|Written by: Pam Backlund|
Illustrated a read aloud at: https://youtu.be/loy4L5RFLH8
“This is the last time I’ll be here at church with you sister,” said Bonnie as she blessed herself with holy water. “Wallace is coming Friday; and taking me home Saturday,” she added.
The Latin Mass at Immaculate Conception Church had been cool and comfortable. The homily had stressed Proverbs 19:21; “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”
“I really needed to hear the sermon today because none of my plans have been panning out lately,” she continued as she loosened her tight belt. She also unbuttoned her front waist button.
Bonnie and her sister, Jenny had been living together in San Angelo for about four months. Bonnie had wintered there with Jenny. Both women were in their twenties and well cared for.
“Special delivery for Bonnie Fife,” shouted the telegram delivery boy. Bonnie removed a tip from her purse and received three folded, numbered messages.
Bonnie questioned, “Why are these numbered?”
“I don’t know,” replied the lad, “but you are only to open the first one now and it will contain further instructions as to when to open the others.”
The first telegram read as this:
Dearest Bonnie, please go to a balloon launching north of the train station. Love, Wallace.
It was 1889 and a balloon debut would be unusual for the small town of 5000. But the weather was unusually pleasant for February in Texas. No winds were blowing. It was as if a false spring had emerged from the dullness. It was perfect weather for a balloon event.
So Bonnie and Jenny had their driver lead his horses to the affair. They were curious as to why Wallace wanted them to go to something he shouldn’t even know about since he was currently in New Mexico. When they were a hundred yards away they could see and hear the commotion. People had gathered. A team of men filled a silk globe with hydrogen gas…fumes resulting from an acid to zinc reaction. Above the balloon was a net with multiple ropes hanging down and it connected the balloon to a glorified picnic basket. It was a type of balloon used during the Civil War. It could get a birds-eye view of enemy military strength.
Bonnie suddenly recognized the pattern on this balloon as the one her father rescued during the war and stored in their attic in New Mexico.
“What in the world is Father’s old balloon doing in San Angelo?” thought Bonnie as they looked on. They noted that, remarkably, the fabric was holding the lightweight gas completely. It looked like a safe craft.
Meanwhile in the Cuchillo Negros Mountains of New Mexico her father was teaching the “Gold, Silver and Zinc” mining craft to Wallace, a man with whom Bonnie fell in love. It was highly strange for the balloon to be in San Angelo when the men and her mother were in New Mexico. She began to get suspicious. But Bonnie was highly distrustful of everything; including her own marriage and her own niche in the world.
Bonnie had been born with two club feet and even though her wealthy parents had intervened with good health care, she still walked awkwardly; with a severe limp. Bonnie felt limited and ugly. She suspected Wallace married her only for her money.
Jenny on the other hand had no problems with being self-confident. She had moved to San Angelo with her husband many years ago. Bonnie’s parents had insisted that Bonnie live with Jenny for a while in hopes that some of Jenny’s self-assurance would rub off onto her. So for several months Jenny had been talking her up and confirming that Wallace didn’t just love her for her inheritance. Bonnie believed Jenny most of the time. But Bonnie frequently let fear and doubt creep into her psyche.
When they got to the site, a man named Marco motioned for them to come to the basket. He said, “Mrs. Fife, I would be honored to lift you into the basket for your eventful ride.”
She looked at Jenny, who had a naughty smile on her face. “Jenny, what’s going on?” pleaded Bonnie.
“You are going on a ride, Bonnie! Open the telegram with a two on it.”
I love you. Have fun on the flight. Wallace
With severe apprehension, Bonnie allowed herself to be lifted into the basket. There was a stool to sit on. Marco handed her a compass, whistle, binoculars and water canteen. She opened her parasol and sat down. “What in the world?” she thought.
The basket was tied to an extremely long rope. The other end of the rope was around a large hand reeled winch (which bolted to large springs; which were bolted to the wagon bed.) Four horses would lead the wagon-anchored balloon. Bonnie soon became slightly airborne.
“If you want us to winch you back to the ground, just whistle. But I think you should stay up there. You’ll be safe with our watch!” Marco remarked.
The crowd cheered goodbye as the winch began to unwind more rope; letting her ascend higher into the sky. Jenny yelled, “Rise up and seize the day, Bonnie!”
The anchor wagon took the lifted balloon with Bonnie, along the railroad tracks until merging with the Bronte Road. All along that stretch of the trip she used her binoculars to see the telegraph line and train tracks leading to Ballinger. A bugler in the wagon announced their approach to some homes along the road. People came out to greet her. Bonnie enjoyed herself. But where was this thing taking her? She couldn’t help herself so she decided to open telegram #3 while they were on Bronte Road.
