Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sounds From a Neighborhood

The sounds of a neighborhood vary day to today.  As I write this, it is a Monday, my day off normally, but not for most people.  I don't wake to the neighbor's car leaving for work, a large stand of trees between this place and hers.   I wake to the alarm clock, warm some cornbread to be served with maple syrup for our breakfast, then sit down in the office to contemplate the day after Partner leaves for his job in the city.

I'm surprised how quiet it is outside, the kids all inside the local Catholic school. Mom's back home to tend to the children not yet in school or to work, Dad's off at work, the retirees in the neighborhood, staying inside, out of single digit temperatures.  Off in the distance the wail of a police siren.  The ground is hard and knotted, the houses stare silently forward, not acknowledging anything that exists in their peripheral vision. The morning light falls down upon their steps, without sound.  That lack of sound does not seem odd, it is simply Winter.
In Summer, the neighborhood takes on a whole other depth of sound.  There is the bright, disorderly cry of lawnmowers firing up, the small tidy yards of an older neighborhood, not taking all day to mow, but the precision of their care reflects on the owners pride in their home.  There are no homeowners association rules, one neighbor's bright purple door standing out at attention, but with the colorful flowers that normally adorn the front and the deep rosy hue of the brick, it suits the house.  There are a couple of kids on bikes, zooming up and down the sidewalks, as off in the distance their dog barks for their return.  In the distance the sound of church bells, there in the month of brides, paced faithfully and serene, the sounds of the bells like shafts of light among the soft green leaves, yellow butterflies flicking on the grass like flecks of sun.

The sounds continue into evening, a summer shower off of the lake, releasing the scent of flowers into the damp air, crickets sawing away in the grass with a sound you can almost feel as a tickle on the skin,  There is the wave of a neighbor, as they take in the paper,  the clink of a couple of glasses of mint julep, there in the small traveling island of silence that follows us to the front porch.
There is no formal neighborhood watch here, but we do.  We notice when the newspapers pile up at someones house, and check to make sure they are OK.  We watch out for one another. We note the strange car parked on the street, a teenage boy just stopping to visit with the pretty teenage girl down the road.

We know who has had a new child, by the toys that sprout in the yard, like colorful flowers, and we note when a house grows silent, a sign gone up for a quick sale, the owner having passed away, time consuming not just courage but muscle and bone, until nothing was left but a frail form draped in a white sheet, like a piece of furniture unused.  We didn't notice the exact time of leaving, but can't help but speak of the remains.
The house behind has been silent for a long time.  It's a tall, well kept place but with no bathroom on the main floor, and wiring that has seen more than one great War, it's not going to sell quickly.  But it's being maintained, other neighbors tending to the yard as the realtor tends to the inside, as we watch for the day a moving truck comes in, and bread is baked to take over to welcome the new neighbors in a house that will once again, live and laugh.

From the floor in my little office, comes a rumble, a growl.  There is no one on the street, no person walking past.  Yet four minutes later, the UPS struck arrives, the dog can hear it even as it makes it's turn from the main road onto this little side street, a canines super hearing that can detect his arch enemy the UPS truck or a crumb dropping in the kitchen.  He barks ferociously at the driver, who, through the glass window, simply smiles, knowing that roar is a black lab with no will to bite. I open the door for the box, a rush of cold air coming in, the front room now smelling of trees, as it goes silent again, the dog turning around twice on the couch, before drifting off to sleep again.
A bird blows onto the sill, like a bright scrap of paper,  his heart pumping in his throat, faster than any pulse.  He looks into the house, then away, then into the glass again, as if listening, only to dart away as the clock chimes on the hour, then ceases.  The chime fills the whole house.  Perhaps it's just sound, or perhaps it's  all time, grievance and grief, manifesting as sound for just one instant, as planets and gears align. It's a moment, wherein one bird believes he is immortal, and in that instant, perhaps he  is. Only when that sound  stops, does time come to life and by then, he is gone.  

The only sound now, that of breath and the tick of that old clock.  I don't deliberately listen to it, the ticks seemingly beyond the realm of hearing, then in a moment, with that one tick your ears respond to, you are acutely aware, of the long diminishing train of time you did not hear.  How many ticks in this house in a hundred years.  How many after I am long gone?  Yet, I feel the presence of others that have lived here, for they perhaps aren't truly dead, but simply were worn down by the minute clicking of small gears. The echo of those that sat in this room, do not disturb me, they are part of this house, the sound of wood, the creak one of murmuring bones, the air that taps on ancient glass,  speaks of deep winds that witnessed more than time.
I had planned on another country home, but my heart took me here, this quiet village in the shadow of a big city, an old house I fell in love with the first time I entered it.   It has sights and sounds that I would have missed out on 100 acres, it has noise and neighbors and a number of reasons not close, but out there,  that means a gun safe buried deep within a wall.  But I'm a short drive to many  friends, a walk to a little Polish bakery and a good Irish Pub, the cheery "hello!" as neighbors  spot a familiar face coming in for a pint or simply a mug of good tea and a hearty bowl of stew.  On the return walk  home, the windows light up like sunshine, as I stomp my shadow into the steps, happy to be home.

