actually 3:15) on March 7. So I’m SO much older than she is.

However, she was the youngest of four, and I was the eldest of three. She was often fearless.

mentioned how I ratted her out on a local TV kiddie show because she used to snap my suspenders when we were in kindergarten. Her sister told me this story at their mother’s wake in 2012; I have no recollection.

What I do recall is that her musical interests were forged before mine were. She was buying the Kinks’ latest single at Philadelphia Sales, a store less than two blocks from our elementary/junior high school, Daniel Dickinson before I knew who the Kinks were.

We had a class newsletter in sixth grade, per our teacher Mr. Peca’s suggestion. Karen wrote a fantastical story about winning tickets to attend a Beatles concert.

Our seventh grade, Mr. Stone, our history teacher, was telling the class about a new band called The Cream. Karen said to him, “It’s not The Cream, it’s Cream.” Either way, I had never heard of them at that time.

She was part of that coterie of friends – Bill, Lois, Karen, Carol, and Ray, in that geographic order, I often walked home after school.

High School

When we were in tenth grade at Binghamton Central High School, she ran for secretary of the General Organization, the student government body. For some reason, the candidates couldn’t give their own speeches. I gave a barnburner of an address from all reports, and she won.

The next year, I ran for GO president, and they changed the rules so that I had to give my own speech. I’m told my talk for Karen was MUCH better than the one I shared on my behalf.

Karen was the one who initially made friends in high school with a group of like-minded kids from other junior high schools. We created a club in school called the Contemporary Issues Forum. Outside of school, we were Holiday Unlimited, with the motto, “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

More Music

Karen worked at a record store in nearby Johnson City before working at the first of four record labels over a four-decade career.

When John Lennon died in 1980, she was the first person I called. Her label was promoting the album, which thrilled her tremendously.

She tells great, detailed stories about being in the music business.  When promoting Robbie Robertson’s eponymous first solo album in 1987, she had to deal with a 24-year-old program director who didn’t know who Robertson was. He also didn’t know The Last Waltz, the legendary concert film by Martin Scorsese and the album, which came out in 1978.

When she showed up at my annual hearts party in 2017, she regaled my friends with stories about singing Will The Circle Be Unbroken in an elevator with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.  Or looking all over Manhattan for marmite to give Paul McCartney.

At her retirement party in 2019, her co-workers shared her drive to get a radio station to play this record or a story to carry that album. “Unrelenting” was the most common description of her approach. She loved music and turned me on to more artists than any three other people.

World traveler

Friend Karen has been to so many countries I’ve lost track. She’s gone everywhere, from Cuba to Croatia, Morocco to Malaysia, Italy to India, and plenty of places in the US. She takes lots of photos and often writes remarkable narratives that she ought to put in a book. (I’ve told her this more than once.)

We often see each other in Binghamton when we both happen to be there. Lately, though, she’s occasionally visiting her friends, most recently this past October. She is fiercely loyal to her friends.

I can tell more, but that should suffice for the nonce.

Happy birthday, friend Carol!

She has a great mom

CarolBH.RogerI could say all sorts of good things about my wonderful friend Carol, who I’ve known since kindergarten.

We danced the Minuet in G together in second grade. When we were in fifth or sixth grade, our teacher read our IQ scores without identifying any individuals; everyone in the class, with the probable exception of her, assumed the highest score belonged to Carol.

Her family had a cottage on a lake in northern Pennsylvania, and her classmates got to go there several times. We also had parties at her house. Her mom was the best of my friend’s moms.

When I was president of student government when we were at Binghamton Central High School, she was the vice president. I saw The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968), The Godfather (1972), and likely other films with her.

She was one of three people, besides the justice of the peace and his wife, at my wedding to the Okie in 1972. In 1975, I dropped out of college after breaking up with the Okie and stayed at my grandmother’s too-cold house. I got my respite from there by visiting Carol. It must often have been on Thursday nights because I have a strong recollection of watching The Waltons at her home. I got to go to her wedding in Binghamton a few years later.

There are tons more I could tell you. I must say that when we’re both in Binghamton, we always make a point of seeing each other. Sometimes those meetings were totally unexpected, as neither of us knew beforehand that the other one was in town.


Here’s a story that epitomizes Carol.

Three or four of us from FantaCo, the comic book store in Albany where I worked, went down to New York in the early 1980s. I don’t remember if it was a comic book convention or a visit to our distributor, Seagate, to see Jonni Levas and the late Phil Seuling.

In any case, on the return trip, the car broke down on the Taconic Parkway in the Mid-Hudson Valley. We had no credit cards and insufficient money to get the car towed and fixed. After going through our limited options, I decided to call Carol, who by then lived about 15 miles away. She drove over and paid the auto mechanic. We wrote her a check, which the mechanic would not take from us because we were from out of town. This was a very nice act.

I saw Carol this summer near Binghamton, up from Texas, to visit her mother and siblings. I reminded her of this generous act. She had no recollection of it. It should not have surprised me. She’s so sweet and caring and decent that when she does a kindness, she doesn’t always remember it.

So, dear friend Carol, the happiest of birthdays to you.

Happy birthday, Bill!


When I was growing up in Binghamton, NY, I attended Daniel S. Dickinson School from K-9. For some arcane reason, school started both in September and in February. The February classes were smaller as they generally contained people whose birthdays were from December through March.

