Old Glory is Alive and Well

I HAVE to report from Thomaston, Maine, that the American flag is alive and well, and doing just fine. Thomaston is a little seacoast town of white-painted houses with black shutters, immaculate gardens, window boxes full of geraniums, and porches where people sit out on swinging settees. If Hollywood ever shot movies in the places where movie stories are supposed to take place, they would choose Thomaston as a typical setting.

Except there isn't much drama in Thomaston, and that's all to the good. It's the kind of place where people take a trip and leave their front doors unlocked. It's the kind of place where the policeman strolling the main street will greet passers-by by first name. (``Hi Fred, 'lo Joe.'') It's a friendly town, where drivers wait for one another to pull out of side streets and parking places, and hand-signals are of an encouraging nature, rather than of the confrontational kind practiced in some of our larger cities.

One of the things that does stir Thomaston up is the July 4 celebrations. Then traffic gets detoured around Route 1, which runs through the center of town, so that the parade can go through.

This year there were floats from the library, and one with a passel of giggling boy scouts, and an old-timers' jazz band, and a kind of Marx brothers mock philharmonic orchestra. And there was one bearing a giant cake with local maidens representing candles, and atop it a local hero dressed somewhat self-consciously as an Indian brave.

There were old automobiles, and of course fire engines and rescue trucks from nearby towns - their brasswork gleaming - manned by brawny volunteers pretending adulthood, but reliving childhood by blaring the sirens and tooting the horns.

A man walking his small son to the parade explained to the boy the day's significance. It was America's birthday, he said. Yes, chimed in the mother, the day when we had become independent and ``nobody could tell us what to do.''

After the parade there were some speeches by local politicians. There were words about the freedoms Americans should treasure, much applauded. There were dark references to such countries as China and Vietnam, and the lack of freedoms therein. The blueberry princess, and a couple of other princesses, were introduced.

There was horseshoe pitching. ``Practice up,'' encouraged the Master of Ceremonies, ``for your contest with George Bush'' (who summers down the road apiece in Kennebunkport and plays horseshoes there).

Then came the free pony rides and children's games - penny hunt, egg relay, and beanbag throw. Various musical groups performed, capped by Percy Young and Stompers Kitchen Band. There was a puppet show, a magician, and all kinds of other fun, capped at dusk by fireworks.

The Republicans had some stalls and sold homemade pie. The Democrats had some stalls and sold fried dough and hamburgers. There was a chicken barbecue at five dollars a crack. A satisfied-looking black Labrador did very well; his owner told me that some people had bought chicken for the dog, carefully de-boning it for the animal's satisfaction.

In other words, it was one of those wonderful, friendly, relaxed days when neighbors were at peace with each other, and when threaded through all the fun was an appreciation for, and satisfaction with, the achievements, the standards, the ideals of America.

American flags were there in abundance - along the sidewalks, draped from buildings, waved by toddlers. Though friendliness pervaded, I would not vouch for the safety of anybody who had tried to burn one. But though Maine along with most other states is roiled in debate over the Supreme Court ruling on flag-burning, that too is part of the democratic tradition - to fuss and fret and forcefully speak one's view.

The flag may be the issue. But the flag is only a symbol. In thousands of communities across the land this week, Americans have proved that the ideals for which the symbol stands are unharmed and unsinged.

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