Craig and the Balloon Money

This happened to me when I was in “Prep” at Weeden Heights Primary School in Melbourne. I think it amply demonstrates that at a young age I had very little clue as to how the fundamentals of the world operated. Remarkably, my memory of this event was such that years later, having finally learned at least some of the basic principles of life, I could reconstruct the details of the event and make sense of it. Rather like a “black box” flight recorder in a plane.

The story begins as the school prepared to celebrate being one year old. The teachers formulated a brilliant scheme, where students would each get a balloon that would be filled with helium, with the student’s name and address inside the balloon. All the students would release their balloons on the day of celebration. If I remember correctly, we were meant to say “yay” as we let our balloons go.

The inside of the balloon also contained strict instructions that whoever might find the balloon should mail it to the school. The student whose balloon travelled the furthest would get a prize.

The other essential aspect was that we had to pay for this first lesson in extravagance and gambling – ten cents per child.

So one morning, Mum whacked ten cents in my hand and said, “give this to the teacher when you get to school.” This I did. Now I don’t know whether Mum mentioned “for the balloon” or not. The point is that when lunchtime came around, the teacher said, “Who gave me their money this morning?”

Somehow I had failed to notice that every single day since the start of the year, the teacher asked that question at the start of lunchtime. It prevented the tragedy of the students losing their lunch money before lunchtime arrived. So I stuck my hand up, and was duly given twenty cents.

The teacher handed out the rest of the lunch money, but was short when she got to the last kid. “Sorry, but that’s all the money.” The paused. “I remember you giving me the money,” she mused. Then she turned to me. “Craig, did you give me money this morning?”

“Yes,” I said, 100% truthfully but 0% comprehendingly.

“Hmm,” she said. “Well, I’ll just have to give you some of my own money,” she said to the kid who was probably near tears due to this drama instigated by me.

Somehow at the time I totally failed to realise what I had done. The fact that I had handed in ten cents and received twenty cents raised no alarm in my mind. I had been blissfully unaware of the daily lunchtime money ritual until that day. I was somehow unaware of the connection between the ten cents and my balloon. In fact, I can only conclude that I was unaware of many fundamental aspects of existing at the time. I simply went out and bought an icy pole at lunchtime. You could get a lot for twenty cents those days.

I suppose that explains Dad’s old saying: “Don’t be vague – ask for Craig.”

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