Looking back looking up


We moved to Lisle when I was quite young. Tate Woods can attest to that. But even before Tate Woods, I knew Eyes to the Skies. In fact, this is my very first memory of Lisle, IL 60532.

My family had just moved in. I think it was June 30th. Moving day is one of the toughest days ever. I didn’t know it at the time. I remember waking up too early. It was a lot harder on my parents, I’m sure, but again, I didn’t know it at the time.

What I do know is that we had real hot air balloons floating above my house! They were so loud and so silent. I will always look for that rhythm. You could wave your hand and these mythical balloon characters would greet you back! You might even hear them say “Hello!” I remember these balloons about 10 feet high. Certainly, Michael Jordan could have gotten on board with ease.

After the balloons floated above our new home, we started one of Lisle’s great traditions, Strawberry Waffle at The Fox. I don’t remember if my dad tried driving Short Street that morning, but anyway, that was the day Eyes to the Skies (and strawberry waffles) became a part of me.

The following year, Eyes to the Skies became my favorite time of the year. But not the 4th. Not the parade. Not the corn dogs. Not even the fireworks. No, it was the all-you-can-eat night at the carnival. It was the day before Eyes to the Skies debuted. That was it for all boys my age. I think it was just as important for the girls, but it would take a few years for them to count, so I can’t be sure.

I remember the Gravitron more than anything else. Those early 90s looked a lot like the 80s. Security was loose. Especially that first Springsteen-esque night. No handlebars. No seat belts. No roof. If you time it correctly, you could tip it upside down, providing a feel that has not been matched since.

There were bad hot dogs and good lemonade. There were carnival games that no one could win. Except footballers. These Blue and White soccer players always seemed to get shots that no one else could. Their dates started with gigantic cuddly toys that made a boy jealous, even if the cuddly toys from our childhood were gradually disowned.

Although I never wore this blue and white soccer jersey, I was able to wear my Little League armor. We’ve all done it. We were wonderful. Maybe it was Farm, maybe it was Mustang, maybe it was Bronco. I even remember wearing rubber spikes on the Gravitron. It was perfect.

The real goal for us Lisle baseball players was to compete in one of the Bronco All-Star Games. These were the games played while the carnival was in full swing. At batting, Ace of Base could be heard over and over again. From the field, you could smell the popcorn. The strangers would stop and watch the game. For a moment, we were the very definition of All-Stars.

If you’ve played Bronco A and the game has gone on for a long time, the fireworks might start while you were on the pitch. We tried to be hit by the debris from the fireworks. It was our holy grail. And it happened every year. Now my generation is leading the next generation in the trash. Oh, how I hope they still play this game during the fireworks.

My baseball career did not survive the girls. I don’t remember exactly when the Ferris wheel replaced the Gravitron. I don’t remember when holding hands became more important than flying balls, but it happened. As our eyes were turned to the sky.

Soon it was my friends who fired these shots and won these stuffed animals. I was even able to wear one at home. I don’t think I pulled it off. I don’t even think I have to hold his hand. But I was able to bring this pink bear home.

We arrived early and left late. We laughed at the kids going to their first Lisle Fest. They were embarrassingly young. We respectfully watched the baseball game and remembered that we had never dropped a flyball.

Then “The Fest” got too expensive. Like $ 10 a day or some nonsense. We have found ways to get around this. You could volunteer for the Rotary Club and then shower for a week with your volunteer bracelet still on. At one point, you might sneak into the nighttime swim and then sneak into The Fest. One year we were in the parade and we just never left.

By the time it got down to $ 15, we weren’t even going. But we were getting closer for the fireworks display. So close. Sometimes from the East, once from the South, usually from the West. We said they were the best fireworks around. Definitely better than Naperville.

I had to leave Lisle and come back to return my eyes to the sky. We even went early one morning to see the balloons again. Followed by a Fox corned beef mince.

The summer of my childhood was “Lisle Fest”. I don’t know if he got lost or if I did it, but things have never been the same.

Yet the Fourth remains my favorite holiday. I’m looking for borderline carnivals. I like bad cover bands. Fireworks and hot air balloons fascinate me more than ever. I guess it was as good as I remembered it. Maybe even better.

Keep your eyes on the sky, I know I will.

• Justin Heath, of Chicago, is a political and policy professional with experience throughout the state of Illinois. He is a graduate of Lisle Public Schools, Ohio State University, and DePaul University.