Back in the early seventies the world was a different place. Kids played outside. The only time you stayed in was when it rained. That meant playing board games, and dealing with your sisters and brothers.
When we were children we were always coming up with creative things to do. No one had any money, there were no video games, cell phones, internet, or social media. We could spend a whole day making boats out of whatever we could find, and watching them float down nearby Tookany Creek. We spent so many wonderful hours playing in the woods.
One day, my friend RJ and I found some old trash bags. We tied strings to them and attempted to make kites out of them. We were probably 9 or 10 years old at the time. There was a vacant lot at the end of our street that served as an entrance to the factory, Peerless Steel. We were always hanging out in that lot because it lead to the railroad tracks and beyond that, the woods. We began our foray into the world of flight in that vacant lot.
RJ and I were a couple of creative kids. We were always making things. We had high hopes for our experiments. It was a windy day and that was probably our inspiration. We tied the string to the bags and attempted to make them fly. We thought with a bit of a breeze, our creations would become aloft. But without any knowledge of aerodynamics, our trash bag kites were merely crappy, trash parachutes.
They twisted in the wind and spent more time on the ground than in the air. We continued to modify the design of our bag kites, but to no avail. Once the bags were snagged in the barb wire on the fence that surrounded the factory, we abandoned our experiments.
Each summer after 1970, my family stayed at our summer home on 8th street in North Wildwood, New Jersey. Living a block and a half from the beach, there were plenty of places for kids to play. The kid who was my age who lived next door became my summer friend. He and I spent a great deal of time together.
The year was probably 1972.
Over on 10th street, was a grocery/variety store called Botto’s. One day, my sister and I were over there with my mother. They sold all of the things you’d need for your time at the shore. Groceries, snacks, candy, soda, sundries, and beach toys. The usual seashore corner store fare.
But we noticed a box among the other products that held kites! They were made by a company called, Gayla and were rolled up in long cellophane packages. We both picked out the ones we liked and my mom got them for us. Back then, each kite cost a dollar. The twine was probably a quarter or .39 cents. So, not much of an investment for what could be a world of fun.
Janice picked out a blue one, because that was her favorite color. It was called Sting-A-Ree. It resembled a stingray, with cute eyes on it. Here’s a photo I found which will give you an idea what these kites looked like, and also that attractive price point.
I got a white one, called Sky Spy. It had big flaming eyes on it and I dug it’s bright, menacing intensity.
The one in this picture must be a later model, because my kite was the same size as my sister’s with the standard 3 foot wing span. (Also, only one dollar!)
Like it says on my sister’s kite’s packaging, it was literally ready to fly in seconds! Each kite came with a wooden dowel that you placed the ends into the kite horizontally to create the cross spar. You tied one end of the string through a reinforced hole in the brindle. (Which is the triangular guide piece that extends forward from the spine of the kite. Once that was done, all you needed was a good breeze. Kite flying is fun!
Of course, my friend next door immediately got one as well. I don’t remember which design he went with. Possibly a yellow one called, Sky Raider. But I could be wrong. It doesn’t matter.
So we kids would go to the beach in the evenings when all of the tourists were gone, and fly our kites on the beach. I liked that it was still light at night so you could see, but the heat of the day was gone. The cool breeze rolled in from the sea, but the sand was still warm under your bare feet.
My sister Janice never seemed to have any problems getting her kite in the air, and the blue Sting-A-Ree glided through the air with the greatest of ease.
Of course, my friend and I being boys were always having problems. Strings getting tangled, and kites colliding in mid-air. Kites getting hung up in electrical wires, or crashing into the bushes on the dunes.
I think trying to make kites out of trash bags was a creative way to play. Creativity is the highest form of intelligence, and can’t be taught. Funny, how all the stuff you learn in school is just memorizing the memories and words of others who have come before you. History written and spun by the winners.
