I’ve always flown a flag over my home and my animal hospitals because I enjoy proudly expressing my patriotism and love of the freedom we have in this country. I’ve been fortunate to travel many places where the freedoms weren’t quite so evident. Guns have literally been inches from my family’s faces in Northern Ireland, Mexico City, and most recently China. I often add a second flag beneath the Stars & Stripes to commemorate an occasion. The Black & Gold of my beloved Missouri Tigers on game Saturdays, Miami Dolphin Aqua & Orange on game Sundays, and the Irish Tricolor on St. Paddy’s and Bloody Monday. Less frequently you’ll see her flying at half mast to memorialize fallen heroes or tragedies.
Over the years, many clients and neighbors have commented on my lowering Old Glory the third week of January. Most are pleasant surprises of my honoring Martin Luther King, and numerous black clients expressed their appreciation. One elderly woman did so just today.
Jean Murray Klein was born in Southeast Missouri on October 4th, 1921 to a family involved in farming for generations. He graduated from Mizzou, came home from WWII a decorated war hero, married my mom, and overcame the demons of alcoholism and cigarettes. He always enjoyed game day in the man-cave with his best friends Lee Bowman, and Dick Tongate, and he treasured that football I had Dan Marino sign at our children’s shared pre-school. But Daddy was a product of his environment and Jim Crow culture. Let’s just say he didn’t have the tolerant world view his children have adopted. I don’t think he even knew any black people, or if so he never spoke of them. Mom had a “colored woman” (Dad’s words) help her around the house while I was young, and I became very close to Beulah. My earliest childhood memories include her ironing while I was “rockin” next to her on my spring suspended horse, while “Charlie Brown,” by the Coasters played on the radio. The old man really did the best he could – I later found out that every holiday he would bring her family a turkey or a ham.
Anyway, Dad certainly didn’t have any problem cheering for the black athletes who led the St. Louis Cardinals and the Missouri Tigers to success, but that was pretty much the extent of his comfort zone. I belly-laugh when I remember my sister Maureen showing him a picture of her with a huge black man, whom she told him she had been dating. It was actually a picture of a football player she had taken for him, but the narrative changed, “Because it would be really funny.” Daddy almost had a heart attack, then forced a laugh about it, pretending he had known all along that it was a joke.
Cancer took my daddy 7 years after he had laid down the non-filtered Camels, on January 16, 1998.
So you see the obvious irony. Daddy was buried the third week of January, which “co-incidentally” turns out to be Martin Luther King day.
Yes ma’am, I do fly our flag today in memory of one of this country’s finest men, I’m as proud of him as you are.