Remembering July 4, 1976
For the record, Independence Day in 1976 was generally referred to as the Bicentennial, and it basically went on all year. You would have thought that people living in the year 1776 were out and about creating drama just so their future ancestors would have something to talk about.
Well, it appears that our ancestors had reason to brag about the year 1776. After all, they created a new independent nation in which all "white males" were created equal, didn’t they? Much later, African Americans counted for a half vote, eventually working their way up to full vote status. Indeed, they even beat women to the ballot box by near a half century.
Ancient histories aside, let’s shoot forward to the year 1976. That year, my circle of South Dakota friends gathered on the Missouri River in Chamberlain. About a dozen of us had traveled up river from Vermillion, South Dakota, and spent the weekend at my parents' house who were conveniently away for the explosive fire-cracking party that was soon to unfold.
Although most of us were in our late 20s during that bawdy, tawdry era, the word responsible never once rolled off our tongues. After all, our generation had stopped an unjust war (although way too late) and ran a crook from the White House. We could do as we pleased.
The party that day was spent mostly on the Missouri River with 12 of us crammed into a boat designed for six. After loosening up at the parade, the river seemed to be the place to be. Since none of us owned a boat, we did the next best thing we could and invited Uncle Bobby to be our chaperone and tour guide. This is the same Uncle Bobby who was my mentor in life, the same one who “taught me how to drink booze.” This was the uncle who was famous for living by his infamous mottos, “Never get excited” and “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Bobby was in his glory on that famous day of independence in 1976. If you lived during that era, you will certainly remember that our young generation of women dressed for comfort and comfort only. Bobby had big eyes, clouded only by the vast amounts of beer this man could put away.
The first trip around the river went quite smoothly, although the boat was barely sticking above water. Then Bobby finished his first aluminum can of beer and tossed it directly into the beautiful Missouri River.
“Turn around so I can pick up that beer can,” demanded my tree-hugging friend Maria.
Bobby grabbed another empty that was littering the bottom of the boat. “Here’s one,” he said, obviously not understanding her.
Maria insisted he turn around and remove that beer can from the water.
A light bulb went on in Bobby’s brain when he replied, “Oh heck, I’m just creating jobs!”
We no sooner than pulled ashore at Burning Brule, a riverside tavern a few miles south of Chamberlain, when several people came running down the hill.
“Bobby, you got to get back to Browny’s Bait Shop! Your son, Marty, just blew up your truck with fireworks!”
Bobby, never one to get excited or sweat the small stuff declared, “Heck, I bet I will drive it home.”
We sped back upriver and as we rounded the bend and headed for Browny’s, we saw more smoke than had been witnessed since O’Leary’s cow kicked over the lantern in Chicago. The blackened shell of a Ford pickup sat there smoldering after Marty’s errant bottle rocket ignited the entire front seat filled with fireworks.
An elated Bobby could only reply, “The best thing that ever happened. I’m getting insurance money!”