THE GREAT RIDE
By Dennis C. Orvis
It was the first weekend of October and my tenth year as a volunteer at the Disney Classic Golf Tournament in Orlando. About an hour earlier I had arrived in the morning darkness with my wife from our home in Winter Haven, Florida. This was her thirteenth volunteer year. I was on the list three years before my name was selected for a volunteer job.
When we arrived before sunrise, she quickly joined her volunteer buddies at the snack plaza. I traded my breakfast coupon for a delicious looking Danish, a banana and two containers, one of orange juice and the other filled with hot coffee.
Then I carried my breakfast loot and my umbrella along the shortest route to my assigned location. I knew the route very well, even in the near darkness, since this was my seventh year with the same assignment on the Magnolia Golf Course. There was a tinge of daylight showing, enough to see an Armadillo near the bushes quietly burrowing in the
sod for its’ morning breakfast. The heavy dew on the grass muffled any sounds from my footsteps. The Armadillo never looked my way as I took the shortcut, a straight-line across the ninth and second fairways.
I soon came to the narrow bridge between two ponds that will challenge and worry the golfers later today. Crossing over I can see the outline of the hilltop green on golf hole number twelve where I will spend the day and the rest of the tournament. I could also see a mother deer with two fawns on the edge of the wooded area, maybe thirty yards to my right. The three of them froze, trying to blend without movement into the background.
I kept walking steady as if I had not seen them and within a few steps the distance between us was growing. A glance over my shoulder told me they knew the danger had passed and they were eating the new leaves again. There is a lot of wildlife here at this huge Disney complex with its’ twenty-five thousand acres.
A couple minutes later I arrived at my par three, number twelve green. I retrieved my folding lawn chair from the bushes where I hid it yesterday, out of sight. I learned years ago it was so much easier to leave my chair than to drag it back and forth from home everyday. I remember one year somebody took my chair, but losing only one chair
in ten years was still worth it.
I went to my favorite high point near the green, opened my chair and sat down to enjoy my waiting Danish before my coffee cooled down completely.
The horizon was getting lighter now and the eastern sky was gorgeous as the still hidden Sun was sending its’ rays upward against a few fluffy clouds. They were so pretty in pastel pink, yellow, orange and lavender colors.
I took another bite of the sweet Danish and I was thinking of some old buddies of mine, back in the Midwest, that might be putting storm windows on their house this weekend in advance of the pending Iowa winter.
My Danish was soon gone and I wished I had another one in the sack instead of a container of orange juice. I just sat there relaxed, looking into the morning sky. Natures morning sounds were starting with a few birds calling and maybe a quartet or more of frogs croaking to each other from the nearest pond.
It was going to be a terrific day for the golf tournament. The gentle wind coming from the west would not be a factor unless it gets much stronger than it is. I looked to the west where the morning light had not yet reached that part of the sky. I could see a couple very small objects that looked black against the dark, bluish background and they seemed to be moving.
I could not tell what they were so I watched them with interest for a few minutes. It appeared the black spots were coming my direction. The closest one, probably a mile away, began to take shape like an upside down pear. Gradually, the black spot began to change to many colors and then I knew it was a hot-air balloon!
Then the second black spot started taking shape as another one came into view behind it. And then another one followed and I was looking at parade of four hot-air balloons on a Sunrise flight. As they floated closer and the Sun began peeking over the horizon, the spectacular colors of the balloons became brilliant against the light blue sky. I could now see the baskets hanging below the huge, brightly colored bags that were maybe three or four stories high. The wicker basket looked so small by comparison.
The first balloon was now over the golf course, about fifteen hundred feet in the air. It was heading my way over the thirteenth fairway. I can hear the gas burner blast a jet of hot air into the bag above it and now I can see the people waving at me and I returned their greetings.
Wow! What a great view they must be enjoying as they float easterly over me, with the second balloon closely behind…and then the third one followed…and then the fourth and last balloon passed over me. Each of them with their passengers so friendly this early morning. It was kind of thrilling as if I was the only person on earth to welcome them and I waved back, returning their greetings before they began shrinking into the eastern sunrise.
Then it hit me! Our anniversary will be next month on Thanksgiving Day. What a terrific idea! I will give my wonderful wife an anniversary present that is something new and very different…a Sunrise hot-air balloon ride! It was exciting just to think about it and I thought about it often during the rest of the tournament.
