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Not another post about patriotism and July 4th

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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Anonymous said…
This sure brought back memories. In 1976, I was at Offutt AFB in Nebraska, and spent July 4 with my family (who were visiting from Houston) during the day, and I spent the evening with my Air Force 'family' at the base park doing the fireworks thing.

Things sure were simpler back then - or at least they seemed that way.

Florinda said…
I was twelve years old that Bicentennial summer, and my memories of it are pretty vivid. Thanks for taking me back.

I think you're right about the feeling of the time. It did seem like the country was trying to move on from Watergate and Vietnam, and civil rights were expanding for many. Concern for the environment was growing. We had problems, but there was also promise.

Sometimes it feels like we got stuck. Sometimes it feels like there's been a lot of backsliding since then.

We can look back, and be inspired to move forward by what we see.

Great post, Julie. Happy 4th of July!
flutter said…
You are so freakin cute.
Kyla said…
I was -7 when you wrote that letter. Heehee.

I love that you wrote that letter. Adorable. And so very you.
Melissa said…
That is a cool letter to have written to Amy.

Wow. Things are pretty different now, aren't they? Maybe in a few months we'll get to feel like we're waking up from this nightmare.
Robert said…
Amazingly, I'm not sure anyone from Georgia looks back on Carter's presidency as "hopeful". Embarassing seems to fit most people I've known.

Interesting letter, though.

And Melissa, I'm not sure which nightmare to wake up from, and what the wakefulness will bring. Hope doesn't seem to be on the menu, at least not from the government or anyone in it right now.
This brought back memories!! I was 8 on July 4th, 1976 and I remember thinking that it was a HUGE deal to be alive for such an historic event. My mother told me she was voting for Carter even though she was a Republican, "because sometimes we need a change." Great letter to Amy, I felt a certain connection to her as well.
Julie Pippert said…
Ed, the pro and con side of things is yeah, I do think things were more straightforward back then. Such openness can be good but also has a downside. Intriguing to hear someone who was young but not a child feel like the times were simpler. I always wondered if it was immaturity from me, but my mother agrees it was too.

Florinda, 1976 is an especially vivid year---so good to hear that from someone else. I hear it from a lot of people, actually. I think in 1976 we really believed we were fixing all the problems and I imagine most people would have been shocked to hear that we face the same things today. Great comment, you really encapsulated what I mean and feel.

Flutter, thanks LOL

Kyla, I did get a letter back from Amy, but it was typed and rubber stamped. I was SO disappointed. My mom tried to explain about all the thousands of other little girls and hand cramps. I was a little mollified, but it did break the feeling of connection somewhat. I think it was the first big lesson about that. Wow.

Melissa, where are the thousands of other little girls my age who also wrote to Amy?? I think Florinda said it perfectly: so much the same, so much not. But also, I think 1976 is coming to me now because there is that same level of hope and involvement rising that I recall from back then. I hope you and Florinda are right that we'll be inspired, move forward, and do better than we have been.

Robert, LOL, pretty much how I feel about Bush only maybe worse. But also you are hearing from Republicans, I bet. Same goes here on the flip.

The nightmare I see is a promise of a 100 years war (ACK!), terrible abuse of the environment, burden on the cities to provide health care and money for care for citizens at the expense of roads fire and police, pathetic education (where are the plays?!?! what happened to social studies?!?!), a concerning economy, and backsliding civil liberties, not to mention running by fear, among other things.

I don't believe in trickle down economics but I do believe in trickle down leadership, and when you have crappy leadership, it trickles down. I've watched it time and again in classrooms with teachers, in workplaces with bosses, and in organizations with officers. Half of being a good leader is getting people to believe and be involved. Maybe even 3/4. Because you're right, you can't do it alone, but a good leader inspires, and a great leader motivates and does. I believe we have the chance to have a great leader and all work together to do better.

One message I hear that I don't like from the Republicans is the "just sit pretty and we'll handle it." No. Absolutely not. Another one is "if you don't like it you're not patriotic/you're disloyal/why don't you move to another country." It's the worst form of not being an American I can think of: don't question, don't criticize, just let the government do what it does.

The framers of the Constitution are rolling in their graves. ROLLING.
Julie Pippert said…
Lori, I think my parents were the same. I'd have to ask my mom, but I don't know how she voted prior to then. I do know that was a time of big personal change for her, too, and our lives changed radically after 1976. I also thought it was HUGE to be alive during the Bicentennial, and it must have been even better to be a kid, or so I thought. LOL

So seriously *someone* else I know MUST have written a letter to Amy Carter! LOL
Robert said…

First off: I didn't say Georgians looked back on the election of 1976 as an embarassment. Most can understand Carter was just the lucky winner of a lottery - whoever faced Ford would've won. But no, self-proclaimed Democrats (even many who maintain that status to this day) as well as Republicans look back on Carter with shame. He was among the worst presidents we ever had, domestically and internationally.

I completely agree that telling someone who disagrees they are unpatriotic is dead wrong. I have seen many missteps in the Bush years that I don't agree with (No Child Left Behind is certainly my wife's biggest bone to pick). It terrifies me, though, to imagine what Gore or Kerry would've done. I do not get a sense of hope from Obama OR McCain. Obama sounds more and more like someone has a hand up his tailpipe and they're moving his lips to the cue cards. Whenever he speaks impromptu, he shows how little he knows. I don't feel hope from McCain, either, because he seems so out of touch with both domestic needs and foreign concerns. I do believe he'll do a better job than Obama, but that has more to do with his proven experience as a man willing to do what's right even when it meant tremendous suffering for him.

Last comment, believe in it or don't, I have seen direct evidence of trickle down economics as well as statistical proof that tax cuts to businesses increase the total tax digest through job creation. I do agree with you that trickle down leadership is a powerful tool as well, though. Reagan inspired people, and nations changed because of things he did. I have friends who move people to action in similar ways. I have been around many great men in my life who had an amazing power to say what they wanted to happen and just knew the people they said it to would follow suit and bring it into being. What I don't see left between Obama or McCain is a person capable of doing that. Obama is great at saying what sounds inspiritational, but not at saying things that are meaningful. McCain is great at shoving his foot in his mouth and chewing hard. One of the main reasons I quit writing so much about this campaign season, as fascinating as it started, is simply because it holds no great joy for me. Washington and the two parties seated there have shown me they can make huge mistakes in selecting leaders this time, and not a whole lot more.

Yes, I probably should've taken that "one more thing" and just made this whole comment my own blog post, but it is what it is. Thanks for helping me think about things, though.
Aliki2006 said…
How marvelous that you still have that letter! It made me think, too, back to when my parents were so happy about Carter's win--I was seven years old.
Anonymous said…
Julie, great post.

Robert, maybe it's because I am not from Georgia, but I think Carter accomplished one or two pretty damned impressive things. Like the Camp David Peace accord between Israel and Egypt, for example.
crazymumma said…
I was 14 and was and still am north of the border. But the memories are familiar. I just heard afternoon delight the other day. such a straaaange song.

did you hear back from amy?
Robert said…
One or two... kind of a case in point. And the one you mentioned is debatable, if you ask either side involved, but I won't go into that. But several aspects of his presidency were horrible, and he made cracks that demonstrated a clear ignorance in foreign policy that still make Southerners in general cringe. I know I'm speaking on deaf ears, though.

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