By Margie Wuebker
Deciding how to celebrate the approach of a new year has never been a problem for one group of area residents.
The four couples, comprised of relatives, friends and classmates, began going to dances together not long after they married and started having babies.
Now the children are grown with families of their own, but the 45-year tradition continues for St. Henry residents Paul and Juanita Buening, Chickasaw residents George and Rosie Bruns, and Celina residents Tony and Marita Grilliot and John and LouAnn Knapke.
"We used to go to dances and dance our legs off," Paul Buening says. "That was back in the days when the kids were babies or mere twinkles in our eyes. Now we sit around the table playing cards and talking."
They initially went to Green Acres, a hall located west of Celina that now serves as home to Rockford Construction Services. When the establishment closed, the couples migrated elsewhere to the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Coldwater, the Knights of St. John in Maria Stein and the Knights of Columbus in Celina. "We had no problem staying out late and getting up early," Rosie Bruns says. "Sometimes we did not get a lot of sleep. You can do things like that when you're younger."
George Bruns recalls an unusual incident that occurred one year. The bottle he grabbed on the way out of the house turned out to be something far different than liquor.
"I reached for the bottle intending to fix myself a drink," he says. "Talk about disappointment! I had grabbed Pepto Bismol instead of the booze. It took a long, long time to live down that mistake."
Dances later gave way to house parties and then card parties with a hearty breakfast part of the post-midnight ritual. The women claim they grew tired of donning dressy clothes and high heels, not to mention the "midnight antics."
"Ten to 15 years ago we decided to start the night out with dinner," Marita Grilliot says. "We made the rounds -- Hollister's, Welch's and the Candlelight Inn. Having someone else do the cooking and washing the dishes is great."
Bruns recalls they went to Matt's Restaurant in St. Marys for several years, that is until a disastrous fire reduced the place to rubble. "Now it's nothing but a vacant lot," he adds.
The couples take turns hosting the New Year's Eve card parties which begin with a wine toast. The agenda does not include poker, pinochle or bid euchre.
"We play simple games like 31 and 'Screw Your Neighbor' because they don't involve a great deal of concentration," Paul Buening says. "That way we can gossip and solve all the problems of the world in a single night."
Games cease several minutes before midnight so they can watch television coverage of festivities taking place in New York City. Everybody sings "Auld Lang Syne" after the illuminated ball drops and the new year flashes on the screen.
"Happy New Year" echoes through the room followed by an equally hearty chorus of "Happy Birthday" as George Bruns and Juanita Buening share Jan. 1 birthdays.
"We share hugs and kisses before sitting down to breakfast," Marita Grilliot says. "The menu used to include scrambled eggs and all the trimmings. Now we dine on ham, sweet rolls and coffee."
Her brother Paul Buening chuckles, pointing out in no uncertain terms that coffee and ice water have taken precedence over other libations the last 10 years or so.
Neither illness nor inclement weather has forced cancellation of the annual observance. George Bruns and Juanita Buening sported crutches on different occasions due to knee surgery and a fractured ankle. She had to leave early several years for third-shift duties as a nurse's aide at Mercer County Community Hospital and John Knapke, a former lineman with the city of Celina, was called away from the party due to power outages.
"It's amazing that all eight of us are still alive and getting along," Tony Grilliot says. "There is bound to be an empty chair at some point in the future but in the meantime we are having a hell of a good run."
Residents of the Grand Lake St. Marys area will join people throughout the world in welcoming the arrival of 2005 later today. The observance is one steeped in tradition.
One of the most famous traditions here in the United States is dropping of the ball in New York City's Times Square. Thousands of people gather to watch the one-minute descent in keeping with a tradition dating back to 1907. The original ball was fashioned of iron and wood; the current one made of Waterford crystal weighs in at 1,070 pounds.
English-speaking people throughout the world usher in another year with the melancholy strains of "Auld Lang Syne." The old Scottish song was first published by poet Robert Burns in the 1796 edition of ":Scots Musical Museum" and immortalized by bandleader Guy Lombardo in 1929. Literally translated as "old long since," the song asks whether old friends and times will be forgotten and promises to remember people of the past with fondness. It has been said the song is one of the most popular for which few people know the words.
The food of choice varies from place to place. Southerners eat Hoppin' John -- a mixture of mashed black-eyed peas and ham hocks -- to assure they will have plenty of everything in the year ahead. Sausage and sauerkraut remain traditional fare in this area paving the way for good luck.
Folks tend to make resolutions for the new year, vowing to lose weight, to kick the smoking habit and to be more patient in the months ahead. The well-intentioned promises tend to fall by the wayside rather quickly.
The Babylonians apparently were the first to get the ball rolling as early Christians considered Jan. 1 a time to reflect on past mistakes and make plans to mend their ways in the new year.
-- Margie Wuebker