- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Today we flex our patriotic muscles. Our star-spangled hearts may skip a beat here and there.

Eight out of 10 of us say we're still proud to be Americans, according to one recent poll. But they don't call it Independence Day for nothing.

This holiday is subject to some interpretation out there.

"America was founded by four fathers. Delegates from the original 13 states formed the Contented Congress," noted one sincere young student in a recent essay.

"One of the causes of the Revolutionary War was the English put tacks in their tea," wrote another. "During the War, the Red Coats and Paul Revere were throwing balls over stone walls."

Both passages are included in a compendium of genuine student bloopers compiled by linguist Richard Lederer.

Others, however, seem more sure of their work.

Some 450 books are available about July Fourth and our most basic all-American emotions. All told, the holiday remains a bastion of neighborhoods and families, good old traditions, freshly mowed lawns, home cooking and a few spirited high jinks.

And yes, Independence Day still gets to us in one way or another.

Nearly 80 percent of us feel "proud to be an American," according to a Maritz poll, and 81 percent will attend a barbecue to celebrate the fact. In addition, 44 percent will attend a parade and 82 percent will watch live fireworks.

Sixty percent of us will hoist a flag for the day and 22 percent of us will wear something red, white and blue; needless to say, this is more popular with the ladies, who spend an average of $25 decking themselves in appropriate sartorial splendor.

And of course, he-men in the 18-to 34-year-old bracket prefer to buy their own fireworks, according to the poll. They shell out close to $50 for those pyrotechnic goodies their mothers always warned them about, and the excursion itself seems part of the ritual. Men drive an average of 23 miles to make the big purchase.

Women, on the other hand, will drive no more than 14 miles for the same reason and spend only about $26 once they get there.

There is joy in the little things today, though.

Along with all the industrial-strength fanfare in larger cities, there also will be an ice cream social and the crowning of Miss Independence and Mr. Firecracker in Seward, Neb., along with the official "firing of the anvil" on the town square at high noon.

The folks up in Seldovia, Alaska, will offer a canoe joust, a "salmon run" and prizes for the best-dressed dogs and most patriotic babies. Interested parties, officials advise, should assemble down at the Seldovia Fuel & Lube.

Up in Saxton's River, Vt., merry making will commence once Mrs. Elaine Bowen sings "The Star Spangled Banner" from the town bandstand, followed by a pie-eating contest, a square dance and like every community in the nation fireworks at dusk.

There's a clog dance in Dahlonega, Ga.; a spelling bee in Mystic, Conn.; a lizard race in Lovington, N.M.; and a sidewalk egg frying contest in Oatman, Ariz.

The American Crochet Partners have issued an official pattern for the "Bright Colors of Freedom" bookmark while the Vegetarian Awareness Network has declared that it's really "Independence from Meat Day."

Ed Mason of Centreville, meanwhile, has declared it's American Redneck Day to "celebrate the work-hard, play-hard independent spirit of the rural working class."

Yes, one can view much of this on TV. But the Internet brings a few interesting Web broadcasts of its own, including the July Fourth Party from the Green Cafe in Idylwood, Calif.; Willie Nelson's July Fourth Picnic in Austin, Texas; and the evening festivities from Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Birthdays and anniversaries abound today as well.

July 4 marks the birth of Calvin Coolidge, Louis Armstrong, Stephen Foster, Gina Lollabrigida, and lonely hearts advice twins Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren.

It is also the anniversary of the Secret Service (founded in 1778 by Aaron Burr), the Erie Canal (construction started in 1817), "America" (first sung publicly in 1832), and the debut of "Bill Cody's Wild West Show" (1883).

Last but not least, the patriotic spirit is healthy, more or less, in America's young women.

Mail-order purveyor Newport News reports that its best-selling bathing suit this season is the "Stars and Stripes" bikini, which features halter top and "scoop bottom" for $19.99.

It is, notes spokeswomen Sonya Hartland, "huge."

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