Monday, March 06, 2006

Snoopy's Sub-Orbital Flight

Another February is gone, its page on my calendar flipped unceremoniously, yet thankfully, to reveal one of my favorite months of the year. March may not be such a special month to those of you unfortunates who reside (won't call it "living") in the arctic reaches (anywhere north of Memphis), but for those of us who live in the most blessed portion of these Re-United States, it is a month welcomed with smiling sun-turned faces and happy winter coat-shedding shoulder shrugs. While Spring begins officially in March for everyone, it begins in truth in the South. March brings blooms to forsythia, dogwood, and redbud, and everybody knows that "when the forsythia are bloomin', the crappie are bitin'!"

This month brings back childhood memories of kite-flying. I still remember the first "store-bought" kite I ever had--I think I was 12 or 13. It was acrobatic--its crackling plastic swept-back wings made me feel like I had a fighter plane on a leash. It was so light and aero-dynamic that it would leap from your hand into flight with the slightest breeze. But, as special as buying and flying that marvel by myself was, there was something missing in the experience. Up until that point, every March meant saving the Sunday paper funny pages with which to cover homemade kites the way my daddy had done when he was a kid, and the way he did for my brother and me the first time we ever experienced the wonder of sailing a kite on a warm, windy afternoon.

After a few years of flying small diamond-shaped kites stabilized with rag-strip tails and tethered to us with a few hundred feet of string, Dad decided we were big enough to handle the "manly-man's kite" and he built us a box kite. On a three-dimensional two foot long frame, a box kite's sail surface was four-sided at either end. This produced a dramatic increase in lift compared to the one dimensional kites we had flown. Dad attached the box kite to one of his fishing poles, the reel for which was spooled with several hundred yards of line, and set the drag at its lightest limit. It took both my brother and I running full tilt into the wind to get the behemoth airborne, but once it "slipped the surly bonds of earth" the box kite literally streaked into the sky. The line screamed off the fishing reel and the kite rapidly diminished in apparent size as the March wind drove it upward toward the clouds.

Brother and I stood transfixed and alternately gawked skyward and grinned back at Dad as the kite soared. At the grin point in each slack-jawed gawk and grin sequence, however, I detected a slight change in the look on Dad's face. He was going through his own attention-shifting sequence, grinning at us and then checking the rapidly diminishing line thickness on the level-wind reel at his hands. Dad's look began to take on a hint of concern as he attempted to check the racing line by tightening the reel's drag. Line continued to scream off the reel. Brother and I continued our gawk and grin routine. The box kite was approaching escape velocity at down-range altitude sufficient to turn it into a mere colorful speck.

"Uh, oh. There she goes.", Dad said flatly. Just as I began to try to figure out where Mom was going, the last of the line left the reel and a loud snap announced another Confederate loss. The gawk and grin sequence devolved into an expanding-interval shock and question sequence, the shock portion of which was accompanied by quivering bottom lips caving-in under protruding buck teeth (regular torture sessions at the orthodontist were still underway).

Somewhere east of England Air Force Base, outside of Alexandria, LA, a homemade box kite, bearing the previous Sunday's Charles Shultz creation, crashed to earth--that is if it didn't burn up on re-entry.
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