Eh? Could you speak up?

In my grade school, the sound that signified the end of a class was a very high pitched piercing tone.  It was a sharp sound that hurt more ears than it helped and it could be heard from several blocks away.  As a young girl I would walk to school with my sisters and we would listen for the sounds that would let us know if we were going to be tardy or not as there was an ‘early’ ring that signified class would start in 10 minutes.  If we heard that tone while still taking our time getting to school, we would each pick up our pace and arrive a little more sweaty than intended.  I never ran to school.  It’s not that I didn’t want to get to school to early, I just hated running.  I still do.  I’ve always said that the only way I’ll run, is if I’m being chased by something.

The same tone that would usher us into and out of class was also the tone that was sounded when we were having a fire drill.  Imagine sitting in a 3rd grade class. It’s a gorgeous day out, the windows are open and a slight breeze rattles some papers as it passes through.  The sound of birds is the only thing heard, as all the little 3rd grade heads are bent over their desks with their tongues sticking out to one side in silent concentration, bringing each Crayola masterpiece comes to life. A child trades the red crayon for the maroon crayon to apply the finishing touches to the project. Just as the tinted point presses into the page, a shrill piercing sound jolts the tiny hand across the paper creating a new coast line for Iceland making the masterpiece more akin to Picasso than the original intent of a copied map.  Startled voices rise in a frenzied rush to get into a formal line outside in the hallway, where each class has assembled, pressed against the wall, in order to keep the hallway open.  In an orderly fashion the students who are supposed to be quiet, but are not, follow the teacher outside to the far far vast wasteland of the playground where they then turn, as little soldiers, to await the all clear to return to the class.  Their little hearts still racing from the excitement of the disruption, they have survived another random fire drill.

the drill of it all

duck and cover

My oldest sister has told me that when she was in grade school, which was several years prior to me, they used to have to duck under their desks in practice for when the hydrogen bomb would drop.  Isn’t that quaint?  A bunch of squished burnt children huddled under their desks.  I think that was back when desks were still made in the good ol’ US of A and made to withstand anything.

John B Allen siren

The grade school that Sweet Husband attended had air raid horns.  He told me the horns would go off once weekly and all the kids would cover their ears in defense of hearing loss but the playing at recess would continue. I guess the Seattle area was more prone to Soviet attack in the mid 60’s than Idaho because the practice of hiding under ones desk did not continue by the time I started grade school. In fact, he said they would often use the air raid siren as a signal to storm the monkey bar castle, in mass, which was a stronghold of an opposing group of kids.  I love his sense of levity in the face of impending doom.

h2o tower

In the city park in the town where I grew up is a very tall water tower, with sirens attached.  I don’t know if it’s done anymore, because I haven’t lived there for decades, but when there was a fire somewhere in the valley, a long siren would sound to call the volunteers to aid the fire department in battling a nearby blaze.  The long drawn out sound signified a fire within the city limits.  If the sound was a staccato beat it signified a county fire.  I suppose then all of the volunteer members would snap to attention, acquire their magical instructions and arrive to douse the burning structure. This is how I remember it, I could very well be wrong.  And as usual, I await any corrections.  Hell, I don’t even know if the town still takes advantage of a volunteer fire department.  Anyone?  Anyone?

In any given moment of our collective days, we are surrounded by sirens and noises intended to get our attention. These sounds serve several different purposes, a reminder, a caution, an intrusion, even a joyous celebration. Very often we become so familiar with a tone that we can easily tune it out and proceed in a false safety.  How often do you hear a police or aid car siren and you can’t tell which direction it’s headed?  Call me paranoid, but I just want to get out of the way, so I pull over to side of the road, much to the chagrin of drivers around me.  Hopefully the police car with the siren goes past me and doesn’t take a position directly behind me in order to issue me a written invitation to slow down.


The sound that has been most impressed upon me this week is one that I’ve never even heard.  That sound is a tsunami warning.  I’ve seen the signs of warning and ways to get to higher ground on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Those signs can be intimidating. Because of all the damage from the earthquake in Japan there hadn’t been a lot of news about tsunami damage in Hawaii.  However we learned of damage via some friends blogs and we were surprised to learn that Kona got hit pretty hard. The Four Seasons is closed for a few weeks while they repair what was mainly landscaping damage.  Kona Village resort looks like they got completely wiped out.  Check out this link to see what happened.

tsunami warning

It never ceases to amaze me how much the planet always wins.  Whether it’s a huge amount of water or tectonic plates making themselves comfortable…the planet always wins. We live in an earthquake prone zone and unfortunately no one has figured out a way to sound off a siren for those.  So until then, I keep a ‘get home’ or ‘get away’ backpack stowed in my car stocked with AT THE VERY LEAST, good walking shoes, a flashlight and a bottle of water.  Don’t worry, we’ll let you know we’re ok if we have the “big one” here.

5 thoughts on “Eh? Could you speak up?

  1. Yeah I remember all those noisy sirens, they must have updated the one at the school after I left as I don’t recall it as annoying. All of the “Volunteer” firefighters use pagers and radio’s so no need for a siren. But they used a siren at the mill for fires and shift changes up until it closed.

  2. Volunteers yes, sirens not so much. At I.O. where I worked for the orthopods, they had fire drills. Along with those damnable flashy lights known to bring on seizures. Well we were told to ignore them. Here we are sitting in a rehab hospital during a drill. so odd.

  3. We have quarterly fire drills at work, everyone jumps up, shuts doors and assembles at the nursing station after having grabbed an extinguisher. Then we sign a form and they call ‘All Clear’.
    Also as a left over from the big lumber mill years, one of the mill whistlers was installed at one of the local banks. It goes off at 10 am, 12 noon and 5 pm, if you are close, it will make your arm pits prickle.

  4. The picture of the water tower brought back some memories. I don’t remember the sirens attached…but I was one of the juvenile delinquents that used to climb up to the top with spray paint. Grandma and Grandpa Newell lived between the park and the post office and I spent a whole lot of time in that park.

  5. There are still some small towns in Ohio that have virtually all volunteer fire departments – maybe a few paid staff members, but that’s it… and yes, i don’t think it’s wise to bet against Mother Earth. She’s got the upper hand.

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