“For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.” ― John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things
Living on Miami Beach in the servant’s quarters of a large estate, Mom was a domestic and nanny while dad attended the gardens and maintained the buildings. They were the Bohemians of the late 40’s and 50’s. Mom was schooled as an artist and Dad loved photography, but since neither of their interests paid much, jobs were whatever. On Mom’s day off, the two of us would walk to the beach and spend the day. As much as I loved the sand, sun and water, I’d look for the Goodyear blimp as it floated overhead. Shouting and waving to it, Mom would laugh and remind me that I was just a speck on the ground and that Mr. Blimp Man couldn’t see me. After all, I was only four years old.
Nearby, I attended kindergarten with all the rich kids. They had their stories of going to Cuba for the weekend on their yachts while their parents gambled in the casinos. I had my stories of how high I could climb the banyan tree in the park. One day my mom was called to school for a chat with my teacher, who apparently felt that my experiences needed broadening, to fit in better with my classmates, and could my parents work on that little issue. My mother assured her she would think of something and believe me she did.
My fifth birthday was approaching, and Mom and Dad had a big surprise planned for me.
Dad borrowed a car from someone and off we went for what seemed a very long ride. To add to the suspense, Mom put a blindfold on me as we made our approach. As the car stopped and the scarf removed from my eyes, there in front of me, tethered to the ground, with the captain standing by the door, was the Goodyear blimp. Together, my mom and I were to ride in that huge balloon, but it looked unfriendly on the ground.
Too big. I froze.
After much cajoling and coaxing, I climbed aboard. While the captain gave his speech, the blimp began to slowly rise. Sitting by the window seat, I wouldn’t look out. I started crying and said I wanted to go back, but it was too late. Now we were up high and over Biscayne Bay.
“Porpoises to the left, sharks to the right”, the captain announced.
I was too frightened to look. Instead, I sat huddled in the walkway where I couldn’t see anything. Sobbing, I felt sick to my stomach. Now, we were over Bay Front Park, the Eden Roc and The Fontainebleau Hotels, but all I wanted was to be safe on the ground.
Finally, the descent, which was all that mattered to me and my mother, by this time. When we landed, the captain muttered something to me, but I quickly bolted out the door. My dad’s smile turned to a look of “oh no” as I jumped in his arms. He just held me tight and told me it was alright. I think I made him sad.
Quietly, we got in the car and went for ice cream.
As I licked my chocolate cone, which was now the best part of my day, I remember listening to my mom and dad talk about the blimp ride. She mentioned the Orange Bowl Stadium and how large it was. She excitedly described the sensations of floating, the beautiful blue ocean with its abundant sea life, including sharks. She even talked about the famous hotels with their azure blue swimming pools and colorful cabanas.
She couldn’t wait to get home and paint what she had seen.
Dad asked me what I liked best, and the tears came flooding back. I told him I was scared.
The next day at kindergarten, all my friends were talking about their weekends. My friend Marilyn said that she went to her uncle’s cabana at the Eden Roc Hotel on Saturday.
All of a sudden I blurted out, “I saw the Eden Roc and your cabana from The Goodyear blimp.”
“You’re lying.” Marilyn replied.
“I’m not lying. I even saw porpoises and sharks in the ocean. I also saw the Orange Bowl. It was fun. We were up high and rode for a long time.”
“Weren’t you scared”?
“No, my mom was with me and it was my birthday present.”
Just then, I looked up and saw my mother standing in the doorway holding a cake with five candles. I remember telling everyone that riding The Goodyear blimp was the best birthday ever.
Mom was grinning from ear to ear.
** My father was discharged from the Navy in 1946, the year we moved from Indiana to Miami. He had his basic training in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and was familiar with the Goodyear blimp’s role in surveillance of our coastline to protect our merchant fleets.
I wrote this story a few years ago in a memoir writing workshop. After just having been to Cuba recently, the story came back to life.
When I think of the sacrifice my parents made to make that birthday present possible, it really humbles me. But, I’m afraid the Goodyear blimp was just too big for little me. At least I enjoyed it vicariously.
Today the Goodyear airships are based in Pompano Beach, Florida; Carson, California; and Akron, Ohio.