Sounds

  • Maida Korte

“The queer little noises that no one explains,
‘Til the moon through the slats of my window blind rains.” (Unknown)

          Little sounds in the country keep me up at night, but I’m learning to cope, slowly.   I knew I had a problem when I was irritated one morning by the sound of birds chirping.  We had been living in our new old house for 6 months and it was summer in all its glory.  Our magnolia, which could be seen from our bedroom windows, was so pinkly hysterical that it reminded me of a little girl in a tutu refusing to change, so stubbornly in love with the twirly tulle. On this particular Saturday morning, when I was hoping to sleep in, birds began to sing outside our bedroom windows with such a cheerful vengeance that I questioned their motives. “Darn birds!”  Andy laughed into his pillow and softly told me that I was back-sliding in my progress in country living.  Birds, he informed me, were part of the country experience and that he loved to wake to the sounds of their chuffed song.  I lay very still and listened and had to admit that the cheerfulness did make me feel like I was in a Disney film.  I was determined to do better since I felt more like the evil step-mother than Cinderella where small aviators helped dress her each day.  I pulled the sheets up over my head and stewed.

          City sounds are constant and it is the silence that made me sit up in the middle of the night and say, “What is that?  Did you hear that?”  To which Andy would say, “No, I don’t hear anything.” 
          “Exactly!  Go check.” 

          Silence in the city means sneaking around doing things furtively and suspiciously.  Sounds are so mixed and varied that the hum of incessant noise is a comfort and solace.  I used to wake up suddenly at 4:00 a.m. when the neighbor’s music stopped. My reaction to the sounds of the country were similar to how I felt about driving down long country roads with no street lights every 100 feet.  I was terrified and felt that murderers lurked out in the middle of every corn field and that farm houses nestled into the countryside were havens of torture.  Mice scurrying about acres away from any house left the girls and me screaming and running for the nearest picnic table, leaping up with shrieks shrill enough to cause a stampede of calm dairy cows.  I had to admit though, I did love the sheep.  I was smitten with the skinny and scrawny sheep that looked like they had been zipped out of their winter coats and left to shiver outdoors embarrassingly naked.  Seeing those same sheep six months later, looking like round bales of enormous hay from afar, only to have black eyes peer out at me from the roundness, tugged at my urban heart strings that began to unravel and fray. It seemed to me that everything in the country had a purpose and was working toward a common goal and it was noble and good. Listening to the birds on that Saturday morning and allowing the chirps to penetrate my frenetic urban soul helped me in my transition to country life.  I arose out of bed renewed in my commitment to cowboy boots and raspberry patches armed with the knowledge that the tassels on corn are very important for some unknown reason but I accept it, and went downstairs to make pancakes with blueberries from the stand on the side of the country road I had discovered only the day before. 

          Every morning I take my first cup of hot coffee and stand in the living room and look out the sand glass window, through the front porch to the yard beyond.  I am learning to listen to the sounds of the house.  I like to wake up my house every day by rising early and having a moment to gather my thoughts before the tyranny of the urgent takes over my mind.  Wake up, let dog out, make coffee, let dog in, pour cup of hot coffee, black – is there any other way? – and stand and let our new old country four-square Victorian home soak into me.  I then began meandering from room to room and I gently wake up each room as I go.  I survey the family room and see the pillows that have a red and cream slash of braid all around the four edges, making a frame for the sage green, creamy butter color and dash of red leaves that are sprinkled over the creamy background fabric of linen that make up the four pillows that sit in the corner of the sectional.  The down forms are zipped inside and allow us to crunch our arms into these pillows when I snuggle in at the end of a long day to listen to Andy talk to me about wood and pneumatic nailers and why the ground water in Northern Illinois has no place to go. These pillows always end up jumbled and scrunched and used and loved every day. 

I hear Clyde, our yellow lab, jingle his way towards me as he waggles around following me during my morning ritual. His collar and tags make a musical sound as he pads along, then slumps to the floor in one large clunk if I take too long.  I karate chop each pillow after first picking it up and fluffing the down to make the pillow chubby and proud with a nice “V” in the middle like the strong ears of a pure bred German shepherd standing at attention.  

I listen as the school buses go down South Street past our house. Since our house in on a hill, every car or truck or bus that passes must gun their engines just a little bit to make it up the hill.  This is an inconsistent hum that tells me what time of day it is.  The continual early morning sound of engines and tires and it is before school, repeated later in the afternoon and school is out. I could set my morning and afternoon clock by the sound of the Blue Bird School Bus Company.  Soon after the buses I hear the sound of high school girls and boys, and I know that I have to let Clyde out so that he can sit on the front porch with his legs bent over the front step so that he can watch.  All the kids know him and shout out, “Hey Clyde!” and a few march up our red brick walk past the Magnolia and the Japanese maple and pet him on the noggin as though they are the bravest of them all.  95 pounds of dog leaves some hesitant and those that walk right up to Clyde feel resplendent in their heroics.  They are the ones who “know” and it is this sort of kinship that we all need in life while we are growing up.  I am a teenager and I walk to school and I know that big dog and I can pet him and he is my friend and everyone can see.  These are the things that make up a day for a young person and give just the right amount of swagger necessary to make it through the toughness of high school gossip, ill-will and the hardship of needing to grow up but not even knowing who you are.  I remember.

