It was Thanksgiving. And it was the most exciting Thanksgiving we had yet to live through. For the second Christmas season, Abigail was performing as a Radio City Rockette. And this season, she was in the cast that would be performing the Macy’s parade.
When you work as a Rockette, your holiday travel is nonexistent. There would be no flying home to Tennessee. Those girls literally dance their buns off as they light sparks in the eyes of children of all ages who crowd into those red velvet seats in the iconic Radio City Music Hall. The actual show had opened a few days before the parade, but as always, those high-stepping ladies would kick off the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving morning.
Just as hundreds and hundreds of families begin that Thursday morning with televisions tuned in to this parade that Macy’s has been bringing to life for decades, so did my daughter and I. While baking pies and mixing dressing, we would stop for every special moment, ooohing and aaahing over the excellence of it all. The flying balloon characters. The snippets of Broadway shows. The singing stars and marching bands and floats that tell stories and create visions of wonder for an entire country. But our favorite moment had always been those Rockettes. Oh, how our mouths would literally hang open in our kitchen with the thrill of those amazing dancers.
And now here we were. Here we were. I had explored the possibility of tickets for those bleachers that stand at the starting point of this parade, directly across the avenue from the two-story scaffolding that houses numerous cameras and news persons and security personnel. But! Ha! How silly of me! I soon learned that those bleachers were reserved for the prominent hineys of Macy’s and NBC big-wigs and execs. Rockettes, while creating a throbbing heart in this southern momma, were just the hired help. The entertainment. N’ary an inch of bleacher space could be had.
So. Plan B. I would go with her and stand on the sidewalk and watch the Tuesday night rehearsal. That would be a great memory for the both of us. Little did I know!
All dancers and group entertainers know that call time is always early. So it was several hours before their actual rehearsal time slot when I accompanied her that afternoon. When she disappeared into Macy’s to gather with the other dancers who were warming up for their run-through, I found a spot on the sidewalk underneath the scaffolding directly across from a Macy’s entrance underneath their big beautiful “Believe” logo.
Well, with quite a while to wait, my feet began to complain with the cold. I wiggled my toes. I walked a few steps upstreet. I walked a few steps downstreet. I leaned against a light pole. I shivered inside my coat and watched the gathering crowd. And this ole’ southern gal soon began to realize that the cold was actually a blessing—because the curse soon began to fall from the sky. What began as just a foggy mist then became actual droplets of rain. Icy rain. It wasn’t steady. It wasn’t hard. But it was enough trouble to know that my bones would feel it come mornin’.
And then, the atmosphere around me began to change, to take on a bit of electricity. My hackles began to add tension to my shoulders. Most of the crowd was moving up and down the street, looking up at the scaffolding and peering around the street blockades, but I was pretty much standing still under one corner of that scaffolding. What was it? I had that feeling you get when a goose-walks-over-your-grave. Somebody was a’watchin’ me!
Slowly I looked over my left shoulder. Just moving tourists and New Yorkers hurrying home. As I turned to look to my right, I caught my breath. He was looking straight at me! This big ole’ guy in a ball cap and rain poncho made eye contact with me. I quickly looked down, shifted away, and said a quick prayer that this man would walk on by. He didn’t. And all of my antenna began to telegraph to me that this strange man had come up and was standing right behind me!
A flutter of panic. What did he want? Why was he standing here? I was too cold to move and too wet to run. There were lots of people everywhere, but no open stores. No NYPD blue uniforms. Just this presence behind me.
Was he talking to me?
He WAS talking to me. Scanning the crowd for a policeman and seeing none, I gathered my face into a sweet southern smile to help me face this danger. I batted my eyes for courage and turned and said, “Yeaahhuusss?”
He smiled. A fairly goofy smile with kind blue eyes and a glint of a twinkle under bushy brows. I breathed a sigh. No one with a smile that goofy could be threatening. “Ma’am, you’ve been standing here quite a while. I’m Joe with NBC Security, and I was just checking to see that you’re all right.”
He showed me his badge under his poncho, and I began to explain. The story of my precious daughter dancing her first Macy’s parade as a Radio City Rockette tumbled out of my relieved self. I made it clear that a little fall of rain would not keep a good momma down, and that I intended to watch that child of mine do this parade rehearsal right on this spot.
Joe chuckled a bit, and said he’d be back to check on me. As he made his rounds, he would wave and make eye-contact through those last, long, wet minutes of waiting. And then he came back to where I was. He extended his hand toward me, and said, “Let’s get you a better vantage point.”
“Where are we going?”, I asked. He was, after all, a Yankee.
“To get you a better place to watch!”
Now if you’re a careful parade watcher, you have probably noticed that the show performers or singers or specialty groups who stop to do their bit, stop on top of a huge gold and green and red star that is painted right on the street. Right in front of that “Believe” entrance to Macy’s. Right in front of the bleachers for all of those prominent hineys. And that is where Joe led me…right up to and in front of that star.
“Now,” Joe asked, squeezing my hand, “ain’t this better?”
I couldn’t speak. The tears in my eyes were his thanks. With instructions to stand right there, he told me he’d be back to check on me after the Rockettes ran through their number.
So I stood right there, just a few feet from that painted-street-STAR, and I began to feel like I was onstage myself. And I liked it. People were pointing. I smiled and nodded. Didn’t bother me a bit. Suddenly a handsome, chiseled face was beside me holding a big microphone with a Channel 10 News label. “Now, who are you, Ma’am? And what is your role here tonight?” So I told him. Like I said, I had begun to enjoy my moment. (Later that night Abbe’s phone exploded with friends texting her: “Your momma’s on the news!”) I saw the Rockette girls inside the glass Macy’s entrance doors directly across from me, awaiting their time, smiling and pointing at me. I waved to them. A few of them had come to know me as the lady with the big hair who sat in the third row, crying through their dance numbers. Later Abbe told me that one of the girls got her attention, pointed to me, and said, “Isn’t that your momma on the street?”
It was. It was her momma. And when those long-legged beauties took their place on the street to dance in the rain, my smile must have been brighter than the Macy’s “Believe” sign. Just a few feet from my daughter creating a memory she would never forget, joy was a palpable, breathing essence that flooded my soul. Thank you, God. Thank you for this moment. Thank you for the privilege of getting to raise this beautiful young woman. Thank you for your guidance in our lives. And thank you for Joe, NBC-Security-Joe who will probably never realize just how happy he made this cold, wet, southern momma.