It is the second oldest Thanksgiving Day Parade in the country, dating from 1924. The oldest believe it or not (thank you Wikipedia) is in Detroit of all places. It is another in a line of well attended New York City holiday traditions. As kids, we went every year, Dad taking Don and I as Mom did her magic in the kitchen, preparing a feast for our return. I remember it being cold, bitterly cold every time though I am sure that can’t be possible;not every year. It started at 9 AM and went on for three hours, beginning on the Upper West Side near Central Park and culminating at Macy’s Department Store on 34th Street –indeed it was and still is The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The huge balloons that are a big draw for children of all ages are inflated all night long in Central Park, and even that portion of the event has become a go-to destination for many adults, though I only remember seeing it once as a teenager and only then because I was still out from the night before and was wandering hopelessly lost through the streets of Manhattan, having started the holiday festivities early that year (that’s a whole other story).
But as a child, we would get up early and get bundled up against the cold, and take the subway to Herald Square and walk a few blocks until Dad found what he considered a suitable vantage point to watch the bands, balloons, and clowns pass by. He was very particular about that and sometimes it took a while to find just the right spot. When we did, he would hoist me up onto his shoulders so I could see the parade; Don being older and taller didn’t need any assistance. We would stand, cheer, laugh, and hopefully catch sight of a TV or movie star who was in the proceedings that year. Most times, I didn’tknow who anyone was, but the balloons (Snoopy was the crowd favorite), and the whole spectacle of the thing, was enough to satisfy an eight year old boy.
And I remember the specific parade in 1964, when I was eight for a very distinct reason.That year, one of my favorite TV personalities was going to be in the parade riding a float. Ok here is where I lose most of the audience. The persons name was Soupy Sales,and for many years he had a children’s television show that was on every day. It was a totally improvised show, with comedy sketches, and jokes that always seem to result in Soupy getting a pie in the face. That became a kind of trademark of his. The show, atleast in 1964 was broadcast from WNEW TV right there in New York City. And though most kids didn’t know who they were, stars like Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Jr. appeared more than once. That plus the double entendres that were abundant made the show a favorite of adults as well. Anyway he was at the height of his popularity in 1964,and thus was asked to be the “star” of that year’s parade. And there I was waiting to see him.
The only problem was, as always happens with parades and stars and a huge crowd, you could wave, scream, jump up and down and do whatever, and the odds were he was not going to notice you at all. And why should he? With thousands lining Broadway, and him waving this way and that, what were the odds he would see one person? I was content to just see him in person. When it came time, he started to pass us by (I think he was riding on a huge duck or swan or something like that), and he was waving and smiling this way and that, and I called out in my tiny voice which was immediately swallowed up by the noise of crowd. Oh well, I remember thinking, at least I saw him.
But once again, I had not reckoned on Dad. He knew how much I liked the guy, and here he was, a few hundred feet away, passing by, and here Dad was with me on his shoulders,and in a few moments, the chance will have passed to say hello. So Dad does it again.
“Hey Soupy – Over Here” he screams in a voice loud enough to rise above the din (and wake the dead). Immediately Soupy spins around and looks straight at us! I wave like a crazy kid; Dad is still shouting “Over Here – Your biggest fan!” and I mean shouting! Now I hope Soupy knew Dad was referring to me, and not to him, but either way Soupy smiled a huge Soupy Sales smile and pointed straight at us, and gave us the thumbs up,mouthing “thank you” as the float inevitably moved on.
Both Dad and I were babbling at the same time: “Did you see that?! He looked right at us and waved!! Did you see??!!. I guess we were talking to Don or the crowd around us,because there was no doubt to either Dad or myself that we just had a personal hello (and thank you) from the star of the parade that day.
So again thanks to the all time best Dad that ever lived, I got to have another dream come true. Years later, he would always bring the time up: “Remember when we got Soupy to see us??”. I knew there was no “we” in that – it was all him. He was one of those rare guys who, without planning it, could make a kids dreams come true. Every time.
I still occasionally watch the parade on television on Thanksgiving Day. And as you can guess, there isn’t a year that goes by that I don’t remember that special day in 1964 when I was eight years old and was lucky enough to be on my Dad’s shoulders.