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James R. Stout

Graffiti On The Road of Life - Happy New Year!

            I believe that one of the things we feel as we grow older is that time seems to fly by. When we were kids, it seemed like birthdays and Christmas and other special days took forever to arrive. But as we age, we start to perceive the passage of time as speeding up. Perhaps its partly because we are busier during our so-called “productive” years. But I think that it is something we don’t really see until years have passed by. Here we are again marking the end of one year and the beginning of another year. I have memories of New Year’s Eves in the past, but there are some that stand out more than others. There’s one in particular that was my favorite. More about that in a minute. There were several years in the early 80’s that I spent the incoming new year with my then wife and my sister and her husband. We were pretty sedate by some people’s standards. We played UNO, watched a movie, and ordered pizza. Not exactly party animals! I recall the evening of 1985 being saddened by the news of the death of Rick Nelson. He has always been one of my favorite recording artists. There was the evening of 1979 into 1980 that my wife and I went to see a movie with a friend and his wife. The movie was rather boring though. There weren’t many New Year’s Eves of my childhood that I recall. It wasn’t a big deal at the time. I vaguely remember ushering in 1969 by opening the back door and yelling “Happy New Year”. I probably only irritated old man Hopper next door. So far as the 90’s were concerned, we didn’t do much of anything. By then we had two kids and didn’t feel much like getting out in the crowds. Unfortunately, I remember ushering in 2002 very well. My marriage was on very shaky ground. My wife decided to spend the evening with friends in Galveston. My kids were old enough to have their own plans. I got my camera and went for a drive that night. It was very cold and windy. I ended up taking a walk down a long pier in La Porte, Texas and took some photos that captured the loneliness that I was feeling. Not exactly a happy night. My old friend Lonny Schonfeld and I spent a couple of New Year’s Eves in the 2000’s just hanging out together at the farm. Bottle rockets and a campfire, but not exactly exciting. I’ve spent most of the past 10 or so New Year’s Eves doing nothing. For most of them, I was alone.

            Back to that one very special New Year’s Eve. It was the end of 1973 and the beginning of 1974. I was still dating my high school sweetheart. My pal Lonny and his girlfriend Susan joined us for a memorable evening. First, we went to a movie. And what a movie it was for us. Although I’ve seen it many times since, it still holds a whole host of great memories. The movie was “American Graffiti”. Lonny and I loved the soundtrack of old songs and the comedy of the movie. My girlfriend and I snuggled close together and I still remember the white sweater, so incredibly soft, that she was wearing. She was beautiful in my eyes and that is how I wish to remember her. She was 17 and I was 18. After the movie we went to a pizza restaurant. It was incredibly crowded. It literally took 2 hours to get our pizza, but we had our own booth and the friendship and conversation was golden. We reflected on the year that was ending and how great it had been, and we also talked about the year to come and all of our hopes and dreams. Lonny and I would be graduating from high school in another 5 months. We were already signed-up for several musical performances and we thought 1974 was going to be the beginning of a long and successful career in music. It didn’t turn out that way, but for that night the world and all of life was in front of us.

            After eating pizza, we went for a drive in my 1968 Plymouth Sport Fury. I had also been asked to occasionally drive my sister’s car that was just sitting at our house waiting to be sold. So, when the gas in my car got low, we went and got that old AMC Rebel and drove it some. Yes, there was some parking and smooching along the way. But that’s what being that age is all about. It was the one night of the year that my girlfriend’s parents would let her stay out past midnight. But not by much! The warmth of cuddling in that old AMC with the temperature outside being quite cold made things seem so sweet. Peppermint kisses with the radio playing the current hits was something special. I remember feeling on top of the world when The Carpenters’ number one hit “Sitting On Top of The World” played through the little 3-inch speaker in the dash of that old car. At the stroke of midnight there were New Year’s kisses and wishes for the best year ever to come.

            Well, as you can see, that was a special time for me. I’d like to think it still holds meaning to my old girlfriend, but I haven’t seen her in a very long time and haven’t been close to her since 1975. I’m pretty sure that my friend Lonny has good feelings about that night as well. I never really knew his old girlfriend very well and I have no idea how she might feel about that night. For all that I know she just remembers it as any other date, or she might not remember it at all. That night was 46 years ago tonight. Now I’m 64-years-old as is Lonny. I would be a liar if I said that I don’t wish for someone special to share my days with.

            So, how did 1974 turn out? You know, things have a way of changing very fast when we are young. Our musical duet had some successes, but some hard times hit us, and we were done as a duet by the middle of the year. We tried to recapture the magic in early 1975, but it wasn’t to be. But the friendship has been maintained even though there were some ups and downs along the way. By the end of 1974, Lonny had joined the Air Force only to be injured in boot camp and honorably discharged. I know it was a topsy-turvy time for him. For me too. My girlfriend and I broke up in April of 1974 and then got back together several times over the next year. But it was over for good by early 1975. That doesn’t diminish the memories though. We were on a journey that continues to this day and the time I had with her was special. It’s just that we were young and still growing-up.

            So, I wish for you tonight a very Happy New Year. I hope that you share it with loved ones and that it will be a special new year for you. I had a few very good and happy New Year’s Eves along the way even if they weren’t quite as special as that one. Looking back on it, I think that a lot of what makes for great memories depends on our attitude. Perhaps some of those years that didn’t seem all that special would today hold more meaning if at the time I had a better attitude. I guess we never stop learning. As the New Year unfolds for you, I wish you all the best and I pray that your year is a safe and happy one.

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