Last month, our column dealt with a sound from the late 1860s in Kershaw County, the sound of the auctioneer’s gavel at a tax or bankruptcy sale as he hammered it down and said “sold” for a piece of county property. It was an unforgettable sound, especially if it were your property being sold.
Each of us has been given five ways to receive stimuli or information from our surroundings: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling. More often we receive stimuli by seeing and hearing, and in many cases, both of these senses may be involved simultaneously. When both senses are involved in an incident, we are more likely to remember it.
Over my lifetime of nearly 88 years, I remember sounds from at least 83 of them. During 1933-46 those would have been sounds from the rural setting of our farm at Cassatt and from attending Midway School and Cassatt Baptist Church.
Early on, I learned the sounds of dogs barking, cats meowing, horses or mules snorting, pigs squealing, cows lowing and a hen cackling when she laid an egg. The rooster crowing his deep throated “cock-a-doodle-do” at dawn each day made for an unforgettable sound. The sounds of birds chirping each morning as the sky lightened was easily remembered.
As I got older, I learned the sounds or songs of many Individual birds. I could easily remember the distinctive call of the bob white quail since my father often hunted quail and we sometimes ate them at mealtime. The mocking bird’s ability to shift from one bird’s call to another amused and interested me. I especially remember one mocking bird which mimicked the sounds of baby chicks as they chirped away.
The tick-tock of the clock sitting on our mantel which struck on the half hour and the hour was a recurring and comforting sound. In fact, my wife and I have her parents’ clock dating from the 1920s on our mantel today.
I once heard a story about Zeb and Mary, two very senior citizens who were in bed when their clock in the hall struck 13 times. Mary shook Zeb awake and frantically exclaimed to him, “Wake up Zeb! It’s later than it’s ever been.”
Another clock story involved my mother. She always came to us boys’ room about one minute after the clock struck 6 a.m. and would say to us. “Get up boys. It’s ‘going on’ 7 o’clock.” That was technically true but it would be “going on” 7 o’clock for the next 59 minutes.
Another time-related sound was a train’s whistle in the late morning on the Seaboard Railroad about a mile from our home. We knew it was the mail train and it came along a little after 11 each day.
Who has not heard the plaintive wail of a train whistle and associated other things with it? Who has not heard these lines from a long ago song, “Down in the valley, the valley so low, late in the evening hear the train blow”?
In 1889, Charles W. Birchmore, editor of the Wateree Messenger, told another clock story about Thomas W. Pegues of Cheraw who had come to Camden to be editor of the Camden Journal. Soon after his arrival, he was standing on the street near the town clock when it struck. He said to a friend, “Did you hear that strike on the blacksmith’s anvil. It’s about the loudest I have ever heard.” Evidently Cheraw must have been a much smaller and quieter town than Camden in the 1830s. Pegues was told he had heard the town clock strike.
The hammer on the blacksmith’s anvil became a part of my sound memory bank when I was 10 to 12 years old and took our mules to get them shod at Enslow McDowell’s blacksmith shop about 3 miles from our home. He pounded away on his anvil after heating up the mule shoes in his forge and shaped them to fit the mules’ feet. He also pumped his bellows to keep the forge heat at a bright cheery red. I have never forgotten that experience!
Later, while attending Midway School and even later attending the University of South Carolina, my blacksmith knowledge served me in good stead when I was introduced to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Village Blacksmith. The following two excerpts include many blacksmith sounds.
Week in week out from morn to night, you can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge with measured beat and slow,
Like a sextant ringing the village bell when the evening sun is low.
Thus on the flaming forge of life our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on the sounding anvil shaped each burning deed and thought.
The sights and sounds of the blacksmith shop of my youth had now transported me across a threshold into a classic of American literature, The Village Blacksmith. I loved the poem so much until I committed it to memory, and after more than 70 years, I can still recite most of it.
Another historical poem which caught my attention in high school was Longfellow’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. “Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere on the 18th of April in ’75. Hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year.” When another couple and my wife and I spent a day in Boston in 1989, I was able to recite the poem to them as we saw some of the landmarks mentioned in the poem.
One other piece of literature reminded me of many sounds I knew: The Bible. When I read about Christ’s disciple Peter crying after hearing the cock crow the third time, I understood.
While in the army I acquired another group of sounds, reveille, taps, your left your right, the thud of marching boots in cadence, mail call -- sound off, one, two, three, four -- and a host of others.
I married and we had three children. Over time, many other sounds were added to my memory, some pleasant and some sad. A few are: the first cry of my first child, the last breath of my oldest brother, listening to rain falling on a tin roof while in bed all snuggled in a warm blanket, a tree falling on my home during Hurricane Hugo, surf lapping the shore at Edisto Beach, a whispered “I love you” in my ear, and the squeak of my grandmother’s rocking chair.
One final sound I learned was the noise a snake makes when it slithers along in the woods. I often roamed in the woods as a teenager and learned to listen for snakes as well as look for them. I had heard the dreaded “singing” of the rattles of a canebrake rattlesnake a few times and have never forgotten the sound. In 1965, when I took my young son on a tramp through the woods, I learned I could still hear the slither of a snake on leafs.
With my shift from a rural setting to an urban one, changes in communication and transportation and many other technical advances during the last half of my life came many changes in sounds I remembered. Each generation likely has a core of remembered sounds which differ.
You may wish to reminisce as I have done, and write down some of the more memorable sounds of your life. If you do so, be prepared to experience a wide range of emotions these sounds may trigger. A suggestion is to suppress many of the “bad” sounds and concentrate on the “good” or more positive ones.