Most Americans view the Fourth of July in different ways, most of which symbolize the loyalty to tradition, even amid waves of change.
Yes, it’s the nation’s birthday and it’s a cause for celebration. Chicago – a rock/jazz ensemble still kicking after 50 years – summed it best in the 1972 hit single “Saturday in the Park,” a title which leads to the lyrics “You’d think it was the Fourth of July.”
Independence Day appropriately serves as a day of celebration, one for which we revel in the freedom our forefathers declared in 1776 and for which military personnel have given their blood and their lives to protect.
It’s also a time of reflection and reminiscing. I had known a little about the Fourth as early as kindergarten, and I took particular glee in the revelry. My parents would tote a blanket, soft drinks and a bucket of KFC for Fourth of July festivities along the hilly terrain of the Old State Capitol. In a not-so-joyous experience, I learned the hard way at age 6 about the consequences of rolling down a hill less than 10 minutes after I woofed down a couple pieces of fried chicken. Fowl led to foul.
The most lasting lessons this writer learned about Independence Day came just over a year later in 1976, when our nation went into high gear for promotion of the Bicentennial. It was a big new word for an 8-year-old and it struck a chord of curiosity. My love of history and fascination with the presidency stemmed largely from the bicentennial, particularly when my mom brought home a presidential handbook, one of those dinky little promo items a Baton Rouge bank gave away for the Bicentennial. I learned the order of the presidents within days. It’s a fascination my 8-year-old son Seth has discovered over the last year.
Another attraction took shape for yours truly in 1976. A visit to the public library in my hometown of Plaquemine allowed me to witness the creation of a time capsule, which they would keep buried on the grounds of the old Iberville Parish Courthouse – now the Plaquemine City Hall – for 50 years.
Forty-one years have passed, and I’m often reminded how long ago it was. For example, two friends I’ve made in four years in Denham Springs were merely infants on July 4, 1976 – one of them two months old, the other two days old.
You can call me “Methuselah.”
On the flip side, it’s a nice perk at age 49 to have witnessed the radical changes that have shaped our way of life since the Bicentennial. Most towns across America will open time capsules for the 250th birthday in 2026, and the unveiling of these little troves will elicit great fascination
It makes me think about the radical changes in life for those of us old enough to remember 1976. Gerald Ford – the only man never to be elected president or vice president – served as our chief executive until a dark horse Democrat pulled off what many considered an upset. Donald Trump was a mere 30 years old and predecessor Barack Obama had not yet finished high school.
Gas sold for under 60 cents per gallon. CB radios – and their unique lingo – were the craze that year. Cable television was in its infancy, so the “big three” (NBC, CBS and ABC) still dominated TV with shows fare as “Sanford and Son,” “All in the Family,” “Starsky and Hutch” and “Happy Days.” As for music, the Electric Light Orchestra, Barry Manillow, Diana Ross and Merle Haggard topped the charts in that era. A telephone was merely for making phone calls. If we wanted a quick picture, we used a Polaroid instant camera.
Enough of the nostalgia binge. Imagine the next 10 years.
This edition hits stands June 29, the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, a ubiquitous device created under the watch of the late Steve Jobs. Cell phones already had their perks, but Apple took the device into a different stratosphere. We can do nearly anything – for better and for worse – with a device which weighs only a couple ounces. So much for the computer of 1976 which took up an entire room, all for the sake of logging data and performing simple arithmetic.
The iPhone will likely hold a spot alongside the light bulb, automobile, airplane and television among the most revolutionary inventions.
Even the way we shop has changed. If consumers needed to order a certain product, they picked up the reliable Sears catalog, which offered everything from clothing to hardware and appliances to storage sheds. Sears in the mid-’70s was as mighty as the Titanic, and now it seems destined within a few years to meet the same demise the seemingly unsinkable vessel suffered in 1912. In fact, the company announced Friday it would close its Lafayette location.
Now, millions of shoppers worldwide buy everything from computers to groceries and bathroom tissue through Amazon, a type of retailer. It’s not a bricks-and-mortar retailer, even though they acquired Whole Foods two weeks ago. Amazon has brought fear to all merchants, including Walmart, which once seemed unstoppable. Who would’ve imagined anything of this nature in 1976, outside of seeing something on a space age program or a cartoon such as “The Jetsons”?
As I think about the Fourth of July this Tuesday, I’ll think a lot about what has changed and what has stayed the same. Cookouts, swim parties and fireworks still comprise much of America’s birthday celebration, and many events still keep us aware of the real meaning of the holiday.
But when I think of the time capsule and the changes over the last 50 years, it reminds me that even less than a fifth of that time span has ushered in radical changes. It also makes me wonder about the changes which lie ahead.
Nine years is not a long time from now, but I’d bet the changes our world will see in that time span will make it seem like a much longer time span.