THE SOUND OF YESTERDAY
IT for WAS the their thing. idea. Aunt Grandpa Tess and never Ma used asked to them both get onto his neck about it and say that it was a downright disgrace him going around deaf as a stone even if he was ninety-four years old. Aunt Teas used to say she thought it was a sin him going to church when he couldn’t hear a word that Reverend Cox was saying. And Ma said they all had to yell so loud to make Grandpa hear anything that the neighbors thought we was lighting all the time.
I reckon that’s the only good 1 ever did get out of school —learning how to write. If it hadn’t been for that, Grandpa and me never could have had none of them good old talks we used to have together. Whenever I wanted to ask Grandpa for a story or a nickel or maybe just tell him my troubles I’d just fetch a scribbler. And Grandpa would fetch out his eyeglasses and read what I’d wrote and everything was easy as pie. Aunt Tess
tried it once but it didn’t git her nowheres. She bought her a pencil and pad and whenever she wanted to bawl Grandpa out or ask him to go to the store she’d write it on the pad and give it to him. But it just never seemed like Grandpa could get the hang of Aunt Tess’ handwriting somehow. And alter a while she give it up and went back to screaming at him.
“How come,” I wrote on my scribbler one day, “you couldn’t never read Aunt Tess’ writin’ as good as you can mine?”
“Well, sir,” says Grandpa, spitting about a halfpint of tobacco juice over the porch railing and scronching down deeper in his saggy old rocking chair, “that there is one thing I never could rightly understand, boy! I can see what’s wrote on that there scribbler just as plain as the hand before my face. But when your Aunt Tess used to come prancin’ out the kitchen door and hand me one of them there fancy little notes of hers saying I was gittin’ spit all over the porch railin’—it just naturally seemed like luck was agin’ me. Either I couldn’t remember where in tarnation I’d left my specs or else your Aunt Tess had wrote it down so fancy and small I just plumb couldn’t make it out.”
I wrote down another question for Grandpa.
“How does it sound,” I wrote, “bein’ deaf? Is it quiet?”
“Well, now, it’s quiet enough,” Grandpa said directly, “for a man to git some peace and quiet in the afternoons. Folks tell me what I’m missin’ —hearin’ the songbirds and the pianola and listenin’ to Fanny Brubaker’s sweet voice in the church choir. But, boy, a feller my age can git along without mushy truck like that! This afternoon now—when you go off on your paper route and leave your old Grandpa here on the back porch by hisself—I’ll just set baok in my rocker and if your Aunt Tess ain’t lookin’ I’ll just kind of ease my shoes off and shut my eyes and listen—”
I started writing new words. Writing come slow and hard for me in them days and I’ll grant it wasn’t the prettiest kind of script, but Grandpa never seemed to mind.
“Listen to what,” I wrote and settled back to pick at a splinter in my big toe while Grandpa took the scribbler in his gnarled old hands and studied the scrawly words.
“Why to the sound,” he says. “The sound of yesterday. I’ll tell you plain, boy—judgin’ from what a feller reads in the paper these days—it beats the noises that come out of this time of delusion and tribulation!”
I took my scribbler back and I wrote: “What does yesterday sound like?”
“Well, now, lots of things,” Grandpa says directly. “That fool Doc Wright would say it was the blood pressures a-roarin’ in my head but it ain’t no such a thing!”
He poked his head around the kitchen window to see if Aunt Tess or Ma were able to hear. Then he took a fresh chew out of his poke of Green Eagle and stuffed it in his cheek.
“Sometimes,” says Grandpa, “it’s my first roundup an’ them cattle blowin’ an’ bellerin’! Mebbe it’s the sound of a anvil on a frosty day —or a meadow lark’s song, boy Sometimes when I git to listenin' real good and your Aunt Tess don’t come pokin’ an’ pickin’ ’round I kin hear the bumpin’ of Injun drums on a still fall night.” Whenever Grandpa would get to talking like that I’d press my hands close over my ears so’s I couldn’t hear Mister Church cutting his grass next door or Dink Snyder’s big sister practicing her scales and I’d listen as hard as I could—trying to catch the sound of yesterday. At nights, sometimes, I just used to pray something awful that I could be deaf like Grandpa was. Ma heard me say that at supper one night and fetched me a good lick on the head for it,, but I still prayed. Once or twice I thought I’d really got it but then it would all sort of slide away and I’d know all I was hearing was the big clock striking midnight down at. the courthouse. One night before I went to bed I st uffed both ears with bubble gum and laid there in the dark with my eyes squeezed shut and my head pressed down in the pillow and I’ll swear there for a minute I thought I heard the sound of yesterday.
