Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Summer of 1976

The summer of 1976 was a big deal for everyone, including my family and me.

Big for everyone because of the Bicentennial.  America was celebrating 200 years of independence from British rule.  You couldn't swing a cat without hitting the American flag.  It seemed to be a year-long celebration of everything that meant anything to Americans.

Big for my family because of events that took place that summer.  My mom's sister, Aunt Kay, and her family were back in Maryland visiting from California.  Back then, traveling across the country was a very big deal - not like today where you can fly to L.A. for the weekend.  Aunt Kay, Uncle Bill and cousin Jeff, who was just a month younger than I, only came back to the east coast every 4 or 5 years.  The last time they were home was in 1972.  Jeff and I were both 6 years old.  But in 1976, we were 10 and were able to develop a real friendship and connection.

Aunt Kay being back also meant that all of Mom's siblings were in one location at the same time.  Her father, Pop, had died 6 years earlier, but the family took advantage of geography and posed for some family pictures in Granny's back yard.  I love this picture of them.  It's a time capsule.  This is the image I have of them in my head all the time, and will be how I remember them forever.  Mom is in the back row on the left.

I can guess how precious these photos are to them.  Three years later, Aunt Jeannie would die from complications with her heart.

Aunt Kay and her family would return to California the end of that summer, but would move back to Maryland within the next year.  Jeff and I became good friends through our teen years.  I was even Best Man in his first wedding.  But we'd eventually drift apart as he entered the navy and I went on to college.  And In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, Jeff and I would be the only ones of our generation to inherit the bad heart gene.  We'd both end up having heart attacks when we got older.

And sometime during the summer of 1976, Dad was honored by being selected as the Allegany & Garrett Counties Volunteer Firefighter of the Year for the state of Maryland.  Dad had joined the Clarysville Volunteer Fire Department a few years earlier and had held several positions within the department, including being Chief for several years.  That's Dad in the picture below in his stylish dark blue leisure suit.

Against her wishes, Dad signed Mom up to join the Ladies Auxiliary.  Mom (being Mom) cried the night before she had to go to the first meeting.  Dad forced her to get out of the house and do something - anything - other than being a wife and mother, which was all Mom ever wanted to be in life.  But over time, she blossomed.  They developed friends and a real sense of community among the other "firemen families".  Both Dad and Mom were dedicated to the success of the organization.  We'd attend socials, picnics, conventions, fundraisers, chicken dinners, holiday parties...   I even sang at one or two of those functions.

And my sister Kim was crowned Clarysville Volunteer Fire Queen the same year Dad won his award.  I think they both actually rode in local parades together that whole summer.

And speaking of Queens, the summer of 1976 would be the year Granny chartered a bus and the entire family went to DC for the day, where I would see a visiting Queen Elizabeth II.  It would be my first time in DC, and I certainly didn't know I would live there for 10 years during my 30's.  Our huge entourage hit all the big sites: Capitol, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Washington Monument.  But I especially remember the actual bus ride down and back.  Back then, it took about 3.5 to 4 hours to ride from Frostburg to DC.  So there was lots of singing, lots of laughing, lots of snacks moving around the bus.  I remember Mom being sad because Dad couldn't get the day off work to go with us; he was the only person in the whole family who wasn't on the bus.  I'm sure that was hard on both my folks.

The summer of 1976 was also the last summer of Camp, but certainly not the last summer of big family get-togethers.  Those would thankfully continue for years to come.

The Summer of 1976.  It was a big deal for everyone and somewhat of a turning point in my life.  I remember it being a really fun summer, and carefree as all summers were for kids back then.