By Richard Mabey Jr.
From the days of my early childhood on through my senior year of high school, we would always spend a good portion of New Year’s Day at my maternal grandparents’ home in Boonton. The home was a two-story, yellow brick farmhouse that proudly stood on the 600 block of Boonton Avenue. A stone wall proudly stood on the edge of the entire front yard, just about a foot from the sidewalk. It was a most majestic stone wall with a level, concrete top.
I so dearly remember the big feasts of New Year’s Day at my maternal grandparents’ home. My mom was the youngest of nine children. The house would abound with aunts and uncles and cousins. It was a joyous time, a time of innocence. It was a time when most people still had black and white television sets, there were no microwave ovens, no laptop computers, and no cell phones.
Grandma, Mom, my sister Patti, my aunts, and my girl cousins would all somehow manage to fit into Grandma’s kitchen and would be busy cooking the big New Year’s Day feast. The men would be huddled around Grandpa’s little black and white television set, watching football games. I know how chauvinist this all sounds, but it was just the way it was back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
The timing of the feast was always a bit of a puzzling thing to me. We would all eat at about 3:00 in the afternoon. So, the big feast was either a late lunch or an early supper, depending upon how you looked at it.
Grandpa Kemmerer and I had a most wonderful and magical bond. We were both drummers. I had started playing the drums when I was in fourth grade. I was in my school band from fourth grade on through all of my time at Boonton High School. Through the years, I had quite a few of drum teachers and band leaders. But, I learned the most about the art of being a fine percussionist from my Grandpa K.
There comes a moment in time, in everyone’s life, when they look at the things, the places, then nooks and crannies that they have looked at a million and one times, but in one solitary moment see in an entirely different array of colors, meanings, and abounding depth. Such a moment came to me when I was 14 years old and in my freshman year at Boonton High School.
Unbeknown to me, Grandpa K had gone to a football game at Boonton High, with a few of his fellow volunteer firemen. Grandpa saw me play the big bass drum during the half-time show. It was in the midst of New Year’s Day of 1968, that Grandpa K shared a sacred moment with me.
It was New Year’s Day 1968. As Grandpa K sat in his easy chair, surrounded by his sons, sons-in-law, and grandchildren, he took a look at his watch. The football game on the old black and white television had mostly everyone hypnotized.
“Well, here it is two o’clock in the afternoon. I better check on old Mickey,” Grandpa announced to everyone. Old Mickey was Grandpa’s beloved beagle, who had a most elaborate pen and doghouse in Grandpa’s backyard.
I remember this moment all so well. Grandpa unceremoniously arose from his comfortable chair, walked into the kitchen, and came out with a big aluminum bowl, filled with dry dog food. Grandpa looked down at the dry dog food as if it were tea leaves left at the bottom of a teacup, filled with fortune telling properties.
“Richie, you wanna help me feed Old Mickey?” Grandpa called out to me.
“Sure thing, Grandpa,” I responded.
Grandpa and I put our coats on, walked out the side door of the old Kemmerer Homestead and began the walk down the gravel driveway to Old Mickey’s doghouse. I think that Old Mickey had the most elaborate setup that any dog could ever imagine. It was a large, gated area, with a big shed in one corner of the gated area. Grandpa had cut out a little doorway for Old Mickey to come in and out of the shed. A piece of canvas hung over the little opening, so that the cold air would not intrude upon the warmth inside Old Mickey’s walk-in doghouse.
Old Mickey’s tail wildly wagged as he saw Grandpa and I walk down the driveway. Grandpa opened up the gate door, we walked into Old Mickey’s domain. Dear Old Mickey jumped wildly onto Grandpa, until Grandpa put down the metal bowl and Old Mickey begin eating his early supper. Grandpa petted Old Mickey, then began walking to Old Mickey’s shed. I followed my beloved grandfather.
To my surprise, Grandpa grabbed a big, oversized bass drum mallet. He looked at the drum mallet with a certain sad reflection pouring from his eyes. The big, pot belly stove in the middle of the shed, warmed us both.
“Richie, I’ve had this old bass drum mallet more years than I can recall. I want you to have it,” Grandpa gently told me.
I was lost for words. I could tell that the old bass mallet meant a lot to my dear grandfather. I thanked my grandfather for the endearing gift. I held the drum mallet in my hand, holding back my tears. For I knew, deep in my heart that my grandfather had just passed on something to me that he dearly cherished.
As we walked out of the shed, Grandpa heartily petted Old Mickey. We walked out of Old Mickey’s big, gated area and began our walk up the long driveway to the side door of the endearing Kemmerer Homestead. Smoke ascended from the brick chimney atop the roof of the yellow brick home.
“You’re a good drummer,” Grandpa said to me. Holding back my tears, I clenched the handle of Grandpa’s precious bass drum mallet with my right hand.
“Thank you, Grandpa,” I simply replied.
Over 50 years have come and gone since that wonderful, memorable New Year’s Day of 1968. Now at 68, I return in memory to that little, modest home atop Boonton Avenue. I would give everything I own to go back in time, for just one hour, to relive those precious and endearing memories.
Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com. Please put on the subject line: “New Year’s Day Story.”