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In July of 1976, I was eight years old. My third-grade year at Solvay Elementary School in Solvay, NY had just ended. Before "graduation" (to fourth grade) and summer vacation started, we had a parade around our school to celebrate the Bicentennial. My mother was in her sewing phase, and she made red, white, and blue outfits for my younger sister and I. I remember the heat, the sunlight, the blue sky, and the little American flags we waved as we marched across the playground. There were also discussions at the time about America adopting the metric system, and we were learning about it in school. The metric system to me seemed like the future, almost like my beloved science fiction books. Like we were finally going to join the rest of the world as one big happy utopian family, counting everything in blocks of ten like rational human beings. But of course, in typical contrarian American fashion, we didn't make the switch. Maybe it's fuzzy hindsight, but at the time I remember feeling optimistic about my country, and the future. I don't feel that way anymore. I doubt I will ever feel that way about my country again.

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OMG, the ever-looming conversion to the metric system! I was so anxious about it. When would it happen? Would I be able to remember the various conversions—quarts vs. liters, miles vs. kilometers. I can't believe it never happened.

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I was about to turn twelve, an only child with just my dad -- my mother had died of cancer six months earlier on a bitter cold day. My dad and I didn't process the loss -- just kept marching forward with school and work. My goal was to "be normal." I was only able to feel relaxed and happy around my best friend, one year younger, who lived next door. But my dad and I went to Chicago's Grant Park/lakefront fireworks with family friends who had slightly older girls. My journal, which has a Bicentennial sticker on it, reads:

July 3, 1976 - Well, tomorrow night we’re going to the Fireworks with the J____'s and I can’t wait, and Monday we’re going to my uncle Phil’s. Boy. I’m a Bicentennial nut. I love fireworks and firecrackers and everything like that.

10:19 AM July 4th, 1976, Sunday

Well here we go with the Bicentennial!

5:07 PM, July 4th, 1976 - we’re going pretty soon, in about half an hour. (But the fireworks won’t start till 8:45 tonight.) I can hardly wait.

Thurs. July 8th, 1976

I had a crummy 4th of July. Everybody talked but not to me. I hate them. (M___ & O___.) Except for D____. She’s nice.

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founding

I was about to be six on July 4, 1976. A few weeks earlier, I donned a Betsy Ross costume that my mother sewed for me and read something off a piece of paper to commemorate the bicentennial at my Catholic grammar school in Glendale, Queens. We placed a time capsule in the postage stamp of grass growing alongside the school building. The names of everyone in my kindergarten class are in that capsule. I remember mulling over the thought that I’d be 56 when the capsule was re-opened. Imagined myself wearing a beehIve and a polyester Chaus pantsuit at that age, like most 50something women in the mid-70s. I’ll be 56 in 4 years. How is that possible? I sat on several curbs that summer to watch parades in Queens. Shimmering floats and baton twirlers for days. Like nearly every New Yorker, my father knew a guy who knew a guy whose office building overlooked New York Harbor, so my parents and I watched OpSail and the Tall Ships from a window downtown. Everyone was colonially obsessed in those years. One of my father’s cousins announced she was “goin’ colonial” when she redecorated her Queens living room. It seemed everyone had fife and drum paintings, gilded eagles, Spirit of ‘76 everything. We were flush with bicentennial quarters and bomb pops. I believed in my country then, even though my father had spat at the TV whenever Nixon’s face appeared during the Watergate hearings. My great-grandfather, an Irish immigrant, had died just a few years earlier, and I honestly believed I was his American dream. I don’t know what to believe anymore, and I’m deeply saddened by that.

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Kathleen, thank you for letting me borrow your idea. And thank you for this great comment. I love the specificity of it, and of course your singular voice. "We were flush with bicentennial quarters and bomb pops." Yes. <3

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

In 1976, I was a free-spirited 6-year-old living in Kentucky who saw July 4th as the pinnacle of summer. That year in particular, the pomp and circumstance of Independence Day was red hot; even the Twinkies my mom bought us as a treat had Twinkie the Kid in an Uncle Sam top hat on the package - that is peak '70s culture right there! But even then, I was never patriotic. I didn't understand the significance of celebrating a country that got to where it was via such a perverted past.

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Ha ha - that is peak 70s culture!

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I had moved to the city the year before the big Bicentennial, the same year that President Ford told NYC to “Drop Dead.” But to a 20 year old artist it was anything but dead. In fact it was pretty invigorating.

By 1976 after the trauma of Watergate, my hopes were pinned to a peanut farmer to get us as far away from the stench of Nixon. It was a heady July that year between the Democratic convention held at Madison Square where I mingled with out of town delegates, and the sight of the Tall Ships for the Biennial Operation Sail in NY Harbor. On July 4th while many headed downtown, I ventured uptown to a friend’s apartment on Riverside Drive that overlooked the Hudson providing me with an unforgettable view of the parade of sailing ships.

