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Looking back: New Year's Eve steeped in magic

Halverson (click for larger version)
December 28, 2011 | 07:36 AM
The first New Year's Eve I remember was 1959.

I was 13, the only child of a widowed and fragile mother, at the turn of a new decade.

We were at the home of a neighbor, a home I dreamed of living in one day. There was a fireplace in the living room and a breezeway between the house and the garage where we played ping pong. On the second floor was the bedroom where I slept when my mother was away. I remember reading a science fiction novel there, bright sunlight streaming through the grove of trees just beyond the window.

That New Year's Eve we stepped outside on the small porch as midnight approached. The record player which had been playing Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat" was silent. It was dark, of course, and unseasonably warm for a New Year's Eve. I heard fireworks and celebratory gunshots discharged into the air in recognition of the changing decade.

For me there was a deeper meaning. It was a moment of hope; a boy's view of magic, of a switch between the past and the future. Something about the decades changing, the old year of darkness leaving, a new year ushered in by fire in the sky. I looked up, alone in thought, and prayed.

Obviously, things didn't change very much. I was still an only child without a father. I was still shy and unsure in school. In the years ahead magic would come and go, hopes and dreams would ebb and flow, happiness and learning about life would come in fits and starts. So here I am, on the eve of 2012, more than 50 years later; the new year still comes with hopes and expectations. The dreams are less revolutionary now; there's less gambled on raw hope. But then again my life is a far cry from the frightful uncertainty of my childhood. Most of my dreams have come true and those that are left are still attainable.

Now I have children and grandchildren of my own. I raised my nuclear family in a home not so much different from the one with the breezeway and sun coming in through the bedroom window. Life is larger and more fulfilling in quiet ways.

The ambiance of darkened porches and Harry Belafonte on the record player have morphed into something more grounded. In recent years, the hope has come, and stayed, and is more tangible than a New Year's Eve of fireworks and gunshots fired in celebration.

I've lived most of my life, passed many decades of change and I'm happier than expected, and relieved about how life has turned out. Who knows, maybe those magical moments paid off in ways I never understood, so subtly that I didn't recognize them for what they were.

For those whose lives have evolved less happily — especially in this time of trauma and uncertainty — let's hope for a magical new year ahead. And for those who have been fortunate, may it continue until the day when dreams are replaced with an unknown even more unknowable than the future we imagined as children.

For me, New Year's Eve remains a time of change and anticipation, a bookmark, a new opportunity for hopes and wonders. Magic mixed in the ink of memories.

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.

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