History Lessons From the Fruit Stand

I have a new friend.  I met him a couple of weeks ago when I sold him a jar of plum syrup at my neighbor’s fruit stand.  I can’t remember his name very well, but I do know that he is a geneticist, a former professor, and someone who worked on The Manhattan Project, and that he got to do all of that because of his service in the military, which paid for his schooling a long time ago, via the G.I. bill.

Over the last three weeks I’ve coaxed a fair amount of stories out of him, like the one about how he refused to let students spit tobacco juice out during his lectures (a habit apparently tolerated by other professors in Arkansas Universities at the time) causing quite a few of them to leave a little “greener” than when they came in on that first day.

This past week, my husband, I, and two of our children were catching a quick dinner at Costco when we ran into our new friend.  He was carrying a take-out dinner back home to his wife, but he stopped by to inform us that he was “going to be published in the Visalia paper”.  He explained that it was going to be a shorter version of something he’d sent in earlier, which had been “refused publication.”

Not wanting to detain him, but having piqued my interest, I quickly asked him what the article was about.

“Flag folding”, he said.  Then he quickly shot back, “Do you know the meanings of the thirteen folds?”

“Thirteen folds?” I queried.   I had a vague idea of what he was talking about.  I’d seen the American flag folded during military funeral services before, when it was presented to a family member of the person who died.  But, I’d certainly never heard about any meanings behind the folds.

“It’s something I had to memorize when I was in the service”, he explained.

“I had to know every one of the reasons behind the folds and recite them each time I folded the flag.”

“And, they wouldn’t let you publish that?” I inquired.

“No”, he responded.   “They only let me publish a shortened version.”

Now, I was really curious.

“Do you still have a copy of the original article?” I inquired.   “I’d really like to see it.  I think it’d be great to read it to our kids, especially this time of year as we remember 9-11.”

He mentioned something about being glad to know “people like us”, and announced that he’d bring me by a copy on Saturday at the fruit stand.  He started to head for the exit, but then stopped and asked one more question: “Do you know what the 21-gun salute stands for?”

“No”, I inquisitively responded.

“You get ‘twenty-one’ when you add up all of the numbers: 1776!” he added.

“No kidding!” I declared.

“Yep.  It’s  in the article, too”, he remarked.  “I’ll see ya on Saturday!” he reported, and headed for the door.

Just before closing time on Saturday, my friend showed up and handed me the original article.

“Read it”, he asserted.   “And, see if you agree with it.”

I took it and began reading.

“No wonder they wouldn’t let you publish the full article”, I responded.  “Too many references to God?”

He nodded his head.

“Number eight is my favorite”, I shared with him.

“That’s my favorite, too”, he maintained.

“Can I take this and make a copy of it?” I asked him.

“Yes, and make a few more copies for me, too”, he suggested.

I told him I would and we agreed to meet up for the exchange the following Saturday at the fruit stand.

As I read through the article, again, when I got home, I wondered how many other people didn’t know about the 21-gun salute, or the meaning behind the thirteen folds in the flag.  I decided, at that moment, it would be the perfect thing to share on this tenth anniversary of 9-11. It represents a beautiful military tradition that every American citizen should know about.

Here is what each of the thirteen folds mean:

  • 1st fold – a symbol of life
  • 2nd fold – a symbol of our belief in eternal life
  • 3rd fold – made in honor and remembrance of the veterans departing our ranks who gave a portion of their lives for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.
  • 4th fold – represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in time of war for His divine guidance.
  • 5th fold – a tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our Country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong.”
  • 6th fold – is for where our hearts lie.  It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
  • 7th fold – a tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all her enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.
  • 8th fold – a tribute to the one who entered the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day.
  • 9th fold – a tribute to womanhood, and mothers.  For it has been through their faith, their love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great has been molded.
  • 10th fold – a tribute to the father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since they were born.
  • 11th fold – represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies in the Hebrews’ eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • 12th fold – represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in the Christians’ eye, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
  • 13th fold – when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost reminding us of our nation’s motto: “In God We Trust.”

After the flag is completely folded and tucked in, it takes on the appearance of a cocked hat, ever reminding us of the soldiers who served under General George Washington, and the sailors and marines who served under Captain John Paul Jones, who were followed by their comrades and shipmates in the Armed Forces of the United States, preserving for us the rights, privileges, and freedoms we enjoy today.

I am so very thankful for my new friend and the time he took to share this wonderful piece of history with me.  I look forward to hearing more of his humorous stories and historical anecdotes in the future.  There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this man, I’m sure.  I can only imagine the adventures awaiting me at the fruit stand next Saturday!

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