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

As a 14-year-old freshman, I was involved in an intense relationship with an 18-year-old senior. Early in the summer after we started dating, one night my friend Ron and I thought we’d go to Marti’s house and see if we could get her to come out with us. Ron and I parked far enough from the house that no one would know we were nearby. We walked quietly down the driveway, which Ron later said reminded him of “In Cold Blood.” I knew the basement door I could use to navigate carefully to Marti’s room. Of course there were no cell phones, no texts asking “u up?”

I got in to the house and Ron stayed a healthy distance behind me. Through the dark, I made my way to Marti’s bedroom. Marti, who rarely slept, was startled awake by my presence, and started screaming as loudly as she could. Within 30 seconds or so, her father was screaming and running towards her room, to save his daughter from the intruder. Soon Marti’s bedroom was filled with the two of us and her two parents.

Though everyone was startled, within a few minutes we were talking calmly, and Marti’s dad seemed to feel that I was just hoping to see Marti, and that was perfectly understandable. He gave us some space to talk, and it was decided that I would stay over for the night. Her dad even offered to let me sleep downstairs if I’d be more comfortable being closer to Marti. I couldn’t handle that and went off to sleep in a bedroom upstairs.

The next morning was July 4, 1976, and the family had a plan to go have brunch at Windows on the World. There was a gathering of tall ships as part of the celebration, and it was a rather memorable place to be on that date. They invited me along, and we dined and looked out at the ships and the celebration.

We returned to Bridgewater in the afternoon, and Ron was at my house, mowing the lawn. (He sometimes did some work for my parents.) I can still see his face, peering in to the car in our driveway. When he heard the screaming from Marti’s house, he ran with all of his might back to his car, waited around for a while, and then went home. He told me he honestly had no idea if I was alive or dead, and had said nothing to his parents.

That was my July 4, 1976!

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Wow! Thank you for sharing this, Jimmy. <3

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Awesome, I was wondering what happened to Ron! Glad Marti's dad was nice and the situation didn't escalate! Happy 4th

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

In 1976 I remember collecting bicentennial quarters for months.

I was 15, in the 9th grade, very immature for my age and incredibly self-conscious about my body and boys. My mom was about 40 and had gone back to school to get her masters degree. She made a group of friends, mostly her age who were in her classes.

We took a trip from Yonkers down to the west side highway piers to see the tall ships. I remember barely caring about these huge ships but noticing sailors picking up women. One of my mom’s friends was a big flirt (my mom said it was because she had just gotten divorced LOL) and picked up a sailor and he took her onto his ship to see the backstage.

I was jealous. I wanted to go “backstage” but I was also terrified for her.

I don’t remember what happened after that. I should ask my 90 year old mom. She might remember.

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Bicentennial Quarters!! I remember this!

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

I remember still being a kid in my old semi-urban neighborhood out on the sidewalk at night, unsupervised of course, playing with sparklers, still thinking America was okay.

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

In New York City, someone we know had just been mugged, and another pickpocketed. Carl Shultz park was teeming with people looking out over the river, and my 7-year-old brain was thinking about all the muggers and pickpockets who might be among them, while looking in awe at the really big sailboats gliding by. The relentless fireworks kept me up till midnight, which was sooo late. I liked thinking I was at a birthday party for our nation. 200 was a pretty big birthday.

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I was supposed to be born on July 5, 1976, but that was back when due dates were less precise, and my mom actually gave birth to me on June 26. My early arrival did not deter my dad from parading me around the hospital in the red, white, and blue Uncle Sam onesie that my parents had purchased when they thought that I might be a bicentennial baby. I have always thought this story explained my exhibitionist impulses--maybe it's the reason I write memoir, and why so many things I write grapple with my conflicted feelings about this country.

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

Most memorably, I was home watching CBS news about the rescue by Israeli troops of the Jews held as hostages at the Ugandan airport at Entebbe. Commentator Eric Sevareid noted that this strike against dictator Idi Amin best celebrated the ideals underlying our Declaration of Independence.

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I was a 24 year old married woman and we were preparing to move from Buffalo, NY to Atlanta, GA.. we went to a park in Buffalo to watch fireworks .. we weren’t overly psyched for the celebration.. but we were excited to move to then-presidential candidates Jimmy Carter’s home state. When we got there we learned how many people there didn’t like Carter.

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Jul 1, 2022·edited Jul 1, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

I was 10 and one month, to the day, on July 4, 1976 and on a family vacation to Disneyworld. It was my parents, 7 yo brother, and me. Space Mountain had just been added to the park's offerings to much fanfare. I recall it being touted as the fastest, most cutting edge roller coaster of its time. We all went on the ride and I thought afterward about how revealing our reactions were: I laughed maniacally, my brother cried, my mom screamed, and my dad had no reaction at all. Later that night, there was an epic fireworks show that came so close to the massive crowd that I instinctively crouched each time out of fear that they would rain down on my head. I didn't find it at all fun or funny.

