It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve….Another Auld Lang Syne

Christmas 1969 at Grandma Cowans houseEvery year, like so many of you I am sure, I get caught up in the reflective aspect of the turning of the old year to the new. I’m not busy getting ready to go anywhere.  I think I can count the number of times that I’ve actually gone to a New Years Eve party, on one hand. Either isolated in some edge-of-the-world frozen northern town, or choosing to stay close to my children on such a sentimental night; we just rarely mustered up the energy to ‘go out’ and celebrate.

Neither did my parents.

My memory of New Year’s Eve is one of youthful anticipation, the thrill of staying up late, our ritual of banging pots and pans as the clock struck midnight, and the time honored swig of Champagne from my Grandma’s heirloom long-stem glasses that my parents allowed only on that night….even when we were quite young. I always thought I had the coolest parents.

After the pile-up of seven kids armed with sauce pans and wooden spoons, the coveted two pot-lids that mimicked the cymbals, and the predictable chaos and yelling to ‘get off the front door so daddy can open it,” what was left for seven, eight, and ten year old children in the 1960s? The warmth of being tucked safely under the sheets and covers of our shared beds, the reassuring hum of the furnace kicking in, and that moment of reflection in the blue glow of the moonlight reflected off the snow-covered roof tops, which softly streamed through the window and moved our thoughts into the New Year.  It was a personal and quiet time of looking forward, of dreams, resolutions and prayers, and the thrill of possibilities as the sound of fireworks and people singing and laughing lingered on the porches in our snowy neighborhood and eventually faded into the night. All was well with my little world on Lincoln Drive. My life was new and not yet burdened by regrets, responsibilities, losses and ‘impossible’ dreams.

Emily and I at Floore's Dance Hall

Emily and I at Floore’s Dance Hall

A New Year's Eve kiss...Emily and Shane at Floore's Dance Hall

A New Year’s Eve kiss…Emily and Shane at Floore’s Dance Hall

I recall a few big, wild New Year’s Eve events, but not many. One time we went to a comedy club in rural Minnesota in which I thought I would never stop laughing. The long, frozen drive across the snow-covered prairie sobered me up.  My husband and I went to a fancy club in Minneapolis once when my first baby was nine months old. I spent most of the night wanting to dance, but not.  It was agony leaving my baby. It was the first time she was left with a sitter. I couldn’t wait to get home. And in recent years, with both of my children at that fun ‘young adult’ age, we’ve taken to going to the local Texas dance hall, together as a family, for their annual New Year’s Eve party and traditional bowl of black-eye peas for good luck in the New Year. Those nights were memorable, but all too soon our children are off doing their own thing….married, working, spending time with friends, and building their own memories.

But mostly, New Year’s Eve was a family thing as it was when I was little. We gave our children the same privileges we were allotted in youth, of champagne and treats, noise makers and party hats, and the unleashing of spirited yelps on the front lawn as we watched the sky light up with fireworks and smoke. Perhaps because south Texas temperatures are more inviting to linger in; fireworks on New Year’s Eve are out-of-this-world here and always a good show even from one’s own porch steps.

My daughter had the upstairs bedroom that I would have wanted as a child, where the windows reach the floor and one can see over the roof-tops of the neighborhood, chimney smoke swirling, and the owls in the top branches of the Live Oaks trees at night.  She and I used to retreat there on the floor in front of the windows, when all the blasting, blowing, calling “Happy New Year” into the night, and champagne bubbles had simmered down, and we’d reflect there together. Those were precious times for me; close, intimate, and perhaps more my cherished memory than hers. For many years that was our New Year’s Eve ritual, until, at last, she was too old and cool for those kind of moments and would rather hang with her friends or go off to bed alone.

My light-hearted son was always fun, willingly wearing silly hats and doing the cha-cha with us around the living room and kitchen as we rang in the New Year. I have no regrets about spending the last twenty- some December thirty-firsts with our delightful children, all the sweet-lipped, good night kisses and shared wishes; it was a gift.

Taylor a couple of New Year's ago...

Taylor a couple of New Year’s ago…

Taylor on New Year's Eve 2000

Taylor on New Year’s Eve 2000

But now, with gray in our hair, an empty house, and no real tradition of donning a sparkly little black dress or bow-tie and tuxedo, we have settled into the proverbial ‘quiet’ New Year’s Eve, pouring ourselves a glass of champagne, watching the Time Square ‘ball drop,’ as we all used to say when that was the only celebration to watch on TV, tooting our horns in our now sleepy neighborhood, and then shutting off the porch light and heading off to bed while the rest of the world parties.

