He has an American flag with twelve stars, just shy of the original thirteen. It’s lying on his bedside table. Some states have rubbed gramps the wrong way at one point or another and he’s etched them out. You can still see the outlines of where they used to be.
I’ve asked him at his bedside if he can list those states he’s managed to hold dear. Surprisingly he can, despite the beginnings of dementia. Texas is one: gramps admires their independent mindset. Tennessee happens to be another; not teaching that good-for-nuttin-evolution got him behind their back.
South Carolina was the first to secede and the first in his heart. Naturally Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana follow close behind. The civil rights movement never sat right with him. He felt everyone deserved rights, sure but, the feds had no place telling god-fearing southerners what they ought [to be doing].
I recall the day Wyoming got his grace. Mathew Shepard had just made the news, as he brings up now for seemingly no reason. Gramps isn’t a cruel man but homosexuals are and always have been an abomination as he often said. The more that got their due, the happier he seemed. Perhaps hate and blame made the whittling away of his senses seem easier and less traumatic.
Since ’39 he’s loved the Wizard of Oz, even as it’s playing on the hospital television above his bed. He watched it every time it’s came on television. In our youth he’d take my brother and I to Kansas on vacation as he hummed Over the Rainbow along the highways. I always hoped the peaceful message would make him more inclined toward acceptance of others but it never quite sank in that way.
For whatever reason, South Dakota and Nebraska remain on the flag he clutches with his weakened grasp. He doesn’t have anything particular he enjoys about the two states but he’s never found a reason to dislike them. I recall him saying once that the idea of the West and the swaying of the corn kept them flying with his favorites on the flag pole… when he had one.
West Virginia, he mumbles, stands for mountains. The tall tips of the Appalachians personify a potent manliness. Naturally, that’s kept their places for him on his patriotic tapestry.
Alaska is a new favorite and addition gramps made me add to his flag, since he no longer could. He’s a widower yet in love with Sarah Palin. She’s a feisty patriot to him, although he still isn’t sure if a woman should be out makin’ a display as she is. He says he’d take exception just this once, though.
Gramps didn’t talk much after that. His voice slurred unto a whisper, and his eyes slowly closed themselves. The heart monitor had become quieter and quieter all the while.
A nurse broke the bad news to the rest of the family and me. We wept and held each other for what seemed like forever. But we eventually went home and began plans for the funeral, hanging his flag up outside the old house to wave in half-mast memory. As its tattered remnants flapped to and fro it reminded of us the good in gramps, and helped us forget the values from another age he never quite let go of.
This is his eulogy.