          Saturdays are work days around the house and I love these sorts of roll up your sleeves and tackle the project at hand days.  There is something about a Saturday that begets scrubbing and wrestling with an angry garden of thorns and mucking about outside with a rake. As a little girl I woke up on Saturdays to the sound of my father coming into our bedrooms and putting up the shades and singing “It’s a beautiful day!” at the top of his lungs.  My Dad worked on Saturdays doing the books for a golf club nearby, since providing for a family of six children meant that having more than one day off a week was a luxury he could not afford.  But Saturdays were fun even for him and he got an enormous kick out of waking up sleepy head children and putting us to work.  He would write out a list and put it on the refrigerator with chores for the boys and chores for the girls, and since there were three of each, it was pretty much fair.  My parents had this part worked out ever since we argued about whose bowl of ice cream was bigger and my mother announced that she had weighed them.  Peering into our ice cream bowls and giving side long glances to each other, my brothers and sisters and I didn’t know how to respond to this logic and so we accepted then and there that our parents could be trusted to dole out portions of goodness equitably. The last thing my Dad would say on a Saturday morning before heading out the door, was, “Help your mother.”  And so, we did and a clatter of sound ensued as six tumbling children ran to the kitchen to see what was on the list. 

          Arranging sounds in a home is akin to arranging furniture. Just as a traffic pattern can direct a flow of people easily from one place to the next, sound is part of the process of elevating the comfort level in the places where we live.  There is a hum of activity that follows every person as they walk through their homes, whether it be the rumpled walk of a sweat pant clad late riser toward the kitchen, or the crisp clack clack of heels on a wood floor getting ready to head out to work in the early morning hours of a work day.  When the girls are coming over, I can tell who enters, even if I’m was on a different floor, by the sound of their footsteps.  When all the kids are home, spouses and grand-babies in tow, I think about the sounds as much as I think about the food.  The initial hubbub and banter needs to be centered like the hub of a large and well-functioning wheel.  We want to be near and pulled toward each other with the sounds of our hugs and kisses and greetings.  It is a centrifugal force of love and reveling in its power centers each member of the family.  We are here and this is now.  Then I shoo everyone away to the other parts of the home and the sounds disperse and permeate the walls everywhere.  These sounds become trapped in our memories like dust balls under the beds, but never needing or wanting to be swept up.  We want to discover them at hidden moments of wonder come across like a dazzling piece of bright glass in the sand and oh!

          I sit at the kitchen table with Kimberly, my eldest daughter, and she softly talks to me about my grand-baby as she nurses and we both smile as the sounds of a feeding baby relishing in mother’s milk and all the comfort and joy an infant can muster is evident in star fish hand clutching Mommy’s breast.  One room away in the dining room, two more daughters, Kerianne and Miranda set the table for dinner which will be fun as the ‘red card box’ will be prominently set out at my place, to be passed around, cards pulled, cajoling us into riotous conversation about topics such as what would we do with a million dollars if we had it to spend in a single day.  The sound of wine glasses chinking as they are taken out of butler’s pantry cabinets are muffled by the walls separating the kitchen from the dining room, but make a soprano note like a bell randomly struck.  The low notes of men talking can be heard from the family room and the topic appears to be automotive and will be confirmed later as Andy and Ken and Jeremy and Patrick all pile out the door to go to the nearest dealership to look at pick-ups.  From the lower level we hear the clatter of dominos splaying out on the wood floor as Summer, our two-year-old grand-daughter pours out a metal box of delight.  She is talking gibberish to her Mommy and Daddy and the laughter along with the up and down sounds of adult voices mixed with toddler whimsy is adorable to our familial ears.

All of these sounds are distinct and separate, and yet they provide a symphony of family tradition that only a home can produce.  In arranging rooms, I am arranging lives and giving a place and purpose for everyone to sing their own song.  Andy and I dreamed of this when we bought this old house.  The first time we saw it had been with a realtor, whom we had never met before and before we left, we went out the front door, across the wide and spacious front porch, to the front sidewalk beyond and turned around and looked back at the house on the hill. Andy put his arm around my waist. We both looked up at the house and were picturing family here and friends visiting and imparting a vision of life to not just ourselves but to those we have the elegance and privilege to impact. Now, as I hear the sounds of family on every floor and from every room, this dream has been realized, even though the sounds are mixed with the nightmare of remodeling horror stories.  But even the sounds of hammer and nail can’t drown out the comfort of bare feet on wood floors in an old house that is ours.  

So, I clean on Saturdays in honor of my Dad’s ritual.  I remember my brothers hosing down the back patio and the laughter that went along with the mess, and me inside the green station wagon scrubbing the seats with my sister Jenny.  I was in the front and she was in the back and we would make faces at my brothers as they hosed off the outside of the car.  I don’t know how my parents could stand it, but I suppose my Mom got a few minutes peace inside the house with the four big kids outside creating havoc. I can still hear my father’s sing-song directive that it is a beautiful day, when I close my eyes.  This has set the tone for my world view on mornings and I know that it comes from parents who were thoughtful in their approach to child-raising at a time when everyone had lots of kids and neighborhoods at night has foraging groups of young children running around playing kick the can and coming home to the sound of a whistle.  I take my gentle memories of my parents who have been gone for a long time, and nestle them on the gorgeously arranged shelves in my mind’s closet of memories.  I close the door reverently until next time.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: