At Large

New Year’s among strangers

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It was the hubby’s “brilliant” idea. For years, we had heard stories about the view from atop the hills of Antipolo, where one could espy on New Year’s Eve the entire metropolis lit up in festive lights and exploding in a riot of colors when the clock struck midnight.

Our family celebrations had always been centered on our homes, and our New Year’s revelry confined to setting off our own stash of firecrackers and pyrotechnics. With the waxing and waning of fortune, these celebrations ranged from the fairly quiet and subdued to the downright raucous and explosive. Lately, the barrage of propaganda and warnings about the dangers of firecrackers had dampened our enthusiasm somewhat, so last year we were left to tooting our horns and admiring our neighbors’ flashy displays.

And so my husband Pie came up with his “brilliant” idea. Why not, he suggested, forego our home-cooked dinner and instead have it in one of the restaurants on the higher slopes of Sumulong Highway leading up to Antipolo, and from there wait out the hours until midnight when the sky would explode in celebration?

It made a lot of sense. Our band of extended family members had shrunken considerably. One sister and her children were spending New Year’s in our hometown of Alaminos in Pangasinan, to keep company with her ailing mother-in-law. One niece would be joining her in-laws. In all, my sister-in-law Coratec counted only 12 of us left to celebrate in Manila, and so going all-out in the traditional “table groaning with delights” way made little sense. Or so we believed.

And so the hubby drove up to Antipolo and found the “perfect” spot on the dining area of Cloud Nine, a hotel cum restaurant that had a commanding view of Metro Manila below. But when he tried to reserve a table with a view, he was told that we needed only to come early on the evening of Dec. 31.

* * *

AT THE last minute, I suggested that we still hold a postmidnight gathering at home, since the hubby was going ahead and preparing our traditional morcon, while we still had plenty of leftover ham from Christmas. Coratec also happened to have a tub of frozen fruit salad with her, so our Noche Buena would be complete.

New Year’s Eve came and we decided to drive up in two vehicles, mainly because our son and his new wife decided to bring with them their pet dog “Potipot,” a black Labrador who at 10 months was still frisky and nervous, and the neighborhood pyro show could cause him untold trauma.

We arrived at Cloud Nine and found a fairly full dining area, although the crowd would increase tremendously as midnight neared, with a fairly large delegation of Koreans. The fare was passable, our favorite being the fried hito or mudfish that came with an excellent relish of pickled ampalaya or bitter gourd.

We ended dinner before 9 p.m. and faced the daunting challenge of filling up the hours before midnight. My brother Fr. Boboy mustered up a game of “Yatze” with my nephews and sister Charo. I commandeered my daughter’s iPad to play the New York Times crossword, while my sister-in-law Soc and daughter-in-law Tesh recounted the highlights of Tesh’s recent wedding.

* * *

THE hours, minutes ticked by. Around 11 p.m., I picked a spot with a good view and waited for the show to begin, but then a waiter approached and told us the table had already been reserved. Whaaat? Why didn’t they let us reserve it, then, three days previously?

Reluctantly, we left our prime spot. My daughter approached and said, “next year, we should celebrate at home, I hate spending New Year’s surrounded by strangers.” I couldn’t agree more. I missed the company around the table, missed the sharing of stories and jokes about the year past, since our conversation was being drowned out by the loud music blaring from the restaurant’s speakers. Most of all, I missed the luxury of spending the hours in-between doing as one wished, only to join everyone else out on the street as we greeted the year arriving on our doorstep.

True, the show was indeed spectacular. We saw the bursts of colors in intriguing shapes outlined in the dark sky, especially the brilliant displays in Makati and Ortigas. The voices of children drowned out everybody else’s as they screamed “ooh,” and “aah,” and “wow!” with every display. And all around us, horns tooted, along with the rather annoying blasts from plastic horns.

Midnight struck, we kissed each other, but we couldn’t wait to get back to our cars and drive the short way home.

* * *

WE FOUND ourselves driving in a mist of smoke and postrevelry debris. Finally released from his confines in the car, an excited Potipot leaped and yelped with delight. We rushed inside our house, hastening our preparations for another breaking of bread.

Incredibly, most of us were ravenous. We spooned up morcon and rice and pan de sal, along with bits of Chinese ham and fruit salad. I had a bottle of sparkling grape juice chilled, and we downed the bubbly with wishes of a “New Year and new loves,” to which my two widowed sisters-in-law joined in with enthusiasm. (I wonder why…)

I felt a warm glow spread inside me. It wasn’t just the “wine.” I was home, with my family, marking the official end of our fervid holiday season. All was right with the world. In my mind, I resolved never again to fall prey to enticements to have a “different” New Year’s or holiday celebration. Novelty was fine but there’s nothing, indeed, like being “home for the holidays.”

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