The following week I was talking to Vicki, our oldest daughter, and I told her what I was planning to do as a surprise to her Mother. Well, I did not know it, but Vicki started right then to change my surprise. Within a week or ten days, my wife and I received a rather large envelope in the mail. When we opened it we found a gift certificate for “A SUNRISE BALLOON RIDE” from our three children, Vicki, Dennis and LeAnn, as an anniversary present. And this surprise was also on me!
And to make the ride sweeter, our daughter, LeAnn, who lives in Connecticut will be here to share this experience. Her husband, Stu will be home with their children. It could only be better if our son, Dennis, could be with us also, but he had recently moved to Kentucky and would not be able to get away.
The next eight weeks sailed by with a little extra anxiety. Our planned balloon ride popped into many family conversations, especially Thanksgiving Day when we attended a Daniel family reunion in Georgia and a toast was given to our anniversary.
Our flight reservation was scheduled for December thirteenth. Daughter LeAnn arrived several days earlier and we sure enjoyed her company. Together, we were watching the daily weather reports. As you probably know, weather controls all hot air balloon flights.
Bad weather or strong winds will immediately cancel a balloon trip. There are no maybes, it is either on or off.
Our instructions were to watch the evening weather report on December twelfth and if the weather looked good we should expect a phone call from our Pilot at four in the morning, telling us the flight was a go. We watched the weather report and it looked pretty good. Then we set the alarm clock for four A.M. and tried to get some sleep.
It seemed to me the alarm clock rang minutes after we turned off the light and the phone rang almost at the same time. I answered the phone and the voice said, “We’re going!”
Additional words were not necessary. LeAnn had heard both the alarm and the phone. We were all awake. I phoned Vicki and Joe and told them the Pilot called and the flight is on. They live in Lakeland, about thirty minutes from Winter Haven. My wife turned on the coffee pot and we all dressed quickly.
About forty-five minutes later, Vicki and Joe pulled into our driveway. It was almost five o’clock and it was very dark. We quickly climbed into their van and headed north towards a small shopping center in Kissimmee. We arrived about forty minutes later and we met our Pilot, who was waiting. He said, “Good morning, follow me!”
And we did. It was only a few miles to his launching field. We pulled in behind him and parked. It was still dark. The five of us, Vicki, LeAnn, Joe, my wife and I watched as the Pilot and his helper hurriedly unpacked the huge deflated balloon and stretched it out on the grass. Next they attached the gas burner to the small, square, wicker basket.
I looked at Edie, my wife and I saw her seriously “eyeballing” the small basket. It was big enough for Edie, me, the Pilot and the four-foot tall tank of bottle gas. The Pilot told us he had a bigger basket that he used when a ride was scheduled for more than two people. Edie was not impressed.
The eastern sky was beginning to show signs that dawn was not far away. The green port-o-john reflected the glare of the first flame when our Pilot tested the burner. The light blue sky was moving quickly above us and across the sky as the Sunrise was getting closer.
There was a feeling of urgency. The Pilot’s helper was actually a photographer who traded his services for the opportunity to take and sell pictures to the riders. He wasn’t that handy as a helper and our son-in-law, Joe, moved in and began helping the Pilot.
The huge, portable fan was sending air into the beautiful balloon as it began rapidly swelling up. While this was going on, the Pilot said to Edie and me, “When I tell you to get in the basket, do it as fast as you can! The balloon doesn’t wait!”
The balloon was now about half full and Joe and I held on to it as the Pilot lit the burner to heat the air in the balloon. The burner was very noisy and things were moving very fast. The sky was now getting lighter. Vicki and LeAnn were both taking pictures.
Our pilot jumped into the basket as the hot air made the balloon fill out faster and suddenly “stood upright.” We could feel the inflated balloon tug on the basket we were trying to hold down. The Pilot yelled, “Get in!” and my wife moved fast. She had one leg in and one leg out. This was difficult for a person with short legs! I was holding tight along with Joe and the helper, as the balloon was struggling to leave the ground.
“Jump in!” the Pilot hollered over the noise of the gas burner. He was looking at me and I jumped in. It was more difficult that it looked. And I was hanging on to my camera around my neck and pulling Edies’ leg in with me. Our Pilot, with his push broom mustache, two passengers and a tank of bottle gas left the ground in a hurry as Joe and the helper let go of the basket.
