In the latest book in my Family History Mystery Series (DEAD IN A FLASH, pub 2016) a sound is a clue which helps unravel a decades old mystery.
I purposefully set out to use this sound because of something I experienced. One day as I was waiting for someone on a sidewalk bench (lost in my phone as some of us frequently are these days), I heard this particular sound as a desperate smoker hurried out of a building and into the alleyway to light up. It instantly summoned up a whole bundle of memories and feelings.
It was the sound of a Zippo lighter opening, striking and closing. It made me think of my father, not just in a “I recall” way but in a more immediate detailed and emotional remembrance. My Dad was (unfortunately) a smoker when I was a child and the sound of that lighter was something that assured me he was nearby. And it usually meant he was relaxed, as he didn’t generally smoke while he was working. So it’s a comforting sound to me.
This got me thinking about how important familiar sounds are in our daily lives and how infrequently we think to preserve those in our family history narratives. Like smell, hearing is a strong trigger for memories.
Now I can’t go back and record my Dad using that lighter. But I can replicate the sound. I have an old Zippo and I could record the sound myself, but I didn’t bother because I learned I could go to this website:
which hosts sound recordings people have made of an amazing assortment of things(some for public use and some under other licenses). I had a whole host of choices for that distinctive click-hiss-clack sound to include in my stories about my Dad and I picked the one (above) that resonated most with me and downloaded it.
For today’s five-minute exercise, think about the sounds in your daily life. Either the ones you heard growing up or ones your children/grandchildren are hearing now. Those will likely trigger a memory for them later on. For today just make the list and maybe in days to come you can record the sound. You could, of course, make a short video but audio version may serve as a stronger triggersince it isolates the sound from the sense of sight.
Or, if it’s too late, you may wish to visit freesound.org to see if anyone else has recorded “your” sounds.*
*As always, be sure to document your source if you include it in your family history.