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Hogmaney (New Year's Eve) by Christine L. Mullen

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As this time of year passes, I begin to think of Hogmaney. Nobody knows that I’m talking about the last day of the old year.

Some of my earliest memories are of Mammy being “our first foot.” On Hogmaney, I recall, she would scrub floors, clean windows, and polish everything in sight, including our brass name plate and yale lock on the outside door.

A couple of minutes before the “Bells” sounded, heralding in the New Year, she would go outside. At one minute after midnight, she would knock on the door. Joe, as usual in charge, would open the door so she could step over the threshold carrying the customary bottle and bit of coal. We would greet each other like long-lost relatives. All the while, the nearby train whistles were blowing; boats in the river clyde were sounding their fog horns. After drinking our health from whatever was in the bottle, we would sit down to a meal of pickled beef, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, and turnip. Dessert, usually spread across the sideboard, was her home-baked shortbreads, tarts, black bun, cherry cake. When did she begin baking? Was it earlier that week?

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First footers would visit. Friends and relatives drinking to each other’s health and prosperity into the wee hours. Much of the celebrating included singing “A guid New Year tae yin an’ all and many may ye hae” or “Fur I’m no awa tae bide awa.” The parting song (as people here know it) was “Should auld acquaintance be forgotten.” I’m glad Mammy was not one to celebrate late. How did she ever put up with us when we became adolescent and stayed up all night? Many times, these beloved customs resulted in brawls, hangovers, and lost acquaintances.

I liked when we would set out the next day to visit and wish relatives a Happy New Year. We would begin at my Granny Lee’s. I don’t recall what she looked like, or maybe I didn’t pay heed because Morag said she was not my daddy’s real mammy. I do remember her being in bed with the curtains drawn. This was surely an obligatory visit, since we never sat down. Did she not like her? I recall Granny saying, “Help yourself now,” and there, from the night before, on the scrubbed white wooden table were her best gold-rimmed plates, laden with currant bun and shortbread. Having had our fill from the night before and “the look” from Mammy, we would say “no thanks.” However, Mammy could not always count on “the look” stopping Morag if she felt hungry.

Our next stop on this New Year’s pilgrimage was 15 Sir Michael Street. As we entered from the street, its elegant name contrasted with the one room smelling of stale cigarette smoke, whiskey, and Spud the dog that Auntie Aggie and her husband, Ginger, called home. How come we never called him “uncle”? How did they ever raise three children there, much less conceive them? The family bed that Mammy forbade us to go near — never mind sit on — dominated the room. Jamie Pat, the older son, put the water on for tea; Albert was at the foot of the bed, between his parents’ feet, with their black-spotted white mongrel dog curled around him for warmth. Their sweet-faced sister, Jeanie, was washing up in cold water at the black sink with the gooseneck brass faucet.

From there, we would head west onto Roxborough Street to the end, then north to Orangefield and past St. Patrick’s, Dr. Mill’s house, and the Kirk. At the top, when you looked right down Bicycle Brae, you could see the cemetery. Looking up to the left, you could see Granny’s big back-room windows. I tried to take a picture of that last time I was home, but I didn’t quite get all that I wanted into it. That area is often the backdrop to my dreams before I get lost. I thought bringing back a snapshot might help me find my way in my dreams.

By the time we’d gotten to Granny Murphy’s, all the walking had made me hungry. I remember Mammy saying she was needing a cup of tea. Joe would run ahead, all the way, from Bicycle Brae up Murdieson Street to 119 Wellington Street, wait until we came into view, then disappear into the gray stone tenement and up the five flights. He liked to get there ahead of us, to be first.

After tea and sandwiches, Auntie Rose and Uncle James would begin their singsong. Auntie Rose would sing Vera Lynn songs or reenact some cabaret routines from her short-lived stage career. Without the spine injury, she maybe would have been famous. I think Mammy’s voice, always clear and melodious, was better than either of theirs, probably because she never smoked. She could harmonize with either or both of them. Did Uncle James ever have lessons in tap dancing? He had lots of rhythm in his body.

Was it because they ran later than the buses that we took the train home New Year’s night, or was it because we walked one way so we could afford the train ride home?

 

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