I’d been listening so hard I hadn’t heard Ma come in the bedroom for some clean sheets from the clothes press and since I had my eyes shut I didn’t see her turn the light on and the firs! thing I knowed she was around those parts was when she had me by the ear and was staring at my ears and screaming for Pa to send for Doc Wright. Poor Pa was running around looking for his long underwear and Aunt. Tess was hollering and Ma was screaming so loud that even with my ears stopped up it. made my head ring.
Grandpa was the only one of the family that got a good sleep that night. Lucky Grandpa —deaf and with an attic room to boot! When Ma found out it was bubble gum in my ears she was so mad she made me give Pa all my paper-route money for three weeks. I was just naturally so beat down there for the first day or so that I was planning to give up everything and run away.
But when you’re ten years old and owe near a two-dollar licorice bill at Old Man Beam’s Drugstore things ain’t that simple. Still, if it hadn’t been for Grandpa I reckon I’d have done it.
He called me out on the back porch one night after supper and slipped me fifteen cents he’d saved up. I run down to Beam’s and got me an ice-cream soda and five licorice straps and then I fetched my scribbler and went out to sit with Grandpa till it got dark. I used to let on that licorice was chewing tobacco and I’d sit there on a grocery box beside Grandpa’s rocking chair and him and me would practice spitting over the porch railing. I’d just let go a good five-footer when I heard Ma in the kitchen.
“Pa!” hollers Ma, flying out the screen door and standing there with her hands on her hips. I swallered my licorice so fast I didn’t get no good out of it but I might just as well have saved myself
the trouble. Ma seen it on my face and she seen the spit on the porch railing.
“Pa!” she yells. “You been givin’ that youngster money again!”
“Which?” hollers Grandpa, leaning forward and scowling. “Speak up, Alberta! I can’t hear a word you’re sayin’!”
“I SAY HAVE YOU BEEN GIVIN THAT BOY MONEY FOR CANDY AGAIN!” hollers Ma.
“No!” yells Grandpa, shaking his head.
“She said she had to do the washin’s for the Purdy’s today but she’d be around first thing Monday mornin’!”
“Not Mandy-CANDY!” hollered Ma.
“Oh, I never!”
And she run back into the kitchen, scolding and muttering to herself.
THAT was the night that done it, really, and it always made me feel guilty to think of it afterward. Grandpa’s ninety-fifth birthday was a week later, and we hadn’t hardly finished the birthday supper that night, till Uncle Dred—Ma’s oldest brother—leaned over and handed Grandpa a little package.
Now I knowed for a fact that what Grandpa wanted for a present was a poke of Green Eagle Chewing Tobacco for that’s what I’d got him. But. it was plain that Uncle Dred and Aunt Tess and Ma had something far fancier in mind.
We all watched Grandpa unwrap the little package and fold the paper and the string and stick them in his shirt pocket. Then he opened the little box to see what it was. I be darned if I knowed what it was anymore than Grandpa did. Someways it looked like a radio and someways it. looked like a flashlight.
“What is it!” hollered Grandpa.
“It’s a hearing aid!” yelled Aunt Tess in his ear. “1 say, it’s a hearing aid!”
“Lemonade!” yells Grandpa, looking all around the table to see if there was any around.
“IT’S A HEARING AID. PA!” everybody yelled at once. “You stick that, little end in your ear and you hang the box —”
Well, the neighbors must have thought we was fighting for sure that night., and directly Uncle Dred got the thing around Grandpa’s neck he stuck the plug in his ear and turned the lit tle knob so’s the juice was on. Grandpa sat there studying it over for a second and listening and directly his face lit all up and he grinned.
“Well, now,” he says. “Well, now, if that don’t beat the Dutch.”
He sat there all wired up like a telephone pole and directly Uncle Dan Cresap come over and showed him how to turn the little button that made her loud or soft, and somehow he got her up too loud and belched and like to blowed poor Grandpa off his chair.
“Well, now!” says Grandpa. “Well, now, that’s what I call real clever!”
