Daydream on a String
Over the past week or so there has been a exhilarating balminess in the air, not so much in the mornings when I go out on my bicycle, but later on, in the afternoons, when the sun is shining broadly, the flowerbeds are bright with daffodils and crocus, the magnolias are in flower and the sky is a soft pastel blue. Such balmy afternoons never fail to remind me of long-ago springtimes in the 1960s when I used to fly kites. Every kid did back then, or at least they did in the little pocket of suburbia where we lived, an hour or so south of Chicago, in a town called Hazel Crest. Come the warm fine days of spring and every afternoon after school or on weekends the sky would be dotted with kites. It was nothing then to look around and see a dozen of them in the distance, tiny beacons from other streets and neighbourhoods.
It gave me a quiet thrill to see them. There was at the same time a sense of fellowship connecting these dots and a wondrous suggestion of a great wide world out there, beyond the end of our cul-de-sac.
It was a fringe sort of suburbia that we lived in so there were still a few open fields scattered amongst the new housing developments, one was just behind our house. It was there we flew our kites, out of reach – usually – of kite-eating trees. I should add that these were not ‘performance’ kites, those skittish things with a harness and two strings that allow you to dive and swoop and perform loop-the-loops. Our kites were the classic diamond shape made of balsa and tissue, costing pennies at the Five & Dime. To get them to fly straight you’d add a tail made from a few rags from the ragbag tied together. We became quite expert at it. Launching our kites was simple and exhilarating: a short dash into the breeze, then let out as much string as you dared, watching your kite shrink as it rose away from you. Once it achieved cruising altitude you just enjoyed the simple pleasure of watching it float in the sky. Many pleasurable daydreamy hours passed this way.
Since these easily assembled diamond kites didn’t cost very much losses to crashes or trees were sustainable. One spring though, when I had somehow accumulated some extra funds, I splurged on a box kite – the cost of these fancier more elaborate models running up towards the dollar mark. I had always fancied trying a box kite – I liked their Wright brothers styling and their jaunty improbability. The one I bought fully lived up to expectations, being not only easy to launch but floating higher and lazier than any kite I’d ever had previously. One flight in particular sticks in my memory. It was a particularly fine spring day, bathed in sunshine; one of those days when colours seemed bright as candy and the air was warm with just a pleasant hint of breeze.. I’d bought an extra large bundle of string – six hundred feet of it – at the Ben Franklin store and went out in the field with my box kite. The light breeze caught the kite perfectly and almost before I knew it I’d managed to let out all six hundred feet and thanks to a just the right puffs of wind my kite was sailing nearly vertically overhead, astonishingly high. To this day I can vividly recall the dizzying sense of looking up at it, and actually feeling a bit unnerved at the steepness of the line and the sight of my tiny speck of a kite way, way, way up there against the hard enamel blue of the sky. I was a little jittery about heights then and my active imagination had no trouble associating myself with that kite, scarily high up, and suspended by nothing more than light currents of air and held by a slender length of twine. The shivers of vertigo I felt looking up at it were as thrilling as they were unnerving. I loved it. I flew the kite all afternoon, daydreaming at my end of the string while my kite floated effortlessly sky-high at the other. Eventually my mother summoned me to dinner with the cowbell she rang when we were out of sight of the house. I was loath to haul it in, losing all that lovely altitude – six hundred feet of it! I went out again the next day to try to repeat my success and on subsequent days with even more string to see if I could go higher, but could never quite find the right currents of air to get it so precipitously high, or so joyously or memorably, as I did that afternoon, with every inch of string played out and rising as steep as a cliff over my head. It was perfect.
It’s been fifty years. Yet another spring has rolled around but nowadays the skies are empty of kites. Today’s kids do other things. I wonder though if they will look back fifty years from now and recall with similar fondness an afternoon they spent with their mobile phone and an app?