When March came to my McDowell County home in Western North Carolina, I knew spring was on its way, though an icy nip lingered in the air from snow on the mountains. I also knew March brought blustery winds, so I turned my eyes to the sky, imagining a kite sailing in the blue expanse, and rising to the clouds.
My father was handy at making little toys—cars with thread spool wheels and wooden whistles. He was also a good kite maker. He formed a cross with twigs, covered it with newspaper, attached a strip of rag for its tail, and tied a line of twine to guide it.
Of course, store-bought kite kits were available back in the 1960s, and I had some of those through the years. But I preferred my father’s sturdy homemade kites.
When my father finished making my kite, I took it to the long field below our house. The trick for me was getting it off the ground, and keeping it in the air until the breeze took over and lifted it higher. With twine in hand, I jerked the kite up and ran to get some air beneath its newspaper wings. This took a few tries until a gust finally picked it up and drew it into the sky.Soon, though, the wind died, and the kite zigzagged, eventually nosediving into the field below.
Kite flying is an act of faith. As a child, I dreamed of flying (as most children do), my arms outstretched as I ran through the yard, pretending to take wing. When I flew my kite, I hoped it would soar into the clouds as I’d dreamed of doing. “C’mon, kite,” I said, as my kite tried to lift on the breeze.
“You can do it,” I coaxed. And I gloried in its rising when the wind boosted it higher, proud of its perseverance. And when it lost its momentum and fell to the ground, I suffered its failure. But I didn’t give up on it, or myself.
Wearing my mother’s kerchief to protect my ears from the late-winter chill, I ran with my kite in our field until its final ascent. Suddenly, it plunged into nearby power lines, where it became tangled, dangling there for everyone to see. In our neighborhood, other kids’ kites had met a similar end, ravaged by power lines and trees, trapped in an elevated kite cemetery.
When our daughter, Annie, was a child, my husband Steve and I flew kites with her in our back pasture. The vinyl kites we flew then were fancy with colorful geometric patterns, and wings that flapped. One windy March day, Steve and I were flying one of these kites on our own, and he had managed to guide it high into the sky, beyond the towering poplars and pines. Then he handed the twine spool to me.
“Make sure the line’s tight to keep the kite steady,” he said, “and feed it line when it needs it.”
“I will,” I said, excited as I felt the line tug and saw the kite rising even farther than I could have imagined, becoming a fluttering speck in the distance. Keeping my eyes on the kite, I stepped backward to tighten the line, trying not to stumble.
While the kite soared farther away and the twine spool spun in my hands, suddenly the last bit of twine flew off the spool.
“Oh, no!” I said, as we watched the kite flying free, lost to us forever, the empty spool helpless in my hands.
That was the last time I flew a kite.
Except for skilled adult kite flyers at the beach, their vibrant balloon-like kites riding on ocean breezes, I haven’t seen anyone flying a kite in years. No children seem to run through their yards, as we did in the 1960s, holding the string of a kite with their eyes on the sky.
Someday I’ll fly a kite again—I have one waiting in a storage building. I just need a brisk March breeze, a little confidence, and the faith of a child, that even if I lose the kite, its brief flight will be worth it