Downhome Magazine

Go Fly a Kite

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When I was young growing up in rural NL, every spring the sky around our town would be full of kites. All of these were homemade by young people of the place, mostly the boys, sometimes with help from their fathers who had been young boys themselves once. It was a beautiful sight to see these things flying high in the air with their long tails trailing behind them. We didn't have a lot of money in those days, so most of these kites were made from material we could scour locally.

The basic material to make the kite were paper, string, shoe tacks, small narrow slats of wood, a finish nail, old Eaton or Simpson mail order catalogues for the tail and a little paste made from flour and water. We would search around the local wood factory to find the thin wooden slats for the frame. Most people had shoe tacks for repairing the family's footwear. Most stores used string to tie parcels, so we just had to save the pieces of string, roll them all together in a ball for future use. The paper usually came from big paper grocery bags which were carefully taken apart. We would tear pages out of the old Eaton mail order catalogue - which were also used for toilet paper in our outhouses - roll them individually and connect each one to the other with string several inches apart.

There were several different shapes to the kites. Some fellas liked the rectangle shape, some the diamond, most preferred the octagon shape, which seemed to climb the highest. These kites would be assembled on the kitchen floor. Mother usually made the paste with the flour and water so the kids wouldn't waste the flour or make a mess. I will try to describe for you how we made our kites, but please remember this is being done form memory over sixty years old. If someone reads this piece and finds some error in my description, don't hesitate to correct me.

So let's you and I get our stuff together and make a homemade kite. First, we need to decide what shape we want. This is important because the shape determines how many slats we need - only two for the diamond, one twice as long as the other, up to five for the rectangle, and three or four for the octagon. Lets assume we settled on the octagon. First we need to make sure the slats are the same length and thickness, then we pile them one over the other, drive a finish nail trough all four slats at the middle, then we unroll the slats so they are evenly spread. A small shoe tack goes in the end of each slat to which the string is attached. Now you have your basic frame.

Now we have to apply the paper shell over the frame and glue it together. First, we cut the paper to fit the frame with about an inch and a half for overlap. The paper shell must be tight over the frame. The paper is on the floor, we place the frame over it, make sure it's even all around, then we fold the paper over the string and use out paste mom just made to glue the overlapped paper to the shell. This had to be left to dry so in the meantime, we work on the tail which is made by first taking a page out of the catalogue - make sure it is expired, old winter edition is safe to use - then tie each separate piece together maybe six inches apart. Each page needs to be rolled up separately. You'll need at least six or seven feet of tail. This keeps your kite flying straight when it's in the wind.

Now, when our kite frame with the paper shell is ready, we come to the most important part of the construction. We have to fasten a bridle to the kite frame. So pay close attention here, and critics please get out your pencils, paper, and iPhones. No iPhones when we were young. You need three pieces of string, each one the same length as the others. Each is tied to the frame at different points near the top and sides, then pulled tight and tied together. It should look something like a pyramid when pulled from the frame. The kite line is attached to this bridle, it keeps the kite stable in the wind and allows you to control the flight from the ground.

The finished product seems somewhat heavy with the tail attached to the frame, but it will fly. You will need an open space - stay away from power lines or tall trees. You will also need a buddy to help you launch your kite. Your buddy will hold the kite frame up to the wind while you let out some line as you run in the opposite direction. When the wind catches the shell of the kite, it will rise up, just keep running for a little while pulling on your line with small jerks. Let out more line to let the kite climb higher. The kite will gain altitude quickly depending on the force of the wind and how much line you have. You can guide the kite by pulling on the string. To get the kite back down, you just reel in the string which should be wound around a short stick in your hand.

I did mention earlier that you had to gather the materials for the kite from items close at hand. The kite line however, which needed to be strong, had to be bought unless you had a father or uncle who was a fisherman. We had to buy our kite line at the local hardware store. It was the same line the fishermen used to make their trawls, I think they called it 'bank line' - referring to the fishing bank, not the financial institution. It would be on this big swivel suspended from the ceiling of the store. You just walked up to the counter and asked the clerk for say, ten cents worth of kite line. So, how much line is that, you might ask? Well, believe it or not, that depended on who was behind the counter at the time.

At one hardware store when I was growing up there were two different clerks working there. We soon learned to watch out for our favourite clerk so we would get more line for our money. Cause you see, we had already given up a lot of candy or trouting gear to buy the line in the first place. The system worked like this: when you asked for say ten cents worth of kite line, the clerk would hold the end of the line in one hand, pull it from the swivel with the other hand, the distance between both hands was one cent's worth, so he would do this ten times then break the line.

So, for the sake of my story I will give the two clerks names, just so I don't have to refer to them as 'clerk one' or 'clerk two'. Just remember these names have no relationship to anyone living or dead. So let's just say one is called George, the other, Jim. George would keep both hands on the counter and stretch them out a couple of feet. Jim, on the other hand, would take the end of the line in his right hand, stretch his arm out from his body in one direction and his other arm containing the other end of the line stretched away from his body in the opposite direction. Now, I ask you, who would you rather by your kite line from?

- Cyril Griffin
New Perlican, NL

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