I don’t like when balloons pop. I have a sound sensitivity issue, which causes me to have an aversion to loud noises. Though I absolutely love balloons now, it wasn’t always so. I was actually afraid of them at one time.
For my first birthday, my parents had a celebration for me. My parents blew up balloons, and attached them to a string hung above my playpen. At the end of the party, the balloons were popped. I don’t know whether that caused the aversion or a later event, but by October 1984, I was definitely afraid of balloons because I thought they would pop.
Eventually the situation changed. I started to enjoy balloons from afar, though still I didn’t like when they popped. I wasn’t comfortable touching them either. For whatever the reason, the change embarrassed me. Maybe I created a certain reputation for myself that I wanted to keep? I’m not sure exactly, but I didn’t want my family to know about the change. Fortunately, I was able to enjoy balloons through my brother, Dave, since he had plenty of them as a young child.
Dave’s bedroom used to be mine when I was very young. Later, Dad’s den became my bedroom and baby Dave got my old room. When Dave’s room was redecorated for him, Mom put up a bright blue wallpaper featuring bears on red airplanes flying in the sky. A large corkboard was hung on the wall opposite his two windows to hang things that were important to him. Various items were showcased on the board during the time we lived on Shippensburg Road, although to me the most notable items were his balloons.
Although I was oblivious to it, Dave picked up on me liking balloons. He started what I affectionately call The Balloon Gag. He coined the term in the past year. He wanted to out me liking balloons to our parents, by putting me in awkward situations involving balloons. Since it put me in situations where I could enjoy his balloons, it worked for me.
I wanted to discuss balloons with Dave, so I invented code words, to keep it secret. “Scaries,” referred to balloons themselves since I was thought to be afraid of them. When I said, “I saw you went to The Bluebird Shop,” I meant that I noticed he got a balloon. The Bluebird Shop was a card store in a dream I had where, Bluebird, its mascot, gave helium balloons to children.
Our play often involved balloons, but not real ones. We had an orange hoppity-hop ball. I took one of its handles, put it in my mouth and made the blowing sound, pretending I was inflating a balloon. We had balloons cut from colored contact paper on the walls in our play area, and when I was pretending to play a video game using the micro machine cars, I made the car jump between the strings, while avoiding touching the balloons themselves. Dave and I made balloons from paper, by drawing the shape twice on paper using markers; then cutting them out, and taping them together. We tried to blow them up, though it didn’t work.
We would play “act out” video games where we would take turns pretending to be the player, as well as controlling the enemies. Sometimes balloons would appear as an enemy, if Dave was controlling them. On three occasions he brought balloons to the basement for this purpose. I’m not sure it would have been good if he was caught bringing them there as our parents would have thought he was bringing them to tease me!
Dave made sure I received a picture of a clown. Our religious education classes had a Christmas program every year with various acts provided by students. One year my class sang “Silent Night.” In two different years a group of students held the letters for the words to spell “Merry Christmas.” This was a school activity that Dave and I were both able to be involved in, though we’re years apart in age. In 1991 there was an act involving a clown. The clown brought four balloons, and pretended to need help to get them started. Since it was a surprise act, most of the students who were involved in spelling Merry Christmas were already up on stage (Dave and I were not.) The clown drafted the girl holding the letter M, to help her by getting the balloon started. She would then finish the balloon, and read a verse about Christmas. She did this for each balloon. The clown then bagged the balloons in a black garbage bag. Our parents took a picture of the clown. In those days, they would get duplicates made of the photos. They would keep one for their album, and let Dave and I take turns selecting the duplicates. I was the last person to receive a picture, and Dave didn’t pick the picture of the clown, meaning that it became mine.
We went to a fortieth birthday party for an aunt, on January 18th, 1992. The house was decorated with large round balloons that had “Happy Birthday” printed on them, as well as a birthday cake. A majority of them were in the kitchen attached to a chandelier above the table where the food was being served.
