Story by Bob Perks
Lost somewhere in the crevices in my mind are millions of images, moments, lessons learned and words of wisdom. If I am fortunate, they will rise to the surface at just the right time so I can pause and give thanks.
Birthdays trigger such memories.
1990 was indeed a monumental moment in my life. I turned 40. As tradition requires, my friends and family gathered to remind me that I was crossing another threshold. They called it “Over the hill,” I believe.
My wife Marianne, saw it differently and presented to me a gift I would cherish for a lifetime.
A hot air balloon ride.
Not only would this be a first, but as exciting as the experience was, it would become a sign from heaven for a young man.
I was reminded of my trip, when my brother told me about the big community picnic his daughter Susan took part in this year. She lives in New Jersey and they hold a big block party each year. This year they added hot air balloon rides. Although tethered to the ground, they still give you a thrill as you rise high above the nearby houses.
After hearing about this, my wife and I talked about how beautiful our experience was for us. I can remember helping them unfold this huge balloon, holding the opening so that the heated air would lift it skyward. Once airborne we drifted silently across fields and highways. People stopped in their tracks to wave and shout at us. Deer scampered across properties frightened by the looming air monster. As I sat quietly reminiscing, Marianne said, “Do you remember the young couple?”
“The couple who lived on the farm where we landed,” she said.
It is a tradition, we were told, that wherever the balloon lands, you crack open a bottle of champagne and share it with the property owners. Then they are given free tethered rides as a way of saying thanks.
Oh, yes. The couple.
They invited us all inside as they gathered glasses for the toast. We sat comfortably in a huge living room which was modestly furnished with odds and ends. We raised our glasses to “health and happiness and to the hospitality of our hosts.”
Then the young man began to speak.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” he said nervously.
“You are sign from heaven at just the right time,” he continued, now choking back tears and fumbling for words.
“You see…” he whispered. “My little brother Billy died just a few days ago,” he paused. “He told me that he would send me a sign to let me know he was okay.”
There was an uneasy silence in the room. We permitted him to tell us this story without interruption.
“I had just finished dinner and we were talking about how handsome he was and how much we missed him. My wife Janet, told me to go sit on the porch while she cleaned up. I had sat down and looking up at the sky, I questioned God as to why this would happen to him. Then I said, “Billy you promised me a sign.”
He stared to cry as he said, “Then I heard this sound that sounded like someone was saying “shhhhh.” Like Billy was telling me “Be quiet, watch, here it comes,” he said.
The sound he referred to was the propane flame used to heat the air in the balloon. It is used to raise and hopef1ully gently lower the balloon upon landing. During the incredibly quiet glide at the whim of the air currents, it’s the only sound you hear. Shhhhhhhhh. Shhhhhhhhhh. Except of course, your heart beating with excitement.
He continued, “Then directly from behind the house I looked up and saw this incredible balloon approaching the field. I yelled, “Honey, come here. It’s Billy!”
“You can imagine what I thought!” laughed his wife.
“There it was. Billy’s promise,” he said.
I have never had such a memorable gift in my life. I have been a friend, a husband, a father and such. But I had never been a sign from God or a promise kept…Billy’s promise.