Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

Among my favorite childhood days was New Year's Eve.

When I was growing up, my parents were tight friends with two other couples - Jim and Mary Lou, and Denny and Marlene. The three women had grown up together and graduated from high school together. Dad, Jim, and Denny had known each other since they were teens. For all of my childhood, well into high school, these three couples rotated hosting New Year's Eve.

For the grownups, the night was spent playing cards, eating, and talking. There was some light imbibing; "7 and 7" was the most elaborate drink in any of the households. There was always a coffee pot going and it was not unusual for more than one pot to be brewed in the course of the evening, as all six adults drank coffee morning, noon, and night. Euchre was the game, although I remember a lot of canasta and an occasional game of pinochle.

For us kids, the night was spent eating, playing, and generally behaving like hooligans. Depending on your youth, pajamas were required evening wear. (That was so that as we passed out, we could be scooped up and put on someone's bed while the adults played on.) Slippers were optional. My best friend Cindy was Jim and Mary Lou's daughter, so New Year's Eve meant four or more hours of uninterrupted happiness for us both.

New Year's Eve meant snacks. No one called them "hors d'oeuvres" in our circle. Even "appetizers" was a stretch. These were snacks. Chips and dip, pretzels, M & M's, Christmas cookies, gherkin pickles, cheese balls, Spanish olives, celery sticks filled with cream cheese or peanut butter. Usually there would be a crock full of chili or sloppy joes, but as a kid, I don't ever remember any of us being interested in the "grownup" food. No, we were perfectly happy filling up on the exotica gracing the card table set up for the sole purpose of holding the food. If my mother was the hostess and wanted to really make a statement, she would make her ribbon salad, which was a multicolored Jello concoction with a layer of cream cheese mixed with pineapple. For me, ribbon salad was the height of gourmet dining.

At some point in the evening, someone would turn on the television so the kids could watch Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians usher in the New Year. Nothing interrupted the grownups from their card game.

All of us who were still on our feet would start shouting the countdown as it flashed on the screen. At the magic moment, we would run around screaming "Happy New Year! Happy New Year!" We might mock kiss one another, laughing manically. At the table, everyone would lay down their hands, husbands and wives would kiss, and then the game would resume.

Midnight though was the signal to start winding down the evening. By then, the snacks were pretty picked over; the olives and gherkins were long gone. Children not stopped completely in their tracks by then moved in slow motion. The coffee pot was nearing empty; cups were topped off one last time. The last hands of cards would be played and the last tricks taken. There would be much crowing and jeering over the results. Sleepy children were collected; coats reappeared from the bed on which they had been piled.

A new year was officially launched and the magic was over for another year.

I don't know the last time the three families gathered to ring in the new year; I think the joint dates petered out sometime during my high school years. Things changed; life changed. We kids grew older and made our own plans. The adult circles changed as well; I remember my parents started celebrating New Year's Eve with other friends. The circles grew smaller. Kids grew up and moved out. Denny and Marlene are now both buried in the county cemetery not too far from the plot my parents own. Jim and Mary Lou and my folks still get together from time to time, but the legendary card games are pretty much a thing of the past.

No one is going out this New Year's Eve. Like I said, things changed.

I still think of those long ago celebrations, now some four decades in the past. Nothing else came close to what passed for glamour in our lives during those years. The New Year's Eve picture above was taken December 31, 1967, at the house on Flax Street, my childhood home. I can tell by the clock on the wall and the stove in the background. The little boy in the snazzy leopard print pajamas is my baby brother Mark, not quite five. His best friend, Bobby, is next to him in the white print top and blue bottoms. The girl with the short hair and glasses in the front left is me.

The girl front right with the curl on her cheek? That's Cindy. We're still best friends.

Some things never change.

Happy New Year One and All!

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