New Year’s Eve 1956
I am 10 years old – on TV Milton Berle is wearing a dress
My grandmother’s basement is full of us –
the offspring of her sons and daughters
watching Uncle Miltie, playing pinochle, preparing dinner,
laughing at Grandpa’s New Year’s eels.
On the credenza, attached by their syrupy sweetness to a
crocheted table cover are the New Year’s revelers:
Crème de Menthe
Crème de Cacao
Anisette and Galiano
Near them silent Seagram Seven, close-lipped Canadian
Club ready to salute.
Somewhere hidden in the darkness of the front cellar
behind the wall with the recessed TV is Grandpa’s wine:
red, dark, thick vino.
In warm weather, I get to drink it diluted with water
sweetened by a peach – but not now on New Year’s Eve.
At 10, I smile in stupid complicity when my Uncle Johnnie
fills the shot glasses and the whiskey falls ounce by ounce.
My uncles salute Grandpa. “Happy New Year!”
“Hoppy nee ass!” my Grandpa says, his English almost a joke.
Around 10:00 I’m hungry and my thick corduroy trousers
are stuck to the vinyl chair top.
Miltie goes off the air.
I don’t play cards, too young.
Uncle Freddie produces cardboard and pencils he borrows
from Saks Fifth Avenue.
I draw cowboys, Indians, soldiers, airplanes, battleships, baseball
players until I’m bored again.
Antipasto gets my attention.
I eat provolone, pepperoni, slices of bread; avoid the fish,
even shrimp; grab the coppacola and lupini beans.
Stuffed, sleepy in the steamy basement, I’m immobile, a lump
on a chair. I’d love to sleep.
The meal is so very late, so fishy.
The sauce, always sweet and thick is now thin and salty.
The spaghetti has turned to capellini.
The roast beef to sole, cod, shrimp and eel.
There’s not a thing I want on my plate.
Just fill my glass with ginger ale and hope for dessert.
And it doesn’t come ‘til after the New Year on Channel 4.
Carmen sings “Boo Hoo.”
Guy dons a party hat, twirls a noisemaker and a baton,
the bandleader of the Royal Canadians.
Somehow it’s all very exciting this New Year’s Eve thing.
The camera switches to the ball in Times Square.
All those people there, freezing in the winter cold.
How many do we know?
At 12, the ball comes down.
Up the cellar steps we go with pots and pans and Roman candles.
We Italians celebrate the New Year.
Someone puts a shot glass in my hand with a dram of crème de cacao.
Happy New Year it is.
Then sloppy alcohol kisses and sleep,
up in a pile of coats on the first floor of the house.
Who knows when we got home?