Oh Say Can You See

July 29, 2020 Updated: July 29, 2020


The day doesn’t matter. The year doesn’t matter. The location doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I was with my grandfather, and I experienced a meaningful moment of national pride.

Though I can’t recall my age, I remember being young—quite likely younger than 10. My memory has pieced together logical locations of where I might have observed my grandfather’s patriotism. It makes sense that I could have been at a football game, especially considering he’s a staunch OSU fan (Go Bucks!) And yet, it doesn’t seem likely I would have been at a college football game with my grandfather at such a young age. So my geographical positioning is unknown.

At any rate, I was young, and this moment with my grandfather is scorched into my memory because it was the first time I had seen tears in his eyes.

I was puzzled by this, because I noticed it while we stood in the audience to sing the national anthem. Initially, the singing of the anthem was of no notable experience to me as I was young and just learning the lyrics myself. But I remember Papa’s booming bass bellowing out the words so articulately. As I turned to glance up at him, I was filled with awe at his sound and stature. That’s when I noticed his raised chin, his puffed out chest, his hand-over-heart, and his moist eyes.

At the time, I didn’t know exactly what it meant and, will admit, I don’t even recall the exact words he said to me. I do remember, however, his adamance that “we always stand for the anthem, and we always place our hand over our heart.”

This first recollected lesson in national pride instilled a deep awareness of flag and anthem in me, and I made it a point to listen, learn, and lyricize just as boldly as Papa had.

I feel this was such an impressionable moment for me because Papa was, and still is, rather stoic. I always observed him as firm when he had to be, gentle when he needed to be, particular and systematic, observant and wise, intelligent and focused, humorous and engaging. It was touching to me that words-to-music could affect him so deeply.

This observation was likely around the time in my youth when Papa taught my sister and me how to properly raise and lower an American flag and how to properly fold it.

My early summers were spent living in the home adjacent to my grandparent’s property, which consisted of acres of open space, a man-made lake that we call The Pond (or in the Hawaiian vernacular, “Hanamalia,” which means hang loose and smile—or at least that’s what this youth was told by her elders), and an old farm barn converted to a party barn. Yeah, that’s right. A party barn. After I moved from Ohio and eventually landed in New Jersey at the age of 10, my parents and sister and I would return every summer to revel in The Pond Life: swimming, boating, card games, loud laughter, polka parties, patriotism, and love.

I remember tromping out to the field, sun-kissed and bug-bitten, with my sister, Dani, and Papa in our daily ceremonial flag lowering. He was always methodical in the approach: 1) always lower the flag slow and steady; 2) always lower the flag before dark; 3) never let it touch the ground; 4) make sharp, crisp, triangular folds; 5) neatly tuck in the corners; and 6) place it on the shelf in the barn until the flag raising the next morning. This seasonal ceremony was always a highlight of my youth and one of my most cherished memories as an adult.

How profound that the seemingly simple acts of singing the national anthem and folding our flag would be so ingrained in me, particularly when my grandfather never served in the military.

It would stand to reason that a veteran would pour his pride into his generations that followed. But Papa never experienced national service. He was a staunch and honorable Boy Scout and proud BSA leader, and so, perhaps, these experiences shaped his national pride. I remember hearing stories and seeing pictures of his BSA leadership, but I don’t know how or when or why he became so ensconced in this devotion. This is something I must ask Papa when I see him again.

Regardless of how his pride was shaped, it was shared with me and it shaped me. As the oldest granddaughter and first grandchild, I instinctively knew the receipt of this knowledge was an honor. It was because of this that I emulated his model and, to this day, instruct my own children in honoring our country as Papa does.

There’s much controversy today about how Americans should honor our flag, how-when-and-where the Pledge should be recited, and, at this writing, if the anthem should even remain or be replaced for another. Despite these controversies and confusions, for the patriot, these positions are unwavering. For the patriot, these experiences are momentous and meaningful. For the patriot, these tenets of Americanism are a way of life. And I am proud to have learned them all from my Papa.

Amber Brown is a single mom of five children, a homeschool educator of 16 years, and a freelance writer. Her current working manuscript, “Midwest Roots Blooming in a Jersey Girl: Patriotic Musings of an East Coaster,” is reflected in this excerpt.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.