Now in those days, a store bought kite costs 10 cents and 500 feet of kite twine cost 10 cents, so for 20 cents and some old rags to tie on the kite as a “tail,” we could do some serious kite flying when the winds of March and April came visiting.
Now 20 cents does not sound like much but we never had it and so we would have to snouse (an old family term for look, search, etc) around and find as many soda bottles as we could as each soda bottle was worth 2 cents when delivered to a grocery store. So, 20 cents was 10 empty soda bottles and now, today, I am not sure where we found them, but we always did. I suspect that people littered more in those days before littering laws and thus walking along any road would yield at least one or 2 nuggets of glass gold.
And so “The Kite.” One spring and I do not remember which one, we collected our soda bottles and pulled them in a wagon we had over to Cornwall’s Grocery, which sat on Route 7 and which was only 2 city blocks or so from our home. Now Cornwall’s Grocery always looked like the whole, unpainted, clapboard sided building, was about to collapse but it never did or at least not while I lived in Winchester. Eventually, on one visit to the old home stomping grounds, it was gone and in its place, a Burger King or some other industrialized food establishment. As a character in a Kurt Vonnegut book said, “And so it goes.”
Inside Cornwall’s grocery, everything was made out of old wood, stained dark with age or dirt or both, but it was packed with all sorts of odds and ends to include food and, of course, kits and string. So we would haul in our soda bottles, have Mr. Cornwall or whoever he was behind the counter count them and give us our 2 thin dimes. Then we would pick out the kite we wanted from the slim selection the store carried and one “stick” of string.
And so, like every other year, either my brother or I would hold the kite and take off running while the other one held on to the string and “worked” the kite up into the air. Once high enough, the spring winds would easily pull out more and more string and if the kite had enough tail to keep it stable and whoever was holding the string, pulled the kite upwards and then let out more string, the kite would rise higher and higher into the air. I assume there is some “Idiot’s Guide to Kite Flying” now but then, we just seem to know what to do or learned real quickly.
Up the kite went that year’s spring day until all the string was gone from the 500 foot stick. “More string! We need more string”, We cried and although I do not remember how we set about it now, we did buy another 500 feet and tied it onto the 500 feet already out on the kite and then we let out that 500 feet and higher and higher went the kite.
Another 500 feet bought and added and then another 500 feet and then another and another. By now the kite was so small in the sky, it was actually hard to see and the string just seemed to go up and up and disappear into the blue.
I guess conditions were perfect that day or we were or both as the kite was unbelievable. We had never had a kite soar so high in the sky and certainly had not seen any other kite anywhere fly so high up.
At around 5 o’clock in the evening, we began to wind the kite in. We could not leave it out overnight as the tug on the string was incredible and whomever was pulling on the string had to act as a shock absorber as he winds aloft buffeted the kite about. Then, my dad, home from work, came to visit and was so impressed with our kite and how high it was, he left us, went and got an car tire old inner tube and cut a long strip out of it to use as a shock absorber for the kite.
The kite would fly all night. We tied the string to the inner tube and then tied the inner tube to a very large rock and after watching the tube be pulled out and then spring back; we headed for dinner, thinking all the while about that kite flying all night.
Don’t think we jumped out of bed at dawn or anything the next morning but when we did go to the field, the rock was there, the inner tube was still tied to it and the kite string tied to the inner tube, but no kite to be seen and the kite string was stretched out on the ground, leading off into the distance. We untied the kite string from the inner tube and began winding it up on an actual stick so it could be reused on the next kite. We wound about 1200 or 1300 feet of string on our stick before the string simply ended. We were already close to Route 7, the next street over from our house and so we began looking for the kite. We crossed Route 7 and searched the fields in behind the houses there but no string and no kite. We even went back the next day and expanded our search east and west but we never found another trace of the high and mighty kit.
Now the prevailing winds in that part of Virginia are towards the east, the mountains, and then the ocean. At the time, I pictured the kite just sailing and sailing along, stabilized by the long rag tail and the weight of the trailing string. How far did it go? Did it ever come down? Of course, you say, and I am sure you are right, but that spring, we had ourselves one special kite and kite flying day.