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Last one out brings the flag

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Bill Perkins

A recent note I received from a reader in Daleville gave me pause.

“As I was riding through downtown Dothan today, I noticed your American flag was hanging on by a thread,” a fellow named Mr. Lester wrote. “I didn’t want to remove it and take a chance of prosecution.”

It was the reference to downtown that first got my attention. Our company no longer has an office downtown; several months ago we moved to a smaller space on the traffic circle. Although the building has been sold, the new owners have not taken occupancy; the building still has our company’s signage. And, apparently, our U.S. and Alabama flags.

“I have a new flag ready to fly proudly in front of your business,” Mr. Lester continued. “Thank you for your time and please address this issue; many of our friends and family have died to protect that flag and we all know it is a symbol of our American Freedom.”

Mr. Lester noted that he sent his message through the Letters to the Editor email address because it was the first avenue he found to make contact. Fortunately, he reached the right guy. Flag etiquette is an odd quirk of mine, and mistreatment of the U.S. flag irritates me in the same way that misspellings on signs and menus do. I was horrified that we’d left the building months ago and left our flags behind.

I closed my email and left immediately; it was almost dark, but I hoped I could get downtown and deal with the flags before night fell.

I had not returned to the building we called Eagle One since I left the week before we were to vacate. I was out of town on the last day, so when I left, most of the staff was still plugging away inside. However, the back shop was still and silent; production at our site had been discontinued several years ago, and the press had recently been sold, dismantled, and trucked away. There have been mornings when I’ve been groggy as I left for work and would be within a couple of blocks of the office where I worked for 35 years before I would realize I was going the wrong way.

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I pulled into the parking lot and looked up at the twin staffs that rose from landscaped beds. The Alabama flag seemed in pretty good shape, but the U.S. flag was dangling from its upper clasp; the lower clasp had come undone.

The cleats on the staffs were somewhat blocked by a row of crepe myrtles, and I stood for a moment surveying the vegetation to determine the best way to get in to lower the flags. Then I remembered the possum.

Several months ago, one of my colleagues, Sandy, was returning from lunch and discovered a young possum sitting in one of the crepe myrtles about six feet off the ground. The animal might have been stuck; he made no effort to move when Sandy encountered him, and stayed put after I joined her a few moments later. Sandy had a box with leftovers from lunch, and she gamely speared a French fry with a long stick and reached it up toward the possum’s toothy maw. He showed no interest, even though it was a crinkle-cut fry, which I would find impossible to resist.

I could, however, resist further interaction with a possum, so before I waded into the overgrowth to lower the flags, I threw some rocks into the bushes to flush out any critters.

Satisfied that the coast was clear, I stepped in and lowered each flag, and put them in the car. On the way home, I detoured to the 1200 block of West Newton Street, where someone has set up a drop box for U.S. flags to be retired. I assume that whoever arranged the drop box takes care of the proper disposal of flags as prescribed by the U.S. flag code. I appreciate the service.

Later I sent a reply to Mr. Lester, explaining that we had moved, and that I was horrified to discover we’d left the flags. I told him we had sold the building and that the new owners had not yet occupied the space, but that if he was moved to raise a new flag, I was sure no one would mind.

In the days since, I have thought of Mr. Lester several times. It takes little effort to notice a neglected flag, but it takes commitment to track down an email address and send a message to a stranger offering to replace that threadbare banner. I usually keep spare umbrellas in the car, and have handed more than a few through the car window to strangers on sidewalks during sudden downpours.

However, it takes a special sort of person to be willing to replace a flag. And that makes Mr. Lester an admirable guy in my book.

Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of the Dothan Eagle and can be reached at bperkins@dothaneagle.com or 334-712-7901. Support the work of Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.

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