I was driving Highway 90 recently and saw two parents with their kids on the sand beach flying kites. Not an uncommon site this time of year. But have you ever flown a kite alone as an adult? No kids around? I can't remember ever seeing a grown man flying a kite alone or with another adult. But then again, it's a kid's thing.
But seeing them reminded me of flying kites as a kid. I grew up in a neighborhood, just up from the Biloxi Lighthouse, adjacent to two elementary schools -- Lopez Elementary on Howard Avenue and Nativity B.V.M. Elementary off Porter Avenue. The school yards were our playground for everything and anything -- bikes, baseball, basketball, football, marbles, games, digging for bugs -- and flying kites.
Some days there'd be eight or ten of us flying kites. Scattered out. The wind usually blew in from the south so standing in the Nativity school yard our kites would lift and fly northward over the Lopez School, now the Public Safety Center.
We eventually began making our own kites. Different sizes, colors, and materials. There were diamonds, hexagons, pentagons, and boxes. Kites are not difficult to make. Things usually got competitive with challenges on height and distance by adjusting the bridle and sometimes stringing out two rolls of twine. We'd also send four inch square pieces of paper up the line, called "messages".
One day Gary let out three rolls of string on his kite. When sundown approached he didn't have time to roll it all up and get home before dark. So like a bad relationship he let it go. We all thought it might end up in the Biloxi Bay. The next day we went looking for it on our bikes but of course never found it.
A few years ago I was reminded of this childhood memory when a man came in and said he grew up on the East Coast and that they would write real messages, including their mailing address and a self-addressed stamped envelope, and cap them in a bottle, attach them to the tail of a large kite, fly them over the Atlantic with long string, then cut them lose to see if the bottled messages ever returned. None ever did.
When my wife Angie lived up in Ramsey Springs she said they found a balloon one day with a note from a boy named Thomas in Missouri. She still has his note; and wrote back to him. When Angie ran a personal care home for seniors, on the day of their birthdays they would let balloons loose with their contact info. The only response a resident ever received was from a lady north of Diamondhead.
Angie and I occasionally take walks on the beach. So one day we tried the kite thing. In a small Coke bottle we placed our message, a message that said, "This message began its journey in the Gulf of Mexico from Biloxi, Mississippi. Please write back. Take care." And we enclosed a SASE. We put glitter and foil on the inside in hopes of catching an eye. We waited for the right day, a day with a north wind, on a Saturday, shortly after high tide when the tide would begin ebbing. We let out five rolls of cotton twine. Then with a little prayer and a twinkle of hope, cut her loose -- but not like a bad relationship.
We figured the bottle would get caught up in the west-to-eastward loop current in the Gulf and as a result assumed someone on the west coast of Florida would pick it up. Or maybe it would find its way into the Atlantic and up the seaboard or even on to Ireland (who knew?), since the loop current rotates from the Yucatan Peninsula and exits through the Florida Straits.
Four years later, having long forgotten about it, we received our SASE with a return address that said Miami, Florida. It was a hand-written letter from a Deacon Marte, a deacon at St. Jose Church in Puerto Padre, Cuba who was attending a conference for the religious. Puerto Padre is the alleged landing site of Columbus. He said he'd been walking the Puerto Padre Bay and discovered it, waiting to respond the next time he came to America since mail between Cuba and the United States had been disallowed for nearly half century. (It was restored in March 2016).
The messages we sent as kids flying kites went to nowhere, while the one we sent as adults went to somewhere, reaching out to be discovered by a stranger. Reaching out to others doesn't necessarily require a written message, much less one in a bottle. But if reaching out is something you ever consider, written or otherwise, know that you just may end up making a new friend or learning something new.
If we ever visit Cuba we just might go down to Puerto Padre, the landing site of Christopher Columbus -- the same site that gathered in our message in a bottle.