Since grammar school our lives have been entwined. Hell, one of us married another’s first cousin. So, once again this year, we gathered for New Year’s to dine and celebrate our many years of friendship. We accept each others’ quirks, share in our happiness and sorrows, and share our worlds, some tales which we love and some we’d love to forget, but can’t, because someone always remembers and tells “that” story one more time.
Jerriann and Don host this multi-day celebration. She orchestrates the meals, games and festivities; he takes charge of the warm fire in the living room hearth, libations, oysters and lobsters. The rest of us contribute decorating, cooking assistance, clean-up, and frivolity. My primary job is to prepare the Eve’s special potatoes third course – truffled and scalloped, served after the Oysters Rockefeller and the lobster courses – and the New Year’s Day breakfast southern tradition accompaniment, Hoppin’ John, served in small dishes, one with a penny that bestows a year’s worth of good luck to its finder, if they don’t break a tooth biting down on it.
The evening’s many bottles of wine and champagne have dwindled over the years to this year’s measly two bottles of wine at dinner and one midnight bottle of champagne. Dang! We’re getting old and staying sober.
However, old does not mean boring. Jerriann insisted we get outside for some fun on New Year’s Day night, an opportunity to celebrate from a “different point of view” as Jimmy Buffett likes to sing. With many years of camping and Girl Scout experience among us, we bundled up with woolly hats, scarves and heavy coats, then gathered around an open fire in the sunken bricked fire pit Don completed last year. The sky was clear, the stars bright and the air calm. Perfect!
We rolled log stumps into position, sat our bottoms down, then watched Don fire-up the pit and stoke it to a roaring fire. “I’ve been wanting to do this for years and now we finally can,” announced Jerriann with great satisfaction in her voice, then presented us with bags of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. In unison, we took our metal sticks for roasting, while discussing the perfect color for a roasted marshmallow. Shouts for glazed golden brown, rich dark brown and a few for black crispy were heard.
I picked my marshmallow out of the open plastic bag. It was firmer than I remembered, the white soft sponge feel was a bit hard. But, no matter, we all stabbed and proceeded with the roasting. Next came construction of the S’mores — each of us carefully laid out two graham crackers, placed a chocolate piece on one, then with the marshmallow still on its stick, placed it and the second graham cracker on top of the chocolate, then, finally, with a solid but gentle pressure on the whole thing, pulled the stick out to create the sugary treat. Not a sticky finger to be had. Goodness, some skills just stay with you over the years. But enthusiasm quieted after we bit.
Always the direct one, but trying to be polite, I said, “Wow, mine doesn’t taste like I remember.” My mouth filled with a bitter taste, brittle, cold chocolate and dusty, dry bits of crumbling graham cracker. With eyes gazing at the ground, others around fire didn’t say a word, just grimaced as they chewed. Jerriann saw our faces across the flames, tasted hers, choked slightly, looked up to the sky for a guidance, then confessed, “Well, I’ve had everything for a time.”
Someone else asked, “What are the expiration dates?” Jerriann picked up the marshmallow bag and cracker box, squinted to read in the low light of the fire, then started laughing. “Oops. One says 2013 and the other is 2014.” Log stumps rocked as we fell over in laughter.