Kites soar into flights of fancy

As adults reminisce, children learn the finer points of kite-flying at Bel Air festival


For Fatimah Gates, yesterday's family excursion to the first Bel Air Kite Festival was also a trip back to her girlhood in New Orleans, where her stepfather made kites to fly in the Big Easy's Harrell Park.

"This reminds me of growing up in New Orleans. ... It's just too much free fun and too beautiful to stay indoors," Gates, a Baltimore District Court clerk, said as she spun a purple-pink shark kite higher and higher at Rockfield Park near John Carroll School. "A shark in the sky, what do you know?"

The Gates family - which also included Raymond Sr. and 13-year-old Raymond Jr. - were among the hundreds who showed up for the sheer exhilaration of a simple spring pleasure. The weather cooperated as if it knew April is National Kite Month.

"Let me have some line," the younger Raymond told his mother, who seemed to know just which way the breeze was blowing.

Scattered like seed across the green field and blue sky scene were the experts, the intermediates and plenty of children who had never flown a piece of flapping plastic against a whistling wind before. On the day before Easter, grandparents were also out in force to pass down lessons to their younger kin.

A case in point was retired state highway civil engineer Allen Ault, 70, a Bel Air resident and a co-sponsor of the event. An accomplished flyer - or pilot, as they call themselves - he makes it a point to fly kites at 2 p.m. on that same field every day when he is at home.

Under a tent yesterday, Ault shared his "helping" duties with his 6-year-old grandson, A.J. Magnani, visiting from Stewartstown, Pa.

"Am I in charge?" A.J. asked him.

"We're both in charge," Ault reassured as he made rounds to see how well the stock of "loaner" kites he contributed to the cause was circulating. After more than 30 years of flying, he had some to spare.

Ault said he and a fellow kite devotee, Paul Hines of Churchville, founded the no-frills festival, which, they said, they hope the government of Bel Air will help to make an annual affair. The two men recently met at a national kite convention in Dayton, Ohio. The cost of the festival was less than $500, they estimated.

"I'm giving something back to the community," Ault said. "And it will be free as long as I have anything to do with it."

Raymond Gates Sr., who is retired from the Army, heard Ault's comment and said he found it refreshing. "The way things are going now, that doesn't happen much in society," he said. "The little things, you know what I mean?"

MacKenzie Blackwell was flying her first kite at age 6. The Bel Air girl - missing a tooth from her broad smile - wore pink, the same color as her kite. Like Fatimah Gates, she seemed to have a natural feel for handling the kite.

"You don't have to teach her much," said her grandmother, Deborah Kuzyk.

Nearby was a couple who drove north from Annapolis for the festival, flying an elaborate kite with an Aztec design and a rope with a 320-pound capacity. Joyce and Jeff King said the diverse collection of kites and the camaraderie of other flyers - even if they don't know their names - are what drew them to yesterday's event.

"He's finally got a hobby, so I'm happy," Joyce King said of her husband.

In the more spontaneous school of flying was a father with two young sons. John Blondell, 40, of Bel Air said his wife happened to pass by and notice the kite festival going on, so he brought along Jamison, 4, and Jack, 3.

"Taking turns is fun," he repeated as the two vied for the string.

Gazing up to the kite overhead, Jack said, "He's flying. I like it here."

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