At the end of this day, the shop growing cold, I take a quick walk before dinner.  As the neighborhood ticks outside, a slow and steady beat, comes the sound of the trains, the tracks a half mile away, carrying a sound on the air that is as comforting as childhood.  I watch the movement that is static serenity and labored exhaust, a click, click as it moves away,  through eternal trees, faded to thick sky, the train displacing air.  What is that formula about the displacement of air?  Or was that only  in water that Archimedes of Syracuse calculated human displacement of.  I put my hand on my hip and only displace air.  Reductio ad absurdum, the absurdity of human logic where a two pound piece of forged steel on a hip weighs more than the form carrying it.
Shadows lengthening, I hurry on back to the house. The tick of my watch and the sound of the train fade away, as if running through another place, someplace far from where this life ended up. I approach the little bungalow, a sheen of ice on the porch, the empty lattice by the porch, the front guard of circumstance waiting for summer flowerings.

It's the last place I ever expected to live, but I am blessed to be here.  I ascend the stairs, the air smelling of trees,  clutching the old key to the back door, there on a little ring with a train etched on it.  In the growing dark, I don't really see it, but I feel it, there in my hands, clutching that little anchor to a life in a small village, a life unexpected, but as welcoming as home..  The house sighs as I open the door;  I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, moving away from the mirror into the warmth, my form darting out of the mirror,  the sound, tick, tock, tick, breath that breathes life back into this old house.


  1. I have a small hand wound wall clock that chimes on the half hour and hour. It came from a house much like yours but not mine from far away.

    There is a huge Broadway Grandfather clock at a friends house. It has been there for decades. I always thought of it as the heart of the house.

    I too relish the sounds of the CSX lines close to here. I hear the moaning of the horns as the trains move back and forth.

    I also notice more the fact now that a clock is not marking my limited time here than the fact it is doing so. I need to wind it and miss it when it goes silent more than the fact it chimes for the full 24 hour cycle.

    Weird. I lament the fact that something is NOT commenting on our limited time here and notice when it is not.

    Again an excellent post. I don't know how you craft words so well to move my emotions.

  2. My grandfather had a hobby of restoring clocks. His small shop was filled with clocks in all stages of repair and some that were to be retrieved or sold.

    Inside his home was an accumulation of every type of clock known. They were on shelves, hung on the wall, or stood in various places; the brass pendulums steadily swinging behind the glass doors of polished wood cabinets.

    On the hour, they would ring, ding, buzz, or chime; a cacophony of noise accentuated with Westminster chimes and different cuckoos as small carved birds appeared from behind doors; only to disappear when their time was up.

    Quietly listening to the house was a surreal experience I'll never forget.

  3. Love your writing. Glad you are well again.

  4. Thanks for this and the previous post.
    I kind of chuckled on re-reading this and equating the shotgun shells in the first picture with "sounds of the neighborhood".
    Our neighborhood used to be more 9mm-ish.

  5. Our old farm house started as a log cabin in the 1700s and got added on to over the years to handle each new family and the litters of kids they had back then. We even have a graveyard just for this house as many never left the farm. I have tilled up a large clay marble lost by some child who probably moved further west. I found a photo of one of them taken when he was near 100 in the late 1800s in the mid west, was it his marble, there were so many kids, it is hard to tell. A coin from the 1700s, who lost that? We still drink water from the same spring and food from the same garden. There are even spear points where even older peoples camped here. A long time but the spring brought everyone to this spot.

  6. It sounds like a beautiful place to live. I think you picked well. Your words paint the most beautiful pictures of what really is, a magical place.

  7. Thank You Miss B...
    Your writing does the same thing to me that Gordon Baxter who wrote BAX SEAT for Flying Magazine (named his daughter Jenni after the airplane). With his writing you could smell the avgas and oil, feel the breeze or the warmth of the sun. Yeah I know, I've said it before, You write in Kodachrome, but you capture so much than That mere film is able to see. Through reading your stuff I can hear our coo coo clock and our Grandfather Clock ticking and the heat ticking through the baseboard during th winter. Reading the comments, I know I ain't the only one who hears my past in your writing.
    Thank You.

  8. We miss the quiet sounds of a home in the country ... birds, cows, an occasional passing vehicle ... the wind in the trees, distant thunder ... my grandfather's mantel clock, some 100 years old now, chiming with its baritone notes, marking the steady passage of time ... and yet assuring permanence somehow.

    Life in a city is not without advantages, but we've never been sure those outweigh the loss of other things.

  9. Warm wishes Brigid, Partner and Barkley -and all here- for a happy, healthy, fun 2014. May it be the best one ever and filled with joy. :)

  10. Keads - The chime of Mom and Dad's anniversary clock when I go home to visit has always been a comfort, even if it's very loud.

    Jess - That sounds like a wonderful place to be. Thank you for sharing that.

    Blaine - thank you, I rarely lose a week to illness, but I did on this one.

    Ed B - :-)

    Sunnybrook Farm - I love the history of your place. A neighbor two doors down was transferred and sold their house. At the garage sale was this green vase. They came over and gave it to us. It had belonged to the former owner of this house, who lived in it til her 90's and they wanted the house to have it back. It fits.

    Jane of Virginia - I'd prefer being further away from the city, but it's a beautiful little, quiet neighborhood, and easy for Partner to get to both airports and work on short notice.

    Rich in NC - that is indeed a compliment. I used to read his stuff all the time when I was a new pilot.

    Rev Paul - I understand, closer to retirement there will be a little cabin off grid somewhere for the weekends or when Partner is on the road and I want to get further away from things.

  11. Visiting this blog is like visiting an art gallery, with your magnificent photos complementing your exquisite prose poetry.

    Thanks for giving us these treasures, Brigid. Happy New Year!


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..