I know you feel inferior to everyone because of your feet. You may think I’m embarrassed to be seen with you. I am not. I am proud of you. Please know that I married you because I love you…not for any other reason. Please come to Sugar Loaf Mountain. wallace
Looking in the direction the horses were going, she saw a mountain in the distance and finally realized what was going on. Wallace knew that she dreamed of climbing a mountain. “Is this a trick? What good would my legs be for that kind of adventure?” she said to herself. “Will I just stand at the base of that mountain? How can he say he loves me, when he just wants to rub my fantasy in my face? He knows I cannot climb the mountain with my handicap!”
Her thoughts were interrupted as she remembered the catalyst of this humiliation. At her home in Hot Springs New Mexico is a mountain called Kettle Top Butte. Wallace and her dad hiked the 400 feet of it. Afterwards, when asked why they did it, Wallace said that being in the clouds was a gift from God. He arranged the trip, knowing that Bonnie would not physically be able to go. His remarks afterwards to the family were breathlessly descriptive. The entire summary hurt her feelings. “Why should they have enjoyed the vision I’ve had for myself?” she thought. The memory of that incident disturbed her.
The trip continued north for an hour.
Along Bronte Road, the bugler had no reason to blast a greeting as there were no homes out in this wilderness. But he belted out “Amazing Grace” anyway to scatter the sheep and cattle below her. Her bitterness was subdued somewhat by the sea of brown grass swaying gently to the breeze. It was as if she was on a ship and the grass was her ocean. She enjoyed the sights immensely. She never had the urge to blow the whistle or shout out for fear. On the contrary she felt very close to God. For a time, a large cloud cast a shadow over the travelers. Bonnie felt as if she was in the safety under the shadow of God’s wing.
But distrust came back to break her peace. “Why would a man find me attractive? I cannot dance. I cannot run to greet him. I am moody and judgmental. I abhor him because I know he is just acting. I love him, but we can’t be together,” she sobbed.
With that, she threw down the three telegrams. The papers fluttered to the south. She began to feel trapped in the basket of the balloon. She blew the whistle as loud as she could. If only I had someone to talk to,” she thought. “I want to get down, and take one of the horses back to Jenny.” Her mind was racing.
The men stopped the wagon. The balloon came to a standstill. The trumpeter began to play the Scottish song “The Water is Wide” which caused Bonnie to cry. The winch did not pull her down. Time went by slowly as she grieved her perceived failing marriage and life. “Cut the rope and let me drift away,” She shouted without notice. She then began to untie the rope that secured the basket to the wagon.
But Marco shouted, “Mrs. Fife! Direct your binoculars to the mountain we’re coming upon.”
She stopped untying the rope and did as Marco suggested. Without the rattling and bouncing of the wagon, it became clear that another trumpet in the distance was playing music. She set her sight on Wallace playing his instrument while standing atop the mountain. He was a sight for sore eyes. “What is he doing in Texas five days early…and on a mountain at that?” she thought.
Her heart leapt from her frame as the men and horses were very quiet. Eventually the slight breeze brought the tune to her. “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean”.
With her spirits lifted, she told Marco to drive on! She kept Wallace in her sight. He quit playing and waved at her while holding his binoculars! They kept this up for a while.
When they were finally at the base of the mountain near Wallace’s horse, Marco led Wallace’s horse up the hill. Then he manhandled the rope tethering Bonnie’s basket. As the horse and rider climbed the mountain, the rope became longer and parallel to the slope. Eventually Marco was near the top.
When Bonnie’s basket was steady on the ground of the mountain top, Wallace lifted her out of the basket and said, “I knew you always wanted to climb a mountain and this was my solution to the situation.”
He set her down on the quilt and knelt beside her. “I’ve missed you so much! Being without you has been horrible. Please never leave my side again.” He kissed her. “I promise to love you forever, my Bonnie.”
“Oh, Wallace, you really do love me.”
“Bonnie, of course I do. I always have.”
“I love you, but I have just had reservations about your love for me.” She replied.
“I love you and God will redirect your suspicions if you let Him!”
In the background, the basket jostled as Marco’s horse slipped downhill a bit. The balloon was the couple’s mode down. Apparently, the steepness of the mountain was too much for a horse for very long. So Marco suggested that the event be cut short. For if not, they were about to lose the rope’s diagonal position as it naturally wanted to be in a vertical position.
So they packed up and got into the basket. Marco let loose of the rope and the balloon drifted upward. Lots of kissing and hugging occurred inside that basket. Eventually the winch lowered them and they were given a lunch basket that had been in the wagon all along. Then back up to a secure height they went. And the wagon set off to go back to San Angelo. Bonnie and Wallace were so in love. And with God’s help, Bonnie would trust Wallace for the rest of her life!
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Some of my research notes and fictional illustrations can be found: