Editor's note: This story is the seventh entry in a series called Flashback, which The Chronicle will be running online weekly through the end of the summer. We welcome readers' input about old stories they would like to see featured. 

This week's entry focuses on an opinion piece, instead of a news article, that discusses the Fourth of July.

The Chronicle looked back at an opinion piece that was published July 5, 1976, in an issue that celebrated the bicentennial anniversary of the American Revolution. The piece was titled “Four People in America: The Ties That Bind Us."

“If your goal is a better understanding of the people of this land, trying to define the ‘typical’ or ‘average’ American is a worthless enterprise,” Steven Petrow, a rising junior and editorial chairman of The Chronicle at the time, wrote in the opening.

In the opinion piece, Petrow explored the stories of four different Americans who he had met over the course of his 19 years. 

He introduces us to Beatrice, Rice, Charlie and Michele—who were given pseudonyms to protect their identities.

“The four vignettes which follow are in no way meant to be representative of the American people, rather through their diversity and commonality of desires, ideas, emotions, imaginations, needs and sensibilities we may begin to understand ourselves and our neighbors in a deeper and broader way,” Petrow wrote. 

Meet Beatrice

In 1976, Beatrice was a 78-year-old woman living alone on the Upper East side in New York City.

She was married to her work until 1968 when she retired from her job as editor-in-chief of a major monthly periodical.

Petrow’s grandmother—who was Beatrice’s best and perhaps only true friend—died in 1973. After his grandmother passed away, “Beatrice knew she was to follow,” Petrow wrote. “These days she doesn't hesitate to say she has no reason to live, that she wants to die.”

Beatrice was dying, but she refused to go to a nursing home. All alone in New York City, her closest relative lived fifteen hours away, Petrow noted, so he decided to visit her instead. 

“When I visit she acts as though I were still a child and pretends that nothing has changed,” Petrow wrote. “Things have changed though, her hair goes unfixed, her face unmade. In some ways, she is walking naked now."

During one of his visits, Petrow and Beatrice discussed the passage of time. 

“Everyday is a Sunday to me. Each day is the same and goes on forever," Beatrice told him with her face "blank of any expression."

Meet Rice

In 1976, Rice was a former student activist and hippie.

“Not even half of Beatrice’s years, Rice has lived through much hell and heat in his score and a half,” Petrow wrote. “Born on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, […] He was all-American; he was all messed up.” 

Rice was an undergraduate at Columbia and pursued post-graduate work at the University of Chicago before he was swept up in the student protest movement in 1968. He participated in protests and strikes at Columbia, University of Chicago and in Washington.

“[Rice] was willing to die for the America he sought. He wasn’t willing to die in a rice paddy or under a mosquito net in some jungle, but he risked his life in both Chicago and Washington,” Petrow wrote. “He was shot at and teargassed, he was clubbed in those bloody battles with America’s finest.”

By 1976, Rice was married and working as a free-lance writer. He had reached his “golden boy days after all,” Petrow remarked.

Meet Charlie 

In 1976, Charlie was a 19-year-old African American farmer. He had been harvesting vegetables since 1971. 

Petrow described Charlie as a migrant because he moved from Florida to South Carolina to North Carolina during the year, following the crops that gave him work.

“Sitting in the dirt, pulling, edging down the row, the temperature mounting, that is his day. That is every day. The sun drains you in a continuous process out in the field. There is no escape from it,” Petrow wrote. “By 3 p.m. Charlie has had it. Quitting time isn't until 4. The last hour is a long one. The next day will be a long one. The next week will be no different. Charlie won't look any further than that.”

But, when the work week ended, Charlie became more than just a farmer. Known as “Jitterbug,” he was a dancer and a lady’s man.

“Pink bellbottoms and a flashy shirt, he is ready. He is stunning," Petrow wrote.

Meet Michele

In 1976, Michele dreamed of becoming a lawyer.

After her freshman year at Georgetown, Michele worked as a library computer programmer for a prestigious law firm in Washington, DC.

Raised by German-Jewish immigrants, she had a comfortable, but not luxurious, childhood. In college, she was hungry to make something of herself.

“She wants to be a ‘professional,’ as they call lawyers nowadays,” Petrow wrote. “She is interested in and attracted to making money and spending that money. She shops only at the chic boutiques and dresses the part of a smart looking lawyer.”

Petrow grew up with Michelle—they were born a week apart in the same hospital. As her childhood friend, he offered a nuanced perspective on her lifestyle.

“Knowing Michele in any intimate way, one finds that she is not the image she projects herself to be. She is insecure and needs continual affirmation. She will be the first to tell you that she is not happy and that her life will not be a happy one,” Petrow wrote. “Why? you ask, and she will say that’s the way it will go. She is fatalistic like many in her generation and in bondage through responsibilities and obligations she refuses to throw off.”