It’s very still in the house today. I’m not feeling well so I lay down on the couch and close my eyes. As I let the stillness of the house settle around me, I hear the boiler downstairs kick on with a determined click followed by the hollow sound of flames heating the water. The boiler: It’s the same sound I remember hearing when a hot air balloon sailed in slow motion over our house in Three Bridges. I pull a blanket up to my chin as I lay there on the couch and imagine the balloon’s dark cool shadow sliding over the roof of my house. In that moment, a hot-air balloon travels through time and lands in my backyard.
Any kid that grew up in Readington Township knows the sound of a hot air balloon flying overhead. Though there was lots of farmland around Three Bridges, not every kid had a large field nearby where a balloon could land like we had.
My house was on Case Avenue in the rural town of Three Bridges. We had acres and acres of golden fields that stretched from our back fence as a far as the eye could see. As far as I knew, when the sun came up in the morning, it came up for us and only us.
I was told that our house was built by the infamous Mr. Case, a bootlegger during the 1920’s. I think you can imagine how this little bit of knowledge fueled the imaginations of neighborhood kids. Me and my pals would dig for hours in the field behind my house looking for old glass bottles, gun cartridges, human bones, and chests of forgotten bootleg money. We found a few old bottles and that, of course, spurred us on. We dug huge pits out in those fields. We were country kids and had nothing to do for fun besides smoking cigarettes and running through the woods. So, we dug with our bare hands and with sticks. We dug into the dark brown earth and it smelled like wet wool, gangsters and rusting metal. We would toil for hours to find one piece of one bottle. We’d make guesses at what was in the bottle, “Whiskey! Rum! Blood!” Our archeological work was occasionally interrupted by long battles between ourselves and “the coppers” but everything stopped when we heard the sound of a balloon. It was the sound of a god arriving and we ran, crashing through the fields, bursting out of the trees, our eyes scanning the sky for the source of that amazing fiery sound.