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The Girl and the Kites
The phone rang just as I was leaving the Park.
"Phil, this is Stan. Are you about on your way back to town?"
"Just pulling onto Lakeshore, Stan. What's up?"
"Could you come into the shop for a couple of minutes when you get back here? I've got a customer who would like to meet you and possibly buy some of your time."
"OK. I'll stop by you guys and then drive home after. Be there in about five minutes."
"Great Phil! See you in five."
With that Stan hung up and as I folded my cell and dropped it back into my fanny pack I wondered what he was going to spring on me now.
Stan was a friend, the owner of the local kite shop here in our little community on the shore of Lake Michigan. He sometimes corralled me into doing something for the shop whether I had planned on it or not. But, he gave me great discounts on my flying materials so most of the time I was more or less willing to help him out.
The last two weeks he'd had me replacing the kite store's 'beach teach'. Bill had to leave town briefly for a family funeral. He's the guy who usually did that job. That had put me out on the State Park beach for six hours a day, two days a week. My job was to help customers who had purchased kite materials at the store figure out how to use them. Most of the time that meant that I was giving flying lessons to people who thought stunt kites looked cool, but who had no idea how to fly one. It was generally teaching from scratch.
I also was a walking, talking, and flying advertisement for the store. You'd be surprised how many people would watch me flying a kite and come over to talk about the sport. Again, many of them were newbies and after getting them hooked I would give them one of the kite store cards I kept in my fanny pack for just that purpose. I'd tell them how to get there and who to talk to (generally Stan) in the store.
For this Stan paid me a whopping $100.00 a day.
The funny part is that if I weren't down there for him I'd probably be down there for myself. I'd answer the same questions, hand out the same cards, and help the same newbies learn to fly their new toys. That's because I'm a kite-nut. Little kites, big kites, huge kites, I have some of them all. Single line, double line and quad line, I have some of them all. And I fly kites for fun just about every day of the season (that's May through early October in my case).
My name is Phil Vance and I'm 42 years old. I'm also one of the luckiest people in the world. I have to tell you this before I tell you about the next several months of my life. Now this gets a bit complicated but bear with me. Two days before my 35th birthday a representative of a legal firm here in town contacted me. He asked me to come to their office to discuss the matter of an inheritance. He was fairly insistent despite my protests that I had no family to inherit anything from. We made an appointment for later in the week. When he finally got around to business after the introductory small talk at that meeting, he told me that Mr. Jenkins, the 'little old man down the block' from my apartment, as I thought of him, had died the week before. I had helped him out a number of times when his age and general infirmities had put some roadblocks in his way. Never anything big, nor was it all that often.
At least, that's the way I had thought of those occasions.
Mr. Jenkins had apparently seen things differently. Like me he had no family, a fact we had discussed a couple of times when I was over there helping him. I guess that's what made him do it.
He left me everything! After paying the inheritance taxes I was the new owner of his condo located in an old rehabbed factory building in the middle of town. It was one of the premier locations in town and I now owned one of the largest units in the building. Completely furnished. All of the contents were included. And all of the contents of his bank accounts and investment accounts. I was now a member of the somewhat wealthy people of the world. I would never have to work again!
So, I didn't! It took me just about six months to quit my job as an accountant for our county government. (Our fair city is also the county seat.) I didn't mind the work, just the boss. So one day, after what I considered some unjustified criticism, I handed in my resignation and never went back. I felt more justified about it all when that same department manager was released, without recommendation, some five months later. It's really petty of me, but I did enjoy that turn of events.
I haven't really missed the work, just some of the people. Most of them were (are) good folks. Some of us still get together occasionally. All of that happened about seven years ago and it's been an interesting seven years!
So, I can spend a bunch of my time designing, making and flying kites. I know, I know — a lot of people think that I should find something more 'uplifting' to do with my time, but I tell them a kite 'lifts up' just great! I just don't tell them that I also spend two to three days (and often evenings) each week with the reports from organizations and individuals supported by the O.C. Foundation that Mr. J. had established. It seems that he had made quite a bit of money as an investor of funds after selling his farm machinery company about 25 years before he passed.
It turns out that Mr. J. had put 100 million dollars into a charitable foundation about five years before he passed on. Its mission is to support 'worthy activities' within our county borders. The foundation has an appointed a board of five community leaders from all over the county and he had headed the board himself. He'd had the deciding vote on all funding that the foundation would make. And I had inherited his position on the board, too. We give away between five and ten million dollars in grants to 'worthy activities' each year from a fund that keeps getting larger and larger. I have found that the idea of what is a 'worthy activity' is very much in the eyes of the beholder. It does take a fair amount of work to sort through all of the application forms. And to check up on the recipients after they've had the money for a while. Sometimes they get more of our money, sometimes they don't.
So I put in time each week meeting with investment advisors, with charity leaders and with individuals as needed for my service to the foundation. Frankly it takes a fair amount of time and energy, but I'm extremely happy doing it. Who doesn't like giving money away?
And I've been able to maintain the personal anonymity that Mr. J. had always insisted upon. It's those community leaders on the board who make all the announcements and represent the O.C. Foundation when someone needs to physically and publicly show up someplace. It's good politics for them and privacy for me. It works.
But that's why I can fly kites. It's a great sport and a lot of fun to help others learn how to do it. Our state Park is one of the busiest in the system with people from all over our state and from others coming out to spend some time on our white sand beach and in our cold Lake Michigan waters. Over the years the Park beach has been sort of unofficially divided and we kite flyers sort of have our own section to use. The beach volleyball poles make up one of our marks, the campground another, with the lake itself and the channel completing our boundaries. Someone is flying there just about every flyable day of the season. Stan knows that I usually spend about 3 days a week on the beach. If he knew about my finances he would probably choke about paying me my 'beach money'.
Anyway, on that Friday, I parked my relatively new but unremarkable Toyota Sienna minivan in the public lot behind the kite store and headed in. I carried along the two kite bags of store kites that I had been flying for the past two days, because Bill was due back this weekend to reclaim his 'beach teach' job. The rest of this story is about the woman who is the second reason I say that I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world.
As I dropped the kite bags behind the back sales counter Stan walked over followed by a lady who was looking at me kind of funny. She was brunet, about five foot four, somewhat on the slim side, wearing a pair of dark blue mid-length shorts and a baggy T-shirt with the city's logo on it. Her hair was a short brown curly cap on her head. I've stopped trying to guess a woman's age, but if pressed I'd say about 30. And she was definitely in the 'look-at-twice' category.
"Hi, Phil! I'd like you to meet Frankie Grey. She's interested in learning to fly a Revolution and I suggested that you might be able to find some time to help her out. Are you available at all tomorrow?"
I reached out to shake her hand and responded, "My pleasure, Frankie. No, I'm afraid my Saturday is already spoken for. But I could probably find a couple of hours on Sunday. Have you ever flown a stunt kite before?"
.... There is more of this story ...