Shhhh! Listen to ordinary sounds

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sometimes when I hear a train whistle, it takes me back to a special day when I took a sentimental journey. I boarded a train powered by a steam engine for a round trip from Birmingham to Sheffield. Having grown up close to a Southern Railways depot and commuting home from school several years by train, I was familiar with the chugging, roaring, and lurching movements of traveling by rail.

It had been many years since I had heard the clickety-click of the wheels and the whistle sounding as we rounded the bends. Once we were out of the railroad yards and underway, I left my seat to explore the other cars on the train. When I entered one car, I faced a large sign: “Please be quiet.” A few people put their hands to their lips to make sure I got the message. Puzzled, I looked around. Almost everyone in the car held a tape recorder. I got the message. They were recording every sound of the train as it sped toward its destination.

Back in my seat, I concentrated on what was happening in that car. I understood the enthusiasm of those people in their effort to preserve sounds of something they were losing. We all want to hold onto something we love. Obviously, they loved the old steam engines that no longer chugged back and forth from place to place. I would not have been along for the ride if I had not felt the same way. Nostalgia gripped me even before I boarded the train beside the dinky one-room ticket office. Oh, how I missed the majestic Birmingham Terminal Station. I had grieved its demise. I wondered if anyone had ever captured the sounds that echoed through that wonderful old building during the years it bustled with people day after day. The dispatcher’s voice echoed throughout the building when he announced the trains’ arrivals and departures. The soda fountain and magazine stand over in a corner even had its special sounds—the soft drawl of the clerk behind the counter, the register’s ring, and the clang of the change falling in the drawer.

I think of those who recorded the train sounds when I hear something I consider worth remembering, such as the whisper of waves nudging the beach on a stormy morning. Or when a squirrel quibbles with another hanging from a pecan tree limb in my back yard. I smile as I recall an anxious mother quail’s warning call to her chicks at the edge of the woods near our house. What is a lovelier sound than birdsong upon stepping outside in the morning?

My husband once left a tape recorder near our tree on a Christmas morning. The playback was a babble of happy voices, a priceless reminder of a special day.

Maybe it is time to heed that sign, “Please be quiet.” All of us would do well to pause and listen for ordinary, but wonderful sounds all around us.