Bucket list wish comes true for thankful resident
It may be a long way to Baton Rouge, La., from Bryant, Ark., but a hot air balloon ride can bridge the distance and the decades between them.
Deborah Saucier, 59, remembers being a 10-year-old lying on the grass of her yard of her Lousiana home, her younger brother close at hand.
"We lived near the airport and every year balloons would launch from it," she said. "We were so close to the airport that the balloons would just be lifting off the ground as they flew over our house. We could see the people in the balloons and would wave to them. They always waved back. It was one of the best times of my life. Ever since then, I've wanted to fly in a balloon."
Deborah is a resident of Southern Trace Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Bryant. Nancy Brown, director of the center, heard of Deborah's wish to fly and determined to do whatever was necessary to make it happen.
"We have what is called a 'bucket list' program at our facility," Brown said. "Our residents let us know what they would like to do, and we do our best to make it happen."
Brown learned of Deborah's wish and contacted David Hoover of Balloon Little Rock, an organization that provides hot air balloon rides for customers.
"When Nancy contacts me, I knew this was something we wanted to do," Hoover said about granting Deborah's wish.
On Nov. 14, with Nancy by her side and David at the controls, Deborah lifted off from a field behind a church in Morgan, quietly rising into the crisp morning sky at sunrise.
She had watched as the crew meticulously prepared the brightly colored balloon, slowly pacing from one side to the other, stopping to watch as the gondola rose upright as blasts of hot air lifted the balloon from the dewy ground.
When the time came to climb aboard, Deborah didn't hesitate. "Are you afraid of heights?" someone asked her.
"I don't think so, but I think I'm about to find out!" she replied.
With passengers settled safely into place, David asked, "Are you ready, Deborah?"
"I sure am!" she replied. One quick blast on the flame and the balloon went from wish to reality for Deborah.
For the next two hours, the balloon and crew flew 8.9 miles at 1,400 feet high above the morning rush-hour traffic. Each car passed below, without realizing the special moment they were playing in Deborah's eyes high above.
Near Arkansas 10 west of Little Rock, a journey that started on a lawn in Baton Rouge ended on the cool grass of a soccer field. With a grin that lit up her face of rosy cheeks from the cool morning air, Deborah clearly cherished the moment. "How was it?" someone asked. "I loved it! I'm ready to go again!" she said.
Deborah said that along the way, David lowered the balloon so that the bottom of the gondola splashed against the surface of a pond. "He said it was a 'splash and go,'" said Deborah. "We were so close we could see our reflection in the water. It was beautiful!"
Mary agreed. "This was just incredible. I've never had such an experience and I am glad Deborah had me tag along and share it with her."
David was grinning as much as anyone. "This was a special flight. I will always remember it."
As the balloon slowly descended at the end of the flight, the balloon had caught the attention of many passersby. Cars had pulled over to watch. Students from a local school had lined up along the field to watch.
"Did you notice the white car near the road?" Deborah was asked. "Yes I did," she replied. "I saw a little girl in the back seat stick her arm out of the window and wave at me. I waved back."
With that, Deborah smiled a special smile and quietly drifted off in her mind to a time decades before. The flight had come full circle.
There was no better way to end a flight of dreams.