New Year's Eve has always been a beloved holiday for me, mostly since it has nothing to do with family obligations, and a lot to do with friends, booze, and self-reflection, three of my favorite things. Growing up, my family always got together with two other families with whom we had been friends with ever since I could remember. One couple are godparents to one of my sisters, the other came all the way out to Jersey from Nebraska for my wedding, something that no one in my extended biological family bothered to do. The kids of my friends' parents were close in age to me and my sisters; in a lot of ways they were our second family. While the adults made merry upstairs (on one of the few nights when my parents would have more than a solitary drink), we would be in the basement, playing games, drinking endless cans of soda (Mountain Dew, not bourbon, was my tipple of choice back then), and running upstairs now and then to snag some snacks. The best part was when everyone got together at midnight to ring in the New Year (with the help of Dick Clark, of course.) Us kids had a box of old-school noise makers, and really raised a holler with them. Those nights are some of the most vivid and happiest of my life.
I had such a good time that I would still show up to the annual party when I came home for college, although now I would be drinking beers and talking football upstairs with the adults. I did this despite being at a point in my life where my late-adolescent disdain for everything associated with myself before college and its concomitant personal reinvention knew no bounds. However, getting to participate in the New Year's party like an adult marked a true coming of age, more than either my high school or college graduation.
As I get older, these memories highlight a problem with holidays I never used to have. Namely, I'm really starting to miss the people who aren't around anymore. I don't just mean friends and family who have passed on, but people that mean a lot to me who I never get to see. There's a lot I would give to reunite all of the three families together for a New Year's party. Sometimes we get to see each other around Christmas, but that's not enough. Some of us are on the east coast, some in California, others sprinkled around the Midwest. My childhood family friends are only the tip of the separation iceberg, however.
Since leaving home at the age of 18, I have lived in seven different cities, four different states, and one other country. During my vagabond days I had the good fortune to meet so many fantastic people and make so many cherished friends. As happy as I am to be here in New Jersey with my wife and finally living together after years spent apart, I still really miss my old friends. New Year's Eve is not a holiday for family, it is a holiday for friends, and it is them that I long for more than ever this year. I want to relive the annual New Year's feast and drinking of Irish whiskey with my peeps in Lincoln, to get the grad school clan (the only other group that could qualify as a second family for me) back together for a bocce ball bbq and to see all their children who are growing up so fast, to enjoy a rye whiskey cocktail and obscure pop culture at R and E's pad in Illinois, to gab in broken German with my generous relatives in Nordenham, to get K and J from my Michigan days together with a bottle of Scotch and a trip to the bowling alley like we used to after our exhausting Thursdays, to spend a night in Milwaukee with my old Chicago roomie and pal D and his lovely wife M, and to reconvene and share survivor stories with the gang of true blue Menschen who helped me endure three years in East Texas purgatory.
Life is too short, and one of its great cruelties in our modern age is that it is constantly pulling us apart from each other to new jobs in new towns during the little time we have. With all due respect to Robert Burns, this New Year's Eve I fervently hope that all acquaintance shall not be forgot.