My serious mistake had been to believe a friend who had uttered those seven seductive words, “Have I got a guy for you!”
As December lurched along, and I was a college freshman and dateless for New Year’s Eve, I gratefully agreed to welcome the new year with this stranger.
Time has benevolently blurred the precise details of that evening, but I do recall a guy who was charmless, tedious and sneezing constantly from a nasty cold.
As young and naïve as I was, I made a pledge to myself: no more fix-up blind dates – ever – on New Year’s Eve.
Three years later, I was in the arms of the young man who would become my husband. We already were an item, and his diamond-shaped fraternity pin was carefully riding on my black velvet scoop-necked dress that night.
I was safe. Spoken for. No more awful New Year’s Eve dates for me. But having a terrific husband turned out not to be the New Year’s Eve talisman I had hoped it would be. It didn’t protect me from a decade of New Year’s Eves spent at parties with forced cheer after mad scrambles to find the lone teenage girl in our town who was willing to baby-sit for three sleeping toddlers for an unconscionable hourly fee.
So there came the year when we made a pact: Not one more New Year’s Eve when everyone pretended to be giddy with joy, and all my husband and I wanted was to find an infallible escape route. We hunkered down to spend New Year’s Eve in our den, first with our daughters, and then with each other.
Fast forward another couple of decades to those daughters, with husbands and families of their own. Now, they were the ones seeking those elusive New Year’s Eve babysitters.
Then one year about a decade ago, Nancy and Mike, our Montclair daughter and son-in-law, couldn’t get a babysitter for New Year’s Eve. Nor could our other two daughters and their husbands.
So Nancy and Mike figured they’d make lemonade out of lemons and host a family party of their own. Nothing too elaborate – just parents, siblings and two feisty great-grandmothers on both sides, sadly both gone now.
Still new in their rambling old house, Nancy and Mike set up folding tables in their empty living room, strung around some crepe paper and lights, and shed their usual jeans and T-shirts for dress-up clothes.
The start time for that first party was 9 p.m., and a standing rib roast, prepared by Michael, the family’s amateur executive chef, wasn’t served until just before midnight. Meanwhile, our assorted grandchildren were tearing through the house creating mayhem, then succumbing to the inevitable meltdown.
So the next year, we altered the format a bit. Dinner by 8 p.m., but still no concessions to the kids’ demands for a menu of chicken fingers and pizza.
Mike’s mother made a fabulous Yorkshire pudding. His sister brought her famous chocolate chip cookies. Nobody wore clothes that clung or shoes that pinched.
In the last years, things have gotten even more casual. Jeans for one and all. And yes to the chicken fingers and pizza for the hooligans who still don’t embrace haute cuisine.
This year, the family bash is starting at 6 p.m. Mike has adjusted his plans for fabled menus, taking into account the ages – and foibles – of his guests. The fabulous standing rib roast and turducken of years past will be replaced by something plainer. We’ve also concluded that candlelight, alas, makes us squint, so the overhead lights will be on.
If history is prophecy, my sister, the family historian, will aim her camera – now digital – at all the faces around the table as we gather, so that we’ll have a visual record of the way we were as 2013 turned into 2014.
If we’re in the mood, we may play foolish parlor games, and sing corny old songs after dinner. We’ll let the older kids go out into the street to bang on pots and pans at midnight. It’s all terribly low-brow and ordinary.
Among us now are weary working women, aging celebrants and parents of toddlers who would give just about anything for a good night’s sleep. So those who nod off in the den before the big moment always are forgiven.
Nobody will have to force the cheer because it will be there, enveloping us as our flawed, noisy, complicated family welcomes a new year.
Not with party hats. Not with false hysteria. Not with anything much stronger than white wine.
But with something that’s far more important.
Each other. ••