The sounds of yesterday

Ed Smith
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A few days ago, my sister and I visited — not together but separately by a few days — the beautiful old building in Moreton's Harbour that used to be home to the minister and his family — which, in the late ’40s, included us.

When we spoke together shortly after that, our memories of what was important to us as children during that time were remarkably similar. Mostly, they had to do with sounds.

The manse was somewhat separated from the rest of the community. It was built in over a hill in a beautiful little meadow surrounded by large trees. The only shortcoming to the beauty of the setting was that it was somewhat isolated from the rest of the place. I was six and she was three when we first arrived there.

Both of us discovered that, especially in summer and when we were very young, our main connection to the harbour was by the different sounds that drifted in over the hill from a very active fishing community. Pat said the other day that she could close her eyes 65 years later and still hear the sounds and still feel that she was sitting on the steps of that remarkable old building.

The sun would be warm on her face, she went on, and she'd close her eyes and try to imagine what was happening out over the hill. I knew exactly what she meant because I have done exactly the same thing myself.

In addition to linking me to the rest of the community back then, today it takes me back to the richness of that childhood. Further, I see how those sounds connect my past and my present in tangible ways.

I know most of you have stopped reading by now. This isn't an exciting or humorous or very interesting column to most people. I understand that, but please remember these are the dog days of August, so you can't expect much more. I am so very sorry but I intend to carry on. Perhaps I should have taken a holiday from column writing this summer.

Thing is, I'm afraid that if I do, they'll take the opportunity to lay me off once and for all. I could survive the loss of income, but not the ongoing contact with you.

Yesterday, I decided to experience that exercise once again. The sun was warm on our deck and the skies were blue. Seems we had a lot more of those days back when I was a child, although I don't think my childhood had much to do with it.

Anyway, I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes and listened. It was amazing! I highly recommend it as a leisure activity.

For the most part, the sounds I heard were innocuous and reminiscent of my childhood. My sister remembers mostly the sound of flies and bees buzzing in the warmth of the sun and among the flowers around the house.

Hearing those same soft sounds yesterday took me back almost at once to those lazy days as children playing in the garden. But it wasn't all play. I was preparing for life as an entrepreneur by cutting grass with a kitchen knife to sell to Mr. Harry Osmond to feed his big horse, Mac, for the coming winter. It would become almost immediately apparent that I couldn't handle the job myself, so I'd press my little sister into service, with a promise to share the profits.

By the time we had two of three handfuls laid out to dry, we discovered the vastly more interesting world of bumblebees and would spend the rest of the day catching them in bottles along with grasshoppers and ants.

I'm not sure how the various insects enjoyed being cooped up together, but it was all in the best interests of the zoo we were going to start as soon as we had enough specimens. Unfortunately, they kept dying on us in the bottle, so we never did reach that desirable level.

Consequently, both enterprises failed. The business never quite got off the ground and the zoo never made it out of the bottle.

The sound that I associate most with that time and those summer days is the sound of hammering. Floating up from the harbour would be an almost constant rat-a-tat-tat as men repaired stages and flakes, or replaced a bad plank in the bottom of a boat.

One day, when I was out in the harbour with my father, I saw the source of some of that hammering. A man was building a small shed on his wharf and in it he was drying enough salt fish for his winter. Up to the day of my accident 12 years ago, I have had within me the same need to salt down fish and dry it in the late summer sun. I did it every summer and fall in the shed my father and I built down by my cabin in beautiful St. Patrick's.

Once in a while, the sound of voices would drift across Joe Knight's garden as people made their way to Bridgeport along the road that ran close by the manse.

And then my reverie out on the warm deck was abruptly broken. A truck turned up the small hill on our street and whined its way past our house. A car horn sounded from somewhere further down the street and, off in the distance, a police siren hurried to some accident scene out on the highway.

There were no motor vehicles in Moretons Harbor.

I'm no expert here, but I wonder to what extent the sounds we associate with our childhood have an impact on our behaviours as adults, especially when those sounds are as significant as they were to my sister and me. Wouldn't be a bad topic for research by some adventurous psychology student. Perhaps it's already been done.

And so, back to the future.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.

His email address is

Geographic location: Moreton, Bridgeport, Springdale.His

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