To see Alicene Robertson’s American flag in her yard, you need to crane your neck.
The flag stands atop a 100-foot-tall spruce tree.
To many passersby, wondering how it got up there, and why, is only natural. Both answers are likely to surprise, though.
After living a tough life – addiction, losing custody of her children and having her husband die – she once partly blamed the United States for her circumstances. But now, the flag represents a country that helped her turn her life around. It represents her newfound patriotism and her new life.
A 68-year-old friend of Robertson’s boyfriend mounted the flag on a swivel on top of the tree at their house at 407 W. Rowan Ave. about a month ago when he was doing an annual branch trimming.
“He had on a pair of white shorts, pulling the metal pole behind him with the flag on it,” she said. “It was the coolest thing ever.”
But that wasn’t Robertson’s original plan.
“I had all the stuff, so I was going to climb up there and do it because I just got my knees replaced,” she said as she looked down at knees with vertical scars running down the middle of the kneecaps. “That scared the hell out of my boyfriend, so he had a friend come over and do it while he trimmed it.”
Robertson, 49, said she thought of the idea after seeing it elsewhere on the news – someone in Idaho scales a tree illegally to hoist a flag for the Fourth of July every year, but no one knows who it is.
“I just thought it was really neat. It’s like staking claim on your land,” she said, gesturing to plant an invisible flag in the earth with a hand bound with a brace. “Like the moon landing.”
Robertson spent her career as a dancer in Las Vegas, where nightly shows in high heels wore down her knees and ankles until she needed surgery in 2007.
“They gave me so many pain pills, and then they just cut me off,” she said. “I was a full-blown addict by then.”
She turned to heroin, and after running into trouble with the law, lost custody of her two daughters, 10 and 12 at the time, in the early 2000s, she said. A foster family adopted them.
“I never did stop contact with them. I talked to them every day,” she said.
Things continued to get worse. About 6 months later, her husband died of a heart attack.
“I was mad at America because they turned me into a drug addict, and they took (my kids) away from me,” she said.
Robertson was slow in her rehab process, which she completed, but couldn’t get the girls back until they turned 18.
Eventually, “they both came home,” she said.
One is now in the U.S. Army and the other is an art major at the University of Alabama, she said.
Robertson gazed up at her new flag in her north Spokane yard. She said it’s “razzed up” the neighborhood.
“People come by like we’re celebrities and they just want to shake our hands,” she said.
The bottom 6 feet of the spruce tree is speckled with pennies wedged into the bark.
“This is my wishing tree,” she said. “People put those in there.”
She also has greater plans beyond the flag and the pennies. She wants to build a treehouse in the upper branches, with a pulley system and a basket to hoist her dogs up to the tree house.
She said having the flag makes her feel more patriotic, and she’ll keep it up there until it falls down.
On June 7, she said she’ll be 10 years clean.
“My family is back together again. I found somebody new,” she said. “The very country that took it away from me gave it back to me. When I reached out for help, they gave it to me. I’m happier now than when I was making $1,000 a night.”
“I’m proud to be an American,” Robertson said. “It just gets cooler and cooler the older you get, too.”
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