A few weeks after 9/11, I hung an American flag in the upstairs bedroom window of our home. It stayed there for almost 16 months, fading in the sunlight that faces Dover Street.
It hadn’t been my idea to hang it. My brother-in-law came to visit my husband and me and he was appalled to see that no one on our street displayed the flag. Apparently, everyone in his San Diego neighborhood was flying the Red, White and Blue. I had never known him to be the least bit patriotic but he had covered the rear window of his truck with a plastic United States flag. He suggested we do something similar.
I said “okay.” I’m not a person of strong opinions and it has taken me years of self-analysis to come to the (now obvious) conclusion that I am a people-pleaser, bordering on obsessiveness. I didn’t buy a truck to please my brother-in-law, but I did run out and purchase a small cloth flag, perfect for our upstairs window.
Then came the winds of war. “Get Out of Iraq” signs cropped up in nearby neighborhoods, though very few hung in mine. In January of this year, friends flew in from Wisconsin to participate in the San Francisco peace march. I joined them and walked with the crowds. My friends were exhilarated. I was less pleased. I felt like I was in an anti-war version of the Bay to Breakers. While my friends stayed for the Civic Center speeches I hopped on BART and hurried home. I had my pajamas on by 6 p.m. Anti-war activities can be exhausting.
Before my guests returned to Madison, they were adamant that I take down the American flag in my window and replace it with a “Stop the War Now” poster. I complied. It seemed the right thing to do.
But then, last week, I finally did what really needed to be done. I threw out last year’s pumpkins. They’d been sitting on either side of my front door since mid-October and they’d grown dimpled and soft. They were rotten throughout and I had a difficult time carrying them to the compost box. I had thought that someone would steal them from my front porch and smash them in the street. But the kids in my neighborhood are either not that bad, or on to bigger, badder or better things.
It felt good to toss the slimy pumpkins into the black plastic compost box that I’d gotten from the county. It was a cause I could really get behind.
Independence Day is now just a few months away and I have some decisions to make. I can take the anti-war poster down or leave it up. I can buy another American flag or two and hang them in my windows or stick them in the garden. I can tie yellow ribbons around my spindly front yard trees, put up a banner that says “Bring Our Troops Home” or I can do nothing.
I’m giving this a lot of thought and none of the above appears to be the best course of action for me. I’m contemplating another plan, and although it’s not original, it fits with my point of view. Every day, while I walk my dog, I’ll pick up the trash that clutters the sidewalks and clogs the street gutters. It’s not an activity that is going to stop a war or bring our boys back to United States soil, but it will help the neighborhood, and that’s a cause I can support. And come October I’ll buy two firm plump pumpkins to grace each side of my front door. By then I hope the war in Iraq will actually be over, our troops will be home, Dover Street will be a little bit cleaner, and the candles in my pumpkins will stand not just for peace, but for welcome, too.
Susan Parker lives in Oakland near the Berkeley border. She is the author of the book “Tumbling After,” a memoir published last year by Crown Publishing.