A true story from my childhood (This was the inspiration for the children’s story, “The Red Silk Kite”).
The boy-next-door, an only child called Gordon, had been given an amazing kite; a kite that gave us a rare treat when our father was given the task of being in charge of its inaugural flight. There was quite a procession. Dad was in the lead, with young Gordon shuffling along at his side, keeping a close watch on the precious kite. Then followed my sister, Fay, and me and three other raggle-taggle kids that we had gathered on the way. We all seemed to posses a feeling of freedom as we made our way down the road. We had left behind the younger children - no “babies” were with us. Our father and young Gordon looked neat and purposeful as they made their way along the footpath. The rest made up an untidy bunch, progressing in skips and canters in the same direction. In less than ten minutes, we had reached our destination. The day was perfect. The wind was up but not too rough and the local park was almost deserted. The kite was large, red and oriental. Its silk and tissue paper construction reeking of aerodynamic capabilities. On about the third attempt Dad had it up, up and away. And then, oh joy of joys, we all had turns of holding the string. The kite was surely alive as it soared and lunged, creating such a pull as to almost make the smaller ones amongst us airborne. Of course, Gordon had to have the majority of the turns - after all, owner’s privilege and all that. He had been given the kite by his parents for no particular reason - not a birthday or Christmas in sight - and we were impressed. These parents of his (who always reminded me of old-fashioned pictures from faded magazines) had then, inexplicably, granted permission for my father to launch the kite for the amusement of his older two children as well as for their single child and any other children who cared to share in the activity. So, here we were, one spring Saturday in the 1950s, flying a magnificent red kite in the park. It must have been for close to an hour that the kite kept its incredible height. Six breathlessly happy children and a father recapturing his childhood; the kite a dot a mile high. A few other park activities occupied us as we waited patiently to each have our turns at holding the string. But mostly we just watched in awe. I was having my “one very last go” - neck muscles aching from looking up, fingers red from the pull of the tight string - when something became terribly wrong. Where was the pull? The kite! Oh, no! I called anxiously to Dad as the string became more and more limp in my hand. The kite was no longer attached, yet still airborne; its flight uncontrolled. A look of horror crept over Gordon’s little face as he strained his eyes skywards. The others froze in their spots. Somersaults were forgotten and daisy chains scattered as they craned their necks, trying to keep the errant kite in view. As our eyes began to water with the exertion of constantly staring at an ever- diminishing spot in the sky, we finally realised that the beautiful kite was lost forever. What a sombre group we were as we left the park and made our way homewards. Dad, although carrying the weight of guilt and disappointment, tried to make light of the tragedy. Halfway home he had an idea. No need to be too upset, he said. “As soon as we’re home, I’ll make another kite!” Five young faces began to brighten, but not Gordon’s. He just wanted to be home. And when we were, he scuttled into his house next door, tears teetering on both little cheeks, to sob out the news to his mother. Our family’s homecoming was more cheerful. Whilst I believed that my father could do anything, I had never witnessed the likes of this before. We watched in awe as he gathered up brown paper, sticks, string and scissors and ordered Mum to make a pot of paste of the flour and water variety. And so began the making of the new kite. At the end of an hour or so’s labour, the kite was made. I was embarrassed. The brown paper had a crude basic look about it. What’s more, Dad had strangely insisted on putting “hands” on the side of the kite - little feathered brown paper attachments placed where I imagined ears might have been. And to cap it all off, he had called upon Mum (for her artistic talents!) to paint a face on the kite. Not a good move. Oh misery. This kite was definitely not in the same league as Gordon’s red masterpiece. It was amateurish and gauche no matter how you looked at it. But admire it we did and began (unconvincingly) to discuss its flight potential. When the kite was finally dry - although looking frighteningly brittle where some of the big floury stains glared painfully at us - Dad called over the fence, inviting the hapless recipient to come and accept the replacement of his lost treasure. In came Gordon, towed by his nervously grimacing mother. With exaggerated ceremony, Dad presented him with the brown paper kite. Gordon’s mother nudged the child, eliciting a strangled “Thankyou”. Then they left, taking the kite with them. I went to my room and wept.