Sunday, July 14, 2013

Purity Supreme (revised)

My uncle worked at Purity Supreme, a grocery store long since gone, but he's not, so he probably remembers the balloons he used to bring home.  They were the kind of balloons stores use for promos, the sort tied to displays and given to children still young enough to turn their mouths into o's, astounded that something so light exists in any world outside their imagination.  I'd never seen the balloons filled with helium--I'd never actually been in the store, though I'd watched the same logo streak by a hundred times on trucks, a big heart with a white PS on it, the rounded font bursting from the center through the edges, giving the heart a biological feel, as if it had arteries.  I didn't know much about biology then, but I did know that real hearts looked more like the Purity Supreme heart than the ones we tried to draw on Valentine's Day cards.

I have no idea how many balloons my uncle lifted, but I do know ours were in a crinkly brown lunch bag, filled to the top. My mother hid the bag in her bedroom closet then lectured him about stealing even though she loved the balloons as much as we did--that is, until we wanted "real" balloons.  Sure, these were fun. They were good on Valentine's Day  and even on my birthday when, if you blew up the balloons big enough, the hearts turned pink, and everyone knew pink was a girl's color.  My brother, of course, wanted nothing to do with them on his birthday, though I know we used them then, too, in spite of his blushes.  Since we had no helium, we'd tie the balloons to chairs, tape them to door knobs, rub them on our hair and stick them to windows.  We'd bat them around, blow some up and stretch the top while letting the air out, sounding the unmistakable screech that made our 100-pound German shepherd husky mix hide under the table.  We'd blow them up then let them go, measuring whose balloon went the furthest.  We'd use them as water balloons and peg each other outside on a cool day, pop them during parties (again, to the horror of the dog) and try to make balloon animals.  If one of us managed to twist the rubber into two sausage links without popping the balloon, we felt successful.  But still, these were not "real" balloons.

My mother made the argument to my father.  She wanted to throw me a "real" birthday party with "real" balloons, not something that came out of an old paper bag.  My father didn't understand what the problem was.  The balloons were never an issue before, and they were free.  Why spend money on pink balloons when we had perfectly good balloons here?  But my mother put on her stubborn look, the one that says, "Choose your battles," until my father forked over the money for the huge Italian cake with whipped "real" cream frosting, inexpensive harlequin ice cream AND balloons.  They both drew the line at streamers, though.  Streamers were a waste of money and a mess, and the tape took paint off the wall.  My brother and I promised not to tape anything to the wall ever again (including posters which somehow got into the "unauthorized tape" discussion that grew into general discourse about the evils of putting too many holes in the wall when my father had just painted, which we all knew he hated to do), but those promises might never have been spoken, the way my parents said "no" to streamers.  We were left wondering why "everyone else" had streamers and "real" balloons on a regular basis while we needed a dispensation from Pope Dad to even get a hearing on the subject.  Thus, I was grateful for the pink balloons and the cake.

My mother loved to throw big birthday parties.  She'd invite her father, brothers, aunts and uncles, my cousins, her best friends and their kids as well as my friends.  Sometimes we had two parties--one for family, one for friends.  Our house (what my mother called a "slab" because it was literally built on cement and had no upper or lower floor) was small, so everyone kind of migrated outside in back of the chain link fence that kept in the dog and kept out strangers.  The "Beware of Dog" sign was unnecessary.  The mailman refused to come in after taking one look at our big animal with big teeth, the same one we would hug on, but he wasn't about to hug anything that looked like it could eat him, though he was big himself.  My mother, in spite of the mailman's decision, would even leave a piece of cake for him, though how much it melted in the mailbox I will never know.

At some point in the party, the sugar and energy kicked in, putting the pink balloons at risk.  The balloons became tennis balls, soccer balls and pin cushions.  We popped tiny holes in them and felt as they shriveled in our hands, either relishing the slow metamorphosis or hastening it by squeezing the bulbous thing.  We tried to make balloon animals and celebrated when one of us succeeded in sculpting two and even three links without popping the balloon.  But then we wanted to blow up balloons and let the air out, making them screech like we had done when preparing for the party.  So out came the old Purity Supreme balloons, which, after explanations and proper adoration of my uncle, served as perfect noise makers, especially because my parents didn't believe in party favors.  After all, everyone went home with a couple of Purity Supreme balloons and a slice of cake or two.

Years later (though it might have only been two or three--time seemed to move more slowly then), we reached the bottom of the brown paper bag, which by then had thinned significantly and developed a hole or two.  My uncle no longer worked for Purity Supreme.  Our balloon connection had been cut off.  We wondered what we would do for birthday parties, Valentine's Day and all those other impromptu celebrations populated by Purity Supreme balloons.  I guess we cut down on balloon usage, saving our money for important events.  One year, we did get streamers, and it was okay because we only taped them to windows and cleaned the windows off after.  But somehow, it wasn't the same, not only because the balloons with the strange hearts were missing, but because we were older and balloons and streamers didn't mean as much anymore.  For presents, we wanted money, in lieu of parties, we wanted to go to the movies with our friends and cakes could be bought at any old bakery instead of the Italian one.  We could afford chocolate chip ice cream because we only had a couple of friends over, and though we consumed enough ice cream to feed a large family, it just wasn't the same.

Now, on the rare occasion I get an inflated balloon, in particular a foil one on a special day, I treasure it probably more than I do flowers.  I don't think anyone knows this.  Maybe I will tell my sweet husband that's what I'd like for a gift on my next birthday.
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