November 11th, 2005


BWAYNE Trah BAA hoe (Buen Trabajo) or Mama and the Asbsetos Workers

Today at 6 am, 10 Mexican workers hired by the insurance company to repair the hurricane damage to the roof showed up at the Gulf Hills home of my mother and stepfather (My Friend George). They speak no English. Neither house resident speaks any Spanish. They'd been warned ahead of time that they would not be able to leave the house until the job was done.

Soon the entire house was swathed in plastic. The ground around it was covered. The workers wore protective garments and goggles. They are professionals at dealing with the hazard of asbestos.

Mother spied the morning newspaper lying out in the lawn. She wanted to bring it inside and read it, but could not get outside. Catching the attention of one of the workers, she asked him for the newspaper. When he could not understand, she got a newspaper from inside the house, held it up and pointed to the one in the grass. Beaming, the worker retrieved the paper for her.

She went on for quite a while about how efficient and careful they were, then expressed the wish to be able to thank them when they were done.

So, she got a long distance language lesson -- Good work! in Spanish. (Buen trabajo.) I pronounced it for her, but she couldn't tell what letters I was saying, so she asked me to spell it. I'd say B, she'd say C, or F, or... what I needed was the Able, Baker, Charley code to spell it out to her.

We'd been having trouble hearing clearly what was said IN ENGLISH throughout the whole phone call, so no wonder when she had no idea what she was hearing that she couldn't repeat it.

She got her paper ready to write it down, then did it with "code-like) English words and lots of references. Bw was giving her fits. She could get the Wayne sound right. Finally, inspiration struck. She'd watched the Tarzan episodes with Johnny Weissmuller when we lived in Chicago. He always was called Bwana. She could easily repeat that word when I gave it to her in that context. So we got BWA from bwana, then swapped the vowel for the one in the boy's name Wayne. Tra came out Trey at first, but Tra la la got that one fixed. Before she hung up, she'd pronounced Buen trabajo several times perfectly while reading it off her phonemic spelling. (She should have heard one of my students trying to do that same thing last night with some names she'd gotten off the internet and had to say, as well as the country, with the right cadence and accent. Mom was SHARP.)

I told her I expected feedback on her Spanish attempt. Now, I'm second-guessing myself. Should I have just had her try to say GRACIAS? (GRAH see us) Thank you.

Noon Whistle from suzanneb's Dear Reader site

Noon Whistle

I'd forgotten all about it, that high pitched, shrill sound. But I knew right away what it was. I looked down at my watch and smiled. Sure enough, the noon whistle was blowing right on time, just like it did when I was a kid.

"You don't need a watch," my mother used to tell me when I'd go out to play, "just come home when the noon whistle blows."

I was back home for a visit in the small town of 2,000 where I grew up. It's still the kind of place where most people don't lock their doors, and it's no big deal if you leave your keys in your car. People look out for each other. In fact, when I was visiting, a neighbor called and reminded me not to forget to put the top up on the convertible I'd rented, because it was supposed to rain.

The noon whistle doesn't blow in the city that I live in now, and when I started thinking about it, I wondered why, and how did this blowing- the-noon-whistle thing get started anyway?

So I did a little research.

Bells used to ring in small town city halls every day at noon. People didn't have electric clocks, so when they heard the bells ringing, they'd pull out their pocket watches to wind them, and all of the housewives would get out their keys so they could wind their mantel clocks. It was the only way to keep everyone on the same time.

Noon whistles today sound more like sirens, because usually they are the same siren that blows when there's a fire in town. And sometimes that can cause a problem. Gary McCrea, Village President of Benton, Wisconsin--who's lived there for 67 years--told me that a couple of times the fire siren has blown one minute before the noon whistle was supposed to blow, and volunteer firefighters were confused.

Most people in small towns today just sit back and enjoy the friendly reminder that it's time to have lunch. But not everyone appreciates the daily noon whistle. In another small town in Wisconsin, a man whose home was next to the pole that housed the "noon whistle siren" was tired of hearing the blast every day. He complained, the whistle was silenced for awhile, and then the townspeople petitioned to get it back. The noon whistle is blowing again, but the upset whistle blower moved out of town.

And then there's Soldotna, Alaska. The Chamber of Commerce lists 49 things you can do for free when you visit their fine city. "Listen to the dogs howl when the traditional noon whistle goes off," is number 44 on their list!

It sounds like home to me.