I have never lived in the country. I grew up in Gilman, Minnesota, a small quiet town about twenty miles northeast of St. Cloud with two-hundred living souls and a lot more departed in the graveyard behind the church. But it was still a town.
At age nine, our family uprooted and moved to St. Paul. Instead of a three street community with two stop signs and a corn field out the back door, there was house after house on Thomas Avenue. There was a lot more noise too. Thomas was not a peaceful street, an alternative to University Avenue for those seeking a route to downtown. There were big diesel buses and frequent sirens, along with empty train cars slamming into each other as they coupled near the Koppers Coke Company at the end of Hamline Avenue. While many decry the loss of quiet in a city, there is a predictability about familiar sounds that anchor the routines of a day.
In Duluth, before the declaration of a new day from the Chickadees, the starts and stops of the paper guy in his truck in the middle of the night signal the green News Tribune box half way across the yard has been filled. On cold mornings, after a downwind walk to the street, and checking if the moon is till up there where it belongs, the return to the house becomes a little more challenging against a brisk breeze from the northwest.
Upon a return to the kitchen, the sound of the espresso maker signals that stimulants are on the way. A high-pitched whistle followed by a whooshing discharge of steam into milk means the morning latte will be hot. No hastily poured half-and-half from a crusty carton will cool the tonic.
Sitting at the kitchen table reading the horoscope and catching up on Dear Abby while sipping a pre-sunrise latte, I know it’s time to check the bird feeders when I hear the guy down the street accelerate his WRX down Hutchinson at 6:30. His muffler reverberations can be counted on if I want to set my watch as he rows through the gears on his way to work.
Waste Management and Hartel’s contribute to the hubbub of school busses and trucks on Piedmont. Lights flashing, hydraulics moaning and the beep, beep, beep of the big trucks in reverse, are a reminder that before the first cup of coffee gets onboard, better get the garbage out. Memory loss about the day of the week or oversleeping, creates a rush to the garage and then the rumble of the containers to the curb in anticipation of the behemoths swallowing the leftovers of life.
Sounds bracket our days. There is a kind of comfort and predictability about what comes next. Changes of schedule, whenever they come, and breaks in routine create anxiety and concern. We ask, “What’s wrong?” Just ask the parent half asleep waiting for their kid to come home after work or being out with friends.