We were allowed to hang out in their basement where it was quiet. Nobody else went down there. It also had a few decorations. A yellow balloon was attached to the banister, and a blue Happy Birthday balloon was on a shelf. Dave and I spent much of the time looking at my NES Game Atlas that I had brought along. Dave picked up the blue balloon, and tossed it in the air a few times before placing it back on the shelf.
I came up with an idea. We would pretend different items in the room were various video game systems. Though we only had a Nintendo, I was aware of other gaming consoles. Though the names of most of the “systems” were lost to time, one remains with me to this day. The yellow balloon taped to the railing; I called the Balloon System as I took particular interest in that balloon.
The week before my brother’s birthday in February, he received a birthday card from them in the mail that Dad brought in over his lunch break from work. The card depicted a marmalade cat, and contained a left-over blue balloon from the party. Dad blew up the balloon before Dave left for afternoon kindergarten. I found out about the balloon later when I came home from school.
At the Home-A-Rama show that year, they had a pile of balloons for children, advertising Owens Corning Fiberglas. The balloons were large, pink, and showed their logo, the Pink Panther. Dave carried the balloon with him the whole day, squeezing on the neck of the balloon causing the natural air in the balloon to get trapped, and causing the balloon to inflate a little bit.
Dave also received balloons from school as well. One day in May, his class went on a field trip to Key Terra Farms, which gave each student a goodie bag. After school, Dave removed the balloon from his bag and said to me, “Look what I have.” He took the hot pink balloon and tried to blow it up. The balloon wouldn’t blow up. He tried several more times before setting it on top of the dishwasher, for Mom or Dad to inflate later.
Later that week, he came home with another balloon, won as a prize at school. One evening I had asthma problems, and was in the living room with Mom. Dave came over from the kitchen with the balloon. Standing back towards the hallway, he tried to blow up the balloon. The body of the balloon looked a little different than the pink one, as it was trying to expand outwards. Dave wasn’t given enough time to get it to expand. Mom noticed what he was doing, and told him to stop it, thinking he was trying to scare me with it. In reality Dave was not making the asthma problem worse, he actually temporarily made me feel better, by getting my focus off of the asthma.
On May 23rd, I was back in my bedroom reading a science book for a school project. While I was reading, Dave was in the living room where his balloons were finally inflated. He also played a game of, “Keep the Balloon up in the Air,” with my parents, using one of the balloons. Dave told me about the game, after I had found out that he had the balloons. These balloons were not actually pinned on his corkboard, but were placed on the lid of his Sesame Street toy box. I really enjoyed these balloons, even though I was afraid to touch them, as I really liked their coloration. Unfortunately, these balloons didn’t seem to last as long as others. It seemed like they deflated in no time.
I remember the day that the green balloon disappeared along with his blue Happy Birthday balloon he received for his birthday. They were in his garbage can, as they were deflated. One of my chores at the time was helping gather the garbage. I remember the thrill of doing his room this week since I knew, eventually the balloons would “fly” out of the can, and into the bag I was emptying into.
At the dentist’s office, Dave got a white balloon-animal rabbit which he showed me before placing it on his desk. This was another balloon I paid extra attention to.
Other times he specifically picked balloons such as from the prize box of the lady who cut our hair. Dave chose balloon-animal dogs one time, and twice uninflated skinny, long balloons such as those used to make balloon-animals. My parents couldn’t blow up the skinny long balloons (though Dad’s inflated, it popped.)
Dave would tell me stories about balloons. When I was in sixth grade, Dave and I rode the bus together. The day I was absent, a rambunctious student brought a half a bag of balloons on the bus. She gave them to her friends, and blew one up herself. Besides making sure I knew about it, Dave also told me, that if I would have been on the bus, he would have pointed to me and said, “He wants one,” to try to get her to give me a balloon. In reality, since he wasn’t one of her friends, he probably wouldn’t have been successful.
