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New Year's whirl: Citrus Park to Sun City Center

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 2, 2002


Four parties, seven hours, 151.3 miles, one great time.

It was the inaugural Hoop New Year's Eve Tour, and while there was no debauchery, ear-piercing karaoke or even Dick Clark, it was a night to remember. I made new acquaintances, confirmed the existence of family values, and discovered you are never too old to dance to Hava Nagila.

The premise was simple: Seek out invitations from readers to old-fashioned house parties. I crafted a list of five and made it to four (apologies to South Tampa's Theodora Schmid) and got home in time to count in the New Year with my wife. Actually I didn't get back until just before 1, but it was still midnight somewhere.

The evening started at the Van Dyke Farms home of Don and Mary Frericks, but it didn't take long to discover this was about the Pilley clan.

Mary Pilley Frericks is one of six Pilley brothers and sisters who grew up in South Tampa, attending Christ the King, Academy of the Holy Names and Jesuit (for the boys). Mary's siblings Maggie, John David and Eileen (Brodsky) also were on hand, along with John David's wife Marjory, an honorary Pilley sister. Joe (partying in South Tampa) and Art (partying in Wausau, Wis.) make up the rest of the clan.

This was a family get-together for a family that gets together a lot. The Pilleys gushed over Eileen's two kids, David Matthew and Arthur Nathan, as well as Marjory and John's daughters, Sarah and Emily.

Yet they also spoke of those who have passed: dad, Arthur, in 1984, mom, Margaret, in 1992, and Eileen's husband, Dr. Sidney Brodsky, who died two years ago.

Most of all, however, the Pilleys talked, laughed, and shared opinions about everything from sports to politics. You should have heard what Maggie said about ... well, nevermind. I promised not to put that in the paper.

Next stop was the home of Scott and Carol Paine. They had already counted in the New Year by the time we arrived after 8. Huh? Well, the Paines have seven kids (and another on the way), and at least four are a little too young to stay up until midnight. So the Paines rang in the new year at the same time as the Azores Islands, which sit way out in the Atlantic and are four hours ahead of us. Carol made some Azorean soup to legitimize the countdown.

I'm not sure what amazes me most about the Paines: the fact they have seven kids, or the fact their kids are so good. I've never seen kids who were excited about a vegetable plate. Carol assured me she had never seen it either, but moments later the innocence shined through again when the kids did an impromptu version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

Scott -- New Tampa's City Councillor from 1991 to 1999 -- took to the piano for another Wizard of Oz tune and then 9-year-old Deanna, in a red-and-white dress just like Annie, did Tomorrow.

I admit it, my wicked side was clamoring for a beer, but I didn't give in.

We moved on to a block party in Cumberland Estates near Citrus Park, but the gathering on Nikki Lane was more than a neighborhood soiree. You see, the street has a cul de sac on one end and a dead end on the other, and the folks in the cul de sac like to say the other side really is "the dead end."

Tony Huggins, looking to prove his end of the street had been unfairly maligned, paid to have the Backstreet Blues Band perform. This was a statement party.

Megan Foster, my gracious escort, explained this was the fourth year the neighbors were partying together. Rumor has it homes in Nikki Lane sell for an extra $20,000 because of the social value.

So who else did Megan introduce me to? Well, there was Roland, a personal injury lawyer who threatened legal action if I used his last name; Bill, the resident dirty old man who insisted he wasn't that old; Linda, who wouldn't sing karaoke unless I left; and Elaine, a Liverpool, England native who wanted me to know her fur hat was faux fur, lest her husband lose his job with PETA.

One hour later, I arrived at Temple Beth Israel in Sun City Center, where Anne Zolt promised I would find some elderly, yet lively Jewish couples celebrating.

When I walked in at 11:40, everyone rushed up to greet me and the ladies, including party coordinator Rose David, insisted I eat. They also insisted I have a glass of wine.

We watched the Times Square ball drop and I got New Year kisses from an array of attractive ladies. The music started and we danced around in a circle, reversing directions and moving in and out. Whenever the music stopped, folks like Art and Selma Pellegrino, celebrating their 47th anniversary, cried out, "More!"

At one point, Mrs. Zolt got down on the floor and did her best Zero Mostel, kicking her legs high into the air. For a minute, I thought she was going to start break dancing.

Options were aplenty on New Year's Eve: the last night at the Chatterbox, a charity gala at Mise en Place, a gathering of coworkers in South Tampa, a pretty good party in my own Seffner neighborhood. But after all the new friends I made, I came home with no regrets.

- Ernest Hooper can be contacted at 226-3406 or hooper@sptimes.com.

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