Neighborhood Communications

by Harry T. Roman


Can you remember how your father or mother summoned you in the noisy, kid-crowded neighborhood that you grew up in?

Let’s review the methods:

a) Your kid sister or brother came for you (major embarrassment)

b) You mom or dad yelled for you (not so bad-it happened to others)

c) Mom or dad phoned someone near where they thought you were (Ugh!);

and what else? Come on, you remember? It’s right there on the tip of your tongue---

yes,…that’s right, your father whistled for you.

Each father in my neighborhood had a special whistle for his kids---a family emblem as distinct as the smell of your mom’s tomato gravy (no it’s not sauce…it’s gravy; don’t even go there!).

My dad was quite versatile, he had a happy whistle—which basically said, “Take your time but head home.” And then he had that whistle that literally screamed, “You better be home before the echo!” The later one you took very seriously, often resulting in new land speed records being set—

“Hey where’s Harry, he was playing center field just a second ago?”

“See that trail of smoldering grass? He’s at the other end of it. Didn’t you hear that whistle? That was his father.”

“That’s about a mile away!”

“So what?”

"Anyone timing him?”

“Yeah, he made it from the Lake Street ball diamonds to Ting-a-Ling’s in 10 seconds!”

“Only 4 more blocks after that….should total maybe 25 seconds if he doesn’t have to dodge traffic.”

“Geez, I hope he makes it.”

“Yeah, I hope his dad doesn’t rip off his throwing arm.”

The four minute mile----“fugedaboutit”---no contest! We had guys in my neighborhood who could outrun cars on Bloomfield Avenue.

Dad even had a special little whistle for us if we got lost in a big store, which was almost routine for us. Dad would circle around playing the family tune, much to the amusement of the other grown-ups. “Lost the family”, he would shrug and smile. Mom hated that little habit of his and I think honestly went deaf or went farther away whenever he started doing it.

Now things could get very dicey in the neighborhood when something happened and parents began summoning kids home at the same time. This whole mouth to ear communication mode breaks down very quickly when numerous signals begin merging in flight. I could give you a very technical definition of what happens, with lots of equations, showing off my engineering education, but suffice it to say, it “ain’t” pretty as all the kids strain to detect their family tune in a mix of jumbled sounds-

“Is that my dad?”

“ I can’t tell…hey was that mine?”

“Be quiet, I can’t hear anything but noise.”

It’s like the old cowboy movies, the steers get spooked, then confused, then scared, and then some poor town gets trampled. Kids in my neighborhood did the same thing. A primal signal got triggered deep in our hormone laden brains and we all began running for home-smashing into each other, tripping, falling,…. afraid that if we did not get home quick some terrible fate would befall us. It looked like kids being blasted out of a shotgun, running and screaming in all directions.

What would trigger all the fathers to such drastic measures? Well, it could have been a weather report of an impending severe storm, or something happened in the neighborhood and all the mothers hit the panic button, or something on the radio about a crisis, or just mothers and fathers being themselves and trying to protect their little ones. Such things did not happen often, but when they did, it was always memorable-

“Did you see Mikey! He fell over a garbage can trying to get home. He is going to need a million stitches!”

“Where’s Joe? Nobody can find him.”

“I think he got trampled by the Lardieri twins.”

Fortunately, these things only rarely happened.

The last time my dad whistled for me was most memorable. I remember it clearly. It was a Saturday afternoon in April. I was hanging with the guys on the corner of 3rd Street and 2nd Avenue. I was 15 at the time. The gang was thinking about maybe playing some ball or something. At 15, the street games didn’t have that raw excitement anymore. Our teen- age brains were sending some very mixed signals. We didn’t know what to do. That’s when the family tune screeched across the airwaves. My buddies looked at me. There was no need to say anything. A summoning whistle at 1:30 in the afternoon could be very serious indeed. Home I trotted after a quick goodbye to the guys. I heard them wishing me good luck……might be the last time they see me alive.

Arriving home I saw my father smiling and busting his buttons. “Go clean up and put on a shirt, tie and sweater. I got you a nice present!”

Dad was not a big spender, so I thought my ship had come in. Dad never mentioned money and smiled in the same sentence. Something big must have happened.

“What happened! Did you hit the lottery?”

“No Slick, but you did. I got you a job! You are the new stock boy and wrapper over at Robert Hall clothes on Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield. Mr. Silverman my old friend and your new boss can’t wait to put you to work. My son, the working man.” My two younger sisters just smiled and snickered. Mom wasn’t sure about this, but smiled that confident smile that seems to say everything will turn out all right.

It wasn’t so bad after all. That after school and weekend job put me through high school and college, bought my clothes, a 57’ Chevy, and insurance for it too. Try that today, all on about $1.50 an hour. Took my best girl out every Saturday night too; and had a savings account to boot. I was a man of means.

Dad never whistled much for me anymore. Heck, you don’t treat a fellow tax-paying citizen like that. With the job and all, once in a while I might play some ball with the guys on a Sunday afternoon or if I was off on a Saturday, but other things start taking up your time. A job changes your priorities, but not your memories.

Dad…..if you’re up there, and reading this over my shoulder, can you maybe give that family whistle one more time…..not the loud one, but that soft one you did to find us all in the stores. It would be so re-assuring to hear it again, and I don’t think Mom would mind it this time either.


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