Working as a personal historian, I never know what it will take to get someone talking. Some folks easily call up memories, while others need the stories drawn out of them. And then sometimes, all it takes is a whistle. MTH
It was just a whistle—I looked around but saw no one whistling, and the woman behind the desk was fussing with her phone. I finally asked her—“Were you whistling?”
She laughed. “No, that was my phone! I love whistling, that’s why I put that ring tone on my phone.”
I’ve never been able to master the art of whistling—any time I hear someone whistle it sure gets my attention. It’s one of those “Whatever you can’t do, you wish you could,” sort of things.
I mentioned something along that line and she nodded. No, she had never been able to whistle either. “But my dad…” she started.
And thus began a whole series of stories about her father, and how he called all eight kids in her family home each night for dinner with his piercing whistle. Next I heard about her parents visiting her brother (my chiropractor) when he was in school. Upon reaching his dorm, they were puzzled about where he was, so her father let out his trademark whistle. Her brother popped his head out the 5th floor window (you could hear that whistle for miles! she assured me) and promised his parents, “I’ll be right down!”
Soon she told me about her father’s years growing up in Newton, just outside Boston, and how she learned, much later in his life, about all his old haunts during a drive she took with him through Newton, to the homes he’d lived in, the schools he’d attended, and much more.
Her grandparents had moved to Medway, probably an hour south of Boston, when her dad was still in high school and bought a place where they could have a small farm. “How I wish my grandmother Minnie was still here so I could ask her how she felt about moving out to the boonies,” she told me.
When her brother, my chiropractor, came out to get me, we asked what he remembered about their grandfather’s work. This brother, being older, had the advantage of different memories than his sister, the baby of the family. He quickly shared what he recalled, then lapsed into a family story of the pigs. “Yeah, there was a baby pig stuck under the fence. They were headed to church and Grandpa got out, climbed in the pen to pull the pig out from under the fence when the sow attacked him, tore him right up. He wasn’t able to work for several years after that…”
That was it. Stories that have often been told, shared with someone who was ready to listen. “You need to write those down,” I said.
“You’re right,” they both agreed.
Whether they do or not, I just did.
And it all began with a whistle.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.