RESOLUTION NUMBER NINE
It’s the second day of the year. There are a couple of Christmas crackers still to be snapped. The last of the mince pies have been gobbled and very nice they were. Like certain scalloped-shaped cakes, they stir slumbering memory for The Mister. Christmas treats like Malteasers, Cadburys, Walker’s squirrel and stilton crisps, and chocolate tree ornaments have long since been devoured and are already forming unwanted pockets of bodily excess on my person. Requisite holiday alcohol in addition to the red wine staple—like rum for the soy eggnog, bourbon for the organic Christmas pudding from Sainsbury's, gifts of Grey Goose vodka and ruby port—has been drunk. A prettily decorated bottle of sangria mix remains unopened. Directions to just add brandy and fruit make the sangria sound suspiciously like a bottle of red wine and better left for the summer. We managed to resist the annual intake of Stone’s Ginger wine. Champagne at the New Year was not given much thought except to agree that we wouldn’t miss it. Bailey’s only rears its preservative-laden head when we are in Montauk so we avoided that car crash of a hangover this time.
A few nights in a hotel on the ocean at the tip of Long Island has, for the most part, been the preferred setting in which to welcome a New Year. Montauk was not in the cards for us this time. Old cat passing and new kittens’ arrival decided for us and we stayed close to home. We declined invitations to parties and went instead to V&T’s with a good friend on New Year’s Eve and indulged in one or a few slices of their brick oven pizza. Later the Mister and I were watching fireworks shot over the now defunct Tavern On the Green, joined by a couple of our neighbors. It was cold. It was raining. The street-wise ducks made barely a protest and from the looks of it as they sailed around the reservoir they were also enjoying the spectacle of wintry fireworks over the skyline. It was lovely.
Runners thundered past us at a few minutes after midnight on the drive below the bridle path. Some were in costume for the annual Midnight Fun Run, which The Mister and I participated in many years ago. My favorite was the quartet of ver-r-ry happy young women outfitted to represent the numbers 2,0,1,0. They quit the race where we stood at the 97th street entrance and wobbled themselves into many configurations of those numbers as they made their precarious way on the path to Fifth Avenue. Bewigged in neon-colored afros they giggled and fell all over each other. But they did manage to hail a taxi. The ‘clowns in a car’ reference did not go unnoticed as we watched them drunkenly pile on top of each other in the cab. We went back to our apartment and settled into vicarious party going while watching Tom Jones on Jools Holland’s annual Hootenanny and finally drifting to a classic episode of The Honeymooners where Ralph saves the day.
The Mister and I require only one thing regarding the New Year when we have not been able to get to Montauk; that we are near a body of water. Central Park’s reservoir served for the eve and on New Year’s Day we took the long subway ride to Brooklyn, standing at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Coney Island with a lot of other New Yorkers, and fewer tourists, to watch members of The Coney Island Polar Bears Club lead the rest of a crowd of enthusiasts—or lunatics—into the freezing ocean on the first day of 2010. Unlike the one-time, toe-dipping participants on Friday afternoon, Polar Bear Club members continue their endorphin-raising mad winter bathing every Sunday. For a native New Yorker like me, it was a welcome atmosphere, being surrounded by the generally good nature and sly humor of other New Yorkers who were born here. I can’t explain it any other way than no matter how crappy a childhood or what youthful memories lay best undisturbed, it feels like going home. And The Mister is still a sucker for a twangy New York vernacular.
It wasn’t all funny faces, gooseflesh and deflated beefcake on the beach. The Polar Bear Club sponsors Camp Sunshine in Maine and everyone was encouraged to donate. On the shores of Sebago Lake little kids with big life-threatening illnesses get to spend time with their families; a respite in a beautiful and rustic haven.
I went to a Camp Sunshine when I was a girl. We lived in Astoria, in the borough of Queens. I went away one summer to a place I suspected, even then, was a camp for underprivileged children. My mother saw a listing for the place in the church bulletin. Any cost would have been prohibitive to my parents but the free pass of the righteous had them packing us off straightaway . Our summer camp adventure took my sister and me to the Watchung Hills in New Jersey for two weeks. Uncle Frank drove us there and back. In the car with us was my Aunt Fran and my non-driving parents. Camp Sunshine was less than an hour’s drive from New York City. A nudist camp, en route, with the same name caused Uncle Frank to lose his way every time. The joke never got old. On the weekend they visited and my sister and I would be collected at the camp and we’d drive into the nearest town of Bernardsville. Years later I’d recognize the place as Kennedy-Bouvier stomping grounds and probably a town of horsey polo playing residents who didn’t take kindly to our father and uncle downing beers in the town bar while we kids were left to our mother and aunt in a laundromat on the main street with a weeks’ worth of dirty clothes.
Church deaconesses, called sisters, organized the Christian camp’s activities. Bunk house arrangements based on age kept me relatively free from the unwanted attentions of a younger sister who operated largely on wrath. There was a swimming hole—mud hole more like— that we hiked to; rows of wary urban fledglings trudging under gigantic power lines over scrappy unmarked trails through fields of cow pats . The first tentative dip and the unfamiliar ooze between my toes on the bottom scuttled any further attempts. Blasted from our tiny bunk beds at the crack of dawn by sadistic “Sisters of Mercy” we stumbled in the near dark trying to dress while the badly played trumpet bleated relentless reveille; relieved if we were not the ones chosen to empty the chamber pots of a morning.
Breakfast was a bleak affair and we looked like diminutive prisoners, shadowed under the mildewed rafters of a screened-in shed, seated bleary-eyed at long wooden benches before our bowl of gruel. I am not given to early rising still. A chaperoned field trip to a penny candy store was made bearable for kids with no pocket money when we were told we could ‘sign’ for our sweet purchases. Thereafter we were given a set amount from our visiting parents and told to make do. Fields of corn surrounded the camp and successfully prevented me from venturing too far. I was a project girl. Corn, free standing fields of it in huge numbers, was an unknown not to be traversed. Escape was an overreaching desire
The following summer I wriggled out of the camp experience. Realizing a too small bedroom which had to be shared with an annoying younger sister would be free of said sister if I stayed at home, I hit on some reasonable excuse or other—I can’t remember what—and probably enjoyed blissful solitude for a week or two, not to replicated before I was finally on my own.
Even then I was keeping some kind of record. I had diaries, pink leatherette volumes decorated with a pony-tailed teen in perky attitude and poodle-skirt. A flimsy lock was meant to be broken by a prying younger sister and I didn’t seriously begin to keep a journal until I was in my early 20s. Because I have been writing short stories for the past year I have been mining my journals for details I thought I had forgotten but which come back to me in requited light. It’s a fascinating read for me because I have sometimes forgotten the strength of my youth in order to forget the pain. As compelling, if a little off-putting, is the seeming drive to be morosely honest in my accounts.
I had kept up in my journals with admiral persistence but it became sporadic at best in the last four or five years. The most valuable thing I take away from re-reading my old journals is that writing things down in a kind of honest heart-to-heart with yourself can only be a good thing. I had already resolved to return to journal keeping, apart from the blogging and short story writing, when I was given a journal at the holiday. I considered it to be a sign from the Universe and vowed to make some notation every day that affords a glimpse beneath the surface of events, no matter the difference between that exploration and merely listing what I ate and drank of a day, what the weather was like, who I spoke to and what upset as well as delighted me at any time. The eight other resolutions I made this year can remain private and will only see the pages of my journal. The journal is resolution number nine.