growing a plant in a paper cup

From the time I was very young, balloons have been a source of considerable personal anxiety. If I got one at the shoe store or at the dentist, my Mom would holler at me in the car on the way home to keep it from floating up in the back seat and blocking the rearview mirror. I’d start out kinda sitting on the balloon to protect it from my older brother Randy, who would always be reaching over to try to pop it. As gingerly as I could, I’d wedge that purple or orange bulge between the outside of my thigh and the inside of the car door on the driver’s side, where I always sat. They didn’t put kids in car seats back then, but we did have to wear seat belts. If Randy did manage to pop it while Moms was driving, she’d jump and let out a little scream, then pull over into a gas station and beat my ass. Probably happen again when Daddy got home and heard about it. So I felt protective of this thing that was under my care, and the feeling lasted long after I had unstuck my legs from our car’s hot vinyl interior. If the ribbon was long enough, I’d leave it tied to my wrist even at the dinner table, while I held the balloon under the chair with my feet while I ate. There just wasn’t any correct way to deal with a balloon. If it broke or you accidentally let it get away from you, you failed as its keeper. But even if you exercised the utmost care, it still wouldn’t last. I once kept one safe under my bed after successfully guiding it through all the day’s obstacles, but when I checked on it the next day it had already started to die on its own, wrinkles forming in uneven patterns all over the sad green dome.
Having been born a couple months after Jimmy Carter’s inauguration, I had a whole half a class full of peers who had lived in one more Presidential administration than I had, and I was a little jealous of them. As if that weren’t enough, these classmates had also, albeit unknowingly, gotten the chance to have lived in the year of our nation’s Bicentennial. What had it been like, I wondered. The third week of fifth grade, fortunately, brought a chance at redemption for me, as the bicentennial of the Constitution was upon us, at a time when I was not only alive, but old enough to truly appreciate it. At homeroom, Mrs. Robinson told us she had a special celebration planned just for the fifth graders. She handed out these little notecards, each with a punch hole in the top left corner, with a line for us to write our name, above a typed explanation that the balloon attached to this card had originated at Carver Elementary School and if found, to please send the card back to let us know how far it had gotten. On our way out to the playground, we were each handed a red, white, or blue balloon and told to tie the ribbon through the hole in the notecard. All the other kids were cutting up and horsing around at this rare opportunity to go outside before recess; I alone undertook the task with the solemnity and dignity it deserved. Mrs. Robinson counted to three, and we were all supposed to release them at once. I held on to mine for a second or two longer, though, the better to identify it from the others as it rose in the sky. Up it went, and soon I lost it in the crowd. The wind picked up and a few in the bunch began to drift from the cloud of dots in the sky, getting smaller and smaller. I could hardly believe that this thing that had just been in my hand was now up so high, all on its own. I hoped it would travel far away. I hoped no one would ever find it.


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July 2012
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