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A Symbol Defined -- Cagle

November 2001
Often times during my youth, I would not question things I didn't understand in order to spare myself the indignity of exposing my own ignorance. Ah, if only the Internet were around back then.

The truth is, certain things just didn't make sense to me. Take the coconut head that hung on the wall in my childhood home.

At least it looked like a coconut. It was decorated to resemble an indian, complete with colorful feathers and painted facial markings. It hung in an upper corner of our kitchen, generally cloaked by our c1910 refrigerator.

Perhaps my mom discovered it at a yard sale and couldn't resist. Maybe it was a gift from her mother-in-law, a full-blooded Cherokee.

It didn't particularly match the theme in our kitchen, and it wasn't the subject of conversation, primarily because it was displayed in such a manner as to not attract attention. Mission accomplished; I don't recall ever asking her why it existed in our home, as it blended in with the paneling and receded into an obscured corner of my mind. Mom passed away three years ago, taking the head's secret with her.

Indifference
For the longest time, my feelings about the United States flag were not unlike those I felt for the coconut head. Obviously, the flag had a somewhat more lengthy and glorious past than the head. The coconut head didn't get raised at Iwo Jima. No one ever saluted the head or put their hand over their heart and pledged allegiance to the head. Reverential treatment was never bestowed upon it.

Growing up I, along with my fellow grade school students, had a good enough understanding of the flag's significance and an appropriate level of respect for its symbolism. Even if I didn't completely appreciate its significance, the fact that Americans had fought and died for our country while holding the flag high was good enough for me. However, had someone asked me, back then, if I loved the American flag, the response would have been the predictable child-like shrug of puzzlement, followed by the stock answer, "Uh, I dunno. I guess so."

Somehow, for me, the flag essentially hung there, like the coconut head. It was largely unremarkable and too, in time, blended in with its surroundings. I didn't harbor disrespectful feelings for it...it really just left me feeling indifferent.

As I grew older my attitude toward the flag remained unchanged. I saw Team U.S.A. goalie Jim Craig drape himself with it during the 1980 Olympics. I watched as it was dramatically folded and handed to widows of those who have served our country's armed forces. I watched natives of other lands burn and otherwise destroy the flag, but all I could muster was, "Whoa, what's their problem?"

 

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