The Red Balloon
I remember some of my third birthday party. It occurred outside, in the yard beside our home on Spring Street. There were several children there including Dale Gantry, the grandson of our next-door neighbors and a particular playmate of mine at the time.
My dad’s two youngest sisters, Eileen and Donna, helped my mother supervise. There was ice cream, lots of ice cream. My dad was manager of an ice cream plant.
We played games—I think. Pin the Tail on the Donkey for one. My mother and Aunt Eileen blew up balloon after balloon—red, blue, green, yellow—they trailed about the table and fluttered about the yard. The other kids at the party chased after them as they tumbled along the ground.
I was transfixed. I remember standing in the middle of the scene, children dressed in party clothes rushing about me, laughing and shrieking—the boys in short pants with matching jackets and white shirts, the girls in pastel crinoline dresses with starched petticoats and bows in their hair.
I stood and looked at them all and wondered at their happiness. Why were they all so glad to be tearing around after the flying balloons?
Then a yellow balloon came to rest at my feet. I stared down at it as it nuzzled against my blue and white saddle shoes. I felt unsure. Then I reached for it. It exploded with a bang.
I began to cry.
The party stopped. That moment is frozen—me in tears, the other children gone silent, some holding bright colored balloons, some letting balloons they’d almost caught go rushing away from them, tossed upon a late summer breeze.
All of them watching me. All of them uncertain if my tears would end the gaiety.
Then a boy I didn’t know, a red haired boy I learned much later was only a few months older than me, a boy a little bigger than me, came up and put his arm around me. “Let’s go catch that red one,” he said, pointing to a balloon that had somehow caught an updraft and was sailing along 8 or 10 feet in the sir—impossibly high, it seemed to me.
“How?” I asked as I wiped my face.
“We’ll fly,” he said.
He took his arm off my shoulder and bolted after the balloon, his arms straight out making a whooshing noise like Superman. A nanosecond later I followed. We chased the red balloon as hard as we could. The wind died and the balloon floated down just at the edge of our yard. He caught it and handed it to me. “Happy birthday. I’m Ralph.”
The party went on and everyone had cake and ice cream and something to drink. Everyone got a favor. A little girl who looked like one of my grandmother’s china dolls with the darkest hair I’d ever seen told me she liked my party. Ralph told me later her name was Jenny Swan.
I got nice presents—I guess. I don’t remember that part.
Years later I found a clipping my mother saved from the local paper that described the party. There is a picture of me in the same outfit I wore at the party-navy blue linen suit (short pants), white shirt, red bowtie. I am smiling. Underneath, a description of the party. It says I received the nice gifts. That’s how I know.