In a few hours 2012 will end and 2013 will begin. When the clock strikes midnight, I’ll be another year older as well.
Yes, I’m a New Year’s baby. Not the first one born but a New Year’s baby nevertheless.
In turning 61, I’ve seen a lot of changes. Changes in everything including the way the New Year’s celebration. Traditions I observed are now memories as my parents and grandparents are gone and I spend New Year’s Eve with my wife and her family.
Somehow my early New Year’s celebrations were special. My one and only time all year I stayed up past midnight and waited for my birthday to start. My parents told me the entire world celebrated my birthday. For a child that’s special.
Maybe they were special because there was a sense of stability. Year after year we tuned the television to CBS. There Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians commanded center stage every New Year’s Eve live from the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
There black, white and gray images flickered, danced and partied across the screen. I never saw Mr. Lombardo and his Canadians in color since my parents didn’t by a color TV until I was away at college.
In the comfort of our living room we watched the festivities. The band played a blend of old standards. No rock ‘n’ roll played here. Men in tuxedos and women dressed in evening gowns with their finest jewelry danced and toasted each other. Occasionally the band played one of my parent’s favorite songs. They would dance.
I’d giggle, laugh and clap. Nanny, my grandmother, would pick me up and dance with me. When they could afford it, my parents bought the same hats I saw the men wearing: cheap colored flimsy cardboard layered in sparkles shaped like a top hat. It seemed all the women had the faux tiaras (although looking back at the women, some tiaras were probably real). No one wore the goofy glasses shaped to announce the year (you can do only so much with the 20th century).
The show started about 10PM. Mr. Lombardo would direct, baton pinched between his thumb and fore and middle fingers. His right hand moved swiftly with staccato movements. The band followed.
Fifteen minutes into the program the cameras would cut to Times Square and the crowd. It waved back and forth like the ocean. Spotlights sent swaths of light over the mass of people.
“Good evening from Times Square in New York City. This is Robert Trout.”
The veteran CBS newsman was the annual reporter from a vantage point overlooking the crowd. Mr. Trout was tall and thin. He sported a pencil-thin mustache accentuated the sharp features that distinguished him from others. He dressed in a suit with, depending on the weather, a trench coat or long overcoat. A fedora adorned the top of his head. The voice, deep and distinctive, pronounced each syllable, each word perfectly. Mr. Trout earned the respect of his colleagues and the world broadcasting with Edward R. Murrow during the blitz in London during World War II.
“Look at this massive crowd waiting here for the ball to drop.”
He treated the evening as a breaking news story; not entertainment. He was a reporter, not a host. The good time happened at the Waldorf. He introduced the evening’s sponsor and the network would cut to commercial. Once it ended the network was back at the Waldorf for more music and levity. They’d cut between the Waldorf and Times Square until five minutes to midnight.
Then the camera stayed on the throng in Times Square. Mr. Trout speaking as loud as he dared described the crowd, estimated its size; described the ball and the group of men tasked with lowering it beginning precisely at one minute to midnight.
The ball would begin its slow descent. The crowd cheers louder.
“Only a few seconds left till the New Year. Slowly the ball makes its trip to the bottom. 5..4..3..2..1..Happy New Year.”
Immediately the cameras cut to the Waldorf. Balloons and champagne corks pop as people hug and kiss, slap each other on the back and the Royal Canadians strike up ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
I’d struggle to stay awake. Some of those early years I didn’t make it; some I did. When I succeeded I got hugs, kisses and wishes of “Happy Birthday” from my parents and Nanny. Sometimes the bell would ring at midnight and it’d be our neighbor Tony dropping in to wish us a Happy New Year. Other times neighbors set off firecrackers and shouts of “Happy New Year” would echo up and down our block.
Regardless I’ll always remember Guy Lombardo, Robert Trout and the Royal Canadians. It’s not the same anymore. Every channel now has New Year’s Eve shows. They have “entertainers” I’ve never heard of. This morning I watched the New Year being celebrated in Australia.
No, it doesn’t seem the same anymore when New York and Times Square was the center of New Year celebrations. But I’ll always have those memories.
Happy New Year everyone. I hope it’s a good one.