I am not sure if my bucket list is actually longer than my husband’s or if it is just my active drive to complete the many items on my unwritten quest for adventure. Doug knows me, and my imaginary list well and last Christmas he thoughtfully provided me with a voucher for a hot air balloon ride. I have been patiently waiting until autumn to see the seasonal changes from above and put the proverbial check in the hot air balloon box. Over the past two weeks our ride has been scheduled, cancelled, and rescheduled several times due to less than optimal weather conditions. Papa knew Doug and I were planning a ride and yesterday when we asked Papa if he wanted to go with us up into the hot air balloon. He answered immediately; sure I’ll try it!
Today was a beautiful fall day, the temperature was in the mid 70’s, there was minimal wind and the visibility was amazing. We received the mid morning call that the flight was on. I raced home from work and Doug tried to contact Papa to let him know that today was the day. Calling multiple times Doug was not able to reach Papa by phone. In a bit of a panic we arrived to home to find the power had been out all morning. We have cordless handsets located throughout our home, but only one hard-wired phone. Papa heard the telephone ringing as we tried to contact him, but the wireless model that he was attempting to answer was not working. I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to keep trying to answer a telephone only to hear it continue to ring. After we pulled up Papa was standing looking out of the window. The power is out, and the phones aren’t working right, they only ring and ring. The mystery of the ringing phone was quickly forgotten when we told Papa we were going to ride in a hot air balloon. Today is the day! He was ready to go.
Papa quietly sat in the back seat for our hour-long drive just looking out the window. We tried to make conversation but he provided the short one-word answers he typical does when he is nervous. It was a scenic drive but I was concerned that he might have been second-guessing his decision to come with us. Shortly after we arrived at the meeting place the truck pulled up and he saw the basket all of his questions came flowing out like a gust of wind. Where are we, is this still Virginia? It is country, not like where you live. Where is the balloon? It looks like a big basket, are we all going to go in that basket? How does the balloon fill? What kind of fuel do they use? I wonder what makes it float? The pilot quickly started unpacking and putting everyone to work while Papa started checking it out just as if he was looking under the hood of one of his old cars. I asked him if he was excited and ready to go and Papa just smiled and nodded.
The balloon was quickly laid out and filled with air using two large fans while the pilot gave us instruction. He explained he was going to fire the burner, the gondola would stand upright and just like watching the Wizard of Oz we would have to quickly climb in the basket before it floated off. This is when my second wave of concern hit. Papa is not very flexible…or fast. Hang on; my leg doesn’t bend that far. Someone pushed, another person pulled and a third person helped him lift his leg over the edge. He rolled over the rim, grinned and off we went. Wow! It is floating. Wow! This is nice.
Several times during the flight Papa looked at the pilot and asked, how do you steer this? I just wonder how you make it go to the right place? The pilot would chat with Papa for a few moments on an unrelated subject and then have to turn back the burner hoping to distract him. Papa would look at the beautiful fall foliage or watch the animals below and several minutes later he would ask again, how do you make it go where you want it to? I am not sure he understood that the pilot can only change our altitude by climbing or descending and other than that we were depending on favorable wind currents to direct us safely from one open field to another, and I don’t think any of us was about to explain the flight of a hot air balloon mid-air. We enjoyed our spectacular birds eye view and changed the subject each time Papa asked about how the balloon moves.
After a gentle upright landing we watched the pilots and chaser pack up the balloon and I mentioned to Papa that he had been very quiet on our drive and asked if he had been concerned before we went up. The words, which seemed so sparse as we were in the car, were still easily flowing. I wasn’t worried, I was just thinking about what it would be like. I laughed and mentioned that this was a new experience for all of us, we didn’t know what to expect either and we were very happy he had wanted to go with us. Was it what you expected? Did you have fun? Yes! It was smooth; I never knew they used fans to fill it with air. I just couldn’t imagine that it would be that smooth or quiet. Well, it was pretty loud when he turned on the fire. Did you see the animals? I liked watching the animals. Did you hear the dogs bark? I never knew sound travels up in the air. Why do they use a basket? I don’t know how it held us; it was just a basket, a wicker basket. How far did we go? How are we going to get back to our car? I never thought I would ride in a balloon at eighty. I just never thought I would have the opportunity. I liked it. Thank you, I really did like it.
We declined the champagne this time, but many balloonists recite the Balloonist’s Blessing with the toast at the end of every ride:
The winds have welcomed you with softness
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands
You have flown so high and so well
That God has joined you in your laughter
and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother earth.