But still ‘the reflections” of Auld Lang Syne come, just as they did for the ‘little girl’ me with my sisters and brothers, and later my children, in what seems like so many years ago. I’ve always thought the line “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind,” odd, indeed cruel, at such a time when it is quite normal to remember the people that have come and gone from our lives even more than usual.

I miss the call from my mother, who even in old age kept up the ‘reaching out’ to her children from her own lonely living room. I could see her there in the light of the TV screen and the small ceramic Christmas tree that was all she could do, tearfully smiling, sending wishes, and remembering all the New Year’s Eves of her life when her house was overflowing with youthful energy and excitement. My siblings in the East are settled into their beds (or own rituals) by the time Texas hits midnight, and my brother in California is hours away from the celebrating; so the calls and now text messages come in sporadically, if at all.

Just as the instinctive need to reform one’s thoughts and actions, to make resolutions for good change, and to step into the new year ‘anew’ will continue (I hope for many years), so too  ‘forgetting old acquaintances’ will NEVER happen.

Those ‘old acquaintances’ are with me tonight more than ever. My little siblings and I laughingly ready to emerge from the house with our pots and pans to the celebratory front porch, my beautiful young parents handing out the champagne smiling and hopeful, my little boy in his big Mexican Sombrero dancing around the house tooting a silver horn, and my little girl and I curled up close to each other in her upstairs bedroom window, the fireworks reflected in her innocent eyes, talking quietly into the New Year and holding on to the moment until we were both too tired and the cozy warmth of sleep called to us, are brought to mind on such a night like this.

I don’t care who you are. Whether you’re braving the cold at some festive outdoor event, standing on the lawn with your kids, in the throes of passion with your lover, or closing the light early after a kiss from your dog; one can’t help but be reflective on such a night. One can’t help but remember our ‘old acquaintances’ and hold them close to our hearts. We’ve made it through another year, sometimes through Hell and high water! We’ve lost loved ones, more hair, opportunities to ‘go places,’ and gained simple moments of joy and accomplishment that filled our days with pride and family love. All of these things come to mind…and are worth the tearful or even drunken reflection.

So, it may be just another New Year’s Eve, another Auld Lang Syne, and even my old man and I…two pups and two cats… some Rudy’s BBQ and a glass of champagne to toast at midnight, have our own personal reflections and will awaken to the a New Year hopeful of only good things and good health…and, come what may, we’ll be just fine.

From the bottom of my sentimental heart, I’m sending an earnest Happy New Year and a wish for good health and much love…to you all!

Me and my sparkly, happy girl!

Me and my sparkly, happy girl!

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They Gave Me Gifts: The Hyacinth of Easter 1978

I had a difficult time my first year of marriage.  At only 20, I had married my high school sweetheart and was swiftly moved away from my family home in Michigan, not knowing I would never again be closer than a long trip home. I didn’t know the years I would miss, the family gatherings that would be lost. I didn’t know I wouldn’t be a vital part of the growing up of my younger siblings, would never participate in the lives of my nieces and nephews, and that the golden, but aging years of my parents would always have to be ‘a phone call’ away.  I didn’t have that foresight then.  I was young and romantic; devoted. I had lofty dreams of life in the Rocky Mountains, a white picket-fenced cottage with roses around my door, and promises of children of my own with a boy I only thought I knew. It was a lonely year, the first of many.

On that first Easter following my marriage of 1977, my parents and younger siblings came to visit me and my new husband at Western Illinois University where he was doing his graduate work and I, well, was busy being a supportive wife.  I will never forget the excitement I felt at their arrival. Every little detail in place, my new china and silverware was stacked and ready with cloth napkins in blue calico fabric that I had sewn myself. I had made my mom’s potato salad for the first time, and everything was airy and clean to make that good “welcome to my home” first impression. My heart was bursting with joy and anticipation! To be physically embraced by my father and mother again, to giggle and share my pretty ‘grown-up’ things with my siblings, to show off my ‘first’ little apartment and make dinner for all of them, was the height of my new married life.

