“Auld Lang Syne,” the New Year’s anthem that asks if old acquaintances should “be forgot,” catches more deeply in my throat each January, as middle age brings the news that old friendships can, indeed, too easily wither from neglect.
That’s why this New Year’s Eve, in the cause of keeping old connections alive, our family drove to see Mig and Mike, a North Carolina couple we’ve vacationed with for years.
We’re mostly summer friends, our time filed in memory as a series of beach houses or mountain cabins brightened by high sun, tall drinks and long talks around an outdoor grill. But Mig was too sick to travel last summer, fighting a major illness that reminded us how precious the gift of good times can be.
She’s much better now, and we didn’t want the year to close without reclaiming the summer visit lost to us, even if it had to unfold at the bottom of December.
So we decided to meet someplace halfway between there and here, which turned out to be a small rented house near a quiet lake in rural Georgia.
Unsure whether the small towns near our destination would have an open grocery on New Year’s Eve, we brought our food along. Like most Louisiana families, we live in fear that there will be nothing to eat once we cross the state line.
Into an SUV stuffed like a biblical ark went wine and French bread, butter and cheese, pasta and sauce, jam, eggs, sausage, coffee, cookie dough, a leftover Christmas ham.
Our treasures jostled with the luggage as we headed eastward, the drive narrowing from major interstates to state highways to county roads and, finally, a gravel lane that brought us to a modest wood house shrouded in pines and darkness, Mig and Mike hailing us inside.
Evening sealed us in, and the neighbors were gone, and we felt, comfortably, like the only people in the world. To chase away the old year, we toted flashlights to the edge of the lake and lit a few fireworks, but the racket was quickly consumed by the big, silent sky, like pennies dropped in a well.
Out of grudging civic obligation, we clicked on the TV and watched the ball drop in Times Square, and it seemed so far away from us, not only geographically, but emotionally. The gaiety of Gotham was the contrived fun of youth, and it didn’t look bad, but we felt glad to be with companions who didn’t need Champagne or confetti to give us joy. Maybe, I thought, this is the biggest windfall of middle age — that if you are lucky, you keep friends who are simply happy to be with you, without agenda, itinerary or plan.
Hugging Mig and Mike at midnight, toasting the year with a tiny glass of cider before calling it a night, I hoped that the rest of 2016 could be spent just like this, within the company of people you have chosen to love, who have, quite miraculously, chosen to love you back.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.