“Yes,” laughed Ma, folding her napkin up real neat and patting it down smooth with the tips of her fingers. “It will certainly make things a sight, quieter around here for us. A body can’t, think with everyone yelling at Papa half the time.”
Grandpa hopped up and run out in the hall and stood by the clock for a while listening to it tick, and then he went out on the porch and listened to the neighbors chatting softly on their porches and the crickets talking down under the hydrangea.
“Yessir!” hollered Grandpa, like a kid with a lollipop. “I don’t reckon I ever know'ed what I was missin’! ”
Then they brought, him back in the dining room and Uncle Dan started everybody to singing “Happy Birthday to You.” Not me though. I wasn’t having no part of it. Tt. just didn’t seem like it. was Grandpa anymore. I just couldn’t see
him and me could ever get the hang of talking together anymore with that fool contraption always in the way. I just felt like going and getting my scribbler and throwing it in the trash can. And I felt half sick looking at Grandpa running around like a derned ninny, listening to every fool thing in the house that buzzed or ticked or squeaked and then asking all the family to say something in the little box so’s he could hear what they sounded like.
Directly they got him in the parlor and Pa opened two bottles of his homemade root fwer and Uncle Dred stood up and made a long sf>eech about what a wonderful old soul
Continued on page 33
He chewed Green Eagle and disgraced them all in public. All the same he was right. Grandpa was deaf but not dumb
The Sound of Yesterday
Continued from page 11
Grandpa was and about him being one of the province’s pioneers and a lifelong Liberal and a Moose and a Credit to the Town and then Aunt Tess went ! over and put the “Oceana Roll” on the ! player piano.
You should have seen Grandpa. He sat there listening to the music and tapping his foot like the worst kind of fool in the world. Still that wasn’t what got under my skin so bad. It was that package of Green Eagle Chewing Tobacco I’d got him for his birthday. I’d spent a whole derned afternoon getting the fool thing wrapped up pretty, and then I never did get to give it to him with Ma and Aunt Tess and everybody milling all around him there in the parlor.
1WENT to bed before anybody else did that night and I laid awake for a long time thinking the saddest, strangest kind of thoughts. I kept wondering it over in my head—where sounds go when there’s nobody around to hear them—the sounds of yesterday.
I kept wondering if maybe they’d just loaf around till they got lonesome and then ride off on the wind and be lost.
Next morning was Saturday and about noon I woke up hearing Pa out back fooling with the car. Then Ma come in my room and said to hurry and get dressed since we was all taking Grandpa to the movies that afternoon. While I was eating my breakfast Grandpa kind of slunk in the kitchen and sat down all sheepish-looking by the stove. I just wish you could have seen him. He was all dressed up in that old grey suit Uncle Dred had give him, and he had on his black silk tie and his white Sunday shirt and Uncle i Dan’s old black hat. And stuck on the front of his shirt was the listening box.
“Mornin’, Davey,” says Grandpa. Well, sir, I didn’t know what to say. It just tore my nerves all up somehow to think of talking into that little box and pretending it was Grandpa. It just didn’t seem natural not to be writing things on my scribbler and handing it to Grandpa to read. But directly I got my nerve up.
“Mornin’, Grandpa!” I hollered at the little box. “I thought you’n me was goin’ catfishin’ this mornin’!” “Aw, shucks, Davey!” says Grandpa. “The children want to show me off in town this afternoon. They’re right proud of me bein’ the oldest man in the districk, and they give me such a nice party last night I sorty hate to let them down! I never knowed how much them kids really thought of me, Davey, till I heared Dred say all them nice things about me!”
He come over and laid his hand on my head.
“You understand how it is, don’t you, boy?” he says. “Them suckers ain’t in no hurry to get netted! And if it’s nice we’ll go after church tomorrow.”
I SAID, sure, I understood. But that wasn’t what I wanted to say. I felt just like bawling. I wanted to tell Grandpa how Uncle Dred made fun of him behind his back and so did Ma and Aunt Tess and Uncle Ben. I wanted to just come out plain and tell Grandpa that he couldn’t hear the real speeches they made about him—the ones they really meant. The way Ma said all the time that he was a dirty old man because he chewed tobacco and tracked mud in the kitchen when he was working his garden in the spring and how they’d mock him for saying “deef” instead of “deaf.” I just naturally wanted to jump up and yell at
that little box: Grandpa, you poor sap! You poor sap you, Grandpa! They wouldn’t even let you live here if you didn’t own this house and this ground!
