New Year’s Day

Updated: Jan 12

By Fred A. Reed


If we’re lucky there will be a fireworks display here in Agadir on New Year’s Eve, just like every year. The rockets and diadems and pinwheels and Roman candles would light up the city’s waterfront promenade, thrilling families and causing properly modest young ladies to shriek in mock horror.


But this year is not like every year. The Moroccan authorities have cracked down on would-be celebrants and fétards, on pub-crawlers and would-be casino high rollers. All public venues are closed down tight, and in this country there’s no discernable anti-mask movement. No discernable anti-anything, for that matter. Just tight-lipped, dare I say grim, determination.


So I thought back—far back and far away—to the more carefree days of New Year’s Days past. Back to my Pasadena childhood, to the then-mythical Tournament of Roses parade—we would later call it the torment of roses—and to its glamorous accessory, the Rose Bowl football game.


The family home was located on the West bank of the Arroyo Seco, the dry wash that slices through the city, separating its more plebeian core from the super-wealthy whose residences sheltered behind walls and fences, guarded by the fierce and snarling dogs that I later encountered as a substitute letter carrier. Not that we were such people, though. Ours was a middle-class enclave of the aspiring upwardly mobile.


Among our aspirations was to participate fully in the life of the community, and that involved—imperatively—attending the ‘Rose Parade’, if not the football game, tickets to which lay beyond my parents’ modest means.


So the day dawned bright and frosty. It was a day of destiny, for the Stanford football team was making one of its rare appearances in the sanctum sanctorum. Its rival was the University of Illinois, a US Midwest juggernaut whose roster was surely crowded with the sons of steelworkers, corn farmers and hog breeders, boy-men with brush cuts and mean streaks as wide as their race prejudice, I imagine today looking back on then.


As for Stanford, the team could only have been made up of West Coast intellectuals, upper-class swells, and the occasional San Joaquin Valley farm boy. They could defeat any opponent on IQ. Could they beat some serious proto-thugs? That was the question that would soon be answered.


Both teams, and their respective marching bands, were among the prime features of the parade. The players rode in limousines decked with flowers while the bands stepped smartly out into the dawn, snare drums whipping and tubas belching, to the throb of their respective fight songs.


We’d brought along a stepladder, and from that vantage point we could watch the flower-decked floats and the parade marshals manoeuvring into position, then moving out, past the Wrigley Mansion, where the chewing gum magnate lay, as rumour falsely had it, in a decades-long coma.


I can still feel the electricity in the air that morning. January 1 1952. Quite precisely because my mother was a Stanford graduate of some distinction, it was understood that family duty was to support the team at all costs. Little did I know, on that brisk morning in Pasadena, that Stanford would be the fate against which, ten years later, I would rebel.


No, what would actively rebel that day was the morale of the Stanford team. Its star quarterback fell early in the game to injury, but even he could not have saved the day. The ‘Harvard of the West’ went down to defeat and crept home to Palo Alto in disgrace. And the afternoon’s New Year’s Day dinner—the whole family in attendance—felt more like a wake…not that I knew then what a wake felt like.


Many years later we held a real wake, for my father. He had buried his wife, his mother and his younger son, and grown old with good grace, driving his Oldsmobile to the last. It was then that I learned what a wake felt like and what it meant.


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