My wife and I will stay home, as usual, this New Year’s Eve. The new year will let itself in quietly while we sleep. This is just how we like it.

In my 20s and early 30s I used to always go to my friend Rich’s house for his annual New Year’s Eve open-house bash. He was an unlikely friend in that he and his wife were middle aged, with adult children just a few years younger than me. One of his sons owned a bar in town that I visited from time to time.

The fellow and I met through the local electronic bulletin-board community. It’s funny to think about it now in this era of high-speed Internet and social media, but in those days of 9,600 baud dial-up modems, BBSes were the way people connected electronically. Rich ran a little BBS called The Last Frontier; it ran on a computer in his basement that was connected to a dedicated single telephone line. He made me a sysop (system operator), which meant I had privileges to manage the BBS software and its user accounts.

BBSers from the area would get together once a week at a bar to drink beer and enjoy each others’ company. We called it the Tuesday Night Drinking Society, TNDS for short, the only rule of which was that we never met on Tuesday. TNDS was a real highlight of my week.

At TNDS one December, Rich pulled me aside. “Say, we’re having an open house New Year’s Eve. We have it every year. We’d love it if you came. We start after supper and wrap up after midnight.”

“I’d love to come!”

“Terrific! Now, here’s the deal. Once you’re invited, you’re always invited. Every year. I won’t mention it again.”

Rich lived about 15 minutes north of my Terre Haute home in a small town called Clinton. When I walked into his home, the whole house reeked of garlic. On the dining table was a large electric skillet filled with a thin sauce. “It’s called bagna càuda,” he said, pronouncing it baughn-ya caugh-da. “It’s a traditional Italian dipping sauce. It’s mostly garlic and anchovies. Here, dip this celery into it. If you’re up for a more intense experience, dip this bread into it.”

It was delicious, of course. I sat at the table with Rich and a bunch of his friends, including a priest who brought a bottle of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur with him and was sharing it around. Time slipped past quickly, and suddenly we were called into the living room to watch the ball drop on TV. It was a lovely evening.

In those days I was a disk jockey on the radio, part time. We part-timers were expected to work extra on holiday weekends so the regular disk jockeys could enjoy a break. I always signed up for the morning show on New Year’s Day. Weekday mornings get the most listeners, and I liked imagining that I was a hot morning show host if only for that one day.

I don’t think I could do it today, but in those bulletproof days of youth it wasn’t hard to roll out of bed after four hours of sleep for a 6 am radio show. It was just part of my New Year’s experience, and I loved it.

After a few years, to follow my career I moved to the big city an hour down the road. I left radio behind but not Rich’s New Year’s party, at least not for a few years. By this time I had married my first wife, and she came along as well. I remember one year it snowed hard on us all the way home. We could see maybe twenty feet in front of us on that lonely two-lane highway.

After our son was born, we couldn’t figure out how to make it to Clinton for New Year’s anymore. But about the same time Rich’s wife, who was always only lukewarm about the annual party anyway, gently let Rich know it was time to let it go.

That was 25 years ago. Since then, I can count the number of times I’ve been out for New Year’s Eve on one hand. That’s OK; I don’t think I’m missing much. But I do remember Rich’s party warmly.

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10 responses to “Bagna càuda”

  1. តា ម៉ាប់ Avatar

    Happy New Year, Mr. Grey! Enjoy reading your posts.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thank you for saying so!

  2. Patricia Jeremiah Avatar
    Patricia Jeremiah

    Excellent story. Thank you for sharing it. Heartwarming but slightly sad. Reminds me of a line from the song Big Yellow Taxi…”don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Another song from the era has a relevant line: These are the good old days!

      1. Doug Anderson Avatar

        Or from Iris Dement’s Our Town, “And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.”

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Everything is temporary!

  3. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Have to chuckle…my friends and I were saying we don’t think we’ve seen midnight on New Years Eve for about 20 years now. I’ve also heard it referred to as “amateur drunk night”, and no one wants to be driving or out on the street when that’s going on.

    Your heart felt New Years Eve story also brings up memories of times in my life where everything seemed to be “clicking” on all cylinders. The only thing constant in my life is change, especially chasing decent employment; but there are times in ones life where it all seems to come together: job, money, living situation, etc. For me, I and a few of my friends refer to the 1990s as the “golden years”. We all found ourselves living in a nice residential neighborhood near a park, all on the same block. Everyone, for once, was making OK money. We’d migrate to each other’s yards for backyard fire pits, and just to hang out. We never had to leave the block. We’d walked to each other’s places for New Years Eve, never had to get into a car.

    I think we all knew what we had, but exterior pressures like job migration, eventually had people moving hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. But, for a time, it seemed golden… It’s been impossible to recreate, just a one time deal.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve learned to recognize in my middle age those times that things are truly great. It’s a blessing, because it lets me enjoy them more!

  4. kevinallan Avatar

    I remember when 9600 baud modems were faster than I could imagine. I bought the pretty awful Amstrad PPC640 computer just because it had a built-in 2400 baud modem. It was called “portable” but “luggable” was a more accurate description and had two floppy disk drives, no hard drive, and a tiny non-backlit screen. Those were the days ….

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      2400! I remember when I stepped up to 2400 from 1200. Wow, was online stuff slow back in the day. But it was also all text based so it wasn’t as big a deal.

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