The Morning Routine

Tom Poland

Posted 9/27/23

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

Come daybreak, my preferred time to get moving, I check on my neighbor’s flag. I check to see that his place is ok after another night of living in America, (thank you, James Brown), and to see if the wind’s about, a weather thing. Generally, all seems well, but as I move toward the kitchen storm winds gather and a US flag flies in the gusts blowing through memory.

As my mother’s health spiraled down, her morning routine became mine. I’ll spare you the details, but it included opening the blinds, getting her glasses, settling her in her favorite chair to watch the news, breakfast, and a glance out the window to see if her flags had wrapped around their staff overnight. Sometimes they had, and I’d walk down the long driveway to free Old Glory and her Georgia Bulldog flag. Sometimes a stick or rake worked. Sometimes I needed a ladder to reach the flags seemingly growing from Georgia pines. Many a morning that was part of my routine. Freeing her flags.

And then she freed herself.


After 247 years, Old Glory takes a break. (Photo by Tom Poland)

Memories of Mom’s flags live on, so when driving back roads, my preferred way to get from A to B, I note the flags attached to homes, trees, and poles. Who keeps an eye on things and how does their day start? Who unwinds those flags when winds toss them about?

My years and miles of flag watching prove revealing. For one thing, I don’t see that many flags at new homes. Nor do I see them at places where hard times dwell. Money’s too tight. I see a correlation too. Old homes, old people, and tattered flags seem to go together. My guess is a sizable stack of years clears the fog, opens eyes, and allows a tad more wisdom, respect, and appreciation to enter.

When I see an old home with foot-high grass and shrubbery a tad wild and a wheelchair ramp I know someone’s flags face windless days. For now who frees the flag wrapped around their staff? What will become of old sun-blanched flags down the road?

The other day a fellow told me to drive a certain back road. I did and I hit the jackpot. That road catapulted me into the past, a land forgotten by time. Around a curve sat a homeplace that compelled me to visit it. On its front porch I spotted a flag resting in a chair. Someone had placed it there with care. Something tells me that flag will fly yet again beneath the Southern sun.

Flags. They symbolize what people feel, believe, and love. Through my windshield I see Old Glory’s red, white, and blue. I see vibrant orange Clemson flags, garnet USC flags, pale orange Tennessee flags, crimson Bama flags, and sometimes a flag from some university where football is just a game, not a religion. Once in a blue moon I see a red flag called truth.

As I wrote this column, I saw with perfect clarity just how time breaks everything. The realization that my youth and homeplace were no more filled my eyes with tears. I almost sobbed. Almost. Memories of home and family life blew into my mind, a wind laden with all that had passed. All that once was. Writing it made me feel like an orphan. Abandoned. Well, we carry on, don’t we.

Today my morning routine includes a visual check on my neighbor’s flag. That’s as close as I get to those days when my mother’s ways became mine. As close as I get to my father who served in Hiroshima and worked so hard to provide for us. As close as I get to the days that shaped me into what I would become.

I’ll go back to that flag in the chair. I’ll kneel before it and thank it for spurring me to write “The Morning Routine.” It made me remember. Made me remember what matters. Made me appreciative.

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