A few weeks ago, at the St. Patrick’s Day Balloon Rallye in Belen, I experienced nostalgia and pride, albeit for just three hours.
I was exposed to hot air ballooning at a young age. My grandfather was friends with several people who owned balloons. I got my first tethered ride at the age of 5, and my first untethered ride later that same year.
In both instances, I was frightened to near tears for the first several moments; then I got over it and enjoyed it. No doubt my grandfather had a sense of pride seeing me enjoy the flights.
I became a little obsessed with ballooning after that, and that continued into my teens. For several years, though, I didn’t go ballooning, and found myself drifting away from it. My grandfather’s friends had moved elsewhere, or had retired from the sport.
After high school, a friend of mine talked about how his adoptive grandparents owned a balloon and how he had gone to several events around the state. My interest was piqued once again, and I started attending events with them for years to come.
I started to drift away once again when I started having my own children. After several years of being away, I thought I would take my kids to an event. The pandemic quickly quashed those plans over a couple of years.
Then came the opportunity when the St. Patrick’s Day Rallye was planned this year after being cancelled for the last two.
I woke my three girls up early on Saturday and told them to dress warmly. My middle child was not having it. She told me it was too early and that she would go next time, as did my wife. My oldest and youngest were still willing to go, even at the early hour on their weekend.
We drove to the field and got out to walk to the launch site. Right away, my youngest complained that it was cold and that she wasn’t looking forward to walking around, but I pushed her along anyway.
My aforementioned friend’s adoptive grandparents are the ones who are in charge of putting the event together. Knowing they would be at the event helping out, we walked around the field in search of them, while at the same time checking out the balloons.
For my children, this was the first time they had been up close to more than one balloon, which they would see at their school on occasion.
We walked over towards where they had inflated the beagle balloon, and low and behold, my friends were there helping out the pilot. Once they saw me and that I brought along two of my girls, they told me to put them in the basket.
My oldest jumped at the idea and quickly clambered in. I picked up my youngest, her 7-year-old face with a look of fear at first — the same look I had during my first flight —and put her next to her sister.
Once told that they weren’t going to fly, they were going to stay on the ground, my youngest calmed. She then warmed up with the heat coming from the propane burner. My oldest had a smile from ear to ear the entire time.
They were in the basket for about 30 minutes, then after taking them out, it was time to take the balloon down. My kids were asked to help deflate a section of the giant balloon. They took their shoes off and rolled around the envelope to squish the air out of vents, during which their smiles were still as big as before.
Once the balloon was put in the bag, to get more air out of the envelope we took my kids and lifted them up on top of the bag the balloon was in and let their weight do the work.
After packing up, I thanked everyone for letting my children in the basket and to help put it away.
As we walked towards the parking lot, many memories of past ballooning events came flooding through my mind. While we walked, my girls could not stop talking about how much fun they had. That made me proud that they had enjoyed it — proud in the same way my late-grandfather no doubt had after I couldn’t stop talking about my first experience.