It is New Year’s Eve again. I’ve marked the occasion, entirely inadvertently, by joining myself to the end-of-year headlines about a spike in the latest coronavirus variation — at this, the end of a second year of the pandemic. I came back from a Christmas trip to Atlanta with a miserable case of it, but, truly, on this New Year’s Eve morning, can say, gratefully, that the sickness that broke out on Monday has devolved, on this Friday morning, to something like a slight case of hay fever, nothing more. Thank you, God. Not that I didn’t hope and fully expect to avoid it, having been pretty careful. But there were one or two gatherings –one in particular –where I had reason to believe I’d been exposed. And this new strain, while manifestly less virulent, is apparently more contageous.
But I’ll go on taking medication, and relax today. What else is there to do, except, maybe, buy food — and try not to think about the future in which, in each new “future” I keep repeating the soul-killing mistakes and habits of the past? One can hope and pray for changes, and the courage to make them.
But I digress, as usual…
And, of course, I’m glad I got all three vaccines to keep the globe-trotting microscopic invaders from Wohan from finding my anatomy more hospitable.
Memory, now, begins to serve me again, as it does this time of year. My parents, Bill and Jo Wayland, had many struggles, being so different from one another. But they had a circle of friends — my father’s circle more than my mothers’s — with whom they shared their social times. I’m guessing it might have been New Year’s Eve, 1959 into 1960 (the beginning of that new decade that would sharply rupture our national history and self-understanding) when they held a New Year’s Eve Party at the house. Or perhaps it was 1960 into ’61. Memory is NOT serving me entirely here. Would that it were, for nostalgia commands a degree of accuracy before I can be comfortable with all the attendant details.
In any event, the party venue would have been our little house on Neponset Avenue, Dorchester. And I do mean — little. The ground floor portion, exclusive of the kitchen, accommodated the party’s full action and was not more than 300 square feet, if that. But this would be a modest gathering. Yes, they intended to dance – to music from LPs played on a hi-fi console. Of course, it would be to the vanilla strains of Lawrence Welk or Guy Lombardo or, at the wilder end of things, Glen Gray and his Casaloma Orchestra. I believe Glen had a number in his repertoire called, “The Casaloma Stomp”. But my parents and their friends were not inclined to stomp, or, very often, even tap their toes. No Count Basie, Woody Herman or Benny Goodman for them. (My father found Benny Goodman’s” One O’Clock Jump”, when I chanced to play it, tiresome, repetative and back alley exotic. It was jazz, and he deplored jazz, presumably for its visceral invitation to hedonism of the body and tonal anarchy of the soul. He liked, as he often said, “nice, smooth music.” I guess you’d call it, clean music. He and his friends were not swingers, except to the degree that Lawrence Welk swung, as he did from time to time — L.W. was a pro whose “champaigne music” arrangements featured flawless, disciplined, if overly bland harmonies that ingenously, now that I think about it, perfectly replicated the bubbles that floated around the studio during his telecasts — but, again, I digress. But one more thing, a musical footnote: my father loved “The Warsaw Concerto”, owned it as a clear red plastic 45 rpm recording, and listend to it often.)
I was in an upstairs room that New Year’s Eve evening — my relatively new bedroom, being the room my 21-year-old sister had abandoned when she was married the previous June, or, if my dating is wrong, perhaps two Junes before. But I forced to date this from 1949-into-1960 and hope I’m remembering well. Therefore — my sister Anne was living not far away, already pregnant with her first child. I expect she and husband, 23-year-old Joe O’Hara, were passing the night uneventfully, living very nearby. Brothers Bill, Doug and Ron still called the attic bunk beds above my room home. They were out for the evening, ages 26 (Bill) and Ron and Doug (twins, both twenty as of that December 12). They had their own friends. I, therefore, was, as of November 27, the family’s only teenager — again, all of this assuming I have the year right — 1960. (If it was 1960, my parents, the previous April 19th, had held a 25th wedding anniversary party for themselves at the house; perhaps it was decided that a second party in that intimtate space of the house they’d owned since 1941 wouldn’t hurt. And it seems to me I was still in elementary school, not graduating until June of 1961.
I sat in pajamas bathrobe after a bath, watching Jack Parr on the Tonight Show in black and white. I recall doing that. But I’m wondering, did I always have a TV in my room? I don’t think so. But I know that’s how I passed the evening. I was 13 at most, an innocent when it came to nightlife.
