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On several other occasions my brother Chet noticed us little ones, most particularly one kite season. He was very clever with his hands, rigging involved alarm systems and miniature steam engines that powered various devices out in his quarters. The uninitiated, entering Chet's retreat, triggered a pandemonium alarm reaction that sounded like the high point of a Chinese New Year—a shattering experience the first time around. He was disgusted with the pasty messes of newspaper and sticks which we called kites and expected to fly. In those days you couldn't buy a HiFlier for 10� at the supermarket, even if we'd lived anywhere near any kind of market. Irritated by our low-grade efforts, Chet offered to make us a real kite, and set upon construction of a tetrahedral masterpiece the size and general shape of an outhouse laid on its side.
The kite's construction involved many little squares of silk, which Chet obtained by stealing my older sisters' petticoats and bloomers from the laundry line—which again caused a good deal of parental whispering. It was Chet's peculiar isolation which made the secret building of the kite possible. Though all but final assemblage was done in Chet's quarters, and he had long since painted over all the windows with whitewash so we couldn't watch him, we little ones were allowed glimpses of the great kite—enough to prod us into accomplishing our own share of the project.
We gathered string, fishing line, the tow rope from Father's tool kit, cord, unravelled sweaters, the cow's lead rope and the like to splice and braid into the tremendous rope which would sail Chet's kite. We grew adept at stealing plant ties, and even the narrow pink ribbons that ran in and out of the embroidery on my big sisters' shirtwaists, depositing our loot at Chet's door.
Months went by. We were too timid and too impressed to penetrate the cold aura of hauteur that surrounded my brother Chet like a miasmic fog, but we knew that he was waiting for the right wind to sail his kite. Southern California, a land of still air, is not very good for kite flying, though fair in those days for most everything else. One day we woke to popping hot dry air, chicken-house roofs sailing overhead, and a sky in torment. A full-blown santana was whistling sandily out of the desert. The day had come.
Chet hauled the whole works out of the blow, into Father's garage, and completed the final adjustments, fastening on the thick, long rope. We little ones took our positions, standing bravely in line a few feet apart, each clutched limpet-hard to the rope, thrilled and terrified speechless. Even Chet trembled at the culmination of his long work. My mother approached the back screen door and peered out to see what we were doing in the screaming wind.
With a tremendous bang, the wind swung back the garage doors and we were lifted out and up as by giant hands as the kite sailed into the heavens, each of us in turn dropping off the rope like rats shaken from a ship's hawser, as the great kite rose into the grey, gritty, whirling sky. The rope ran out in seconds. Chet was lifted tipsy-toesies. While Mother flapped helplessly in the back porch doorway, too nervous about sand in her long black hair to come all the way out, Chet cinched the end of the rope around the front wheel of his motorcycle and sat down in the saddle.
Pretty soon the motorcycle, Chet and all, was bouncing gently up and down, threatening to take off. The kite was now a fighting, swinging box in the dirty sky, striving mightily for freedom. Mother screamed at Chet to let it go, but he tried to take a turn of the rope, now fraying, around the center stanchion of the double garage doors. A tremendous gust yanked the rope out of his hands and it swept up in the sky after the kite, now a black speck, like a live thing. We started to run—all of us, Chet too—and senselessly ran and ran and ran, wild as hares, free as the great kite released from bondage at last. I don't know why we ran, except that the wind was pushing us and we had some hazy notion of getting to the spot where the kite would come down. We ran out of breath and flopped exhausted, finally, in the Santa Anita Rancho, which was across Huntington Drive from our house at that time. It's a swank subdivision now. called, I believe, the Santa Anita Oaks, but it was nicer as "the Baldwin estate," rank with mustard weed and full of the mystery of Lucky Baldwin's crumbling mansion and gambling casino on the shore of a little lake.
Chet's kite was airborne and gone, but we saw it many times thereafter. When we slept out on the sleeping porches in summer we'd lie awake as long as possible, watching the sky, and sure enough, there would be Chet's kite, whirling by in its private orbit around the world. Other people called them meteors, or falling stars, but they couldn't have known. The kite was a secret until the day it was freed, and even then nobody knew about it but us.
All of this gave us a nice feeling of kinship with outer space. After all, we'd be up there too, sailing in the clean night, if we hadn't let go.
So all those people down in Canaveral have to do is get in touch with my brother Chet, and he'll tell them how he did it. He long since has taken down all the alarm systems and is now quite communicative. They might take along an owl, just as a conversation starter.