By: Russ Lancaster
"Grab it! It's your turn!", Kent Hicks yelled at me as he handed over the ball of twine with the smooth cut off tree branch thrust through as a handle.
I grabbed it and felt as if I was going to be swept off my feet and into the air. I didn't know if I had hold of it or if the monster had hold of me.
That Saturday November afternoon had started out like so many of our out of school days. Kent and I were just a year or so before becoming teen agers and his ideas of having fun were a perfect fit for me.
For the past couple of weeks we had been riding our bikes down to Roses Dime Store on Hamlet Avenue and spending our dimes and quarters on kites and string. The kites came in kits that we had to put together. They consisted of two slats of balsa wood (very flimsy and light), the paper thin kite itself and instructions on how to put it together.
Putting one of these kite kits together rarely took more than five minutes and it took very little wind to launch them. But, they were so cheaply made they rarely lasted an hour before they became useless and broken.
The power lines around Washington Avenue and Spring Street bore witness to our many aborted kite escapades. There were dead kites on nearly every corner. Many of the trees in the neighborhood also held our dead kites hanging upside down. And then there were the few whose slats broke or the thin paper shredded in even a mild wind and dove down to die upon impact with the hard earth.
We needed a better kite and Kent had a great idea. We knew how to make a kite from having put together so many of those flimsy kits bought down at Roses. All we needed was the right material and a hearty stiff wind.
Kent shaved some hefty twigs off the nearby black jack oaks in the field behind our two houses to make our frame. He also gathered several balls of twine from our previous kites. Now we had to figure out what kind of material to use for our kite fabric. We put our minds together and the obvious choices were soon discarded. Newspaper would be no better than what we got in the kite kits. Cloth material would probably be too heavy. We were running out of ideas.
Then, for once, I had an idea and Kent quickly bought into it. We needed butcher paper. You know, the brownish purple heavy paper butchers used to wrap meat. And, I even knew where to get it.
I told Kent to stand by and I would get us some butcher paper. I promised not to be gone longer than 15 minutes.
I went next door to my house, hopped on my big 26 inch bicycle I got for Christmas the previous year and took the shortcut to " The Grab ". The shortcut was a path through the adjoining fields behind our adjacent houses. It led through the brownish remains of corn stalks from the summer's crop then to a thin stand of trees coming out on West Avenue. It was downhill from there to The Grab.
The Grab was a Hamlet nickname for Fitzgerald's, a place where most railroaders did business from time to time. It sold everything from groceries and meats to clothing, shoes and jewelry. I knew two men there that had befriended me over time, Bill McCaw and Barney Patrick. Both of them worked at least part of the time in the meat department. I had watched them wrap freshly cut meat in that butcher paper I needed many times.
As I walked into the Grab, I was greeted as ususal by Ms. Ritter. She watched as I bypassed the shopping carts and headed straight toward the back where Bill and Barney were. They gave me their usual smile and asked what I needed.
"Barney, I need some butcher paper," I said. Barney looked at Bill and then back at me.
"Why?", he asked quizzically.
I explained to him that I needed just enough to make a kite. They both exchanged glances again and finally rolled off what they thought would be enough. The cut was about to be made and I stopped them with, "I need more than that!".
Willingly, they rolled off another foot or so, cut it and handed it over the counter to me. Bill walked with me up to the register and let Ms. Ritter know that it was "free"! I had been ready to charge it to my Dad's account if need be but these guys took care of me.
Back on the bike and back up West Avenue to the shortcut I rode with my treasure of butcher paper tucked safely under my jacket. The wind was picking up from the North and a cold front was getting ready to come through. I could already see my breath in the air. My hands were cold on the handle bars and my knuckles were turning red, then white.
I stowed the butcher paper safely away in my room, then went over to Kent's house and got him to come over. He brought the stick framework and the twine with him. I showed him the butcher paper and watched him smile. We soon went to work about our business of kite making with our scissors, twine and glue.
The butcher paper was a little heavier than we had bargained for but the wind outside howled for us to come out and play. Our first two attempts were in vain as the wind whipped our newly made kite back to the ground but our paper and framework held each time.
Kent said we needed a long, heavy tail on this kite in this wind to hold the bottom down so it could climb into the wind. We set about begging my mom for material and she finally gave us some old bed sheets. We made a very long tail from those sheets. The tail was nearly three feet long with knots every nine inches or so. "Let the wind test us now!", we thought.
It was already late afternoon when we went back outside into the field to try again. The wind whistled down our necks and up our pant legs past our U.S. Keds tennis shoes as it tempted us again to try and beat it. But, this time, the kite rose quickly upward. The wind tried to jerk it out of Kent's hands faster than he could feed out the line but he was strong. That's when Kent handed her over to me.
At first, I thought I couldn't handle our kite. I too was having trouble feeding the line out fast enough and even so was running quickly out of line. Kent told me to hold on until he could grab more twine. I held on but only by leaning backward into the wind. It was sure that I couldn't fall backward, the pull of the kite against the stiff wind prevented that.
Kent was back within minutes with several balls of twine. He began tying the next ball onto the end of the one holding the kite. The trick was then to wrap the twine around our arms while moving the twig baton from the first roll of twine to the second. Tricky it was, but we succeeded. Memory fades but I believe we were to hook at least five balls of twine together before we ran out that afternoon.
We took turns holding our monster kite as it soared higher and higher. But with each ball of twine, it also flew further away from us. It finally flew far enough away to become only a speck on the horizon. We knew it must have been way past Hamlet Avenue School by now yet the constant tug let us know we still were in some sort of control. Finally we could see it no more but we still held on.
"Russell! Supper's ready!", I heard my Mama call from the back door. "Come on in!".
It was getting dark and my Mama was calling me in. The cold was wearing through my jeans and jacket; my ear lobes were ripe for flicking. We needed the kite back in a hurry.
Kent and I took turns trying to reel it back in but it was taking way too long. The lights in the neighborhood were coming on; darkness was becoming an ally of the wind.
Finally the battle was over. The twine snapped and went limp. Kent and I looked at one another wondering whether we had won or lost. And then, it came over the both of us at once. We had WON!. We had built a kite like no other. We had battled the wind and cold for over an hour and sent a kite clean out of sight. Yes, we had won. It was the twine that had given in to the elements that late November evening so long ago.
We went back into our houses to the warmth of a fire and the smell of good cooking. We told our parents of our victory and we rejoiced in the experience. Two boys had beaten the wind and cold with a home made kite.
We later told our friends out kite story but none of them seemed too impressed. Some didn't even believe the story at all. But, Kent Hicks and I knew what we had done and we know so even until today some fifty years later because we remember that kite of all kites.
But most of all..... We remember Hamlet.
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
1 post • Page 1 of 1
Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest