“Time to get up sweetie” my Mom whispered softly in my ear, “today’s the big day!” I lethargically rolled over onto my stomach, too asleep to even comprehend what she was saying. I used all of my strength to slowly pry open my eyes and let the light in to wake myself up. Only, there wasn’t any light coming in. Everything was dark.
“That’s weird.” I thought to myself, “Why is it so early?” My eyes eventually adjusted to the darkness and I could vaguely make out my cozy, black vest that I layed out on the tan hotel room chair the night before. Out of nowhere, my Mom flipped on the lights which sent me into initial shock.
“It is 4am, and we have to be at the Javits Center at 5am. So, you have to get up soon and…” I suddenly jolted up and hopped out of the bed, remembering the importance of the day. I could no longer pay attention to what my Mom was saying; I was already up and running into the other room.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” I whispered, or at least attempted to whisper (my whispers are more of a yell) to my Dad who was emerging from the connecting hotel room door.
“Happy Thanksgiving Heart.” He said as he wrapped me in a tight hug. “Make sure you don’t wake up your sister and brother.” A loud snore startled me from behind, confirming that at least my sister was sound asleep.
“Don’t worry, I don’t think Steph is getting up anytime soon.” I laughed as I pulled away and walked into the bathroom. A quick glance at the clock showed it was 4:07am, exactly 53 minutes until I had to be at the Javits Center. I quickly brushed my teeth, washed my face, and threw my hair into a low bun secure with a lot of bobby pins and my heavy duty hairspray.
“I’m ready!” I said, stuffing the remains of my bagel into my face. I instantly got swarmed with goodbye hugs and kisses and everyone wished me good luck.
The early morning streets of NYC were icy cold and oddly quiet, almost as if the city was hibernating for the winter and getting ready for the long spring and summer ahead. The bright streetlights guided us down the old gum-covered sidewalk, and only the occasional person would pass by. Still, even though we were in a huge city surrounded by millions of people, it felt like the world was on pause and we were the only ones there.
When we arrived at the Javits Center, there was a long line of girls with their parents waiting outside. It was pretty cold, and everyone was wearing thick jackets and scarves. The line ahead of us moved very quickly, and the closer we got to the Javits Center entrance, the more excited I got. “Good luck!” My Mom said as she wrapped me in a warm hug. “You have worked so hard for this honey, and I know you will be amazing. Be safe, have fun, and most of all, enjoy yourself. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You are probably never going to do this again, and not many people will. Have an amazing time and make us proud!”
“I will!” I promised, “I love you so much!” My Mom gave me a quick kiss on the forehead and then sent me on my way through the large Javits Center entrance.
Once our instructors did roll call and all 98 of us were counted for, we went downstairs into the enormous Javits Center basement. There were hundreds of people getting dressed into their costumes, most to be balloon handlers, and everyone had smiles ear to ear. We walked to the left side of the basement where a long rack of Santa costumes stood. We had never previously seen or tried on the costumes, so I was very excited to see them.
“Hey!” Happy Thanksgiving!” Emerson smiled, as she and Sophia came and sat next to me. Emerson and Sophia are two really nice girls I met at one of the five hour long rehearsals where we learned our dance.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” I replied, “I can’t believe today is the day. We are actually going to be tap dancing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade! Oh, and the costumes look amazing too!” We were already all handed our costumes, so I was in the process of putting it over my many layers of warm clothing.
Interrupting our conversation, one of our instructors, Alicia, told everyone to go to the back to practice our dance. Once we ran over the dance a couple of times, we were all rounded up like troops and marched over to the boarding area for the buses.
When we got off the bus, we followed our instructors wearing their bright red “The Nice List” jackets (the name of our group) over a couple blocks until we arrived at the Museum of Natural History, the starting point of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We waited there for about an hour and a half- Emerson, Sophia and I played games such as “Name That Christmas Song” and “20 Guesses”, ran over our dance a bunch of times, and talked about our plans for Thanksgiving and what we do for dance during the year.
Finally, after what felt like forever since I was so anxious and excited, we all lined up in our starting positions. Standing right on the edge of 77th Street, it felt surreal that all these gigantic balloons and floats that I am used to seeing on TV were right in front of me.
Once we saw the lit up bright red truck ride by, our cue, we started our way down 77th Street, my heart beating a million miles an hour. Looking around, it felt like I was in an alternate reality- there were millions of people watching, screaming, waving, and even hanging out of buildings just to see us walk by. I was filled with so much joy and excitement that I thought I was going to burst. Of course we were instructed to look happy and wave and smile, but I didn’t even have to pretend. My smile was so big that my cheeks started to hurt!
Turning around the corner at 6th Avenue, I could see balloons for miles ahead of me and millions of people smiling and cheering. It was hard to take everything in; it was all so new and exciting. Enormous floats of all shapes and sizes flew in the bright blue windy sky in front of us and I could hear the sounds of marching bands and people cheering echoing off the tall buildings beside me. Remembering what my Aunt had told me days before, I kept a close eye on the left block until my eyes met the bright gold awning of the restaurant my family was at. Immediately, my eyes met my sister’s festive brown turkey hat that my Aunt had gotten her in preparation for the parade. I started waving intensely to my family, seeing that Billy, Stephanie, Auntie, and my Mom and Dad were looking directly at me. I could hear the familiar sound of my Mom cheering “Ally!” and Auntie repeatedly saying, “Oh my God, oh my God, I am going to die!”
Just before we turned right at Macy’s, I heard Alicia yell “run!” and everyone ahead of me started sprinting forward. Our once perfectly straight lines instantly became a jumbled mess of Santas. Sounding like a herd of elephants, we excitedly ran to the bright green mat in front of the Macy’s main entrance. I quickly made it to my spot on the “P” of the “Parade” just in time as the announcer started counting down, “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”
As my usual pre-performance chills kicked in, I reminded myself what my Mom said earlier, “Enjoy yourself. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You are probably never going to do this again, and not many people will. Have an amazing time and make us proud!”
With my Mom’s word echoing through my head, I looked around at all the sights around me, taking in each one with a huge smile on my face. And when the music started, I danced my heart out, enjoying the best day of my life.
I would have never known on that exciting November morning that a year from then, we would be in the midst of a global pandemic where everything is done through ZOOM and we can’t see our extended family. Performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was the best day of my life, and it taught me to always live in the moment and never wish anything away too quickly. If I hadn’t gone to that audition last year, I would have probably never been able to do this, or at least not this year since the parade was a lot smaller than it normally is because of the pandemic. It is these moments that make us thankful for what we have, and appreciative of being able to experience those times, not just sad that they are over.