There is a private stillness to Independence Day, 1977, as though this year's celebrations are matters of the heart.
No massive, one-of-a-kind. America's Birthday spectaculars. No wagon trains, no elaborate Revolutionary War re-enactment, nobody pushing a watermelon to Philadelphia to honor the spirit of the season. This time around it's just fireworks, a slow afternoon in summer, and the easy calm the Bicentennial left behind.
Maybe the message is as simple as OK. "Collective relief," mused Larry Peaco, a health care consultant who had settled against a tree in West Potomac Park yesterday. "All the bad stuff is over."
Peaco had the Sunday papers, a bicycle, and the thoughtful, pleased look of a man discovering he likes his surroundings. "I feel more relaxed," he said. "The election's over. There's new direction in La Casa Blanca. We're not going to have a B-l bomber. Maybe the last ghosts of Watergate have been exorcised, even though he did get a million dollar . . ."
A sense of expectation. Peaco said. "Optimism," he said, and then, again, "relief."
It is an Independence Day without public demons, and for some a quiet pride suddenly turns to patriotism. "I'm used to being a little disillusioned," said a young man stretched out on the riverbank in the sun. Somehow last year, to his own surprise. "I felt a sense of pride," he said,
"I felt a sort of community there, something that had been absent for quite a while because of Vietnam and Watergate," he continued. "I could attribute part of it to the Carter presidency . . . I guess I'm more optimistic generally about the future than I might have been a couple of years ago."
Relief, relaxation, easing up. It delights some and outrages others. "People are becoming too relaxed," complained Ann Klenk, a McLean commodity broker who had stopped by the Smithsonian's weekend Independence Day festival for the afternoon."The silent majority is beginning to regain its reign of power. Young people today are just sitting on their asses and only the minorities, those who are being repressed like the homosexuals, are fighting back."
Look at Anita Bryant, Klenk said. "Look at the Supreme Court and its recent rulings on abortion. Then there's the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). I can't believe that the ERA can't be passed in some states when everybody these days is supposed to be on such a high intellectual level, and four President is supposed to be so liberal."
She stood on the Mall in the sun, her voice angry, speaking of politics. Around her was this summer's small Smithsonian celebration, with 18-inch watermelon slices and a barbershop quartet and the quick hiss of the helium tank filling glossy, starred ballons. Politics somehow seemed very far away.
"People don't take themselves so seriously any more," the balloon man said.
"Placid," said Gerald Solomon, an Army Corps of Engineers appraiser from Baltimore. He was describing his 1977 Independence Day holiday, remembering the family's scramble to the Bicentennial fireworks last year, and smiling. They'll celebrate somehow this year, he said, "but not the type of celebration where everybody goes out and gets tight."
There's a private sort of ceremony to the Solomon's Independence Day, anyway, he said. When his father left Russia to settle as a produce man in Newcastle. Pa., he wanted a birthday and wasn't sure when his was. So he picked out the Fourth of July. It seemed a proper date for an American celebration.