My first school was in Washington’s Crossing north of Trenton on the east side of the Delaware River. It was a small red brick building housing kindergarten through third grade. The basement of the building was only partly below ground so that there were large basement windows. This made the first floor above the ground. The kindergarten was on one side of the basement and on the other side was the storage and furnace rooms. Walking in the double front doors there were wood stairs leading down into the basement and wood stairs leading up to the hallway on the first floor. First and second grade was the classroom to the right and third grade classroom was the door to the left. At the end of the hall on the right was the girls bathroom while on the left was the boys. At the time of this incident I was in the third grade.
One day, before the start of the school period, the third grade teacher, Mrs. Walker, would choose out two boys to run the flag up the flag pole in front of the school. This day Mrs. Walker picked me and another boy to go and put up the flag. This was a big deal and an important honorary chore. She asked us if we knew how to do it and we both said yes. That was a lie because I had never put up a flag in my life. But I did not want to look silly in front of my class mates and besides, how hard could it be. I had watched other boys do it from the windows. We went to the cubby hole next to her desk and got the neatly folded flag. Out the classroom door, down the stairs, out the double doors and down the front marble steps and across the gravel driveway to the flag pole we raced.
Now came the interesting part. It was ingrained into us youngsters that the American flag was never to touch the ground. This was a big flag and we were small. We could see some of our class mates watching us from the windows. We unfolded the flag looking for the three grommets where the flag attached to the rope. We were struggling mightily to not let even one corner touch the ground. Finally we got the job done and craned our necks to watch the flag wave in the wind. Our chests stuck our just a bit more because we were proud to know that we had put the flag at the top of the pole.
Later in the afternoon, just before school was to let out, a strange man came into the class room and talked to the teacher. She looked at us and then nodded to the man and he turned and left the building. After the man had left she called us two boys up to her desk and asked us to go to the window and look at the flag. We did and saw the flag proudly flying. She asked if we saw anything wrong. “No Mrs. Walker” we both replied. “Look closely at the flag boys. Where is the blue field?” Then I saw it. The flag was upside down. This was a sign of distress. Were the police going to come and arrest us? Turning to Mrs. Walker, with our heads hanging down we said we were sorry. “That is OK boys. You probably will never forget this lesson about the flag. More importantly, it is a lesson for you to always check your work! Now go and take the flag down and fold it properly.” We hurried to the classroom door. Mrs. Walker was right. I was not much of a student in school but that was one lesson I never forgot.