The high and the mighty

Charlie Brown would probably be angry with me. I have growing in my yard, to the height of at least 40 feet, the perfect kite-eating tree.

Every year at about this time - when the first dandelions explode into bloom and the robins have begun to return from their southern migrations - my maple manages to snare a kite or two. I almost think it is ordained that kites come to my yard to die.

When I was just a little kid growing up in Cincinnati, each spring a cardboard box full of kites would appear down at the 5-and-dime store, and that - not Groundhog Day - would signal that warmer weather was just about to start.

Back then, the only kites that were readily available were diamond-shaped, and they seemed to come in only one of the three primary colors of red, yellow or blue. Across the front of each kite was printed the brand name HY-FLYER and the picture of the experimental aircraft the Flying Wing. (Longtime readers of Popular Science realize that this 1950s aircraft is now being toured as a form of the ultrasecret, new Stealth bomber.)

When I was only about 4 or 5 years old, my father bought me my first kite. Like my first electric train, now that I think about it, I'm sure it was just as much fun for him to play with it as it was for me.

Anyway, we came home from the dime store with a yellow kite, a couple of balls of string and a wooden string-winder that looked as if it had been made out of wood from an old orange crate. We put the kite together and wound the string onto the winder. Then we took them to a big open field a few blocks away.

"OK," my father said after he figured out which way the wind was blowing. "I'm going to need your help if we're going to fly this thing. You hold the kite and I'll walk out a ways, and then you let it go when I start to run with the string."

He walked off about 20 yards and laid the kite-winder down on the ground. Then he walked back to where I was standing with the kite. "Just hold the stick with two fingers," he advised; "don't wrap your whole hand around it."

While he might have envisioned me not letting go and snapping the kite stick, all I could see was me still hanging on to the kite as it soared hundreds of feet above the ground. Ol' Dad didn't have anything to worry about - I was going to let go of the kite!

"Ready?" he yelled, and at that point I let go of the kite and it fluttered to the ground.

"No - pick it back up" came his call. "If you're only hanging on with two fingers, my pull on the string will be enough to pull it loose."

I picked the kite back up and held it aloft. Dad started running, and the kite climbed into the air. Unfortunately, its path skyward was only the beginning of a big loop, and it flew straight into the ground about 30 feet away.

We tried two more times with the same results.

"Needs a tail" was my father's only comment after a couple of minutes of thoughtful contemplation. "Stay here with the kite - I'll be right back," He jumped into the car, roared off toward home, and was back in a few minutes with an old rag pillowcase that he began tearing into stripes.

"You tie these strips together," he directed, "and we'll have this kite in the air in no time." After we had tired about 6 feet of tail to the kite, it flew successfully the next time we tried.

"This is your kite," said my father after the kite was a couple of hundred feet in the air, "you hang on to it." With that, he handed me the kite-winder, and he sat down and watched.

"Do you think any airplanes will hit it?" I asked as I kept letting out more and more string.

"No," Dad replied, "we've only got a few hundred feet of string. I think your kite's pretty safe."

A couple of our neighbors had spotted us standing out in the field and ambled over to find out what we were doing.

"Can't say anything's wrong with that kite," said one as he squinted toward my dot in the sky. "I haven't flown a kite since I was a boy in Kentucky. We didn't have any store-bought kites back then."

I handed him the kite winder and let him have a turn with my kite. Before long, everybody in the group had taken a turn holding on to the line.

I don't know what it is - maybe it's like fishing - but there's something peaceful and serene about holding on to a string that gently tugs back. If you don't believe me, just get yourself a kite and spend a while flying it.

Just be sure to watch out for my tree.

Freelance Gary McDaniel, like his kite-eating tree, lives in Magnolia. His column appears in alternate issues of the News.

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