By BOB FUSELIER
Three years ago, I posted a rendition of this story on my Facebook page. I thought it would be worthwhile to publish it again to a broader audience…
A few years ago, I ran across a Confederate flag in a pile of my dad’s old things. I don’t remember the flag ever being displayed either outside or within my Louisiana home. My only memory of it was that I had hung it in my bedroom in Pearl River, N.Y., after we’d moved there from New Orleans in the early 60s.
It’s not the flag itself that stands out in my memory but rather the afternoon when my dad told me I should take it down. I was 7 years old at the time but still distinctly remember defiantly questioning his request. Why should I have to take something down that reminded me of my home in the South, of the things we had and did there that often seemed strange to people up here? He said he understood but told me it meant other things to other people, things that weren’t good. I don’t remember him giving any other detail.
As I recalled those memories with the flag in my hand, I began to wonder how it came to be in our home in the first place. We never spoke about racism when I was growing up, but I knew from how my sisters and I viewed the world that we had been taught that all are created equal.
That fact was driven home to me many years after our return to Louisiana when I was home from college. Returning from an errand, I walked in on my dad chastising his mother and threatening that he would take her home before dinner if he heard her use “that word” in his house again. For my dad, family unity was everything and he never punished us by withholding dinner. For him to threaten his mother this way was the harshest threat I had ever heard him make.
My memories of my Grand-Mere are also filled with her nurturing affection. I learned long ago no one is perfect, but also that things do get better – sometimes quickly, sometimes over generations. I can look at these and other troubling experiences of my past with gratitude today as I’ve learned they offered seeds of education that eventually would allow me to see the world with a wider perspective.
Today I hear echoing from the Charlottesville and the NFL pregame protests cries of recognition similar to mine over the removal of my flag from my wall in New York. The cries today are coming from different sides with different backgrounds and stories, but they are similar cries: we want to be heard, we want to belong.
For all of us, objects have meanings, but no object has the same meaning for everyone. It seems the symbolism of objects is both a gift and a curse of our human nature that grew as we developed language. A word is nothing more than a symbol that, like any other symbol, can carry different meanings for different people. There is no right or wrong to the meanings, only how we use them. Lately, words are being used to further division at a time when we need to foster the sense of belonging, the sense of unity.
I understand the Confederate flag represents Southern traditions I am proud to have. But it also represents Southern traditions that are, to say the least, disturbing. I understand the patriotic symbolism and way of life that so many see in our American flag and understand their offense by those who, to them, disrespect that way of life. I also understand the meaning and purpose of the protests by NFL players and that those protests are not directed at the flag. It seems at times that too much understanding can leave one feeling alone.
Looking back, I know I was able to accept my dad’s request for me to take down the Confederate flag because I knew he shared my love for our Louisiana traditions. To me, the Confederate flag only symbolized those traditions, and so I was able to let it go. My dad and I lived those traditions together. Those memories can never be taken.