What brings back a memory that you thought long forgotten? Although it is said that scent is the most powerful memory trigger, I’ve found that noises often take me back in time. Living in the same house where I grew up, I probably have more memories around me waiting to be remembered than most.
My dad built my house in 1951 and mom had him install a built-in ironing board. This is a wooden board which has a distinct sound when you are setting it up, ironing, and when you take it down and shut the door. One Sunday morning while I was still in bed, I heard Karrie set up the board and begin ironing her Sunday best. I closed my eyes and listened to the creaks and groans of the ironing board and I saw my mother. The round clothes basket at her feet, the clothes dampened and rolled waiting to be next, the pressing cloth beside the heavy shiny iron, the extra hangers on the drawer handles. I remembered her pressing dad’s work shirts, the sheets and pillowcases, her dresses, and hankies. All this done early in the morning as I still lay in bed. I enjoyed the melody of the ironing board as it sang of my mother’s hard work for her family.
This same house has hardwood floors that creak. When Loran and I were growing up, Dad worked for the railroad and worked through the nights. We often tiptoed through the house, skillfully avoiding the loudest creaks and groans of the floor as Dad slept. Trying to sneak around the house at night was impossible. Just inside my bedroom door, there is a spot that squeaks. At night when my less than 5 pound cat walks into my bedroom (which was my parents room), I hear that board squeak and know that I will soon feel her jump onto the bed. But that little squeak reminds me of the times I would open the door to see if mom was awake, to let her know I was home from youth group, or that I needed to talk with her. If the thunk of the doorknob didn’t wake her, the floor did.
Other memories of sound in my childhood include the downspout that used to be outside the corner of my room. The old metal gutters and downspout often woke me in the middle of the night during a downpour. But in a soft gentle rain the rhythm of the downspout coaxed me to stay asleep.
I remember the metal on metal creak of the swing chain as I kicked my feet to fly higher and higher. I remember the clank of the old pump, then the swish of wonderfully cool water as I rinsed off my feet after a trip into the chicken coop. I remember the tiny “cheep”, “cheep” of 60 baby chicks as they huddled under the heat lamp. And I remember the muffled sounds of voices – Grandma and Grampa, Mother and Dad – as I drifted off to sleep at night, knowing I was safe and loved.
Tonight as I sit in my library and write, the windows are open and I hear the noises of summer – tree frogs, crickets, locust, other unknown critters. I feel the gentle breeze and I thank God for the wonderful memories of living my childhood in the Midwest, in this home, in this family.