In her last years my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease which took from her any sense of season or month or day or time. So it amazed us that as June 14th rolled around each year, she reminded us to “put our flag out” because it was flag day. Really? She didn’t remember what she had for breakfast that morning and she couldn’t tell whether it was winter or summer and she remembered Flag Day?
I suspect I know the root of the value she had for this day. When she immigrated from Germany and as she prepared to become an American citizen, I’m sure she had to study such facts as the date of American independence, what were the branches of American government, and when we celebrated Flag Day. Her allegiance to the flag showed how much she valued being a citizen in our country and all the blessings of living here. Still it confounded us that in the midst of her mental haze, she would know when flag day was when she couldn’t remember her own birthday.
Flag Day actually originated as early as 1885 as a birthday party for the flag a teacher in Wisconsin held with her students. A New York kindergarten teacher in 1889 picked up the idea with his students. Over time, the idea of celebrating the birthday of our flag spread from school to school and state to state until it eventually became a national day of honor for the flag.
This shows yet again the power school teachers have in shaping our culture. Day in and day out their daily efforts are generally unrecognized and are considered ordinary. But it is in the ordinary encounter each day that culture is formed and reformed. I desire not only to salute the flag at this time in June, but also salute teachers who are concluding yet another school year after having spent the past academic year not only educating our children in the reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic that make up a curriculum, but also helping to shape them as thinking, forgiving, generous, caring, and inquisitive young people.
How wonderful it was to see that teachers led the way with dozens of students last week as they had their hair cut or heads shaved as money was raised for cancer research and hair was donated for wigs for cancer parents who lost their hair. This is just one public display of the kind of inspiration that teachers offer throughout the year.
I hope that even if we would unfortunately end our years like my grandmother that we, like her, will remember some important things like Flag Day and some important people like our teachers.