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Whistle drowned out by busy lives, cell phones.

Byline: WRITE ON By Patt Olson For The Register-Guard

The other day, I was shopping in one of the warehouse discount stores when I heard a sound that I've not heard in years: a family whistle. Not my family's whistle, but someone's nonetheless. Three notes, sailing across the heads of shoppers, calling to the family member on the other side of the store.

I looked for the source of the whistle, and saw a nicely dressed woman walking toward a tall man, who was smiling. She said something to him, and off they went.

In my family, our whistle was four notes. I don't know music, so can't tell you what they were, but they were as distinctive as a thumbprint. They had been used in my mother's family for several generations, and we children knew whenever we heard them to gather the clan around Mother or Dad. It was our bugle call, floating to our ears, and it meant, "Come, now."

The family whistle meant, "Supper's ready," "You children come in for bed" or just "I want to talk with you." There was no yelling at the tops of our lungs, just the whistle would do it.

The whistle was pure, clear and sweet. It was answered with the same whistle by those of us who heard it and was passed along like a signal beacon to the rest.

We knew not to hesitate, not because we were afraid, but because the whistle was ours only and our obligation was to respond.

In the soft, Virginia summer nights, as we were catching fireflies in jars and delighting in the finding, the whistle would call us home. "Time for bed."

In the little town where we lived, a neighbor might tell us, if we hadn't heard, "Your mother's calling you."

I do not whistle now, it's been so long. My four boys grew up in the country and did not learn the family whistle. For that, I'm sorry. Life became too busy, and I forgot about the whistle.

Perhaps people today don't use a special whistle for their children. Maybe they call them on their cell phones.

But even now, if I heard that sweet trill, I would know that it was someone who was family, and would find them. And I would say, "I've missed you, where have you been?"

Patt Olson lives in Veneta.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 23, 2003
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