It is odd, but I really cannot single out any New Year’s Eve as special until 1960, the year I was engaged to be married. Up until then, they were pretty much the same. I’d stay home with my siblings at 86 Elm Place, while my parents would party somewhere close-by with relatives or friends, or I’d babysit for one of my regular clients and receive double wages (two dollars an hour instead of the one dollar I was usually paid as a high-school babysitter). We’d watch TV and see the ball drop in Times Square at the stroke of midnight and would hear horns and cheers and revelry from neighbors’ houses. Every so often a neighborhood boy would set off firecrackers or a dangerous cherry bomb or illuminate the street with sparklers. We’d blow horns, and the kids would yell a lot. Baby Laura would rub her eyes, wondering why she was being required to stay up so late and why there was such a fuss. Probably elsewhere in town, church bells were ringing, but none of us on Elm Place ever heard them.
In 1960, the novel “Exodus,” by Leon Uris, was made into an amazing epic movie of the same name. Stanley Love, my future brother-in-law, invited us to attend a screening on New Year’s Eve in a huge movie theater in Times Square. It was a black-tie event, with movie stars and klieg lights and searchlights and so much noise we were practically deafened. That night I experienced my first fancy, formal New Year’s Eve. I was so excited to finally witness firsthand the crowds and celebration attendant upon the dropping of the ball at midnight. I was nervous and spent hours getting ready. I wore my only party dress, a cerise silk-satin knee-length dress I had sewn myself, only to discover that I was seriously underdressed and “underjeweled.” I had a private cry in front of my almost-empty closet, feeling sorry that I had so few clothes to choose from for my first big night out with my fiancé. Seeing me so sad, Andy, too, got tears in his eyes. Actually, I had fun after my initial misgivings and even accepted an invitation to next year’s party, which proved to be even more memorable.
In 1978 my youngest sister got married on New Year’s Eve in my house on Turkey Hill. That evening was so magical we’ll never forget it. We all dressed in black tie. The bride and groom were beautiful. I tried very hard to make the fanciest and the most creative food, and my catering staff treated the evening as a family affair and helped create a beautiful and tasty buffet supper. I did the flowers, and my daughter, Alexis, helped decorate the house. I served foie gras and caviar and endive leaves filled with Boursin and watercress. Although the house is small, the walls seemed to expand that evening, gracefully accommodating all of the guests in the most hospitable fashion. At midnight we kissed one another under a large sprig of mistletoe hung in the center hall, and blew horns and paper whistles. I remember that there was confusion when the guests were departing: Lisa, the maid of honor, went to put on her coat and discovered that someone with an identical black coat had taken hers by mistake. Unfortunately, Lisa’s car keys were in her coat pocket, and so she had to spend the night with the newlyweds. We still laugh about the incident today, although at the time it caused quite a stir.
For the past three years, my New Year’s Eves have been very well planned. I always know I’ll be somewhere exotic in the world on December 31 -- this year in China, or South Africa, or on the Amazon. In 1995, under a full moon, we drank Champagne, ate a small, precious tin of caviar, and sang songs aboard a small sailboat in the beautiful harbor of Baltra in the Galapagos Archipelago. The year after, along with my sweet nieces and nephews and my best friends, we danced in the new year in a small town on the Nile as if it were the most natural thing on earth! Last year, atop Machu Picchu, we drank Champagne and dined on local Peruvian mountain cuisine, imagining the Incas had done the same thing hundreds of years ago.
It is the tradition of the group to discuss plans for the next year’s celebration and reveal at least a few new New Year’s resolutions. This year we’ll have a special planning session, for the turn of the century will be just 12 months away, and how, for heaven’s sake, does one plan for that?
We’re thinking, and thinking hard.