Thursday, July 4, 2013

Street Noises

Woke early this morning and listened to the suburban silence.  Part of that may be because I don’t wear the hearing aids at night, and the birds are long past their springtime courtship showing off.  But I was remembering being wakened early on Fourth of July, back when I was a kid in Boston.  Boys were running down the middle of the street, shooting off firecrackers at the crack of dawn.
With the Great Depression in full swing, few boys in our neighborhood could afford to set off a whole chunk of braided-together firecrackers at once in a machine-gun volley.  Instead they carefully separated the wicks, even with the cheapest tiny ones,  pulled them out of the pack and lit them one by one, throwing as far as possible when a wick started to smolder. Few matches were involved – with your purchase at the corner store you received a couple of sticks of free punk.  Punk didn’t burn hot enough to light sparklers, of course, but sparklers were expensive, and they were for after dark anyhow.
            I got to remembering other street noises.  In bed early mornings, I’d hear a neighbor’s car – sharing his anxiety at the first two or three rattles of the starter, spaced apart so as not to “flood the engine”, then relief as the motor caught, and the rising pitch as he drove down the street, with an abrupt silence each time he changed gears.
         Or, early afternoons with an enforced nap, I’d lie there hearing the rattle
of a coal delivery truck.  Sometimes the metal chutes could be set up right from the little hatch that opened in the back of the dump truck.  Other times the deliveryman would have to hoist sacks,  or maneuver a wheelbarrow, back to the open basement window where a shorter chute rattled down to the coal bin.  Once, in the 1950s, I came across a gleaming chuck of anthracite – one of my sons took it to school for Show and Tell, and reported that most of the kids didn’t know what it was.
              And yes, I remember hearing the rattle of horse-drawn milk wagons.  But this post’s getting too long.  You’ll have to wait for another day to hear the nostalgia riff on delivery trucks.



  1. My husband, who worked in a lot of older homes in the Syracuse University area during his remodeling days, says that he'd occasionally encounter a coal chute in a basement with coal still in it. And our 1928 "stockbroker Tudor" out near LeMoyne College also still has a coal chute (but no coal).

  2. My guess is that the Brighton kids' failure to recognize coal was more about place than era. Coal was very much in use in the 50s in grandparents' furnace used coal, as did our next door neighbors'furnace. The neighbor used to save the coal scatter tags (see Ebay "coal scatter tags") for me to use as play money. Just like "Christmas Story", the roaring blazes in those furnaces scared me to death.

  3. By coincidence I was researching anthracite coal not too long ago. I was born in the 1950's. I have no experience with coal trucks. Surely they were long gone by then?

    That was a very evocative post though. I am very conscious of morning sounds too.