Today is Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016. Every year I have to watch at least part of Macy's parade on TV because it takes me back to the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade my Mom took me to. I don't know if I was four or five years old, but I do remember it was the first time the Pinocchio balloon was added to the parade. Google must have more information now than the Great Library of Alexandria had, so I decided now is the time to finally look up when my first Macy's parade was held. Google took me to Wikipedia where I found a list of the debut year of every balloon in Macy's parade from its beginning. I learned that Pinocchio made his debut on November 21, 1940, making me five years old at the time. Seventeen years later on that same November date, my first child was born.
Mom bundled me up like we were leaving for Siberia on that freezing New York winter morning. The radio announcer warned us that the temperature wouldn't get out of the 30s all day. That was Mom's cue to swaddle me in a snowsuit, itchy woolen hat, earmuffs, boots to protect me in case there was a flood, and finally wrap a scarf around my neck so I wouldn't catch my death of a cold! We only had to walk one block to the subway station. However, we'd be standing outside in the cold for hours so I'll give her credit for saving me from frostbite.
We lived in the downstairs apartment of Grandma and Grandpa Normandia's house at 37 Conselyea Street, between Lorimer Street and Union Avenue. It was the only house on the block that was built before 1900 as a one family, two-story house with a finished attic. Some years later, the downstairs rooms were walled up and an inside entrance door was added in the foyer to create a separate 4-room apartment. Off the kitchen was a tub bathroom, which meant there was just a bathtub with no shower. Maybe that's why I still prefer a bubble bath to a shower any day unless I'm in a hurry.
We entered our home (our family never called them apartments) in the "front room" as they were known then. Later it would morph into a living room with an uncomfortable French Provincial loveseat and matching chairs. There was nowhere in our house to lie down and take a nap or just relax and be comfortable. I can still hear my perfectionist Mom's warning of Don't sit on the bedspread! When I married Hal I was twenty and the first time he attempted to sit on our bed, without thinking I said Don't sit on the bedspread! He had never heard of such a thing and now it seems so funny. He sat on the bedspread and gingerly, so did I.
When we first moved into 37, as we affectionately called our home, my parents furnished it as a dining room instead of a living room. Not surprising, since they were the children of Italian immigrants and life revolved around serving delicious food and plenty of it. Relatives were welcome and so was Grandpa Normandia's red wine, homemade by him in his wooden wine press in the cellar. We had a huge, ornate banquet-size table with heavy, beautifully-carved legs. It took up most of the room. I remember it as always covered in a lacy-looking, possibly finely crocheted tablecloth. When I was old enough to go to school, Dad would carefully fold back the tablecloth before he helped me with my homework. Funny, the seemingly unimportant things you remember from the past.
When my parents weren't around, I used to open the drawers of the massive matching buffet to see if any new surprises for me were hidden there. I didn't know yet that parents were too smart to do that. There was always a bottle of anisette liqueur there. I asked once if I could try it and I got a resounding NO. I was about 12 before they let me taste it and I hated the taste but I loved how it smelled. It was only served as an after-dinner drink when we had company, following my grandparents' tradition from when they lived in Palma Campania, Italy. The drawer had an exotic aroma of anise and licorice like the sticks of rock candy Gram always kept upstairs in her china closet, next to her Mother of Pearl opera glasses. Upstairs, I was allowed to have anything my heart desired and to touch anything I wanted to without asking for permission, even Grandma's precious opera glasses.
The picture below shows the remodeled house after we moved out in 1950 when Grandma died. The famous stoop was gone where parents and grandparents watched over us as we played kick-the-can and stick ball in the almost empty street. When I was 14, Johnny Martin and I fell in love on that stoop. In the winter, we would stand outside on the stoop, too cold to sit on the frozen steps, but "too much in love to say goodnight" as that very old song goes. I was not yet allowed to bring any boy into our house. Mom softened as she got to know Johnny better and liked him a lot. She even taught him how to do the fox trot, dancing in our kitchen after he admitted to her he was taking me to my senior prom but he didn't know how to dance.
One other thing, I don't recall my family ever flying any flags like in the picture below. No one on our street did. The only flag we ever had in our window was the Service Flag with the blue star in the middle. It is also called the Blue Star Flag. During World War II, it showed the world that the family in that house had a child serving in the military. God forbid there was a gold star in the middle of the banner. That meant that their child had died in the war. Mom cried when we went for a walk and we passed a house with a gold star banner in a front window. She made the sign of the cross and prayed for the grieving family. My brother Michael was in the Army then but never had to go overseas and fight. He's ninety now, but I still, and always will, call him Buddy.
The Service flag was a big deal and widespread during World War II. The size ratio had to be exactly 10:19, the same as the United States flag. A support organization had been formed called the Blue Star Mothers of America. There were 30,000 members during World War II. Most of the Service flags were hand made by mothers across the country. The organization is still very active and provides care packages to military members serving overseas. They do so much more, including providing assistance to families who had hardships as a result of their son or husband serving in a war. The picture of Mom shows the Service flag in our front room window.
We had moved to Conselyea the previous winter when I was four. That's where all my childhood memories were born. Before that, I only have fragments of a few significant memories of living in a 4th-floor walk-up apartment in a tenement house at 609 Metropolitan Avenue. I grew up on Conselyea Street until I was fifteen and a senior year at Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Queens. We had to move after my grandparents died and Uncle Henry inherited their house. Then I had to take a city bus to school. I had only gone to one grade school, P.S. 132, The Conselyea School, and could easily walk there. Then I walked to Junior High School 196 which was a bit of a hike but I was older by then and walking home every day left room for a little independence and a stop at the library. We had no fears about crime and it felt safe being a girl walking alone in those days. I haven't been back to New York in many decades and some reason, in spite of the memories of living there, I have no desire to go.
