1. The Bicentennial
When I think of the summer of '76, I picture girls in homemade cotton Betsy Ross bonnets, jeans with the stars-and-stripes sewn on the butt, and little kids marching around the football field at my town's high school, waving tiny American flags on popsicle sticks. We were in that transition year, moving from the chaos and anger over the Vietnam War into the glittery, hedonistic disco years, but for that one summer, everyone felt the Spirit of '76.
2. My first friend at sleepaway camp
I was almost nine years old when my parents put me on a yellow bus for the ride to Nassau County 4-H Camp, where I would spend three weeks shucking corn and making lanyards. Clutching my stuffed dog Benji, I cried the entire way, big gloppy tears that could have made me the camp pariah. But as soon as we arrived and were sorted into bunks, I met Denise, who had both braces and braids, making her the coolest girl I had ever seen. I didn't cry again until it was time to go back home.
3. Playing jacks on rainy days
I went to three different sleepaway camps over a total of seven summers, but no matter where I was, the universal language of girl-friendship was, "Onesies, twosies … tensies!" Is there any memory more evocative of a rainy afternoon at camp than sitting on a bunk floor and hearing the thump-thump-thump of a small red rubber ball bouncing on wood?
4. Running under the sprinklers
In the years before camp, summers meant unstructured afternoons playing with whatever random kids on my block happened to be home. My mom would give us ice pops made out of frozen fruit punch; after the juice ran down the front of our T-shirts, she'd turn on the backyard sprinklers (no one we knew had a pool in those days), and we'd run barefoot through them until we decided to invade the livingroom, soaking wet, to watch "Magilla Gorilla."
5. A learning-free vacation in Cape Cod
My family was not a beach family. Our summer vacations tended to be educational—Colonial Williamsburg! Boston's Freedom Trail!—or involved traveling to different cities for "Tin Can-ventions," at which my parents bought, sold and traded antique tobacco tins with other enthusiasts. But one summer we drove to Cape Cod with our Schwinns haphazardly tied to the back of the car, and I didn't have to learn about anything other than the route to the Dairy Queen from our rented cottage. It was the best summer vacation ever.
6. Nadia’s perfect 10
If you were a girl in the summer of '76, you wanted nothing more than to be Nadia Comaneci. We watched in amazement as the 14-year-old from Romania with the red ribbons on her pigtails swung and flipped around the uneven bars in Montreal, earning the first 10 in Olympic history. From then on, I had a poster of Nadia hanging on my bedroom wall, reminding me of what perfection looked like.
7. Disco counselors
During the summer of 1978, my mom signed me up for a few weeks of day camp at our local Y, which I was sure would be a boring slog through macramé and dodgeball. But much to my delight, the counselors decided to spend most of the day teaching us how to dance the Bus Stop and the Hustle. I can't hear the Bee Gees without thinking of that sweaty summer at the Y.
8. 'Jaws' at the drive-in
Like all suburban families in 1975, mine owned a Country Squire station wagon, green with faux-wood paneling. One hot summer night, my brother and I piled our pillows and sleeping bags in the back, and my parents took us to the local drive-in to see "Jaws." What better way to watch the scariest movie of the summer than in a car where you can scream all you want while hiding your face in a pillow?
9. Cheering on the hapless Mets
A few times every summer, my dad would come home early from work and say, "Tom Seaver is pitching tonight. Anyone want to go to the game?" Would drive to Shea—no traffic, because no one else was going—buy tickets at the gate for a few bucks each, eat hot dogs and Cracker Jacks, and watch our beloved Mets lose . But hey, there was always next year.
10. Chasing the ice cream truck
When the Country Store on Wheels rang its bell, we answered, running down the block waving a dollar bill from mom's purse. One day my best friend, Jenny, and I were arguing about how to split a pack of five ice-cream bonbons. John, the driver, said, "I'm in the mood for a bonbon. How about I trade you the fifth one for two pieces of Bazooka?" He made two little girls very happy with the kind of wisdom and diplomacy I can only hope our next president will emulate.
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