Sounds of summer’s end


Dusk is just settling over the schoolyard on this warm June evening. We’re lining up — two by two — my high school classmates and me, preparing to begin our march into the auditorium for the final ritual of our young lives together.

The diploma each of us is about to receive is our passport to the world — beyond the small Minnesota town where we’ve grown up — and to whatever lies ahead.

As the solemn strains of Pomp and Circumstance waft from inside, signaling the procession to begin, I think back to what we’re leaving behind. There were other summer nights like this one with music of their own:

The merry-go-round

It’s the end of August and the last night of the county fair with its livestock exhibits and carnival rides and the gypsy-camp followers who so fascinate me at age 12. Gaudy, exotic, the fair eclipses the boredom of small-town routine. I love it. But the fair also signals the end of summer.  It means soon there will be school; our glorious vacation will come to an end. The merry-go-round’s tinny, high-pitched tunes carry faintly from the fairgrounds to the screened porch of our house, where my parents and I listen in the dark.

The radio

It’s a Saturday night in July. Ardie, Harriet, Joanie and me are cruising around town with farm boys. We’re squeezed in the back seat of Roger’s dad’s car — a 1953 Hudson sedan, low slung — flat looking. Smart-alecky Roger and Neal are in front, windows wide open, elbows jammed out.

The radio is blaring Sh-boom, Sh-boom by The Crew Cuts until Roger fiddles with the dial. “Whiskey, rye whiskey, I cry, If I don’t get rye whiskey, well, I think I will die,” explodes onto the airwaves. Roger has hit on Radio Del Rio — Country Station XERA-AM! All 500,000 watts are beaming the twangy voice of Tex Ritter north to Minnesota from Del Rio, Texas, near the Mexican border!

A sophisticated gearhead-techie friend explains that the “border blaster” Radio Station XERA-AM could reach Minnesota because it transmitted a high-powered signal that bounced off the ionosphere, high above the earth, and reflected back to earth a great distance away from its Texas broadcast tower.

This same friend so loved his childhood cat’s purr that he recorded it. He also loves hearing a well-tuned boat engine, so he recorded that, too! Waves slapping the shore of Lake Minnetonka remind him faintly and pleasantly of the beaches of Hawaii where he once lived.

The mourning dove

Sounds of all kinds trigger memories, emotions. When I hear mourning doves calling, I drift back to I know not when. Perhaps my infancy? Their soft cooing is the first sound I remember ever hearing.

Another mystery: Why does a train whistle late at night make me sad? It’s wailing somewhere off in the distance…then it’s gone. Quiet returns, and with it melancholy.

Could it be because a train whistle evokes the wistful enchantment of travel’s exotic nature? This large behemoth is thundering across the plains — and it’s leaving me behind.

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].