Porter has been on a fanatical quest to collect the quarters representing every state. He reported that one of his friends had a coveted Hawaii quarter and used it to purchase Skittles. He was disgusted at this lack of patriotism and ticked that he hadn’t spotted the rare coin.
I haven’t heard so much about quarters since 1976, the year of the Bicentennial. All my memories of the year are draped in red, white and blue bunting and set to “Silly Love Songs.” America- 200 years old! A birthday party for the whole country! A Fourth of July celebration like no other! I was in third grade and full of patriotic fervor, and so was everyone around me. Wikipedia says that people living then regarded the Bicentennial as a major cultural event, and I’d have to agree.
It began with the Bicentennial quarters. It was a big deal to find them, and my friend Margaret remembers going to Chik-fil-a and getting Bicentennial quarters in special wrappers. Some people collected them. Others were unable to break this habit. To this day, the Voice of Reason has pillboxes full of Bicentennial quarters stashed in her safe deposit box because her husband loves his collection so dearly. I’m hoping he’ll trade Porter a Hawaii if we give him a 1976 quarter.
Well before the celebration officially started, my family got in the mood. My youngest sister Lulu had a bedroom wallpapered in the chic colors of the day. Combined with her red and white bedspread and blue shag rug, it was as if a flag had vomited all over her room. I was a teensy bit envious, even more envious than I was of my middle sister Su, who had that patchwork jumper you see here. She wore it at least twice a week. I’d have worn it more often if it was mine.
The finest attribute of Lulu’s room was her iron bed. Day after day we’d stick our toes on the slat under the mattress, grab the posts, and hang off, yelling, “Garbage men coming! Bring us your garbage!” We’d jiggle to mimic a truck in motion, then jump off the truck and pile it high with toys, books and stuffed animals. We’d make a couple of tours of the neighborhood, tossing trash on and off the truck. When we were tired of being garbage men we’d ransack the dress-up box and play Little House on the Prairie. I always got to be Mary, which meant that Lulu spent most of her time leading me around the house because i was saintly and blind.
Lulu and I were insanely jealous. The dress had gold braid criss-crossed on the front, romantic lace sleeves and a lacy cap to match. Sure, Lulu got the avocado green play stove, but cooking was work. Prissing around in Betsy Ross’s clothes was magic. She’d finished sewing the flag centuries ago, so all she had to do was show up and accept her accolades.
My third-grade picture shows that I was in the mood for celebrating, down to the hair ribbons. I had to fight my sisters to get to wear this particular set of red ponytail holders and ribbons on picture day.
Shortly before school let out we had a Bicentennial parade at school. Margaret and another girl got to pull the class float. No one remembers what was on it.
By the time the 4th of July rolled around, we were feverish with excitement. It was the only time I can remember that our neighborhood got together for any reason at all. We wore our colors, had a picnic and posed for pictures before the fireworks and sparklers got started.
Su remembers this picture fondly. It might have been a major celebration for the country, but more important, the fact that her Betsy Ross costume was a thousand times more authentic and patriotic than anything we were wearing was a victory for middle children everywhere.
The picture also provides a glimpse into the diversity of our neighborhood. Not everyone was blond and blue-eyed. The brown-haired boy and his sister in the red and blue polka dots lived across the street and down two houses. David and Joy Gilbert were from the Midwest, which might as well have been Tasmania for all we knew about it. They had exotic accents and their house had a sunken den. I didn’t mention it to my sisters, but I figured that the Bicentennial was hardly a party at all to their parents, who were mature adults from the Midwest. I knew what sunken dens with lots of throw pillows were for. The Gilberts were probably experienced swingers. Mrs. Gilbert seemed just like any other mom when she drove carpool in her Buick Skylark, though.
Maybe you’re wondering what a whole class full of students looked like in 1976.
Unfortunately, I have every one of my class pictures except the third grade, so this depicts a group of jaded fourth-graders in the fall of 1976, who have already celebrated the Bicentennial. Ho hum. We’ve been there, done that. However, we were still wearing our red, white and blue.
I’m wearing my favorite daisy shirt that my aunt gave me and some stylish glasses, and the cool kids are wearing their red-striped Adidas. My shoes are rah-rah’s, and my mom made me keep them white by applying a polish that came in a bottle with a sponge-tipped applicator that exuded a milky-white liquid. It was a lot like Liquid Papering your shoes before school, and about as attractive.
The boy in the blue shirt in the front row is demonstrating his fondness for the show “Happy Days” by imitating Fonzie’s signature move. “Happy Days” was hot during 1976. I used to recommend that parents purchase DVDs of Happy Days until I saw the one where Fonzie teaches Richie how to remove a girl’s bra. Now we’ve substituted the timeless humor of Mork & Mindy, which is great for the kids. I prefer to have the boys practice sitting in a chair upside down and attempt to communicate with outer space rather than fiddle with ladies’ undergarments. Mork & Mindy didn’t debut until 1978, though, so it wasn’t a part of our Bicentennial year.
As a final thought, please ponder Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night.” We all heard it plenty that year. Please hum quietly to yourself, even though you know Rod’s gonna be trying to get him some later on.
So that’s the Bicentennial as I remember it here in the Tiny Kingdom. If you have memories of it, leave them in the comments.
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Anne Glamore (Bicentennial Memories)