New Years Day, 1957

by Kathryn Copeland

“Lord, child, you’re gonna be the death of me,” said Hattie Mae Hicks, our housekeeper of seven years.

Hattie Mae placed her calloused palms on full hips, arched her back the best she could, and pulled her head all the way back until her dark eyes were staring straight up at the ceiling. “Um, um, um,” she said, slowly moving her head from side to side.

My eyes followed. I saw the wet globs of white paint hanging from the ceiling, some spaghetti-thin, others like snowflakes, each exposing blotches in a soft shade of jade green, the ceiling color prior to Mother’s recent redecoration.

“Your Daddy had that painter man in this very room less than a week ago. What possessed you, child?”

“Daphne and I never get to go to a New Year’s Eve party like our parents.”

“New Year’s Eve parties ain’t for children, honey,” Hattie said.

“That’s not fair.”

Hattie Mae raised her left eyebrow. “Fair,” she said resting her large brown hand on my shoulder, “is where you take your prize pig on a special Saturday to try to win a blue ribbon. And that’s about all it is.”

“I’m sorry Hattie,” I said looking away from her. “Really, I am.”

I knew better than to blame it on my older cousin, Daphne, even though she was eleven, and two grades ahead of me in school. She had brought the confetti, enough to fill twenty paper cups with the thin, pastel circles. It was her idea to attach a string to the lip of each cup, and then scotch tape each cup to the ceiling. On the stroke of midnight, we ran around the room pulling the strings.

“Oh Hattie,” I said. “It did make a beautiful rainbow of a blizzard.”

“I’m sure it did,” Hattie said, shuffling over to the brown leather recliner, her terrycloth slippers picking up a few of the remaining paper spheres from the shag carpet. She sat down and rested her forehead in her hand. I knew it was not because she had a headache.

I strolled to the recliner hoping Hattie Mae would look up at me. I wanted to crawl into her lap as I had on many occasions. It was such a good lap, spreading out to touch both arms of the chair. I wasn’t sure if I was welcome. I put my hand on her knee.

“Hattie, it never crossed my mind that the paint would come off on the scotch tape when we pulled the cups down.”

“I know it didn’t, child.”

The winter sun was streaming through the windows. I looked at the ceiling again. Most of the long strips of tape had ripped clean, like when Hattie would yank off my Band-aid as fast as she could. But stragglers still hung, harmless white lace, floating. For the first time, I saw the handprints on the ceiling next to where we had carefully taped each cup. Well, the painter was coming back anyway.

“Hattie, I’m most sorry that Daddy yelled at you. I tried to tell him it couldn’t have been your fault. You were asleep in the attic.”

“That, my sweet girl, was the problem,” she said, reaching up to quickly touch the cleft in my chin, my Devil’s mark, Mother called it. “It was old Hattie Mae’s responsibility to look after you and your cousin. Remember when I went to the attic to just rest my eyes for a little bit?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I never shoulda done that. The next thing I knowed, hours had passed, and you and Daphne were hoopin’ and hollerin’ and by the time I got downstairs, all that paper was flyin’ every which-way.”

Hattie Mae leaned back in the chair and laughed. “You two were having a big time.”

I put my hands on the arm of the recliner and moved in closer. “Hattie Mae,” I said, “I know Daddy and Mother are really, really upset with us, but don’t you think New Year’s Eve was fantasmagorical?

“Yes, child. Yes it was.”

Hattie Mae patted her knee, my signal that all was forgiven; at least by her.

As she wrapped her arms around me cuddled in her lap, I wasn’t sure which one of us was comforting the other.

While Hattie Mae finished vacuuming away signs of the disaster, I fixed cold cereal for breakfast. I didn’t know where my parents were. I was nervous not seeing them and more nervous they might show up any second.

“Hattie Mae, you can’t ever think about leaving me,” I said when she walked into the kitchen. “I don’t know what I would do if you left me.”

“I have no intention of leaving you anytime soon, but that’s really up to your mother and your father.”

“Where are they?”

“In their room. I served them their coffee and the paper early this morning. I’m sure they’ll be up any minute.” Hattie leaned against the breakfast counter. She never sat down at the table if one of us was eating. She only sat when she was alone and doing her chores. I didn’t understand why, but that was the way it was.

“Both your brothers and their families are coming for lunch,” she said. “The ham is slow cooking in the oven right now. Potato salad and slaw is in the refrigerator.”

“My brothers? Coming here?”


“Well, damn.”

“Katie Louise, don’t you be saying words like that.”

I slumped in my chair. “All anybody is going to talk about all day is how bad I am and how I ruined the entire house and how much money it’s going to cost Daddy to fix it.”

“Yes, they will talk about all those things. Then they’ll have more grown up things to discuss.”

“Well at least you’ll be here with me. You’re the only one on my side.”

“Honey, I have to get home. I’m just waiting for my boy, Thomas, to come get me in his automobile.”

“Hattie Mae, how come you never talk about your children?”

“It’s not my job to talk about my children.”

“Maybe,” I said. “It’s not my job to talk about horses, or Elvis Presley, or Queen for a Day, but I do. It just comes up.”

Mother swept into the kitchen wearing her long, red, satin-quilted robe, swishing loudly with each step. “How’s the ham coming, Hattie Mae? Not cooking too fast, is it? We won’t eat until one, and I want the ham to be warm but not overdone.”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s fine. Gonna be real good.”

“I see you haven’t set the table. Do that before you go.”

“Yes, ma’am. I was just fixin’ to do that.”

“I can help you, Hattie Mae,” I said as I got up from the table. I heard Mother’s robe coming, and felt her heavy hand push my shoulder back down in the chair.”


Those were the last words Mother spoke to me all day. I don’t think anyone else noticed. There were eleven of us around the table that afternoon eating Hattie’s perfect cooking. Sometimes I find it easier to hide in a crowd. I wonder if Mother ever felt that way too.

Kathryn Copeland spent eight years as a music specialist in Seattle, twenty years in the corporate world of San Francisco, and most recently is the creator and President of A Taste of France, ltd., offering travelers a chateau experience in Paris, Provence and Tuscany. She is a recipient of the Michael Tollman Humanitarian Award for her work as a writer and co-producer of a television series in the San Francisco Bay area.