I was eight years old when my family made the move from Louisville, Kentucky to New York for my father’s job. We had moved quite a bit, but this one was traumatic for all of us. Even though White Plains was an upscale suburb, my parents, not sure what the public schools would be like, enrolled my brother and I in a tiny catholic school at the end of our street. We were not practicing Catholics, I had a strong Southern accent, I had to wear blue buster brown orthopedic shoes and my last name begged for teasing.
The first few months in NY were tough, so when my dad came home from work a few days before Thanksgiving and asked if I wanted to be on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I jumped at the chance. This was good because I’m pretty sure I was already committed as part of a work thing for my Dad – his company was sponsoring the float. All he could tell me was that theme was Cinderella, I would be a mouse and that I should dress warm; it was supposed to be cold and windy.
It was. We woke woke up at 3:30 on Thanksgiving morning. Nervous and dopey, I put on layer after layer of tights and long underwear as my mom handed them to me. When we were done, I had three layers on the bottom and two layers on the top; this was before putting on my ‘real’ clothes. My jeans wouldn’t fit over the the underwear so I was forced to wear my older sister’s jeans. She was sixteen, I was eight. Putting on her pants and hardly being able to zip them had me in tears. This was not how I imagined this going; I was wearing a fat suit to my debut! My parents told me to get a grip and get in the car. As I sat stewing in the back seat (The Beatles were squeezed in back there too, but that’s another story), I realized that I had my parents all to myself. As the youngest of three, I was rarely alone with them. I decided to drop my mood and go with it – there was an excited energy around us and I wanted to be in it.
When we arrived at Macy’s, the street was lit with klieg lights and there was a buzz of activity that you could sense had been going on all night. Bullwinkle, Snoopy, Underdog all sat inflated and ready to go – it was Superman’s debut and he seemed to take up an entire block in the distance. It was like a movie set and I was back stage. We went into the store and were directed to the dressing area. I was shocked when I realized we had to get changed right out in the open. My mom had forgot to get my costume on the way in so she left me standing alone in the middle of the room, surrounded by of a bunch of half naked girls and women for what seemed like a really long time. I was the only one that had come pre-bundled; I was trying really hard not to look at anyone or at myself in the mirror. I kept busy by slowly peeling off my jeans and top layers. My mom came back and sensing my discomfort, she casually shifted her body along with mine as I got dressed to keep my reflection away from the mirror. As I pulled the puffy gray mouse body over my head, put on the headpiece and looked in the mirror, I relaxed. I was a mouse among mice.
We boarded Cinderella’s Carriage and were sent to our respective pumpkins. We were instructed to smile, wave like the Queen, and not take anything that the onlookers tried to give us. Cinderella, a Broadway actress I hadn’t heard of then or since, was on the balcony. I didn’t see her but I was sitting right next to the tinny speaker that was playing her song. My pumpkin vibrated to the reverb. I had a direct view into a car that was leading the Bullwinkle balloon behind us; it was Captain and Tennille. This was huge for me – I listened to my sister’s Love Will Keep Us Together 45 single all the time. They weren’t looking too together that morning; I picked that up right up. They would look at each other intently with serious expressions and lips moving and then look out the windows and smile and wave, smile and wave.
Fakery was everywhere. Bullwinkle’s strings were being held by ‘musical people’ – creepy over-eager people whose job was to engage the crowd. They were constantly trying to interact with me as we floated down the street, shouting, “Smile! Wave! Look over there!!” In my mind, they were pedophiles. I tried my best to ignore them but when they said we were coming up on the TV cameras, I listened. It was go time! I was mousing it up and waving maniacally when I realized I there were small objects ricocheting off my pumpkin. I was being hit repeatedly with small colored objects. I looked for the source and noticed two kids about my age running alongside the float waving frantically and shouting something I couldn’t understand as they continued pelting me with what I now realized were Now&Laters and Bazooka gum. They had my undivided attention for the entire block (what camera’s?!) and they kept it by throwing me more and more candy, which I greedily stuffed under my padded leg.
I was flattered and excited by the attention of those kids but I felt under attack at the same time. I considered that they could be making fun of me but I let it go; this was too magical to let that sort of thinking in, I had enough of that during the week. The entire day had that push-pull about it; I was in a fat suit, I was in THE parade; kids were throwing shit at me, but it was candy. I was trying really hard to be present because I desperately needed to have a positive unique experience that would belong only to me. I got it.