The following first appeared in Laura Hedgecock’s blog, www.treasurechestofmemories.com. With the trees budding and the bees buzzing, I thought it’d be a fitting post for a spring day.
There we stood, lined up along that faulted slab of asphalt outside the school gymnasium. Third grade. That time when it began to dawn on me that there might actually be something awkward in the way I looked—freckled with a wavy mop of hair; brown corduroy pants and red pull-ring zipper shirt that I’d come to know as my “Tuesday” ensemble.
Earlier in the morning we had been given cards to fill out. The cards were to include our names, grade year, and the name and address of our school along with brief message. “Make sure it’s readable,” the principal admonished us, “so the person who receives it will know just where to send their reply.” She said this as if a return message was guaranteed which stoked in me a feeling of great excitement and anticipation. It was to be my message in a bottle. Some tangible record of my childhood dreams. A shared whisper of my ambition. But instead of watching it roll out with the tide, I’d be casting it into the great blue dome of sky, attached to the string of a balloon. With our hearts still mired in the dredge of winter, the annual balloon release—chosen always on the first warm day of spring—was our way of arriving at the new season full of hope and promise. And so when the signal was given, they were released. A hundred or so brightly colored orbs tearing skyward with fugitive determination. I tracked mine in its rapid ascent, wishing it Godspeed as it shrank away and became just a faint orange dot in a floating blue sea.
In the days and weeks that followed, the letters began to trickle in. They’d read them over the school’s public address system each morning; letters from faceless recipients who would close an existential circuit and breathe wonder and imagination into the heart of the balloon’s sender. But it always seemed to be the same charmed group of kids whose balloons completed the sojourn, drifting long distances like a sailor at sea before touching gracefully down in some faraway magic place like Gaines or Otisville. Others, like myself, sat cross-legged on the floor, hoping anxiously to hear our names. It was a stubborn hope that refused to fade away, right up until the close of the school year.
It remains a minor mystery in my life. The whereabouts of those balloons that I had sent aloft, each with some vague, playground-age wish for wellbeing. At times, I’d picture it deflated and shriveled in the corner of some shopping plaza parking lot or hung up on the branches of some random tree. Most likely, it had made its way to some empty field where it sat inert, diffused of its helium lifeblood. A curiosity for cows.
Through the filter of my experiences since that time in my life, I’ve been compensated to realize that the magic had been largely in the journey itself. Watching my balloon float away into the morning, I couldn’t help but feel my heart soar right along with it. Its send-off had ignited my imagination and there’s a certain vestige of it all that remains with me to this day.
…Still, a letter would have been nice.