New Year's Eve

In years past we saw the New Year in at Watch Night services in church. As many of the family as possible attended, bundled in warm clothing against the chill of the inefficiently heated building.

The service began about ten in the evening. There would be hymn singing and a sermon followed by passing the collection plate. After the formal service, Preacher called for testimonies. Quietly we sat and gradually, one by one, men and women rose to witness to the Lord's blessings. Sometimes they confessed to having sinned or "backslid" and re-dedicated their lives to His Way.

The night slowly slipped away. As midnight neared, quiet settled over the church. Children dozed against Pa's shoulder or curled in Ma's lap. Grandma nodded, her feet on a small hassock out of the draft, her arthritic fingers warm in a sealskin muff.

When midnight arrived the church bells rang out over all the town and we joined in singing a hymn of rejoicing and saying a prayer of thanks. Our hearts were filled with faith and we had dedicated the New Year, and ourselves, to His service.

Now we moved from the church to the Sunday School room where long tables were laden with steaming bowls of oyster stew. How good those oysters in hot, golden butter-flecked milk tasted. Cold and hungry from the unaccustomed late hour, we joined in devouring every drop as well as in the year's first fellowship.

Out in the cold night air with a light powdery snow drifting from the stars, we made our way home by sleigh or on foot. Over head the trees snapped from the frost, snow crunched underfoot and squeaked under sleigh runners. Horses tossed their heads and trotted rapidly for home, uneasy at being out so late in the cold.

Night clothes were warm if they'd been wrapped around the hot soapstone in your bed. Sleep came quickly as did morning, especially for mother who expected company for New Year's dinner.

A huge turkey waited its predawn introduction to the oven. Quantities of potatos and vegetables must be prepared. With twenty for dinner, thirty more like, if you counted the youngins, lack of sleep must be forgotten when there is cooking to be done.

In the parlour the Christmas tree still held sway. Beneath its branches lay the now week old toys, some already broken and mended, a folded ribbon marked someone's place in a book, candy box holding only jellies and chocolate covered dates which no one wanted. Back of the tree the train track had come apart, the locomotive, its spring drive unwound, had fallen on its side.

Grandma and Grandpa sat near the fireplace receiving their family as it gathered. Ma and the aunts scurried around the kitchen and the wide-stretched dining table, preparing a gargantuan feast. The uncles and Pa talked as they bedded down horses in the barn.

An older cousin brought her beau for the family's approval. New babies kicked and babbled on the sofa with fascinated little girl cousins to keep them covered and safe. Other children stood around the kitchen inhaling its aromas until shoo'd out of the way, then poked dully through the toys, hung on grandpa's knee for a story or teased a peppermint from grandma.

At the table Grandpa bowed his silver head to ask a blessing on his family in this new year. Pa carved the turkey, while great ironstone bowls full of mashed potatos and vegetables circled the table, were emptied and refilled. Gravy ran in rivers. Pickles crunched between strong white teeth. Uncle Lonzo's mouth was hidden behind a gigantic mustache. It was fascinating to watch him eat as food disappeared behind that thick curtain in alarming quantities.

After dinner everyone was sodden with food. Children played quiet games or looked through the stereopticon views. Little ones napped in comfortable laps, being rocked gently and lulled by the gentle buzz of talk. When dinner was almost digested and the heavy feeling was just leaving, the women were back in the kitchen preparing supper. Folks ate again, not quite as much but near enough, quickly cleared away dishes and food and departed for home.

It is pleasant to sit quietly at the end of another year and think over all the years which have preceeded it in your life time. For some that wouldn't take long while others have forgotten more than they remember. Each New Year brings heartfelt hopes for wondrous times to come.