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December 30, 1882
I have had my first journal for a little over a year. Last year at this time, the whole family stayed on the ranch (thank goodness) on account of Taffy’s imminent foaling. And indeed, she foaled on January 2, so Shasta is just about a yearling. Sunny is safely with Macy in Arkansas. Macy is not a very good letter writer, but I did finally get news last fall that Sunny and she had made it safely to Aunt Hester’s and everybody seems happy with the reunion.
Oh, how I wish I had another foal due this New Year’s. Alas, there are no foals due anywhere on the entire Circle C. Chad saw to that and timed all of the breeding to avoid the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Why? Because Aunt Rebecca had a conniption fit when our family did not join her last year for the New Year’s festivities in her mansion on Pacific Heights. Usually, Mother declines because of ranch duties, but this year she promised we would join her. So, here I am. I have sat on the train since before sunrise (for the eight-hour ride to Oakland). Then we cross the bay on a ferry and dock along the Embarcadero of San Francisco. Oops, I have to stop writing. We are pulling into Oakland now. It’s late afternoon and dark and gloomy. Rainclouds are threatening, and the bay will no doubt be choppy and icy cold. It makes me shiver.
Later that day
We are all settled into Auntie’s fancy mansion. My eyes nearly pop out of my head when I see how she has the entire place decked out. I reckon city folks don’t distinguish between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s all one long holiday. We were breathlessly ushered to our rooms. Melinda and I share a room and a bed. That’s fine with me. Auntie has invited some of her friends from as far away as Los Angeles, and the house is bursting with strangers. Melinda is a familiar anchor in a stormy sea.
“Andrea Rose!” Aunt Rebecca interrupts me in the middle of my journal entry. I would rather write journal entries than dance attendance on Auntie when she’s in the holiday mood.
I wasn’t sure I would appreciate a diary when I got it last year, but I have made good use of it. In fact, this is my second journal. Melinda presented the new one on Christmas Day last week. “I shan’t have to think about what to give you any longer,” she gushed when I opened the wrapping. I simply nodded and thanked her.
“Andrea!” Aunt Rebecca barges into my room just as I slam my diary shut.
“Yes, ma’am?” I have promised both Mother and myself that I will respect Auntie and do as she asks. It’s getting more difficult the older I get. Aunt Rebecca’s demands increase as my age increases. I’m fourteen now, so who knows what she has in mind? I look up and catch my breath. “A-Auntie,” I stutter. “What is th-that?”
Aunt Rebecca smiles. “It’s Pookie, my dear.” She jiggles the strange little beast in her arms and tickles him under his chin. “My new companion. I read lately how her majesty the queen is known for her great love of pets, especially dogs. She brings them into her home at Westminster and treats them as well as the children.” She smiles wider. “I have even employed a maid to care for Pookie’s needs.”
I choke. Then I bite down so hard on my lower lip that I’m sure it will bleed. A maid for a dog? And not an especially pretty dog, either. For sure he (she?) is useless. No matter. Auntie is auntie. “Why do you need a dog?” I finally ask.
“To follow Queen Victoria’s example. She too employs a maid for her many furry friends. That’s where I got the idea.” She hikes Pookie up and lovingly brushes his (her?) ear. “To cap our New Year’s festivities, I have asked a photographer to capture my furry friend and me, as well as a portrait of our entire family on New Year’s Day.”
That’s the day after tomorrow. Oh, what will Chad say when he learns he must pose alongside a mutt–er–dog with Aunt Rebecca? I suppress a giggle. There’s no time to ponder this strange turn of events longer. My aunt is full of orders this afternoon. After all, tomorrow night we will ring in the New Year.
“Come along, my dear,” Aunt Rebecca orders. “We have much to do before our New Year’s Eve guests arrive tomorrow, as well as the guests on New Year’s Day.”
Guests? What guests? Aren’t they all properly installed in the various guest rooms on all four floors of this mansion already? Aunt Rebecca has planned more guests for tomorrow and the next day? I wish more than ever that I was home standing watch over a laboring mare. “What do you want me to do?” I ask. I hope it’s nothing more than straightening the wrinkled coverlet on Melinda and my bed.
Aunt Rebecca puts Pookie down. He (she?) immediately waddles over and licks my shoe. Well, I reckon it’s better than licking my face. I don’t care for dog kisses from any dogs, thank you very much. “We must make sure all of our traditional customs are taken care of before tomorrow evening. Among the dos and don’ts are”–she pulls a scrap of paper from her pocket and frowns slightly–“Hmm, some of these have already been seen to. Let’s see, what did I have in mind for you?”
My eyes grow wider as she rattles off the customs. I have listed them here in my journal so I will remember to never, ever return to celebrate New Year’s with Aunt Rebecca again.
- “Clean the house prior to New Year’s.” She clucks her tongue. “The staff is taking care of that.” (Thank goodness, I breathe quietly.)
- “Take out all of the trash. Hmm, yes, Thomas and the others are tending that task.”
- “Clear the hearths so a new fire can be lit on the first day of the New Year.” She looks up. “I have set your brothers to that task, but it is not to be undertaken until tomorrow.” (Lucky them. They’ll be full of soot.) “They will be sweeping away all of last year’s ills and ushering in a new year with a clean slate.” She’s still beaming. Pookie is still licking my high-topped shoes. Maybe he (she?) likes the taste of ranch dust.
- “Make sure you have a new piece of clothing to wear, Andrea. To symbolize fresh beginnings. Otherwise, you risk bad luck the rest of the year.” I let out a breath. “Mother bought me a new pair of riding gloves. Does that count?” Auntie nods, too distracted to really hear what I am saying. I didn’t bring my gloves to the city, but she doesn’t know that.
- “We must listen to the church bells ring out exactly at midnight.” She beams at me. “To chase away evil, you know.” No, I didn’t know.
- “Oh, yes.” She smiles again. “Here we are. Right before midnight, you, Andrea, will take charge of the large fruitcake.” What? No time to ask her why. “At the very stroke of midnight, the front door will be flung open and we all shout “Welcome, welcome” to bring in the new year. Then you will throw the fruitcake against the front door to ensure a year without hunger.” I gasp, pondering the reason one would throw a crumbly, heavy fruitcake against a front door just as the church bells are ringing, but Aunt Rebecca keeps talking.
- “Oh, one last thing.” She eyes me suspiciously. “Has your mother or Justin given you money for your pocket?” My what? I don’t ask this out loud, but Auntie can’t miss the look on my face. “You must scurry off to ask Justin for the coins. Everyone, even small children, must have money in their pockets, in order to ward off misfortune in the coming year.”
I don’t ask questions. Instead, I get out of there as fast as I can. Even Aunt Rebecca cannot accuse me of not scurrying. Her odd list of New Year’s traditions and customs has my head spinning. I plan to ask Melinda or Justin or Mother what in the “Sam hill” (one of Cory’s expressions) any of those customs have to do with bringing in the New Year.
“Don’t forget to ask the cook for that fruitcake!” she calls after me.
By the way, all of the things listed in this post are true traditions from long ago, even Queen Victoria’s dogs. Good grief!