If it snowed on New Year’s, it would have to mean good luck. That’s what the old folks said. Or, so my motha told me.
To me, it would just mean magic: That no matter how dry the winter promised to be, we could wake up to an already sleepy town, with mellow women and hungover men; and we would move ever so slowly — ever so gently, for a change — through a brand new sheet of snow. It would mean a clean slate. A promise of a new beginning. A hidden prayer — for a better year.
The only citizens of the town still giddy from the night before would be the children. For us, the first of every year meant gifts under the sparkling pine trees in the living-room. And it meant truce, for all of us: for the tired adults, tortured by survival; for unhappily married parents; for the intrusive force of poverty, uncertainly and chaos. Truce, on just that one day. Truce.
The preparations for the celebration at midnight would be in full swing, in almost every household. Motha would prepare for it, weeks before. She’d start with a new haircut, and possibly new color on her nails. Regardless the tight budget affected daily by inflation, she’d manage to whip out a new outfit for herself.
The hunt for foods would begin several weeks before the holiday. Things would be preserved. Money — borrowed, portioned out. And just a couple days before the actual Eve, the cooking would begin.
School, of course, would be out for me; and I was expected to help out in the kitchen for that week. Nothing crucially important though: Peeling of potatoes or scaling of pickled fish. I would boil eggs and root vegetables for the layered Russian salads. I’d roast parts of chicken or grind the meat for the stuffing of cabbage parcels. I would battle with pots of rice that took forever to get soft, and then would burn immediately.
Some days, I would be trapped inside while watching pots of stews or motha’s reinvented borscht. And as I tended to the burners, I studied the darkening sky for any promises of snow. Because, despite the obvious presence of poverty and chaos in our lives, snow on the Eve would still mean magic — if not some better luck.
On the last day of preparations, motha would be chaotic. All day long, she would run out in her leather, high-heeled boots: to get her hair done, to pick-up a missing spice from a girlfriend across town; to drop off a gift to a high rank bureaucrat at the City Hall. But mostly, she’d keep picking-up “deficits”, all over town: produce, not necessarily delicacies, that we normally would not indulge in, any other time during the year.
Victorious, she would return:
“Hey, little one! Look at this here!” she’d holler me out of my bedroom.
Just by the sound of her voice, I knew she was in a good mood. I would emerge, with Tolstoy under my armpit, and find her beautiful flushed face in the hallway. She’d have her make-up done, and for New Year’s, it would always entail sparkles. The smell of crispy frost would intertwine with her perfume.
“So beautiful!” I’d think, and with my father’s eyes I’d understand the power of that woman’s witchcraft.
And then, I’d see the fox fur collar of her coat glistening with tiny drops of moisture.
“Is it snowing yet?” I’d say while motha, still in boots, would begin passing to me the tiniest jars of caviar or cans of smoked anchovies.
“I think it’s about to,” motha would respond, flirting. (So beautiful!)
And for the first time in weeks, she’d suddenly remember that I was still a child. And children only need magic, for survival. Not wads of cash, or cans of “deficit”. Not banners of protesting citizens against the old demagogues or the faces of the newest heros. We do not need untimely compassion toward the vices of our parents. We wish to know no gossip and no strife.
Just truce, if only on one day for every year. Just the simple magic — of truce.
Motha would retreat into the kitchen and immediately start banging metals. I’d brace myself for more work.
“Hey, little one!” she’d holler.
Here we go!
“You should check out that snow, outside!”
I would run out, in an unbuttoned coat. On every flight of stairs, new smells would smack my nose from every household. To call upon my friends would be useless on that last day of the year. Like me, my girlfriends grew up way too quickly and would be cooking in the kitchen until the arrival of their guests. But in magic, I rarely needed company.
I wouldn’t even go very far: Just to the lawn in front of our apartment building. I’d watch the waltz of snowflakes against the darkening sky. They would catch the light of egg yolk foam colored street lights and descend onto my mittens of rabbit fur. There would be not enough snow on the ground to make braided patterns with me feet yet. But just the sight of a new beginning — would be magical enough.
Before heading back home, I’d look up to our window and often see my motha’s face.
“So beautiful!” I’d think and understand the magic of truce, if only once a year.