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Edward Southerland: Ringing in the new
By Edward Southerland
Jan 3, 2017
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The idea that New Year's Eve was something special was well developed by visits to the picture show during the week between the holidays. The trailer with a jolly Santa Claus urging patrons to buy books of movie passes for Christmas gifts and the declaration that “The management and staff of this theater join together to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas,” had been replaced.

Running after the previews of coming attractions, but before the cartoon was a depiction of the old year—we’ll call him “1952,” not his real name—as an ancient, tottering, old man, bent with cares, wearing a long flowing robe and carrying a scythe. He had a long white beard and looked more than ready, indeed he looked relieved, to be shuffling off the mortal coil. He carried an hourglass with only a few grains of sand left in the top half.

As the old year trudged over a rotating globe to the melody of “Auld Lang Syne,” he gave way to a bouncing baby clad in a diaper and wearing a sash reading “1953.” The kid also had an hourglass, but the upper half of his timepiece was brimming with sand. It was kind of sad, and I always felt a little sorry for the old guy.

This time, the titles assured that the management and staff of this theater wished all a Happy New Year and looked forward to providing the finest in motion picture entertainment in 1953. No matter how you looked at it, it was a touching moment.

Charged up by this moment of movie magic, I was ready for the New Year to come in. The process had started on the last day of school before the holidays when I had wished all of my classmates a Merry Christmas and noted that I would see them “next year.” I wonder why I don’t hear that one more often as it was obviously one of the really funny jokes of all time. I also would spend a little time practicing writing “1953” so I would be ready went the education process resumed.

My brothers and I would usually spend New Year’s Eve at my grandparent’s house while my folks rang out the old and rang in the new at a party at the golf club. Since it was “the” big night, we would get to stay up and watch the excitement on television. This always involved Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians on one of the three channels available at the time, and some other shows on the other two.

Being in the Central Time Zone, we saw the big ball in Times Square drop at 11 PM, Texas time. While it was not really the New Year for us, it was close enough and we usually lost the battle to stay awake for another hour.

This was pretty much the routine until high school. For teenagers the big holiday event, indeed, one of the really big events of the year, was the Mistletoe Dance. The Horizon Club, the teenage branch of the Campfire Girls and Bluebirds put on this annual New Year’s Eve soiree.

While it was not a school-sponsored event, it took place in the school gym, the junior high gym during my days, and since just about every girl in high school was in the Horizon Club, it was a school event in all but name. Striking a blow for women’s lib long before anyone had delineated that idea, the girls did the inviting, and the boys waited to be asked. If you were not going steady, and thus assured of an invitation, it was an iffy thing. Mothers would conspire behind the scenes to arrange assignations and not leave all to chance.

Even though the girls did the asking, it still fell to the boys to produce an appropriate corsage and provide transportation to the gala. The morning and afternoon of December 31 were busy times for local florists who made and delivered the gardenias and carnations and other floral offerings.

It was a formal affair, as far as that went in a small Texas town. The boys wore Sunday suits, with an occasional tuxedo appearing in the crowd, usually an affectation of some kid who deemed himself an artistic type. For the girls it was big dresses, really big dresses, dresses so voluminous they were hard pressed to fit in the front seat of a full sized automobile. These outfits would have done Scarlett O’Hara proud. They had hoops and petticoats and all manner of fillers and stiffeners and other artifices of which the male world knew little and cared less.

As my era of Mistletoe Dances ended, the first influences of Jackie Kennedy began to make their appearance in the form of less voluminous formal wear. This did much to contribute to New Year’s Eve safety on the highways for young escorts who had previously tried to drive through the night with the front seat filled to overflowing with taffeta and tulle.

In an era when proper manners were still considered a positive attribute rather than a sell out to conformity, when high school students, at least in my school, spent six weeks studying the etiquette book and writing reports on same at some time during their school career, the dance card was still in vogue.

The little card, with pencil attached, had space for all the dance numbers scheduled for the evening. The girl had filled in her name at the beginning and the end and a few spots in the middle, and then swapped names with her friends for the rest of the card.
You danced the first dance with your date and then followed the card. It was a good idea and took the guesswork out of things. There were always some extra numbers thrown into the mix, and you could arrange them as desired.

The music was recorded—we never saw a live band until the Junior-Senior Prom—and the rock and roll of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis not withstanding, the songs were mostly slow and romantic with a heavy leavening of doo-wop. Midnight brought on “Auld Lang Syne” and a New Year, which at that age had no discernible horizon, full of promise.

Happy New Year.