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New Year’s Melancholy.

This is an article I wrote a few years ago as we rang in a New Year. I still get a twinge of sadness, however, with the passing of each old year.

For me, the arrival of a New Year is always tinged with melancholy.

Looking back at the year gone by, a year now filed in the annals of history, I am saddened by how quickly time seems to pass, by how many things change over the course of a year.

I didn’t always feel that way. When I was little, I couldn’t wait for a new year to begin.

Until I was ten or eleven, I used to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s at my grandma’s house in Hilliard.  I had a very important job to do during the week leading up to New Year’s Eve. I had to make confetti.

Positioned in front of a brown, paper grocery sack, I would sit for hours and cut up every newspaper and magazine in the house to make squares of confetti.

I don’t know where I got the idea that it was absolutely imperative to throw confetti at the stroke of midnight to usher in the New Year.  It was, however, a very important ritual for me. Since I didn’t know where you could actually buy confetti, I made my own.

My aunt hated the confetti.

“I was still picking confetti out of the couch last year in July.”

My aunt lived a few streets over from Grandma and we would go there to spend New Year’s Eve. Although she complained about the confetti, she always let me throw it. Then she would spend the New Year picking paper out of shoes and plants and from between chair cushions.

No matter how well I cleaned up, I always missed some of the confetti.

Grandma liked the confetti and she would toss a handful in the air with me, shouting, “Happy New Year,” along with all the revelers in Times Square on the television.

Besides the confetti, part of the thrill of New Year’s Eve was getting to stay up until midnight, a luxury I was not allowed the rest of the year.

Always afraid of the dark and the monsters I thought lurked in the veil of night, I was glad for any excuse to stay up with the grown ups in the safety of a lighted room.

I especially hated nights with full moons, even though they should have been better because they were not quite so dark.  I did not like the full moon nights because I thought I was going to turn into a werewolf.

I had read a book containing a poem that reportedly would cause the reader to become a werewolf if the poem was recited on the night of a full moon.  Naturally, I was so horrified at the prospect of growing fangs and hair all over my body that I reread the poem over and over in some type of fascinated disgust.  It was the same impulse that caused me to peel bandages back to look at bloodied knees and elbows.

After reading the poem so many times, I, of course, memorized it.  I discovered that the words were firmly embedded in my memory on the night of a full moon.  Playing outside with my cousins, I happened to look at the darkening sky.  There, just appearing on the horizon, was a newly rising full moon.  Of course, the werewolf poem raced into my mind.

I had to say the alphabet repeatedly to drown out the words from the poem.  I was successful at holding the poem at bay and never did become a werewolf.

I knew that when I got older I wouldn’t be afraid of the dark or of becoming a werewolf.  That was also why I liked the New Year.  With each New Year, I got to celebrate another birthday in March.  I got to be a year older.

I wanted to be ten (my first double digit birthday).  I wanted to be a teenager (so sophisticated). I wanted to be sixteen (driver’s license, here I come). I wanted to be eighteen (finally, no longer a little kid). And then suddenly, I was all grown up and I didn’t want time to speed by.  I didn’t want to get older and older and watch the people around me do the same.  I didn’t want those I loved to die and my life be irreversibly changed.

That is the crux of my melancholy at New Year’s.  With each year, there is always someone who is not around to ring in another January.  Grandparents. Uncles. Aunts. Friends. Always someone.

I think New Year’s also makes me sad because January first was Paul Carpenter’s birthday.  With Paul’s death in 2001, his birthday became a day that pointedly marked his absence from my life.

Paul, the pharmacy delivery driver and my dear, dear friend, always proclaimed himself a “New Year’s baby.”  He celebrated on New Year’s Day not only the birth of a new year, but his own birth, as well.

I spent this New Year’s Day celebrating Paul’s birthday, too.  While taking roses to the cemetery, Joe asked me how I thought Paul would make his presence known to me this year.  Because it seems that Paul always does send a message, a reminder of his love, to me each January first.

“I’m not going to look for Paul’s message,” I told Joe as we stood by Paul’s headstone.  “He’ll make me notice whatever it is he wants me to see.”

I went about the day, heeding my mom’s advice that however I spent New Year’s Day was how I’d spend the whole year; a warning I think Mom used on my sister and me when we were children to keep us from fighting and whining for one complete day (nevertheless, we went on to do those very things the rest of the year).

I ate sauerkraut for good luck, a bizarre tradition inherited from long forgotten German relatives.  I don’t eat sauerkraut any other day except on New Year’s Day and I only eat it then at my mom’s insistence.

“You HAVE to eat sauerkraut on New Year’s Day.  Just one bite, even.  You HAVE to.”

Then, as the afternoon lazily drifted away, I drove Mom and Dad home from our sauerkraut eating excursion.

Suddenly, ahead of us there were bright rainbows of color in the gray sky.  Two ultra-light aircrafts circled above us.  I thought of Paul’s headstone.

Etched on to the surface of the gravestone is the image of a man in an ultra-light.  Part machine, part cloth wings, ultra-lights combine the aeronautical engineering of a motor and of a kite.  They are a marriage of old aerodynamics and new.

Paul had been an avid ultra-light flyer when he was younger.  In fact, the card that was passed out at his funeral showed a photo of Paul in an ultra-light with the words, “Now he flies with angels,” written below the picture.

I knew those two radiant, whizzing machines were my New Year’s message from Paul.

Darting and whirling, the ultra-lights looked like exotic, colorful birds in the gloomy January sky.  With their giant wings casting shadows across the earth below, they looked like angels.

My New Year’s melancholy turned to joy.  If I’d had some confetti with me, I would have thrown it into the air in celebration.

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