“God Shed His Grace on Thee”

The stars and stripes were just where I’d left them, flat and undisturbed since Veterans Day of last year. Delicate at 80 years old and only displayed on the most patriotic days, this flag is not one to hang outside the front door but instead on a gold chain around my neck. Before any picnics, parades, or concerts began this Memorial Day, I fastened it securely, this heirloom from my grandmother.

A first-generation American, she was a woman of great faith and staunch patriotism. As a child, I remember going to church with her and my grandfather, squeezed between them in the pew with my brothers. Though she’d be the first to admit she could not carry a tune, that did not stop her from singing the hymns, and she did so the loudest whenever a patriotic song ended Mass. I asked her once why the choir chose “America the Beautiful,” not thinking, ten years old, that it was a “church” song. “Listen to the words,” my grandmother said, reminding me that we always needed God to shed His grace on thee. How true that is – then and now.

When my grandfather left home to serve during World War II, he gave her the necklace that I now wear. She often joked later in life that it might only have 48 stars, though they are too small to count and I admired it too much to care. She fastened it securely each Memorial Day and July 4th, and likely many other days for which I was never aware. As time went on, I came to understand why she wore it – the proud wife and mother of veterans. And I also came to understand the reasons for singing “America the Beautiful” as a “church” song and the reasons why she teared up at its words – whether at Mass, a baseball game, or a summer concert. Through song, we were praying for God’s grace which we all needed, wherever we were.

Even as she aged and for as long as she could, my grandmother stood each time a patriotic song was played. And after she died 16 years ago, I asked my dad for her flag necklace. It had already been set aside for me, he said. Though I’ll remember her for so many reasons, faith and patriotism are what best define her, the finest attributes reflected in this tiny flag, this inheritance that I can only hope to wear as proudly as she did.

We sat outside at a concert on the green this weekend, enjoying the music before the parade began. The musicians had to cut a few songs, but the conductor said, “There’s time for just one more. Please stand for ‘America the Beautiful’.” Like my grandmother, I cannot carry a tune, but like my grandmother, I sang anyway, praying through song for God to “shed His grace” on us all.

By Emily Clark | Collecting Moments