Big cumulus clouds piled across the deep blue Texas sky, and Governor Faaj Tong-George read faster than he would have liked, afraid that there might be rain before the end of the ceremony. When he read fast, he could sound too much Kennedy School, where he had been a professor, and not enough Brownsville, where he had grown up, and that could be very bad for re-election.

Yet though his words were coming out softer and faster than he intended, the crowd was still cheering wildly at each point. When he began his paragraph about the pride every Texan felt in the TexICs and pain of their irreparable loss, the cheering became so heated that he had to start that part again. Without microphones or loudspeakers to quiet the crowd, he finally had to ask them to keep it down so he could finish. At last, he went on:

…yet the loss of so many of our most valued citizens of the Texas Independent Cavalry might have been a sacrifice we would willingly have made for the larger nation, and even now we must remember and honor that they died in the hope of saving the United States of America. But remembrance and honor are a debt to the past, and the graver and more serious debt is the one we owe to our children. We cannot ignore that the states, agencies, and powers seeking a Restored Republic, however noble their cause, however unrelenting and brave their efforts, have suffered a series of grievous defeats from which they cannot be expected to recover.

We cannot now, or in any reasonably near future, responsibly place our trust in a power so broken and so defective, when our country and our children’s lives depend upon it. Having therefore concluded that our security is best entrusted to our own hands, with affection for our former brethren of the United States, with renewed effort against our shared enemies, but without reservation, condition, or any offer, explicit or implicit, of reconciliation, we hereby declare that the Union between the State of Texas and the United States of America is dissolved, and of a right ought to be, and we resume our full and equal place among the nations of mankind.

He still wasn’t sure how much the crowd heard, or cared whether they heard, over the rising roar of their own cheering.

At the visible end of the speech, they gave up all restraint and cheered madly for what the words did, whether or not they knew what they said.

He put his speech text carefully into its leatherbound folder. His aides were to take it to a frame shop immediately, and within a few days it would hang next to the first Texas Declaration of Independence, in the Capitol building behind him. Funny. Weird. Hunh. There’ll never be a recording of this; kids in school won’t complain that they can’t understand my old- fashioned accent or make fun of my weird olden-days clothing.

Governor Faaj nodded at the honor guard, which hauled down the Temper Cross and Eagle and the Provi nineteen-star double-circle Stars and Stripes from the two flanking poles where they had been flying. As soon as they were down, the Lone Star flags went up, and the cheering became deafening.

Faaj felt an ocean of sadness surge within him when he nodded again, and the crew pulled down the old fifty-star flag from the high center pole. Not quite 250 years. Missed by less than two months.

Something of that feeling must have been there in the crowd. There had been cries of “Shame!” from some demonstrators, and another bunch had been singing “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” and still another group was bellowing a Carlene Redbone hit from a few years ago, “Don’t Let That Door Hit Your Ass,” and here and there people were trying to start up “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “The Eyes of Texas” but being drowned out by their neighbors. One very old man in the front row, tears streaming down his face, was trying to sing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” but couldn’t seem to recall it past the first couple of lines, and kept starting over and over.

In different parts of the crowd, people were enthusiastically waving the Stars and Bars, the rattlesnake, the pine tree, and one lone Jolly Roger.

But when the old flag had descended a couple of feet, the crowd plunged into a hush, like the moment when a casket is lowered into the grave, and you could hear the creaking of the pulleys as it came down. In the rising wind of the coming storm, it snapped and rippled as if it were trying, one more time, to get back into another fight.

The honor guard of US Army Rangers at the base of the pole were openly weeping as they folded the flag. This flag would be framed and displayed in the Texas Capitol, between the two Declarations.

Then the Texas Rangers stepped forward and briskly ran up the Lone Star, and the applause was so much like thunder that many of the crowd didn’t realize that the storm was coming in, till gusts of silvery rain fell on them in sheets, and they fled through the gardens surrounding the Capitol.

Faaj had already handed off the folder, and the aides were gathering up the folding chairs, suddenly emptied of dignitaries. No one was paying much attention to the governor, so he looked around once more before going in. The old man was still standing there, still trying to sing, and Faaj walked down the steps to stand next to him. He had learned “You’re a Grand Old Flag” for a President’s Day concert in eleventh grade, and he put his arm around the old guy, and sang it all the way through. That seemed to break the spell, and the old man went off sniveling, wiping his face uselessly in the rain.

I was singing it for him, but I wonder if he was singing it for the Stars and Stripes or for the Lone Star? I guess in the long history of the universe that question probably won’t matter.

“Governor Faaj, aren’t you going to come inside?”

“Son, my people are Hmong and my first job was on a fishing boat. This ain’t rain, this is a sprinkle.” Lightning cracked nearby with a deafening boom. “Coming right along, though.”

At the top of the steps he paused and looked. All the flags on all the staffs were now so soaked that you couldn’t really see what they were.