Hum, thrum and roar: Modern sounds bring joy to those who hear them

By: John Kelly | Originally published here.



There are certain sights, sounds, and smells that can instantly transport us back through our memories, helping us to relive a moment long lost and long loved. In this month’s blog we are featuring perspectives from John Kelly as he shares stories and insights of sounds and the memories they inspire – from the distinctive “ker-sploit” of an old fashioned oil can to the whistling of a kettle.


Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles. Those are the three most exciting sounds in the world, at least according to George Bailey — a.k.a. Jimmy Stewart — in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Monday, I wrote about the natural sounds some of us find pleasing. Now, it’s time for sounds that are unnatural, if no less pleasing.


For Liz Lean of Woodstock, Md., it’s a distinctive sound you can hear in “The Wizard of Oz”: the ker-sploit an old-fashioned oil can makes when the lubricant is pumped. Wrote Liz: “My dad had a copper-colored version among his tools in the garage, and I would try it out just to hear the sound. It made for messy fingers.”


Many readers are sent into romantic reveries by the dulcet tones of internal combustion.


Ted Haynie has an old Chesapeake Bay skiff with a 1964 four-cylinder Gray Marine gas engine. “It has a straight-pipe exhaust and we mostly travel on Back Creek in Solomons, Md.,” wrote Ted. “The engine, as we hit a max speed of six knots, goes chugga-chugga-chugga. It sounds old and experienced, like its captain.”


Susan Hale lives on Kent Island, Md., on a quiet cove off the Chesapeake that’s home to several dead-rise work boats, the favorite boat of the commercial watermen. “I love waking up in the middle of the night to the ‘put put’ sound of their boats as they get ready to head out for a day’s work on the water, often as early as 3:30 or 4,” Susan wrote.


Doug Belote grew up on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He loved the sound the tires of the family car made as they rolled over the concrete roadbed of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. “This differed from the local asphalt sound and meant we were headed somewhere exciting,” wrote Doug, of Alexandria, Va.


The first 17 years of Richard O. Litsey’s life were spent living on U.S. Air Force bases, from Dover in Delaware to Misawa in Japan. “At night, the sound of jet aircraft taking off or landing at the flight line was like a lullaby to my ears,” wrote Richard, of Lewes, Del.


Joan Hartman Moore isn’t sure why, but she loves the chink, chink, chink of an extension ladder being raised somewhere in the neighborhood. “Will it be followed by the hours of varied sounds of a roof being re-shingled, or does it foretell the quiet work of window washers or house painters?” wrote Joan, of Alexandria.


Simple sounds, simple pleasures: “What’s not to love about the rumblings of an espresso machine coming alive?” wrote Mercedes Cutler of Vienna, Va. “When the rumblings subside, the treasured sounds of the milk frothing follow. It is a daily routine undertaken by my loving husband and the sounds never cease to delight.”


Speaking of which, Cathy Henry of Annandale, Va., loves a whistling teakettle, harbinger of shared conversation with a friend. “The kettle whistling reminds me of tea with my Irish grandma when I was a little girl,” wrote Cathy. “She would never settle for ‘weeds in a rag,’ as she called tea bags. Only brewed tea from the kettle would do.”


Putting on the headphones to listen to a jazz album is what does it for James Andrew Kelly of District Heights, Md. “The crackling sound when the needle comes in contact with the vinyl is one of the best pure sounds to me,” he wrote.


Arnold Sharpe was raised in the Berkeley Hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. As a boy in the 1940s, he would lay tucked in his bed with the window open, listening to a lonely train whistle that was accompanied by a distinct chug.


“Remembering the sound of the locomotive’s big driver wheels ‘breaking traction’ as she struggled out of Berkeley station headed for the High Sierra and into my imagination brings tears to this old man’s heart,” wrote Arnold, who now lives in Oregon City, Ore.


The nocturnal soundtrack to Laura Schmid’s childhood in Duluth, Minn., of the 1950s was the foghorn warning ships on Lake Superior.


“It was comforting, probably because I was happy to be in my warm bed and not outside in the dark, gloomy night,” wrote Laura, of Fairfax, Va. “Not everyone enjoyed having their sleep disrupted and eventually the old foghorn was retired.”


John Niccolls — who splits his time between Round Hill, Va., and his boat, the Mary Alyce — said he is quite deaf now. “But as a lifetime sailor, the sound I miss is that of the bow wave of a sloop,” he wrote. “And then there’s a sound that pleasantly disappears when, after sails are set, the engine is silenced and the waves take over. Have you experienced that?”


Blissful silence? Not as often as I’d like, John.

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