Column: Bustle of big city made sounds of Albert Lea mournful

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 22, 2005

I thought of them as the lonesome sounds when I was a kid. There were probably more of them than I actually remember now. More than 80 years ago towns were filled with quiet. Even now we are living in a fairly quiet place.

I didn’t realize this until the first time I visited New York. It was also the first time I traveled by air. Not on a jet plane. They had not yet come into the picture.

The planes had whirling deals on their noses and it’s all been so long ago that I can’t remember what they were called. I remember hoping when we actually rose in the air that they wouldn’t fall off.

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The thing that bothered me most was the awful feeling in my ears when we ascended and descended. After spending a week or so in New York, noisy New York, I came home to Albert Lea. Coming from the airport to Albert Lea by bus, I got off at the bus depot, then located in Hotel Albert.

It was a Sunday afternoon and the awful and complete silence engulfed me. My ears were still twitching from my trip through the air. My first shocking conclusion was that my problem with my ears in the air had left me completely stone deaf.

It was a relief to realize that I had come home to quiet. I love it.

My hometown in Nebraska was even more quiet than Albert Lea. Although we lived in town, I could hear, early in the morning, the coyotes from the countryside. It was a lonely sound. So was the cooing of the mourning doves, louder when the weather was rainy.

The train whistle, too, added a gloomy note. Too, there was almost always a dog howling some place close at hand. A superstitious lot, all of the younguns in town believed a howling dog presaged a death. I’m afraid we all selfishly hoped it wasn’t in anyway connected to us or ours.

All these sounds were clearest in the early morning. The regular whistle from the Wilson Packing Plant at 7 a.m., 12 noon and 4 p.m. was my “come home” signal in the summer.

I could go off on my own on my bicycle, after my few chores were completed, any time without discussion. I was expected home at lunch time and in the afternoon.

Probably to get me out from under my mother’s feet, my father now and then took me to the plant with him. He had a little shop there of his own with a stencil machine and other fascinating things to play with.

I remember one early morning when he let me blow the town whistle. It’s been so long ago I don’t remember how it was done. It seems to me you pulled a chain, releasing a shrill blast of steam that could be heard all over town. It was a moment that made me feel like the most elevated kid in town.

I liked the fire whistle, too. It may have had the same source as the town whistle, but it didn’t sound like it. The timbre was the same. The town whistle, though, gave forth one long blast, whereas the fire whistle gave a ghostly loop of “whoo, whoo, whoos,” fit to frighten the bravest.

It was the same blast that ushered in the New Year at midnight every Dec. 31st.

I liked the music that played while the merry-go-round went around. I liked the marching music at parades even that which played for the horrible Ku Klux Klan before I understood what the organization stood for.

There was always music at our house. Our old-fashioned Victrola was furnished with all kinds of records from jazz to grand opera. When radio came in we had operas every Saturday afternoon. I didn’t have much choice as to whether I listened or not, but gradually I became not only resigned, but pleased.

It sort of proved the late Dr. John Campbell’s theory expressed at a party where some of my friends were expressing the opinion that I must have some Norse background because I like Lutefisk.

Said John, “No, no. She’s purely Scots. They always come across as being smart. The fact is you can teach a Scottish kid anything if you catch him young enough.”

(Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column runs Thursday.)