Since the season approaches, I figured it might be time for the blimp post. There are things in a child’s life that loom large, larger than the sum of their parts might suggest possible. One that comes to mind from my own kinderheit is the blimp, a.k.a. the “Goodyear Blimp”.
This amazing vessel had a sound that you could never mistake, a low, chipper flatulence emanating from its propellers. That sound, burrowing into the stillness of a late July evening after our bedtime, would catapult me and my siblings from our beds (yes, I believe even my older sister was for a time captivated by the sight of the venerable craft) and into the front or back yard, as the case may have been, to watch the airship sail over the house with its marquee lights blazing colorful messages. It might as well have been the gingerbread cottage from Hansel and Gretel flying over the house, we were that smitten.
The first sighting of the blimp every year was something of a magical moment. It usually came to town a week or two before the Seafair hydroplane races (what we called simply the “boat races”) on Lake Washington. You might hear it first, or you might see its tiny sliver of glint and grey way off on the horizon from the car window as you rode home from church in the spacious back seat of your parents’ Ford Galaxy 500. Once I was out in the street playing Kick the Can with my homies (we didn’t call them “homies” back then…we used the now archaic Anglo Saxon word “friends” — and yes, we played in the street) and I turned around and saw the blimp hovering, it seemed, directly over Chris’ house at the end of the street, big as a raincloud.
I loved the blimp. I loved it with something like an epic love. It was just a big gasbag with a motor, but in those late midcentury days the world was still a little bit in awe of the whole idea of flight, and my parents passed that sense of wonder down to me at an age when I was supremely impressionable about the revering of things. I thank them for it. After all, what are our moments on earth but metaphors of heaven? The blimp was a lot like my idea of God at that time — big, benevolent, skyborne, (kinda burpy), and watchful… watchful and all-seeing. It surprised us with its grace and strange beauty and sudden appearance. It saw us before we saw it, but when we saw it back, we knew ourselves to be blessed.
UPDATE: 10 May 2011
I recently found this photo I took in 1978. This is probably the Columbia.