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Looking back on times gone by

Although The Legal Genealogist grew up practically in the shadow of the Empire State Building and has spent more years in the center of the Garden State than anyone should have to admit to, there’s one thing that’s not on the “been there-done that” list.

I’ve never been to Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Now considering that the forecast for December 31 in New York City this year is an icy rain or even snow and temperatures in the very low 30s, it’s a pretty sure bet that this isn’t a check box that’s likely to get checked this year.

In fact, considering that my aversion to the cold is practically religious (I’m devoutly opposed to ice, snow, cold fingers and toes, and even cold noses), it’s a pretty sure bet that this isn’t a check box that’s likely ever to get checked.

Nope, the idea of getting into the city hours and hours in advance, and standing around in a throng of as many as a million people, in an area where there are no — not one — zero — porta-potties anywhere and where you lose your place in the crowd if you have to leave to find a rest room … well, let’s just say no.

This is not my idea of fun. No, no, no, no, no. And if that’s not clear enough, we can escalate it to hell no.

It’s at least theoretically possible that one year I’ll consider joining the throngs of New Year’s celebrants in a more — shall we say — hospitable climate. It’d be high summer in Sydney. And a whole heap warmer in Honolulu than in New York.

But the far likelier scenario is that I’ll celebrate in the future the way my family did in the past — basically, as homebodies.

I will ring in the New Year in the quiet and warmth of my own home and not regret a second of the fact that it will be in the quiet and warmth.

Except… except…

Except for the fact there once was a time when things were — to put it mildly — not quiet and not even warm.

And that’s a time I can’t help but miss, with all my heart.

All the years when I was growing up, the family across the street from us were our special friends, the Bertins. Gerry was a professor of romance languages at Rutgers, Tudi was a second mother to us all. Their oldest son Joel was the same age as my older sister, their second son Micah just a bit older than I am, and their daughter Anne only 11 days older than my younger sister. We were all pretty much thick as thieves, younger siblings included.

And any time we were all home on New Year’s Eve, within about a nanosecond of the clock striking midnight, the door of the Bertin home would burst open and they’d all come swooping across to our house, banging pots and pans and yelling loudly enough to wake the dead.

We of course would open our door to see what all the commotion was… and they’d bring the celebration — and the pots and pans — into our house, adding to the fun by throwing matzoh balls at anybody who stood still long enough to be a target.

Now I get the fact that making noise to scare away bad spirits is a big part of New Year’s traditions around the world.1 — and it was something the whole kazillion kids from both sides of the street could join in on.

Throwing matzoh balls? Well, let’s just say I couldn’t find that on any list of New Year’s traditions outside of, it seems, the street where I grew up — although throwing pots and pans out the window is apparently a thing in Italy.2

And, every year, as that clock ticks down, I think back with enormous fondness to that time when things were more than a little noisy and the open doors of two houses across the street from each other let in the cold.

NYE countdown

I know too well now that what it wasn’t the noise or the excitement or even the matzoh balls that made that moment so special every year.

It wasn’t the relief of ushering out a year that may have been more difficult or challenging than we’d hoped.

It wasn’t the anticipation of ushering in a new one, with the blank slate and hopes for something better that it might bring.

No, the thing that made that moment so special every year was very simple.

It was the people.

The simple pleasure of being with good friends and family.

The abiding joy of being loved and sharing that love with those most dear.

The deep comfort of knowing that, at that place, in that moment, all was well with the world.

I’d give a great deal to have that front door bang open again on Monday night as the clock hits midnight.

To hear those voices raised and those pots and pans being banged.

Even to dodge a few matzoh balls.

And to share one more moment with those good friends and family… now gone or scattered to the winds.



  1. See “Celebrations, Customs and Traditions of New Year,” The Holiday Spot ( : accessed 21 Dec 2018).
  2. See e.g. “10 Unusual New Years’ Eve Traditions from Around the World,” Imaginative Traveller ( : accessed 21 Dec 2018).
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