Same time next year ...

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011

There was a time in my life, not too many years ago, that if you had even suggested I wouldn't want to go out on New Year's Eve, I'd have laughed and said "No way!" But on that Friday night a couple of weeks ago I was snuggled up on the couch with a cup of Russian tea watching the ball drop in Times Square. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open until it reached bottom and I could wish Hubby a Happy New Year then hit the sack.

When we were young adults was the time of community dances. Some organization would sponsor a New Year's dance at the Grange Hall and a bunch of us would gather at someone's home for a pre-party, maybe dinner -- pot luck of course -- then head for the dance where we'd meet up with another bunch. We'd all sit together, trading jokes and small talk with yet another group that had formed in the same way. If we were too loud or rowdy, the older adults (maybe aged 35) would glare at us, forgetting that only a few years ago they were in our seats. We'd swap dances, or join a Conga Line, maybe dance a schottische or two. Remember, "The Greatest Generation" was still holding sway on tradition and culture in those days.

The band was always an ad-hoc bunch who had been playing for local dances for 40 years -- guitar, fiddle, piano, maybe a drum and a sax. Loud, one fast dance to every three slow, and they took requests: "In the Mood' and "Twelfth Street Rag" for sure, "Star Dust" and "Tennessee Waltz" maybe a little Ricky Nelson or Elvis.

At evening's end, usually about 1 a.m., we'd head for another house for the after party -- coffee, maybe breakfast, then the drive home. If we were lucky, the grandparents had the kids and we could sleep late before going to pick them up and staying for New Year's Day dinner.

When we were only a few years older, the format changed or we did. The Lodges in a larger town in the area all opened their doors to the public on New Year's Eve and sponsored dances, no charge. Of course they counted on their bars to make up the difference. The expectation was that the revelers would go from lodge to lodge, which were within a block of each other and easy walking even in the cold and high heels, and spread their cheer.

Usually just before midnight, the crowd had settled into the separate areas, individual groups gravitating to whichever lodge best suited their demeanor, usually determined by the band, or where the similar aged people were, or some unknown dynamic that attracted a certain demographic. At midnight "Auld Lang Syne" emanated from all three doors, and shortly after, the crowds dispersed looking for breakfast, or more party or home.

Then came the years when our kids wanted to celebrate, too, and we planned get- togethers with friends who had kids of like age so we could all bring in the New Year in a family oriented way. The adults played cards until the magic hour, wondering where the people without pre-teens were celebrating. The kids played games and usually fell asleep just before midnight. Next came the years when the kids were old enough to go to parties of their own, but not old enough to drive themselves there. We spent those midnights waving to other parents from our car windows as we ferried kids back and forth. By the time we were free to celebrate on our own again, the house party was way more attractive than going out somewhere. And then came the grandkids. We toasted in the New Year more than once with a granddaughter drinking apple juice.

Once upon a time the anticipation of the celebration was exciting. Getting dressed up, maybe seeing friends we hadn't seen for awhile, being with a bunch of people, both known and unknown, who were happy to be where they were at the time, all added to the enthusiasm. But just about the same time I heard myself say "I can wait until that movie comes out on TV" when I saw the trailers for a new movie, we also opted to stay in for New Year's Eve watching the ball drop in Times Square on TV and toasting each other with hot chocolate. A few times we've even gone to bed before the witching hour, joking that the New Year will be there when we get up the next day.

And the New Year does make its appearance every year about this time whether we are out and about celebrating or snuggled warmly down with a cup of egg nog waiting for Father Time to pass the scroll to the Baby New Year. And each year the wish is the same: Peace, Love, and Happy, Happy 2011.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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