I still cringe when a balloon pops, partly because of the explosion no doubt, but mostly because I like balloons. One of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood was associated with bursting balloons. My mother took me and my brother for a visit to her family. The trip was long enough so we had to take a train to get there, and this must have been a visit of monumental proportions - the only one, I am sure, in which we traveled clear to Michigan.
All of the brothers and sisters, of which there were seventeen if they were all at the reunion, went on some kind of excursion leaving the grandchildren with my grandmother. She expected us to take a nap. I was not accustomed to napping and was unable to sleep. This was probably the first time I had been away from my mother, and I was in strange, cold surroundings. I slipped out of bed and crouched on the stairway, close to the banister where I hoped I wouldn't be seen. My grandmother, however, still sharp-eyed, spotted me, spanked me, and put me back in bed where I lay wide-eyed and lonely, afraid to cry.
When evening came and mother returned I was so delighted to be with her again that I scarcely noticed at first the gift she brought me. Then I realized it was balloons, a very special gift. I loved them so much that I seldom got them because I always cried when they broke. This was a whole package of balloons, and my delight was unbounded.
My delight didn't last long though. My grandparents had a new-fangled central heating furnace which consisted of a gas furnace with one big register right over it. The blast of air which blew the heat into the house was strong enough to blow the air from the furnace all over the house. One of my uncles soon discovered it was great sport to float the balloons over this register. This wasn't great sport for me, however, because the heat expanded the air inside the balloons and made them pop. One by one they died in violence, and each time I screamed in disappointment and frustration. Each time I screamed my uncle laughed, and this continued until every balloon was gone.
I don't know why my mother did not stop him. She was probably overwhelmed with so many of her relatives around, some of whom were quite hostile to her. More likely this was a reflection of the times when children were seen and not heard, and my uncle meant to be teaching me to be tough and accept the exigencies of life.
It was my father who taught me the most important lesson with balloons later on. This lesson was in the summer on one Sunday afternoon. We had gone somewhere in our car, a luxury demanded by the fact that my father was a doctor. During the course of the expedition I had acquired a balloon.
"Don't get her one," my mother had cautioned my father. "She will just cry when it breaks."
"I won't. I won't," I insisted. "I promise I won't cry when it breaks."
So my father bought the balloon for me, and I was riding contentedly along, looking at its bright color and smooth, curving shape. We were on our way home, and the traffic was heavy. Suddenly a gust of wind blew up and snatched that balloon right out of my hands, and away it went bobbling down along the side of the road.
"My balloon, my balloon!" I screeched at the top of my voice, and I burst into tears.
"Come now," my Mother argued, "you promised you would not cry!' This time the sound of my sobs fell on sympathetic ears. In all the hustle of Sunday afternoon traffic, my father turned the car around and went back to where the balloon escaped. He succeeded in recapturing it for me, and I can still remember the deep contentment of the remaining ride home.
Yes. Balloons are special in my life. I am an incredible idealist. I believe in the inherent goodness of man. I believe that whether life is beautiful or not, it has meaning and purpose. No matter how often life's experiences burst these beliefs in my face, I seek another balloon and try again. My father gave me more than a balloon that Sunday afternoon. He gave me love and understanding which I have never lost.