I put on my best dress and some makeup, and George dusted off his suit and tie. At a time when we would normally be thinking about sleep, we drove down the hill to the bar where they had set up a large tent in the open field behind the main building. We entered to a blast of loud rock and roll music. The female lead, dressed in a silver hot pants outfit with fuzzed-out hair, screamed lyrics at the crowd flailing wildly around her on the temporary dance floor. The sides and top of the tent were strung with brightly-colored streamers, and a huge banner hung across the center sparkling with the numbers of the new year. As the music ended, the noisy, laughing crowd filled most of the tables circling the dance floor. I thought all the patrons would be young, but I was surprised to see adults of all ages.
We scanned the faces of the crowd, but since we knew no one, we sat at a table set for four and wished my sister and her husband were with us. Earlier that day, we had again driven with the children through the foggy, damp hillside to Montaldo to telephone my sister, and again we were disappointed. At the dance we bought a bottle of Spumante so we could toast them, and us at midnight. We were happy to be out enjoying ourselves for a change, and I even managed to persuade George to dance to a few slow numbers. In between, we watched the crowd, listened to the music, and waited.
A drum roll began at three minutes to midnight. As the clock struck twelve, the trumpets blared and everyone cheered, kissed, threw streamers, popped champagne, and cut into their pannetone. Along with the noisy crowd around us, we popped our Spumante, toasted each other and wished ourselves a successful New Year. Then we raised our glasses to my sister and brother-in-law. In the open promise of a New Year, Italian or American, we all united in hope.
For the next hour, the rock band switched to traditional polkas, and it seemed as if everyone danced. The old folks struggled to make it around the floor, but looked wonderful, smiling and nodding as their feet moved automatically to the old rhythms and long-practiced steps. The young people threw themselves into the music as they dashed about, laughing and calling to each other. The middle-aged couples were spryer than the older ones, but curiously, they didn’t smile as much as the older, or younger, people. Did they have to maintain their dignity because their children didn’t have any, and their parents didn’t care anymore? But smiling or not, they all participated in the traditional dances, defining themselves as part of the old and part of the new. Neither of us knew the steps to the polkas, and George didn’t want to make a fool of himself by trying, so we didn’t dance in the Italian tradition. Smiling, we watched and listened, part of the crowd, yet apart from the crowd.
Although the dance didn’t end until 4:30, we left around three o’clock while it was still going strong. Our children would be up before 7, and I had promised to roast a haunch of beef for our New Year’s celebration. As we drove slowly through the damp, cold night up the hill to Gabi, wiping the vapor from the windshield on the inside and steering through the fog on the outside, we reviewed the upheavals of the previous year—the dreams realized and the dreams thwarted. We wondered what the New Year would bring. We guessed it couldn’t be much more exciting than the one just ended.