March 2, 2012

Yesterday morning I woke up to a cold, rainy, windy, blustery day - typical March weather for this part of the country. I was grateful we weren't getting all the snow some people are getting right now. I looked out the window and decided I didn't want to walk the dogs for a while. Rudy saw me looking out the window and decided he had to go ... RIGHT NOW!! We both got cold and soaked. Susi had more sense. She refused to go near the door and when I tried to "help" her along with my foot, I got growled at. OK - we'll just go out later.

Except for the rain, it is perfect kite flying weather. Cool but not too cold and lots of wind. Maybe I'll buy one this week-end and have some fun with the neighborhood kids. One of my neighbors, Brandon, has a nice open back yard that would do just fine. His kids would have a ball ... and this kid, too.

Back in 1974 Lady Laura and I lived in Mifflinville, PA - on top of a large hill that was mostly bare except for a thick covering of grass and right on top was the local saloon. We lived in one of the two apartments over that bar. My buddy Les and his wife lived in the other apartment.

One spring day Les and I decided to set a world altitude record for flying a homemade kite. We knew it had to be big to get as high as we wanted to go. We made one out of wooden dowels and butcher paper - strong stuff. We also knew ordinary kite string would not be strong enough so we settled on a spool of 100 lb. test nylon fishing line - 500 yards. To control the line without it slicing through our hands we put the fishing line ... where else? ... on a rod and reel. The big, deep-sea kind that could hold 500 yards of line.

By the time we got everything together and had made the kite it was growing dark. We decided to stow the kite until the next Saturday and hope for a nice, breezy day. All week we went over the flight, time and time again, until we knew exactly what we were going to do. Les would hold the kite and launch it from the top of the hill. I would stand half-way down the hill and, as he launched the kite, I would run down the hill to get it airborne and then work my way back up the hill. Once we were both on top of the hill we'd go for the record - all 500 yards of it.

By Monday night we had all the little details worked out and Les and I were very well pleased with ourselves. Our 6-foot, brown beauty (butcher paper) kite, stood proudly in the hallway between our apartments ready for it's maiden flight.

On Tuesday night, Les decided that we should paint it and give it a little color. We dug up some tempera (artist) paints I was no longer using and painted the kite a bright yellow with green and red stripes and a few blue circles. It was magnificent.

The only problem we had didn't manifest itself until the next day. We hadn't taken into consideration that butcher paper is waterproof so that it won't absorb liquids. The paint we put on the kite dried and then cracked and crumbled. By the time we got off work that night we had our brown beauty back and a pile of colored bits on the floor. And a pair of giggling wives on the sideline.

Come Saturday morning the weather was clear and windy - the perfect day for kite flying. Les and I took our pre-arranged positions on the hill and Les gave a count-down. 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 - he launched the kite into the air. I started running down the hill with the fishing pole pointed toward the kite. The kite rose about 15-20 feet into the air and then crashed to the ground. The cross bar broke and our brown beauty was grounded.

We gathered up the kite and took it to the top of the hill to make repairs - we weren't about to quit after just one try. When we got to the top of the hill we discovered our wives standing in the parking lot - laughing their heads off. Les reminded them that it wasn't that funny. His wife said that she knew it would never fly - we had overlooked one very important item. The tail. Our kite had no tail. It would be years before our wives stopped reminding us of that missing tail.

Les went inside his apartment to look for something to use as a tail while I fixed the broken crossbar. I glued another dowel to the broken one (like a splint) and it dried in about an hour. Meanwhile Les came back with several neckties he didn't use and a short length of cord. Les tied the neckties to the kite. It made a funny looking tail but, as we found out later, it worked!

Our second attempt went perfectly and soon our kite was actually flying. After we flew it for a while we decided to go for broke. It wasn't long before all 500 yards of line we out and we set the world record ... well, OUR record anyway!

We had it planned that when we wanted to retrieve our kite all we had to do was reel it in. As I started to turn the handle it went around a couple of times and stopped. The kite had decided it wasn't coming down and it pulled like a runaway bucking bronco. After I couldn't reel any more, Les decided to give it a try. I gave him the pole but he couldn't make it come down either.

Out of nowhere, Les' wife suddenly appeared with a pair of scissors in her hand. Before we could stop her, she snipped the line. Without it's restraint the kite took off like a majestic brown eagle. Instead of falling to the earth it soared away over the Susquehanna River which was not far away. When it got over the river it lost the wind and came tumbling out of the sky. We never saw our brown beauty again.

I imagine that somewhere downstream a bewildered fisherman is still wondering how he hooked a large brown kite instead of a large brown trout.