On a cold, rainy November night a month away from the election of 2012, I was pulling out of the parking lot of Shaw’s Supermarket.

I don’t know what it was about the election that was making me so angry. There was so much. But I remember mumbling to myself and pounding my fingers on the steering wheel.

When I reached the exit to KMD, the light had just turned red, and I was third in line to go. There were at least six cars behind me sitting patiently in the hard rain, wipers flashing back and forth.

Along the edge of the driveway, a line of tiny American flags, but for one, were punched into the empty flower beds.

There on the ground was the last tiny flag, lying in the mud and the water. It had clearly been driven over a couple of times. It was barely a flag anymore, just a blur of colors, famous colors, familiar colors.

The light went to green, and we started moving forward, but for some reason, it quickly went red again just as I was next to go. That’s when I saw this tiny flag in the mud.

My life has been for a long time in the movies, and everything I see, every little happening in the street, even a dead squirrel in the road, I see as though it were part of a movie scene, and this was one of those moments.

That tiny flag looked to me like a stray dog by the side of the road, lost, abandoned and begging for help.

Am I a patriot?

Here’s my online dictionary’s definition: 1. A person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.

Vigorously? No, I rarely do anything vigorously. It’s not in my DNA. I never became a movie star even though everyone around me said I was sure to become one. But that road is harder and colder than you might think. It would have required me to pursue it “vigorously.” Instead I fell in love with writing, a job that meant using my imagination, promising lots of money, made while sitting.

“Prepared to defend it (country) against enemies or detractors?”

Well, I enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1951, prepared to do just that. I’m sure that none of you ever knew, back in 1951, that you slept well at night knowing that Airman Devine was in Japan, defending Waterville from the enemy (North Korea).

How did that work out? We’re still being threatened this very day by the North Koreans. The lesson? Don’t send Airman Devine to defend you from anything.

The flag? Let’s say that in my sordid youth, I was drinking in a bar in San Antonio, and the piano player started playing the national anthem while a dancing girl in an American flag bikini paraded out on stage, waving the flag.

Would I kneel? I might, out of respect for her artistry.

I’m a Roman Catholic. We learn to kneel at birth. It’s a practice we are very good at.

As I remember, all of that up and down at Mass distracted me from exchanging passionate glances with Rosemary De Branco, who always sat in a patch of sunlight. No, I will never be canonized.

Today, considering that my left knee is famously inoperative, kneeling is out of the question.

Would I place my hand over my heart? No. As a veteran of the United States Air Force, I am allowed to salute in the old fashioned way.

So the light was green now, and “vigorous” action was required.

I got out of the car in that bucketing rain, picked up that tiny flag and put it back with the others.

Behind me there were six cars, wipers swishing back and forth. And you know what? Not one of them honked their horns. The one directly behind me even stuck his hand out and gave me a thumbs up.

But I did not think of this as an act of patriotism. It was deeper than that. It was about blood. It was about family.

I knew this flag. It spoke to me. This was my father’s flag I was rescuing. He was a man who fought as a Marine in the Spanish-American War and as a naval officer in the Great War, and this tiny, muddy flag was no less important than the one they draped over his coffin when I was nine.

He was a tough man and I adored him, and when I meet him again on the other side, I would not want to have to tell him that I had left his flag in the mud.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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