New York City in the 60s and 70s was truly a great place to be a kid.
There were no worries about September 11, poisoned water or subway systems. The tallest building in the world, for most of that time, was the Empire State Building.
Museums were free.
I rode the bus alone, from age 7 on, to my rounds of ballet lessons or in going back and forth to school. I had a "bus card" and kids could ride anywhere just by showing that magic piece of colored paper.
Yeah, there were problems. I was mugged several times by the time I was 11. There was a time in my life when I became scared to go outside alone. My old neighborhood is "oh-so-posh" now, but it certainly wasn't that way when I was growing up. There used to be a pretty rough bar on the corner and a welfare hotel down the street that housed junkies and former (or current - we weren't sure which) prostitutes, who would comment on our outfits as we passed by, or give us advice that we were too young to understand. Kids I knew from the neighborhood spent time in juvie. The "smoke shop" guy around the corner dealt drugs, and we all knew it. There were teen pregnancies, overdoses, kids who were beaten by drunken dads or moms.
But all of those events were stuck away in the corner of my mind, where I tried not to touch them. I was lucky enough to go to a private school, so my days were orderly and I learned well; my apartment was clean; my building was safe; my parents were educated and caring and had dreams for me beyond the neighborhood.
One time of the year, however, all of us - kids of all stripes, backgrounds and sizes, moms of all ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds, dads who worked in factories, dads who owned factories, and dads who couldn't find work - all came together for the best night of the year: Thanksgiving Eve.
Now, there was no actual holiday called Thanksgiving Eve, but there was if you grew up in our neighborhood. Because my block was the block where they blew up the balloons for the Thanksgiving parade. My block was the block where the parade started, where the bands were lined up and stretched down Central Park West for what seemed like miles, where the parade leader would shout over the megaphone: "Odessa High School, step lively behind Goofy, please!" "Rockettes, take your positions!" "Diana Ross - Miss Ross, are you on your float?" And my friend Kate's block, the truly nice block on the other side of the museum, well, that was where the floats were assembled, creating fairy castles and Santa's workshop, giant turkeys and Gingerbread Houses overnight.
But in the interests of getting my turkey done, and not creating a long post when many of us have too much to do today to read long posts, I will return tomorrow to how this all played out each year...