Living on a Missouri farm in a township that should be named ’Middle of Nowhere’, days go on endlessly for a child. There are daily chores and school activities with each day running into the next. Some days are more memorable if a windstorm comes through and we must scramble to bed all the animals. Even the long snow day that begins near Thanksgiving and ends in February, if we are lucky, becomes mundane. How many days of sledding and cocoa can a child actually enjoy?
The only highlights for me were when a baby animal was born. On such a night I was allowed to sit with dad and wait. Since it can happen so quickly, dad could go off to get coffee and miss the birth. I get to give the mom water and stroke her forehead where the white and caramel hair mingles to make a cross pattern.
How can this be? The new foal with her legs so long and knobby and yet they refuse to hold her up as she slides to the hay bed. A little after daybreak the mom nudges the filly to stand over and over again. The frail little legs unfold like my umbrella, becoming strong enough to stand, wobble-walk, then trot. I follow behind cheerfully.
The kittens come one after another and with a few licks from momma-kitty their fur is revealed and they are searching for food, only I don’t know how they know where to find milk because their eyes are shut!
Well, today will be remembered for a long time. I know it is August’s end and that school will start the day after Labor Day. The circus left late last night while we were, most likely, listening to the crickets and bullfrogs and laying still in the stagnant air that rises to our rooms as the sun sets, waiting for sleep.
My friends came by just after morning chores. A rag-tag bunch-one overall strap fastened a shoestring curling out of the top of a muddy boot and sticking to the sole. Rosie had her cotton nightgown stuffed into a denim skirt and her piggy tails from last night now hang mischievously on her head as if they are playing hide and seek from each other. Tommy has his favorite stick and compass and a dab of mustard on his shirt. No one is supposed to know but he probably is carrying the swiss-army knife his grandpa gave him. The twins would be afraid and might squeal if they knew. We make our way down to the large field, outside of the baseball diamond, on Old Route 4.
Just the day before loud, lit and lively with all sorts animals, amusements and yummy treats. Now just some paper bags with red stripes from popcorn, cups from the carbonated-soda drinks and lemonade, and dancing napkins lie as a testament to the week’s events.
As we traipse through looking for a lost toy from the game-winners or a bracelet from the merry-go-round pull-ring, that often drop, I run pell-mell into something I have not seen before. A large-metal rocket.
“Hey, guys look at this rocket it must have come through our atmosphere! Look from the heat of entry some of the red paint scratched off!” Bobby is quick to correct me. He knows what this is because he has an older brother, “Patti, It’s a helium tank.” He continues,” A scientist discovered helium and it not only makes our balloons stay up in the air but is also strong enough to float a spacecraft!”
Just then Rosie stumbled over something under the large willow. The feathery branches hiding a box of helium balloons. We have all stopped our searching. Rosie is counting balloons” Free-Fou-Fii-Thix….”
Tommy has just caught up to us, excitedly holding a rectangular box. The box is made of wood and is painted a primary blue in the shiny enamel used on the game tables. He opens it to find some spaces empty of their articles but that’s ok because what remains is a brand-spanking new pair of binoculars!
I say to Bobby, he is the oldest,” Get this crew ready for flight. If it can be done, we are the ones to do it! I will be back shortly. In no time at all, I had what we needed. A basket weaver had woven a basket for my mom. It’s bottom tight and covered in a baby blue gingham pattern. The sides flare out some and the richest-thick blue satin ribbon was pulled through the weave. The corners end in the satin; bowed and trailing. This was used once to carry my mom’s wares to the county fair and filled most of the pick-up truck bed.
When I get back Bobby and Tommy are checking out the crew and have decided the twins need to be the ground crew. If something goes wrong, they are the ones that would offer the most detailed report back to our parents. The twins must feel very grown up to have been given this most important task. As they climb up on wooden crates to reach the nozzle, they are given the secret technique of how to use the helium tank to blow up the balloons. Everyone has already sampled the helium by letting it fill their mouths and then saying something.
