Every Memorial Day Weekend, passersby traveling toward Athens’ historic downtown on Highway 305 are treated to an Avenue of Star Spangled Banners.
Flying Old Glory down Ingleside Avenue has become a favorite tradition of mine — because it was also a tradition in our neighborhood in Savannah, and because it is an example of how a relatively small gesture by one person can have such a positive impact on a community.
Melonie Carideo is my friend and neighbor who is behind the annual patriotic display. Ms. Carideo has been spreading our nation’s flag across her neighborhoods for 20 years, after she began in her Chattanooga neighborhood.
A little over a decade ago, the Carideo family moved to Athens and operated the then-Keith Mansion as a bed and breakfast, and Melonie continued her flag flying tradition down Keith Lane.
Now that we are neighbors in the Ingleside Historic District, my family has enjoyed this special tradition, as the Ingleside area is the current beneficiary of the Memorial Day flags.
“I love, love, love flags,” Melonie said when I asked her about the story behind the tradition. “My daddy is a Vietnam veteran and I still have many family members on active duty. Sharing the American flag with friends and neighbors on Memorial Day has been a way for me to celebrate their service to our country.”
The flag tradition is also a special mother-daughter activity for Melonie and her daughter Bethany, who set out flags in neighbors’ yards together for 18 years. Two years ago, when the Carideos were traveling — incidentally to visit West Point, where Bethany would begin her college career — my own daughter noticed that there were no flags flying for Memorial Day weekend.
My wife Katie immediately took our daughter to purchase flags and we saw that the tradition was upheld. My family has served in the defense of our homeland since the Revolutionary War and Katie’s family has extensive military service — her grandfather, father and brother all being veterans who saw conflict.
Last year, Melonie invited my sweet angel to help with the project and this weekend she officially passed the flags to her.
“I love that this is important to your sweet girl and that what was a significant mother-daughter tradition in my family will continue as one in yours,” she said.
I was humbled and blessed to walk around the neighborhood with my family and friends the Friday before Memorial Day to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. I appreciate this tradition as it is a visual display of a most significant holiday. It warms my heart to see my daughter’s respect for our flag and to observe how she understands the significance of her military lineage.
The flag tradition is also a visual reminder of the significance an individual has in a community. I make it a point to look for and appreciate all the positive things happening in our community — even a simple gesture like spending an hour spreading flags across a neighborhood has an incredible, uplifting impact.
Often all it takes to celebrate and uplift a community is one person (or two) willing to act.
C. Seth Sumner is the city manager of Athens