A few nights ago, while sitting on my front porch in the early evening, I heard one of the two sounds of a summer night that I love most. It made me think of a scene (which also takes place in the evening) from one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, in which George Bailey asks his Uncle Billy, “You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?” Uncle Billy, a simple-minded joker, replied, “Uh-huh. Breakfast is served. Lunch is served. Dinner…” and here George cuts him off with the answer, “No, no, no, no! Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles.” What I heard that night was the distant whistle of a train, and there was something about hearing it on a summer night that made it even better. I don’t live where I hear anchor chains, and although I am close enough to an airport to hear plane motors, they don’t have the same effect on me as the train whistle. Maybe it’s that summer is a season of slowing down, relaxing on a front porch with a glass of cold lemonade (hear that ice clinking in the glass?), or on vacation away from the hustle and bustle of reality. You tend to move slower when it gets hot, and when you slow down, you notice more. I hear plane motors year round, but it’s only in the quiet of a summer night that I’ll catch the sound of a train whistle. A train whistle sounds old-fashioned to me, and I tend to favor anything old-fashioned. There’s an understated grace to the sound of a train whistle, especially when it’s off in the distance. Some nights, if it’s quiet enough, I can hear the click-clack of the train traveling along the track. I’m not a big fan of flying, not because of fear, but because I like to see where I am traveling through. When I hear that train whistle on summer nights, I imagine myself on it, traveling through the countryside watching the changes in landscape and absorbing the character of all the towns, big and small, that you pass through. That summer whistle reminds me too of the letters my grandfather wrote to me years ago when he traveled across country by train. I felt like I was in the seat next to him as I read about the cast of characters he met along each leg of the journey, and the breathtaking scenery as they wove through mountain passes that only the train could travel.
Those memories of my grandfather bring me to my other favorite summer night sound: A baseball game on a transistor radio. Talk about old-fashioned! When I was a kid, I used to spend a week every summer at my grandparents’ house in a rural area. The only sound at night, aside from the crickets, was my grandfather’s transistor radio propped up on the headboard of his bed as he fell asleep to the sounds of a baseball game. My grandfather, being from Rhode Island, was a die-hard Red Sox fan, but I don’t think it really mattered who was playing. He loved baseball and I think he just loved the sounds of the game. Not seeing the game, but relying instead on the sounds of the crowd, the inflections in the announcers’ voices when a play excited them, and sometimes even hearing the bat hit the ball made it all more vivid to me. Sometimes I would lie and say a nightmare had scared me, just so I could lay in my grandfather’s bed and listen to the game with him. “Alright, Marie (his nickname for me), c’mon.” was all he would say. I would lie there with my hands behind my head, just like him, and listen in the dark. When I would hear the soft sounds of his snoring a while later, that was my cue to head back downstairs. Years later, when my grandfather had long since passed away and my husband and I moved into the house we live in now, I was reminded of that sweet summer sound when through our bedroom window drifted the sounds of a baseball game being broadcast on the radio. It seems that we had a neighbor who was a baseball referee and would listen to the games in his backyard at night. When one of my other neighbors complained to me about it the next day, my response was “Oh, I hope there’s a game tonight because I love that sound!”
There are many other summer sounds that I like, but these two are the ones that gently usher in the summer night in a way that leaves a smile on my face, ignites excitement for travels yet to be had, and stirs up comforting childhood memories. I hope you enjoy whatever sounds this summer that do the same for you!