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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Balloon Boy's Bubble Bursts

Well, I’m disappointed. The image of a little boy hiding in the attic to escape punishment was one I was completely ready to believe. Now his parents are hoaxers, and I’m crushed.

I wanted to believe because the boy’s story harkened back to one of my mother’s childhood adventures.

Mother and the family lived outside town in Northwest Arkansas. Her older sister had brought her toddler son, Billy, back for a visit and, while the adults talked, eight-year-old Mother was put in charge of her young nephew. As she tried to teach Billy to say “Aunt Martha Porter,” she marched him out to the nearby field for an adventure.

She wanted to show the boy how to bake potatoes in the wilderness. The field next to the house would have to do. Mother had swiped a potato from the kitchen and pocketed some matches. After Billy helped her dig the hole, the potato went in, and Mother struck a match – or maybe two.

The dry scruff around the hole crackled into life and shared its flame with the brown weeds around it. Little Mother attempted stomping out the fire, but the fire was determined and spreading too quickly.

Grabbing Billy’s hand, Mother ran to the house and to the safe place she always sought when she was in trouble – the footrest of her invalid mother’s wheelchair. She told me many times in retrospect that no one ever wrenched her away from that safe haven.

Situated at my grandmother’s feet, mother made her confession.

“I set a little fire.”

“Well, did you put it out, Martha Porter?”

“Oh, yes ma’am.”

“That’s fine then.”

Except that just then, Mother heard the men yelling to each other outside to rush to the burning field. Mother feared that even her mother’s wheelchair might not be enough protection for this problem.

So she took to the attic

Mother spent the day up there ignoring the commotion outside. For entertainment, there were stacks of boxes and trunks waiting for exploration and, as she opened one of the trunks, she remembered a promise from one of her uncles. He told her that he’d teach her to crochet if she could get some yarn. And that trunk was full of it.

It didn’t bother her that the yarn had already served a purpose; she could take it apart. So, still in hiding after setting a field aflame, Mother sat quietly in the dim attic as she unraveled an heirloom, crocheted bedspread.

Some people just can’t win for losing.

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