Word count: 1,285
December 31st 1870
I sighed. Johnny was nowhere to be found in the hacienda. He must have left quietly with no loud words or slammed doors, not even the jangle of spurs. December birthdays and Christmas passed as I watched his reactions to taking part in the various celebrations; now it was New Year’s Eve and he needed to be here.
Posadas had been a revelation to me, the mixture of ceremony and fiesta enjoyed by the vaqueros and their families so different from the subdued Christmases I experienced in Boston. Much to my surprise, Murdoch had joined in with undisguised delight, even attending the midnight mass at the Morro Coyo mission.
Murdoch laughed when I questioned his participation and told me he had lived here for 25 years; for most of the early years, Morro Coyo, with its Mexican traditions, was the only civilised township. Of course, he said Lancer adopted them.
Johnny joined in the Posada with the vaqueros, laughing and holding up small children so they could take a turn at breaking the pinatas. But had shaken his head at attending the mass at the mission, saying he and Padres didn’t see eye to eye and he didn’t want to be the cause of any trouble.
I had seen Murdoch silently pleased when Johnny accepted his birthday celebration with only a raised eyebrow and smiles for Maria and Teresa. My brother shrugged when I asked him about previous birthdays, then told us the last birthday he could remember he was just a little kid, Hs Mama had told him he shared it with St. John and she had made churros as a treat.
Yesterday, December 30th at breakfast, Murdoch announced there was to be a Hogmanay party. Johnny had looked up from his plate of ham and eggs with a slight frown on his face but his question stayed unasked.
It was while we were riding out to the east pasture to check on the creek he turned to me. “Hogmanay? Do I have to buy gifts for this fiesta as well?”
“No, not that I’m aware. Hogmanay is a Scottish tradition of seeing in the New Year and for making resolutions. I understand in Scotland it is celebrated more than Christmas.”
I could see Johnny purse his lips. “So Murdoch would have done this Hogmanay when he was a kid?”
I grinned across at him. “I imagine he would have. I wonder what he was like as a little kid?”
There was a snorting laugh. “Can’t see our ol’ man ever being little.”
I laughed out loud. “Me neither, but it’ll be good for us to have a shared Lancer tradition.”
There was no reply. He simply nodded and kneed his horse forward into a canter. I shook my head and let him get ahead. It was seven months since we had been thrown together as brothers and he was still a mystery to me. I know he has a gunfighter reputation, but I have rarely seen that side of him. What I have seen is a young man watchful and wary. I have seen our father make the mistake of issuing orders to him as if he were an inexperienced boy instead of the competent man he is. It is obvious to me he has experience working on a ranch; his skill with horses is spoken of with pride and admiration by the ranch hands.
There were times when Murdoch’s stubborn determination to be the tune caller, and Johnny’s equally stubborn refusal to take any more orders shouted at him, resulted in loud, very loud words being exchanged. Johnny then usually retreats to the barn or rides his mad off, but then the disagreements lie unresolved in uncomfortable silences.
It will take patience to earn his trust and learn how to read my brother’s moods.
The December celebrations, however, seemed to me to have opened his eyes, and mine, to a side of our father that is not just the order-issuing Patron, but a man who could, with a little herding in the right direction, show his less formidable nature.
Now here it is New Year’s Eve and the guests for our Hogmanay party are arriving but I am worried. Where has my brother disappeared to?
Luckily it seems Murdoch, Maria, and Teresa have been so busy with the preparations they haven’t noticed his absence. I know Johnny has said on more than one occasion he doesn’t like his fun organised, but this party is important to Murdoch and he expects us both to attend.
I take a breath before I mingle and socialise with our neighbours and friends, a skill learned in Boston that has become useful here in California. The polite smile on my face was becoming harder to maintain as time passed with no sign of Johnny. I could see Jelly casting worried glances my way his concern at Johnny’s non-appearance now as great as my own. The last thing the party needed was for the old man to start making a fuss. It was almost midnight when Johnny appeared looking every inch the young heir to the Lancer empire, wearing a bright white shirt and a new jacket with silver edging. Instead of his usual leather trousers he wore black trousers with a matching silver edge. I smiled to myself—at that moment he would have been the centre of attraction in any Boston gathering.
He is smiling and talking to Maria, and I relax. Then Murdoch raises his voice to bring the party to attention. “Friends neighbours, I could give a long sentimental speech about the past year which has brought my sons home. I will instead borrow words from Sir Walter Scott.” He looked over at Johnny. “A famous Scottish author and poet.” He smiled at him. “ ‘Each age has deemed the new-born year the fittest time for festive cheer.’ ” As toasts were raised I saw Murdoch glance from Johnny to me with a softness in his face I had not seen before.
I went to stand by my father. “My toast to the New Year are words borrowed from Emerson. “ ‘Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.’ ” I raised my glass to Johnny who was rolling his eyes; I smiled knowing what he thought of my constantly quoting Emerson at him.
Johnny stepped forward looking over at our father. “I don’t have any fancy quotes. What I have is my list.” He took out a piece of paper from his jacket pocket. “There is an ano nueva tradition of writing down all the bad stuff that happened over the past year and then burning it. It’s supposed to make sure you don’t get haunted by those ghosts.” His eyes went down to the paper in his hand. “List could have been a lot longer.” The scrap of paper went onto the yule log fire and was consumed by flames.
I heard him whisper, “I hope this year it works.”
Murdoch put his arms around our shoulders. “Boys, I like that tradition. We shall make it a Lancer resolution. At each year-end we’ll list and burn all our bad times and start each year anew.”
Later I as I watched Murdoch biding the guest farewell, Johnny came to stand by me his hands on his hips, his voice as stiff as his stance. “You reckon he will stick by that resolution?”
I didn’t turn but put my hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “Yes, I will make sure of it.” I felt the tension leave his body but didn’t anticipate his elbow digging me in the ribs before he skipped away, a boyish grin on his face.
~ end ~
December 2019 – January 2020
New Year’s Eve, otherwise known as nochevieja or año nuevo.
Mexico : Burn your negative thoughts – while the writing of propósitos, or resolutions, is just as common a ritual in Mexico as it is in many other countries, there is also the tradition of purifying your negative thoughts and bad energy before the start of a new year. This is done by compiling a list of everything bad that’s going on in your life, or of everything bad that happened over the past year, and then burning it. Legend states that this ensures the bad vibes won’t come back to haunt you.
Scotland : “Each age has deemed the new-born year the fittest time for festive cheer.” Walter Scott
Boston: “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.
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