". . . and a Happy New Year"

Karen Radford Treanor 


© Copyright 2020  by Karen Radford Treanor

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash
                                        Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

New Year's Eve 2020 is going to be a very different event for most people in the world. Who could have foreseen on January first of this year that by the end of it we’d have experienced a modern plague which would have damaged the global economy, killed hundreds of thousands of people, and locked up millions more? Who could have foreseen that a defeated President would refuse to accept his loss? Which of our most experimental writers could have thought up the conspiracy theories that have become the daily fodder of millions?

Thinking about how strange this year has been brought to mind many past New Year's Eves.

I have only a vague memory of the first few, but I do recall the party my folks threw in 1946. Dad had returned from the Pacific War with a moustache and a cigar-smoking habit. Mother cured him of both those fairly quickly. He had had “a good war”—he hadn’t had to kill anyone and not too many had tried to kill him, so he didn’t come home with some of the heavy stuff in his duffel bag that other fathers did. Dad slipped right back into the Boxford social scene with apparent ease. The underlying problems were submerged in hard work and good Scotch, and it was more than a decade before I realised that an invisible black dog of depression stalked him: not a harmless passing mood, but a predator.

My folks knew how to throw a party. Which is to say, my mother knew how to throw a party. Dad was an affable host, a generous bartender, and famous for his funny stories, usually involving very clever and literate puns—but it was Mother who did all the hard work before dashing upstairs and slithering into something glamorous and spritzing on some exotic scent. I recall one perfume she had was called “Act IV”. Her ordinary scent was “Intimate” and years later if I caught a whiff of it somewhere in the city or in a store, it brought her to mind. As a nurse, Mother rarely wore jewellery or scent, but parties were a chance to shed the workaday chrysalis and show herself for the butterfly she really was.

People came from all over our country town to the New Year’s Eve parties. The big old house was redolent with the scents of woodfires, perfumes, pipe and cigarette smoke, and strange things to eat that only turned up at that time of the year. Children were told that they didn’t like these strange things, so of course they didn’t. To this day I don’t eat olives or anchovies.

I was allowed to put in an appearance, say hello to my godparents, and hand around a plate of hors d’oeuvres before being banished to an upstairs room to keep Nana and my baby sister company. Nana was a fearsome great-grandmother who’d lost an eye to glaucoma and kept her glass replacement in a water bath when not using it. She had a gentleman friend who used to come calling, and the two of them would compare prostheses and inspect each other’s gory sockets. By day, Nana sat in the front living room ready to clamp her bony hand on a passing child and instruct it to “fetch”. (Until I was six I thought I was a fox terrier.) The instructions might be for her cane, her medicine bottle, her reticule—and on one occasion, the glass eye in its white china bath. I was torn between fear and pride as I negotiated the back stairs with the desired object. It had an uncompromising glare, rather like its owner.

Mother was the daughter and granddaughter of professional singers, and both she and Dad had excellent voices. At their parties, they could be heard leading the singing which accompanied the playing of that year’s Original Cast Recording of a Broadway show. (It was with huge regret that I consigned the 12-record set of “The Song of Norway” to the donation box after Mother’s death. )

For some years the parents were the stars of our church choir. The memory of Mother’s rendition of “What Child is This?” still brings tears, and Dad’s “Ride on in Majesty” every Easter always brought reassuring thoughts of the Church Triumphant. I’d pay a lot to be able to recapture that surety now.

After the late 1950’s the parents’ New Year's Eve parties ceased. Thereafter, they went to small gatherings at the home of opera-loving friends where they’d listen to La Bohème, weep over Mimi’s death scene, and drink coffee. By this time I’d discovered the pleasures of parties with my own age group, and had my own glamorous outfits. Ah, that red taffeta shirtwaist-style dress with its rhinestone buttons and the 4-inch red leather spike heels!

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 1967. The baby I had been lugging around was due to be born that night but despite going out to visit friends who live atop a hill so steep that their driveway was an illegal grade, no baby had appeared. She took her sweet time and it wasn’t until the 16th of January in 1968 that she deigned to put in an appearance, post-mature and so large that one of the attending physicians was heard to say “Never mind the humidicrib, give her some sneakers and make her walk to the nursery.” Despite the late arrival, she proved to be a blessing and a joy—well, maybe except for those few early teen years—you mothers know what I mean.

We had hoped to have her with us for this New Year’s Eve but COVID, travel restrictions, and Stage IV breast cancer have conspired to quash that hope. It’s been like a Dickens novel for our daughter and the rest of the family—every month brings another chapter with a new and awful turn of the screw, but also an occasional ray of light. Bad and less bad news arrives in waves. “The liver tumours are inoperable, but they’re responding to treatment and have shrunk considerably.” “We’ve found bone tumours but it seems they may have been there all along and aren’t causing much trouble.” This month’s episode delivered the long-feared news that the cancer had found a foothold in her brain. After the initial horror and fear, I remembered that one of our senators also had cancer of the brain and against the odds is still hard at work and apparently cured. Every case is peculiar to itself, but one takes hope from any bit of dry land in life’s flood.

What will New Year’s Eve 2021 be like? After the year we have just had it’s probably a mercy that we can’t know beforehand what awaits us. Some of us won’t be here; and most of us won’t be the same people we are now. My hope is that all of us will be better people.

To Richard Loller and all the Storyhouse family: my thanks for your company, your entertainment, and your inspirations this year and all the previous years. May the coming year be for you one of love, learning, health, and amusement.

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