“Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go!”
Not THIS year.
Oh, well, happy Thanksgiving anyway, y’all! I don’t have to remind you, we’re certainly not celebrating like we did with traditional Thanksgiving holidays of yesteryear, are we? It’s still 2020, after all, and drat! That dreaded coronavirus has drastically changed just about everything in our lives. Today, however, I’m taking a break from complaining about the omnipresent virus to reminisce on Thanksgiving holidays of old.
When I was growing up in 1960s Hattiesburg, Thanksgiving week meant two-and-a-half days off from school, giving kids enough reason to be thankful. We’d be dismissed from school midday on Wednesday and be off Thanksgiving Day and that Friday.
It was a Thanksgiving morning tradition for the Jones children to get up early at our little house on Fairley Street. Our mother would be in the kitchen, busily preparing our family’s holiday feast, but we kids had other plans. It wasn’t Thanksgiving Day without our watching the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live from New York City. What a thrill as we watched on our 21-inch Zenith black & white television. OK, it wasn’t a Samsung 55-inch flat screen, but those parade balloons looked every bit as big to me. Underdog was my favorite.
You may have noticed some changes in this year’s parade. It usually draws 3.5 million spectators and takes more than 8,000 volunteers to stage. Of course, in the year of coronavirus, especially now that we’re in another wave of the virus, having that many spectators packed together in Midtown Manhattan just won’t do. This year, the parade will shift to a television-only presentation. Instead of its traditional route through the canyons of Manhattan’s skyscrapers, 2020’s parade (if you can still call it that) will be staged mainly in front of Macy’s flagship store on Herald Square.
Yep, the giant balloons will still make their appearances, only without human handlers. They’ll hover in the air in front of Macy’s, moved along by specially rigged anchor vehicles. So, you’ll still see your favorite characters, including Snoopy. There’ll be musical performances, too; they will have been pre-recorded. And, as usual, Santa Claus will be swooping down from the North Pole to wrap up the parade.
I was never in New York City to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but back in the day in Hattiesburg, we had our own Thanksgiving Day parade, but the holiday was not the reason.
Hattiesburg’s parade celebrated the big Thanksgiving Day football game at Rowan High School, sometimes doubling as the school’s homecoming parade. Oh, it was such fun. As soon as Macy’s parade was over, kids and grownups alike from my neighborhood headed for the Rowan parade. Spectators would gather on Mobile Street, where the parade started, then settle in to watch the floats and bands marching by.
Mobile Street would be lined with hundreds of people. It may not have been New York City but in the 1960s, Mobile Street was the business hub for Hattiesburg’s African American community, our own little version of “Times Square.”
The parade included a number of community groups, all marching across town to the end at Rowan High. I even marched in it one year as a Cub Scout. The late Jesse Parker was our mentor and den leader. My little brother, Keith, and I were so proud marching in the parade, showing off the spanking-new Cub Scout uniforms our folks got us at Belk-Whitley on Pine Street.
It may have been Rowan’s homecoming but the entire community celebrated. Don’t forget, those were the days of segregation, when Hattiesburg had a separate (but not necessarily equal) school system. Black students attended Rowan High School and white students attended Hattiesburg High.
Rowan’s parade and football game were the big social events on Thanksgiving. They often played rival Oak Park, its African American high school sibling from our sister city, Laurel.
After the parade but before the game was the big event – the main event for me, dinner. Since I had so many relatives living on the east side of Hattiesburg, Thanksgiving dinner was not limited to the feast I’d already eaten at home. I could visit several relatives for a little more turkey, ham, dressing and, of course, a second hunk of pecan pie. My, how times have changed.
This year, health experts are advising us to limit the size of gatherings at home and avoid traveling to visit relatives. Some have even suggested we have holiday feasts outdoors, you know, like the Pilgrims did at the first Thanksgiving with the Native Americans.
But, there I go again, returning to thoughts about the coronavirus, and what it means for our 2020 Thanksgiving celebrations. As long as we’re on the subject though, let’s be thankful that a couple of promising vaccines are in the pipeline. After being administered to health care workers and first responders first, the vaccines may be ready for the general population as early as next spring.
In the meantime, hang in there. While the vaccines sound promising, it doesn’t give us permission to throw caution to the wind and return to our previous lives. Right now, we should all continue practicing social distancing and wearing our masks. And. of course, don't forget to wash your hands often.
We’re not out of the woods yet. But, if we keep being safe, taking care of ourselves and each other, next year, we could return to traveling over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. Or to anywhere else we want to travel, for that matter.
Elijah Jones is a proud Hattiesburg native who enjoys writing. Email him at email@example.com.