Boomers Go Fly A Kite

This year’s relatively mild winter belies the winters of boomer days when, by this time, we would have been desperately awaiting spring. Most of the snow would have melted, but the ground and trees were brown, and the sky was grey. A sharp wind was blowing, shaking our reality as the dot of sun beckoned us to play, while its rays struggled to warm our frozen landscape.

One of the first outdoor activities the neighborhood would engage in at this time of year was kite flying. The blustery winds of a Midwest March were perfect for launching our paper and wood flying machines, even if the bite of the cold numbed our fingers in the process. Boy or girl, regardless of age, could participate in the activity. For boomers, kite flying was another in a series of outdoor activities that required very little cost or training.

The neighborhood store readily sold kite kits for ten cents. Another ten cents would buy a ball of kite string, and you were in business. We could easily raise the money the same day we decided to “go fly a kite” by picking up a few discarded pop bottles (it was ALWAYS called “pop,” not “soda”). We’d quickly race back to our houses to rinse any accumulated dirt from our finds by using the faucet on the outside of the house. Glass bottles still wet, we’d rush back to the corner store. At two-cents apiece, it never seemed to take that long to accumulate the cash. All we’d have to do was follow the path that teenagers took on their walk home from our high school.

In the store, a cardboard box with the top third cut off sat alongside a glass display case that held a tempting assortment of candy bars, neatly arranged row by row. On this day, the money in hand wasn’t for sweet treats. Mister Boomer would browse through the selection of kites, looking for a color to “speak” to him. The paper kites were wrapped around wood strips and slipped into long, clear plastic bags. On the glass counter was a cardboard display of string balls. Kite selection and string ball in hand, the transaction was completed, and off we’d go to the nearest kid’s house that had a garage. It was easier to assemble our kites out of the wind, and we stayed a tad warmer in the process.

The kite itself was easy to assemble: Two wooden strips were joined by a piece of metal bent around them like a staple. All that was required was to turn the shorter strip perpendicular to the longer to form a cross shape. Each end of the strips had a slit notched into it. Unfurling the triangular-shaped paper kite, it was ready to attach to the strip by way of pre-placed pieces of string that conveniently slipped into the notches on the pliable, thin wood strips.

At this point, the kite took shape, but wasn’t flight-worthy yet. Down the central spine of the paper face were two dots that indicated the place to pierce the paper. Using a pencil tip we would do just that, then open our ball of string and slip the end through one of the holes. On the backside, the string was knotted. Flipping back to the front, the string was let out to give it a little slack between the two holes. A scissors cut later, the other end could be threaded through the hole and tied off like the previous end. This central string was the main line to which we could we could tie our ground-based string.

Flipping the kite over, we could see the paper was not as taut as we preferred. Mister B can’t say if this was a neighborhood or regional thing, or if it was the proper way to make a kite, but we’d tie off string on one horizontal end of the wooden strip and stretch it across to the other side, forming a bow by pulling the string before tying it off. Now the paper fit tightly over the wooden structure.

Next, a quick trip home to raid the basement rag bin. Boomer families kept rags for cleaning, but they sure came in handy when you needed to make kite tails. Strips of cloth were tied to a longer strip at regular intervals, creating Bow-tie shapes along its axis. Then it was tied to the bottom of the kite to act as a rudder tail and counterweight in the wind.

How you prepared string for your first flight was a personal choice. You could let it unwind from the ball as it came from the store, but most kids in Mister B’s neighborhood chose to tightly wind the string around a twig. If you found the right one, it would have a couple of knobs that could contain the string between them while offering space to grip the twig on either side when two hands were needed to steady the kite in flight.

Once the prepped string was tied to the central string, the kite was ready. Mister B’s block had far too many trees and telephone wires for kite flying. Inevitably, kites, trapped like live creatures rustling in branches and wires, were testaments to the hubris that got them there. Instead, happy to avoid a Charlie Brown kite-eating tree moment, we’d head over to the nearby schoolyard where the baseball field offered an unobstructed free range for flying.

While Mister B enjoyed the process of building the kite, he never became an expert flyer. First there was the launch: running over the uneven terrain and learning to time the release at just the right moment for your paper triangle to catch the wind. Then there was the stability factor. Here is where you’d see if you had indeed built a flyable kite: A tear in the paper, tautness too slack or too tight, cloth tail too long or too short, and your kite would not stay airborne for long. Once it was in the air, though, it was a thing of beauty.

Mister B recalls one time when the conditions were just right, and he launched a promotional kite he had received from the neighborhood Sinclair gas station. Fifty-plus feet up as he carefully let out more string, the kite seemed to hover in a sea of gray, its green dinosaur logo on a white triangle of paper holding strong in the breeze. The kite seemed to fly itself, and for one moment, Mister B’s spirits climbed up along the string and into the spring sky.

What memories do kite flying bring to you, boomers?

