Grapes at midnight

1 Jan

We started in North Baltimore — in a greeting card of an old house with a fire burning in the fireplace and a Nerf-gun equipped posse of boys greeting us in the foyer. “Happy New Year!”

My son Doyle and our neighbor Carlos — both ten and both enthralled with anything loud — quickly shed their coats and armed themselves with foam ammunition to join this band of boys that shrieked their way up and down the staircase and in and out of bedroom doors.

This was heaven. This was bliss. This was the sort of joy with which one year should end and the new one should begin.

My daughter Leeannah and I settled into the dining room around a bountiful table of potluck. The Gypsy Kings played on speakers in the kitchen.

It was a beautiful house with good company and good food – all the makings of a wonderful night. So, it was out of no disrespect that we clock watched.

We just had a tradition to uphold.

By ten o’clock we were in my car – five of us, me and my two children, plus Carlos and his father, Roddy, our neighbors for the past five years. “Next year, we will bring you,” I promised one of the couples we left behind. “You will love it.”

We headed south to Fells Point, the waterfront neighborhood of restaurants and shops where twentysomething New Year’s revelers dress big and bar hop, some of them tottering in their high heels even before the first Champagne sip. Not the usual New Year’s venue for a mother and her two kids, plus neighbors. But this party was special.

On each corner, two or three police officers gathered. They wore thick military sweaters and woolen hats to keep warm, their guns holstered to their hips. They were settled in for a long night of monitoring the party-goers walking to and from the bars and spilling into the streets. We exchanged “Happy New Years!” with some of them, and a “¡Prospero año!” with the cop who was Dominicano.

And then we were there. Up the rowhouse stairs into a receiving line of warm hugs and holiday greetings – both in English and Spanish — we had arrived at the home of my friends, Ana and Nestor, and their annual New Year’s Eve Party.

Ana’s mother had come in from Spain for the occasion, and that afternoon I had dug into my old textbook for the right words to greet her. “¡Que bueno verla otra vez!”  She kissed my cheeks and said she couldn’t believe how much Leeannah had grown in a year.

Tradition is important to me. For five years I have come to this party. Three times I have brought my children, which makes Ana happy. Parties in Spain are multi-generational affairs where all family members enjoy each other’s company. It made me happy, too, to see her mother and my daughter clap their hands and sway together in the midst of the living room-turned-dance-floor as a multi-colored disco ball twirled light their way.

In the crowd were people that I sometimes only see at New Year’s – Bob and Claudia and Adriana and Ana Maria – and we all caught up on each other’s news. My son, meanwhile, initiated conversations with the Xavi jersey he was wearing.

Then at midnight, we scooped twelve grapes from a bowl and ate one for each month of the New Year. For good luck.

Each year when my children and I discuss our New Year’s plans, it’s usually this tradition that they refuse to abandon. “We can’t start the New Year without eating grapes,” Leeannah insists. “We have to eat the grapes!”

But like parents on a Santa watch, I wondered this December if this is the last year my kids will want to come to a party with their mother. Leeannah is thirteen. High school awaits her next year. Plus, she and her brother will spend next Christmas in Montana with her father and his family, so by the time she is back with me for another New Year’s Eve, she will be fifteen, and a sophomore in high school. She will likely want to welcome the New Year with her friends. What will their New Year’s Eve parties be like?

Hmm … these thoughts gave me more reason to enjoy this year. So, I ate my grapes, practiced my Spanish, and watched my two children dance Gangnam style with my friends.

And I made a wish for the New Year — that Leeannah and Doyle will always be as pleased as I was to count this night among our memories.

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