Timmy Grau and Eddie Matczuk weren't expecting a pop quiz in American history yesterday, so they had to think long and hard when asked why all the bands and clowns and politicians were parading through Towson.
"Uh, um . . .," pondered Eddie, at age 7 the elder of the two. Then his face brightened as the answer came to him. "It's the day Elvis Presley discovered New York," he said proudly.
"No, it's not," said Timmy, 6, as his friend's answer jogged his memory. "It's when Columbus discovered America."
A stroll among Fourth of July events revealed that the younger set, at least, tends to think of July Fourth as food, fireworks and fun, rather than as a celebration of the nation's declaration of independence from England.
Some parents seemed shocked at this, and at least one mother vowed to teach her youngsters a little history.
Faced with the question, younger children tended to respond with stares before diving for the nearest parent and sanctuary.
Paige Szymanowski, 5, of Baltimore at first declined to comment at the festivities in Towson, but returned to offer her thoughts on "the United States parade."
In Dundalk, Tina Bryant, 9, of Joppatowne thought the events celebrated "the fourth day of July. It's in the middle of the summer." Brian Ledford, 9, of Middle River thought it was New Year's Day.
Tammie Miller, 12, of Essex said it was "Fireworks Day." Told the reason for the fireworks, she said: "We didn't learn about it in school. Maybe we'll learn about it later, in history or maybe social studies."
Nor did many of the children celebrating in Ocean City know what all the noise was about.
"I know it but I can't say," said Jessica DeLuca, 9, of Hasbrouk Heights, N.J. "Something special must have happened on that day."
And recent events seem to have confused some children.
"It's for the independence," said Jennifer Mata, 10, of Silver Spring. "It's the war that just happened in the gulf. It's an international day."
When Katie Bonshock, 6, of Ranshaw, Pa., said she had no idewhy people got so excited about the holiday, her brother Denny, 10, explained to her that it was "to celebrate our colors and how our soldiers fought for us in the Middle East war."
Not every child was stymied by the question.
Jeffrey Holland, 9, of Dundalk not only knew that yesterday was Independence Day, but also that the holiday celebrates the day "rights were made. The right to be free and do what you want to do."
David Golaner, 12, and Ami Student, 13, eighth-graders at the Park School, both knew the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Cathy Guiles, a 10-year-old Junior Girl Scout and marcher in the holiday parade, got close.
"On July 4, 1976, the Declaration of Independence became . . .," she said, then faltered. "Something happened to it." Her young Brownie companion, Anna, didn't want to hazard a guess.
"It's Independence Day. This other country . . . owned us: Our country wanted to be free," said Lauren Hernandez, 6, a Pot Spring ELementary School student from Timonium, dressed in red and white stripes for the parade.
Among the youngsters who seemed to have the clearest idea why Americans celebrate July Fourth was one who couldn't speak English.
Patrick Bedard, 10, and his sister Natacha, 13, residents of Montreal, were enjoying a two-week vacation in Ocean City with their parents. After their father translated the question, Natacha said that, yes, she knew what the party was for.
"It's the United States' birthday," she replied, half in French and half in English.