Mother’s Day, yesterday, seemed to go just fine. But after over three decades of being married to the same woman, you would think a guy would have a pretty solid knowledge of a spouses likes and dislikes. But on Mother’s Day—not so many years ago—I had a brain cramp.
I thought that surprising my wife with a balloon flight would be the ideal gift. It turned out to be about as perfect as buying a vegan a rack of beef.
If the Wright brothers hadn’t invented the airplane, we might have the Montgolier brothers to thank for our everyday air transportation. They’re the guys who around 1783 invented the hot-air balloon.
Things would be a bit different if today’s airports featured balloon travel instead of planes. It would be slower certainly—a flight from Seattle to Chicago might take several weeks—so at least a couple changes of underwear would be a must.
Plus balloon safety regulations would prohibit bringing aboard pet porcupines, hedgehogs or horned toads. Texas Longhorn cattle would not be welcome either—even if they flew coach. And neither would folks with spiky hair, beard stubble or pointy noses.
The goal would be to try and get as near to Chicago as possible, because hot air balloons are not easy to steer. You might wind up in a cornfield in Peoria. Then you’d have to take a commuter blimp the rest of the way. Walking might be quicker.
So balloon travel is not practical for long-distance travel—and watching the same in-flight movie over and over would get tedious. But there is a charming, even mystical, quality to drifting aloft in a big balloon—and I felt certain my wife would think so too.
One year I gave her a “Day of Beauty” at a local spa. For many women, that’s like a “Day of Football” for a guy—and sure enough, the spa visit was a big hit.
When we were first married, with little income, I could afford only a “Half-A-Day of Beauty.” She received a partial facial (she chose the left side)—and a pedicure for the five toes of her choosing.
That’s why I was certain a hot-air balloon ride would smash all records for Mother’s Day gift giving. It was thoughtful, spendy—and unexpected. And so, when we hopped in our car headed for the surprise destination, I was startled when my spouse suddenly said, “By the way, you DO remember that I’m afraid of heights?”
Somehow, after all our years of marriage, I had forgotten that—and when we pulled into the parking lot of the balloon-ride place, my wife’s face took on the hue of Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Yet she went along with it. She didn’t want to disappoint the family. I watched her face as we all climbed into the big wicker basket that was attached beneath the balloon. They say that when some prisoners are being led off to the gas chamber, they either start yelling and screaming—or get real quiet. My wife got real quiet.
As we began to ascend, the wicker basket seemed to shrink to the size of an ashtray. My wife’s hands clutched the railing with a grip that could have cut wire. That’s when the ‘pilot’ said those reassuring words: “Our goal is to wind up as near to were we started as possible—but then again, we never know for sure.” We all looked stricken.
We floated a mile high. That was approximately 5,279 feet higher than my wife was hoping for. Not that she saw much with her eyes closed so tight. She also didn’t notice that my knees were shaking like a pair of castanets—with visions of the Hindenburg dancing in my head.