The anniversary couple waved at our “ground crew” and up we went! The hot air lifted us like a fast, noiseless, elevator. The wind pushed us away from the launching field and the port-o-john below us. I managed to snap a couple pictures during this exhilarating moment. At a certain height, the Pilot cut the burner jet off and it was so wonderfully quiet. Off to the east we saw the beauty of the Sunrise and the sky turned a brilliant yellow, surrounding a huge ball of gold. Within minutes, the yellow and gold became a soft, clear, light blue. I thought to myself, a Sunrise so beautiful should last more than a few minutes.
We now directed our eyes to the countryside below us. The citrus trees stood in straight lines and were so organized, compared to the random woodlands in the area.
Gliding over a highway we could see the headlights of many cars. People in the cars right under us were waving and honking their horns.
Every so often our Pilot would send a gas flame into the base of the balloon to keep the air warm. That was comforting, since we all know it is the warm air that keeps the balloon riding the sky.
We floated over a vineyard that looked like hundreds of rows of grapevines. Every direction we looked the land patterns made a special quilt of many shades of green.
We drifted over a small farm with a few horses in a corral. Our Pilot said he could not give the burner a blast until we got past the horses. He said they might bolt and cause problems. We could feel our balloon sinking or going down a little, but when we got on the other side of the farm, a quick flame blast brought us back up again.
Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The wind started to get stronger. The Pilot said, “This wasn’t supposed to happen until ten o’clock and it is not even seven yet.” A minute later he added, “The wind is blowing us off-course. We will have to find an alternate landing field.”
He made it sound like we had a choice, but I knew enough about it to know it was not something he could totally control. He did not seem to be too concerned, but I was sure he did not want to alarm us. We kept drifting along. The view was stunning, but we could feel the wind getting stronger.
After a few minutes our Pilot said he was going to lower the balloon a little and see if the wind would be less. We slowly descended fifty or a hundred feet, but the wind kept pushing our floating basket pretty hard without change.
We could see a good size lake ahead. I’m sure he was trying to keep us calm, but when he said, “I’m going to go lower and drag the bottom of the basket in the lake to slow down the flight of the balloon.” My wife quickly told him, “If you dump us in the lake, I’m going to kill you!”
Knowing her fear of water, I think she might have been serious. When he added, “I’ll try not to get your feet wet.” I knew he was serious, too.
We could see the shadow of our balloon coming closer to meet us as we were getting lower. We could hear the water as the base of the basket touched the lake and began skimming the surface. I had the feeling he wanted to lower the basket a little deeper in the water, but probably decided his health might be in danger as he watched my wife’s face.
In the distance behind us we could see the helper with the chase car with Vicki, Joe and LeAnn following closely behind in their van. I am sure following was not easy, because they had to find roads…we were going cross-country.
We were still moving too fast as we could see the other side of the lake getting nearer. Our basket was dragging in the water and then we could hear it hitting the weeds and lily pads in the shallow water. The basket was slowing some and then “WHAM!” we hit the edge of the shoreline! The basket flipped a half turn and the impact nearly threw us out and might have if we had not been holding on as tight as we could.
The wind was still pushing our inflated balloon. The basket had tipped toward Edie’s side. She was now on her back at the bottom of the pile. I was laying on her, trying to keep my weight off of her! The Pilot was partially on my back and the bottle gas tank was on top of all of us! And we were still moving pretty fast through the mud and grass!
We were being dragged by the powerful wind. I could not guess how fast we were moving…too fast would be my first guess. And then a strange thing happened. Edie and I started laughing! I can’t explain why, but we were laughing. The Pilot managed to find the safety cord that opened the vent at the top of the balloon. He pulled the cord and the vent opened and the wind began racing out the open hole.
But the wind was still dragging us through the field of grass where we happened to come down. It was a cool morning and there was a wisp of fog in the field ahead of us. Edie could not see where we were sliding. And then I saw a dozen or more cows. We landed in a Farmers’ pasture.
And there was more!
I could see fresh cow pies, steaming, in the cool morning air. I told Edie and we were laughing even more. “Brace yourself,” I said, “and close your eyes, Honey, there is a fresh cow pie right ahead of us!” We were helpless…we could not move, except where the wind, the balloon and the basket were taking us. We could not even change our positions in the basket. And we were still laughing.
Fate was kind. The basket hit a bump in the pasture and we “jumped” right over that fresh one! Fate was very kind. We missed them all as the balloon was now quickly deflating and our runaway basket gradually came to a stop.
“WOW! WHAT A GREAT RIDE!” And we were still laughing.
