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Ushering in a New Year

Those of us who were born in the 1930s and 1940s and were raised on a farm can appreciate the difference between how the New Year is celebrated today and how it was celebrated back then.

When I was a kid, serenading our neighbors was the customary way of ending the old year and welcoming the new.

Most rural families had no electricity and couldn’t afford to own a battery radio. Therefore, listening to a football bowl games was out of the question.

Siblings young and old would dig out the ugliest clothes they could find in closets, trunks and ragbags, sometimes cross dressing to hide their sex, and go serenading. They’d cover their faces, necks and hands with lipstick and soot and wear a stocking or paper bag on their heads to further disguise their identities.

The object was to knock on doors of their neighbors and invite them to guess who their visitors were. To make the guessing game interesting, visitors would offer hints, and the guessing would continue until each one was identified.

After a big laugh, homeowners would dole out holiday goodies as treats. The treats ranged from an apple or an orange to a handful of parched peanuts or a fried fruit pie.

Some of the treats were eaten on the spot, while others were packed away in large pants pockets and coat pockets for a later snack.

The serenading lasted long enough to warm feet and hands in front of a roaring fireplace.

Visits continued, house to house, until bedtime or until the youngest tired from the walk and begged to go home, count their treats and cuddle up in a warm bed.

Shooting fireworks was another popular activity, even though they were outlawed in Alabama. They were sold in Georgia, and all we needed to reach a store that sold them was a running car and 50 cents for gas. We loaded up with silver salutes, cherry bombs and big reds and made several stops on our way home to detonate them and see how much damage they could do.

In the absence of television, we hunted a lot with air rifles, pellet guns, .22 rifles and .410 shotguns and slingshots on New Year’s Day. We spent the daylight hours – accompanied by beagles, redbone hounds and bird dogs – in cornfields, hedgerows and creek bottomland in search of quail, rabbits and squirrels.