The Girl Scouts' ceremony for retiring a flag involves cutting each stripe, announcing the name of the state is represents, and tossing it into the fire. For each stripe, there was a Girl Scout calling out a state and then gently throwing the stripe into the flames of our campfire.
Except, none of these girls knew how to throw a lightweight material and the stripes of this flag we were honoring ended up draped and tangled just outside the fire. There was nothing to be about it done during the ceremony, though. We all just watched as stripe after stripe, Rhode Island! Delaware! Connecticut!, would barely miss the flames and then lay blowing and burning a little, but slowly. We all kept rooting for the stripe to make it to the flames, then there was an almost imperceptible groan as another stripe ended up outside the fire. Thirteen times. It was hard to watch!
On the one hand, I wanted to be quiet and respectful as this troop had requested. On the other hand, doesn't it seem to fall short a bit, literally, of the intended feeling when most of the stripes are laying amongst soot and ashes and trash from previous fires? The troop performing the ceremony was feeling frustrated, too. My daughter heard one girl mutter, "Dang it!" when the stripe she tossed didn't make it to the flames. It was a long, sad process. Eventually, the stripes were at least in the campfire ring, and the troop announced we would further honor the flag by singing God Bless America. I was excited! I am a patriotic person. Singing patriotic songs enhances my experience at baseball games, a sport I consider All-American (go Dodgers!). Perhaps that's why I did what I did.
God Bless America is one of those songs that everyone thinks they know, but when it comes down to it, they don't know all the words. At the baseball games, the words are put on the big screen so we can all sing along and that's how I learned God Bless America by heart. Go ahead and sing it now, in your head if you want. Can you do it? Good for you if you can! If your troop is retiring a flag and needs to sing a song, shouldn't you make sure they learn the words? Or maybe pass out the lyrics for everyone to use? Right? Ahem.
There is a tricky part to God Bless America, the part that speaks of the "oceans, white with foam". When we, all five troops of us, got to this section, the voices faltered. All the voices, even the leading troop! Now, I'm not the best singer, but I felt this flag deserved a better retirement than it was getting, add to that I knew almost none of the people around me and would probably never see them again, so I really belted it out. I mean, I let myself go and just enjoyed singing the song and leading the way for this flag to burn to eternity with some dignity.
As I sang, other voices would swell in the more familiar parts of the song, but again drop out where the words get muddled. I sang it with gusto! I even did the end properly, going up high on the next to last "home sweet home" and then repeating with low notes. Remember, it's pitch dark. No one really knew who was singing except the people close around me. My daughter didn't even know it was me singing until I told her the next day at home. (She wasn't embarrassed, by the way) I don't know what made me do it, the anonymity or the desire to make a memory, maybe both. I definitely will never forget it. Neither will the lady who was standing next me either, judging by the look she gave me when it was over.
Once the song ended, there was a smattering of applause, not for me, but that the ceremony was finally over. Then the troop leaders promptly announced it was time to roast marshmallows and came around and used a broomstick to stuff the last of the fluttering stripes into the fire. Ah, well.
I then wondered if burning polyester results in any kind of toxic smoke, since the girls were all roasting their marshmallows right over bits of flag. I kept waiting for someone to complain that it smelled weird or the marshmallows tasted funny. Something like, "My marshmallow tastes like plastic!" or "Mine tastes like Connecticut!"
Here is a video of Ronan Tynan, an Irishman, singing a beautiful rendition at Yankee Stadium. Enjoy!