Steve & Betty

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“The Red Balloon”

For most of my life I remember that my maternal grandmother, Mae Horton, had difficulty walking. Her knees were not cooperative in a day when knee replacement surgery was only experimental and not overly successful. Granny eventually ended up in a wheel chair. This immobility did not stop Granny however, her mind was forever in motion and she did not stop learning, loving and reaching. Granny ruled from her favorite chair. We all knew that Granny was in charge, including sweet Grandaddy. What Granny said went and NO one dared to dispute her. In spite of her dictatorial matriarchal rule, we all loved Granny and we KNEW she loved us.

My baby sister, Brenda, and I spent a great deal of time with Granny and Grandaddy from the time we were born. Our paternal grandparents had died before our father and mother were married, so we never knew them. Granny and Grandaddy Horton lovingly filled this void. In 1987 I moved to Central Florida and my visits were limited due to the distance. My sister continued to see Granny and Grandaddy regularly, as she lived less than 2 miles from them on Florida’s East Coast. Brenda and Granny had always been extremely close, as she helped my Mama care for Brenda when she was born. My Mama was not well for awhile after Brenda’s birth and I was only 18 months at the time and still required much care myself. Their relationship was magnetic. Brenda was in and out of Granny’s house throughout the week and always stopped in if she was going shopping to see if Granny and Grandaddy needed anything.

You would think from the previous paragraphs that this is going to be about Granny and it partially is, but not solely. This is about my sister, who loved and lived and longed to stretch her wings and fly from the time I first recall recognizing her as a person. This is also the story of the “Red Balloon”.

Twenty years ago and prior to my Granny’s death, Brenda had a wonderfully amazingly imaginative dream.

In the dream she was pushing Granny in her wheelchair down the walkway in front of Granny’s house. She was taking her for a “walk” around the neighborhood. It was a perfectly beautiful day. The sky was bright blue and almost cloudless, except for a few cottony clouds floating in on the eastern breeze from the Atlantic Ocean, less than a mile away. Brenda and Granny were enjoying this special time together and looking up in to the sky. About the same time they both noticed a tiny red dot descending. As the dot came closer and grew larger they realized that it was a balloon with a string attached. It was the type of balloon that our children were always given when we shopped for groceries at Publix; they were filled with helium and had a ribbon attached for holding onto. It was odd that this Red Balloon was descending instead of ascending, however. All the balloons we had seen before would ascend if not firmly grasped in our children’s sweet little hands. Many balloons were lost in the Publix parking lot.

This Red Balloon continued it’s descent until it was directly in front of Granny. In childlike awe, Granny reached out and grasped the ribbon. Immediately she and the Red Balloon began to ascend. Brenda watched helplessly as Granny and the Red Balloon begin their ascent into the Stratosphere and disappeared. Before Brenda could become totally frantic, she saw the slightly larger dot begin to descend once again. As it drew closer she could see that Granny was still grasping the ribbon. Slowly the descent continued until Granny, clutching the Red Balloon, was standing in front of the wheelchair. Granny then released the Red Balloon to continue it’s return through the layers of atmosphere, walked wordlessly, easily and painlessly to the back of the wheelchair and pushed it back into the house. Granny’s knees were completely whole after her mysterious and wonderful ascent into the ‘heavens’ .”

Although in actuality, Granny’s knees were not whole, this dream was a lovely gift to both Brenda and Granny. Brenda shared the dream with Granny and it tickled her. Granny had a fantastic sense of humor and adventure. I believe that often Dreams are God’s communication with us and this Special Dream gave Brenda a peace about the hereafter that she had not known prior to receiving this “heaven sent video”.

Brenda became widowed almost 4 years ago. Her “Mr. Bill” was the “love of her life”. And after losing him the void was fathomless. My sister had also been quite ill herself for many years, and with each passing year she grew more twisted with crippling scoliosis, causing her organs to become compressed and damaged. She was a truly gifted artist and her home was filled with paintings and sketches of paintings she planned to do, but her body failed her before she could complete the ideas she had stored in her brain and on post-it-notes throughout her house. Grasping a brush or a charcoal pencil for any length of time had become excruciatingly painful. But like Granny, her mind never stopped creating beauty.

On July 28, 2016, I received the most horrible phone call that I had received to date; my Brenny had died. I was overwhelmed with grief and intense loneliness. My seemingly “forever sobs” were deep and ragged. The one remaining person who knew me best and longest was gone and I would never be able to share another “sister moment” with her.

But God is Good, as the movie, “God’s not Dead”, reminds, “all the time”. So while sitting in a chair in my Brenny’s house a few days after she had died, God granted me a sweet gift of the reminder of the “Red Balloon”. In the twenty years since my sister dreamed of the Red Balloon and Granny, she had been through so very much, physically, mentally and emotionally, but on Thursday, July 28th, 2016, I believe she reached up and grasped her own Red Balloon and left all that behind. The last text she attempted to send in the moments prior to her leaving this earth was, “Oh I see…”. Obviously I will never know what she truly saw, but I choose to believe it was her own “Red Balloon” and that she grasped it with the childlike delight she possessed in everything she attempted right up to the very end of her earthly life. 

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On Sunday , August 7th 2016, a group of Family and Friends released red balloons into a blue, cottony clouded sky in her honor. I know Brenny would have been applauding with glee.

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