Death, Sparklers & Knights in Shining Armor

My brother Michael and I sharing a birthday cake in 1967. My brother Michael and I sharing a birthday cake in 1967.

I’ve always had a weird relationship with New Years, fireworks and the end of the year in general. You can honestly say it’s complicated. It’s a weird mix of happy memories, bad memories and often a lot of stress. I’m always glad when the new year does arrive  because it signals the end what used to be a much more complicated than normal holiday season because it was also birthday time for almost everyone I’m related to (my mother had the good grace to be born in September thank goodness). My dad began the cycle on the day after Christmas, my brother’s birthday was New Year’s day, mine is January 3rd, my ex mother-in-law’s was January 4th, and my grandmother’s was January 5th. I’m divorced now, so I don’t have to worry about the MIL and as of two years ago everyone else I just mentioned has passed away, including my younger brother (in December 2011). I’ve always associated the end of the year with death and my brother dying in December 2011 and then my favorite cousin passing in December 2012 didn’t help my association. And Christmas was always a huge production at our house because my dad worked in retail. Which was great when I was too little to have to worry about choosing gifts, but quickly became very stressful.




When my brother and I were growing up, New Year’s Eve was always a big night for our family. We celebrated all three birthdays in high style at one of the fanciest, and most over the top restaurants in Houston, Sonny Look’s “Sir-Loin” House on South Main across from the Astrodome. It was a medieval themed restaurant, it’s sign was a life sized statue of a knight on a horse, and on New Year’s Eve they had a real knight in armor on horseback strolling through the grounds. They had flavored (real!) butters, I would get to drink Shirley Temples and Roy Rogers (which spawned a lifelong love for grenadine) and my birthday dinner was always lobster. For dessert my parents would have them bring out a cake with sparklers on it. When I was a teenager I proclaimed that I hoped they didn’t bring out the sparklers that year because it kind of embarrassed me, and I never had sparklers on my cake again. I was very disappointed. And I think my brother was pissed at me because he liked the pyrotechnics. I also would get my birthday presents on New Year’s Day when my brother got his, which was both great and a little weird.


Playing with birthday gifts, 1971 Playing with birthday gifts, 1971 My first real fireworks shoot with a pro camera and tripod, New Year's Eve 2012 in New Orleans My first real fireworks shoot with a pro camera and tripod, New Year’s Eve 2012 in New Orleans



I also really love big, professional fireworks displays even though the noise was always painful to my sensitive ears the light show was worth it. (Though I despise firecrackers and things that just make noise and don’t created a sky full of sparkling color). I think they may have shot some fireworks off around the restaurant and the Dome area but most of our fireworks were viewed in our neighborhood, at Westbury Square on the Fourth of July.  And in my later teens at Sharpstown Mall.  After I moved out on my own my fireworks viewing was always kind of scattershot, depending on whether I had to work that night and if I could even find a decent fireworks display (they kind of died down in popularity in the 80’s).  I never was one to go looking for huge parties on New Year’s Eve, I always just looked for the fireworks displays.







For my last few years in Houston, before I got divorced and moved to New Orleans, New Year’s Eve signified the busiest night of the year at my job – as a 9-1-1 operator for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. It was the one night we were fully staffed and it would literally be non-stop calls until almost the end of my shift in the morning. I think the busiest year we had almost 100 calls in the queue to be answered, the bulk of it people calling to complain about loud music or people shooting in the air.




Fireworks in the rain in my neighborhood last night Fireworks in the rain in my neighborhood last night



And then in 2011 I moved to New Orleans. Which has two of the highest rated firework displays in the country for New Year’s and the Fourth of July. I’ve managed to see all of them till last night, when the rain, cold weather and a sore throat convinced me to stay at home. My friend kept telling me they shot a ton of fireworks off in our neighborhood, and she wasn’t kidding. As soon as it got dark last night I could hear them going off, and closer to midnight several people surrounding me set off impressive amounts of aerial fireworks, which continued sporadically after that till almost four in the morning. I managed to stand out in the rain long enough to get a few hand held shots with my RX100, but not the normal long exposures on a tripod that I’ve gotten the last few years.




My brother and dad on our front porch, late 1970's. My brother and dad on our front porch, late 1970’s.



My brother Michael would have been 49 today, I miss him and my father terribly (and my poor cousin, who was a year or so older than me). All of the places and people I celebrated my birthdays with growing up are gone now. So New Year’s will always be a bag of mixed feelings for me, and I’m always relieved when the new year finally begins because it really has always been a new beginning for me.  And Friday I’ll be another year older. But life goes on, with or without sparklers.


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