Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Where were you 42 years ago last night?

On December 31st, 1965, at somewhere in the neighborhood between 8 and 12 PM, I could almost guarantee you where I was. Every year at the same time until the curiosity wore off, I would be sitting on the staircase in the hallway peeking through the banister railings. I know I used to think I was hiding but there is no doubt that as they passed through the hallway they could easily see me if all they did was briefly look up, yet I never remember being caught.

On every New Years Eve in my home for as long as I can remember as a child, my parents would throw a big bash for the neighborhood. For the most part, growing up in a city, my block was my neighborhood. I just counted and there were over 180 people living on my block and a good part of it was composed of factories. The blocks themselves would ordinarily have about 50 houses each between the Avenues, many three, four and six family houses, all at least two. To my parents, their neighborhood, was THE neighborhood since many of their guests came from different blocks.

The house we lived in was small, tiny by today's standards. The two rooms where the parties were held were on the first floor; the entire first floor. There was the living room which consisted of a couch, 2 arm chairs (one later a leatherette recliner) a console TV, "the bookcase", 2 end tables with lamps, "the cocktail table", an old burnt and repaired secretary and "the closet", the only clothes closet on that floor. I mustn't forget "the shadowbox", one of my mothers prized possessions which was later replaced with 2 metal Peacocks (which were ugly). We also had 2 glass swans that were filled with salt to make them white. My mother must have had a thing for birds or that might have been the decor of the day.

The kitchen consisted of the stove, washing machine, sink, table and 5 chairs, refrigerator, "china closet" and ironing board (except on rare occasions like these nights). Right off the kitchen, actually in the kitchen, was the only bathroom in the part of the house we occupied. The third floor tenants had their own bathroom of course. Both rooms were about 10X12 each and were set behind one another, straight back. On this night, there had to be close to 50 or 60 people crammed into this space and they were ever changing. Some would come as others would go all night long.

The first people to always arrive were my relatives from up the block. I can remember that they were always armed with a cardboard box filled with bottles that were to be set up on the washing machine (next to ours) to form the makeshift bar and the house always smelled like ham. Once all the kisses and pinches and oohing took place, once we were told how adorable we looked in our new Christmas pajamas and all the Italian phraseology's had been hurled, once all the smeared lipstick was dabbed off of our faces it was time to say goodnight and march upstairs to bed. Mommy and Daddy would look in on us at midnight.

The second floor was laid out identical to the first, the only difference being that the downstairs bathroom was the second floors third bedroom. Mommy and Daddy slept above the living room, my brother and I slept above the kitchen while my sister slept above the bathroom.Growing up I recall it being said more than once that the house was over 100 years old; a brick row house. The heating system, resplendent with an enormous rusty boiler in the cellar, radiators and risers must have been an add on since under our bed (right above the stove) was still the grating that was to initially carry heat from the first floor to the second that was now used by us to listen in. I guess it was my older brother who first discovered this and was more than happy to let me know about it as we played up there before falling asleep. My brother and I had an "early warning system" long before it ever flashed across the bottom of any TV. It was this grating that allowed us to attend these parties albeit in our imaginations.

Once the party was in full swing, based on what we heard, it was then time to sneak out of the bedroom into the hall where we could even see some of it. All we were ever able to see were glimpses through the kitchen door and occasionally a couple would stray out into the hall to steal a kiss (that was big time for us!). This would go on all night long, and every now and again we would have to jump up and run back into bed and pretend to be asleep because we thought we would hear someone headed our way or when the doorbell would ring and new arrivals would show.

I quickly learned that Mommy and Daddy were not going to be coming in at Midnight to look in on us. I can remember hearing them all screaming the countdown from 10 and by the time they had reached 2 I was back in bed waiting, supposedly asleep but they never showed up. I soon realized that I was missing the apparent endless stream of people exiting the house at midnight to make as much racket as possible in the street. What we would do at that point was draw back a bit so they definitely couldn't see us and then jump up and run to the front window. There they were, all of them, out in the cold air, no coats, party hats on, twirling noisemakers, banging pot lids, all screaming happy New Year and hugging and kissing. Damn!!! I wanted to be able to do that someday!!! As they started trailing back in the house, NOW, was the time to get in bed, and fast, because without fail this is when they came and looked in on us; 2 little angels sleeping side by side, hoping their horns couldn't be seen!

As I got older I was allowed to actually be in attendance of some of these parties, as a matter of fact, it was at one of these parties that I first met the woman I would years later marry; I was fifteen at the time. As time further progressed the parties meant nothing to me because I was looking to go out and have my own party, but always managed to call home at midnight and wish them a Happy New Year.

I don't know when but their parties eventually stopped and so did the calling at Midnight since they would be asleep and I didn't want to bother them. Again, I don't know when but my partying also stopped and last night at midnight if I had gotten a phone call to wish me a Happy New Year I would have been woken as well.

It seems like the older I get, the more reliant I become on memories since it becomes harder and harder to make new ones, at least of the same caliber. The old adage that "a picture says a thousand words" might be true, but a memory, aah, now a memory can write a whole book!

Here it is over forty years later and the pictures have all faded, I know that's a fact, but the memory of it is as vivid as if it happened just one minute ago and can be recalled with no struggle at all. Why is it that I can't remember what I ate for supper 2 nights ago?


paisley said...

i have no answers,, only the same questions.....happy new year none the less....

derick said...

the memories from the past seem to be charged with an inquisitive, all embracing emotional energy which leave a lasting impression---the food that was eaten 2 nights ago---well it was just to fill the stomach and left no real impression

Anonymous said...

Oh, Rob, what you had for dinner 2 nights ago just *isn't* that important.
It certainly isn't as important as creating new and improved memories today!
We lose a part of ourselves when we look back.

All we have is in the future, Dear One :)

(I'm pretty sure that Ms. Browne (and her drawers) would agree....

Happy New Year!

Mark Dykeman said...

Great auto-biographical post! Happy New Year!

MedStudentWife said...

ahh.. I rememeber some of the "doos" my parents had..... hard to sleep 'cause of the noise, but just as excited to get up, after everyone had left ( 2 or 3 ish) to eat the last of Mom's "hors d'ouvres" and say a"Happy New Year"

I think times have changed.

Cheers to you DS

Catherine said...

I hope that you have a wonderful New Year!!

Thanks for your wonderful blog. I enjoy myself every time I visit. You are an incredible writer.

Hmm...what did I have for dinner two nights ago???....I can't remember at all...and it's OK! :) You're right..memories are incredible. Thank God for them...even the bad ones...

Agnes Mildew said...

What's happened to the gorgeous star when we first log in to your page??

Happy New Year, DS, I hope it brings you much peace and happiness, despite your daily routines...