As the evening progressed, the boisterousness mounted below me. But these friends of my parents were never riotous in their pursuit of fun. Joe and ‘Lil Sullivan from nearby Newhall Street, Joe and Marge Clough from nearby Pearce Avenue (if memory serves me), Jim and Barb Allen, also from Pearce Avenue, Ralph Wheeler and his wife, who also lived nearby, once operated the small First National Store at Pope’s Hill where my father went weekly to get our “order” of groceries, Bill Lewis and his wife were from somewhere nearby…only Waldo Banks and his wife Katty came from far away — Malden, Mass. Unless Ed Deveney and his wife were there from Sharon. These were all members of my father’s card party as well. None, with rare exception, ever drank to excess. All were devoutly and charitably Catholic. They were transit train starters, contractors, salesmen, clerks, small business owners.
There was no Rockin’ New Year’s Eve in those days. The culture was still tame and adult-oriented. The baby-boomer generation, my generation, had yet to seize all the reins. At midnight, you’d hear Guy Lombardo and those oleaginenous saxaphones (that’s the only adjective I can come up with to describe them right now) blaring forth from the rooftop ballroom of — was it the Waldorf in New York? There would be a dance floor crowded with grandees in tuxedos and silly paper hats and shiny faces, glancing up either in emboldened inebriatioin or sober embarrassment at the live television camera as they swayed, stumbled or jostled about in time to the music, and there would be a mob in Time Square which would be large but, I suspect, nowhere as huge as, over time, it would become in that urban epicenter. While bright and light-clustered then, it still hadn’t acquired the sensory overloading brilliance and wattage of the era of racing, light emitting diodes, or, thankfully, the paranoia of the Age of Terror — and Jack Parr would have stood up to embrace his few celebrity guests, some, like him, long erased from the popular memory, as his bandleader and his orchestra spewed out Auld Lang Syne…and nowhere would you see that montage of carnal, uninhibited, face- munching kisses. And almost every ‘swell’ and super-celebrity who’ll fill the brilliantly colorful rocking and rolling fiber-optic “air” waves tonight had yet to be born on this black-and-white long ago night. (And Dick Clark is still dead, though he seemed eternal.)
And, on that night, my parents suddenly appeared together at the doorway of my bedroom and came in to wish me a happy new year where I sat in my little chair. I will always remember that. Dad, healthy that night, would be invaded only a few short years later by an aggressive prostate cancer. It mystified and privately depressed us all, not least of all Dad himself — that this should be happening to him at the very time he might finally have been gaining a little financial independence and traction — profit-sharing at his job, a new supervisory role at the coal and oil company that his employer of some forty years, Glendale Coal and Oil, had acquired.
We never spoke of the imminent death. He never fully confronted it. Who could, coming as it did at such a time? Only now, these many years later, after the death at age 78 of his daughter — the only one of his five children whose weddings he would be alive to attend — have I begun finally to mourn, contemplate and explore my feelings about that death of this devoutly Catholic man who seemed to lack the consolation of his faith as his end neared. My mother would live on until August 5, 1986, a sorrowing and solitary widowhood, but one in which the wives of those card-party husbands would be her steady and loyal support and companions, even if, tempermentally, they were worlds apart from this Irish-born, melancholy, often troubled and literate woman with the retiring and sadly unself-confident mind and soul of a poet.
Auld Lang Syne ….Times Gone By
That Robert Burns lyric doesn’t translate lucidly into English in the mouths of the millions who will chorus it tonight at midnight, giving way to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, John Lennon’s “Imagine” (that Utopian twaddle from the mind of a Brit who trusted the New York streets until the moment he died violently on one of them), or whatever else is cued up on the Big Box Machines.
That anthem begins with an interogative: “Should auld (old) acquaintance(s) be forgot and never brought to mind?”
I guess the answer is, no. Bring them all to mind. Let them swarm, for in the cold, drab light of January, we shall be swimming once again in the bickering, unthinking muddle.
But for the balance of the day, I’ll be fighting off my virus and remembering — that party at 210 (those partying souls are long gone now) — and every moment of my life, and your life.
It is noon, exactly, December 31, 2021. Twelve hours left in the old year.
Happy New Year.