The Lieutenant's Substitute
An honor entrusted to a 5th grade pair, no one thought they could mess up.
I was ten, she was ten. I had been bestowed a task so grand, so important and majestic, I could not do it without her. The Safety Patrol Captain was out sick, I as Lieutenant was much more qualified for the captain job from the start, I would never be out sick, however I digress, that injustice is for another story. Captain Eric being absent for the day is in fact precisely what my tiny heart desired. An opportunity for me to shine.
It was now my sole responsibility to raise the American flag outside Dolson Elementary to officially begin our school day. Each day the flag stood tall and proud outside our front doors. It waved to the town as the day waned by. I was to unfold it from the traditional triangle fold, not dare letting it touch one corner to the ground. Then I was to clip the loops in on either corner and glide the chain raising her to her rightful glory to protect and guide our school and our town.
Alas, I could not do it alone. I hastily devised a plan. I took my case to Mr. S, our principal who’s only present action in the favor of the students was to shorten his name to Mr. S. I let him know my little hands could not possibly bear this burden alone, I required a replacement, a fill-in for our delinquent captain. I needed Julie, a lieutenant picked substitute. I let him know she could be found in Ms. Lewis’ classroom and would be the only possible pair of hands that could support me in the successful completion of this mission with a fast approaching deadline. The flag must be raised before the morning announcements per patrol protocol. The mustached man did not have the energy to resist, he dialed the classroom and asked for Julie to be sent to the principal's office. I giggled knowing she would be panicking, curious, double stepping down the hall.
I waited for her outside the door. The flag was neatly tucked under my left arm, my patrol belt buckled over my shoulder and waist with my lieutenant badge shined and pinned to my left breast. When she turned the corner our seams burst with laughter, the kind of laugh absent of sound where you just sway back and forth building on each other's breathlessness. We could barely say hi to each other through crossing our legs to hold the pee in.
I pulled Julie outside the school’s front doors and let her know what was happening. This was going to be glorious. We took our time, flag etiquette and patriotism being an important pillar of the United States elementary curriculum in the years immediately following 2001. We paid no mind to the morning announcements now broadcasting overhead, we stayed focused. Julie and I could have stayed out there all morning in the name of duty but we started to sweat in our pre-pubescence from the morning sun beams as we yanked the chain to raise the flag to the top of the pole. We stepped back to admire our work. Impeccable. Accomplished. Home of the free and the brave. We were Rosie the Riveters, we were the Lieutenant and substitute Captain of this elementary’s ranking. The flag had been raised. We saluted.
We tittered back to our respective classrooms and began the teachings of the day. Through language arts and science a plan to view our masterpiece from an appropriate gallery bubbled in my mind. Julie and I met back up at lunch. I woofed down my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sour cream and onion chips, and threw out my carrots. I was enjoying my Capri Sun as Julie finished her bought lunch, she was always second to finish after having to wait in line for her food. She chucked her last chicken nugget in earnest. We had to get outside to the rear of the playground to admire our handywork.
Out the doors we weaved through the children to the often ignored dome climber in the back corner of the grounds. We figured we could climb to the top and get a good view over the entire school building. We scaled the dome, encouraging some lowly second graders to find another structure, and settled onto the flat metal capping of the climber hot on our bums.
It was then my heart dropped. My acidic lunch chips lurched at the back of my throat. We had made a grave mistake. The American flag was flying alright, for the whole town to see, upside down. Shiitake mushrooms, Julie and I both yelped wide eyed at each other. Raising a flag stars to the ground was a federal offense surely! We jumped down from our perch and dashed inside the building rattling something about pee to the lunch ladies. Unvocalized, we agreed adults were better off in the dark on this one. If by the grace of God they did not notice this yet, we were not going to be the ones to tell them. We sprinted down chunks of the hall having to slow to a brisk walk in front of every classroom door to not raise suspicions.
Old Glory did not come down easily. She was angry, resisting our pull, disgusted with our apparent lack of respect. We finally got her down, flipped her, reversed her, and flung her back up. Once she flew correct our guilt overcame our haste. We decided, to right our sins we must pay our respects. The two of us out front of our school alone but for the flag and the usual city traffic cruising by, a location we were not allowed to be without permission, standing below the twenty foot high metal pole holding our country’s flag placed our little palms over our thumping hearts. Together, we recite the pledge of allegiance in respect and apology. I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.