Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Red Balloon

Children seldom misquote you. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said.
— Dr. Laura (Laura Catherine Schlessinger)

Reading this quote brought back the memory of a foolishness I committed as a young dad. Yes, it is confession time. Teller of tall tales, I was at it again. I will tell it as I remember it, not another story embellished to entertain or to persuade, just what really happened. The other person in the story may remember it differently. I found this to be true when I publicly confessed another, more costly misdemeanor, where the other person involved was my dad. After reading what I wrote, he said matter-of-factly, ‘That’s not how I remember it,’ but said no more.

My first-born son, Jacob, was a precocious but impressionable lad, trusting to a T. Whatever mom or dad told him, he believed on the spot as if God Himself had said it. He was an obedient and thoughtful child. That has never changed, only now he knows who is really worthy of obedience and trust. He even warns his Sunday school students, ‘Don’t believe and trust absolutely what anyone tells you, unless He has risen from the dead.’ An enigmatic saying? Not really. Just a confession of the relativity of merely human knowledge, even religious. Back to my confession.

We were blessed from the beginning of our family life with poverty of riches, but not of spirit. As our ‘only son’ we treasured Jacob, and lavished all our attention on him as gardeners over a precious plant. His godparents, by a strange twist of fate, were very wealthy, and supplied him several times a year with gifts that we would never have been able to afford, sometimes toys, sometimes practical things. He always had the latest educational ‘toys’ and by the time he entered kindergarten could already read fluently, even words whose meaning he didn’t yet know.

When Jacob’s grandfather passed away, we inherited his color television, an old Hudson Bay Company model (he was a Canadian) and started watching Children’s Television Workshop programs together. My favorite was Sesame Street. He learned to read and sing, and we often mimicked the skits we saw. I am still very thankful for that time. Jacob was learning to grow up, and I was learning to stay young. We also borrowed movies from the public library and watched them on our television, using a VCR player. One of these films was the French film, The Red Balloon (1956).

Here comes the tall tale part, and the confession. Jacob was not yet in kindergarten when we used to watch that movie. A lot of our play time involved bringing into our life what we saw on television or in movies. Trying to connect more with The Red Balloon, I pretended that I had been the little boy in the film. It was almost believable. I almost believed it myself. I would have been a five-year-old boy the year the movie was made. I told Jacob, ‘That little boy being followed by the red balloon was me, when I lived in France as a child.’ Yes, and he, believing, repeated me word for word.

Where? Well, where else? At school. When one day he turned five and was enrolled in the kindergarten, it so happened that his teacher showed the film to his class. Yes, The Red Balloon. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know quite how it happened, but somehow he told the teacher that his dad was the little boy in the movie, when he lived in France as a child. Did the teacher really believe him? I don’t know. If she read the credits at the end of the film, she would know that the child’s name in real life was Pascal Lamorisse, and she would know Jacob’s surname was not Lamorisse.

What I do remember was that I had to confess to a very crestfallen young son, that I had been only pretending. He may have had to defend his trust in his dad to his teacher in the classroom, who may have told him it was impossible. He came home that day still believing I was the little French boy. Perhaps this was his first glimpse of the truth that even dads are not infallible. He wouldn’t have had the verbal or philosophical vocabulary to think that yet, but it was undeniable that another impression had been made on him that afternoon. And that, his initiation into the ‘real world.’

And mine as well. Never again, though I’ve since told many a tall tale, even regretting some of them, did I ever pull so great a blooper as that one. Something as small as this, a ‘little white lie’ in disguise of playful make-believe, I wonder, how much of this has shaped, or misshaped, the world.

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