When I was a very young child, I used to walk out of the house and wander around the neighborhood alone. I was so young I wasn’t even in school yet. It was somewhere in the 1960’s, the decade where kids ate paint, breathed asbestos and played with plastic dry cleaning bags before the printed warnings became mandatory. I hardly understood the 60’s. They were my Landing-on-Earth years. Like an astronaut who just touched down, I was getting my wobbly legs used to gravity and time. I don’t know where I came from. All I know is I left a warm, comfortable limbo and slowly woke up to the bright, loud reality of this planet.
My mom said I hardly cried as a child. I didn’t talk much. It’s probably because I was taking it all in. Each moment held dreamy images and curious exploration. In hindsight, being a toddler turning into a young tike was like waking up from deep sleep – or coming out of cosmic anesthesia. Flashes of ceiling and light beamed over my crib. I remember nothing but images, tastes and sounds. Songs on the radio, “Close to You, “Happy Together”, “Mrs. Robinson” filled the audible space. The first nauseating taste of morning eggs in my mouth. Blossoms from the Japanese Cherry tree in our backyard danced outside my nursery window. There’s an out of body memory in my head of me clinging to my mother’s hip. Since I was born in the wake of JFK’s assassination, vague faces of the Kennedy clan floated by, black and white and grainy, likely from the TV news in the background.
As I was saying, I used to open the door to our house when my mother wasn’t looking. I’d stroll down the street, and enter backyards. This young wanderlust is likely inside all children; yet, mothers of today would be sent to jail for neglect if a little girl under the age of five is found wandering the neighborhood, splashing in the Bilquin’s pond, or playing with ornamental ceramic garden ducks. My vague memories are mostly scenes where I walk through gardens and feel a deep, innate, ancient sense of peace and zen. Perhaps young children are still fresh with the spirit of heaven. We tend to loose that feeling through the years, reaching for meditation, yoga and self help books on inner tranquility. My mother did the best she could despite my periodic escapes. Neighbors and their older kids would find me, take me by the hand, and bring me back to my house. My mother would be thankful, and try to keep her eye on me, but I’d always get out.
One memory is of a spring day. I opened the door, walked up our path to the street and wandered beyond an empty lot at the end of Wilmoth Avenue through a small thicket of woods to the Wilson’s backyard. The family had an acre or two of land that seemed like an open field.
On this day, my attention was struck by a single red deflating balloon that appeared out of nowhere. It had a long white string tied to the loosening knot with a post card dangling at the end. The wind pushed it forward over the grass, bouncing away from me, dragging the string as I chased this ethereal little rubber fellow around like we were in a ballet. It was a living dream, as if I was following a note from God with a message someone could read to me, like a story my dad told me before bedtime. Maybe it would reveal that everything was going to be okay in this life. Or perhaps it was a game?
I finally grabbed the string and held this precious sagging sphere, my reward for winning the chase. I took the postcard and looked at its’ hand written content, a scribble with loopy flourishes laced on one side. The feeling of success and elation turned to confusion. I was a least three or four years old. I didn’t know how to read. I brought the balloon and the note back home with me, and hid it somewhere in our house. I was suddenly nervous to have anyone read the postcard out loud. I felt the message and the balloon didn’t really belong to me, and I’d be in trouble for having chased it down in a place I shouldn’t have been in the first place. Who knows? I was so very young.
I never found the note inside my old house again. It was likely lost in accumulated clutter, gained after years of growing up.
This story struck me as an interesting tale to write for children. It swirled in my mind – the balloon, the mysterious message. It all felt like the game ‘Myst’, where I was alone in a silent surreal world known as early childhood, dancing with a balloon that held a message. Then, I realized, in today’s world of “Political Correctness”, there would be cries of “How could your mother let you wander off alone?” or “Oh My God, you could have been abducted!” or “Poor parenting.” Believe me, my half older brother has born it into me how embarrassing it was to have a mother who had moments of irresponsibility. But I don’t care. It was a different time. I was safe and watched by kind neighbors who only shook their heads knowing my mom held a touch of the flake. I cherish those moments of heaven, a child trying to find a little of the mystical world she left behind.
Last year, I was on Facebook and came across a school alumni forum for my old high school. Someone from my hometown who graduated about 15 years before I did posted the following. (I changed the name, and I’m paraphrasing, but the message was indeed this…)
Jenna MacDougal: Hi Guys! Class of 68 here! Remember when we did that project where we let go of all those balloons with postcards praising peace and love? How cool was that!?
After all these years, I finally have it confirmed. It was a note from God after all, sent through the hand of a teenager who wanted to spread the word.