When I was growing up, my dad made New Year’s Day just about as exciting as Christmas morning — and just as early.

Samuel Crossley was the king of the pop call, an unannounced drop-in visit to neighbors and friends. The unannounced drop-in is a longstanding Southern cultural tradition. On New Year’s Day, my dad was in his element, enjoying this tradition to the fullest and taking advantage of an old-timey superstition that decreed good luck for households where a man was the first person in the new year to cross the threshold. It didn’t count if the man lived in the house, the man had to be an outside person. Don’t ask. A lot of people claimed not to believe the superstition but they were really happy when Daddy rang the doorbell, volunteering his first man services.

I need to pause here and acknowledge that right about now many of you New Englanders are cringing at the very idea of a surprise visit. When I first moved here, I quickly learned that NOBODY around here just dropped in. I was schooled to understand you must arrange your arrival ahead of time.

Because Daddy typically left before the sun had come up, my mother, sister and I usually didn’t see him until mid-morning when he’d return home bringing greetings and regaling us with stories. As I grew into my teens and young adulthood, I decided to join him, and sometimes my sister would also come along while my mother slept in. Boy, was it some kind of fun! I’d always enjoyed being a traveling sidekick with my dad, but those early morning pop calls were second-level. Probably because my dad was a gregarious guy, always ready to engage in some entertaining smack talk. All of his early morning hosts looked forward to visiting with him, even at near dawn. The welcoming hosts were either early risers or folks who were up prepping for the big New Year’s Day meal. Daddy was so popular sometimes the friends would engage in friendly competition for his attention. Somebody might ask, “Did you already go by Benny and Alice’s?”

Daddy mapped out his pop call route kind of like a gastronomic progressive meal. First, he’d drop in on the friend with the best coffee. Next stop: the friends known for the yummy coffee cake. After that, a couple of stops for more coffee and conversation. Then, he’d head to his final stop: the house of the best cook on his planned route — and the one likely frying up the eggs, pulling the homemade biscuits out of the oven, and filling out the feast with creamy grits and that delicious Southern specialty, red-eye gravy. Just thinking about it makes me full.

It’s been 17 years since Daddy died — ironically on Jan. 1, 2006 — New Year’s Day. I often think about how much he enjoyed starting the new year laughing with friends and family. Despite his superstition, I don’t believe he brought any special luck to them, but I know how lucky I am to begin the New Year wrapped in warm memories.