By Forest Riggs
It’s soon to be March and those damned flying monkeys are at it again! When I was a little fellow, back in the 1960s, nothing frightened me more than watching The Wizard of Oz every year in early March. It was an iconic symbol indicating the arrival of the windy month and the promise that spring was around the corner. When that nasty old witch shouted, “ Seize them! Seize them!” and sent those sky-darkening, winged monkeys out across the Land of Oz, we took cover under pillows and blankets. It was scary.
Keep in mind this was in the days long before blood, guts, gore and shock were used to scare an audience. Fancy cinemagraphics and computer-generated images had not yet made the scene. Still, in those days, the flying monkeys and a flame-engulfed wizard seemed real and frightening!
March, traditionally characterized as a windy month, over time has become the subject of many rhymes, poems and descriptions throughout literature, both ancient and modern. In early times, people felt that bad spirits could influence the weather; most often, adversely. Folks were cautious as to what they would and would not do for fear of bringing about the pesky visits of malevolent spirits who toyed with the weather and its impact on their lives. These early beliefs led people to feel that just as in life there should be balance, so should there be in weather—a balance of good and bad. So if a month came in bad like a lion, it should go out good like a lamb—or so was hoped.
Along the way little rhymes and sayings began to take hold and subsequently, have survived until the present time.
“March winds and April showers, bring forth May flowers.”
“A dry March and wet May fill barns and bays with corn and hay.”
“As it rains in March, so it rains in June.”
“March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”
After a very mild winter, I think we can all stand a little wind as March comes a blowing. When I was younger, aside from watching The Wizard of Oz on television, March meant kite-flying season. In those “ olden days,” before self-serve and at-the-pump automation, service stations still had attendants—young men in white shirts and bow-tie that raced out to your car and very efficiently took care of your automotive needs. “ You can trust your car to the man who wears the star,” the Texaco commercials stated.
In those days, most stations also gave away little gifts or trinkets to patrons who filled their tank. In the spring, both Texaco and Conoco gave away beautiful paper kites, all rolled into a nice package. I could not wait for spring and the winds of March to get that white kite with a red, flying horse on it—times were simpler then and it did not take much to thrill a little boy or girl with a huge imagination.
My older brother would help me assemble the kite, attach a tail comprised of some old shreds of cloth my grandmother provided, and together we took to the wind. After a few crashes, it was always wonderful when the flying, winged stallion caught wind and took off. Sometimes, during a really windy season, we’d tie two or three spools of kite string together and send the paper shape several hundred yards out into the sky. A few times as dark came and the kite still aloft, we secured the string to a fence post and went in for the night leaving the kite to dance in the darkness. Morning came and I would find only a piece of string, still attached to the fence post, flapping in the wind. My brother would tell me the flying monkeys got our kite. I believed him and fearfully scanned the morning sky for those little capped and vested monsters.
Kite flying has been around for ages. As long as man has watched birds soar or effortlessly ride thermals, he has wanted to fly—to soar with the eagles. A kite, for most folks, represented a chance to do just that. Long before popular mechanized toys and gas-powered airplanes, the old fashioned, paper kite was the bomb! Everyone flew kites. There were even competitions and awards. Through the years, different materials were used and shapes and technical aerodynamic designs were introduced, but the main concept remained: building something tethered by a string could transform a windy day into something magical.
One of my favorite kite flying stories, other than the one about Benjamin Franklin and his electrical experiment, comes from sweet, old, queer Truman Capote. In his heart-rending story, A Christmas Memory, Buddy (Truman) and his older, “ simple” second or third cousin, Sook, love to lay in the fields and watch their homemade kites dance in the sky. A true story set in the Great Depression, kites were the usual Christmas gifts exchanged by the pair, much to the chagrin of the other “ sane” relatives. All year, Buddy and old Sook would save scraps of colorful tissue paper in order to fasten together their kites. They loved getting the simple kites each year and spent hours flying them.
Kite flying is still a wonderful way to spend some time outdoors. The world is pretty technical these days and a kite, to most, might be thought of as boring or silly. But I think seeing someone flying a kite is wonderful! I love to see a LGBT couple running and laughing on the beaches of Galveston as they hoist their kite and watch as it is pulled into the sky by the wind. Add a picnic lunch, perhaps a nice bottle of wine and you have a fantastic date. These days there are all sorts of colorful kites, wind spinners and other gaily decorated contraptions. There are even kites shaped like a wicked old witch flying on a broomstick.
Galveston has several great kite shops, and the internet and eBay are full of exceptional kites ranging from inexpensive models to very expensive, artistic creations. Probably long-gone are the days of kites constructed from newspaper or leftover wrapping paper, two sticks, string and some glue, but kites still stir the youth in all of us.
So the next time someone tells you to “ go fly a kite,” you might want to do just that. Galveston has some great beaches and fields for kite flying; if March holds true to its reputation, you might want to take advantage and have some fun flying your kite alone or with that special person. The main thing is to keep your line taught and watch out for those flying monkeys!
A resident of Galveston where he can be found wasting bait and searching for the meaning of life, Forest Riggs recently completed a collection of short stories about his beloved island and is working on a novel.