Was it everything we thought it would be? Yes and more. I know the ride was shorter than it should have been. I think we were only in the air twenty minutes and it was scheduled for an hour. We could be disappointed and blame the wind.
But on the other hand, it was the wind that gave us such a great ride. Without that strong wind it would have been pretty, but dull, without the excitement and laughter we shared.
Of course, we did not know we would have to help pack the balloon and basket and carry all of it to the chase vehicle. Granted it was an unplanned landing. A normal flight would have landed right beside the chase vehicle, but not this time. We were in a farmer’s pasture, with “No Trespassing” signs hanging on the barbed wire fence. I suppose we were all lucky we did not collide with a cow! Or worse yet…a fresh cow pie! I should add here, that if it had not been for Vicki, LeAnn and Joe, my wife and I might still be dragging that basket and balloon out of that field.
As we all helped lift the basket and balloon over the barbed wire fence, my mind quickly looked at the barbed wire and I thought, it could have been worse!
The kids said they were worried when they saw the basket dip on the lake the first time. I told them “The Pilot was too. His life was in danger.”
With all the equipment loaded on the chase vehicle, we returned to the small shopping center where we first met our Pilot. He put on a ceremony that involved glasses of champagne and a few drops on our heads, symbolic of something.
We were now members of some special club. A week or so later the photographers’ pictures we bought in advance arrived by mail. They really were not as good as the pictures Vicki and LeAnn took. I am glad they had their cameras. And my pictures from the air were very special.
All in All, it was a wonderful anniversary present. We shared a terrifying experience with laughter, because we were together. It truly was a Great Ride! Sunrise, blue skies, laughing eyes and cow pies! Wow. It really was super!
It was a Great Ride! And I said to my wife, “Should we do it again? and she replied, “I don’t think so!” But she did agree, it was a Great Ride.
THE GREAT KISS
Dennis C. Orvis
We live in such a great Country!
The United States of America!
It stretches thousands of miles east and west, north and south across the “Lower Forty-eight” great states. Then the states of Alaska and Hawaii were added to make it an even fifty.
Every state is special in special ways and my wife and I have traveled every one of them. There are thousands of special things to see and you cannot see them all in ones’ lifetime. We tried and it cannot be done.
This little essay is about the Great Kiss and I’m getting to it.
I am proud to say I have kissed my wife in every state. We have been to all of them and I can assure you it was more than one kiss in every state.
That’s for sure. I have kissed my wife in the Statue of Liberty, top of the Empire State Building, under the Golden Gate Bridge, Preservation Hall in New Orleans and Niagara Falls. Ok, I know I am bragging but there were many places, great places, too many to mention.
And yet, there is one place in this country like no other. The Four Corners! This is the only place in our country where four states come together in perfect ninety-degree corners, right angles.
Of course, you have to cross Indian property to get to the exact spot. At this location you will find a large raised marble monument. It is about three steps up from ground level to the flat surface. I don’t remember the size, but it was over twenty foot square.
In the center of this large monument there was a circle, maybe six foot across and it was cut like a pie in four pieces. Each pie cut extended to the corner of the monuments’ surface.
It was in this circle and on this very spot where I was standing in Utah and Arizona and I kissed my wife who was standing in Colorado and New Mexico!
Imagine that! We were standing in four different states! Now that is a special kiss.
I should tell you there was a charge to cross the Indian land, but it was worth it.
On the subject of States in this great country, there is only one Four Corners.
It was another kiss I will not forget. It was The Great Kiss!
Dennis C. Orvis
Can a photo speak?
My wife and I were on vacation in Bluefield, Virginia during the summer of 1992, visiting children and grandchildren. When we drove into the community, we happened to notice an interesting, older brick building on one side of the street.
It was kind of shabby, with only a couple windows, one on each side of the single, wooden door. The small sign over the doorway said “Antiques and Stuff” or something that meant the same thing.
The green painted letters on a dingy background that might have been white years ago, were faded and peeled in places. The door and the wood frame around it and the windows on each side were in the same condition.
My wife and I enjoy old shops like this on our travels. It is kind of a hobby, in a way, but more casual than serious. We are never looking for anything in particular; although my wife has a clown collection and we always have an eye out for clowns that are different.
One day, while in Bluefield, we had some free time. It was easy to find the old shop since it was on a main street and we had driven past it a number of times already during this visit.
