I know you’re getting this a little late. I finished this little essay in the wee hours of December 30th. So, there.
I have always romanticized New Year’s Eve.
From the time I was in the tenth grade, all the way through college, I threw a party at my mom’s house on the last night of the year.
Now, if you never knew her, it behooves me to introduce you to my mother, Tootsie.
Tootsie was a cross between Tallulah Bankhead and Agnes Morehead with a splash of Lucile Ball. (If you don’t know who these women are, get thee to YouTube.) Tootsie was a full-time substitute teacher at Newton County Comprehensive High School. One summer the Latin teacher died, so Toots taught a year of Latin, a job for which she had no actual qualifications.
A few years later, she became the school nurse. Again, no qualifications.
At my New Year’s Eve parties, there was no underaged alcohol consumption, but plenty of bootleg fireworks, some of which were procured from a certain convenience store outside of neighboring Porterdale, a place that trafficked contraband pyrotechnics from South Carolina and sold it in a back room. In those days, the store was guarded by a sheriff’s deputy.
My mother would never let us get anything bigger than regular firecrackers and bottle rockets, as if bottles rockets were safe. This is similar to the mentality behind minibikes. I had a good many friends with minibikes back in the 70’s, the thinking being, these diminutive things aren’t really motorcycles, so how dangerous can they be?
On New Year’s Eve, we augmented our meager bottle rockets with a homemade boom-bomb fashioned from an industrial carpet tube — we’re talking two-inch-thick, bulletproof, layered, cardboard. We would stick this 6-foot tube into a 2-foot post-hole we had dug outside the window of Tootsie’s bedroom where, during the party, she would be watching reruns of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Into the carpet tube, we poured black gunpowder purchased from the hardware store.
After midnight, I placed a bottle rocket on the edge of the tube and lit it. As I rolled down the hill, the sparks from the thrust of the rocket would light the gunpowder. The sound from the open-ended tube was a particular longish fffooOOOM!
Tootsie would come yelling out of her room and my friend Charles Waldrip would announce, “Tootsie is Dino-ing Out!” because when my mom was having a hissy, she sounded a lot like Dino from the Flintstones. “WHAT THE H- - - WAS THAT?!” We did this every year, and every year she acted surprised. “Acted” is the operative word here. I know this is hard to believe, but Toots loved it.
After the boom, we regathered and raised a toast, us young’ns with our Martinelli’s apple cider, and my mom with her scotch.
Around 1 in the morning, inebriated teenagers from other parties would begin to trickle to our house, not friends of mine necessarily, but kids who knew Miss Tootsie would provide a safe haven and prevent them from going home drunk where the consequences they would face would be severe.
This was before anything like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and its program of signed covenants — pledges that kids would share with don’t-ask-don’t-tell trusted adults. Toots would insist that any late-comer call their parents, then she would get on the phone. “Oh, Braswell is fine. Andy has had a party and a bunch of kids are spending the night on the floor. It’s so late and it’s New Year’s Eve, Dahlin’! You don’t know who’s driving out there. This is just safer, don’t you think?”
• • •
As an overly TV-influenced kid, I imagined show-people the way they appeared in the movie, “White Christmas” — performers on a nightclub stage and elegantly dressed patrons sitting at cocktail tables. As for New Year’s Eve, well, it should be in an ornate ballroom like the one in the 1938 Popeye cartoon, “Let’s Celebrake” in which Popeye insists that Olive Oyl’s grandmother leave her knitting behind and come out on the town to join the New Year’s Eve celebration, where, after Popeye fortifies Grandma with canned spinach, she transmogrifies into the Jazz-dancing, loving-cup-winning, belle of the ball.
The atmosphere of that elegant ballroom is what I was trying to capture when we put on our New Year’s Eve show at New American Shakespeare Tavern back in the 1990’s and the 20-aughts. We had a huge variety of acts, from songwriters to jugglers to authors and poets reading from their works. Alas, nothing tells a showman that he’s of-an-age quite like the realization that his audience has outgrown coming out to the middle of Atlanta in the middle of the night on New Year’s Eve.
Nowadays, I think of New Year’s Eve simply as a time to reset my “trip odometer.” You know, just like your car, you have an unchangeable and undeniable “life-odometer.” But New Year’s Day offers you the chance to change that personal “trip odometer.”
So, I am reaching my finger out to that virtual little button on my life’s instrument panel. And even though I know you are rolling your eyes at that preceding sentence, I am going to push it at midnight on December 31.
As my old buddy, the songwriter Ed Kilbourne says, “Every day, it’s now or never.”
Auld Lang Syne, y’all
A native of Covington, Andy Offutt Irwin is a storyteller, songwriter, and professional whistler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.