That time Grandma put balloons in our stockings

My late Grandma Rogers liked practical Christmas gifts. She got each of her five grandsons a shirt, pair of pants, underwear, and socks.

She stuffed our stockings with toiletries and snacks including soap, toothpaste, nuts, and an orange.

One year whimsy must have struck Grandma. She put a single balloon in each of our stockings.

This went about as well as you could expect for a group of boys aged 7 to 19.

We all had the same idea: Inflate the balloons until they almost burst and then let them go.

The balloons flew around Grandma’s living room in shaky loops, leaving trains of slobber as they spiraled.

This was years before the pandemic, but even this act was, at best, unsanitary, and, at worst, gross.

My mom was unimpressed. She remarked that had the annual Rogers’ Christmas Eve celebration taken place at her house – which it eventually did when Grandma Rogers grew on in years – no balloons would be in the stockings.

She has a point, but so it goes.

Boys like gross.

And, oh, how we laughed!

They laughed so hard we could barely breathe and we became light-headed.

We laughed when the balloons eventually popped.

We still laugh about it today, now that we are adults. Several of us have married and have children.

But we boys always remember the simple pleasures of a balloon full of our own hot air on Christmas Eve many years ago.

I recall this simple pleasure as Christmas approaches. My family does simple holidays: food, fellowship, and gifts.

The gifts are as generous as appropriate and as people can afford.

Nobody expects the poorest people in our family to roll into Christmas with gifts worth thousands of bucks under their arms.

But my mom, the keeper of common sense in our tribe, says most of us can scrape together enough for a little something, even if it is just a can of mixed nuts.

Much has been made of the commercialism of Christmas.

Charlie Brown bemoaned the practice in his animated Christmas special all the way back in 1965.

My stomach churns at car commercials this time of year – the idea that there are people rich enough to buy two cars at Christmas, as an SUV with a giant bow on it held the true meaning of Christmas.

Jesus, the story goes, was born in a manger surrounded by livestock, not a AAA five-star rated hotel.

Christmas consistently ranks as one of the most stressful periods of the year.

People try to turn their homes into a real-life recreation of Clark Griswold’s electricity-sucking domicile in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

They fuss over meals as if Gordan Ramsey will lambast your ham basting.

Christmas is should not be about presentation.

The holiday is about togetherness and shared experiences.

My late Grandma Newcomb, on my mom’s side, made rolls with dinner for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners she hosted. She always left them in the oven a little too long. They became known as “burn ‘n’ serve.”

We all laughed.

I remember big presents, of course.

My family has always been generous at Christmas and birthdays.

But what I remember with greater fondness as the years pile up on my odometer is silly little moments like a flying balloon or burn-n-serve rolls.

If you’re blessed enough to gather with your family over this season and find yourself with a floor filled with crumpled wrapping paper, dirty plates in the sink, and people laughing very hard, consider the words of the great American man of letters, Kurt Vonnegut, who suggested we view life thusly: “Well, if this isn’t nice, what is?”

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney is a Marion County Express columnist.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.

1 Comment

  1. Rhonda Williams says:

    These are the Holidays I remember best, but somehow cannot put into words. You nail it every time. Thanks!


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