A Flag for a Hero

A Flag for a Hero

This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.

Editor’s note: This piece is from Barnaby’s archive.

Some years ago, an acquaintance from down the road came to me with a special request. She needed a flagpole, and in something of a hurry.

Her story was touching. It seems she lived with a friend, an elderly lady in her 80’s, who had lost her husband in World War II. I wasn’t told many details, only that he had been lost in the action and was buried at sea in that vast, watery grave that has accepted so many souls since the beginning of time. At some point, his young widow was presented with the American flag that had shrouded his coffin. She kept it safe all those years since, folded neatly and put away in a chest somewhere.

In the twilight of her life, this dear widow of the young American hero expressed to her friend her longtime wish to have a flagpole, to fly her husband’s flag, her flag, to remember him and to declare her devotion. Why she waited so long, who knows? Such a wish could not be ignored, and so her friend found me in my shop one day and asked me to help.

It just so happened that I own a small stand of tall, straight red pine trees, many of them just the right size for a flagpole. I went out and cut one down, a good one, I peeled it, dried it, fashioned a stanchion, painted everything white and rigged a halyard out of pot warp with a pulley at the top and a cleat at the bottom. When all was done, it made a pretty fair flagpole. Then I loaded it on my truck and set out down the road.

My arrival with the flagpole was, apparently, a much-anticipated event. I was greeted by a pet sheep and half a dozen cats, not to mention the woman who had hired me in the first place. She directed me around back to a spot where the flagpole would be most visible from inside the house. There I dug a deep hole, erected the pole and tamped the earth back in all around it. I put the sod back in place too and tried to make a neat job of it.

Finally, the woman, the sheep, the cats and I were ready to hoist the American flag, which was ceremoniously brought to me, still folded just as I imagined it had been for many years. As I clipped it onto the halyard and started to raise it skyward, I was urged to look toward the house. “Look, look, in the kitchen window. See her standing there in her red, white and blue dress? She’s standing at attention.”

She was, too. I could see that kind old lady in the window very plainly, standing straight and watching as the flag climbed upward and unfurled in the breeze, at long last. It’s hard to describe how moved I was, knowing the part I was playing in making her wish come true. And to see that American flag come alive once again, after all the time that sadness and memories had hidden in its folds. Now they were set free.

I picked up my tools to leave, taking one last look around, and again I saw her in the window, the bride of that young American hero, smiling goodbye.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.

American flag photo by Ally Thomas.