But I just sat there eating my oatmeal.
And after a bit Ma and Aunt Tess came downstairs all dressed up in their good silk dresses and everybody took Grandpa out to the car and set him up in the back seat and we started down Bison Avenue. When I seen there was a cowboy show at the Capitol I perked up a little and Pap give me a nickel to go get everybody some popcorn, but Grandpa made me give it back and stuck a quarter in my hand and said he wanted this to be his treat. When I came back with the five bags of popcorn we went inside the show.
“How much?” says Grandpa to Betty Snodgrass in the window. “And you don’t need to shout!”
“For five,” she says, sniffing, “that’ll be a dollar twenty-five.”
Grandpa fished out his old squashy snap pocketbook and dug out two onedollar bills. Then we went inside and Billy Trilly, the usher, stuck out his tongue at me but I just shook my fist at him, not wanting to start no fights and spoil Grandpa’s day. When I sat down beside Grandpa the lights went out and the show started. There was a news show first and then a funny picture about some old cats and a hound dog and for a minute there I almost felt good about Grandpa’s listening box when I heard him laughing so hard and slapping his knee.
“I’ll be derned!” hollered Grandpa. “If that don’t beat the Dutch!”
Directly I seen him reach down in his coat pocket and drag out his poke and take a good big chew so I figured maybe there was hope for him yet. Then there was a part where one of them cats goes up in a balloon and the derned hound dog is hanging onto the balloon basket from a piece of rope and hollering bloody murder.
“I’ll be derned!” Grandpa squeaked. “They sure got him where it hurts now!”
And he whopped himself on the knee and give me a dig with his elbow like it was so funny he couldn’t hardly stand it. And when that fool hound dog lost his grip on the rope and fell and landed in an apple tree I thought Grandpa would slide clean out of his seat.
I sneaked a look around and seen Aunt Tess looking kind of mad at Grandpa and for that matter all the people in the show was looking at him, too. Then I seen that derned Billy ! Trilly standing back by the door like he was getting ready to come down and tell us to be quiet. But lucky for him he didn’t and directly the comic show was over and the main one started.
The music played real loud and directly it showed a lot of cowboys riding along a river shore toward a little town. It was about the old times just after the Riel Rebellion and directly there was the derndest fight you ever seen and then they were drivin’ all these here cattle like everything.
In a minute I knowed something was wrong. I felt Grandpa give a little jump and then he had me by the sleeve. With his other hand he was pointing .at the show and he was whispering so loud you could hear him all over the Capitol Theatre. Aunt Tess was leaning over and shaking her head and tapping Grandpa on the knee but it didn’t do no good.
“Why, that ain’t right!” he whispered. “Holy ol’ hell—the shrink—the shrink on them—a-leatherin’ on both sides an’ runnin’ them cattle like that! You got to trail ’em slow an’ easy!”
“All right, Grandpa!” I whispered
in the listening box and glanced back nervously at Billy Trilly.
“Well, now, it ain’t all right!” whispered Grandpa. “These folks got a right to know! That’s just what I mean! Did I ever lie to you, Davdy boy! Did I?”
“No, Grandpa!” I whispered to the box. “You never did!”
“It don’t much matter, Grandpa!” I whispered, patting him on the arm. “And besides—it ain’t nothin’ but a show! They’ll have the manager down here directly if we all don’t hush up!” Then Aunt Tess reached over again and tapped him real hard on the knee and he shut up and didn’t say another solitary word during the whole show —just sat there grunting to himself and worrying over his chew and spitting in the little empty poke he’d brought along every now and then. Lucky enough there wasn’t no more in the show about the cattle and directly there was a funny part where a fellow falls in a hog pen and Grandpa laughed some more and beat his knee like he was feeling good again.
When the show was over the folks all got up and walked up the aisle with me and Grandpa tagging along behind. That simple Billy Trilly made a face at me again and I had half a mind to pop him one but I never.
“Well,” I says. “How did you like the show, Grandpa?”
“First rate!” says Grandpa. “Exceptin’ for them runnin’ those steers like that. I won’t be made out a liar, boy!”
“That funny show about them cats was good though wasn’t it, Grandpa.” “Now then!” hollered Grandpa. “Didn’t that just about beat anything you ever seen!”
WE WALKED down Bison Avenue toward where Pap’s Model-T was parked in front of Beam’s Drugstore.
