BERKSON: Ringing in the New Year: From Aunt Edna to Richfield Springs

Life Sketches by Terry Berkson

Ringing in the New Year: From
Aunt Edna to Richfield Springs

Aunt Edna’s New Year’s drink of choice was a highball using Mr. Boston’s rye, Canada Dry ginger ale and a piece of orange peel.

I used to keep my Aunt Edna company on New Year’s Eve because her husband, Dave, always drove a taxi on that night. He’d sacrifice being home with his wife because in New York City the tips would be especially good and he would make a lot of needed money. My aunt would tune the television to Guy Lombardo (I secretly called him Guy Lumbago), whose band was playing at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. At 12 years old I thought the program was corny and would have welcomed some of Alan Fried’s Rock And Roll on the radio. Near 12 o’clock, my aunt would mix us a highball using Mr. Boston’s rye, Canada Dry ginger ale and a piece of orange peel, which she’d rub around the rim of the glass. I’d only get a capful of the Mr. Boston.

The television cameras would keep switching to the crowd in Times Square as a guy in the band, Kenny Gardner, would be singing the same old “Boo Hoo” song which I thought my aunt should have been singing for being left alone. Instead, Aunt Edna had her pots and pans lined up and when the clock struck 12 she raised her attic window and hung halfway out, banging the cookware together and shouting, “Happy New Year!” I couldn’t resist joining in. It all seemed ho hum at the time but, looking back, the several New Year’s Eves I spent with my aunt are good memories–-and now I actually miss hearing Guy Lombardo’s band.

Years later, as a soldier, I spent Sylvester—that’s what they call New Year’s Eve in Germany—at a gasthaus singing and dancing to oom-pah-pah music, but I wasn’t happy. I guess I was feeling a little homesick when this beautiful blonde girl came over and sat down at the table where a group of German nationals and I were sitting. It was approaching 2400 and all of the patrons in the place had been armed with various kinds of noisemakers. The blonde who was sitting next to me held a rubber hammer that squeaked upon impact. She kept bopping me on the head. It didn’t hurt, but after a while—and in spite of her good looks—it was annoying. A German friend read the expression on my face and whispered in my ear, “Verrückt,” which means crazy. I discretely looked the girl over and noticed scars on her wrists which told me that at some time she had tried to end her life. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so, I let her continue to hammer me to a rhythm not unlike Aunt Edna’s banging her pots and pans together. On my walk back to the barracks my ears were ringing. That’s how 1966 came in.

The venue for a previous New Year’s Eve was outside of Richfield Springs. I had come up from Brooklyn to ring in the New Year with girlfriend, Judy Snyder, at the Pine Grove Hotel. The place was very lively but there were no rubber hammers or pots and pans among the noisemakers. Judy and I were dancing on a crowded floor out in the dining room. Toward the stroke of 12 Judy’s father, Frank, announced that he was going to put on some kind of show. We walked out to the bar where he had all these whiskey bottles set up containing different levels of spirits to produce different musical notes when struck. He began to play a tune with a pair of xylophone hammers. Little did I know at the time that someday somebody would be hammering on me like he did on those whiskey bottles. Frank was no Guy Lumbago, but his rhythm was a lot better than Aunt Edna’s or the blonde’s back in Germany. Everyone was charmed by his rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.”

At the end of the tune my ears perked up when a newly-arrived patron called, “Gimme a shot of Mr. Boston!” The bottle stood among those that Frank had been playing on. My mind faded back to Aunt Edna making highballs and clanging her pots and pans together. Frank lifted the quart of Mr. Boston but hesitated, because pouring the shot would throw the whisky bottle out of tune. The man repeated, “Mr. Boston!”

When the bottle was finally lifted I edged toward the bar and said, “Me too, with ginger ale and slice of orange peel.
“Happy New Year!”

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