Thousands line streets for Thanksgiving parades, Midwest travelers finally make it home after snowstorm

Thursday, November 25th 2004, 4:30 pm
By: News On 6

Tim O'Connor decided tired arms were a small price to pay so his 4-year-old grandsons could get a bird's eye view of a giant yellow sponge with a red tie. So up off the ground they went, Sean and Declan, to ohh and ahh at the floating SpongeBob SquarePants.

The gigantic balloon made its debut Thursday in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade _ and it couldn't have been a bigger hit.

Thousands of onlookers jammed the streets of New York to see the scores of balloons, floats and bands that mark the traditional kickoff to the holiday season.

``The atmosphere of the parade is so friendly,'' O'Connor said. ``It makes it a nice event, and it gets them out of the house so that parents can cook dinner.''

Across the country, millions of Americans gathered with family and friends to enjoy gut-busting feasts and take in parades and football games.

While the crowd along Broadway was enjoying a mild 65-degree day, the folks in Detroit were bundling up against a biting wind and subfreezing temperatures.

Carl Williams was up at sunrise to cook turkey legs, bratwurst, hamburgers and hot dogs on an outdoor grill before Detroit's annual Thanksgiving Day parade. Thousands showed up for the parade before fans from the Detroit Lions-Indianapolis Colts game across the street started showing up.

``Shoot, this is the place to be,'' Williams said as he warmed his hands over the glowing coals.

The Detroit parade took place a day after the Midwest's first winter storm of the season. But the weather did not stop Nick Nicholson and his family from watching in person, instead of on TV as they usually do. His daughters, Katie, 10, and Lindsay, 3, sat in a little red wagon at his feet, wrapped in fleece from head to toe.

``I wanted to sleep later, but this'll be fun,'' Katie said.

Others in the Midwest were thankful just to get home Thursday.

The storm stranded hundreds of holiday travelers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport overnight after nearly 50 flights were canceled. The National Weather Service said parts of Illinois got up to 8 inches of snow, while up to 9 inches were expected in southern Michigan.

Strong thunderstorms, high winds and icy conditions made driving conditions treacherous for thousands of other travelers.

``It's not worth getting upset about _ it's Mother Nature,'' said Theresa Pixler, whose flight from Chicago to Sioux Falls, S.D., was canceled Wednesday night. She hoped to make it to her final destination in Iowa in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

``You have to take it all in stride. We'll get there eventually.''

Across the country, many families opened their homes to servicemembers who couldn't see their own families for the holiday.

Joshua Flesher, a 20-year-old Marine based at Fort Knox, was one of four soldiers staying with a family in New Albany, Ind. ``If it wasn't for them, I'd be standing duty right now,'' he said.

Most of the Marines invited to families' homes recently finished boot camp and will probably ship out to Iraq when they finish tank gunnery school.

More than 100 servicemembers in Virginia also sat down to a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal . Jan and Steve Daum of Gloucester fed two Army National Guard privates from Fort Eustis, figuring the more guests, the merrier.

``We had done Thanksgiving with just the two of us, and it's not as much fun as with a crowd of people,'' Jan Daum said. ``When you can't be with family, make a family.''

In Florida, residents still recovering from this year's disastrous hurricane season were taking time to be grateful for the little things.

``You're thankful for what didn't happen to you, being right here in this area. You just look around and be thankful,'' Richard Strong said as he looked at the barrier island of Sanibel, which was pummeled by Hurricane Charley in August. ``The damage is still everywhere and very evident.''

In Michigan, an airport baggage area turned in to Family Reunion Central when about 70 members of an Army Reserve company returned home from Iraq for the holiday.

Edward Silverthorn was greeted by his wife and three children, ages 11, 9 and 5, who each wore a T-shirt that said: ``My Daddy made it back from Iraq.''

``I've been a single mom for too long,'' Silverthorn's wife, Anna, said at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. ``I didn't care about the turkey. I just wanted to come here.''