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News Maryland Harford County Fallston Joppa

If everybody had a notion...we'd have summer all the time [Commentary]

As I tried to work up enough energy to roll out of bed on the morning of July 4 - a day I absolutely vowed not to do anything work related - I realized the strong breeze pushing through the window wasn't an illusion.

Wow, I thought, this is enough wind to fly my kite.

For a number of years, I had talked about getting a kite. Don't know why it struck me to think about it, but such are the perils of growing older. Maybe this is something I just subconsciously started thinking about with the approach of Bel Air's annual Kite Festival each April, but about three years ago, I finally broke down and went to Walmart in Fallston and bought a kite. But, I'm getting a little ahead of things.

One of many diversions at the beach when people my age were in the period between digging in the sand and digging girls and other more "young adult" activities, was flying kites, trying to see who could make theirs get the highest and go the farthest, as measured by how much string you could let out.

Back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Fenwick Island was still relatively undiscovered, and hence not over developed, making the beach a great locale for kite flying. There was always a stiff breeze and not so many overhead utility wires (the bane of kites). You could buy a paper kite for a buck and a ball of kite string for 15 cents and find a stick of driftwood to hold multiple balls and you were set.

The kite of choice was the Hi-Flier box kite, which had paper ends, four pieces of strip wood for the sides and four strip wood ribs, two each for the top and bottom frame. These kites could be assembled in two minutes and be airborne in five.

I think we liked the box kite best because the more traditional diamond kites required an elaborate tail for stability – pieces of knotted old sheets or an old necktie were the most common materials, and not easy to come by at the beach. And the diamond kites were difficult to control and keep in the air. With a box kite, it didn't matter if the wind - and there's always some at the beach - was coming from ocean or shore, you just ran a few yards along the beach, let out some string and away the kite flew.

One summer I had a favorite kite that served so well, I would often brag I had it up so high over the ocean that the paper was soaked from the moisture when I reeled it in. I swore I had the thing out on at least six balls of string, so when the wind was from the ocean, I could launch it on the beach at the foot of Virginia Avenue and have it flying over by the bay in no time. Then, I'd just stick my string stick into the sand and go swimming.

One day, near disaster struck. As there were many other kids also flying kites, somebody else managed to get their string tangled with mine. As I grabbed my stick and tried to get away from the interloper, my string broke and up, up and away went the kite toward the Fenwick Ditch and Yellow Banks.

Needless to say I was royally mad. But I was also determined that my kite wouldn't fly away without me trying to save it, so I ran down the street toward Ocean Highway, keeping it in my sight all the while. The kite eventually began to fall and I could see it drifting into the scrub brush west of the highway, near the Lighthouse Diner, then a no-man's land of stickers, burrs and mosquitoes, but I pushed onward into the mess, sometimes crawling, and eventually retrieved old reliable. I vowed never to leave it flying unattended again.

When I started thinking of revisiting kite flying a few years ago, I recognized I was in walking distance of a potentially excellent kite grounds, what I will call the bowl at Edgeley Grove Park, which encompasses the area between the farmhouse and buildings and the Ma & Pa Trail and from Annie's Playground to the crop fields.

It's a beautiful, open area, with a nice rise at one end, perfect for kite flying, although the wind, when it's blowing, can be challenging. And, we aren't talking about the beach. Most days there isn't an adequate wind to fly, but on those rare days when there is, like July 4, it truly is a wonderful place to stand and contemplate the sky and your surroundings.

My current kite, manufactured in China, is the diamond variety, made out of some kind of synthetic material and very colorful. The ribs are made of plastic. The tail is made from two light plastic streamers that must be 10 feet long, which as tacky as it sounds and as they look, solves the stability issues of the old paper models using a knotted necktie tail. The string that came with the kite is also synthetic and super strong.

When I bought my kite, I also got a ball of more conventional string, but I've never bothered to use it. Getting the kite airborne is one thing, keeping it there is another, even when you have a strong wind at your back, but I'm also summoning skills that are more than five decades in the past, so it takes some reacclimation.

What I like most about the Edgeley Grove kite grounds is you usually have company in the summer, a dozen or so barn swallows dipping and diving across the bowl in search of insects and an occasional vulture or hawk soaring high above, casting a wary eye at the kite. It's just a great place to be on a sunny summer morning.

As I flew my kite at Edgeley Grove, I started thinking about what really caused some of us to forsake our beach kites. It can be summed up in two words: Beach Boys, as in "let's go surfin'." No surf in Fallston, but I'm still cranking those 50-year-old summer sounds up on Spotify and I-Tunes while writing this column.

Catch a wave, fly a kite, summer is still the best.

Author's note: I'm a terrible borrower. Many readers will recognize the first part of the headline from the lyrics to "Surfin' USA" by the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson (with music by Chuck Berry!). The second part comes from Jerry Keller's "Here Comes Summer," arguably one of the best one hit wonders of the 1960s.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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