Drumming up attention for sound

Friday, April 11, 2003
Ronda Graff

Grandma, what big eyes you have.

Better to see you, my dear.

Grandma, what a big nose you have.

Better to smell you, my dear.

Grandma, what big ears you have. Better to hear you, my dear.

Grandma, what big teeth you have. Better to eat you, my dear.

And you know the rest of the story, but it proves that Little Red Riding Hood had a better grasp on the senses than many of us.

Most of us focus on the way things taste or look or feel. We stop to smell the roses. We savor every bite of a good meal. We can't pass up petting a small, fluffy puppy. Rarely though do we really stop a listen to the world around us.

Stopping and listening can be tough, especially with small children around. With four small children, our house maintains a perpetual state of noise-induced chaos. With the exception of bedtime, there is a constant dull roar throughout the house.

The greeting on the answering machine cannot be made without one small voice or toy's whirr in the background. This can be good. When it becomes too quiet, a parent becomes worried. At least when there is screaming or yelling, you know they are still alive and kicking.

On the other hand, don't try to listen to a news program and expect to catch more than every fifth word while the children are still awake. If it weren't for small children, you might also miss out on other sounds. With the nicer weather, the children expect  to drive through B Street construction with windows down, all to better see, to better hear, to better smell the equipment working on the road. I'm just hoping none of the construction workers fling their cigarettes through my open window or use any "colorful" language as I'm stopped at the light.

Living in the country, my family is exposed to different sounds usually missed in town. The hoot of an owl living in a nearby tree has replaced the blaring stereos emanating from teen-agers' cars driving down the street.

The scampering of feet from small predators jumping off the front porch as I open the door is heard more often than a late party at the apartments across the street.

And tractors moving from one field to another are more common than the roar on a Friday night from the race car track. (Although if the wind is just right, I can still determine the beginning of each individual race.)

The greater the amount of noise, the more likely you'll hear something interesting like I did on a recent Saturday morning.

As I stood in line at the service counter in the front of Wal-Mart, the sounds started to blend together. The dings of the scanners. The beeps of the cash registers.

The low roar of the crowd. Separately, the noises just reminded me that I was in a very busy building. Taken to together, the scene sounded like another all together different place I've been in -- a casino.

The front of Wal-Mart on a Saturday morning sounds just like Las Vegas. Coincidence? Probably not. Fortune telling, more likely. People are, frankly, uncreative when it comes to sound and fall back on descriptions they've heard time and time again. Why does every singe person caught in a tornado and later interviewed on television compare the tornado to an approaching train?

I understand that the ordeal was traumatic, but I would like to see some originality in their descriptions. Since it's been 28 years since I was in a tornado, and I'm preparing myself for approaching tornado season.

I'm saving up the quotes, reading for the television camera. "It was like a stampeding herd of bulls in mating season" or "It was like a semi-tractor trailer bearing down on me on the interstate while using its Jake Brakes and not even trying to swerve."

-- Ronda Graff spends most of her time chasing four small children, feeding three large dogs, watching a cat and cleaning one big, blue house.

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