Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 6, 2012

New Year's Eve - Little Apple style

New Year's Eve has never been that big a holiday for my family. When I was growing up, my folks usually invited other couples over to play cards, eat cookies and drink coffee. I remember sister Gaila and I - ready for bed in our footed pajamas - would watch over their shoulders as they played "Rook" or some other card game. We usually watched Guy Lombardo and his band on TV and sang along as they played "Auld Lang Syne."

About the most exciting thing that happened was that Mom and Dad would get out a bunch of pots and pans and we'd open the door, bang them and their lids together, and yell "Happy New Year" at the stroke of midnight. It wasn't as if anyone else could hear us as we lived on a farm outside town. Then we went to bed.

When Gaila and I were older, we and brother Dave preferred more current music to the old-fashioned tunes, so we watched "New Year's Rockin' Eve" with Dick Clark on TV. We stayed up long enough to see the ball drop from New York's Times Square.

Husband Art said his family didn't do much either. Sometimes they'd watch those TV shows, but were glad that the big television coverage was from New York. That way they could watch the celebration and still be in bed well before midnight.

The only real New Year's Eve party I attended was in 1991. German friends Bärbel and Heidrun were visiting us in the States and we went to dinner and danced with several other couples.

Our daughters remember when 1999 turned into 2000. That was when "Y2K" - the "millenium bug" - was supposed to wreak all kinds of havoc with computers and systems that depended on them. We hung black balloons around Art's mother's house and, at midnight, played kazoos and watched out the windows as people in Appleton, Wisc. shot off fireworks. Then we went to bed. Nothing dire happened, much to the disappointment of those who had predicted doomsday events.

In recent years, we went to Art's cousin's home, where we ate supper and reminisced. Again, not much to "write home about," but pleasant just the same.

This year, I thought it would be fun to participate in Manhattan's festivities - something we had never done. Because Manhattan, New York calls itself the "Big Apple," Manhattan, Kansas has long referred to itself as the "Little Apple." And instead of dropping a ball at midnight as New Yorkers do, for eight years, the Little Apple has lowered a large "apple" from its perch above Varney's Bookstore in Manhattan's Aggieville area.

Gaila, her husband Humberto, their daughters Gabriela and Larisa, our daughter Katie, three of her friends, Art and I parked several blocks from Aggieville and walked the 15 minutes or so to Moro Street.

It had rained and the temperature was in the 30s so, together with a brisk wind, it felt plenty cold. Gaila and Humberto had hooded sweatshirts under coats, and the girls and I were equally bundled up. Art, the Wisconsin man and always a fashion plate, wore camouflage green shorts and a Green Bay Packer sweatshirt. While the rest of us shivered, he bolstered my impression that he was from another planet by remarking how nice it was outside.

We moved through the crowd to get within a hundred feet of the stage. As we wove through the people, Art pointed out a spot at the corner of one building and told me not to step there. Evidently, someone had already had a bit too much to drink as the sidewalk had been "decorated."

The music thumped in my chest and hurt my ears.

"I think I'm too old for this," I shouted to my sister. She nodded in agreement.

"The music is more loud than good," Art said. But he seemed to enjoy it anyway as he swayed to the rhythm. Soon, I was tapping my feet and enjoying the revelry of the crowd. But we were really waiting for the "apple drop," laser show and fireworks.

About 11:50 p.m., a former mayor thanked the event sponsors and announced that Moro would be changed to Broadway for one night. With that, a youngster climbed a ladder and placed a green "Broadway" sign over the Moro one.

We counted down from 10 to 1, yelled "Happy New Year" and watched as dozens of fireworks lit up the night sky. It's quite impressive when they are that close.

As soon as it was over, we headed back to our vehicles, passing lines of people waiting to get into bars.

"Glad I'm not doing that!" I said to no one in particular.

We ended our evening by observing a Bolivian custom. Gaila and Humberto live in La Paz, and people there celebrate by eating 12 grapes - one for each month of the year. We sat in a circle, each took a grape and wished health, happiness, success and love to those whose birthdays, anniversaries and other important milestones fall in January. Then we did the same for the other 11 months of the year. In between, we took sips of Wisconsin cranberry wine.

So it certainly wasn't a big celebration, but not a bad way to begin 2012!

Left: Heidrun, Barbel and Art on New Year's Eve of 1991; right: Mariya, left, and Katie playing with the black and white balloons so popular New Year's Eve 1999 when the Y2K bug was predicted to plunge the world into darkness.

Left, Katie, far right, with friends Jon, far left, Lindsay and Lindsay's boyfriend Morgan waiting for the apple to drop in Aggieville. The bottom of the apple can be seen above the Varney's sign next to Jon's head; right, looking in the opposite direction from the left picture down "Broadway" in Aggieville.

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