Donning her apron, Lillian placed the necessary materials in her pockets and gathered fabric bolts into her arms, placing them all on the only table. Humming a tune, she sat, carefully cutting red and white strips from the cloth bolts. Then, she precisely measured and cut out a square from the blue yard goods.
“Now, where did my pincushion run off to?” she mumbled. “Oh, yes, I put it up on the bureau to keep Pepper from constantly batting it around,” and she retrieved it, returning to the straight-backed old oaken chair. Pinning the thirteen strips together, Lillian reached for her spool of thread and needle.
“Pepper, I declare, they make needles smaller every year,” she grumbled, absent-mindedly stroking her cat’s fur before finally pulling the thread through. As she basted the alternating red and white strips together, Lillian recalled the mayor’s request that she make an American flag to place in the schoolyard.
As Lillian worked, she thought of the men from their town who came home from the war, each strip seeming in her mind to represent a lad who had departed with courage and valor, only to return crushingly broken or not at all.
“Poor Widow Sterns, nursing her Tommy! I’ll never forget the day he got off that train, limping from the bullet still lodged in his back, with a broken arm that still hasn’t healed properly,” she mused. It was then that the war became starkly real--when their maimed and mind-scared returned, not as the strapping, strong, exuberant and brave boys who started out, but as disillusioned man-shells of who they had been.
“Remember Sonny, Pepper--the one who teased you on when he was little? I hear he just sits in his mama’s rocker, staring blankly out the window with shell-shocked eyes. Doc says he may never regain his wits.”
Lillian deftly sewed the red and white stripes together. The town’s only seamstress, she had put all other orders on hold for this task.
“Our children need this symbol,” she thought, “to learn the price that has been paid for our freedoms. And it’s a fearsome price, Pepper, a fearsome price. Yet, how proud our suffering boys are, even now, to have fought for our liberty: Jack Hibbon’s son saluting the courthouse flag with his left hand with his war-torn right arm dangling, and Mattie and John’s grandson returning to that big, empty house where his grandparents died within months of each other while he was away—can you believe I heard him after church telling war stories, joking about dysentery and hunger and frostbitten toes and whatnot, that he and his buddies endured? And insisting on re-enlisting as soon as he could pass the army physical again—now, that’s sacrifice!
The clock over the rough-hewn mantle struck, telling Lillian she had only two hours left, her eyes not strong enough anymore to sew the small stitches for which she was famous, by the kerosene lamplight.
Thirteen stripes of the two different lengths were basted together now. It was time to tackle the part she had been reluctant to face—cutting the stars—because it brought back such a vivid picture of their own Jimmy, delivered to them in a wooden casket draped with a flag remnant of white stars against midnight blue. Those white stars stood out so sharply they pulled at her heartstrings even now.
“He was such a good boy”, she whispered, “and I know he’s proud I’m doing this! It’s to honor him and all who fought as brothers to preserve our great America that we can salute and value this star-spangled banner!” Lillian tenderly shaped the star pattern through her tears, Pepper now curled up on her lap, sensing her need of comfort.
The mantle clock soon struck six times, as Lillian finished cutting and tacking the last star on Old Glory. She gently folded the flag and laid it on the bureau. Tomorrow, she would begin the strong, final seams that would firmly bind the flag parts together. She lit the lamp, observing out her window, Jenny Hather’s soldier husband dismounting from a carriage, as his bride ran to meet him.
The war was, indeed, over! Glancing from the joyful reunion out her window to the pieced-together flag on the bureau, Lillian knew America’s Stars and Stripes would wave eternal, just as strong as the service of love that defined it!
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