Surly Girlie

Writing to figure things out and just because she likes it

Spinning: A Lesson on Ringing in the New Year


(photo above taken from


Not to sound like Sophia from “The Golden Girls”, but:

   Picture it.

      New Year’s Eve.

        Circa 1971-ish.

Milan (pronounced my-lan), Indiana—  Home of the Milan Indians, the 1954 State Basketball Champs and the inspiration for the movie Hoosiers. I am at my adorable (and fun and naughty) grandmother’s house and my brother, Chris and I, are learning how to ring in the new year from one of this world’s most delightful party girls, HER!

Oh yes. Mary Lou McLafferty Canfield, my “Grammy”, believed in partying properly with the right amount of silliness and verve and thus, I was gently instructed on how one must conduct themselves on New Year’s Eve (and other occasions but this blog is about NYE; check back in March for her lessons on St. Patrick’s Day!). 

If only I could capture with words the spirit of my grandmother’s home. To me, it was paradise. She loved the color green (she was Irish), so her living room was carpeted (always) with some shade of green. She had a green couch, and four small rectangle etchings above her couch—also green. She had two chairs: one, green, one sometimes green or sometimes red. She also had a green piano (which she also painted red at one point). Now who paints a piano, red? Or green for that matter?

My grandmother.

That’s who.

Her kitchen was also carpeted in green. These were no Brady Bunch shades of avocado either. These were real vibrant greens, the colors of moss, shiny holiday shamrocks and the like. She had green barstools, green wallpaper on her kitchen cabinets. She had a big Tiger Oak dining table with matching chairs that she had had reupholstered in…you guessed it– green. The only room in her house that deviated from the green theme was her bathroom, which was pink and red. I know it sounds a bit much, but it really wasn’t. It suited her and it suited that house, which was a place of so much fun for many.

So it is in the spirit of “the party” that I  pass along the “take-away” from her night of instruction:


I was introduced to the German tradition of eating sauerkraut for good luck. (According to my grandmother, I said if it was okay with her, I would just have bad luck. Straight-from-the-can sauerkraut is pretty gross to a seven year old! I would do anything for Grammy, so I imagine it must have seemed equivalent to eating live insects or something.)

You always sing “Auld Lang Syne” at midnight. Back then, it was with Guy Lombardo’s orchestra.

You always kiss someone and say “Happy New Year” at midnight.

I learned that to really ring in the New Year you were supposed to be obnoxious and make a lot of noise. (Grammy had us get out pots and pans and parade around the house beating on them with wooden spoons).

I learned that you can eat all night long, stay up as late as you want, and that is my kind of holiday! We always made popcorn on the stove and ate it out of this silver bowl with etched flowers around the top.

After all that learning, and watching the big ball drop in Times Square, Grammy and I always stayed up late. We would lie on the couch and watch old movies like Doris Day and Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk. We didn’t really make resolutions or talk about anything important, we just shared that time quietly.

She would sit perched on the right hand side of her green, green couch, with a green hand towel placed over the arm so it wouldn’t get worn, with her giant crystal ashtray and her cigarette and her hot pink silk jammies. And I would sit cross-legged on the floor, licking the salt out of the side of the familiar bowl. 

Now that Grammy is gone, I try to remember her in as many fun ways as possible. Thankfully, my sister has two beautiful daughters that she shares with me. Last night, we (meaning my husband Jim, and my nieces Riley and Hayden) celebrated New Year’s Eve together with our cute neighbor girls. We moved the actual New Year’s Eve countdown up to 9 pm, but it was just as fun.

The traditional foods have changed as I now live in the South, but I (the woman who hates to cook) actually braved Lowe’s Foods and made Hoppin’ John and corn bread muffins, and Jim steamed a bushel of oysters. My nieces were still up at midnight so I dragged them away from “Ace Ventura Jr., Pet Detective” and made them watch the ball drop and we all shared kisses and danced and then that was it. A new year had properly been “rung in”.

I know I will never be exactly like my Grammy. Nor would she want me to be. But last night, after the ball dropped,

as Hayden held my hands and told me that “She was the girl and I was the boy”

and I spun her around in a circle and her stick-    straight strawberry blond hair,

the hair that is exactly like my Grammy’s,  

spread itself out around her face like a flower,

and “Auld Lang Syne” came televised from Times Square

into my little ole’ living room,

a million strangers in idiotic blue hats with Nivea logos imprinted all over them

singing and swaying in New York City,

and my sweet husband watching us from his post on the couch,

and my other niece just old enough to think 

maybe her Aunt Sissy is a little weird,   I felt right.

I felt I had done a proper job of ringing in the new year.  

And while Father Time might get us all in the end, in that moment, looking down at that sweet little face,  the spirited past infused the present so perfectly that I felt as if perched upon the needle of a clock, just clicking onto the stroke of midnight, Queen of something all my own and yet not mine at all in its fleeting, in its lovely and merciless spinning.

Riley, one of my niece's, was born on the anniversary of Grammy's death. I think she inherited the "party spirit!"


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One thought on “Spinning: A Lesson on Ringing in the New Year

  1. Marcia Davis on said:

    Thanks for sharing your priceless gift with words. I was right there with you(probably in the rocking chair) You are special!!

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