In July of 1993, Dad came home in the evening with a bag of balloons. Mom asked what they were for, and Dad said the yard sale. I was curious about the balloons though I never saw them. On the day before the yard sale, I was playing on the porch, and accidentally left a toy out there. That evening I was playing the Talespin video game in my room with Dave watching. I reached world five for the first time, and couldn’t beat the boss. I also learned about the toy on the porch, and that I needed to bring it in. Dad happened to be there blowing up balloons for the yard sale on Saturday. To avoid going out until he was done, and the balloons were put away, I played through all my continues at Talespin though I never did beat the boss. I also sent Dave out every so often to find out if Dad was done with the balloons. Dave would say that Dad’s still blowing them up, only he would make the blowing sound, and then say the words, “Them up”. Eventually, the balloons were put away, and I went out and put away the toy.
Balloons don’t last outside, and at the end of the day they needed replacing. My family happened to being going to Jane’s market, and while there, picked up some more balloons. These balloons were called “35 Fun Balloons.”
The bag of balloons was brought along to church so they could be inflated, and hung on the signs, on the way home. Dad started out inflating them, but because he was driving, Mom told him to let her blow them up. She stretched them in both directions, making them easier to blow. She chose balloons that would stand out to motorists making comments such as, “Here’s a big one,” or “Here’s a red one.” By the apple orchard she chose a blue balloon, as blue was Dave’s favorite color. “Aw! It has a hole in it,” she said. She found another blue one to blow up.
Before Bottom Road she said, “Here’s a big one. It’s even green. It looks like a snap pea! Tommy, if you had to like a balloon, it would be this one.” When it came time to hang some of the balloons on the sign, she told Dad to save the green and blue balloons. Dad wondered why, and she said, “Tommy, Davy.” After attaching balloons to another sign, we went home, and the remaining balloons were put on the sign at the bottom of the driveway.
At home the extra balloons were put in a small corner drawer in the kitchen. Also in the drawer was vanilla potpourri, causing the balloons to acquire this scent. When we moved to our current house the potpourri was put in the vacuum to make the house smell nice. For this reason, when the vacuum was run, it made Dave and me think of the balloons.
That August, Dave went to a birthday party which had party bags with balloons attached to them. When it was time to pick him up, Dave came out of the party with a blue balloon, and a smaller red balloon Dad had inflated on the way to the car. While the blue balloon lasted for months, the red one deflated quickly. Not realizing that the air was held in by a knot, I told Dave that if he played with it enough, it would lose the rest of its air, and could be blown back up. Dave liked the idea, but because of the knot, it lost no more air.
Dave finally learned to blow up balloons during fall of 1994. His class made globes, using a balloon. The students had to blow up the balloons, though Dave didn’t know how. A friend taught him. Continents were made from paper, and taped on the balloon. It took two goes to get the project correct. Excited to show me his new ability, Dave took the original balloon home to show me he could blow it up. Between the knot and the continents, it didn’t work very well.
In 1995, we had a second yard sale. Similar to the first one, a sign was placed at the bottom of the driveway. Mom wanted to put some balloons on the sign, and had the 35 Fun Balloons out, but they wouldn’t blow up. She left the bag on the porch. Grandma, Dad, and Dave watched the sale, while Mom and I went to visit my great aunt who lived in Gettysburg in a nursing facility. While we were away, a man came to the sale who was able to inflate a few balloons for the sign. Dave found a five-inch white balloon he thought was interesting, and took it inside to see if he could blow it up. He was able to make it the size of a golf ball. When Mom and I returned, we saw that some balloons were on the sign now, though being mostly yellow, they didn’t show up that well. Dave had me go upstairs, as he wanted to show me he could blow up the white balloon.
Sometime in the spring of 1996 I finally told my parents that I liked balloons. They were shocked! Stores stopped offering them to Dave, so if I wanted to admire balloons, I would need to get my own. This ended the Balloon Gag. By touching them, I got used to their smooth texture. I finally had some at my fifteen birthday celebration that year.
Balloons are still important to me to this day. I find them to be calming. I must confess I am sometimes obsessed with them! I will always look back fondly upon when I first started liking balloons.
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