New Year’s Eve used to be big when I was young. Like BIG, BIG and BIGGER! People got dressed in their best clothes, they always tried to wear new clothes, often clothes that they’d got for Christmas. The women had their hair done. Everyone was dressed to the nines as we used to say. Everyone wanted to look their spiffiest for the New Year.
There’d be a dance, maybe a buffet dinner with it. There’d be a local band. Sometimes, a couple of men would dress up as the old year and the new year and appear at midnight. There’d be a lot of liquor. No one cared much if you wove your way home over icy roads. There weren’t a lot of cars and not much traffic. Gimli was small so no one had to travel very far. Some people came from the countryside but they could slip and slide home with the worst that would happen was sliding into a snow filled ditch and having to have someone pull or push you out.
People kissed a lot at midnight. This was long before AIDS. Kissing was special. It was so special that sometimes to raise money there was a kissing table where a pretty girl would sell kisses.
People took mistletoe seriously. It probably was because in those days kissing was serious business. Not like today where it’s been largely dispensed with as the first move to the bedroom. Kissing the wives of someone else’s wife or girlfriend or a woman’s husband or boyfriend was frowned upon—free love and open marriages hadn’t been discovered yet–so mistletoe was a chance to try out kissing somebody you weren’t usually kissing. A good kiss under the mistletoe sometimes led to marriage, affairs, fist fights, divorce. Not so much divorce. People didn’t have much money and divorce was pretty drastic pocket book stuff. Judges wanted photographs of what was going on that the kissing led to, if you know what I mean. Private detectives followed people around and tried to get photos of them at a motel. Motels and pool rooms had bad reputations.
On New Year’s Eve people didn’t go home early. They ate and danced and talked and hooted and hollered and blew on paper horns and wore funny paper hats and threw streamers. That may be because they’d seen that in the movies. That, according to Hollywood, is what the sophisticates in New York did on New Year’s. We always like to imitate what people do who are richer or socially superior. It makes us feel richer and socially superior.
Men wore suits that were shiny and women wore dresses that were brightly colored. Red and green stick in my mind. Satin. Or sateen. Light reflected from them so the women seemed to glow. Rubies, emeralds, sapphires, amethysts waltzing about the dance floor.
Most New Years, I ignored all the partying. I could have gone to the community hall with my parents but then I’d have missed out on the most lucrative evening of the year. New Years’s Eve babysitting paid double. Instead of twenty-five cents an h our, I got fifty cents an hour. That usually meant 8:00 p.m. to 1 a.m. Five hours. Two dollars and fifty cents. Don’t laugh. A movie was twenty-five cents. That was ten movies. Ten movies today would cost at least $6.50 x 10 = $65.00. Not bad for a thirteen year old.
By eight o’clock, the kid I babysat was in bed, asleep, and I spent the evening reading about the Hardy Boys or Robin Hood. No TV, of course. TV hadn’t arrived.
The only problem I ever encountered was that in winter, especially if there was a wind, the wind howled under the eaves, you know that kind of wooo woooo, the kind of howl you’d expect from ghosts or zombies or something weird and dangerous lurking in the darkness. And the houses always creaked. When you live in a house, you don’t hear it creak. When you’re in someone else’s house, all by yourself and it’s dark outside and the wind is wailing and the snow blowing and the house goes creak, crrreeeeaaaak, and the wind goes woooooo in a high pitched keen, it’s distressing. I had hair in those days and sometimes it stood straight up.
I’m not sure what I was supposed to do if winter ghosts or werewolves or just ordinary wolves came to the door. The closest thing to a weapon was a carving knife on the counter. No hammer and wooden stake. No crucifix to hold in front of me. There was a Bible but I wasn’t sure what passage to read if something awful turned up. Although why anything awful would be out in such awful weather, I can’t imagine.
If something awful really happened, the house caught fire, the furnace quit working, I knew what to do. Wrap the baby in a blanket and race to my parent’s house. The door was unlocked. I sometimes had fantasies about the house catching fire, my taking the baby in my arms, plunging through a blizzard to my parent’s house, modestly receiving the accolades of the town for being a hero. The problem was that I wondered what I would do if when I fled the burning building there were those things out there that went wooo wooo and had glistening eyes. I might just throw the baby at them as a delaying tactic.
I got really tired around midnight. My eyes got heavy. They quit focusing on the Hardy Boys using their dad’s boat or airplane or car to chase bad guys.
Sometimes, the parents had to nudge me awake. I’d be sitting on a kitchen chair, my head on the table, sound asleep. “Everything okay?” they’d say. They didn’t look tired. They looked revved up by all the dancing and drinking and kissing. Sometimes other people came in with them. The night wasn’t over yet.
I think maybe New Year’s Eve was so big because WWII had only ended a few years before. There were a lot of people glad to be alive and glad that their family members were alive and that no one was going to get sent overseas to get killed. They’d partied during the war like there would be no tomorrow and now they partied because there would be a tomorrow. They had their whole lives ahead of them.