Spring is in full swing. Seeing families out and about this time of year always puts me in mind of this story.
I was a third grader in the spring of 1970. The Easter Bunny left something extra for me along with the traditional basket of candy that year. It was a kite. And not just any old dime store kite, either. This one was white with a skull and crossbones emblazoned in black in the center: the Jolly Roger, symbol of swashbuckling adventure.
It was a Pirate Kite! At nine years-old, I felt like I had won the lottery.
Pirates (and I’m talking Disney’s pre-Johnny Depp “Pirates of the Caribbean” variety, not modern bloodthirsty Somali pirates) lived an idyllic life that appeals to boys. They were a happy-go-lucky bunch, with all that “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” boozy camaraderie. They didn’t do homework or wash behind their ears. Heck, they probably didn’t even take baths! And you knew they didn’t have a bedtime, either. Nobody told them what to do. They just sailed around in cool ships doing their own thing with their cool flag flying overhead. Hoisting a kite with the Jolly Roger was the closest you could get to joining them.
My family was doing something that Easter afternoon (I forget just what, exactly) so there was no opportunity for flying it then. And wouldn’t you know it, there were lots of April Showers that spring, too, making the sky a “no fly zone.” Waiting is unbearable for any nine year-old. But with a new Pirate Kite begging to take its inaugural flight, it was torture.
Finally, everything fell into place: a Sunday with nothing on the family agenda, a blue sky and just the right amount of wind. Driving home from church, dad casually said from behind the steering wheel: “You know, this’d be a great day for trying your new kite.”
Eureka! The Jolly Roger would sail again over the Missouri skyline.
Mom thought this was a great idea, and expanded it to include a picnic. A bucket of fried chicken was procured, our Sunday church clothes were discarded in record time, and soon we were feasting in our back yard. Now, I enjoy fried chicken as much as the next guy; but that day I raced through lunch so fast, the Colonel’s head almost spun off.
Finally, the big moment arrived. I had made a tail from old rags and affixed it. The string was fastened to the wooden support struts. A gust of wind blew forth. I lifted my arms and let go. We had achieved liftoff – the Pirate Kite was airborne!
Orville and Wilbur Wright couldn’t have been more proud than I was that afternoon. My dog Snoopy was running around, the family was happy, the afternoon radiantly warm, and crowning my joy was seeing the Jolly Roger soaring overhead.
Higher, high, and higher ever still the kite rose. Almost the entire ball of string was now deployed. The Pirate Kite was so far up, a plane would have had to swerve to avoid hitting it.
And then it happened.
There was an unexpectedly strong rush of wind, stronger than any other that afternoon. The string snapped. My Pirate Kite, the pride and joy of my nine year-old heart, was flying on its own now. The wind swept it away.
Soon, it was just a white circle against a brilliant blue backdrop. Then it was a dot, and then a speck. I strained my eyes and squinted as hard as I could until finally there was nothing left.
My beautiful Pirate Kite was gone.
Dad put his hand on my shoulder in silent sympathy. But here’s the strange part: I wasn’t sad. I didn’t feel one smidgeon of regret. The Pirate Kite was so special, it deserved to circle the world. Instead of mourning its loss, I was proud to have given it the ultimate freedom.
The afternoon was growing late, the wind was getting stronger, and my kite was likely halfway to the Mississippi River. As I fell asleep that night, I imagined all the strange, exotic lands it would fly over and how excited a boy my age somewhere halfway around the globe would be to see it pass overhead.
I admit this sounds crazy, but whenever I’m outdoors on a pretty Sunday afternoon in springtime, a little part of me hopes that maybe, just maybe, the west wind will blow my beloved kite back and we will be reunited, 44 years later.
It never hurts to dream, does it?
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