Season of Kites and Marbles

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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I have the fever again. I get it every year, and every year it is worse than the year before. The fever, spring fever that is, usually hits epidemic proportions around this time when the warm rays of the April sun beckon people of all ages to come outside and play and be a kid again.

Ever since I was in grade school, these early spring days meant two things to me – kites and marbles, and not always in that order. Being not quite baseball weather yet, these two pastimes filled the bill to get us outside with something to occupy our time.

The gusty April breezes were just made for flying kites and, I have to admit, nothing makes a person of any age feel like a kid again like watching your kite soar higher and higher in the blue sky. Of course there is a skill to be learned here concerning judging the wind. Too strong of a wind and your kite can be torn to shreds and end up in a faraway tree; too little wind and your kite is back on the ground.

Technically, what keeps a kite adrift is when air flows above its surface and creates low pressure above its wings and high pressure below the wings. As with anything, kites can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. When we were kids, there was something special about making our own.

All we needed were a couple dowels, a couple garbage bags, some string and tape. I learned this was a more economical way to go since my kite-flying abilities weren’t always up to par and sometimes my masterpiece would come back to earth in shreds. This was also easier on my allowance than store-bought ones.

Kites are big business, though. Sport kites are flown in aerial ballet, sometimes as part of a competition. Grand Haven hosts the Great Lakes Kite Festival each year here in Michigan, filling the sky with kites of all shapes and sizes. World famous stunt kite fliers perform to music while kites larger than a school bus hover nearby. This year the festival runs May 16-18.

Equally intriguing for me and when the weather didn’t suit kite flying, marbles became the game of choice. Marbles has to be the original equal-opportunity game. It didn’t matter if you were boy or girl, tall or short, big or small; if you could aim that shooter with a little bit of skill you could bring home some serious loot. By loot I mean the favorite and prize marbles of your opponents. If I do say so myself, I was a pretty good marksman. I still have my favorites sitting in a jar on my dresser to prove it.

Actually, marbles can be made from glass, steel, clay, plastic or agate, and they have become quite the collectors’ item. Jars of them can be found at flea markets and antique malls, sometimes with pretty hefty price tags attached. Some of the more unique ones are handmade and are one-of-a-kind. Some have distinct designs or pictures in them. Most marble collectors do so for nostalgic reasons or for the aesthetic colors in the marbles. Jim started his collection a couple years ago, not for either of the above mentioned reasons, but for him it is “just because.”

Some people get serious about marbles in a big way. Every year since 1932, the British and World Marbles Championship has been held in Tinsley Green, West Sussex, England. More than 20 teams from around the world compete in the playoff, which typically starts on Ash Wednesday and ends at noon on Good Friday. Why does it end at high noon? The common theory is that it is bad luck to play after that on Good Friday.

Whether it be kites, marbles or some other spring activity, I will always find a way to be outside more than inside this time of year. Spring fever does hit hard. I do pride myself that so far – and I do stress “so far” – I have never played hooky or missed any school or work because of spring fever. Just like all the other years, once again this too shall pass – right into the hot days of summer.

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