The flag hung from the house like a beacon, regardless of weather and sometimes in spite of it. It paid no tribute to country or ancestral motherland, but simply spoke of the nature of the home and the man who put it there.
The bright, yellow smiley-face flag was the first thing my children spotted when we turned onto the street. "We're there!" they'd shout, their faces reflecting the flag itself. "Grandpop's!"
Over countless visits, my children learned that flag had many messages to share. It was part pronouncement (Happiness found within!), part commandment (Only smiles allowed!), and part prescription (Smiles and hugs heal!). Their memories of that home are filled with smiles. After all, their grandfather insisted.
The flag not only greeted them; it was also the last thing they saw when we left. Their grandfather would take the flag down from its perch and stand in the starry night, waving it like a crazed signalman at an airport. He was silently but joyfully waving a request (Remember the smiles!), a directive (Go forth and smile!), and a gospel proclamation (Happiness reigns!).
As we drove away, the man and his flag would walk down the middle of the dark street, waving that smile for the world to see. Slowly, the yellow would fade away. The smile would not. Someday, I thought, my children would appreciate the message of the flag - and the crazed man waving it.
Someday arrived sooner than expected.
On a cold, winter day, the grandparents came to visit. Stories and smiles were shared, laughter heard, bread broken.
When the visit was drawing to an end and my 3-year-old son saw his grandparents gathering their things, his eyes popped with sudden remembrance.
"Wait!" he hollered, then disappeared to the garage. He came back with a three-foot stick he had collected in the yard weeks prior. I wasn't sure what its intended use was at the time of its collection - sword, bow, brother-whacker - but now it was apparent.
"Dad, I need tape!" As I went for tape, he retrieved an oversize piece of paper adorned with the watercolor stylings of a 3-year-old. "Quick, Dad!"
He rushed to tape the paper to the stick, grabbed his shoes, and hurried outside in time to give his grandparents a proper farewell.
I looked at the scene before me and smiled: the pint-size boy and a flag just his height. He waved it in the winter wind. His grandparents pulled out of the driveway and disappeared down the street. The flag waved until their car was out of view, broadcasting a message of its own:
Smiles are contagious.