My mother brought me an Easter plant, a single purple hyacinth.  I was so charmed. An unexpected gift, beautiful in its simplicity and so like my mother; I just loved it.  I can still see that moment of them walking up the stairs of married-student housing where I lived a rather solitary life of ‘wifedom,’ my husband often gone at classes or studying late into the night with ‘friends.’ I spent most of my home hours alone. So, I became very self-sufficient.  I worked in town at a local dress store, had a favorite spot at the drugstore lunch counter, a fragrant hippie shop and organic food co-op that I frequented, but I really didn’t have any friends. After living a life of constant company in a big family where ‘togetherness’ was the norm, it was both a great learning experience and a sad existence for a young bride. I took from it what I could. But to have my family there after that long cold winter, the earth rich with the fragrance of awakening, the remnants of old snow still lacing the edges of the roads, and the voices and faces that mirrored mine; I was in a sort of surreal bliss.Easter past 1978 in Illinois with Bill

We drove around the community and shopped in the quaint town square with the old stately courthouse at its center. My parents reminiscing about the Midwestern farming towns they had lived in gave a sense of continuity to my daily life. We strolled through some of my favorite shops where my mom bought some stained glass sun catchers to put in her kitchen window. She had them for years, saying that whenever she saw the light coming through the cherry red glass, she thought of me. I found them last October in the boxes of ‘junk’ that were to be given away after my mother’s death, and brought them home to continue to catch the light of our love. We went to Mass, and together with the family talk and shared stories the meal was made perfect even in the cramped space of our small apartment.  The weekend was too brief.

Life would be too brief. It would take years and years of driving home through miles of cornfields, across wide prairies, through northern forests and hours of shorelines, through the cycles of many seasons, for me to learn, really learn what my parents meant to me. I have nothing but a heart full of gratefulness for what my parents were able to give us in those post-WWII years of large families and stay-at-home moms in which I was raised. We were, by today’s standards, the middle-class poor.  We had our share of charity boxes of clothes brought to our house, hand-me-down toys, and meals of mostly mashed potatoes and gravy. But for everything they could not afford to give us, and for all the innocent mistakes that young parents stumble through rather hit-or-miss, I was saturated in love in their house. We were never in ‘want’ or deprived of education and opportunities to develop our imaginations, and music was threaded and laced through every step of our lives like the laces on our shoes.

Through their love and high value of education and music, I developed an appreciation and understanding of the human experience. Both have been my refuge and stronghold through all kinds of challenging situations. But, above all, the unconditional love of my parents, has kept me alive in times of despair, motivated me to continue to reach for my dreams, and given me the ability to fully love others. They exhibited what I have learned to be a true love… attentive, unwavering, and never ending.

The beauty of these immeasurable gifts is that long after I left home, married and married again, went through college, bought and sold homes, earned a living, raised children, and watched those two beloved people lowered into the cold ground, their gifts have been alive and fruitful in my life.

At Easter, Christians humbly observe the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and celebrate His return to walk with us throughout our lives, loving us, forgiving us, and embracing us with unconditional love. His love seems to reflect, in my eyes, the intentions of my earthly parents, their sacrifices and continual love.  Especially at Easter, with the green glow of budding trees creating a fresh lense on old hopes and dreams, I feel their reassuring embrace. I may be little goofy singing ‘Easter bonnet songs’ and over-stuffing woven baskets with familiar treats, but these are only extension of the rich life that I have led, due for the most part to my parents walking up the paths of my life with their gifts.

My little purple hyacinth eventually died despite my care, as did my marriage, and, in time, my parents. But, to this day I cannot look upon a hyacinth without seeing my mother’s soft round face, laughing and eager to see mine, coming up the walkway with that flower in her hands, with my dad’s big grin above her shoulders close behind.  The safety of their love was so strong and deeply rooted, that nothing could destroy it….not distance, not husbands, not mistakes, not the act of walking a down a broken road, not failure or any choice that I made.  It was there. They were there.  Even on this Easter weekend of baskets full of colorful foiled candy for my children and grandchildren and the aroma of those favorite family foods once again in the air…they are here in my heart as is my heavenly Father whose invisible hand is always holding mine, reminding me that I am never completely alone.

I never did make it to Colorado and have yet to get my cottage with a picket fence and flower garden around my door, but I will. I am still the romantic, but with a long journey of lessons on my side.  And, there will be a special place for hyacinth bulbs to bloom, glass sun-catchers in the window, a song to float easily from my lips, and a calm knowing that I am and always have been loved.