“Sounds From Long Ago”

alarmclock

Apparently I have two categories of readers, those relatively my own age and those who find my writings fascinating because of my age. This particular post is meant to inform the younger readers and remind the older readers about sounds that have largely disappeared from ordinary American lives.

The first is the tick-tock of the bedside alarm clock, combined with its dreadful blare of an alarm. These clocks had to be wound by hand and had an alarm setting of on and off. There was no “snooze” option on the theory, I suppose, that its users had the good sense to get up when the noise went off. Even my wrist watch no longer ticks but glides along soundlessly powered by a little battery. Of course, I have to replace the battery instead of winding it for free. (When I was growing up the only thing I owned that used a battery was my flashlight. Now I buy them by the dozen for all sorts of devices and toys.)

The other noise that has disappeared is the click-clack of the typewriter keys. Of course typewriters have also disappeared, but that is material for a separate post. One of most constant memories of college is the relentless noise of girls typing their papers. The noise was so annoying that the dorms had places set aside for typing so that others could sleep while last minute assignments were being completed.

And finally the noise of the train going by our home five times a day dwindled gradually throughout my childhood. The steam engines with their distinctive noise disappeared first, then the diesel runs quit as the mills ran out of timber to make into furniture. I always enjoyed the train noise, and the distant rumble of  my near by highway is not any compensation.

 

19 thoughts on ““Sounds From Long Ago”

  1. When I worked for my lawyer boss who was married to Teddy Roosevelt’s granddaughter, we used typewriters and had no computers at all. The job only ended about five years ago when he passed away, but for 17+ years I used typewriters only, to do accounting and tax forms and legal documents. When I got there they still used carbon paper, which I left in the drawer in favour of making xeroxes for our records. The place was a wonderful storehouse of old items. It was an old bank building built in the 1830-50s or so, in Vermont. Sadly, it was bought by some very disreputable people and is rather trashy now. Shame about that.

    1. I had a request from a young reader to write more about these “olden days.” So many things like carbon paper have disappeared. Funny that cc is still used even though its original meaning is long gone.

      1. Yeah, cc: and bcc: Things have also been corrupted, like ‘hashtag’ for what used to be ‘hatch’ like a ‘crosshatch’, that little tictactoe grid which indeed was, and is, little crossed lines.

        1. You’re welcome. I wouldn’t be good with any of the acronyms though–it drives me crazy when people blithely write about the XYZ or whatever, and NEVER spell it out, even the first time.

  2. What a fantastic post! Those are sounds, that helped us become responsible adults as we grew.
    “The snooze setting”. What a horrible invention. It taught many to be lazy. The old clocks rang or buzzed, and you knew it was time to get up.
    Trains, from a distance they can be a lonely sound, or one of pleasure, depending on your memories.
    I keep a large office cloth, to me the tick tock is relaxing.

  3. Elizabeth, I like how you wrote this post in the context of our senses – in this case, “sounds that have largely disappeared from ordinary American lives.” – I had to pause for a moment of silent meditation.

    Yes, I remember learning to tell time on a ticking wind-up alarm clock. My mother presented me with my “very own” clock and made me responsible for winding it, and setting it to get myself out of bed and ready for school on time. Thanks for the memories.

  4. I enjoyed this post too, Elizabeth. Being reminded of those long lost sounds brought back a whole range of memories. It’s said that smell evokes nostalgic memories; for me it’s sound.

  5. The minute I saw “sounds” I knew I had to take a minute to read this. Anything that invokes the senses gets my attention. I used to love the sound of manual typewriters clacking, especially a roomful of them. Electric typewriters not so much, though once IBM came out with its Selectric and Executive typewriters, with their quieter balls, I changed my, er, tune.

    Alarm clocks were so jarring that I took my grandfather’s advice—he was a farmer—and taught myself to waken without one. Turns out our bodies are quite responsive to such suggestions.

    The sound I love most is the quiet when we visit my mom, who lives in the country. In the morning we waken to birdsong. May that be one sound that every new generation discovers with pleasure.

      1. A flock of crows can put up quite a racket! But I value crows and ravens highly and used to enjoy their morning squawking when we had big trees outside our window. An acquired taste perhaps?

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