Last weekend, we took Alex to our town’s annual Hot Air Balloon Fest that is part of the local Popcorn Festival held every year. While the Popcorn Festival holds absolutely no appeal for Alex, who hates popcorn and has no interest in the various craft booths that dominate the event, he eagerly anticipates the Hot Air Balloon Fest every year. Unlike the Popcorn Festival, which is held in the downtown area and crowded with people and filled with the smells of various foods sold at the booths, the Hot Air Balloon Fest takes place on the outskirts of town at the county fairgrounds and offers enough open space to prevent his feeling overwhelmed by the number of people there. Consequently, Alex handles the Balloon Fest well because he doesn’t experience sensory overload. For him, going to this annual event is a ritual he enjoys continuing, and he is especially proud that he has been to every single one of them. Of course, he doesn’t remember the early years because he was too little. Moreover, he certainly doesn’t remember the first year the Balloon Fest was held when I was five months pregnant with him at the time but managed to trot along with him in tow, in a manner of speaking.
The Balloon Fest features two different events: launches and glows. While the launches are impressive with approximately a dozen or more hot air balloons flying through the air, they require nearly perfect weather conditions. Rain and wind affect the safety of the balloon flights; therefore, the chances of the balloons launching in unpredictable Indiana weather are somewhat rare. The balloon glows, on the other hand, do not need as ideal weather because the balloons are tethered and do not take flight. These glows take place after dark, and the gas jets not only inflate the balloons but also illuminate them, making the brightly colored balloons striking in the darkness. Since the balloon glows are much more predictable, Alex has been to more of these events than the launches. We haven’t wanted him to be disappointed by going to the Balloon Fest and not getting to see anything happen, especially since we have gone to launches a few times only to have them cancelled by winds that were too strong. Going to this year’s glow, Alex had the same enthusiasm that he has had every year, and, of course, he carefully counted the number of balloons and came up with fifteen.
As we walked in with him this year, Alex moved through the crowd with a confidence and ease. His long legs and long strides make keeping up with him tricky for me with my short legs and short strides. Plus, his eagerness to get to see the balloons made him walk even faster than usual. In years past, we pushed him in a stroller, carried him as he got older, and then had to slow our pace for his little legs when he was a young boy who wanted to walk on his own, excited to see the “big balloons.” During his unpredictable adolescent years, Ed and I both had to hold him by an arm to make sure he didn’t bolt. Even though we had misgivings about taking him during those years when his behavior could suddenly change, we pulled together to make sure he could take part in something he enjoyed so much. Clearly, Alex has catalogued these memories in his usual way, by numerical values. In asking him about the various years he’s seen the hot air balloons, he told me that in 2003 and 2004, they had the most balloons with 22 both years. We also recalled that the last time we saw the balloons actually launch two years ago, they flew over our heads as we sat in the grandstands watching them. His favorite memory of the festival, however, was watching the glow in 2005, when there were 17 balloons. While he couldn’t provide specifics about why he liked that time so much, he simply smiled and told me that it was “special.” Even though Alex can’t always clearly verbalize his feelings, his eyes and smile light up his face, making us glad that he was able to experience something that meant so much to him and makes him happy to recall the memory.
“I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven.” Psalm 123:1