Out of the Blue

A Patriotic Wish

The art and craft of loving country

By Deborah Salomon

If months have a persona, then July must own patriotism. This is confirmed by the paraphernalia at Dollar Tree. Soon as the graduation stuff is cleared away out come the stars and stripes — on everything. Which makes me wonder about the emotion that ties people to their place of origin.

This complicated emotion sends soldiers onto the battlefield. Patriotism is what rises in our throats and spills out of our eyes when the flag is raised in the schoolyard, when an Olympic athlete stands atop the podium, when the national anthem is sung before a baseball game or taps sounds over a military burial. I do not think patriotism can be taught, or learned. Developed, maybe.

It reminds me of the fifth basic taste: umami, which unlike sweet, sour, bitter and salty, is not exactly a taste itself but an intensification provided by glutamate (MSG). Umami makes food taste better. Patriotism makes being an American feel better.

Patriotism has an amorphous quality that can be applied at several levels to all manner of situations. Like living abroad.

Not that Canada is really “abroad.”

Oh, yeah?

I lived in Canada for 26 years — arriving there as a 21-year-old bride who had never been outside the U.S. or even west of the Atlantic Seaboard. Everything was immediately different: The language (try high school/college French in Quebec province). The money (multi-colored). The newspapers (hockeyhockeyhockey). The food (ground beef is “minced beef,” cookies are “biscuits”). The measurements (Celsius, metric). The customs (queue up at bus stops). The schools (11 grades). A hundred more details, all foreign. I was lonely, confused, overcome with a sudden patriotic longing for the familiar.

I reacted by celebrating American Thanksgiving (Canadian T-G is a minor October holiday), putting out an American flag on July 4th.

Look, you guys, an American lives here!

Over the decades, returning from Europe or the Middle East, I always felt a rush of something when the plane touched down.

This emotion may have originated with my father, born in the USA of destitute immigrants from Eastern Europe. He served in France, in World War I, as an ambulance driver because his eyesight wasn’t good enough for the infantry. On Veterans Day he sold red paper poppies. Whenever battlefield visions surfaced, he’d say, “You don’t know how lucky you are, little girl.”

He wasn’t exactly patriotic but definitely had feelings for his country.

On the other hand, my mother thought July 4th was the day Americans got killed driving to the beach or coming home from a fireworks display. Even sparklers were potential funeral pyres. Therefore, my budding patriotism was never fed by a picnic or barbecue.

What happened to simple patriotism, the American way?

What has the American way become . . . anyway?

Certainly not what’s going on in Washington, D.C., suffering its own epidemic of slander, deceit, cronyism, materialism, partisanship.

I wish that this 4th we would stop and taste the umami, enjoy the emotional rush watching young soldiers wearing camouflage fatigues arriving home from deployment, and old soldiers bedecked in combat insignia shuffling down Main Street. Because patriotism dredges up a pride, an inspiration that supersedes the red, white and blue Jell-O mold, the twisted Uncle Sam T-shirt.

Yes, I’m a bit idealistic — apple pie in the sky. But maybe for one day, or maybe a whole month, we could put on a patriotic face, a united front to reassure the world — disillusioned by recent events — that America is still the greatest nation ever.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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