Friday, July 15, 2011
I was a patriotic kid. I knew the words to all of the service anthems-From the Halls of Montezuma , Anchors Aweigh, Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder, When the Caissons Go Rolling Along ( before the word "caisson" was changed to " Army"). I was the only kid in my second grade class that knew what that thing that JFK's casket was transported on was ( a horse-drawn caisson), and it was awesome to have that knowledge! By the age of seven I knew how to properly fold an American flag (with tight corners) into a triangle, and all of the flag etiquette that went with it. We made red, white and blue bunting from crepe paper before it was commercially available to hang for all patriotic holidays. I also knew how to make red pom-pom poppies out of yarn, because of the poppies at Flanders Field... and I knew the words to the poem as well.
My grandfather, who raised me, spent 11 years of his life in the military. He graduated from the United States Army Cooks and Bakers School at Fort Dix in Burlington County, New Jersey(The same place my father graduated from in the early years of the Korean conflict). Pop was very proud of his service in the military, despite the fact it was the lesser of two evils: the other choice was jail. My great-grandfather married a younger woman after his first wife died. They started a 'second family'. Pop and his four brothers and single sister were sidelined. Pop and one of his brothers stole some money out of their step-mother's purse, and she convinced my great-grandfather to put the boys in a 'reform school' which was the 1920's version of juvenile detention. So Pop chose the Army when he turned 18, went to school, learned a trade, and narrowly missed being sent to China with the First Engineers.
There seemed to be some confusion about what toys little proper girls played with when I was growing up: Pop saw to it that I got a fresh supply of little green plastic soldiers every Christmas, to go along with the Army helmet, gun and hand grenade that exploded using caps. Another Christmas I was proudly gifted with a three foot long electronic battleship which ran across the floor in a see-sawing up and down motion to resemble breaching waves and rang general quarters (annoying and loud). The Battleship was fully armed with a forward battery of smoking canons, little plastic jets that hurled off the deck and hard plastic missiles with rubber tips.There was a working signal lamp on the top of the ship, and Pop taught me Morse Code.The missiles, sadly, soon disappeared after I shot one of them completely through the living room and into the kitchen where it made pay dirt with the inside of Pop's left ankle...and left a bruised welt the size of a half dollar. For years afterward we kept finding some of the tiny white plastic HO scale sailors that clipped to the deck of the B-Whatever, and the odd paper Old Glory that fell off the string of flags that hung from the com tower. There was a great deal of pleasure and pride at my house that I could accurately sink origami paper boats in the back yard fishpond with this horrendous, ludicrously dangerous toy. It was dutifully brought out on D-Day, Veterans Day and Memorial Day and literally paraded around as a show of deep and meaningful respect for our country's freedom right after attending the military parade of the day in the city. Not kidding. I also collected lead soldiers and a series of famous West Point cadets from Woolworth's Five and Dime, because it was a show of American pride to be able to display these trinkets.
I loved military parades with marshal music(still do), and I was taught to snap to attention and salute every American flag that went down the street. For years I actually believed the words to the National Emblem March were about a monkey wrapping his tail around the flagpole, because that's what Pop swore he was taught in the Army- and I would gleefully sing this loudly off -key, as only a child missing her front teeth could...because that's what you did as a patriot when I was growing up. You knew all the high points of American History and that soldiers fought and died for our freedom....and you were unquestioningly grateful they did.
When I was growing up, being a patriotic American also meant you were a Christian. There was no question about being anything else, because I didn't know about anything other religion ( except Jews). The two inexplicably went hand-in-hand. You could not be one without the other. I had a vague sense that Jews in our country were also patriotic, but I'm not sure I believed they were Americans at the time. Everyone else was a foreigner, a Communist Russian or someone needing saving by Jesus....because that's what we were taught in school. The foreigners and Commies weren't God-fearing. During the cold war years I had a vague sense that I would never make it to 12 years of age because that evil bald bogeyman in Russia (Nikita Khrushchev) wanted to kill American kids. That's why they used to drag us out into the hallways to stand against the wall and have us cover our heads for the time when the bombs would be dropped. We developed a staggeringly wrong-headed amount of civic pride, but we didn't know any better. That was the innocence of a child's world in the 50's and 60's.
