Remembering New Year’s past

I don’t decorate much for Christmas anymore. This year, I haven’t decorated at all. After all, it’s my 81st New Year, I’m no longer married, and my children and grandchildren are in California and China.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate Christmas decorations. My neighbors and friends have spent much time, money and creativity putting up some very beautiful Christmas displays. Although I really enjoy them, I haven’t lost sight of why those decorations are done in the first place.

Of course, the big problem that all those decorations present is that a sometimes-dreaded day – usually New Year’s Day comes when all that beautiful stuff must come down and be stored away for another year.

New Year’s Day is just four days away, and what a day it can be. It’s a mixture of the promise of an opportunity to turn over a new leaf – fat chance (I wonder why I used that term?) and taking down all that stuff that was so painstakingly put up hardly a month ago.

On New Year’s Day 1947, when I was 11 years old, I was the first one downstairs after an adult New Year’s party the night before. There were remnants of the celebration all around. The place reeked of tobacco, ashtrays were overflowing with cigarette butts and ashes, and there were nearly empty highball glasses – some with cigarette butts floating in them that it became my job to empty. In the center of the dining room table was a huge glass punch bowl with about an inch of bourbon-spiked egg nog in the bottom. Some empty glass eggnog mugs were still clean, but I wasn’t even tempted. Someone had forgotten to unplug the Christmas tree lights, and the tree still looked pretty good although the cotton bunting under it was beginning to be covered with pine needles.

After a fashion, Mom, Dad and my sister came down for breakfast. Then the fun began. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was played on the Victrola, although his voice was getting badly distorted because the hole in the 78 rpm record had worn itself into an oblong. Box after box was brought down from the attic. We started to attack the white Christmas tree. It had been spray-painted bus white, as had its predecessors for many years.

First, we took off the foil icicles – although our cat had eaten all that were within her reach. I often wonder why she didn’t get sick on that diet. Tinsel was next followed by the ornaments – some of which had been around for generations. Everything had to be carefully placed in their cardboard containers. The strings of lights were always a puzzle. Every light bulb was working. We would carefully wind the light strings around onto their original cardboard holders that had individual cut outs to place each socket and bulb. Perfect! You could bet that the Grinch would tangle them up and ruin some light bulbs so that next year, everything would be in a hopeless tangle – and half the bulbs would fizzle out.

When the day was drawing to a close, my thoughts turned to going back to Garfield elementary school. They weren’t pleasant thoughts. Christmas vacation was over. The Christmas present I got was a Lionel Trains steam turbine locomotive.

It wasn’t as good as was advertised. Even my dad was disappointed in it. Dad had gone up to the attic where the railroad layout was. I could hear him running a train around on it, so I went up to join him. He had traded in the steam turbine locomotive for a beautiful and expensive Berkshire locomotive. It was fabulous!

Instead of the downer that New Year’s Day seemed destined to be, it became a happy day that I will long remember. Going back to school wasn’t going to be so hard to take.

Happy New Year!