Late tonight, over a million people will be packed like sardines in New York City’s Time Square. Millions more will gather in other venues across the country including nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and homes.
They will wear silly hats and blow whistles and noisemakers, and then, just a few seconds before midnight, they will count backwards from 10 to zero as if they were the voice of mission control back in the 1960s and 1970s when a bolder America sent men to the moon.
At the stroke of midnight, these millions of revelers will start cheering and screaming as if their team just won the Super Bowl. And they will engage in this literally time-honored ritual simply because the Gregorian calendar will signify the beginning of a new year.
I will not be one of these party animals. Following our own time-honored tradition, my wife and I will enjoy a quiet New Year’s Eve with a dinner (a very early dinner) with friends and then return to the safety of our home where we will spend the rest of the year in our den by a nice warm fire, listening to soothing music and reading books we received for Christmas. We will try to stay awake until 11:00 p.m. CST so that we can watch all those party animals in Time Square dancing and prancing as 2015 rolls in across America.
But I probably won’t make it. By 11:00 p.m. I will be snoring in my lounge chair with my reading glasses perched on my nose and my Christmas gift book in my lap.
At midnight CST, I will be awakened by the sound of fire crackers being exploded by kids around the neighborhood, whereupon I will celebrate the new year by getting up from my lounge chair and stumbling into my bedroom where I will join my wife for a long winter’s nap.
When I awaken a few hours later in 2015, I will not have a hangover. But as the old joke goes, sadly I will feel as good as I’m going to feel all day.
Let’s face it, folks. I am no party animal.
But there was a time decades ago when I spent every New Year’s Eve celebrating with my good friends Guy and Ben. I remember those New Year’s Eves so well. Guy and Ben wore tuxedoes. I wore my pajamas.
Guy was in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Ben was in Time Square. I was in the living room of my family’s home in Memphis, sitting on my sofa watching the revelry in glorious black and white on a Sylvania TV set.
When I was a little boy, the one night my parents would let me stay up past midnight was New Year’s Eve. It was on that night that I would watch the telecast of the big party at Time Square and the Waldorf.
The MC for the telecast was Ben Grower. He was a veteran Yankee news broadcaster.
But unlike Walter Cronkite, he only appeared on my TV screen one time a year, specifically New Year’s Eve. He was to New Year’s Eve was to Burt Parks was to the Miss America Pageant and Mel Allen was to the World Series.
Each December 31, at around 10:45 p.m., Ben would join me in my living room appearing just a few feet away right under the rabbit ears of the TV set.
I remember Ben was always dressed resplendently, his tuxedo literally topped off with a top hat. He was putting on the Ritz!
Ben would welcome me to Time Square and enthusiastically announce that there were “over 100,000 people gathered here tonight!” That was the crowd in those days in the less-populated America of the 1960s.
As midnight approached in New York and 11:00 p.m. approached in Elvis’ hometown, Ben would make a little speech about the year that was coming to an end as well as the anticipation of the exciting new year to come. His speech would go something l ike this:
1962 will be remembered as the year that President Kennedy ordered the blockade of Cuba to avert the Cuban missile crisis!
It was the year that James Meredith, escorted by Federal Marshalls, was enrolled as a student at the University of Mississippi.
In sports, it was the year that the New York Yankees won yet another World Series defeating the San Francisco Giants.
Marilyn Monroe died from a drug overdose.
West Side Story won the Oscar for best picture, and Richard Nixon’s political career ended when he lost the California Governor’s race to Pat Brown!
But most significantly, 1962 will be remembered as the year that brave Lt. Col. John H. Glenn, Jr. became the first American to orbit the earth.
And now we anxiously await 1963, with the hopes and dreams that it will be the greatest year ever for our great nation!
And then at the end of his speech, he then would breathtakingly announce, “and now the large illuminated ball is slowly descending down the Allied Chemical Building, and the special time is almost here. … 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 … HAPPY NEW YEAR 1963 AMERICA!”
And then Guy would come into our home, accompanied by a bunch of Canadians. It was Guy Lombardo, and his orchestra , the “Royal Canadians”. I’m not sure why they were called the “Royal Canadians”. Maybe they were all mounted policemen in Quebec. At any rate, Guy and the Royal Canadians would appear from the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria and they would play the unofficial New Year’s Eve theme song, Auld Lang Syne.
And each New Year’s Eve, I would join in the festivities.
Standing on my sofa in my footy pajamas by the shadow of our family’s Christmas tree, which always stayed up until New Year’s day, I would join Ben in the countdown, and then I would sing Auld Lang Syne with Guy and the Royal Canadians and dance around the living room.
And then I would toast in the New Year with a fine glass of Baptist Champagne, Coca Cola Classic, 1962.
Guy and The Royal Canadians claimed to play “the sweetest music this side of Heaven.” And now, Guy and Ben are both in Heaven, where I hope they are enjoying the sweetest music that side of Heaven ….
As I drift off to sleep early this evening in the last few hours of 2014, I will fondly remember those days when I rang in the new year with Ben and Guy and the Royal Canadians and all those beautiful, sophisticated folks dancing in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria or outside in Time Square.
Happy New Year everyone! And now if you will excuse me … ZZZ … ZZZ!