It’s hard to spell out just how it sounded. But it was a sound and a voice that everyone recognized, and knew what it meant. When you heard that sound ringing through the oaks and cedars, it meant that Rowena was ready for her son, Delmas Lee, to head on home.
Rowena’s call was distinctive, and so were the sounds of all of the mothers in our neighborhood. We came to recognize each of them as they stood on their porches and hollered at the top of their lungs; calling for their sons and letting them know that supper was ready, their father was home, or that it was time to call it a day.
|Rowena & McCravey Guthrie with their pride & joy, Delmas Lee|
To a generation that has grown up around whole house heating and cooling, with windows down and compressors roaring, it might be difficult to imagine just how quiet the outside could be, and how much could be heard by a listening ear. In fact, you had to be careful of what was said, even inside your own home, as anything spoken in a normal voice could generally be heard by anyone near an open window or door.
Sunrise was announced by the crowing of roosters and the cackling of hens, and depending on the time of the year, by the sounds that came from the Landing. When fishermen and shrimpers tied up at their moorings or at the dock, seagulls would circle overhead awaiting the scraps that were thrown in the water. The squawking of gulls, and the level of that sound was a sure indicator of just how successful that morning’s haul might have been.
There were other mornings when the prevailing sound was not of birds, but of the crewmen of shad boats that were working a haul in the Island channel. Their chants and chatter echoed across the water so loudly that we could hear them through our bedroom windows as we awoke on calm summer mornings.
But in the later afternoons and evenings, even if the wind was blowing so as to squelch the echoes, you could still hear the sounds of mothers as they gathered their children in for the day. My mother was not much of a screamer, and seldom took part in the chorus of voices that rang through the neighborhood. But there were some that you could count on hearing almost every day.
Besides Rowena, there was Esther hollering for Cecil Arendell (Rennie), Vivian calling for Manley and "Brother," Elva rounding up Kenny, Robert, and Kyle, and Ollie telling Dallas Daniel it was time to come home. And there was my Aunt Mary (actually, she was married to my cousin Norman, but since they were a generation older, we grew up calling them Uncle Norman and Aunt Mary). Mary had been raised at Chincoteague Island on Chesapeake Sound, and she maintained an accent, even when she hollered, that set her voice apart. When she called out for her son, Paul, the name rolled out in several syllables that sounded like “P a a o o u u l l.” Her house was just across the road from ours, so we usually got the full force of her yelling as it bounced off our front porch.
Every neighborhood had its own set of boys and their mamas. And each one had at least one so distinctive that everyone else, including those that lived far down the road, knew of it, even if they had not heard it themselves. None was more celebrated throughout the Island than that of the children of Luther and Lettie Guthrie. Although it was before my time, it was still so well known that most people could mimic the sound and the rhythm of Lettie’s daily call to all five of her sons, letting them know that she wanted them home.
Standing on her porch, she would take a deep breath and then bellow out in one long and loud verse: " L u t h e r M e r r i l l, M a r i o n L e e, C h a r l e s C u r t i s, C u r v i s L e e!" And then without taking a breath, she ended with a final flourish that was almost French in its final accent of “J a y P e r r y´.”