I certainly can get sidetracked when I give my memories free reign but I do want to get back to the Macy's parade. The subway station on Lorimer Street was only a block away from 37 and pure magic for a child's creative mind. Oh, the places we could go once we walked down those concrete steps. We waited on the platform for a fast train to invite us to a magic carpet ride promising to introduce us to exciting new adventures. The first time I rode on the subway, I thought it took us to underground cities because we did have to go underground to get where we were going. Mom would say, "Why do you always have to make up all these stories?" Then my Dad would say, "That sounds perfectly logical, Sweetheart." Then he would go on and explain an alternate possibility, which of course I later realized was a lot closer to the group consensus. Fantasy land is mostly peopled by children who still believe in magic. I hope I never grow up. I loved how Daddy always called me his Little Sweetheart. He and Mom never expected to have another baby since my brother was already nine when I happened. Dad was thrilled and would parade me around the neighborhood, pushing me in my beautiful baby carriage to show me off to all his friends. Not so much Mom, as she had hoped her child-rearing days were over. She was thirty-three when I was born which was considered quite old in my family to be making babies. Times sure change.
It was a short walk to the old Lorimer Street subway station that first opened in 1924. Although it has been upgraded over the years, they left the original sign on the wall for nostalgia's sake. Mom took us to the City (Manhattan, that is) by subway to see my first Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Another first was that it was the first year the floats were not pulled by horses! Wow, I sound like a dinosaur, but I'm still a child at heart. "No more horses" made the headlines but we had already heard about it the night before on the big floor model radio we all sat around at night. How funny to think we sat around a radio to hear the news and listen to the stories of the day. Well, it was pre-TV and it was something to do with the whole family at night.
My favorite morning program was Nila Mack's Let's Pretend, which began the year before I was born and ended in 1954. It included adaptations of fairy tales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Arabian Nights, Beauty and the Beast, and Rumpelstiltskin. (Thanks, Wiki!) I remember the jingle from Let's Pretend and sang it around the house all the time.
Mom got pretty tired of hearing it and finally asked me why I would sing about a cereal we never eat. And why didn't I sing a song about polenta! (I never liked polenta and still won't eat it. Sorry Mom, but to little Priscilla it tasted like the inside of a pencil sharpener smells.) I told her I sang it because Uncle Bill (on the radio) said Cream of Wheat is the great American family cereal and we were great Americans. She corrected me and said we were still Italian-Americans and to never forget where your grandparents came from."Cream of Wheat, is so good to eat, yes we have it every day
We sing this song, it will make us strong, and it makes us shout "Hurray"
It's good for growing babies and grownups, too, to eat
For all the family's breakfast, you can't beat Cream of Wheat."
Wow, I just googled Let's Pretend" and there's a link to hear the programs!!
https://archive.org/details/Lets_Pretend. I had to subscribe for free to play programs or songs. I'm listening to Cinderella in the background now. It's a miracle what they have on that site and not just old-time radio shows. I may have to take a little break to listen before going back to the Macy's parade.
Okay, that was great fun! The 1940 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade day is etched on my brain, but I still wished I had a movie of it and my wish just came true in black and white, and color too, thanks to youtube.com and wiki. Home video didn't come out until the 1970s but home movie cameras by Kodachrome came out the year I was born, 1935. We never knew anyone who had enough discretionary income to buy one back then but somebody did because I just watched the 1940 Macy's parade on my computer 76 years later. The crowd was estimated at one million! #awesome
Superman and Pinocchio balloons both appeared for the first time that year but Superman got all the press. Boys went crazy over seeing their comic book hero honored with an 80-foot tall balloon that had a 23-foot chest and 8-foot smirk. I wasn't allowed to look at what Mom considered "boy comics" so Superman wasn't a big deal for me. However, Dad had told me the story of Pinocchio many times and even bought me a wooden Pinocchio doll once. The lesson of the story that stayed with me was that when he told a lie, Pinocchio's nose grew longer. I decided I would never tell a lie, just in case! I've told the story many times of how I broke off my Pinocchio doll's nose soon after I got it so it would be a normal size and nobody would know he lied and not like him. I didn't like how big they made his nose when they made the balloon but I didn't tell my mother because I knew she would have to tell me the whole story again about how I should never tell a lie. I wish I could say I never did, but that would be a lie!
After we were married in 1982, I told Gordon my Pinocchio story and mentioned how I wished I still had my Pinocchio doll, broken nose and all, because my Dad gave it to me and I still miss him every day since he passed away in 1966. I have very few items of my dad's but I do have some precious letters he wrote me after Mom and I moved to Florida so she could get a divorce. It was a time when New York law made it almost impossible to get a divorce without maligning your spouse and she didn't want to do that. He died in New York when I was thirty. I lived in married housing with my first husband who was a student at the University of Florida. He got the dreaded phone call that Dad had died.
Back to Pinocchio. Gordon spent years looking for Pinocchio, even buying a small Italian version when we were in Italy on our belated honeymoon in 1985. It looks nothing like the one I had as a child though I also love the original Italian version. It's still hanging above a photo of us where I can see it when I'm here in my home office. Over the years, Gordon bought me Pinocchio books and a 6-inch high Pinocchio that looked very much like my childhood doll. Gordon never gave up on anything. He was a warrior at heart, and may still be in other simultaneous lifetimes according to our similar spiritual beliefs. He was so determined to find the doll I spoke of. Finally, decades later, Gordon came home one day grinning from ear to ear and handed me my final Pinocchio who looked just like the one from my childhood. I just had to take a picture of them with my beloved Gordon, my ForeverLove.
This is from a 16mm home movie.
Thanks to ReelNostalgia for posting it on youtube.com