By Joan Barton
It was five years before we spent New Year’s Eve in Haliburton County. Not that we dreaded the very idea of it, but there really didn’t seem to be much going on up here, and I am by birth a city girl. I liked to prove to myself annually that I could still walk in high heels and drink from a champagne flute without dribbling into my décolletage, so for New Year’s we invariably drove down to the city.
Last year though, between Christmas and New Years, we got 40 cm of snow in three days, and the radio promised more to come. Not even a party girl ignores the local weather forecast in Haliburton County in December. Mother Nature had grounded me. New Year’s would be a cozy night wrapped up in front of the fire with the dog at my feet. Just like the night before. Just like the next ninety or so nights to come. Fabulous.
Since we were snowed in, we were at home when our neighbour called to let us know that everybody on our road would over at the Legion for New Year’s and did we want a lift in his truck? So at 7:00 that night I was in my closet, looking for the right outfit for the kind of New Year’s Eve party you hitch a ride to in a pickup truck.
We got to the hall and found our places at our “road table” just as the Blackfly Boys were tuning up. This local band has been together for quite a while. Most of the crowd knew all of the Boys by name and, as the grey haired fiddler “Boy” arranged his seat in front of his microphone, several members of the audience voiced their approval of his good sense, planning ahead for that point in the evening when he wouldn’t be able to stand up. Finally the rowdies among us were firmly quieted by the lead singer, a huge man with a salt and pepper mustache, and the ensemble struck up a loose but determined interpretation of “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”
A few couples got up and shuffled on the dance floor, slowing down and speeding up as the musicians chugged through the song looking for 2nd gear. Most of us just sat at the tables, sending the menfolk for drinks from the bar and catching up on Christmas gossip. I figured we were relaxed and settled in for the night.
Then the singer announced “We’ll be doing a square-dance next.” Half of our table got up. My husband and I, and some sheepish looking younger folk, were left gawking at a suddenly crowded dance floor. The rest of our friends were up on their feet arranging themselves into squares and kidding with the band.
The first dance was St. Anne’s Reel, and they all knew how to do it! The singer did the calling, the fiddle player bounced the tune along and our friends spun and daisy-chained, broke into squares and circles and joined together again and, frankly, blew my socks off. It’s one thing to see square-dancing performed, say, up on a stage or as part of a festival: but it’s another thing entirely to realize that your buddy who picks up milk for you in town is really good at this.
The band packed the floor with three square-dances in every set, then played a few wavering pop tunes to give those of us who are square-dance-impaired a chance to stretch our legs. I would have been happy to skip the rock and roll and watch square-dancing all night but, as my neighbour explained to me, “ It’s thirsty work.” So square-dancers take restorative breaks from time to time and support their local Legion, or at least the Legion’s bar.
Finally midnight rolled around so we all took to the floor with paper hats and horns and raised a good ruckus when the balloons came down from the ceiling. After that there was coffee and Legion Lady pie, then home again in the truck, threading between snow-banks, under the stars.
I’m going to give those high heels to the thrift shop. I can’t dance in the things.