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Don’t miss the magic this weekend

Magic happens.

And when it does the memory of that moment is seared in the mind of all who witness it. It has the power to transform routine objects and places into something unexpected and extraordinary.

It was that way for my then 2-year old sitting in the back parking lot of the Natchez Mall as he stared at an empty field under a clear October sky.

The crowd of people were enough to pique his curiosity last year, but he had no clue what was going to happen minutes after my wife brought him to the mall.

We have heard about that day for the last 12 months nearly every time we passed the mall on John R. Junkin Drive. When we do, Gibson points to the mall and exclaims, “I seen balloons there yesterday.”

With no real concept of time, Gibson views any time in the past as yesterday.

Since last year’s balloon race, he has been to the mall for numerous shopping excursions. He just recently donned his first pair of 3-D glasses to see “Finding Nemo” on the big screen.

Watching a movie — especially a 3-D one — can be a magical experience in itself, but it evidently doesn’t compare to that day last October when Gibson saw the skies outside the mall fill up with hot-air balloons.

As we left the theater last month, my son had little to say about Nemo, Dory and the other characters in the Pixar movie. He instead talked about the balloons he witnessed nearly a year ago.

Forever in his mind, the Natchez Mall will not be about shopping or watching movies. It will be about balloons.

Every race is unique, but last year’s event was truly magical for my son and every other person who witnessed it. In the last 12 years I have never seen balloons perform an impromptu dance around the target as they did both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Gibson will grow up surrounded by some amazing things. After all, not every kid has the Mississippi River practically in his backyard. Not many 3-year olds live blocks away from grand homes and some of the most beautiful churches in the country.

As unique as those things are, they will be the norm for Gibson’s childhood. They will not be as special as that weekend when the unexpected happen — when bright, colorful orbs danced in the sky.

It is the same way for most of us who live in Natchez.

Horse drawn carriages are a nuisance. All of the sunsets over the Mississippi River are the same. Old houses are just old houses.

Every year, residents become excited, down right giddy when the third weekend in October nears. There are few occasions that elicit such enthusiasm in this community.

That is why The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race is important not just for 3-year olds, but also for children of all ages.

It provides a weekend of magical moments to a community that is to the rest of the world already a unique place without balloons floating across the sky.

After 25 years, the balloon race is what makes Natchez special for the people who live here. Natchez would not be the exceptional place that it is without it.

Just ask my son. It is magic.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.