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The Brand New Year

Ken Muenzenmayer

kenmuenz@aol.com


Fifty-five or so years ago New Year’s Eve was spent at my aunt and uncle’s home. 
My Uncle Ivan owned a Texaco station and raced stock cars at the Lorain County Speedway, the local dirt track.  “Pop” Hassel, as he was nicknamed, drove a red coupe with the number 36 painted in white letters on the side.  This New Year’s Eve, I remember, my cousin Tom, Ivan’s youngest son, and I pushed our model cars back and forth in the upstairs hallway while our parents played penny ante poker and drank Carling Black Label beer downstairs in the dining room.  The older cousins got to play cards, too, but we didn’t care ‘cause of the thrill of speeding plastic careening off the baseboard of the hallway and the prospect of staying up till midnight was about as much excitement as we could stand.


My Aunt Betty was one of my mother’s older sisters (she had three and one younger brother).  The whole family lived within ten miles of one another and my grandfather, Mom’s dad, lived with us.  Grandpa came to America from Holland as a young man and settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he raised his family and saw to it that we all got together on holidays and birthdays and numerous Saturday nights, a tradition that lasted until he died in the late Sixties.


Aunt Betty and Uncle Ivan had an older two-story wood frame house with a great attic that you got to by going up some stairs which were located in Tom’s bedroom closet.  The house was heated by a coal furnace in the basement.  A high point of the night was going down to the basement with Tom, who was a year older than me and actually one of my best friends besides being a cousin, and watching him shovel coal into the open maw of the furnace door.  The warm orange glow spread throughout the dark, dank basement overpowering the dim light cast by the bare 60 watt bulb at the top of the rickety open wooden stairs.  I can clearly remember Tom’s toothy and goofy grin, as I’m sure he can mine, as the fresh coal hit the fire sending sparks up the chimney into the cold Ohio night.


We went back upstairs through the kitchen grabbing snacks off of the worn yellow linoleum countertop before proceeding through the dining room,  where I got kidded by my oldest cousin, Hank, Tom’s brother, who was playing cards with the old folks.  He’d nicknamed me “Dutch” and since that time I’ve always likened myself to the little Dutch Boy who “Covers the World” on the old Dutch Boy Paint cans.


At around 11:45 the card playing stopped and all eyes were on the small black and white TV in the living room.  Our family always watched Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians because they used to play in the Cleveland area and even did summer performances at a little pavilion at the end of our street on a cliff overlooking Lake Erie, when our little suburb was a place for the city folk to get away from the rush of the city.  Midnight brought kisses from all of the aunts and older girl cousins (along with giggles) and handshakes from the uncles, while Grandpa Geel slipped all of his grandkids a silver dollar.  Sandwiches and coffee were then prepared and eaten, after which my mom and my aunts cleaned up the dishes while my dad and uncles smoked and joked.  Tom and I headed up to the bedroom and fell asleep among the piles of overcoats on the beds and dreamt of the brand new year.

enough