St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Go Fly a Kite

James brought a $2 kite to school one April day.  He was an only child and given everything he wanted by his doting parents.  He got toys, balls, bats, gloves, skis, sleds, potato chips and pop and even wore new rather than hand-me-down clothes.  As we four Hanson boys, who each desperately wished we were an only child, watched him fly his kite high over the schoolyard, we knew we had to have one too!

Back in the 1950s, we boys didn’t get toys except for Christmas or our birthday.  However, we asked anyway as no birthdays were due for many months.    

“Can we buy a kite?” Marvin asked Mom.

“Sure, ask for one for your birthday in September.”

“Can’t we get one now?”

“If you want to spend your own money”   Our money was exclusively from depression-fresh  aunts and uncles who thought it was extravagant to give us a dime for a birthday or a nickel for Christmas,  which we spent immediately on candy the next trip to town. 

We asked Dad next. “You don’t need to buy a kite. You can make one yourselves.   All you need it two crossed sticks, some paper and string and maybe some rags for the tail.  When I was a kid during the depression, my five brothers and I made every toy we had!  You don’t know how nice you boys have it getting things for your birthday and Christmas.  Why I remember one year I only had one penny to spend all year long and saved it for the whole year until I got another one next year and then put both of them in the collection plate at church.  Kids now-a-days just don’t know how easy they have it.  Why onetime we…”  

We quickly retreated, already callous to stories about the bad old days.  We had examined Jame’s kite carefully and realized Dad was right.   We found two light sticks from a nearby tree; cut a string groove on each end and used a Scout lashing from Boy’s Life Magazine.  I had bought a whole year’s worth at the annual Presbyterian Church rummage sale in town the previous fall for 10 cents.  The Presbyterian kids threw away things that we poor Methodist never got if not at the sale. 

The Coop store gave us 10 feet of waxed white butcher paper just for asking.  Mom helped us cut  it into the  diamond shaped kite outline with a little extra to fold over the string and secure it with cellophane tape.  Great Grandma, who saved everything, loaned us a ball of string full of knots holding smaller pieces together.  I emphasize loaned—as she expected it back or at least the pieces bigger than 5 inches.  We tied strings from the four corners to the center and to the string ball. We strung a 10-foot tail with small rags from an old diaper ( our youngest brother Byron was giving them up that spring) and took it out for a try. 

There was some wind from the west; at least as much as Jame’s kite had needed to soar.  We took turns running across the open cow pasture trying to get it up, dodging the freshest cow pies.  It rose 10 feet up as long as we were running full speed, but crashed back to the ground as soon as we stopped.

“We’ll have to wait for a tornado to get it up” panted Everett after his run.   

Dad looked it over.  “Your idea is right.  Just make every part of it lighter.”  Sure enough, with lighter sticks, split and whittled thin from a jackpine board, the dry cleaner plastic that came back over Dad’s Sunday suit, and more plastic pieces for the tail (plastic sheeting was still quite rare in those days), we made the first of many kites that soared high above the farm yard.  We found we could use our casting rods and reels as kite string holders and controllers.  Dad’s dry cleaner gave us extra plastic bags when he found out we were using them for kites (he was our supplier next year when we learned how to make hot air balloons from the same drycleaner bags).

Years later when I had my own job, I bought many kites; cheap ones; fancy ones, big ones and little ones. I have two new ones in my cabin now just waiting for the right day.   None of the bought ones were nearly as satisfying those homemade ones of 50 years ago.