By Lynn Ashby 6 Dec. 2010
A BANNER YEAR
THE NEIGHBORHOOD – This is odd. More and more homes around here have flags out in front. Is this happening in your neighborhood, too? We’ve always had a few banners hither and yon. On the Fourth of July, Armistice Day and Memorial Day flags would pop up, then disappear shortly thereafter. The local Anarchists Club always runs up its flag – a white sheet with bomb holes – on Guy Fawkes Day. After 9/11, lots of American flags appeared, then slowly their numbers waned.
Now I see U.S. and Texas flags everywhere, plus college flags. Orange and white UT flags dominate. Maroon and white Aggie banners are run up, then set at half-staff after Thanksgiving Day – usually. One household must be interesting: out front flies a flag with diagonal line across it. One side is orange and white with a UT logo. The other is maroon and white sporting an Aggie logo. Wonder if they have any kids?
Many of my neighbors are Katrinians — refugees from the hurricane or just Louisiana in general, so we have several LSU Tigers with their yellow and purple flags (who thought of that color combination? Did the Cajuns lose a bet?). A flag in a yard around the corner sports “SC,” apparently for Southern Cal or maybe South Carolina or Sas Catchewan. Across the street from me is a UT flag and one from Ole Miss. The residents have two kids. I put out a scarlet and gold (not red and yellow) Marine Corps flag every November 10, the Marines’ birthday. This year I noticed on my block a similar flag. Then, around the corner, another Jarhead banner. I could pull off a military coup at the next meeting of the homeowners associating.
There are banners for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Halloween and/or Easter. Others are just pretty ensigns fluttering in the wind and giving my neighborhood, Running Rats Acres, a touch of class to match the railroad trestle and dog pound.
I like them all, but wonder why this recent outpouring? A rush of patriotism for Easter? There must be a booming Betsy Ross Fan Club or the Obama Administration has a new federal make-work program to lower the unemployment rate: every person on Medicare, Social Security or Food Stamps must buy a flag. Perhaps it’s an outbreak of vexillology. Don’t worry; that’s not contagious. Vexillology is the scholarly study of flags. Indeed, there is even NAVA, the North American Vexillological Association. Let’s run this fad up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it.
NAVA conducted a survey in 2001 on its website, among its own members and anyone else who was interested, to determine which state, territory or Canadian province had the best flag. The envelope please: The winner is New Mexico. Its flag is really quite pretty, evoking desert colors and an Indian logo which we vexillologists call an “Indian logo.” In second place: Texas! Yes, my fellow blue-white-and-rednecks, the world flag community – 29,000 voters from 50 states and 20 countries – said our own Lone Star flag is the second best flag in North America. Whee! (Quebec was third.)
Texas briefly led in the results after the NAVA president mentioned the survey in a radio interview on Texas Flag Day. But the three-day flurry of responses (probably from Texans) was eventually diluted by other responses (probably from New Mexicans – those who just arrived, I assume), and Texas sank back into second place.
Georgia’s flag finished last. The Peach State had this busy, ugly design pandering to everyone. A vexillologist derided it as “Five Flags Under Georgia.” The banner was so ugly that it has been changed to be merely mediocre. More than half the U.S. flags are simply a solid background, usually dark blue, with the state seal in the center. “Seal-on-a-bed-sheet,” sniff the experts. From a distance they all look the same, but not the Lone Star Flag. One reason the flag bearers liked our ensign is that it is simple, which also makes it cheap to manufacture, unlike the complicated U.S. flag.
Right now you are wondering: Texas has a Flag Day? I never heard of it, either. You are also wondering: How did our Founding Fathers with names such as Three-Legged Willie, Deaf Smith and Big Drunk draw up such a beautiful banner? They almost didn’t. Three Republic of Texas diplomats in New Orleans, including Stephen F. Austin, came up with – get this – a flag with 13 green (later changed to blue) and white stripes, a red and white English Union Jack and a sun with the head of George Washington surrounded by the words “Lux Libertatis” or “Light of Liberty.” It’s not clear what they had been quaffing in the French Quarter, but, instead of the Lone Star State we were almost known as the Ghastly Flag State. Actually, no one knows who designed the flag we use today.
The Texas Navy’s flag was deliberately made to look much like the U.S. flag to fool Mexican Navy sailors into thinking we were the U.S. Navy. We weren’t cowardly, just prudent. And because of our usual legislative efficiency — it’s a long story — Texas had no legal flag from 1879 to1933. Not until 1993 did the Legislature specify that the red and blue colors are defined by the “Standard Color Reference of America,” the Bible of the textile industry. That law also specifies that the finial, or top of the pole, should be a lone star or a spearhead. Is yours?
Back here in my neighborhood, I notice that, if there is an American flag flying from a house, there is always a Texas flag nearby. This brings us to the urban legend that only Texas can fly its flag as the same height as the U.S. flag because we entered as a separate nation. Not true. Any state can fly its flag separately, but most of them don’t. We do it just to be different. Texas and the rest of the nation are, indeed, poles apart.
Ashby salutes at firstname.lastname@example.org