Our Sunday Best for Easter

Boomers can attest to the changes that have occurred in all aspects of their lives, and certainly fashion is among them. Mister Boomer, as many of his generation, recalls that certain times of the year — especially holidays — were marked in part by new clothes: Christmas always brought underwear and socks, and sometimes pajamas; August ushered in back-to-school necessities; but it was mainly in spring — particularly Eastertime — that most people got new “dress” clothes. It was only a few decades ago that it was not only expected that one dress in their finest clothes for Easter celebrations, but preferably that those clothes be new.

The practice of donning new clothing as a sign of respect, renewal and cleanliness when engaging in spring religious ceremonies dates back thousands of years. It crossed religions and cultures through the millennia to manifest itself in various forms of official and ritual costuming, as well as acting as an annual reminder for ancient peoples — not known for their closets-full of clothing — that it was time to change things up. Some historians postulate that Emperor Constantine helped the tradition along in the fourth century. The story goes that Easter was the only holiday when he invited his entire staff and court to join in his holiday celebration and dinner. His only request was that they arrive washed and dressed in their finest clothing.

Mister Boomer worked retail in the early 1970s. At that point, the new spring/Easter tradition was still going strong. There wasn’t a man, woman or child who did not get at least one new spring article of clothing. Elaborate hats, of course, were popular with women, along with dresses, shoes and accessories in pastel colors, while coats could get downright brilliant in hue. Children received new shoes, at the very least, but the family could also take the opportunity to replenish dress clothing for growing siblings, handing down gently-used garments to the younger children.

A decade earlier, Mister Boomer’s family always participated in the annual ritual. His mother and sister would get new spring dresses, pocketbooks and shoes, while the males would get new suits and, in the early sixties, hats. Mister B doesn’t have to conjure memories of these outfits since they were documented each year. Before heading to Easter Sunday church services (or after, if they were running late), Mister B’s family would pose in front of their house, a few steps from the front porch, for a portrait with their finery. Mister B’s father was never in the shots since he was behind the lens of the Kodak box camera. The dates for Easter shift from year to year, from early March to late April. In the upper Midwest, that could mean temperatures ranging from the low 30s to the mid-70s. The photos show that sometimes the family was shivering in the cold, and patches of snow remained on the lawn. Other times the sun shone brightly to accentuate those Kodachrome colors. Inevitably, the roll of film had been sitting in the camera since Christmas, so now it could be finished and processed into prints.

These portraits illustrated the history of the dwelling — with landscape changes and front-porch renovations — as well as a growing family in the 1960s suburbs. In one photo in particular, Mister B recalls wearing a new three-piece suit. The coat was blue, in a mid-weight knobby fabric, while the pants were plain, straight-legged, and Navy in color; his vest, however, was patterned in contrast to the pleated pants and textured coat. On top of his head was a Navy blue hat, making the ensemble suitable for a Frank Sinatra album cover.

Mister Boomer’s family was not fashion-forward. They dressed in the popular clothing of the day. That began to change throughout the culture in the mid-60s as individual personalities gained a larger say in dress habits. It was probably 1967 when Mister B’s brother, a high school student at the time, suggested that the males get their Easter suits from a nearby urban source rather than the usual suburban regional chain stores.

Mister B, his father and Brother Boomer drove to the big-city establishment. Immediately on entering the store, it was obvious they weren’t in suburbia any more: BanLon shirts, pencil-thin ties, straight-legged pants and sharkskin suits packed the racks and shelves in a wide array of colors. Sharkskin suits had been around since the 1950s. Composed of two contrasting thread colors woven so as to contrast, the result was a sleek, sharkskin look. Now, with the addition of rayon, silk and acetate fabrics joining the traditional wool, 60s sharkskin often had an iridescent ripple running through the folds of fabric as light passed over it.

Mister B’s father quickly tried on a burgundy sharkskin suit and was gazing at it admiringly in the mirror. Brother B chose a sharkskin suit in dark blue that looked like it had walked straight out of a Beatles photograph. Lapels were as small as they could be, but Brother Boomer’s choice had a velvet strip running across the top of the collar, slightly framing either side of the neck. Mister Boomer was a little hesitant in his search, but did find an olive-green sharkskin suit in his size. It had a golden-colored thread woven into the fabric, so a slight gold metallic sheen gave Mister B an adult, sophisticated sartorial look well beyond his teenage years.

sharkskin

That Easter, the Boomer family males sported white shirts and super-thin ties in solid colors with their stylish suits. A new era was happening, and men no longer wore hats as a required accessory to top an outfit. The Boomer Three looked more like a musical group than family members heading to church, and a few heads did turn, but they didn’t mind. Mister B got another three years’ wear out of the suit before it no longer fit. There are still times Mister B dreams of that sharkskin suit. No article of clothing ever caused the physical attachment of that outfit since.

How about it boomers? Is there a memorable spring outfit in your past?