1976. The red white and blue year. Year every school kid in America could spell and define Bicentennial. Pop rocks in our mouths and fireworks in the sky year. Sneaking Dr. Pepper at Shelley's house because the rest of us weren't allowed to have it---I was never sure if it rotted teeth or stunted growth or both. The year of the rocket and the satellite---rockets in Ireland and satellites to Mars. Rocket fast airplanes shook the clouds and earthquakes and punk rock shook the world. Election year. Leap year. Equal rights. Women's rights. Vietnam was finally over, and back then over meant over to me.
We said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school, and learned about the Constitution and why we should be proud of the USA. I played Betsy Ross in the school play. Back when schools had plays and social studies.
We shook shook shook our booties, which somehow in our minds meant the little socks we wore on our feet, the ones with balls on the back. This misunderstanding ripped through the neighborhood and no adult ever corrected us, until the aforementioned Shelley's teen brother made fun of us. I loved Captain and Tennille and was proud my mother had that Dorothy Hammill haircut just like Tennille. Afternoon Delight. Fooled Around and Fell in Love. The Bee Gees. Paul McCartney. I wouldn't discover Queen and David Bowie until later.
I hoped Jimmy Carter would win because he seemed nice and people seemed relieved about him, after Tricky Dick and Gerry. Most of all, though, he had a daughter, Amy, who was practically my age. I loved the idea of a girl in the White House.
We had a gas crisis then, too. Prices had been going up. I knew what an embargo was. But there weren't long lines at least, not like a few years before---or like there would be again in a few more years. People talked about conservation and alternative sources of energy then, too.
In 1976 it seemed like the bad days were behind. There was hope, and year-long excitement about being an American.
On July 4th, I organized a musical and skit performance of neighborhood kids. The adults lolled happily in lawn chairs sipping beer from bottles and eating layer dip with chips. Kids danced and sang on a makeshift stage with pulled-together costumes. After our final bow, our audience of indulgent and biased parents applauded madly and wildly and we felt glowy inside. We felt proud that we did it, did it well(supposedly) and that we had honored our country on the most important July 4th ever.
We might not have been able to say, but we felt patriotic.
We felt even more patriotic, later, up late at night, racing around the suburban yard with sparklers stinging our hands and arms, stinking of bug spray, faces burning from heat and too much sun, ankles itching from chiggers. What could be more American than this.
We screamed and shrieked for the fireworks, even the teenagers who were normally too cool.
All of us had declared peace for the day, with each other, and we all got along and had fun. No bossing by Shelley, no wheedling by Charles, no excluding of little kids.
It seemed like the whole world was at peace, under a rain of electric colors in the sky.
In 1976, on July 4th, I slipped out of my Dr. Scholls and spun in circles under the red, white and blue bursts of light. In the dark, I thought my blue jean cutoffs and red and white bandanna top blended with the colors. I felt like the spirit of the 4th.
In 1976, I never heard anyone ask whether a man running for President was a patriot. Back then, as far as I knew, anyone who endeavored to serve his country in any way was known to be a patriot.
In 1976, we might not have been able to say, but we thought patriotism was assumed, handed to each new baby with a birth certificate and citizenship. Wasn't everyone proud to be an American, wasn't everyone a patriot. It just was.
Back in that time when illegal wiretapping brought horror and disgust, when the First Amendment became sacrosanct. Back when people re-enacted the famous tea party the first patriots threw by tossing packages labeled Exxon and Gulf Oil into Boston Harbor.
In 1976, on July 4th, we were uncomplicatedly, uncompromisingly, idealistically proud to be American.
In 1976, when Jimmy Carter won, I sent a note of congratulations. But I sent it to Amy Carter.
Dear Miss Amy Carter,
Congratulations that your father won. I am very happy for your whole family, and mine too. You must be so excited to move into the White House. I have been there and it is very, very nice. I think it is pretty neat that a girl like me lives there now. It is good to have a girl in the White House. I hope you write me back.
Your friend, Julie
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