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I was 17 and had just graduated Far Rockaway High School and would be headed upstate to college at Binghamton the following month. A few of us from Far Rockaway decided to head into Manhattan to see the Tall Ships and be part of the festivities. From Far Rock, you can take either the subway (the A train) or the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) into Manhattan. I'm pretty sure we took the LIRR that day because all I remember is walking from Penn Station all the way downtown to the World Trade Center, and then back uptown again. Literally, that's all I remember. Just walking. I don't recall who else I went with other than a Far Rock boy I was dating that summer, and maybe some of his friends. I don't even remember seeing the Tall Ships. Or fireworks. Just walking downtown with that boy amid the crowds. Crowds so big that I think we walked not on the sidewalk, but in the middle of the street. Thousands of us. Just walking and walking.

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Jul 2, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

I hope the boy was nice at least. The A train from Far Rock to Manhattan can be an unbearably long ride, but at least you could have gotten off by the WTC at Fulton Street and wouldn't have had to walk and walk. . .

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Yep, would’ve made a lot more sense to take the A that day!

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Jul 1, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

I had just graduated from high school and was deeply mourning the loss of my forever love -- at age 18, hahaha. College was next, and I remember seeing the bicentennial fireworks and thinking about what a great country we lived in and wondering what I'd study so I could best contribute.

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I was six years-old in the summer of 1976 and my small town of Lake Carmel, New York was gearing up for a huge celebration. My house, a mother-daughter just up the hill from the lake and the local volunteer fire department, provided prime viewing for the midday parade and the incredible evening fireworks display. It remains Lake Carmel’s biggest night, although now they just have the fireworks which take place the weekend before the official holiday. The firehouse hosted the first annual “SUPERBAKE” for the bicentennial. It sounds like something out of Cheech and Chong, but it was just a big clambake.

My hair was plaited in two with blue and white yarn tied at the ends. My Aunt Ro tied a red balloon to one of my braids. She was already at my house along with dozens of family and friends eating and drinking your standard summer fare: barbecued burgers and hot dogs, my grandmother’s famous potato salad, and Schaefer beer. My cousins and I took turns spitting watermelon seeds over the embankment trying to see who got one the furthest. My older brother and his friends directed cars to park in my backyard.

Aunt Ro took me down to the firehouse to get closer to the parade. Her sister-in-law, my Aunt Pam was married to my Uncle Anthony and they were very active with the fire department. Pam was marching with the Ladies Auxiliary that followed The Young Colonials—a local fife and drum marching band. They looked fantastic from bottom to top: shined black shoes with brass buckles, white stockings, tan knickers, puffy shirts and green vests. They were crowned in tricorn hats and perfect 70s feathered waves. I. LOVED. THEM.

Aunt Pam was a very vocal supporter of women’s rights and the democratic party. She was the one who taught me, maybe not when I was six but not long after, why it was so important to vote in presidential elections. I can still hear her now, “APPOINTMENTS TO THE SUPREME COURT!”

I never forgot it.

My whole family were proud Democrats in an area that now boasts a “Trump Tent.” They were working class, small business owners and operators. I only saw women and men working side by side, making all the decisions together. My mother was licensed to carry the pistol they kept for my grandfather’s grocery business. She made the deposits to a bank in a neighboring town. She still has the 22 (safely locked away) and the permit with her picture as a gorgeous sunny blonde in her early 20’s. Aunt Ro taught my father how to butcher a chicken. There was no patriarchy within the family—there was too much work to be done. Customers to serve, bills to pay, decisions to be made. Together.

My Aunt Ro had one of those acrylic box-framed batik prints that read:

If You Are Being Run Out of Town

Get In Front Of The Crowd

And Make It Look Like A PARADE

The words, written in a freestyle font, were contained under a rainbow of just three colors which escape me now. Probably the most popular print of this collection was the one with halved lemons and the words: When Life Gives You Lemons…contained in an empty glass pitcher. I’d seen that one at most of my friends’ (all named Jennifer) houses. I realized quickly that the making of the lemonade was implied. I guess that was because you still had the choice to make it or not. You could just as easily suck the lemons dry and smash the pitcher if that’s what you wanted to do. The point is, you had a choice.

But this one, displayed proudly in my Aunt Ro’s kitchen, was so strange to me. I mean, the idea was the same. Take something unpleasant like sour lemons on their own, or being ostracized and/or shunned by your community—stripped of your inalienable rights and privileges just because you’re standing up for yourself, your body, your children’s bodies—and turn it into something, for lack of a better word: Fabulous. Something people write songs about.

I think I went off on a tangent there. But I can’t help thinking about that print and all the smart, brave, beautiful women in my family who tried to make things fabulous for me. Who marked the time with blue and white ribbons and red balloons. Parades and Lemonade. Now I march for them and my daughter.

Just not in parades.

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Jul 2, 2022Liked by Sari Botton

You have a great memory and an eye for details.

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