A Tattoo, Old Glory, and the Man in Black…

I’m extremely fortunate that I have a daughter-in-law who sends me daily photos of my sweet grandson. Although we live hundreds of miles away, these pictures help us to be a part of his growth and development, but mostly, these little glimpses of Cooper simply add sunshine to our days, and make us smile.

Every single picture I receive of Cooper makes me proud, and warms my heart, but this one I received a few days ago moved me to tears.

I wasn’t expecting such an “out-of-the-blue” reaction, and wondered why this seemingly ordinary photo affected me in such an emotional way. As I studied it further, hoping to find the answer, it hit me. It was all about childhood. Safety. Security. Being carefree.

“Saturday Morning Cartoons…”

Those three words sent me back to the days of getting up early and eating a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, while watching “Tennessee Tuxedo,” “Heckle and Jeckle,” “Johnny Quest,” “The Wacky Racers,” and more familiar shows like “The Jetsons,” and “The Flintstones.”

The picture of Cooper sitting in his Batman chair, snuggled in his Paw Patrol blanket captured the innocence of childhood. No worries, no fears. Just love, and Cheerios.

I spend quite a lot of time each day worrying about the future of our country. I worry about the dissension, the divisiveness, the partisan politics from each side. My heart is saddened by the number of people—-Americans—-who seem to hate this country. I worry that we will never be united, and that we will see more and more of our freedoms and rights threatened.

Many of you may think that I should just walk away from the television, and not listen to the news. I’ve already given up social media (except for Instagram, which I’ve kept simply so I could post about my blog, and maybe get a reader or two).

I honestly think the easy thing to do would be to turn it all off. To close my eyes and ears to it all. To pretend like none of it is happening. I once had a superintendent who had the philosophy, “If you ignore it, it will go away.”

Unfortunately, with this philosophy, the issues only got bigger…

I try to keep my political thoughts to myself, but the things going on in our country right now have passed way over the lines of political discord. The Constitution and the rights and freedoms that people have given their lives to defend are being trampled on, questioned, mocked, and ignored.

The truth is, it all goes back to the kitchen table. People are okay with the status quo, as long as it doesn’t affect their lives. As long as their needs are met, and their pursuit of happiness isn’t hindered, they will remain quiet. But when things affect their livelihoods, their pocketbooks, the education of their children, Americans begin rising up, and speaking out.

So that’s why the Saturday Morning Cartoons picture of Cooper matters to me so much. He is my “why.” He is my future. My legacy. And for him, I want the world. And I want it to be kind, and fair, and good, and filled with opportunities. I want his world to be safe and secure, and I want him to always be proud to be an American.

The last few weeks, an experience that happened to me over thirty years ago has been re-playing in my mind. It’s one I haven’t thought about in quite some time, but each time I do recall it, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In November of 1983, my friend Jan and I went on a road trip to Fort Worth to watch A&M play TCU. We left on a Friday and we proudly partook in all the Aggie traditions—Midnight Yell, the Corps March-In before the game, and the game itself. Jackie Sherrill was in his second year as coach of A&M, and was busy turning the program around. A&M beat TCU 20-10, making our weekend adventure a complete success.

We left Fort Worth on Sunday afternoon, and made our way back to Aggieland to prepare for another week of getting educated, and also preparing for the big game against t.u.

We were in the last few miles of our trip, on Highway 6, (the road that inspired the saying about A&M—“Highway 6 runs both ways—-A&M. Love it or leave it.”)

Just before it was time to exit onto University Drive, we saw a broken down car parked on the side of the highway. As we got closer, we could see there was a woman, holding a baby, with two other children who were both under the age of ten.

Jan began slowing down, and asked if we should stop. I was ready to get back to my apartment, and I also was leery of stopping and helping strangers. Too many horror stories planted in my head about all the things that could happen and go wrong.

I expressed my sentiments that maybe it wasn’t safe, but as we inched closer, it was clear that this woman needed help. Jan pulled her car behind the woman’s and we saw that she had a flat tire.

Jan and I exited the car, and when we asked the woman if we could help, she said she had a flat tire, but didn’t have a spare. She lived in Bryan, so Jan offered to take her home.

The frazzled mother of three sat in the front seat and held her baby, while the other two children joined me in the backseat. Jan asked for directions and we set out to complete our good deed and help this woman in need.

I can’t remember the details of that drive, but I do know at some point we noticed a tattoo on the woman’s left arm. This was in the 1980s, when tattoos weren’t that common, especially on women. Upon further inspection, we could see that the tattoo was made up of a series of numbers…

Again, I can’t remember how we asked, or if the woman brought it up first. I do, however, remember the feeling of awe I experienced when she said, “My family was in a concentration camp during the war. I was the only one to survive.”

We were speechless, and out of shock and respect we didn’t ask many questions. She didn’t say much about that, but she did speak about how lucky she was to be an American. To live in a land of freedoms, and opportunities, security, and peace.

