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Popping Tillotson's balloon

You may never have heard of Neil Tillotson until now. It amazes me that the man who inflicted one of the worst scourges ever endured by families never gained more notoriety amongst the American public.

Had he not died in 2001 at age 102 (his longevity likely due to dealings with the devil), I would give the old man an ear horn full of "Waaaah."

To extract payment for his atrocious offense, I would lock him in a room with 10 preschoolers, nine balloons, and 25 foot ceilings. Even novice mathematicians know that equation equals disaster.

Mr. Tillotson, were he able from the grave, might argue that he invented the latex balloon during the Great Depression ... to cheer people. I dispute that point with one word - foreshadowing.

Balloons, particularly ones filled with helium, make children happy, enthralled, joyful, even mystified ... shortly before they trigger wails, 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 fascination ends, and it always ends, loud, inconsolable grieving begins. Sometimes just facing the fact that 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 dribbles tears when mother, imbued with the God-given ability to see eight minutes into the future, suggests tying the string attached to the tenuous treasure to the child's wrist. Exasperated, she gives up and hands the string to the whiner, thrilling him beyond giddy foot stamping.

Just like Mama knew he would, little Ned lets go ... and it's gone.

So now the youngster yelps, staring up at the ceiling, or worse the sky, watching his balloon get smaller. With his face wet and red and his upper lip sticky from a runny nose, he reaches two pudgy hands over his head in desperation; the whole time glancing from the object of his desire to Daddy, as if to say, I thought you could do anything.

Foolish parents, wishing to squelch the atmosphere of anguish, get the kid another balloon. All the way home, dad drives with it obstructing the rearview mirror, hitting him on the back of the head, poomp, poomp, and rubbing static electricity into his hair. Glee envelops the backseat.

Arriving home, the cheerful child hops out of the car. The balloon, now secured tightly to his wrist, trails somewhere behind.

Wham! POP! Whaaahhhhh!; thus closes the door on contentment. This time Ned cries twice as hard; some because the POP! scared the begeezers out of him, and 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, speaking sternly to him of the dangers of the limp latex she insisted on triple knotting to his arm.

Truly, 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. It circumvented more blubbering. But not forever. Little ones bawl over balloons because no matter their past experiences, maybe as a result of, they always want another, and they know that one is never enough.

If I got Mr. Tillotson into that room, I would lace the ceiling with needles, grease the fingers of all 10 children with baby oil, coach them to beg for the only blue balloon, and assure them they can each have two. That way he could appreciate the full impact of the great depression.



Web posted on Thursday, September 06, 2007













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