I don’t know why I wake up at 3, turn over to fall back to sleep only to be further roused. Then, thoughts invade, those thoughts that hold hands and dance in a circle around my brain. Not bad thoughts, not depressing or sad thoughts, not even anxious thoughts, but dammed determined thoughts that shake my insides awake until I throw off covers, pee, make myself a cup of hot milk and rearrange the pillows to half-sit in bed and tap away. Would it be the same if there was a partner beside me? I muse that I could have turned over and found the crook in some arm and shoulder, but honestly, there were many nights waking up and carefully leaving the bed so as not to disturb my sleeping love. It has been long enough that I paint sublime pictures of sleeping next to someone through an entire night of looping thoughts, but not so long as to deny the truth of night time rousings.
There will be an audience-free Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year. Reading that saddens me. Only slightly but noticeably. And I have to laugh at myself. When was the last time I took any notice of the parade?
But when I was a child . . .
It was a yearly event for my family of origin. Each of the four children was bundled up and piled into the family Buick. Packed tight in the back seat and vaguely ready for a very early morning nap, we dove into the Lincoln Tunnel and emerged to seek out parking in The City. I vaguely recall driving up and down streets on the west side and my father congratulating himself for not needing to pay for the coveted free parking space. From the parking space, we walked too many blocks to the parade route and then searched for the space to park our bodies. We sat or stood at curbside, reserving our New York real estate while my father scouted for hot chocolate, sometimes returning with lovely warm paper cups and sometimes not.
And then we waited, much longer than anyone should expect children to wait. I don’t remember my whining, but no doubt that I was as loud and annoying as my siblings. Oh, to wait in the cold, to jump up and down in the ever diminishing personal space, to endure the unknown hill of minutes that seemed hours before the first sounds and colors and balloons paraded in front of us.
What did I dream of then? Of being part of the parade for sure—someone in lavish costume waving from a float, someone in a jumpsuit holding down a balloon, someone twirling a baton or playing a horn, someone from some Broadway show dancing in the street. Such romance!
With feet and fingers freezing, I cheered the waving women, applauded the dancers in the street and covered my ears to ward off the drums of the marching bands that always came from the far off midwest that I would one day move to. I was enchanted. Until I wasn’t. When was that? The first time that after hours of guarding our family plot as the cold pierced my warmest winter wear, some mother of a young child pushed her progeny in front of me with pleas to let him see, he is so little, in a tone that shamed any argument of unfairness? Or was it the pushing and shoving of crowds that towered above me and moved us unwillingly faster or slower towards our car and the long, very slow ride back through the Lincoln Tunnel and home? Or was it simply when the magic faded—wavers looked cold, dancers looked tired and those holding down balloons struggled when the wind kicked up— and the wait and the cold and the Lincoln Tunnel traffic left us irritable and needing to pee. I cannot put my finger on the year but I begged to be left home, tending to some cooking chore and watching the festivities on Channel 4.
And then there were years of the parade as the background music of a busy cooking day. There was a slight regret of not being part of the party that came home bursting out of the car all rosy and hungry for the feast. Then there was the year when I was waitressing in the Village and taking a cab uptown and home the Wednesday before the parade. A young cabbie, no doubt hoping to score, turned off the meter and asked if he could take my through the park to see the balloons being inflated in the early pre-dawn hours. He parked and we got out and walked closer to watch the giant cartoon figures rise into the air. I don’t remember a single physical feature of that young man or a word of what he said, but the wonder of the sight of inflating balloons I had never even imagined is etched and filed under Thanksgiving.
When my sister was a young mother, she revived the tradition with her young brood. At least twice, with a very little Cheshire in tow, we joined my sister, her good friend and their children, sitting on the curb, waiting, chilled to the bone, cheering and applauding. We came up from our home in the East Village and they took us back to Jersey in the rented van with driver that picked us up on a prearranged corner to avoid the craziness and expense of parking in the City. One of those years I wore my good, red wool coat and a hat that was more about style that keeping my head warm. Oh, I was so cold. Cheshire in her snowsuit, cried with the boredom and the cold and the next year, we moved too far to indulge the tradition. I was not nostalgic.
We had years of tuning into the parade and catching glimpses of the balloons of my youth and the better and bigger balloons that were the replacements. My only distinct memory of that time was the year Superman was caught on a windy corner and deflated and afterwards was retired. My girls were midwesterners and that parade merely a television spectacle that did not entice either of them. When we began celebrating the day with friends instead of relations, the spectacle completely faded from our view.
When I planned this last move 18 months ago, I imagined weekend trips to the City to indulge in theater and see friends living there. I never contemplated a trip to see the parade. However, I will state without a hint of embarrassment, that I may pay attention, if not tune into, this year’s faux parade, and I will keep an ear open for what next year will look like. Who is even shopping at the big Macy’s in Herald Square this year? Perhaps both the store and the parade will be made over into a place and an event that fits the times that we cannot yet be sure of.