I think I grew up in a period of New York history that was filled with parades. There was Thanksgiving Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, and Memorial Day; there were parades for winning teams and other heroes, like astronauts, as well. These were celebrations. Some of them were glorious.
I remember going down to Riverside Drive to watch the parade to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. For those of you who don’t know, it was built as a memorial to those who died in defense of the Union in the Civil War. Located on 89th and Riverside Drive, overlooking the Hudson River, it stands today as always. Originally known as Decoration Day this became Memorial Day with time, and came to honor all who gave their lives in defense of our country.
This is different from Veterans’ Day, celebrated on 11/11 to mark the end of world war I on November 11th, 1918. Over the years I have occasionally attended this parade to honor those who served in the armed forces of our nation both in my family and not.
Columbus Day has a parade. I don’t know when it began to focus itself as an Italian heritage parade but that certainly brings less controversy in these days of questioning.
Thanksgiving is filled with parade memories. Starting in the neighborhood with the balloon inflation outside the Museum of Natural History on 77th street and heading down Central Park West and then down to Macy’s (the proud long-term parade sponsor) this was the highlight of the parade year for children.
I have vivid memories of balloons and marching bands and santa followed by the sanitation men (they were all men in those days); it was quite a mess to clean up.
The balloon memories are vivid because mom’s boss had a colleague who had an apartment on the third floor of a Central Park West building at which was annually held a brunch/lunch event. While the moms talked and managed the food and the dads watched Thanksgiving football, we all hung out the windows and watched the balloons fly by our noses. This was a dream come true, year after year.
The other very West Side Thanksgiving memory occurred in the dining room of a brownstone between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West a few doors west of Rodeph Sholom. Assembled here was a truly American grouping that included among others a part Cherokee woman, a Presbyterian minister, a children’s social worker, the family to whom the house belonged made up of a New Yorker and an Oklahoman, and, among others, me.
I baked a challah to add my Jewish touch. It was carefully home-made dough, twisted into an 18-24 inch loaf covered in egg wash, of which I was very proud every year (the recipe came from The Jewish Catalogue and served me well in other settings as well).
The prayers at this table were ecumenical and the love and warmth of friends and family was evident thru the meal. I still miss Joe and Cynthia, and Mommy Rae and Chuck and Dick and the rest of the family.
I’ve made new memories too. For almost 20 years my family has joined other volunteers on Thanksgiving Day serving with Yes!Solutions on 125th Street. The servers come in all sizes, shapes, ages, ethnic and religious origins, orientations and colors. We join together to relive, again and again, the true American story – welcoming everyone to the table to share in our bounty.