The Day We Flew Kites

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by Frances Fowler

"String!" shouted Brother, bursting into the kitchen. "We need lots more string."

It was Saturday.  As always, it was a busy one, for "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work" was taken seriously then.  Outside, Father and Mr. Patrick next door were doing chores.

Inside the two houses, Mother and Mrs. Patrick were engaged in spring cleaning.  Such a windy March day was ideal for "turning out" clothes closets.  Already woolens flapped on back yard clotheslines.

Somehow the boys had slipped away to the back lot with their kites.  Now, even at the risk of having Brother impounded to beat carpets, they had sent him for more string.  Apparently, there was no limit to the heights to which kites would soar today.

My mother looked at the sitting room, its furniture disordered for a Spartan sweeping. Again her eyes wavered toward the window. Come on girls! "Let's take string to the boys and watch them fly the kites a minute."

On the way we met Mrs. Patrick, laughing guiltily, escorted by her girls.

There never was such a day for flying kites! God doesn't make two such days in a century. We played all our fresh twine into the boys' kites and still they soared. We could hardly distinguish the tiny, orange-colored specks.

ow and then we slowly reeled one in, finally bringing it dipping and tugging to earth, for the sheer joy of sending it up again. What a thrill to run with them, to the right, to the left, and see our poor, earth-bound movements reflected minutes later in the majestic sky-dance of the kites!

We wrote wishes on slips of paper and slipped them over the string. Slowly, irresistibly, they climbed up until they reached the kites. Surely all wishes would be granted.

Even our Fathers dropped hoe and hammer and joined us.  Our mothers took their turn, laughing like schoolgirls. Their hair blew out their pompadour and curled loose about their cheeks; their gingham aprons whipped about their legs. Mingled with our fun was something akin to awe. The grownups were really playing with us! Once I looked at Mother and thought she looked actually pretty.  And her over forty!

We never knew where the hours went on that hilltop that day.  There were no hours, just a golden breeze now. I think we were all beside ourselves.  Parents forgot their duty and their dignity; children forgot their combativeness and small spites.  "Perhaps it's like this in the kingdom of Heaven," I thought confusedly.

It was growing dark before, drunk with sun and air, we all stumbled sleepily back to the houses.  I suppose we had some sort of supper.  I suppose there must have been a surface tidying-up, for the house on Sunday looked decorous enough.

The strange thing was, we didn't mention that day afterward. I felt a little embarrassed. Surely none of the others had thrilled to it as deeply as I.  I locked the memory up in that deepest part of me where we keep "the things that cannot be and yet they are."

The years went on, then one day I was scurrying about my own kitchen in a city apartment, trying to get some work out of the way while my three-year old insistently cried her desire to "go park and see ducks."

"I can't go!" I said. "I have this and this to do, and when I'm through I'll be too tired to walk that far."

My mother, who was visiting us, looked up from the peas she was shelling. "It's a wonderful day," she offered; "really warm, yet there's a fine, fresh breeze.  It reminds me of that day we flew kites."

I stopped in my dash between stove and sink. The locked door flew open and with it a gush of memories.  I pulled off my apron. "Come on" I told my little girl. "You're right, it's too good a day to miss."

Another decade passed. We were in the aftermath of a great war. All evening we had been asking our returned soldier, the youngest Patrick Boy, about his experiences as a prisoner of war. He had talked freely, but now for a long time he had been silent.  What was he thinking of -- what dark and dreadful things?

"Say!" A smile twitched his lips. "Do you remember -- no, of course you wouldn't.  It probably didn't make the impression on you it did on me."

I hardly dared speak. "Remember what?"

"I used to think of that day a lot in PW camp, when things weren't too good.  Do you remember the day we flew the kites?"

Winter came, and the sad duty of call of condolence on Mrs. Patrick, recently widowed.  I dreaded the call.  I couldn't imagine how Mrs. Patrick could face life alone.

We talked a little of my family and her grandchildren and the changes in the town.  Then she was silent, looking down at her lap. I cleared my throat.  Now I must say something about her loss, and she would begin to cry.

When she looked up, Mrs. Patrick was smiling. "I was just sitting here thinking," she said. "Henry had such fun that day. Frances, do you remember the day we flew the kites?"