and so another Thanksgiving comes and goes. Memories hopefully were made, but I reflect on memories lost to time, the generations who came before us. Those people and traditions dearly missed yet with deep appreciation
My wife became ill enough last night that she went to our sleepy little seaside hospital’s ER. Back in less than two hours with the goods – antibiotics, she was rendered to the couch this Thanksgiving.
Coincidentally, after a brief stay seven years ago, she was discharged from said hospital exactly on this day as well. Her visits bookend trips with the kids down to New York, so that we could see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which leads me to the true point of the reflection.
Prone on the couch, my wife had a revelation about the Parade. “It’s all about selling something.”
Now cured of illness or removed from the chilly, noisy excitement of a sidewalk at 38th & 6th, she has realized that every float is a corporate sale vehicle, every dance act, the selling of Broadway, every faux rock countrified crossover disaster a recording label promotion; that, it’s all a well orchestrated sales job.
But isn’t that what made our postwar America great, I remind her. I realize our gap in generation. I’m a Baby Boomer, even if at the end of the Baby Boom. I grew up at the end of the America that survived Depression and War to dominate the end of the 20th Century. It was wholesome, benign celebration.
I recall Thanksgiving Days when the streets of New York weren’t the only streets filled with consumers revealing in this the only, truly American holiday; celebrating America, its tenacity, innovation, and industry.
Philadelphia, my father’s adopted city had Gimbels’ Parade and Detroit – yeah, Detroit was prosperous, energetic and displayed its relevance to the nation with the Hudson’s Parade. Smaller cities boasted of local enterprise and viable economies of competitve goods.
Gimbels and Hudson were larger department stores. Hell, Bernard Gimbel really was the father of these Parades – a 1920s ideal to annually christen the holiday shopping season; the soft sell.
Department Stores were city anchors, legacy icons before vapid Malls of publically traded, over-analyzed “Big Box” Retailers swept the map under cutting all that stood in their way. Those “Second” Cities were tied to an economic health based in the wealth of their hard working, functional middle class.
They promoted themselves in the face of Gotham’s Center of the Universe myopia, against Wall Street’s looming shadow and Broadway’s shiny allure; even television networks gave them air time before family, feast and football.
Detroit could afford seasonal cheer at the Hudson Parade and then, fill Tiger Stadium downtown for that annual Packer Lion football brawl. Philadelphia could forgo hoagies and cheese steaks for a day.
But like any competition, there are losers and these cities had the clock run out and lost. They lost the middle-class to the suburbs. Detroit sank with the sun as Asia rose again like a Phoenix; a compact, more efficient, well tooled Phoenix; even the Lions went suburban. Similarly Philadelphia was abandoned by racial disintegration, disinvestment, crime, fear and the strangulation of their nonmilitary industrial and manufacturing base.
It obliterated the American City. The winners consolidated those morsels of recovered assets and sold the rest. Many were left out (such as my father, left to sell the one house he ever owned, thanks to the G.I. Bill) and it forever changed America. For some of us, we’re reminded annually on that one day feast. The day celebrating those who dared nature for a better life – the debtors, losers, who, once committed to that ideal, in dire consequence, they found salvation in the form of dark strangers, who befriended and fed them.
Generations have heard that tale but fewer generations remember the greater story when we had choice; when the stores didn’t look all the same from sea to shining sea; when we had a middle-class and when our cities were relevant.