From Rockville to Hyattsville, the fireworks were the big attraction of Independence Day.

Nine-year-old Sharon Henry of Takoma Park said they scared and thrilled her, and reminded her of "the British and the fighting like in 1776 - when the firecrackers were killing people and stuff."

Another 9-year-old, Scott Green of Rockville, said simply: "They all go up in the air and explode and turn beautiful colors. I love fireworks."

No longer so enchanted by July 4 aerial displays was Lawrence Ritchie, 80, the Pennyslvania fireworkers shooter who declared Monday night's show in Rockville would be his last. "I'm sick of looking at fireworks," he said upon closing a 56-year-career behind the fuse.

Aside from the fireworks displays, however, Montgomery and Prince George's County residents found a multitude of ways to celebrate Independence Day in their home communities.

In Takoma Park, hundreds marched and thouands watched as a two-hour-long parade wound its way through the city. A local resident recently back from South America proudly swept her hand across the crowd watching the celebration.

"There's no other country like America," said Debbie Andrews, as she surveyed her city's 88th annual Independence Day parade. "We're just different. In Columbia (South America), everything is very insecure - nothing at all like this. So I really appreciate this."

Another unashamed patriot in Takoma Park was JOn Buck, captain of the Maryland Militia, a group 45 Maryland residents who dress in homemade colonial clothes and make their own colonial instruments. About 30 members of the group marched in the parade - leaving the crowd applauding in a cloud of dense smoke after two rounds of musket fire and one cannon blast.

Buck declared the Fourth was "a time to celebrate the creation of a damn good country," but many who watched his troupe parade found a simpler message in the day.

"It's nice to come out and see the parade. To me the Fourth is more like a day off from work," said Kirby Turner of Takoma Park.

"It's great. It's neat to have everybody in the community get together, because it's probably one of the only times they do get together," said Debbie Hibbs of Greenbelt.

In New Carrollton, the celebration was of a less contemplative nature, as 72 residents in six teams battled fiercely - but in fun, they insisted - over such things as which team would best use pillows to knock its opponents into a tub of water.

"It's not for the good athletes. It's just a think where everybody has a lot of fun - a crazy event," explained coach Tom Cygnarowicz of the Boy's and Girl's Club, shortly after his team ran a relay race called "The Stripper."

In that race, players had to don or remove four articles of clothing, jump in a pool and then race across the field to tag a colleague. Two youths were taken to hospitals as a result of injuries received in the game, one for a suspected fractured ankle and the other for a cut on his forehead.

"The games are all in good spirit - you don't care what team you're on," said Michelle Crockett, whose husband Thomas was player-coach for the civic association team. "Here in New Carrollton, you are offered a chance to have a nice Fourth of July without going out on the road. We like being able to stay at home and have a good time."

The nature and idea for the New Carrollton games - dubbed the "Knockout" - came from England where resident George Bennett saw the zany competitions between towns as unique community celebrations.

The games are in their third year in New Carrollton, with various city groups competing against each other. Bennett would like to see inter-city competitions begun here as in England, perhaps between New Carrollton and neighboring cities in prince George's County.

In Largo's Thomas M. Watkins Park, at the Old Maryland Farm, old-time bargains were the program for Independence Day, with nickel tickets for attractions ranging from pony rides to participation in the left-handed arm wrestling world's championship.

Six-year-old Jonathan Ferree complained that he lost a nickel in a pig pen, but seemed to have a good time anyway. He said he liked a long pony ride and the chance to see farm animals, despite his mifortune with the pigs.

Other children talked excitedly about the farm animals. Barry Secrest, 7, of Kettering, said he liked the pigs best "because they smelled so much." Conservationist Dan Green said it was the first time many children had seen the animals.

Green ran the four-hour event at Watkins Park and awarded plaques for watermelon seed spitting, hay bale tossing, and, of course, the left-handed arm wrestling world championship, now in its third year.

In Rockville, the city's 17th annual Fourth of July celebration featured music by the Rockville Civic Concert Band, the community chorus, and the Bluegrass Cardinals as well as half-hour fireworks display.

While approximately 20,000filled the stands and grass area at Richard Montgomery High School, Bluegrass fanciers clapped and stomped to the sound of the Bluegrass Cardinals. "Party hardy! Yeehaw!" yelled Brenda Stephens, 14.

For clarinetist Chris Kuyatt, a physicist at the National Bureau of Standards and 16-year veteran of the part-time Rockville civic concert band, the addition of the Bluegrass band is the only significant musical change in the Rockville celebration.