It seems like just yesterday, I sat around the wood burning stove in the kitchen with my sister and parents listening to our floor-standing RCA radio dialed to the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration culminating with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians playing “Auld Lang Syne” at the stroke of midnight. Lombardo played what he called the “Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven” which everyone nationwide danced to on New Year’s Eve.
On one hand, it seems like it was just yesterday my childhood memories were born, and yet, on the other hand some of those memories appear so far out on the horizon of reality that time has somehow blocked them from my inner thoughts; but for some reason, this holiday season remanded me of an old friend, Freddie Austin.
Lombardo just finished his official ringing in of the New Year. We were all getting ready for bed when a LOUD voice was yelling, “Happy New Year,” in front of our door. Dad opened the door and Freddie Austin was standing there with a bottle of wine in one hand and a bag with Italian bread and salami in the other. I’ve mention him several times over the years. He was a hobo in his 50s, leather skin, slender but all muscle and about 5 feet and 4 inches tall. He had no education past the second grade, similar to my father, and yet, he was the smartest and hardest working man in the neighborhood. He always slept outdoors in the hobo camp and rarely visited anyone in their homes. He was a true friend and always welcomed in our home.
When I was child growing up, I loved salami on hard bread with kosher pickles. Why, I don’t know. After two years in the hospital, this was my first New Years at home since I had Polio. But, while I was in the hospital Freddie would send me salami, kosher pickles and a bottle of wine for the nurses at least once a month. It was almost traditional.
Dad opened the cherry, poured small amounts in our copper cups and placed them on the outside edge of the stove to warm. Mom sliced the bread, cut the salami and brought out the horseradish. But where were the kosher pickles?
Freddie smiled, went next door and brought Mrs. Gabowitz over with her own canned Koshered pickles. By that time my Asian friends at the Chinese Laundry came with all kinds of treats and delicacies. It was like a welcome home party at midnight.
It seems like just yesterday. It’s as if nothing happened between the 70 years of experience, time and memory. And yet, it seems so far away and out reach of reality. Have a Happy New Year.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist.