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April 19, 2017

Last week on my way to my teaching responsibilities at The University of South Carolina Upstate,  I drove past the duck pond and big fountain near Milliken headquarters. I saw families with young children enjoying Spring break.  Some were feeding the ducks, others were flying kites.

Clare and I were at the coast of South Carolina during Spring break several years ago. Good friends had allowed us to use their place at the beach for a time of uninterrupted writing. It was a pleasant and productive retreat for us. The weather was exceptionally warm as the bright sun pushed March temperatures close to seventy each day.

In any season beautiful weather brings much activity to the sandy shore.  Families with children built sandcastles fit for little princesses and princes. College boys pitched baseballs, tossed Frisbees, and threw footballs while stealing glances at college girls strategically sunbathing close by. Even a few daredevils – probably folks who had enjoyed a few too many beverages or those crazy Canadians who think that fifty degrees is as warm as ocean water ever gets – swam in the cold Atlantic.

From my perch inside the house, the activity that caught my eye was kite flying. Spring is the perfect kite-flying time, and the beach is the perfect kite-flying location. Soaring above the dunes were delta and diamond-shaped kites of various shapes and colors. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, each tethered with string, patrolled the skies as if attending to Curious George and Elmo. Flyers with ground control systems created the most fascinating display of aerobatics. The tricks, flips, and turns were amazing. One man’s kite – a five delta-winged multicolored ace – would take a kamikaze dive, swooping close to the sand.  Then at the last breathtaking moment, it would soar high above the waves. A black Labrador retriever – no doubt belonging to one of the crazy Canadians – was determined to seize the kite when it came close to the ground.  Seagulls dodged the unauthorized intruder when it ventured into their air space.

Watching these antics brought back memories of making my first kite when I was a Cub Scout.  It was crafted with newspaper, string, Elmer’s glue, and thin wood trimming gathered from sawdust piles near the table saw at the lumberyard. My diamond-shaped kite, which featured a picture of Stan “The Man” Musial – number six for the St. Louis Cardinals – flew well once I tied on a tail of scrap cloth.

The Chinese, said to have invented kites in the fifth century B.C., had materials ideal for kite building: silk fabric for sail material, high-tensile-strength silk for line, and bamboo for the strong, lightweight framework.

Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm as an experiment to prove that electricity caused lightning.  I doubt that Ben would have been foolish enough to try such a test. In 1750 he did, however, publish a proposal for the experiment.

Orville and Wilbur Wright used kites when developing the first airplane in the late 1800s. Through the years kites have been used for military messaging and surveillance, science, meteorology, and photography.  They have also been used for lifting radio antennas, generating power, and conducting experiments with aerodynamics.

Now, kites are used almost exclusively for recreation. Kite boating and kite surfing are popular among the beach crowd. Of course, hang gliding and parasailing are extreme forms of kite flying. Kite ice skating and kite snowboarding may someday be events in the Winter Olympics.

A friend of mine fishes for red drum off the Outer Banks each October. Fishermen there deploy a kite to take their bait well beyond the rough surf by attaching the fishing line to the kite string with a clothespin. When the distance is right a simple snap of the wrist drops the bait to the ocean bottom.

My dad was always interested in teaching us new things. In the days of my youth we rarely bought a kite. We usually made them and some were dandy kites. Dad taught us how to launch our homemade creations. Most of the diamond-shaped kites flew well.

One rainy day in March years ago my dad suggested that we build a kite. “It won’t rain forever,” he said. “There’ll be a sunny, windy day before long. We can have a kite ready when the time comes.”

Dad, who had made a box kite when he was a boy, knew he could do it again. So, with thin dowel rods, butcher paper, and sturdy string, we built the contraption, which appeared much too heavy to fly.

On the first sunny afternoon I was ready to launch.

“Not enough wind,” Dad explained, “but you can try if you want to.”

Together we tried but; alas, the kite never got off the ground.

Two days later the wind was blowing, really blowing.

“Maybe too much wind,” Dad warned, “but you can try if you want to.”

We carried the cumbersome box kite to the backyard. I held the string while Dad tossed it into the wind. The kite took off, nearly pulling me off the ground as it soared higher and higher and further and further away. Dad was thrilled. I was delighted.

Then the wind died, forcing the kite into a sudden descent.  I lost control and watched helplessly as it crashed into a telephone line. At that very moment the wind gusted again, causing the kite to make several flips around the wire. When Dad and I both tried to pull the kite loose, the string snapped, leaving it tightly wound around the telephone wire. Over the next several weeks I watched the slow demise of my stranded box kite until it finally disintegrated during a hard spring rain.

Flying a kite is not always successful, but it is always fun.  Flying a kite is not a strenuous activity, but it is a healthy pastime.  When I saw families flying kites near the Milliken headquarters last week it brought back fond memories. The adults launched the simple kites and then handed the strings to the children at their side. The image brought to mind the words of a song from the Walt Disney movie Mary Poppins.


With tuppence for paper and strings

You can have your own set of wings

With your feet on the ground

You’re a bird in a flight

With your fist holding tight

To the string of your kite


When you send it flying up there

All at once you’re lighter than air

You can dance on the breeze

Over houses and trees

With your fist holding tight

To the string of your kite


Oh, oh, oh!

Let’s go fly a kite

Up to the highest height!

Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring

Up through the atmosphere

Up where the air is clear

Oh, let’s go fly a kite!

The Chapman Cultural Center has announced the 2017 , Spartanburg Soar!

The fourth annual International Kite Festival is back this Saturday, April 22, 2017 from 11 A.M. to 5 P.M.! This family-friendly event began in 2014 as a mission to build civic pride, promote healthy outdoor play, and celebrate cultural diversity and creativity. Every year Spartanburg Soaring! is getting bigger.

The Festival will kick off at 11 A.M. in the greenspaces behind the Chapman Cultural Center and in Barnet Park. We encourage residents to bring their kites if they have one. Kites will also be available for purchase from the Chapman Cultural Center information booth and free kites will be given out while supplies last! Professional kite fliers will be in attendance with jaw-dropping aerial displays. Spartanburg Soaring! Kite Club, a group of locals that was formed after our inaugural festival, will be on hand, led by master kite maker and local enthusiast Chuck Holmes.

Holmes said: “The Spartanburg Soaring Kite Club and the WACKOS (Western Area Carolina Kite and Okra Society) will be at Spartanburg Soaring! to display their kites and to help participants get their kites launched and into the air. Our goal is together with area people to paint the sky with hundreds of beautiful kites. We hope that everyone will come out to join us!”

In addition to kite flying, the public can expect to hear live local music throughout the day, eat local foods, drink local beverages, and stroll through the local-art market for some shopping. Kids can try their hands at Kite trivia and decorating their own kites!

Music will be provided by The Rock and Roll Reunion Band (11 A.M.), The LOZ Band (1 P.M.), and The Abbey Elmore Band (3 P.M.) on the stage in Barnet Park.

Jennifer Evins, President and CEO of Chapman Cultural Center says: “When we started Spartanburg Soaring in 2014, it was to encourage cultural curiosity and promote active living. We hoped that the common love for kite flying across all cultures would bring people together to experience the vibrancy of our community.”

“Now, four years later, the festival represents that and so much more.  Spartanburg is soaring to new heights every year.”

This year’s sponsors for the festival are Spartanburg Soaring Kite Club, City of Spartanburg, The Phifer-Johnson Foundation, GSP International Airport, Molina Healthcare, Publix Super Markets Charities, WSPA-TV, and AT&T.

A rain date is planned for Sunday, April 23, 2017 from 1 P.M.-5 P.M..

Let’s go fly a kite!

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