(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
New Year’s has always been a bit perplexing to me. For most people, at least as we reach adulthood, New Year’s Eve was more important than New Year’s Day, when the eve of other holidays is just their precursor.
Early memories include the Mummers’ Parade in Philadelphia. As with many other events, it has changed over the years. My early memories begin with the clowns being the first to go down Broad Street. The TV would be on from breakfast so as not to miss a minute of the parade. My grandparents would joke that the Mummers could withstand the cold, early morning, winter temperatures as they had so much antifreeze on board. People would be sitting on mats made of newspaper so as to insulate themselves from the cold seeping up through the pavement all the way through their bodies. I was taken to the Thanksgiving parade because the cold wouldn’t be so intense, but not the Mummer’s Parade. The consensus among the adults was that it was just too cold to stand for long along the cement canyon walls that the buildings on Broad Street formed. My grandmother thought the clowns were just silly, but the TV was tuned to them anyway. As the day progressed we would snack at lunch so as not to miss any of the parade, which might, but not necessarily, have progressed to the fancy divisions by then. As the winter’s bitterly bright sunrise light passed into its watery afternoon counterpart, Granddad would be anxious to see the football game; but Grandmom would be dubious about allowing him to change the channel lest she miss a string band. Their TV was not a large, flat-screen with remote, but a smallish square set in a furniture style cabinet. Someone had to walk over to it and twist a knob that clicked between the channels. Not wanting to wear down the ratchets on the knob you only did this after some consideration. Then, too, when changing channels you might have to adjust the antenna that sat on top of the cabinet as the stations were broadcasting from different directions. Eventually the men would be allowed to watch some of the football game. At half time it was necessary to see where the parade was in its procession. Sometimes, we would have dinner before the string bands finally made their appearance. It was always the highlight of the day for my grandmothers.
The year I was in third grade it finally sunk into my little brain that one of the customs the adults participated in was the formation of resolutions to make them better people in the New Year. After all, a New Year meant a new start. Being somewhat conscience driven, I decided to make my own list. I topped it with the goal of refraining from biting my fingernails, then I would keep my room neat and tidy. I was constantly being corrected for both failings as a child. I’m not sure if I actually got through New Year’s Day before succumbing to my “nasty habit” of biting my nails. Ah, well, it made beginning of the next year’s list easy enough. I think I did a bit better about picking up my things and putting them away. But I’m sure it didn’t really last very long as it is still something with which I struggle. Of course, now I have most of a house to clutter up and so can make even larger messes.
Somewhere in that time frame, I discovered that adults found something magical in staying up over mid-night and watching the years change. Moma wasn’t very yielding to my pleas to join the adults in this vigil, so it had to wait for a year that Daddy wasn’t somewhere on a cruise with Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club. Finally the stars were properly aligned and Daddy said something momentous like: Sure. Why not? That should have been my clue that it wasn’t going to be the spectacular event I was anticipating. My parents put my brother to bed at his regular bedtime. He was still pre-school age. Then they insisted that I get ready for bed so that I could go to bed as soon as the barrier between the years had been broken. The interlude between my regular bedtime and mid-night was much longer than I had anticipated. I’m sure the waiting wasn’t made any easier by having had a relaxing bath and putting on warm, cozy pajamas, then curling up on the sofa with a warm mug of hot cocoa, which was the special treat for the evening. I remember struggling to stay awake as my parents sat next to each other talking softly, as they often did. After some time they nudged me. I could hear people shouting and horns blowing outside. Daddy opened the front door and we all stepped out onto the font step and walk and shouted a Happy New Year to our neighbors. I was then swiftly shuttled off to bed. So much for a big New Year’s celebration.
Our years in Naples introduced us to a slightly different tradition. When we were there, in the early 1960’s, Neapolitans brought the New Year in with a Big Noise. We had arrived in October so our first New Year’s was relatively early in our stay and we had very little ability with the Italian language. We had sampled the festive Christmas market and bought a small Presepe, nativity scene. After Christmas, we began to hear fire crackers. We learned from our neighbors that it was customary to set off fire works to celebrate the advent of the year. It would be a very big celebration with everyone in the city participating, we were told. It was easy to find a kiosk that would sell fire works. Small businessmen were everywhere. I looked up the critical words to make our purchase. Now, we hadn’t bought fire works in the States, so I had no idea what I was to be asking for so the general term was all I looked up: fuoco d’artificio Apparently I was only going to ask for one. Daddy, Moma, Jim, who was now 6 years old, and I went to the nearest stand we could find and, haltingly, I asked for a firework. The man put a small cherry bomb on the counter as we heard a loud explosion in the background. I looked at the little rabbit turd and decided we needed something better. So, I tried again. Un più grande. So, he put up something that resembled the deposit a deer would make. Again an explosion from somewhere down the road. Più grande. Simile a quello. To be clearer I waved my hand in the direction of the explosion we had just heard. Now he put out something the size of a fist. Daddy waited no longer. He paid the man and we left. Come New Year’s Eve we had a few sparklers and Daddy fixed a couple of Roman candles to the balcony railing. They were exciting to watch. Then he went to light The Bomb. Moma, Jim and I were told to get inside the apartment. Daddy flicked his lighter, lit the wick, ran for the apartment, closed the door and The Bomb went off with a deafening explosion. Smoke filled the area so we weren’t sure what was left. We looked around and couldn’t see Jim. Daddy said he couldn’t see the balcony. Moma was running down the hall looking for Jim. We finally found him in my bedroom, the furthest room in the apartment from the balcony. I had an old style vanity in the far corner where he was curled up in the niche for legs. It took several minutes to coax him out. We wandered back to see what damage we had caused the balcony. Fortunately for all, there was nary a crack. All that was left of The Bomb were a few small pieces of paper from the red wrapper and the ringing in our ears. New Year’s Day it rained; a meteorological effect Moma blamed on all the fireworks. The remaining New Years we spent in Naples we were content to watch others set of their fireworks.
Mostly, Walt and I have spent New Year’s Eve very quietly. One year, early in our marriage and before the obligations of rearing children, we enjoyed the celebration in the small town of Volcano, CA. The town is in a small, bowl shaped valley that the first settlers thought was the remnants of an, hopefully, extinct volcano. Early morning fogs help to reinforce that impression. We went with a number of Walt’s colleagues from where he was working and their spouses to the St. George Hotel. It had been built during the Gold Rush and maintained the ambiance of the era. We arrived in the early afternoon of a beautiful day in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. After checking into the hotel we spent the afternoon wandering through the picturesque little town. The Post Office, just down the street from the Hotel, was so small that it had been wrapped in a red ribbon and bow. We enjoyed a wonderful party with the advantage of not having to drive home when it was over. Sometime the following day we all took our leave and drove back to the Bay Area.
New Year’s Day has always been a peaceful holiday. It is time for the last big holiday dinner. In our family, that means a roast of pork with sides of potatoes, sauerkraut, and baked beans. Don’t forget the pies for dessert. It’s a time to embrace the warmth of family and fortify our spirits before getting back to the hurly-burly of the “regular” rhythm of our lives.
No matter how or where you celebrate, I wish you the very best of times throughout this New Year.
The last word:
A happy and prosperous 2012 to all.
We’ll head back to the Cloud next week.
Keep your sense of humor.