In many antique shops, in out-of-the-way or rundown locations, most of the items inside could be in the category of junk. We had a feeling this antique shop might be like that. We opened the door and once inside, we knew immediately the sign should have read, “Junk and a few Antiques.” It was typical. There was one rectangular room, poorly lit with the cash register just inside the door.
There were shelves, cabinets and tables of all sizes, piled high with stacks of stuff. Many of the shelves were swayback from years of holding excess weight. The floor and under the tables had more stacks of stuff.
It was a room full of undusted clutter. The walkways between the tables created a small maze that often required a sideway turn for safe passage. Still it was not unusual. It was pretty much what we expected in similar locations.
It was also typical for my wife and I to walk separate paths in shops like this, which seemed to work well for us. If either of us would see an item of interest, we would call the other to come over for a closer look.
That is what happened today. Sometime within the hour she called me. “Come look at this,” she said, and I followed her voice through the maze where she was standing.
“What is this?” she asked as she handed me a short board with a picture mounted on the front and sealed like a plaque. She told me she looked at it a while ago and then for some reason, she came back to look at it a second time.
I took the mounted picture to a spot in the shop where the light was a little better. Then I could see it was a special item. Although the photo was somewhat yellowed with age, perhaps, I was confident that sometime in the past it was a very fine gift.
On the backside there was a small printed card pasted on it, about the size of a business card. The following was printed on it.
Atlanta Georgia Skyline
George L. McCarthy, President
I looked at the photo in the better light. It was indeed an aerial photograph of downtown Atlanta Georgia. I had never seen this photo before, but since I spent two years in Atlanta in the early 1950’s I recognized the famous Five Points and the buildings taller than any I had ever seen in my home State of Iowa. I recognized the State Capitol and the Atlanta City Hall. I did not know when the photo was taken, but it was obviously before the Interstate Highways were built in Atlanta.
My wife had said earlier “something called her back to the photo.” And then while I was staring at it, I suddenly saw the reason she got that feeling.
“Look at this!” I told her, as I pointed to a building across the street from the State Capitol. My finger was pointing to the Baptist Church where we were married in 1952 on Thanksgiving Day. “No wonder this picture was calling you!”
Well, she could not believe it and neither could I. We don’t know when the photo was taken, except it was after our Wedding Day in 1952 and before the Interstate Highways were started. I have since learned that Mr. McCarthy invented the first rotary camera to film cheques. In 1928, Eastman Kodak bought his patent, redesigned the camera and established a new division named Recordak, headed by McCarthy.
I am guessing there is another story we will never know about and that is How this photo-plaque found it’s way to that Antiques and Stuff Shop in Bluefield, Virginia, hundreds of miles from Atlanta Georgia.
If photos could speak, we would learn the answers. We can agree, though, that photo’s cannot speak. But there is a bigger question. Can a Photo call out?
I think the answer to that is a definite yes. Although I admit I was not nearby and I did not hear it, I believe it actually “called out to my wife.” How else can we explain that she returned a second time to inspect the photo?
You see, I know something else that may help to convince you. I’ll tell you why the Photo called out to my wife. That day my wife picked up that photo to look at it, was nearly forty years to the very day we were married at that Baptist Church. And while that coincidence alone, might be enough to justify my position, listen to this. There is more. About ten or fifteen years before my wife found that photo in Bluefield Virginia, we were in Atlanta and we decided to drive by that Baptist Church where we were married, just for the memories.
We were shocked to discover our Wedding Church was GONE! It was nothing more than a parking lot for the government buildings in the area! Unusual as it might be, our marriage outlasted the Church!
I will always believe it wasn’t the photo that called out to my wife; it was that Church that only lives today in that photo. It was that Church that said to her, “Come back, look again!”
How else can this moment in time be explained? Was it destiny for the two of us to find that picture, which has so much meaning in our lives? Perhaps.
Is this just another one of those things that we cannot explain? Still, when I recall the empty feeling in our hearts when we both saw a parking lot where our Wedding Church once stood and the feeling we both had when this photo REBUILT THAT CHURCH in our minds, I know it was not a mere coincidence.
We bought something that day. For only three dollars, we salvaged a million dollar memory. We rescued a picture that probably had no meaning whatsoever to anyone else. We rescued a picture from an obscure, dingy existence and it lit up our hearts.
True, there is no scientific answer, but I do believe we did not find that picture. I believe that Church in that picture recognized my wife and called out to her after she put it down the first time.
“Come back, look again!” And she did. She surely did.