There were nine of us who went K-9 together and eight who graduated from Binghamton Central High School simultaneously. And I still remember all of their birth months, even though half of them I haven’t seen in decades. Diane in April, Karen and me in March.  Bernie, Irene, and Lois in February. David (who stayed an extra semester to play basketball), Carol, and Bill in December.

So I’ve known Bill almost all of my life, which is a great thing. Sometimes I call him on his birthday, which is December 17 or at least send him an email. He lived right across the street from Ellis’ candy store on Mygatt Street, in the middle of the block between Dickinson and Clinton Streets, but he insists that he always went one of the corners and didn’t jaywalk, which sounds right.

In high school, he was that guy who could straddle the different cliques. He was a jock who the longhairs could trust. That’s probably how he got elected as class president.


A group of us went to our 10th high school reunion. It was a rather meh event, to be honest. But the afterparty was fun. We thought we’d have a gathering of us Dickinson kids. Maybe a year later, Carol, Lois, Karen, and I converged on Bill’s house. We bought food and talked almost all night. It was a grand time. The second and third pictures above are from one of those occasions.

A year or so later, some of us went to his wedding to Brenda; it is a cliche to say she’s beautiful inside and out, but no less accurate for that.

I’d see Bill at random times, such as our 35th(?) reunion. The biggest surprise was when I was taking the Amtrak to NYC a couple of decades ago. I was walking through the train and ran into Bill, which was great.

The last time I saw him was at our last high school reunion in September of 1971 at Ross Park in my hometown.

Happy birthday, Bill! Or happy birthday, Guillaume. (He, like I, took French in high school, the odd stuff one remembers…) 

Personal History: Sunday Stealing

Who Knows Where The Time Goes

daughter, wife, niece, sister, sister, niece (Feb 2011)

This week’s Sunday Stealing is called Personal History, an interesting topic.

1. What would you like people to know about your mother?

I was thinking about this a lot this week. My father was the more outgoing and visible member of the couple. But I doubt they would have been been able to pay the bills if it wasn’t for my mom.

She was a bookkeeper at McLean’s Department Store in Binghamton, NY, then worked at Columbia Gas, not even a block away. When she moved to Charlotte, NC, she was a teller at First Union Bank, which eventually was swallowed by Wells Fargo. I probably got my love of numbers from her. When I told her we were learning base 2, which we were told was the basis of computers, she was clearly excited.

2. What would you like people to know about your father?

I’ll be writing about him on August 10, the anniversary of his death. My eclectic taste in music started with him.

3.  What was your childhood bedroom like?

HA! After my second sister was born, my father put up two walls in the dining room, built a wooden shelf into the two walls, then put a mattress on top of that. My storage was under the “bed,” though my books were around the corner on a bookcase. My dad painted the solar system on the ceiling.


4. What was your favorite activity as a child?

Alone: playing with my baseball cards. With others: playing softball/baseball/kickball. And singing.

5. What was high school like for you?

When we first got there, there was a certain hostility from some because my friends were identified as against the Vietnam war. But by the time I graduated, most of the school was against the war. I was on the stage crew and president of the Red Cross club. I was also president of the student government, which is how I sort of got to introduce Rod Serling.

6. Write about your cousins.

I have no first cousins. My parents were only children. Well, essentially. My mom had a younger sister who died as an infant. So my cousins were my mother’s cousin’s kids who lived in NYC and were a decade or more younger than I. Still, aside from my sisters and their daughters, they’re the closest relatives outside my nuclear household.

7.  What was your favorite food as a child?

Spinach. Totally indoctrinated by Popeye.

8. What was your most memorable birthday?

My 16th was held at the American Civic Association, so it was a real party. Lois, who I’ve known since kindergarten, gave me Judy Collins’ album Who Knows Where The Time Goes. She was afraid it might be too country for me; it was not.

9. What world events were significant to you as a child?

The integration of the high school in Little Rock, AR. Sputnik. The Cuban Missile Crisis – I didn’t really understand it, but I grokked adults all being nervous. The assassinations of Medgar Evers and John F. Kennedy. The massive 1965 blackout was the only time I ever heard my father worry about a possible Soviet plot.

To Starr Avenue

10. What did a typical day look like as a child?

During the school year, walk to school about half a mile, usually trying to vary my route. At lunch, walk home to my grandma Williams’ house for lunch, watch JEOPARDY with her sister, my wonderful Aunt Deana, back to school, then walk home with, in geographic order, Bill, Lois, Karen, Carol, and Ray. I’d walk home.

11. Write about your grandparents. 

Gertrude Williams (1897-1982) operated out of making us afraid of the boogie man. I don’t remember her husband, Clarence Williams (d. 1958), though I may have gone to his funeral. 

Agatha Green (1902-1964) was my Sunday school teacher and taught me how to play canasta. She was the first person I knew well to die, and I was devastated. McKinley Green (1896? -1980) was a custodian at WNBF-TV-AM-FM and would bring home stuff the station no longer wanted, such s the soundtrack to The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968).

12. Did you move as a child?

I moved from the second floor of 5 Gaines Street, Binghamton, NY, to the first floor when my mother was pregnant with her second child. Until college, that was it.

13. Who taught you to drive?

Several people tried, including the Okie, Uthaclena, my father, and a professional.

14. Which job has been your favorite?

FantaCo, the comic book store/mail order/publisher/convention, where I worked from May 1980 to November 1988.

15. What was the best part of your 30s?

Working at FantaCo, singing in the Trinity UMC choir

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