When we arrived at her destination, the woman thanked us profusely, and then we went on our way.

I spoke with Jan a few days ago, trying to see if she remembered more than I did. Our recollections were the same. We remembered the tattoo. The numbers. The crack in her voice when she said she had been in a camp. We remembered the quietness of the car ride after we delivered her home. The solitude that was a show of reverence and respect for this survivor. Respect for a person who embraced all that America has to offer.

Looking back I wish I knew more. I am, however, glad that we didn’t bombard her with questions. We let her share what she wanted. After all, it was her story to tell.

Jan and I both wonder what happened to her. We hope she and her family have lived the American dream. That they have been healthy and happy and free.

As the world around us seems to have gone mad, and the daily news is grim, and fellow Americans bash our country, disrespect the flag and our National anthem, I think back to this woman. This survivor. This person who was thankful everyday for the most basic things. An American who understood what it truly was to be oppressed, imprisoned, violated, tortured. Someone who lost her entire family, then came to America so that she could be free.

I know I am blessed. I have been given much, and hopefully have given some back. I know our Country isn’t perfect, but I also know that we live in the greatest nation in the world. Yes, we have flaws, and horrible things have happened in our past, but we have worked to make changes to be a better America.

As I watch athletes (who are reaping monetary rewards for their talent and skill) exhibit blatant disrespect to our flag and our nation, it bothers me. Yes, as an American you have the right to speak out. But what else are you doing? Are you helping those in your community? Are you fighting for what you believe in? Are you working with others to make the changes you think ought to be made? Or are you simply trying to make a statement?

This goes for all of us. We need to speak up, and speak out. But we also need to do. And it all starts at the local level. Go to school board meetings. Find out when the next city council meeting is, and attend. Volunteer in your community. Run for office. Educate yourself on the issues. And VOTE.

“Be the change” you want to see. Make a difference. Don’t just gripe. Fight for what you believe in, and don’t wait for it to affect your “kitchen table.” No matter what side you are on (if there even is a side), don’t expect others to do what you yourself won’t do. If you want to see change, be a change-maker.

As we enter into the July 4th weekend, I want to share one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs, “Ragged Old Flag.”

“Ragged Old Flag” is the title piece of Cash’s 47th album, but this grand, spoken word tribute to patriotism was originally written, it seems, with a heavy and concerned heart as American leadership sat at crossroads. When it was released in April 1974, America was absorbed with the ongoing Watergate scandal and the disconcerting feeling it was leaving behind. Cash had long been known as an outspoken entertainer, and had even visited President Richard Nixon in 1972. However, he didn’t like seeing the unfolding – if not embarrassing – narrative taking place and how it reflected on America.

Cash had supported Nixon’s candidacy, but he was also beginning to question policies around the Vietnam War. He wrote the song, according to Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash biography, to “reaffirm faith in the country and the goodness of the American people.” Cash wanted to remind Americans what patriotism meant and of his own faith in America at a time when many were divided.” (“The Real Meaning Behind Johnny Cash’s ‘Ragged Old Flag,'” Tom Konecny)

Here we are forty-seven years after Johnny Cash wrote this song, and I listen to it as a reminder and reaffirmation of the faith I have in our country and the goodness of the American people.

This Fourth of July, I am going to remember the sweetness of Saturday Morning Cartoons, the life-changing story of a woman with a tattoo, Old Glory, and these words from The Man in Black…


“Ragged Old Flag”

I walked through a county courthouse square,                                                                                                            On a park bench an old man was sitting there.

I said, “Your old court house is kinda run down,
He said, “Naw, it’ll do for our little town”.
I said, “Your old flag pole is leaned a little bit,
And that’s a ragged old flag you got hangin’ on it”.
He said, “Have a seat”, and I sat down,
“Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town”
I said, “I think it is.”
He said “I don’t like to brag, but we’re kinda proud of that ragged old flag.”

You see, we got a little hole in that flag there
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
And It got powder burned the night Francis Scott Key sat watching it
Writing “Say Can You See,”
It got a bad rip in New Orleans, with Packingham & Jackson
Tugging at it’s seams.
And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag,
But she waved on though.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville,
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee and Beauregard and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on that ragged old flag.

On Flanders Field in World War I
She got a big hole from a Bertha Gun.
She turned blood red in World War II.
She hung limp, and low, a time or two.
She was in Korea, Vietnam, she went where she was sent
By her Uncle Sam.
She waved from our ships upon the briny foam.
And now they’ve about quit wavin’ back here at home.
In her own good land here She’s been abused.
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied an’ refused.
And the government for which she stands,
Has scandalized throughout out the land
And she’s getting thread bare, and she’s wearin’ thin,
But she’s in good shape, for the shape she’s in.
Cause she’s been through the fire before,
And I believe she can take a whole lot more.

So we raise her up every morning
And we take her down every night.
We don’t let her touch the ground,
And we fold her up right.
On a second thought,
I do like to brag
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.

God Bless America!

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