Forty years ago this weekend, July 4, 1976, was the celebration of the American Bicentennial. The national blowout for America's 200th birthday had been brewing for a couple of years. A government commission began planning for it in 1973. The U.S. Mint issued commemorative quarters, half-dollars, and dollar coins starting in 1975. But the most amazing thing about it was the way everybody who made anything wanted to capitalize on Bicentennial fever. Bicentennial-themed stuff was on sale in every store, some of it tasteful and some of it not.
On the day itself, which was a Sunday, the TV networks went all out, covering Bicentennial events from coast to coast all day long. President Gerald Ford visited Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and then traveled to New York City for Operation Sail, with hundreds of boats and ships sailing in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Jimmy Carter, the apparent Democratic nominee for president in that fall's election, was still governor of Georgia, and he spent the day dedicating a small-town post office in his home state.
My family and I went to some sort of all-day picnic/family reunion. I don't remember anything about it beyond the usual family picnic memories, running around outside with the cousins, eating way too much of everything, and having to go home before everyone else because my father had cows to milk. That night, we went to our usual fireworks-viewing spot in Monroe, on the grounds of what is now the Monroe Senior Center. (It used to be the Green County Normal School, a teacher's college, where my mother went after high school.) At some point in the 70s, they had planted some trees on the side of the park where we watched the fireworks, and we were reminded every year to be careful of the little trees and not to knock them down.
They're all 30 feet high now. Forty years will do that.
In 1980, I spent the summer as a nighttime rock 'n' roll DJ in Freeport, Illinois. It was a pretty sweet gig for a 20-year-old college kid. I was on the air Sunday through Friday nights from six to midnight, so I had Saturday nights to party with my friends at home. I was paid the princely sum of $135 a week, but I was living at home, so my only expenses were gasoline and beer.
The studios were located on the 12th floor of a bank building, one of the tallest buildings for miles around. We watched the fireworks from three northern Illinois towns on the Fourth of July, but my favorite story involving the building comes from the night that the morning DJ, a college friend, had nothing better to do than to come up and hang out with me. He was a maniac air-guitarist, and after he put on an extremely acrobatic performance, the phone rang. "Hey," the listener said. "When are you gonna do that again?" Well, the whole streetside wall was glass, after all.
In addition to being a sweet gig for a rock-and-radio obsessed college kid who didn't need very much money, it was also one of the most agreeable jobs I ever would ever have. The office was already closed by the time I got to work, and I had the place to myself. Just me, and a black-and-white TV set in the newsroom in case there was a baseball game on TV.
I got to interview Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere from Dr. Hook that summer, as part of the publicity for their appearance at one of the county fairs. (I still have the tape, but I don't have anything to play it on, and even if I didn't, I'm afraid to listen to it.) At the end of the summer, I did a week of shows from another local county fair, just before school started again. At the time, I didn't really consider quitting school and keeping the job, although in the years since I have wondered how it might have turned out if I had.
When I think about that summer now, I don't necessarily remember being on the air right away. What I remember first is turning the transmitter off at midnight, being down in the parking lot by 12:05, and heading for home. In my mind's eye, I can still drive Illinois highway 26 through that steamy Midwestern summer, across the state line and back to the house I had grown up in. (In the fall to come, I'd move to an off-campus apartment at college and never again live full-time at home.) Many were the nights I'd stay up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and wake up at noon to start another day–another day in the life of a rock 'n' roll DJ, the only life I'd ever seriously wanted to have.
This is Maizie. If she looks a little upset, it's because this photo was taken at the vet a couple of weeks ago, as she hunkered down and tried to make herself invisible before the vet came in to see us. I know her well enough to recognize that she's not only nervous and frightened in this picture, she is also promising that some night she will kill me in my sleep. Our most recent veterinary adventure with Maizie relieved us of the need to think very much about what we'd do with our income tax refund.
It's not the first time we've written big checks to our veterinarian. The first time was maybe 15 years ago, when the vet suggested we wire Abby's jaw to fix some sort of congenital condition. After the vet gave me the estimate, I said "Yeah, go ahead," and hung up the phone. It wasn't until 10 minutes later that it dawned on me that we were spending several hundred dollars on what was effectively cosmetic surgery.
Sophie had bad kidneys and required intravenous fluids. The vet gave us the option of doing it ourselves, but neither Ann nor I were all that crazy about sticking a needle into the cat, and we didn't want her to think that whenever she was on someone's lap, she was going to get stuck. So I would load up the cat, first two and later three times a week, and take her to the vet for fluids. And at the end of the week, I'd write a check. A few times a year, I'd write a bigger check for other stuff the increasingly elderly animal needed to have done. This went on for maybe three years--a period during which we spent far more on Sophie's health care than we did on our own.
Sophie has been gone four years next week. Shortly after she passed, our vet clinic (Middleton Veterinary Hospital, which is just the best) started a remodeling project. From that day to this, I have referred to the new part of the building as "the Sophie wing." She helped pay for much of it, after all.