When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. Not because of the food, but because my brother and I got to go with my dad to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We called it “The Parade.” It is huge. Hours of gigantic balloons and marching bands, platoons of police horses and clowns. It ends with Santa Claus on a sleigh, followed by the Sanitation Department crew. Besides the balloons, our favorite part was watching the marching bands and majorettes tiptoe in formation through what the police horses left behind.
My dad’s job was to keep us out of the apartment while my mother cooked. My mother was not a good cook. She did not like to cook from scratch, and struggled to put a turkey, gravy, stuffing, candied yams, cranberry sauce, and green beans on the table. It was an unpleasant obligation. It was her attempt to prove that we were a happy family.
We set out early in the morning to claim a good spot right on the barricades so no one could block our view. If we got tired we could sit on the curb. My dad packed a thermos of hot chocolate and some sandwiches. It can be blustery cold in November. We bundled up in our warmest clothes and waited for Superman and Bullwinkle.
We didn’t get much time alone with our dad. He loosened up away from my mother. She would have been undone by our exuberance and by the size of the crowd. There was too much pointing, shouting, shoving, and whooping for her. My dad kept us occupied with word games, guessing games, and trick questions. Being at the parade felt like being my dad’s youngest son. It made me happy.
My brother and I would press against the barricade and crane our necks to see what was coming. We’d try to guess the next balloon before it came fully into view. We’d watch the handlers navigate the balloons down the street, amazed at how they dodged the tree limbs and the lampposts.
After the parade we’d walk through Central Park and clamber over the big rocks. We’d walk down 5th Avenue and look at the Christmas decorations. Eventually, my dad would look at his watch and decide it was time to take us home. My mother would be overwhelmed by trying to get all the food cooked, and upset because her fantasy of a happy family was ruined by our arrival. I had to go in and kiss my grandmother and great-aunt hello and excuse myself to get changed back into being a girl. Then we ate.
My mother pretended to enjoy herself, but the table conversation was formal and stilted. I stuffed myself with yams, cranberry sauce, and pie. My mother critiqued how much I was eating, despairing that I would ever look normal. My dad looked at me, imploring me to not answer. I ate fast so I could be excused from the table.
Donna and I reclaimed Thanksgiving when we moved in together. We cook for our friends. There is plenty of food and most of it is delicious. There are the usual tensions of trying to do too much at the last-minute, but we make an effort to get through it with humor. It is a leisurely meal with lively discussion. Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday.