I was about 5 years old when I truly began to understand that people celebrated New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I got the idea that it was special when I noticed that my grandmother would drink something called Mogen David.
It looked like a big bottle of grape drink to me. However, it didn’t smell like the regular grape drink. I thought it was wine, but it looked nothing like what some of the so-called winos drank.
My cousin, Kenny Wayne, my source for most education, had told me that a new year would start at midnight — when the big hand and little hand were straight up together.
On this New Year’s Eve morning, several of the neighborhood women had gathered around my grandmother as she was hanging her tub-washed stuff on the outside clothesline.
They all talked about their plans for New Year’s Eve night and New Year’s Day. The most important part of the conversation to me was my grandmother telling them that she was going to cook cabbage, black-eyed peas and some pork chops for New Year’s Day.
At 5 years old, I didn’t know about the food traditions, but I knew that sounded like a great meal, especially the pork chops.
She also told them that she had some Mogen David that she was going to drink. They blurted, “Oh, Miss Annie” and laughed.
As night fell, my grandmother started to prepare for bed. She never stayed up past 8 p.m. She turned off the radio, but instead of going night-night, she went into the kitchen and opened the Mogen David and poured some in a glass. She gave me a coffee cup full.
A few minutes later, she told me to go to bed. She went to bed and was solidly asleep, as usual, in about 10 minutes. I rushed into the kitchen to get the “Flit” can, actually a pump-spray can for roaches.
The roaches were easy pickings because they would scurry everywhere when the lights were turned on and I would be in hot pursuit.
After I had killed enough of the little critters, I would get an old towel, scoop them up and put them in a little trashcan. I guess the good Lord kept me from poisoning my grandmother and myself with lethal spray.
But this time, I didn’t head straight to bed. Instead, I went to the refrigerator to sneak another glass of that Mogen David. I thought my grandmother would not miss just a little bit.
When the morning came, I was in a new year, though nothing looked or felt new.
But there was a little something different. I had slept at least an hour or so past my usual getup time.
Also, I felt really, really slooooooow. My grandmother came to me, and she was not smiling. Not that she smiled a lot, but I knew something was up because she was chewing her snuff with a little more determination than usual.
My grandmother, who never was gratuitous with her words, said, “Happy New Year,” and then told me to go outside and get a switch. Dazed and confused, I asked why.
She didn’t say anything, but just pointed for me to get the switch. Somehow, she had figured out I had taken some extra Mogen David.
In about 10 minutes, I suffered a switch spanking and a scolding about “stealing” her wine. So this was what a New Year’s Day would be?
A little while later, visitors started coming by. In virtually every conversation, there was talk about me drinking the Mogen David. While my deed resulted in a spanking, most folks just looked at me, shook their head and laughed.
When the day was winding up and it was time to go to bed, my grandmother called me into the kitchen. There, to my surprise, was a coffee cup filled with wine. She pointed to it and left the kitchen.
It was the best cup of wine I have ever had in my life.
Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.