Summer is most definitely upon us; the days are getting longer and lighter. It’s the time when children linger outside after dinner to play and run and laugh “just a few minutes more” and, despite your better judgment, you let them. It’s not an everyday occurrence, certainly, but some days just beg for it; the ones where the sky is a bit bluer, the clouds a bit whiter.
I have to admit, I love to let my daughter (currently a spirited six-year-old) bask in these extra evening moments, in spite of my normal “strict bedtime” mom-ness. You see, we didn’t have many of these occasions for her last year, as she was challenged with figuring out her pecking order amongst the neighborhood kids. Being an only child herself, she tended to desperately want to be the ‘best friend’ of everyone, and sometimes took it a little overboard, never really sure when she should let up on the intensity pedal just a bit. As a result, she wasn’t invited out to play very often, and it was heartbreaking to see her long to be included. Fortunately, this year is vastly different; she’s really found her niche, becoming one of the pack. In fact, one of the girls she struggled with the most is now, basically, her BFF, and it amuses me to no end to see the two of them pal around together.
What does not amuse me, however, are the times when I have to retrieve her to come home – for dinner, bedtime, to run an errand, whatever. Pulling a cat from a well might be more enjoyable, really. Even if I’ve given her a heads-up about how much time she has left, it never fails that she will “mysteriously” disappear shortly before she needs to return. Most of the time, I simply dread the 20-30 minutes I will inevitably spend just looking for her. Don’t get me wrong, I keep a pretty keen eye on her when she’s playing outside; but she has a knack of turning into a gold-medal sprinter as soon as she sees me coming for her, and she has about eight different escape routes already mapped out. I’m also convinced that she and her friends have developed some form of scatter-pattern devised solely to confuse the parental units on which child went where, simultaneously increasing our frustration level, and enhancing their enjoyment.
It’s usually around this time that I remember my own summer evenings of years past, and desperately wish I had learned The Whistle. Not “to” whistle, mind you, I mean THE Whistle. I’m referring, of course, to the legendary Mr. Harold Whistle (Mr. Harold being my father, for those unfamiliar). You see, when it comes to tools on the parental belt, my father had a whistle that was truly unparalleled. Ask any child growing up on or near Royal Street circa 1985, and they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Any given summer evening, just around dusk, you would hear his fairly high-pitched, two-noted, quick-tempo whistle – up, down up. It would echo through the neighborhoods, easily reaching a 6-8 block radius. Everyone’s head would pick up at the sound, and everyone knew what it signaled – the Harold Girls were supposed to go home. He would usually do it once, wait about 5-10 minutes and then do it a second time. If he had to whistle a third, there had better be a darn good reason why we weren’t home yet, or my sister and I were probably in big trouble, for there was really no excuse to ignore The Whistle. We knew what it meant – everyone in the neighborhood knew what it meant – so we certainly couldn’t feign ignorance. We’d even get status updates on the way home, practically block by block…”Hey, did you hear your Dad whistle?”, or “Your Dad’s looking for you, better hurry!”. Rarely was there an occasion that my parents had to come and search us out to bring us home, because The Whistle was so darn effective; either on its own, or indirectly because it caused everyone else to seek us out for them (clever bit of parental strategy, if you ask me).
The Whistle did have additional uses, such as warnings of danger (i.e. riding bikes in the street near oncoming cars), stopping sibling arguments (teenage sisters can be rather loud when trying to kill each other), or rounding up scattered family in a grocery store (to the confusion of all the nearby patrons as to why some strange man was standing in the middle of a row whistling his head off). However, I highly advise against using The Whistle in small, confined spaces; the deafness/ringing that results lasts entirely too long to make any usefulness worthwhile.
To this day, I still don’t know how exactly my father does it. I’ve watched him at this craft for over 30 years and have yet to really figure out anything except that it’s only with his tongue and lips – he does not use his fingers. Unfortunately for me, the whistle gene seems to have skipped a generation; I can’t even whistle normally, let alone produce anything remotely resembling THE Whistle, so I’m plumb out of luck on this one. Which is really disappointing, because I can only imagine how useful it would be with my little summer-evening Houdini. I suppose the best I can hope for is that perhaps my daughter will pick it up and maybe, some 20 years from now, there will again be that familiar “up-down-up” echo in a distant neighborhood that causes all the children’s ears to perk. I can only imagine her Pops would be so darn proud…