The year was 1950. The place was Maspeth, New York. We lived in the house on 73rd. St. There were four of us. Myself, almost 7, my two older sisters, 8 and 10, and my brother, 5. It was summer, and in those days the only recreation we had was summer school. The local elementary school was open to all children. They offered arts and crafts. Knock hockey. Checker Tournaments. Basket Ball, Potsy or if you prefer it was also called Hop Scotch, and every day they would put the showers on and everyone was allowed to cool off running through the delightfully cool water. This was all supervised by teachers that worked through the summer to make extra cash.
We (my siblings and I) were allowed to attend summer school with the consent of our parents. Every morning my mother would pack each of us a lunch and a snack, put it in a brown paper bag and off we would go to walk the few blocks to the school. We would remain there until 4:00pm and then walk home.
For the most part it was fun. The teachers were very nice and we each had to go with other children in our age group. It did get a bit boring after a few weeks, but there was nothing else available for free so summer school it was.
This particular morning as we were walking to the school we were bickering back and forth and my brother was whining. I started to walk ahead of my siblings as I told them to shut up. I was about 25 feet ahead of them. I could hear my oldest sister calling me to stop or she would tell our mother that I was not obeying her. I stopped and when I did I noticed that I had stepped on a balloon. It was a white balloon. It looked fairly large to me so I picked it up brushed off the top of it on my shorts to remove any germs that might have gathered there and started blowing it up. By that time the rest had caught up with me and wanted to see the balloon. I had already put it in my mouth and was blowing away. It was wonderful the balloon was getting really big. “Hey, let me try said my sister Denni,”
“No I want to try cried my brother.”
“Let me see that balloon said my older sister.”
I took the balloon out of my mouth and held my arm up in the air so none of them could grab it. I had blown it up and it was bigger than a basketball. I let go of it and it flew up and swirled around and finally came down to rest in the street. It was magnificent! We all ran over to where it landed and took turns blowing it up and letting it go, being careful not to make it pop. We continued this all the way to school. As we assembled in the school yard we continued blowing up the balloon and soon had a crowd of other kids around us. The all wanted to try it. We let some of them take a turn. It turned into a game of who could blow up the balloon the biggest without making it break and then who could make it go the highest. We were having a great time.
Soon after the teachers started arriving and we knew we would be going into the gym shortly. My teacher saw me letting the balloon go and smiling said to me “What have you got there Patti?”
“A big white balloon.”
“Can I see it?”
“Sure.” I said and handed it over to her. “It’s great isn’t it.” I said so proud.
“It is pretty interesting, where did you get this?”
“I found it on the way to school.”
“Oh, how nice. Would you do me a favor?”
“Yes Ma’am. What do you want me to do?”
“I would like you to put the balloon away for the rest of the day.”
“I don’t want any of the kids to break it.”
“Oh, they won’t, we’ve been blowing it up and letting it go before you got here. It gets really big. Do you want me to show you?”
“No, No I believe you. Just do me a favor and put it away until you get home, OK?”
“By the way Patti, what children blew up the balloon beside you and your sister’s and brother?”
“I don’t remember, but everybody who was here at the time.”
The rest of the day went on as usual, except for one thing. We were famous that day. All the kids in the school wanted to see the great balloon I had. We were so popular that day, we had crowds of kids around us wanting to just see it. It was the first time in my entire 6 years that I felt so popular. I was almost sorry to see the school day come to an end.
On the way home my siblings and I continued to blow up the balloon and let it fly, it was a great day. I told my sister’s and brother I was going to blow it up as big as I could and then jump off the garage roof holding it and just float to the ground. “You will not, mommy will kill you.”
“Only if you rat on me, and if you do I’ll get you.”
“I won’t tell.” said my brother Augie. “Will you let me take a turn jumping off the roof?”
“No, you’re to little.” I said as we were entering our house. We lived on the second floor of a two family house. We all ran up the stairs like a heard of cattle, laughing and screaming.
Our mother was in the kitchen cooking. “Hi kids, how was school?”
“It was great Mommy. Look what I have.” I showed her my prize possession, with a big smile on my face.
“Let me see.” she said. She took the balloon from me and asked me where I got it.
“I found it on the way to school, you should see how big I can blow it up.” So proud of myself.
“Where did you find it?”
“In the street.”
Before we knew what was happening my mother was making us scrub out teeth and rinse our mouth’s with Peroxide and water. Scrubbing our lips and giving us all a bath. I tried to explain that I wiped it off real good before I put it in my mouth, but there was nothing I could say to make her understand. She took my balloon away from me and I never saw it again. She also warned all of us to never, never pick anything up off the ground and put it in our mouth. We could get a disease and die.
I was devastated, not only did I lose my balloon, now I might die. I did not die that night or any other night, but years later I found out that I had picked up a used condom that beautiful summer day.