Sharon Randall: Things heard and not heard

  • Posted: Saturday, April 6, 2013 12:17 a.m.
Sharon Randall
Sharon Randall

Yes, it was annoying. I kept meaning to do something about it. But I didn’t. And gradually, I got used to it. I didn’t notice it anymore. Except when my husband complained.

“Don’t you hear that?” he’d say. “Doesn’t it bug you?”

I’d shrug it off and keep loading the dishwasher. I’ve shrugged off a lot of stuff in my years. Don’t even try to tell me that you haven’t, too.

Then my boy, my youngest, came to visit with his wife and their 2-year-old and their 3-month-old baby. And I could not ignore it anymore.

When the boy was little, about the size his 2-year-old is now, he’d take my face in his sticky hands and make me look in his blue eyes until he was sure I heard what he wanted to say.

He still does. Not with his hands, but with his voice. It’s big and deep and resonant and commanding like a teacher’s.

That is what he is: A teacher. In more ways than one.

I like to brag that he teaches third grade at the school where he once nearly got kicked out of third grade. If that’s a bit of an overstatement, too bad. I’m his mother. I’m allowed.

This morning, he stood in my kitchen and said, “Mom, doesn’t that sound bother you?”

I looked up from loading the dishwasher. “What sound?”

“This one,” he said. He opened and shut the door on the fridge, causing a soft, melodic clanging of a half-dozen glass vases that I had stored on its top.

“Oh, that?” I said. “I’m used to it. I don’t hear it anymore.”

He laughed. Then he began to explain in his patient, teaching voice why exactly I did, in fact, hear it loud and clear.

Babies, he said, hear in their mothers’ wombs. Dogs and cats prick their ears in their sleep. We all hear and react — with joy or fear or amusement or alarm — to various sounds, whether we think we hear them or not.

I smiled, then told him a story.

As a child, I lived in a house that sat 50 yards, give or take, from a railroad track.

By day, I’d sit in an apple tree waiting for the train. When it passed, I’d pump my fist until the engineer blew the whistle.

This for me was supremely entertaining, far better than chasing cows or jumping barbed-wire fences or playing fetch with a dog that refused to fetch.

But at night, when I slept by an open window in a bed that shook with the rumble of the tracks and the roar of the engine and the whine of the whistle, I did not hear a thing.

At least, it never woke me.

But did I hear it? I don’t know. All I know is this: That sound is recorded somehow, somewhere, in my memory, in my cells, in the very marrow of my bones.

Even now, after all these years, when I hear the rumble and roar and whine of a freight train, it takes me back, not to that apple tree, but to that bed in that room in the dark of night.

Did I hear it? Yes, on some level, surely I did. There are many things I’ve heard without hearing — all etched, imprinted on my memory and my soul:

My parents arguing late at night. My mother weeping in the kitchen. My blind brother waking up to watch a sunrise. My babies snoring softly in their cribs. My teenagers sneaking in past curfew. My late husband fighting for a breath.

I want to tell my youngest, the teacher, about all those things, everything I have heard and not heard. But the time we have together is brief and busy with the comings and goings of a 2-year-old and his baby brother.

So, instead, I ask him to do his mother a favor: Take all those vases off the fridge and put them out in the garage. Which he does, without question. He’s good that way, my youngest.

My husband will be happy. And I won’t have to hear them clanging anymore.


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