FINDING 50: Like It’s 1999!

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Ghent, NY  I  Saturday, 31 December 2016

In April of this year, when Prince died, I played his music like crazy. His album, Purple Rain, was new when I was a senior in high school and it was pretty much the anthem of our Friday nights, cruising around the Hudson boat docks, trying to find people to hang out with. Guys from Germantown, guys from Chatham, we met them all to the strains of Purple Rain.

But in 1982, two years before Purple Rain, Prince came out with an album called 1999. It seemed so far away, the year 1999, we couldn’t even imagine it. Would robots be doing all our housework? Would humans be living on Mars? It would be the cusp of a new century!

I remember how we all fantasized about where we would be on New Year’s Eve 1999. We were sure it would be someplace fabulous. And then, I remember being on a plane once in the mid 90s and reading an article about it in the flight magazine, and wondering what I myself would be doing as we ushered in a new century.

Would I be hosting a fabulous dinner party at my sparkling center hall colonial, with my adoring husband and perfect children? Would I be living it up at some trendy restaurant or rocking concert in New York City? Would I be someplace exotic with my husband, maybe an amazingly luxurious hotel in a gorgeous location, while our kids were being babysat at home by dutiful grandparents?

To tell the truth, I can’t even remember now what I was doing on New Year’s Eve of 1999. I’m sure it was much like all my other New Year’s Eves when I was married. I probably made some Chinese food for everyone to nibble on and watched the ball drop in Times Square on TV, me on one end of the couch and my husband on the other end, struggling to stay awake, with Thing 1 already fast asleep. Not very exciting, huh?

I remember the Y2K scramble, when everyone was sure computers would crash, our water systems would become defunct, and it would be the end of the world. We had a bunch of boxes of bottled Dasani water in our storage closet, in case all the doomsday predictions came true, but that was the extent of our preparations for disaster.

And now, 1999 was 17 years ago. 1999 is smack dab in the middle of it all, equidistant from 1982 and 2016. 1982/1999/2016. See what I mean?

So, how was my holiday this year like my holiday of 1999?

I did not work retail this year, compliments of my generous patron saints. When, you ask, was the last time I had a Christmas season when I wasn’t working in a store through the holidays? 1999, in fact. I began working in a bookstore April of 2000.

So, what did I do with myself? All the things I love!

I took umpteen photos of trees. Trees with golden leaves, trees stark and bare. Trees dusted with snow. Trees draped with colored lights and sparkling, colored ornaments. Trees, trees, trees.

Grandma Sweetie, our ancient maple tree, covered in gold, then blanketed in white.


Barren trees look so beautiful against a winter sky. The first photo is Burfeind’s hill in Ghent, above the pond I used to ice skate on with neighbor kids. The second photo is taken across the street from Collier’s Cold Spring Tree Farm, on the outskirts of Hudson.


These trees are on Main Street in Philmont. The first photo is of a daytime tree, decked out with colorful ornaments. The second photo is three of the five perfect pines next to the town’s memorial for veterans.


And finally, Grandpa Blackberry, our ancient oak tree, in the snow and under an azure sky.

I also took photos of houses, many of which you may have seen in prior blogs. My favorite ones on our road, my favorite ones in Claverack, an architecturally picturesque town we pass through to go shopping in Greenport. I drove by some houses so many times, trying to get perfect lighting for just the right shot, I’m sure my license plate has been duly recorded in case the furniture comes up missing.

I also made cookies and candies and cakes. I baked Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake twice. I made Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies at least four times. I braved Jo McCall’s Toffee three times (it turned out great the second and third times) and white-chocolate pretzels twice. I made Celestial Chocolate Chippers many times.

And then, we made cookie plates and delivered them to neighbors.

Making Buttermilk Chocolate Sheet Cake. C’mon, you know you want to lick that bowl…


My third batch of Jo McCall’s Toffee, which I made by myself, against my better judgment. It’s much easier when you have a helper to scrape the hot toffee from the pan.


Batter for Celestial Chocolate Chippers, my boys’ all-time favorite cookies.


A cookie plate, all ready to go to a family we love from church.

I helped host Thanksgiving dinner at my new place. I attended the Hudson Winter Walk and my artist friend Pamela’s open house. I went to the church Christmas party. I attended Christmas concerts at Thing 2’s school and at my church. I went to a volleyball game one of my young friends was playing in, and attended a basketball game at Thing 2’s school. I went to dinner the day after Christmas at my friends’ house. I was relaxed and happy.

And I’ll tell you what I didn’t do.

I did not get sick. I remember Christmas 2011, when I collapsed in an exhausted heap downstairs at my parents’ house, and slept for three hours, sick with a sore throat from contact with so many customers and their dirty money, sick from the stress of driving through a dark, slippery canyon on Christmas Eve, fighting with my husband the entire way.

I did not work at unreasonable hours while everyone else was out shopping or home relaxing with their families. On Black Friday, I shopped at one place, and one place only, Collier’s Cold Spring Tree Farm. I did not go to Wal-Mart or any other store in search of a really great deal. I did not have to be to work at 6 am the day after Christmas, to set up holiday clearance and make the rest of the store look like Christmas never happened.

I did not sit there in a fog on Christmas Eve and wonder what happened to all those days between Halloween and Christmas. I enjoyed those days and spent time with my own family. This year I did not help everyone in tarnation find just the right book/Lego set/stuffed animal for the people on their list. They were on their own.

I was in the dollar store a few days before Christmas, where one of the sales ladies was consolidating all the holiday items and lamenting to me, “My boss wants me to have all this stuff gone the day after Christmas.” And I understood.

So, what will I be doing New Year’s Eve this year, 17 years after 1999? That’s easy. I will be celebrating with my family at home here in upstate New York, while nibbling on homemade Chinese food. I’ll probably be falling asleep early on the couch, too, with a satisfied smile on my face, knowing this year I enjoyed the holiday season even more than in 1999.