Stars and stripes and unplanned anniversary picnics forever

Planning is not my strength. Not too long ago my youngest sister, Treasa, mentioned that our parents’ 45th anniversary was today.
My parents aren’t the type of people who would want a large party—which is good because we didn’t have time to plan one.
Maybe we could take my parents to Mass and then go out to eat at Tio Pepe’s, I suggested. I don’t know why Treasa wasn’t more enthusiastic about going to Mass and a fancy restaurant as a family. Have I mentioned that she and her husband have a newborn and a 20-month-old?
Anything we were going to do had to be low-key, fairly unscheduled, child-friendly, and flexible. So we decided to invite my parents to go on a picnic at Fort McHenry.

Picnics are a big part of our family culture, especially because you can go on one with very little planning, which might also be part of our family culture, come to think of it.
This morning I invited my out-of-town siblings (except the one in New England, and let’s hope he either doesn’t read this or does and forgives me).
I decided to pick up sandwiches from a deli (extravagant and lazy). My parents announced they had bought a cake (I know! For their own celebration! I am not going for Daughter of the Year), and we headed down to Fort McHenry.
On the way through the city we saw a man giving a woman a piggyback ride, and our children were intrigued.
“I think they are out on a date, and he is trying to show her why she should marry him,” our older son said.
That sparked a conversation about people getting engaged, and I was surprised that our 8-year-old knows that a man usually asks a woman to marry her with a ring and on one knee. How does he know? Is that in a Transformers episode?
The boys wanted to hear how we knew we were going to marry each other, so we told them.
“You should ask Grandma and Grandpa how they got engaged,” I said, “because they have two different stories.”
As we were driving toward the Fort McHenry gate, I noticed that it was just past 4:30 p.m. “I hope it’s still open until 8 p.m.,” I said.
A moment later we saw the sign. The Fort now closes at 6 p.m.
Oof. Maybe that’s why people actually plan ahead.
We unloaded the car and found my father, who told us the park rangers were looking for people to help take the flag down at 5 p.m.

Even when you barely have enough time to eat your sandwich before the park closes, how can you say no to catching a 30-foot-by-40-foot garrison flag?
That’s right. You can’t. Especially when some of your guests are still on their way because they don’t realize the park closes at 6 p.m.—and also because one of their passengers got carsick and they are dealing with that.

So my father, my husband, my younger son, and I helped catch a flag that is the size of our house.

If I am remembering our instructions correctly, the story is that in 1948 the president of the United States decided a flag should always fly at Fort McHenry, but at the end of the day, the rangers remove the large flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes and put a much smaller (5-by-9, I believe) president’s flag with 50 stars and 13 stripes in its place until the next day.

That’s my father.
As the flag was lowered, we worked with complete strangers to make sure it didn’t touch the ground. Then we pushed it—no folding for this flag because that’s not practical or necessary—into a bag for use again tomorrow.

Then we went back to our picnic blanket and ate the fastest picnic dinner ever. We had packed plates and forks and fruit salad and smashed deviled eggs, but no one had thought to bring napkins. What can I say? We were roughing it.

We took a few pictures, watched the boats go by, packed up the leftovers and trash, and gave my parents a card and a whale cutting board as their gift, even though that is not the traditional present. But who wants a sapphire?
Then our 6-year-old looked around and said, “There’s no one else here.” And he was right. So we closed the Fort down at 5:57 p.m. and headed off to my sister’s front yard to eat cake and Italian ice we picked up from my namesake store on the way. And somehow my children ended up playing Angry Birds on Grandpa’s phone. Their gift must have been to move him up a level or get a higher score or whatever the right lingo is for Angry Birds.

It was a lovely, memorable evening celebrating my parents’ 45 years of marriage. Maybe we should have spent more than 45 seconds planning it. I mean, we could at least have gone earlier and enjoyed the Fort. But then we might not have been there to catch the flag.
Still, it might have been nice to have a few napkins. Maybe we should start planning for their 46th anniversary before June 18, 2017. Maybe.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.