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.