Savoring Memorable New Years

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - December 31, 2008
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My wife, Susan - who has been writing MidWeek columns for more than 16 years - puts me to shame. She looks ahead and writes a column that’s pertinent to a holiday or anniversary at the time her column will be published.

So this week, in emulating her good example, I’ve decided to lighten up and simply be pertinent. It also provides some relief from the heavy stuff of the political campaign, including my last column - MidWeek, Dec. 17, “Riding the Straight Talk Express” - about which one reader noted (in some respects correctly) was less gracious than John McCain’s concession speech.

So here we go with no thought to enlightenment, what “needs to be said” or political correctness: “New Year’s Eves I Have Known.”

I was about 4 when my parents - in their early 20s - threw a party in the tiny rental we occupied in Modesto, Calif. The guests, I’ve since learned, were all good friends, mostly from their wedding party. It got pretty wild. The “Best Man” picked up my mom and carried her to me, which perturbed me so much - “You put down my mommy!” - I tipped over backward in my little wicker rocking chair, thumped the back of my head and was put to bed.

When I was 7, I spent New Year’s Eve with a good buddy whose mom and dad were high school chums of my parents (I’m sure they must have been at the aforementioned party), with whom they went out on the town. The next morning his dad asked us how we had welcomed the new year. “We played Photo Electric Football and then took a bath,” we replied. “Uh oh, that means the whole new year’s gonna be a washout!” That was a thinker!

A highlight of coming home from college during the holidays was a friend’s traditional New Year’s Eve party (The same friend whose new ‘49 Ford convertible took a double-barreled load of buckshot on the trunk lid the night a farmer caught us kyping his watermelons). The parties were great reunions for those of us coming in from far and wide, plus a chance for an Auld Lang Syne kiss from that girl you’d always wanted to kiss in high school.

The UCLA ski team trained at Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Valley (then one hill, one ski lift) over the holidays, so New Year’s Eve at Harvey’s Wagonwheel Casino at Stateline was where the action was. Louis Prima and Keely Smith entertained until the midnight balloon drop. Harvey - he was really around in those days - put bills in the balloons. If you snagged a $20, it was gonna be a good year!

One New Year’s Eve found me on liberty in Cannes, France. My squadron mates from the carrier USS Saratoga and I were in a “bistro” where it seemed like the band only played Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini (big on the Riviera that year), and the mademoiselle bartender was teaching me to say “my name is ...” in French. But, to her great amusement, my name “Jerry” spoken with my best French accent (cheri) means “sweetheart.” So for the rest of the cruise from my mates greeted me, “Hi, sweetheart!”

Of my seven New Year’s Eves in Hanoi, six were kinda downers because in each case, I had convinced myself that the previous one was to be the last one there. But on the really last one (1972), B-52s had bombed in and around Hanoi steadily through December and we knew it was an escalation that would make all the difference, so we “celebrated” that New Year’s Eve with some well-placed conviction. I came home in February.

New Year’s Eves in Hawaii have included a few nice parties at friends’ homes, and one at the Sheraton Waikiki on Y2K when the world was supposed to end. But the best have been right here on the lanai at home in Aiea Heights with family, friends and dogs, bellies full of black-eyed pea soup and cornbread, slack key in the background, and watching Aiea and Pearl Harbor disappear in the smoke of firecrackers and illegal aerials at midnight.

My best advice for this New Year’s Eve: Remember and savor the best. And for 2009? Remember to show up!

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