Childhood / Memories / Poetic prose / Sounds / Thoughts / Zuihitsu

The lost Voice


If only I had a recording of those sounds!

The old garden gate always made a very special sound when it closed, a soft clicking sound. No other thing made this sound. Like a human, the house had a unique face and a unique voice and  when the house was sold, the gate, an old rusty garden door maybe a hundred years old, was replaced by a nice shiny new one. The house was rebuilt, its innards removed and replaced and its typical spectrum of sounds must have been replaced by a new one. When I was living there, I never noticed these noises, only after they where gone.

The sounds of the back door of the house, the sound of opening and of closing it, even the clicking of that lock when I turned the key, were unique.  On stormy days, the wind howled around it in a particular way and the branches of the old spruce tree where scratching and hitting on its walls. The doors had their unmistakable banging and, in some cases, squeaking voices. The windows rattled and I remember the window handles, the locks and door knobs, the clacking steps on the staircases, draining bathtubs, showers and flushing toilets, the swooshing and hissing whistling of water taps, the shushing noise of curtains being opened and the clunking and thudding of windows being closed, and the echoes in the stairway. There where the voices of cupboards, sofas, arm chairs and beds, the dishwasher, the humming and whispering icebox, the sloshing noise of the washing machine, the spin dryer. All of these noises and sounds hardwired themselves into my brain and there must be thousands of neurons devoted to recognizing each of these sounds, but I will never hear any of them again and these neurons are waiting in vain.

(The old back door key (see comments below). Thanks Christine)


8 thoughts on “The lost Voice

  1. For me it is the smells and light as well. But I definitely remember the round neon lamp and the long one above the sewing maching having their noises while the di red,and milky lamp between window and veranda door was quiet but gave a warmer light…

    I do still have the key to our old back door. It is on my key ring and is really the ornament, in disguise at it is a key itself. The key used to be tricky and one had to pull it out a little after sticking it in… Until Vati soldered a bit of yellow metal on so that was fixed and the noise changed.
    The nail for that key was on the wall and I remember having to tiptoe from two steps up to reach it. later the plaster around the nail had broken and there was a kind of crater there. I think it took years until the plaster was fixed (Moltofill in Germany) and the nail (or probably a new nail) went up again.

    A few years before we sold the house, the door needed repairing and the lock was changed and I was very fast in grabbing the key.

    Also for the longest time the lock to the front door had a flat key which was about 2.5 mm thick. I wonder where that one went. If strong enough we could open the door with a 2 DMARK or 5 DMARK coin. The others were too small and my hand could not do it. (or were we able to do it with 20 pfennig?)

    • Yes, the noises of those lamps and of the switches also contributed to the sound spectrum of the house (I remember some big square switches, white with a black rim. Downstairs in the cellar there were even some old Bakelite switches that one had to turn.)
      Please send me a picture of that key sometime.
      I remember the nail on which the key was hanging. I remember I had a special movement for putting the key there, and on doing it, the nail touched my thumb. So besides the there are also movements (in opening and closing, in climbing the stairs and so on). So there are memories for the sensorimotor senses as well, besides the visual and auditory ones. I also remember scents.
      It is strange, as a child you root yourself deeply in such a place. The house in which you grow up forms a lot of your initial experience. It is obviously largely over-represented in the amount of neurons devoted to it and now these specialized neurons, mostly idle, seem only to be producing some feeling of melancholy.
      One of the front doors could be opened with a coin (1 DM, I think. There was never a 20 Pf coin, by the way :-))

      • I meant to write 10 pf… 20 pfenning was in east germany I think…
        Yes the black frames around the white square switches. I had forgotten them,,,
        I think I might have the handle of the front door somewhere too. And I do have the house number (7) in my hallway here in New Zealand. The original one, corners broken off a little.

        The columns around the gate are imortant too as one could ride on them but I was endlessly riding on our old metal garbage cans which had a lit that reminded me of a saddle and the handles on the sides of the cans would hold our feet. I was always the male chief of the Apaches and had a rope on my horse with me and a gun…

        Then the cans became the substitute people to hold the elastic for the Gummy twist, the jumping on a sewing elastic band, held by two pairs of legs (or two garbage cans)

        Andreas do you remember the rules for playing marbles? I remember we were digging small holes but I do not remember the rules.

        Also have you told us yet about Dilt land? I am still feeling your anger after tossing the transparent plastic container with the dark red lid (probably without the lid) out of our window anad the over 100 little gummy animals fell out and had to be found below in the wild raspberry (great smell, grows here in Dunedin) how many of those did you have? I remmeber the turtle was the ‘queen’ and the frog had some important role too, for some reason I remember the frog especially…

        Foto of the key is to follow.

    • Some important contribution to the sounds where the gas heaters. Each room had one (on the picture one can see an outlet of one). This type of heater produces a whole range of sounds, special sounds of flames and streaming gas and of course the crackling and sometimes a “boom” of expanding or contracting metal. That crackling had a special partially regular, partially irregular rhythm.
      That crater around that nail might be one of the sources of my fascination with structures on deteriorating walls. On the wall beside the staircase down to the cellar, there where blooming crystals, like hoarfrost, maybe gypsum. There was a yellow stain at well that always came back through the paint, some kind of poison against a destructive fungus that had once infested some beams.

  2. this reminds me of my gran’s house. It was really old and had all these little creaks and sighs. Her fridge was ancient and the humming of the fridge would lull me of to sleep at night. Plus there were huge pomegranate trees outside and on a windy night they would rustle and scrape against the windows. when I was a child I used to be terrified of them but when I got older I learnt to appreciate them! All of these combined make for some memories that I will always treasure.

  3. Beautiful post! I never stayed long enough in one spot to develop an attachment to familiar noises… That’s too bad. There is a rich experience in that treasure trove of sounds. Thank you for sharing that Nannus.

  4. This is just wonderful.

    I think of the bang the kitchen screen door made at my grandmother’s house. The spring was broken and so it closed very loudly, bounced several times, each one softer, and then settled. There was a rhythm to it.

    Have not thought of this for years.

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