Whistle even while you don’t workPublished 10:55am Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Column: Tales from Exit 22
The wind whistled through my ears.
It did that a lot while my neighbor Old Man McGinty, the youngest Old Man McGinty ever, tried to wise me up.
“I whistle because it keeps the alligators out of my cornfields,” he said.
I told him that I’d never seen an alligator in a cornfield.
Old Man McGinty smiled a smile with more teeth missing than present and replied, “That’s because I whistle.”
I thought about whistling the other day. Halloween makes me think of whistling. Trick-or-treaters sometimes whistle as they walk past graveyards. They do so in order to mask their fear. Here at home, we hold Halloween early in September. It seems to surprise people when someone dressed as an earwig knocks on a door in September and says,”Trick or treat.”
I had just moved on from playing with Mr. Potato Head using real potatoes. I had discovered that I’d rather eat potatoes than play with them. Potatoes were so important in my diet that when I whined about being hungry between meals, my mother advised me to eat a cold potato. I had reached the age where the Frankenstein Monster didn’t frighten me because I knew I could outrun him. I had reached a time where I wanted to learn how to whistle. Whistling was on my bucket list. It was there with other important things like blowing a head-sized bubble from a wad of bubblegum. Whistling has been replaced by earbuds and cell phones, but when I was a boy, it was cool. Whistling was magic not unlike pulling a rabbit out of a hat or sawing a perfectly good woman in half.
Whistling was a rite of passage. My father whistled while milking cows, slopping hogs and driving tractors. He whistled while he worked. He also made a short whistle when he learned the price of something. It was an indication that no transaction would take place.
The world whistled. Teakettles and trains whistled. Guys whistled at pretty girls. Red-tailed hawks whistled overhead. Groundhogs (woodchucks) whistled enough to earn the nickname “whistlepigs.” The wind whistled through the cracks of our old house. Some things were as clean as a whistle. People weren’t just whistling Dixie.
My neighbor, Deerslayer, told me that he whistled at rabbits. He claimed that made a rabbit stop long enough so he could shoot it. Grandpa said that dentures made him an ex-whistler, and the only way he could whistle was by eating beans.
Popeye ate spinach and then whistled through his corncob pipe. I ate spinach but had no success whistling through a soap bubble pipe.
A boy in my class was a great whistler. He wasn’t until he lost a tooth. That turned him into a whistling prodigy. The problem was that he couldn’t stop whistling.
Lauren Bacall made me want to whistle when she said to Humphrey Bogart in the movie, “To Have and Have Not,” “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
My mother didn’t whistle. She hummed and most hummers aren’t whistlers. She had been taught, “When a woman whistles, the devil dances,” and “A whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither fit for God nor men.” A neighbor girl didn’t put any stock in that saying and could knock a man’s hat off with a whistle.
I wanted to be a whistling fool. I didn’t want to miss the turn to Whistletown. I wanted to whistle a happy tune.
I wet my whistle with Tang. It was what whistling astronauts drank. I puckered up just as Lauren Bacall had instructed and it wasn’t long before I was producing a decent whistle on both the exhale and inhale. It sounded better than my whistling nose when I had a cold. I cupped hands around my mouth to amplify the whistle.
I expanded my repertoire. I placed a blade of grass between my thumbs and blew across it. I pulled my bottom lip tightly across my lower teeth and whistled. I produced loud whistles but not loud enough.
I wanted to create an earsplitting whistle by placing two fingers against my lower lip. It was a challenge.
I remember well the day I first whistled by putting two fingers inside my mouth. It was in the hog house.
I’d remember it fondly had my hands been clean.
Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.