I needed a spectacular and social way to say goodbye to 2020, despite the limitations imposed by a province-wide lockdown at what can be a cold time of year. Nothing came to mind until the morning of December 30th, when I thought: FIREWORKS!!
My partner, the biggest fireworks fan I know, immediately agreed. We could put on a fireworks display (spectacular) and invite neighbours, friends and family to join us outside to watch (social). Perfect.
But, where, we thought, could we buy fireworks on such short notice? Given the limited in-person shopping available during the lockdown, this might have been a challenge but for the Glenburnie Grocery, a fantastic store just north of Kingston.
Looking deceptively small from the road, the store carries a full range of grocery items, including locally raised meats, locally prepared frozen meals and, in season, local fruits and vegetables. It also boasts a liquor store, firewood, straw and in-store produced baked goods.
Most important to this story, it sells fireworks, which we had noticed when we stopped in a few weeks ago, so off my partner headed, with both of us hoping the supply had not been wiped out by others with similar ideas.
My final words as he got into the car were: “Don’t be stingy!” He returned an hour later with more fireworks than I could have imagined, all of them carrying enticing names like screaming banshee, crazee daizee, vertigo, rainbow mine, vendetta and, appropriately enough, lock down.
Redding the house
I don’t often think about my Scottish heritage, even though my mother is named after the famous Flora MacDonald who, the legend goes, saved Bonnie Prince Charlie from certain death during his efforts to regain the British throne for his father in 1746. For her efforts, which may have involved either hiding him under her skirts or, less dramatically, assisting him escape by boat disguised as her maid, she was arrested and spent some time in the Tower of London.
Despite my general lack of attention to this part of my cultural heritage, it seems to manifest itself at year-end, when I am overcome by the Scottish custom of “redding the house.” This is the equivalent of a spring cleaning, but it happens on NYE. To Scots, going into the new year with a dirty or messy house or laundry or dishes unwashed means bad luck for the year to come.
My former father-in-law, a real Scot, took this custom seriously, not just cleaning and tidying up around the house, but visiting his friends over the course of the afternoon, bearing a gift (usually Scotch) to make sure their friendships were “redded” for the year to come, with no unspoken disagreements or hard feelings.
For the past few years, I have escaped my obsessed end of year clean-up by going away with my partner and long-time friends. We have spent the holiday in Quebec City, Montreal and the Eastern Townships, and I have returned home early in the new year, to a comfortably messy house, completely happy.
With no such travel possible this year, I was worried I might be driven to redd my house, but I was saved by the fireworks.
As soon as we knew we had enough pyrotechnics for a good show, we invited our kids to join us and let our neighbours know they would be welcome to watch from their lawns, driveways or front windows, cheered on by whatever drink they might like to bring along.
We had luck on our side. The evening was very mild, and there was no wind. My partner prepared the fireworks lineup, along with sand, a fire extinguisher and water in the event of any misfortune. I bundled up and brought out a thermos of hot rum toddies. Kids, grandkids, a few friends and neighbours we knew as well as the odd passerby spread themselves out along the sidewalk across the street from our house.
The fireworks were spectacular. Lots of big bursts of colour high up in the sky, and enough booms and sizzles to make us feel as though we were at a professional show. We stopped for passing cars and pedestrians walking dogs to prevent any undue agitation, but other than that, the show proceeded steadily for about 40 minutes, ending with a flourish of colour, explosions, bursts and booms. Everyone slowly wandered off to continue their new year’s eve festivities at home, and we retired to Carsie Blanton’s NYE online concert, still sipping our rum toddies.
Here’s how to make enough to fill one large thermos: Bring about 3 cups water to a boil. Add to 6 ounces rum (I used the spiced rum I made in the fall), 3 Tbsp. lemon juice and 3 Tbsp. maple syrup and mix well. (If you don’t have spiced rum, I suggest adding a bit of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and grated orange rind.)
As I made my happy, toddied and unredded way to bed – long before midnight, I have to admit – thinking about the new ways we have found to connect over the past 10 months, I found myself humming Eliza Gilkyson’s We Are Not Alone, from her newest album, 2020:
“Flickering flame, each soul holds high/Searching for another kindred spark/Step by step as time goes by/Until we find each other in the dark/We are not alone/We are not alone/We are not alone/ Not alone/And where two or more are gathered/We raise our voices to the sky/And together we are a family/And all the love we need is standing by/We are not alone/We are not alone/We are not alone/Not alone/Alone we’re just howling in the night/Alone, till we help each other live and love and stand for what’s right/We are not alone/We are not alone/We are not alone.”
May 2021 bring each of us what we most missed in 2020.