“That part about the dog!” I says. “When he fell down in the apple tree! Wasn’t that the comicallest thing, Grandpa?”
“I’ll be dogged!” laughed Grandpa. “If that didn’t beat the Dutch!”
I should have knowed what was coming. I should have knowed that sooner or later one of them would let slip some meanness and he’d hear it. I reckon they was just so used to being able to say ornery things around him that they just plumb forgot! He must have had his listening box turned up as loud as she’d go or he wouldn’t have heard what Ma said.
“Tess, I’ve never been so humiliated in my life!” she was saying. “And with that Snyder woman sitting back of us all through it! I was simply mortified!”
“Yes!” hissed Aunt Tess, “I could just have smacked him!”
“Well,” said Ma. “I know one thing! If it wasn’t for this house and my duty to Mama to make a home for him, I’d have had him put away long ago! He’d be a sight happier in a rest home!”
I was talking real loud now—saying anything that come into my head, praying I could drown them out. But that listening box was a good one. It was a real good one. Grandpa never opened his mouth again all the way home. He sat up real straight and stiff in the back seat with his shoulders throwed back.
I lost track of him for a while that afternoon and then directly I seen he’d put on his old duds again and was down in the garden hoeing. Grandpa stepped carefully among the crisp, young plants so’s he wouldn’t hurt a single one of them. And sometimes Grandpa would stop and look at his young bean and tomato plants like they was the only children he had raised that would never be cruel to him. Come suppertime he
just tracked mud all over the back porch something awful.
“Papa!” screeched Ma. “How many times must I tell you to wipe your muddy feet!”
“What!” yells Grandpa.
“Where’s your hearing aid?” yells Ma.
“Which?” hollered Grandpa.
“HEARING AID!” hollered Ma.
“Lemonade!” yelled Grandpa. “No, thank you! It’s too near suppertime.” And he stomped off upstairs to wash.
After supper Ma and Aunt Tess and Pap and all of them went to prayer meeting and left me and Grandpa alone on the back porch. It was just getting dark and the fireflies was winking in the shrubs. 1 studied it over for a while and then I went and got my scribbler. I figured it had been just about long enough since me and Grandpa had ourselves a good old talk. I fetched the little package of Green Eagle (’hewing Tobacco and put it on the arm of Grandpa’s rocker. Then 1 stuck some licorice in my mouth and got busy working up some spit while Grandpa unwrapped my birthday present and folded the paper and the string and put them in his shirt pocket.
“Well, now,” he says directly. “That’s what I call a mighty nice present!”
“Do you like it?” I wrote on my scribbler and watched while Grandpa stuffed a big chew in his cheek.
“Yep!” says Grandpa, working up some juice so’s we could get started practicing over the porch railing.
I turned the page and I wrote fast in the fading light: “Better than the
“Well, now,” says Grandpa, after he’d studied that one a while. “Yes and no. That thing is quite a con-
traption. boy! A feller don’t git his hands onto one of them things every day in the week!”
I took back my scribbler.
“Got your listenin' box on tonight, Grandpa?” I wrote.
“Nope,” he says, scronching down in his rocker and smelling the sweet evening air. “It’s up in the back of mv clothes press under my overalls. A feller don’t want to wear a fancy piece of hardware like that around all the time and git her all scratched up and wore out!”
Then he leaned his head back and shut his eyes and began to tell me the one about Nigger John Ware and the one-eyed mayor of M('dicine Hat. I’d heard it before but I didn’t mind. Aunt 'Less or Ma might but not me. Directly Grandpa quit talking and just sat there with his head back and his eyes shut and a little smile on his face. Well, 1 took the pencil in my hand and I swear it was shaking so hard I could scarcely write. I was just plumb scared to death his answer would be no. But 1 got it wrote down finally and tapped him on the arm and held it up for him to see. He opened one eye and stared at the words in the dusk.
“Are you listenin’?” said the words.
“Yep!” said Grandpa.
1 give a big sigh of relief. Grandpa had got ahold of hisself again. Then I put my hands over my ears and give it another try. I listened as hard as I could—harder than I ever had beforebut it wasn’t no use. I felt blue and I felt cheated. All I could hear was a derned rain crow down in Smitherman’s grove and the green frogs skrikking in the sloughs. While Grandpa—he was listening to the sounds of his first roundup —on a night a thousand years ago.