Two star-shaped Mylar balloons drifted free, their shiny silver undersides cast against the blue sky, a silent signal that someone's perfect day at the beach had ended. As the wind took the balloons and the empty-handed owners' cries, I remembered Neil Tillotson.
He died in 2001 at age 102, his longevity likely due to dealings with the devil. Still, the man who invented the original balloon, thus producing one of the worst scourges ever inflicted on mothers and fathers, never gained much notoriety amongst the American public.
Mr. Tillotson, were he able from the grave, might argue he invented the latex balloon during the Great Depression ... to cheer people. Though I make no judgment regarding the fate of Mr. Tillotson's soul, I can't help recalling the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
His atrocious offense perhaps landed him in purgatory, where he shares a room with 10 preschoolers, 9 balloons and a 25 foot, needle-laced ceiling. Even novice mathematicians know that equation equals supernatural suffering.
Balloons, particularly ones filled with helium, make children enthralled, joyful, even mystified shortly before they trigger sobs, moans and mourning. These air-filled bulbs of bafflement pin-ball youngsters back and forth between vast, emotional extremes, with their weary guardians chasing.
Where happiness ends, and it always ends, loud, inconsolable grieving begins. Sometimes just facing the fact he can't have the green balloon because Johnny in line in front of him got it, sends a toddler to the floor, legs and arms aflail.
Other times a tot tears up when Mother, imbued with the God-given ability to see eight minutes into the future, suggests tying the tenuous treasure's string to the protesting child's wrist.
Exasperated, she gives up and gives the string to the whiner, thrilling him beyond giddy foot-stomping.
But, just like Mama knew he would, little Ned lets go.
Now the panicked youngster watches his balloon get smaller. With his face wet and his upper lip sticky from a runny nose, he reaches pudgy hands over his head in desperation. He glances from the object of his desire to Daddy, as if to say, I thought you could do anything.
No matter their past experiences, or maybe as a result of, little ones always want another balloon. Foolish parents, wishing to squelch the atmosphere of anguish, give in. Dad drives the whole distance home with the new balloon obstructing the rearview mirror, hitting him on the back of the head - poomp, poomp - and rubbing static electricity into his hair.
Arriving home, the cheerful child hops out of the car. The balloon, now secured tightly to his wrist, trails behind.
Wham! POP! Whaaahhhhh!; thus closes the car door on contentment. This time Ned cries twice as hard - some because the POP! scared the begeezers out of him and some more because, well, the balloon is gone. Again.
His mama yanks the slobbery remains out of his mouth while he tries to blow air back into them. She speaks sternly to him of the dangers of the limp latex she insisted on triple knotting to his arm.
It's good that things happened this way. It prevented the balloon-in-the-ceiling-fan-in-the-middle-of-the-night ordeal. It waylaid the my-balloon-doesn't-float-anymore-make-it-go-up trials the following morning.
When I witnessed the beach balloon episode, I imagined Mr. Tillotson's purgatorial prison in his room shared with 10 greasy-fingered children begging for the only blue balloon. This special design should aid Tillotson's repenting of his role in the great depression. But I question whether it will be enough to absolve him of his hand in ruining a perfect day at the beach.
Lucy Adams is the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny and other books. She lives in Thomson, Ga. Email email@example.com.