We tie the basket to the willow with some left-behind circus-tent rope and start assembling the balloons evenly on each corner. With the ropes tight, the basket lifts off the ground just a bit from the balloons. We climb aboard in our stocking feet, “No mud in space.” Tommy says, as he takes his position at the helm to navigate the craft.
Tommy and Bobby have given detailed instructions to the twins. “Keep making balloons-attaching them to the last one. No matter what you see or don’t see, stay here until the streetlights come on. Do you understand? Good repeat after me.”
In a parrot-like fashion they repeat, “Keep making balloons attaching them to the last one. No matter what you see or don’t see stay here until the street lights come on. Do you understand? Good repeat after me.”
“Ok good enough, “says Tommy. Bobby rolls his eyes. Bobby had already briefed the twins on the need for the knife and they seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. One rope, second rope, thiiirrrrdd,,,, “whoa” “Whoooaaa!” “Quickly slice the last rope!” Swish with the tentacles of the willow brushing us in ticklish motion we were off.
Floating up we notice the clear day while clingy dew settles on us. Every now and again we feel the tug of another balloon being fastened. We are not going up fast as I would have thought but gently as a leaf must feel in flight.
Rosie opened the Ritz package of crackers and passed them out. We nibbled on them appreciating the buttery top with a hint of sweetness. As we nibbled, the crumbs floated outward not falling on our laps as usual and the birds came for their share. Not rushed like the crows in the field or threatening like the buzzards that circled when an animal fell, but gently and without hurry. I thought of the birds in Snow White,” They are real!”
We looked over the edges to see the field, Old Route 4, and the patchwork of our farms. Then we went through the clouds. They were not heavy. Inside we were able to see each other and our fingers as we wiggled them trying to grab at something of substance. We laughed about the birds we had seen earlier.
We rose higher than the clouds now and we went to a point where all movement stopped. I marveled at how we stayed suspended between the day and the endless night of the universe. I wanted to remember the blue and black hues forever. How they mingled and yet did not mix. How the blackness appeared to be see-through going on for miles.
At one point I discovered the blue rectangle box was floating up. I reached out for it and decided if it could float, I might as well give it a try. The basket was a little cramped after all, I decided while straddling the box and floating maybe a foot away from the craft, until Tommy notices, “Hey, My turn!” “Ok”
Tommy says,” I can see the moon coming with my binoculars we better get back” We look to see nothing more than a white outline of the moon but know it will be evening soon.
Bobby began poking the balloons, one from each corner then back again POP- POP- POP- POP. Going down through the cloud was not as easy as going up. We are suspended for a while in the cloud with the balloons above it. “Now what?” Taking a maiden voyage is never predictable we decide. Bobby and Tommy are taller so they have to stand while we hold their feet and pop more balloons until we are heavy enough to go through. POP-POP-POP-POP-POP!! “Here we go!”
Drifting, drifting, drifting. Something about going down is making us feel sleepy. We must have slept during the landing. The next thing I know I feel the twins looking down at me. I open my eyes. The others are laying in various parts of the field. Tommy is resting his head on a rock by the stream. Bobby is near the crates with his head resting on a balloon. Rosie is under the willow her muddy boot sticking out from the branches.
Hey, guys! Everybody wake up! You OK?” “Yea!” “YEP” “sure why did you wake us up?” “I needed to know you all made it back down ok”,I say. “Of course, we are OK. Back down from where?” Tommy asks. “From up there” “Ok Patti, you must be having one of your daydreams. “Nooo” “Come on guys we should get back home”, Rosie says. As they walk off, I am trying to put the pieces back together,” I know we went up!” I look over where Tommy was and see the binoculars. “Hey, guys, wait!” As I look up, the clouds open and I see the blue rectangular box floating where the sky meets the endless night of the universe.
Lady Jayne 9/19