I became an insufferably jaded teenager during the 70's. Vietnam was still raging, and I didn't trust the government. I didn't trust God, either. God let my oldest brother die in Vietnam in a war I didn't understand then and doubt I ever will understand for as long as I live. Our government kept referring to it as a 'police action'.Sounded to me like they were handing out parking tickets. They didn't even honor his sacrifice with the decency of calling it a war. So I stopped standing during the Pledge of Allegiance. I refused to sing the Star-Spangled Banner because the words were difficult to make fit the tune and I had no point of reference to connect it with anything current. Beside the tune was taken from an English drinking song and I found no pride in that being our National Anthem. I sewed an American flag on the rear end of my favorite pair of jeans so I could sit my ass on it every time I sat down.I understand now the intensity of the emotions of a teen- and what an internal battle for meaning and sanity they go through. Something honest and true about being an American still remained deeply ingrained within me, but I wrestled uncomfortably with the idea of being a Patriot.
And then something happened in my life, something wonderful, even if I couldn't put my finger on it...Immanence came into my life. The kid who used to used to collect rocks and leaves (but only the magickal ones) began listening to the song of the wind and hearing the voices of Nature and out of that came a redefined sense of the world. The Earth was alive. Spirit was alive.God wasn't just an old man sitting on a throne in the sky..God was everywhere, in everything- and quite possibly female. Life was sacred. Freedom was a holy estate made so by the blood of many who sacrificed their lives to make living sacred....but it still wasn't cool to be demonstratively patriotic according to the Book of Teen Club Rules, and I wasn't taking any chances on having my membership revoked...no matter how I was feeling inside. I went through a phase where I wrote poetry, and I began journaling. One day I packed a lunch, hoped on my bike and went off to the quarry behind our neighborhood.The quarry was my 'special 'place to go when I wanted to think. It was away from everywhere and largely abandoned, the place where I found rocks with iron deposits flecked with quartz in them. It was sunny in some parts and shaded in others, and I could dig out a seat in the soil on the rough incline and plant myself into it and become a part of the terrain.
On this particular day, three bites into an awesome garlic baloney sandwich, I was feeling my oats and intended on listing all the reasons why I thought living in America sucked. To me, England was way cooler- Twiggy, Peter Sellers ( the prototype for Austin Powers),go-go boots, psychedelic paisley, TM, The Animals, Herman's Hermits and the Beatles all came from England. Carnaby Street in London was the Mod capital of the world, yeah, baby! Once I'd noted that living here sucked because your parents put a serious crimp in your personal freedom (like I actually had a notion about having a real life then), I was pretty much out of things to add to the list. I guess I pretty much knew the revolution was over then. Wasn't this the country where I was pretty much free to do and say anything I wanted? ( Excluding parental control, of course!) Why, I could even tell everyone how superior I thought the Beatles music was to that of Elvis without getting shot at ( well, maybe not so much in Memphis); I could wear my hair as long and my skirt as short as I wanted; I could have a Coke at the drug store; travel pretty much wherever I wanted unrestricted, and say that Nature was God...and that God was not male, but female- out loud. Maybe I got some funny looks when I said it, but no one was gathering kindling to built a fire under my feet, either. Not only that, but if someone didn't like my religious view point, that was okay, too...because the Constitution of the United States backed up my assertions. It protected everyone. If I wanted to go dip water out of the stream, pour it over my head, build a circle of stones and dance around in the moonlight while calling God by a feminine name and say it was a spiritual experience...then I could. I could call myself a Pagan if I wanted, and I could be Pagan in this country in a way that I could not in any other country on Earth. The patriotic epiphany had descended.
I'm really not as much of a flag waver as it sounds, but I have come to appreciate what citizenship has given me. I could not be a Pagan in the same way I am today if I were in any country other than America...and for that, I can gratefully wave her flag in return.
( This blog is a re-print of an article, which originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of Witches Hour Magazine. My apologies for the bad editing if you read it the magazine-my fault, not theirs. Editing in Blogger sucks sometimes, LOL).
Posted by Ameth Jera at 7:41 PM