(Editor's Note: The below entry in italics was my journal entry of December 31, 1963. The text following that was my reflections written in 1988 and included in my book "A Million Tomorrows...Memories of the Class of '64. When the day started I was returning from a visit with my mother and step-father in Memphis. The official snowfall for Dec. 31, 1963, was recorded as 15.7 inches.}
Dec. 31 - Last day of 1963. Had to get up and take Clozell to work. Mother took me to the bus station at 9:00 A.M. to catch the bus for home. I slept on and off all the way home. Ran into snow about Athens and stayed in it.
Got home and there was already one inch of snow. Caught a bus to Bob's house. Stayed there and up Mullin's until 5:30 when his Dad brought me home.
Checked on the dance at Bradley's. It was still on. -Three inches.- Grandmother didn't want me to go but I finally talked her into it. Watched the Lee High Band in the Orange Bowl Parade at 9:00 P.M. Made some snow cream. Put on my new suit. -Five inches.-
Bob's car ran out of gas and broke down. We didn't get to go. OH. Instead watched "Operation Mad Ball" with Grandmother. Made more snow cream. -?? inches- Listened to old records on the radio. 1964 sneaked in on me. It's 2:00 A.M. now. Happy New Year!
New Year's Eve has always been the primary party night of the year in my mind. That's the one night everyone likes to go out and have a good time. They celebrate it with hats, noise makers, confetti, loud music, and singing. I dreamed of being part of a big crowd, counting down the seconds to the new year, and kissing all the girls in the crowd at the stroke of midnight.
It was my dream. Up to then I had never really lived it, but it was the thing dreams were made of. It was spurred on by the movies, and by the TV coverage of Times Square and all the other places where the crowds of beautiful people get together and have a good time. Therefore, it was important for me to make the bus trip back to Huntsville on that day. I had to be in my hometown, with the people I knew and to party with them on that special night. I had all the fun I could have in Memphis where I didn't really know anyone my own age I could run around with. There were a couple of people I met at the bowling alley, but they were not real friends, not people I wanted to see the new year in with, not the people with whom to celebrate. I felt an animalistic need to be in the comfort of my own crowd.
My New Year's Eves of the past were not all that great. When I was a child, New Year's Eve didn't mean that much to me. It was just a night when I got to stay up late. When I discovered girls, the night became much more important. It was a great opportunity to be on the receiving end of New Year's kisses. That year was supposed to be my year. I was due a special one. All I wanted was one special night when things went my way.
I remember the first New Year's Eve I spent with a crowd of people my own age and with someone I had special feelings for. It was at the skating rink, and there was a special New Year's party after the normal skating session. They furnished hats and noise makers, and in the crowd were all the girls I had ever dreamed of. It was a special night, with a live band instead of the normal 45-rpm records spinning. As the midnight hour rolled near, we all stopped skating and huddled in a large group by the band. I was with my best friend, the girl I liked, her friend, and a whole crowd of other nameless faces.
I planned my actions well. As the clock struck midnight, I would take my girl in my arms and kiss her, right on the lips. It would be a first. I had never had a real date with her. I had just been with her at the skating rink and we skated most of the couples skates together. I knew she felt the same way about me that I did about her, but that she was just as shy as I was. That night, we had the perfect excuse to elevate our relationship. Anticipation built up inside of me as the countdown to midnight and the new year started. I positioned myself near her.
We all counted: five, four, three, two, one, Happy New Year! The shouts went out. I turned. She turned. I prepared myself. She threw herself into the open arms of my best friend standing beside me. I stood in silence. Wait a minute. "Is this a country and western song? What's going on? This isn't really happening. Things like this only happen in movies, not in real life." My best friend stood there kissing my girl.
The crushing experience left an impact on my young mind. I felt like a fool, dazed beyond words. I just stood there, with the two of them together. I didn't even get a second-place hug. I was so embarrassed by the event that I didn't stay long enough to see if she would hug me when she finally let go of him. I didn't really want to know. I dropped my head and skated off feeling sorry for myself, as the band played "Should auld acquantance be forgot ...."