Kids back then had to find their own fun to keep from getting bored. Making things filled the time, and lit up our young minds. But flying store bought, manufactured kites was easy. As long as the wind was blowing, these kites would take right off, no problem. They looked really cool flying in the air high above our heads. You simply let out the string, and the spool it was wrapped around spun out and the kite rose higher and hire like a bird. You held the string, hoping it wasn’t to windy, because if the string went out too fast it would burn your fingers as it went. (I guess that’s why they had the parental notice for 8 and up on the package.)
But for young boys, once your kite’s in the air, it’s a little boring. So, we of course devised ways to make the experience more interesting.
One of the things we did was, once the kite was fully aloft, we’d pull a special move. Realizing if the line was slack, the kite would fall. Without the tension on the string, the kite would tumble back to earth. That defeats the purpose of flying a kite. But… what we started to do was this. I would place the spool under my arm and hold it tightly in place. Then I would start to pull on the string. I would haul it in arm over arm, and the string would pool at my feet. All the while keeping tension on the line. Once I had about 40 or 50 feet of string in a pile at my feet, I would grab the spool from under my arm and let go of the twine in my hand. This would release the tension on the kite and it would start to fall. Well, not just fall, sort of nose dive toward the ground. The string on the ground would rapidly go out, being pulled by the falling kite in the wind. But there was still no tension. Once the string ran out, and the line tension returned, the kite would once again soar back up into the sky.
It was really about how much wind you had blowing, and how much string you pulled down onto the ground in front of you. It was cool to watch the kite begin to fall from the sky like a plane that had been shot down. The slack line would go out, and once it hit tension again, that sucker would shoot back into the sky before it hit the ground. The key was to let it fall as far as it could and as close to the ground as possible before it took off again. (Even if you had to run in the opposite direction to get the tension back in the line!)
This was super fun and exciting to watch the kite fall aimlessly towards a potential crash, and at the last minute take off again. It was glorious to witness. But more times than not, the kite never recovered, and would crash and be destroyed in the bushes two hundred feet away.
My buddy would always volunteer to go get the fallen vessel. He had the most amazing callouses on the balls of his feet from being barefoot all summer. I mean, this dude was like an Indian with those feet of his. He could step on broken glass and not get cut. I think he did it to show off, but I was happy I didn’t have to trudge through the bushes and dunes on my tender tootsies. (I once watched him put out a cigarette with his bare foot as a teen.)
Fun to watch, but risky. There’s nothing worse than trudging through two blocks worth of heavy bushes loaded with mosquitoes, flies, and whatever else was alive in there to retrieve your fallen kite. You would hold the line, and simply follow the string to your fallen toy. More times than not, the kite was irreparably damaged in the crash. A tangle of string and ripped vinyl. If the wooden dowel snapped, your day of flying kites was terminated. All in the name of your own foolish quest for young boy thrills.
But… when it worked, and your kite flew back up with seconds to spare, it was an amazing thrill. An exciting rush. Cheering, we felt like stunt pilots.
But was that thrilling enough for a couple of 10-year-olds?
You’d think it would be.
We began to have air battles with our kites. It was cool to watch them crash into each other. Most of the time they would get tangled together and crash back to earth. But then we came up with the idea to tape a long carpenter’s nail to the nose of the kite.
So this for boys was like strapping sharp spikes to a rooster’s legs to inflict more damage on his opponent during a cockfight. Think about it. Kites are boring. They look pretty floating through the air, but for 10-year-old boys, that’s boring. Let’s have full on, air battles with metal spikes. Now it’s fun! We have goals. Those nails will do some serious damage!
The order of the day… Destroy your opponent’s kite at all costs.
Due to our destructive nature, my Sky Spy was destroyed after a week, and so was my friend’s kite. But we had fun doing it. We still liked flying kites as something to do at night on the beach.
We headed back to Botto’s to get new kites. All the while, Janice’s kite flew unhindered high above us all.
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