The truth is, I have never flown a kite. It isn’t that I haven’t tried. I have tried and failed.
My only good memory of kite-flying success goes back half a century. My dad and I flew a kite together. It obviously made an impression because images, even sensations persist in my memory — a memory with far more missing parts than treasures held for a lifetime.
Perhaps it was that my dad and I did not do much together — rarer perhaps because it was just the two of us. And an enterprise of idle and incalculable purposelessness.
It was a yellow kite, tail made from strands of sheet, strung with knots just like pictures in the alphabet books next to the letter K.
We walked to Creswell School for its treeless playground.
I remember the kite dancing lightly in my father’s hands, prancing airborne, higher and higher. He let me hold it, and I remember the sturdy pull of the string. That marvelous sensation of being somehow connected to that tiny yellow diamond held aloft on unseen waves of wind wanting to take it away.
In time we stretched out on the summer-dry grass and gazed at that tiny speck in the sky, the long cord between us. The sky was so blue.
And then it happened. The string must have snapped because it went limp, and the kite became a speck before disappearing from sight.
I looked at my father and he looked at me, and he smiled. “Long gone,” was what he said, or “That’s all she wrote.” Or: “We won’t get that back.” He was a matter-of-fact man.
I do not recall if I felt sad, or if I felt any kind of loss or longing. I remember wondering how far that kite might fly and where it might land, and gaining a new sense of space and distance.
I remember something else. I held my father’s hand as we walked the three blocks home. I can still feel how my little fist fit into his large hand, the interweave of fingers. I can’t think of another time we held hands.
Maybe these were the breezes that blew through me when I reluctantly agreed to buy a kite for the kids from the nice man at the kite-selling booth at the Earth Day Expo last spring. Despite urgings and repeated requests from three 6-year-olds, the green kite languished on a shelf all summer.
Since that day with my dad, when I was 6 or 8, I had never gotten a kite aloft. I had tried. Usually in front of people. Sometimes in the midst of happy kite-flyers. On windy days and other times when it seemed joyous and right to go fly a kite. Never got one up.
Sometimes, despite our desires and efforts, we just don’t enter the moment envisioned. And I saw little use in replaying failure, letting down the kids.
But today, with their mother gone for the weekend, a little bit of fall in the air and three hopeful, angelic faces looking to me for new adventure and dreams fulfilled, we headed to a school playground to see if we could get a rise out of the kite named “Easy Flyer.” What the hell.
The instructions said don’t run. Pace off 75 feet downwind, hold it up and toss it into the wind, let it go, let it fly.
The kids took turns throwing it down. Hold aloft, flop, hold aloft, flop.
Then, much to my surprise, the dancing green kite flitted upward. Dodged, nosedived, soared, caught a wave, whirled, whipped — I let out string (rapid unraveling), and it was off!
It went up and up, and my heart went up with it.
And the kids, all three, took off running across the playground under it, occasionally leaping, throwing their arms and hands and little bodies into the air. Then they stopped and looked straight up as the kite ascended skyward. They then spun slowly, their faces open to the heavens.
I couldn’t believe it. That damn kite was flying.
I let out the string as far as it would go, and the kids took turns holding on.
“It’s pulling me,” they’d say. “It’s so high.”
“Doesn’t it feel so great in your hands?” I’d say, feeling the connection running through my fingers and the string and that airborne kite sailing on autumn winds. I was so proud. We did it.
I’ll never know if my dad felt similar relief and accomplishment that kite-flying day 50 years ago. I don’t know if my kids will remember our inaugural flight decades from now. But today, warm winds whispering through the trees, I’m smiling at the memories — what I can still see and how it still feels in my empty hands.
Kerry Temple is editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.