On waking this morning, I realized that I had, in fact, survived another year. The casual section of our newspaper displays pictures of the many folks who did not, and I review their names in awe. I recognize some of them; many mystify me. All meant something to someone, somewhere, and apparently, a lot to many. Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Rooney, James Arness. . .icons in their day and still. We mourn many of them like lost members of our own family and in a way, of course, they occupy special places in the human family, the family of a post-industrialization world, in which currents conduct characters and airwaves shape our hopes, our dreams and our desires.
I have not made the magic hour on New Year's Eve for many years, not since before children, and mid-life ailments, and a keen awareness that over-consumption of alcohol holds no allure for me. From a time to party, New Year's Eve has turned into a time for self-examination. Am I really incompetent and an unbelievable bitch, as someone recently claimed of me? Do I insist on winning every argument, as I heard in another painful accusation? Or am I the virtuous helper that my Facebook friends acclaim?
Am I the Wicked Witch or Wonder Woman?
I push aside the newspaper and fall into a reverie. A gaggle of Corley kids out on the front porch. With pots and pans, and wooden spoons, they beat the old year out and herald the New Year. Inside, a tray of half-eaten Ritz crackers with cheese, and glasses with the residue of something sticky and sweet. My mother sits in her arm chair. My father's recliner stands empty. From the decades' distance, I spy him in the kitchen, slumped against the counter, stubbled face hanging slack, hand clutching a cigarette. I can't recall him drinking in our presence, but he must have -- or perhaps he had been to the local bar. I remember what came later, I keenly recall his hang-over and the wrath of his sobering self. But in that moment, I stood on the lawn and merrily banged on the back of an aluminum pan, and I thought, I can't believe we're staying up til midnight And the fireworks popped in the distance, and my brothers ran around yelling, Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! until my mother came out onto the porch and gently drew us back into the living room.
Years later, at a New Year's Eve party in a now-forgotten bar, I clutched a glass of champagne and braced against the rush of revelers. New Year's Eve 1980, at the end of my first year in law school, and a wild bunch of 1Ls crammed into a room more intent on finding someone with whom to share the last stray pillow of the year than on contemplating self-improvement. Recently single after a grim year-long relationship with a man twice my age, I had no interest in anything but escape, and I lifted the glass as though, like many before me, I sought refuge in its depths. And the crowd roared as the ball dropped in Times Square on the small television perched on a nearby table, and my drunken friends crowed, Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Happy New Year! until their dates and those in other parties scolded, enough, enough, enough, and confetti fell around my narrow shoulders and onto the dirty tiles beneath my feet.
The New Year's Eve celebrations of the last thirty years have faded in my memory. From partying, I turned to sleeping early; bidding the year good night and good luck from a quiet room, with a book, a spouse, and a sleeping cat. More recently, I've spent the evening worrying that my son would make it safely back to the Holmes house, or stay the night wherever he celebrated. I'm not worried that he will drink and drive; he's not yet 21, and though I do not doubt that he would drink, he is sufficiently afraid of the ramifications of being caught to insure that his keys stay on a table beside his discarded glasses and wallet until his blood alcohol returns to zero. No, what I fear is the driver that might not be as smart as my son, and might plow into the side of his car and ruin my one chance for immortality.
Instead of celebrating, I make resolutions. Like the non-Christian who takes the opportunity to celebrate Christmas without sharing "the reason for the season", I borrow New Year's Eve to wallow in self-scrutiny. Wicked Witch or Wonder Woman, I ask myself. Did I help more than I hurt in the previous 365 days? Can I see a way to improve my performance over the next 365? Do those who smile at me with appreciation outnumber those who scowl at me in anger? Do I tip enough? Do I thank the sales clerks with sincerity or snarl at them with petulance?
I cast my mind backwards. My ambitions have largely fallen by the wayside. I never had a poem published in the New Yorker. I have not been to Europe. I've not even been to Canada or Mexico. I've started three novels and abandoned them in varying stages of completion. I still file for an extension on my federal tax return every year, and I am sure that a few old medical bills lie unpaid in a drawer somewhere, or in the mail basket in our living room. I haven't visited my aunt Della in two years. I've never planted gardenias on my mother's grave.
The lesser resolutions have fared better. I lost weight and kept it off. I no longer raise my voice at my secretary when she makes a mistake, though I still feel the temptation and have to walk into my office to gain control. I clean my purse out regularly to make sure I haven't left any crumbled notes to myself to languish beyond relevant due dates. I never miss a dose of Warfarin and I get a regular dental check-up.
As the morning wanes and the old battery on my trusty iBook G4 starts to whimper, I ruminate over this year's resolutions. I reject the trite and true. I won't live like I'm dying; that's so last year. I won't live like there's no tomorrow, or consider today the first day of the rest of my life. I pride myself in creating my own nauseatingly sentimental platitudes.
I hear my husband gently clear his throat in the living room, and the chuckle of the Car Guys on NPR emitting from the radio in my breakfast nook. The furnace blower begins its obtrusive roar, and our old cat, the 17-year-old stare-down champion, yowls for something that I have not a prayer of discerning. I sit amidst the sounds of Saturday morning at the Holmes house, gazing at the bad news in today's paper -- famine, and crime, and the looming election cycle. Suddenly, my resolution seems so obvious that I laugh out loud.
I resolve to cherish what I have.
And now I can eat breakfast, and grouse at the cat, and pour another cup of Dunn Brother's Coffee. At this moment, when it is still possible that the vow of 2011 will not fall empty into a kitchen drawer or vanish beneath my delete key, all seems possible. So Happy New Year, everyone, and here's hoping that you all get safely to the berth where someone who cherishes you lies waiting.
AULD LANG SAYNE
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you'll buy your pint cup !
and surely I'll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
(Original Scottish Version by Robert Burns, English Version by James Watson, based on a traditional song / poem; Burns version 1788).
Saturday, December 31, 2011
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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