That event made the necessity of a really good New Year's Eve in the future even more important to me. I needed some real special memories to put that one out of my mind. So far in my life, I hadn't had any. You're supposed to kiss in the new year. That was expected. If you didn't, you were a failure. I was determined not be a failure that night. As I rode along in the bus with the other lost souls, I slipped in and out of sleep, as I dreamed about what could happen that night.
I thought about the dance that was to be held at Bradley's. All of my group planned to go. In the crowd would be all the girls I ran around with, but never got the opportunity to kiss. I thought about the hugging, the kissing, the singing, and the dancing. A great time was in store.
The impact of the snow did not really hit me initially. What did it matter if we had a little snow? That wouldn't hurt anything. As the bus rolled into Huntsville, with the snow still falling, I still failed to recognize the threat to my plans that the snow held in store. All through the afternoon it continued to fall. A quick telephone call confirmed that the dance was still on. I had the new suit. This party, these friends, this night would make up for all the others in my life that had been so anticlimactic.
I started running into difficulties with my grandmother. She was like any good grandmother and didn't want to see her grandson go out in a snowstorm for fear he might get killed in a car accident. I talked and pleaded with her until I finally convinced her, I thought, that I would be safe. Chances are, she was not as convinced as I hoped; nevertheless, she finally consented to let me go.
The dance didn't start until ten o'clock so I sat and watched the Lee High School band get the first national recognition for the new high school. I sat and watched with the rest of America as the band from my school performed on live television. Lee High was famous.
For once, I wasn't going to let the Bomb fail me. I knew it would not start after having sat up while I was in Memphis, so I already had arranged for transportation. Bob would drive. That would keep me from getting stranded. I never, not once in my life, planned on Bob's car breaking down. Why should it? It never had before.
Fate willed that in my seventeenth year I would fail to go out and reclaim the lost New Year's Eve. One more year would end anticlimactically, with nothing special to see me into the new year. Instead of the party and the girls and the hats and the noise makers, I was destined to sit at home and watch television. I welcomed in the new year, with my grandmother.
Had I only known that it was the last year I would spend New Year's Eve with her, it might have been a more precious moment. What I would give today to welcome in the New Year with her. I wouldn't even mind sitting and watching television alone with her. What a wonderful time that would be, just the two of us. How much nicer it would be if she could share it with my wife, our daughter Tiffany, and me.
Tiffany was born one week after Grandmother died. She never knew the wonderful woman who did so much for her father, who raised me much of my life. Just as one year gives way to the next, so must one life.
My missed excitement for that night was perhaps a joy for my grandmother. There was probably nothing she would rather do than to see in the new year with her grandson, except maybe see in the new year with her whole family, children and grandchildren alike. I did not realize that. I did not treasure the night the way she must have. For me, it was a lost opportunity. For her, perhaps it was an answered prayer.
If I had gone to the dance, she would have been left alone and probably gone to bed early. The one night when we seem to face loneliness the most, she would have been left alone. Perhaps she would have remembered all the other nights she was put into the same situation. Perhaps she would try to remember the last good time she had on New Year's Eve. For one last moment, she still had someone with whom to share, someone with whom to see in the new year. A grandmother's kiss does not match one from a beautiful teenage girl. At least it wouldn't to a teenage boy. To a grown man, today, it would.
We saw in the new year. Nineteen sixty-four arrived. The year of my coming out was at hand. That was the beginning of the year that would implant itself into my past and become a counting stone by which I could relate to the past. That year I would graduate from high school, a measuring date for all future time-relationships. With the old songs on the radio, I welcomed the future.
Today the New Year's Eve of 1963 seems a little nicer, a little more special. It was special with just my grandmother and me, sharing a brief quiet evening together. There were no hats, no noise makers, no band. It was just the two of us changing years together for the last time.
Should auld acquantance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquantance be forgot
And days o' auld lang syne?