From the Braver Institute
When Spring would finally find its way to the North country, for some reason, we perceived the winds to be more consistent. I don’t know why. Maybe our parents had told us that to explain why we always received kites around Easter time. For this reason, we associated kite flying with Spring. I am sure that we flew kites at other times of the year if we had any to fly, but Spring always brought a new one.
The first kite that I recall getting was a kite that defied the look of the traditional, diamond-shaped kite. Diamond kites were difficult to fly and required tails of various lengths. They weren’t little kid friendly.
My first kite was very easy for anyone to fly. It was called a Baby Bat. It was black and triangle shaped (or delta shaped in technical kite terms) and it had two big eyes that gave it a slightly menacing look. As a kid I recall that it looked really cool. The best thing about the Baby Bat was that it required no tail. It assembled quickly and was ready to fly in minutes.
Over the years I received several Baby Bats, and with each new kite came more new kite string. My dad had taken an almost obsessive interest in flying these kites. As the kite flew ever higher and the end of a roll of string was reached, we would add on string from the old rolls to allow the kite to climb even higher.
Eventually the kite would reach the maximum altitude for the weight of the string, and then it would just get further and further away from us. It seemed that there were times when we would have a half-mile of line out.
Almost without fail, the string would break and the kite would fly off somewhere into the woods. I remember my dad (on more than one occasion) figuring that he had a good idea of where the kite went down, and we would jump into the Jeep and head out to try and find it. I suspect that he just liked any excuse to head out into the woods with the Jeep. He may have also actually enjoyed the challenge of finding the kite. I am not sure if we ever did find one.
To prevent the string from breaking and to make it easier to reel in two-thousand feet of line, my dad started flying kites with a fishing pole and a reel full of twenty-pound test line. Reeling the kite in was much faster than trying to wrap all of that string around a stick.
Kite flying had moved from the realm of amusement to serious business.
There were times when we were so driven to get a kite into the air on a day with poor wind, that my dad took me down the road to a place we called the “air strip.” It was a cleared area of land that was supposed to be an airplane landing strip but never became anything but a flat, sandy patch of ground that stretched out for a mile or so. The Jeep my dad had at that time was a CJ5 with a half-cab, which meant it had a cab over the driver and passenger seats but the back was not covered, although this one had a piece of plywood over this area.
Back in those days kids were close to indestructible, unlike the overprotected, fragile waifs of today, and we decided that it would be perfectly safe for me to sit on the plywood on back of the Jeep while my dad drove along the air strip trying to go fast enough through the sand to get the kite to take off. The idea sounds insane these days, but back then kids slept in the back window of cars and rode in the beds of pickup trucks while cruising down the interstate. Now that I think about it, riding in the back of an open Jeep while traveling at five or six miles an hour over sand with no traffic around sounds a lot safer than anything we used to do on the highways.
Anyway, the hope was that we would be able to get it up into faster air currents that surely awaited at a higher altitude and then we could stop the Jeep and fly the kite. It didn’t work, but it sure was fun.
Baby Bats are still available. I think if Spring ever gets here I will pick a couple up for my daughters. Too bad I don’t have a half-cab Jeep.
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