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The Mast-Head: Where Have the Parties Gone?

Wed, 12/20/2023 - 16:50

Maybe it’s just that I am not on the guest lists, but, oh boy, do I miss the holiday tradition of the rollicking party. What I remember from the scene here in the 1970s and ‘80s must be tainted by time, that is, selective in the way that it makes life much more entertaining than it was in reality. But, that acknowledged, I believe that my parents’ generation had a pretty good idea of how to have a good time.

Much about the season remains the same as it was when my brother and sister and I were growing up. After the tease of a few presents on the first night of Hanukkah came the orgy of gifts under the tree, jammed into stockings, and along the fireplace hearth.

This all followed weeks of our tearing through the toy section of that year’s Sears Wish Book, circling what we wanted Santa to bring and squabbling over who got what. Sears catalogs are valuable now; just the toy section from the 1977 Wish Book is on eBay at the moment with an asking price of $24.95. The asking price for a full 1976 edition is $149.99. The cover, two blond kids in pajamas standing near a lighted tree, seems familiar.

After the business of presents was attended to, we would bundle into the station wagon to head to one gathering or another; there were also parties like this each Thanksgiving, to which kids were invited. Only our parents went to the New Year’s Eve events, and lord knows what they got up to at those shindigs.

Jimmy and Dallas Ernst had an annual blowout, though aligned with what holiday, I can’t say with any certainty. The Ernst house on Lee Avenue would fill with other artists, writers, who-knows-whos. We children ran around unsupervised. There were others, like a party the Hokansons had at their hand-built house in Northwest.

One year at the Ernsts’, as the grown-ups drank martinis and gabbed, my sister got a large splinter somehow, which Jimmy attended to, dousing the spot where the splinter had been with a dash of Muelhens 4711 eau de cologne. My sister, predictably, howled as the alcohol in the concoction flowed into the wound. I watched the procedure then ran off to get into some kind of my own trouble. We just don’t know how to party like that anymore, but I really wish we did.


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