The other day I was riding down a desolate, car-free street in Southwest Detroit in the old Del Ray neighborhood. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a little old man sitting hunched over on a milk crate. He was holding an American flag that was flapping in the breeze. I didn’t think much about him sitting there as I pedaled by. However, a few blocks beyond, curiosity got the best of me, so I swung around and headed back to visit the old guy. As I approached, I saw that he was up and slowly walking along the street looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I rolled up next to him and noticed he had two flags. He was holding a stick with one in his right hand, and another looked to be pinned to his shirt. I asked him about the flags, and he said he loves this country.
I told him my name and asked his. “Raymond,” he said. Then he mentioned that he’s a lifetime Detroiter and has lived in that old, battered neighborhood for a couple of years. He also said (with pride) that his mother worked for the CIA as a body guard.
Then suddenly out of nowhere, he excitedly asked if he could sing me a song. I said sure, and unexpectedly he launched into the Civil War era song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” His singing started out softly and as he got deeper into the song his voice became louder and stronger. He ended it with a gut wrenching, loud “Hurrah! Hurrah!” and a smile on his face.
After he finished the traditional war song, he said he must get to the store up the street so he could buy some cigarettes. I asked him if he should quit smoking and he said, “No, I’m too old to quit and it wouldn’t make no difference now.”
He then turned to me fully, straightened up, and saluted before slowly turning and shuffling off to the store; the stick-mounted flag held proudly in his right hand.