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Taken from Twenty-Five Selected Stories of O. O. McIntyre, 1930,
Cosmopolitan Magazine and transcribed by Henny Evans

"That Was Happy New Year"

By Oscar Odd McIntyre   

    New Year’s Day in Gallipolis, Ohio, where I spent much of my boyhood, was no different I suppose from that of other towns but it holds a glamour that time does not erase.
    Somehow I have a feeling I’d like to leave Manhattan’s hectic New Year’s night and go back to Gallipolis to watch the old year out and the new year in.
    Gallipolis is a picturesque little town on the banks of the Ohio. It was settled by the French and suggests Versailles in miniature. It has a public square on the river front, a leading business street, and back of that four wide avenues lined with trees whose branches interlace.
    There are cheerful, comfortable homes and at the north and south ends the town straggles off into peaceful, rolling farmlands. Gallipolis has never had one of those “Bigger Burg” movements. It does not grow. After you live in New York many years you begin to appreciate that.
    It is a substantial town of solid citizenry who sprang from those who founded it. Save for a few shacks across the creek and beyond the railroad tracks there is no show of poverty. If you go over the hill to the poor-house you find very few tenants.
    We used to look forward in Gallipolis to a “white Christmas” for there was fine coasting on Academy Hill and skating on the creek. In a like manner we looked forward to a sunny New Year’s Day for we all made the rounds of New Year’s calls.
    These calls were great treats for us youngsters even if we did, as Uncle Harry Bell used to say, have “to lard our hair and pin back our ears.”
    Aunt Annie Adams always had a platter of fresh baked cookies—spiced on top with nuts—in the parlor. Grandma Heisner gave us toothsome bits of freshly pulled taffy, and Dr. Fred Cromley gave those who dropped in a stick of red and white peppermint candy—streaked like a barber’s pole.
    Those were the days of saloons and through the swing doors we had peeps at the mysterious soap-frosted bar mirrors wishing all patrons the cheer of the season. There were pungent whiffs of other cheer—the now deceased twins, Tom and Jerry.
    Christmas decorations were still hanging in home windows, but they would be brightened up with fresh ribbon and tissue paper bells.
    There was not much business on Second Street the day before the New Year. Folks were getting ready for the morrow. It was a day everybody dressed up. Even Harry Maxon would wear a necktie.
    On ordinary days the only man in Gallipolis who would wear a plug hat was General George House, of the Old Reliable Insurance Agency, but on New Year’s Day Dunk Devac, the saddler and town historian, counted as many as ten.
    There was generally something extra in the way of entertainment on New Year’s Eve. We either had the Swiss Bell Ringers at the Methodist Church, or Ikey Kaufman, the manager of the opera house, would present some strong melodrama like “Human Hearts.”
    Afterward a few people would go to Mrs. Jenny’s ice-cream parlor, but the majority went directly home. They lighted lamps and waited in the front parlor for Ab Atkinson to ring the Presbyterian Church bell heralding the New Year. A half hour later there wasn’t a light in Gallipolis.
    Gallipolis arose early for New Year’s Day. Fleet White, the colored porter at the Park Central, held the early rising record for that day until he was crippled by rheumatism.
By seven o’clock all the town characters were at the post-office corner to greet you, for it was the custom when they said “Happy New Year” to give them a nickel or a dime. They didn’t beg. It was just one of our town’s way of showing a slight appreciation of the harmless old fellows who constituted the odd job men of the town.
    Among those we would find gathered there were Modock, the bootblack; Baz Cliff from the coal float; Jimmy Lucas, who in his cups called himself “the axle tree of the world”; Tip Stevens, who lost a leg flipping trains; Ed Oskey, who swept out the city jail; and Uncle Enoch, who mowed front yards.
    Afterward they departed for the saloons on Court Street to celebrate. “Peeney” Fox would have a chuck-a-luck game going in Andy Archman’s, and some of the roysterers from Bullskin and Yellowtown would drive in for a rip roaring time. Generally, however, the day was as quiet as a Sunday afternoon.
    New Year’s was celebrated at the churches. Each had a special program and at Sunday school the pupils were presented with oranges in net sacks. After church came the real big event—the family dinner.
    The Gatewoods, the Mullineaux, the Vances, the Bovies, the Hallidays, the McMullins, the Cherringtons, the Aleshires, the Cadots, and the Henkings had as many as twenty guests at first and second tables.
    As Editor Sibley would write in “The Tribune” next day: “every table in Gallipolis fairly groaned under the load of good things to eat.” Such dinners! Turkey with stuffings and cranberry sauce, fried sweet and mashed potatoes, pickled peaches, scalloped oysters, apple butter, currant bread, hot biscuits, thick cream gravy, fruit cake, mince pie and cookies and home-made vanilla ice-cream!
    Afterward the calls would begin. Children scrubbed clean, fathers in frock coats and mothers in rustling silks moved from one home to another.
    In the late afternoon, if the weather permitted, those who were not enjoying late afternoon naps would go to the public square to hear a band concert or perhaps an address by Colonel John L. Vance.
    It was a gathering that would seem incongruous in this jazz age; Pappy Pitrat, the old French scholar, with his heavy cane and cape; Miss Eliza Sanns, a delicate bit of lavender and old lace; Colonel Creuzet with his snow white shock of hair; Mr. Hutchinson, the hardware merchant, who wore stiff white shirts on week-days; C. D. Kerr, the druggist, whom Editor Sibley called the best dressed man in town.
    Most of these people today are “sleeping, sleeping on the hill.” It has been nearly twenty years now since I have seen Gallipolis. They tell me of a new high school building that occupies two blocks.
    Back Street has been paved. A new bridge spans the Chicamaugua. The Park Central has a mosaic floor. There are concrete walks in the public square and Billy Schartz’s cigar store is now “The Smoke Shop.”
    I want to go back again but I hope there have not been too many changes. I like to think of the tolling evening church bells, the cows being driven home from pasture, the shrill whistle of the Hocking Valley train at six-fifteen as she rounded the curve at Fox’s dairy.
    I hope the older men are still sitting out front on the big scales at Neal’s Mill at twilight and that the motor age has not forever stilled that doleful “ting-tang-ting-gg!” floating out from the anvils of the blacksmith shops.
    I hope to go over at noon and join the little crowd that used to gather around the iron pump in the lower end of the public square. And I cherish a hope that the rusty old tin cup is there on the same brass chain.
    I hope “Banty” Merriman still has a place for me to loaf in the back room of his jewelry store and that Harry Maddy will join me in one of our old walks up through Maple Shade past the fair grounds.
    I want to keep always my memories of those dead and gone days when my world was young—when Karl Hall and I dug a cave under the river bank; when Alfie Resener and I smoked our first corn silk cigaret; when Harry Maxon and I set fire to McCormack’s haymow; when Ned Deletombe and I were taken to the Justice of Peace by Constable Jack Dufour for swimming naked in the creek.
    I want to live over again a New Year’s Day on which young men and women do not awaken with aching heads and burning thirsts. I want to hear the venerable pastor of our church pronounce his New Year blessing. I want to hear Aunt Nell Bovie play the pipe organ again with those sweet, sad, rising, swelling and tremulous notes. I want to see the old cherry tree where Grandma McIntyre took me to explain that my mother had left us to go to Heaven. I want to stroll over State Street to see the little ivy-clad porch where “the only girl” and I brushed lips in the first kiss.
    And perhaps, most of all, I want to drop into Aunt Annie Adams’s for a freshly baked cookie!