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Grandma Lily’s “Old Glory”

Vintage red, white, and blue American flag for Memorial day or Veteran's day background

(I’ve been swamped with freelance work, so I haven’t posted here for a while, but I want to share with you this essay I wrote a few years ago. It has nothing to do with writing but everything to do with Independence Day. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.)

“Old Glory.” That was Grandma Lily’s name for the huge American flag she put up every Fourth of July. Much bigger than an average-sized flag, Old Glory stretched probably seven or eight feet long. It hung on a rope between the front window of Grandma’s upper flat and an ancient elm tree on the parkway. It nearly grazed the heads of those who walked the sidewalk below.

pledge-of-allegiance-girlAt our Independence Day get-togethers, Grandma insisted that we gather under Old Glory and say the pledge to the flag. “It’s important,” she said, “to honor the flag, especially on the Fourth of July.”

Years passed and, one day, the elm tree got a disease. City workers cut it down. Grandma didn’t mind losing the sick tree in front of her house except that it held up Old Glory. Now, the giant flag had nowhere to fly. So, Grandma folded it and put it away. I never saw it again, and I don’t remember us saying the pledge together after that. I think we all knew that Grandma Lily mourned the passing of Old Glory. It was as if there had been a death in the family. Nobody talked about it until many years later when I asked her about the lost tradition of the flag and the pledge. Grandma, who had only a third grade education, offered a lesson about patriotism that I’d never forget.

She said,

“Hardly anyone said the pledge when I was a girl. Back then, the pledge went like this: ‘I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.’ But, my parents had left Germany for America. Old Glory wasn’t just a flag to us. It meant living like God wanted, free from a government telling us what to do. Your dad was five-years old when they made it better and changed ‘my flag’ to ‘the flag of the United States of America.’ Then it was our flag and our pledge. Eisenhower made it better by adding ‘under God’ in there. And don’t ever forget it’s because of God that your family got here. It’s because of Him that we’re free.” 

She might not have much formal education, but Grandma Lily certainly was wise. “Whatever became of Old Glory?” I asked. She hesitated and then shrugged her shoulders. I think Grandma Lily still couldn’t speak about the memories of her beloved flag—that yellowing old flag with the 48 stars.

Years later, I inherited her bible. Inside, I found this scripture passage written on lined paper in her handwriting:

dc39ab330e528a9d21c28dc710fdb56fBlessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love. Psalm 33:12–18


I wish you all a safe and blessed Independence Day—
honor the flag of the United States of America
as a symbol of freedom,
and thank God for bringing your family here.


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“Do I Need a Degree to Become a Writer?”

question“Do I need a degree to become a writer?” It’s an ambiguous question I get most often from writers who want to be published. The answer is “no”.

Do you need a degree in English, creative writing, journalism or literature to become a published author? “No.”

Do you need to study the craft of writing to become an even better writer?

There are many paths to publication. Sometimes work or study in a field other than writing sparks a person’s desire to write and leads to a writing career.

Harper Lee studied law in college. What she learned in Law School led her to write To Kill a Mockingbird, the Pulitzer Prize award-winning novel about a lawyer and racial injustice in the 1930s.

830664Barbara Kingsolver wanted to be a classical pianist, but instead she studied biology and earned a Master’s degree in ecology. She transitioned into writing freelance as a help to editors. On her website, Kingsolver writes, “. . . editors knew they could send me into a biotech lab or epidemiology office, where people seemed to be speaking in tongues, and I’d come out with a printable story in lay-person’s English. I was glad for my training.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a medical doctor who supplemented his income by writing. His Sherlock Holmes character made Doyle one of history’s most famous mystery/crime writers. Doyle said Holmes was inspired by the real-life figure of Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, whom Conan Doyle met in 1877 and had worked for as a clerk.

51eubGSrthL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Kurt Vonnegut studied anthropology, but was unhappy with his college classes. His wife, his first muse, encouraged him to write. After becoming famous, Vonnegut spoke up in support of writers with non-literary backgrounds. When he heard writers talking about sending notices to college English departments about literary opportunities, he suggested, “Send them to the chemistry departments, send them to the zoology departments, send them to the anthropology departments and the astronomy departments and physics departments, and all the medical and law schools. That’s where the writers are most likely to be…I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature.”

Finally, I offer myself as an example. No, I’m not famous or even a well-known writer, but I’m published and happily self-employed freelancing. I studied music in college. In my sophomore year, I switched my major to elementary education. A required children’s literature class led to a Master’s degree in library science. I loved writing, but I hadn’t thought to pursue it as a career. I submitted several writing samples to Golden Books in Wisconsin, and I was offered an editorial job. I learned the business of publishing there and then I set out on my own to freelance.

Do you need a college degree to become a writer? No. But to get published you need talent, willingness to learn by self-studying the craft, practice and, of course, patience.

Write and learn.
The world is your classroom. 


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