Opinion

Flag waving in cold Iowa sky reminds of sacrifice

Ryan Waite and his mom, Jessica. Upon Ryan’s graduation from basic training, the Waite family held a ceremony marking the occasion. A new flagpole was installed, and the first American flag was raised by Ryan in front of family and friends. The flag is a symbol of hope. It gives them peace and reminds them that freedom isn’t free.
Ryan Waite and his mom, Jessica. Upon Ryan’s graduation from basic training, the Waite family held a ceremony marking the occasion. A new flagpole was installed, and the first American flag was raised by Ryan in front of family and friends. The flag is a symbol of hope. It gives them peace and reminds them that freedom isn’t free.

There’s a bitter cold chill in the air, the kind that cuts right through you, and you feel it in your bones.

Snowfall after snowfall we have received, and the trailer for the four-wheeler is buried up to its platform. I can’t even see the wheels from where I sit in the den looking out.

The furnace hasn’t stopped running since I got up and made a cup of coffee. My sweetened mug of get-up-and-go juice is steaming. It sits in the console of our couch with me beside it. A blanket covers my lap. I’m in my pajamas with my Proud Marine Mom hoodie pulled on top.

My mind is preoccupied this morning.

I continue to stare at the trailer that sits in the turnaround then I look up. I notice it’s breezy out, our weathered flag flies gently, the ends are tattered. My source of comfort waves beautifully back at me.

I think about my plan, what the day holds. It hurts.

A few days ago, a box arrived and was dropped at the front door. I brought it inside but didn’t open it, I knew what it was. Instead I put it in the empty Rubbermaid tote that’s in the front hallway.

With the box out of plain sight I hope it will be out of mind as well. I’ve been telling myself that for a while now. If I don’t acknowledge it and don’t discuss it, it won’t really happen.

I’m the ostrich with my head in the sand.

My boy is probably as excited about this as I am dreading it. I suppose in his shoes what most of his “co-workers” have already done he wants to do, too. I know he’s been preparing for it. I know it’s what he’s signed up for. I know its part of the gig but that doesn’t make this any easier for me.

A couple of weeks ago he called and asked for some digital movie codes to load on a used laptop he purchased to take with him. The flight would be long and quarantine even longer. I went down to the theater room and sorted through the many movies, picking out the genre I know he likes best. I snapped picture after picture of the codes trying not to think about why I was doing it or where he would be when he was watching each film.

My head was still firmly stuck in the sand.

Most times when we talk it’s through a video call where Little Miss can visit, too. Yesterday I called direct. Ryan picked up on the second ring. His voice sounded happy and relaxed. He was watching a movie with his wife, Little Miss Hadley played close by. We talked about the family, what they did over the weekend, our plans for this weekend.

We talked about anything other than what will be happening soon. Time was making a fool out of me, I needed to lift my head out of the sand, shake off the particles.

Little Miss must have gotten the gist of whom her Daddy was talking to and wanted to video chat. We hung up the call and rang a different way. When I picked up and switched my phone to video there they were, father and daughter. Hadley laid back against his chest, happy and smiling, excited to see me. She had her hair up in piggy’s and her fingernails painted. She even showed me her toenails. She was perfectly content leaned back against Dad chattering about 2-year-old funnies. We made faces at each other and blew raspberries all over our phones. He tickled her, and she giggled trying to squirm away.

This is the image I will hold close.

Back to today and my plan. Reality has hit me like a stack of bricks this morning, and my head has been rudely yanked out of the sand.

His departure day has arrived. It’s time for me to accept it. Ryan is deploying. The Marines are tight-lipped about where. That does little to soothe his mother’s nerves.

I have a plan.

I leave the last couple swallows of coffee in my cup. It’s gone cold anyway. Tissues have piled up on the console, and the sleeves to my hoodie are damp, too. I need to get up and get ready for the day, make the bed and go fetch that box.

I dress warmly in jeans and a wool sweater. Stepping out of the bedroom I walk to the front door. I pull out the box I’ve been ignoring and take it to the kitchen counter. Carefully removing the exterior tape, I pull out the new flag and gently set it down, adding the key to the pole and a couple of new hooks from the closet.

I look at the flag, all nicely folded and brand-new. No fading or tattered ends. This is the flag that will fly while he is away. Away from home, away from family.

It will ripple in the current cold air. Again in the warmer spring breeze. It will lay still against the pole during the hot humid days of summer and become weather worn like the many before it. Upon his return another will take its place, and this flag will be retired to a display case and become another part of our family’s story.

Lunchtime arrived, Dave is home. It’s time to put my plan into action. I dress warmly in winter boots, a hat, puffy jacket and gloves. Dave stays in his work jacket but swaps his work shoes for the muck boots that are tucked inside the laundry room, he grabs his gloves and the keys to unlock the pole. With the wind whipping our faces we stomp through the heavy snow, around the trailer and up to the flagpole.

It’s difficult to unlock the small compartment, everything is frozen and stiff. Eventually it gives, and we’re able to release the rope. The current flag screams down the pole. Dave manages to unclip the hooks.

Careful not to let the flags touch the ground, we get them swapped out. I step back and a million thoughts rush through my mind, I watch as Dave pulls the rope that sends the new flag to the top of the pole. It feels like the wind is working with us today and when the flag is in position she waves gently with it. We tuck the rope inside the pole, close up the little door and lock it.

We stand back for a moment of silence, each with our own private thoughts and prayers.

The old flag tucked under my arm. The key in Dave’s pocket. Our thoughts on our son we head back to the house.

Hours later the house is silent and the afternoon light is fading. I’m curled back on the couch in the den where the view offers me some comfort. I watch the flag blow in the cold winter air and look forward to the day when another new flag will fly.

May we be blessed with the strength to endure, the courage to see us through and the love that binds us together. Godspeed to all.

Jessica Waite lives in Washington with her husband, Dave. They are the proud parents of four. Their oldest is a U.S. Marine. Ryan is a 2014 graduate of Washington High School. Jessica wrote this about him being deployed.