Thursday, March 31, 2016
An encounter with an unreconstructed old rebel
"Sir, sir," I heard; it was the voice of an older man, kind of high-pitched and whiney. I looked around then saw him getting out his pickup truck behind us, blocking us in. I wondered what was going on. "Sir," he said again.
"Yes, sir, what can I do for you?" I said.
"Where did you get your cap?" he said.
I was wearing my Confederate flag cap, and my first thought was, "Oh, no. Here's someone offended by Southern history." But my next thoughts cascaded to a conclusion: "This is Oklahoma. That ancient, hunched-over man with a white beard, in overalls and with a rusty old pickup probably is not a sissy liberal." So I lightened up and gave him a smile, showing that I have a missing tooth, making the word on my cap, "Redneck," a truth.
"Well, sir, we are from Missouri--," I started.
"Yes, I see that,'" he interrupted, looking at the license plate.
"--and I found this at an antique mall in Lebanon," I continued. Turning to my wife in the driver's seat, I asked, "What was the name of that place?" Then I remembered and turned back to the guy as my wife and I said together, "Heartland. Heartland Antique Mall."
I walked toward the old man, and he said, "I've been looking for a cap with a rebel flag on it."
"Well, you might try some antique malls around here," I said. "The one in Lebanon had three or four booths with Confederate merchandise--flags, caps, pins, stickers and such."
The old man said, "I've got pins and stickers, and a flag, but I need a cap." He said he was originally from Alabama and his wife, in the truck, was from Georgia.
"Find an antique mall around here," i said, "and I'll bet you will find one." I took off my cap and we looked at the flag embroidered on the front of it. "But watch out what you buy. Look at this one," I said. "It is made in China, and you'll notice that the Chinaman who designed it left out the star in the center of the cross. This flag only has 12 stars, not 13," I said.
"Yes, sir," he said. "They left out a star, sure enough."
I continued, "Whenever anyone tells me they are offended by my cap, I take it off and look at it I say, 'It offends me, too, because it only has 12 stars. This is a fake rebel flag. A real Confederate flag would have 13 stars.' "
Putting the cap back on my head, I said, "I guess they left out Kentucky, because according to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Missouri is the 12th star."
The old man said, "Do you know the first three states to secede?"
"South Carolina was the first. Everybody knows that," I said, "but I don't know the order of the rest of them. I know all 13 states, but I don't know the order."
"South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida," he said.
"Well, all right," I said. "Well, sir, we've got to get on down the road. We are headed to Texas for Christmas, and we'd like to get to our first stop before dark. Merry Christmas to you." I turned and headed back to the passenger's door that still stood open.
As I started to get in, I heard him say something else, so I turned again toward him.
"What's that, sir?" I said.
"Just remember, the Stars and Bars are forever," the unreconstructed old Southern rebel said as he got into his truck.
"Yes, sir, God bless Dixie and Merry Christmas to you," I said, and I got into our SUV.
My wife was laughing.
"What's so funny?" I said. "That was an interesting old man."
"I'm laughing at you," she said. "I can't believe in all that you didn't tell him you were a native of Georgia."
"Well, by gosh, I am, and no one, not even a Texan, can take that away," I said, slightly irritated. "But you are right, I should have told him, but I didn't, so let's hit the road."
As we headed south on the highway, I thought, "I wish I had told him I was born in Georgia and am dang proud of it, along with my Ozarkian bringing-up."
And I also thought: "I wish I had given him this cap."