My Window To The World
A child of the early fifties, I grew up in Southwest Florida. Air-conditioning was uncommon and the climate was tropical. Water was the most effective way to cool off during the day; the nearest ‘open-window’ provided relief at night. Having an open-window was common for all; day/night; homes and businesses alike.
home (Hurricane Donna) 1960
In 1956 I was four-years old; my bed was ‘against the wall’ inches below the window sill of our Hanson Street home in Fort Myers. If you wonder if kids can remember things until they are adults – circumstance and this particular window held a world of impressions for this child.
A PULSE OUTSIDE
Over those years, it was within those moments of absolute peace that occur through the night – that I realized that there was a ‘pulse’ to this world. From under that window I noticed the differences in the breeze and felt the dampness of the air. Under my window I found comfort as the heavy rain struck the roof; the cool air would seep over the sill and down onto my skin – gently lowering a high-strung child into a very simple state of subconsciousness.
During sleep I sensed early from late, stuff that was going on, and the changes of darkness to daylight. It was not uncommon to be welcomed into the earliest part of the morning by the sound of a mockingbird landing on our television antenna – after a pause would come the singing, chirping, calling, and other enthusiastic compilations within those ever-changing melodies. This, welcoming me back into another day…..
Below that window that I realized beyond having a pulse – there were ‘cycles’ to life.
There were lots of lives passing outside. Sixty yards away was highway-41, an artery of a highway that hosted plenty of sounds which reverberated within my thoughts and dreams throughout those long, slow Florida nights.
THE ‘TAMIAMI TRAIL’
Highway 41 (The Tamiami Trail) was just east of my window. There were no interstates, in the fifties this was the only route for travelers from Tampa to Miami. Physically, the highway appeared ‘haggard,’ two uneven lanes of patched and faded asphalt – each lane deeply rutted from years of constant wear. Along each side of this highway were ditches of magnitude from the original construction of the highway – mosquito spa’s (but that’s another story).
The Tampa-Miami Trail was in every way an a life-line to life on the SW coast of Florida – any community along the this southernmost region depended on this route for provisions. Trucks ran through at night, ‘pounding’ through that intersection sixty yards away.
These were the sounds that paralleled and infiltrated this child’s dreams and contemplation’s.
SOUNDS WITHIN THE ‘STILLNESS’
At that time Ft. Myers truly was like being halfway between nowhere and somewhere. Through many moments within the nights it was not unusual for ‘silence’ to occur – ‘dead-silence’ would dwell. Within the night it was possible to recognize the ‘click’ of the changing signal at that 41/Hanson st intersection. In the fifties the traffic-light was ‘timed’ – no magnetic or electronic fields to recognize awaiting traffic, just a preset timer.
Instead of ‘counting sheep,’ for me it became more natural to anticipate the ‘click,’ pause, and then the following ‘click’ indicating the changes of color from green, to yellow, to red, and so on through the night. With lighter late-night traffic anticipated, the signal was programmed to change to a flashing yellow warning light – this occurred from ten pm until six am the next morning, always on time, always. Maybe somewhere in here I learned consistency.
There were also the associated sounds of drivers anticipating that upcoming signal; a slowing of vehicles (brakes and engine noise). The vehicles of the fifties were distinct in their sounds; the rumble of a particular engine; clutch petals would ‘pop’ up against the floorboard when released (many times identifying the specific vehicle); the shifting of gears (not always perfect) and sometimes even the smell of exhaust or lingering smoke. For the most part I didn’t have to rise from bed or open my eyes to know what color the signal was; I understood from the timing, the ‘click,’ and the overall sound.
The sound of a particular vehicle could even provide the time..
The ‘dead-sleep’ within those ‘dark and still’ periods would often be nudged by a distant rumble -an approaching vehicle. Steadily the sound would become more and more recognizable – once again I understood what type of vehicle was approaching through the darkness, usually a truck. I could tell whether the truck was empty or loaded, headed north or south, all from the tone that was produced as it crossed that patched and haggard intersection outside. The rumble of the vehicle and pace of the moment would once again fade into the darkness of the night, settling into this young boy’s dreams and thoughts. I noticed how drivers operated – their pace, their anticipation of the signal, and maybe a little about a driver’s demeanor.
I could sense the denseness of the heavy Florida dew as it settled upon the earth outside…
That thick morning fog could ‘muffle’ the sounds of sunrise; the local milk-trucks (Borden’s, Hart’s or Sealtest) would approach the traffic light, stop, and settle to an idle. In our small town we knew many of the local delivery trucks without having to look. A few seconds after the signal ‘clicked’ the truck would move across the rutted lanes of Highway-41 causing the glass bottles within to jingle; the driver would shift as he neared our home and the clutch would ‘pop’ against the floorboard outside as the truck passed. I heard their windshield wipers slashing against the heavy dew – depending on the vehicle; some would stop further down our street – a small time lapse, then crank-up before easing into the increasing sounds of a new day.
You could feel the beams of sunlight eating away the lingering dew…
MAKING SENSE OF IT
My window provided me an avenue to understand “traffic-flow.” Traffic is normally slower and ‘lighter’ during the night while naturally noisier and ‘heavier’ during daylight hours, but the unique thing about the traffic outside my window was how it also coincided with the changes of the Florida landscape.
There were locals, there were tourists, and there were travelers; each segment easily identifiable through their ‘pace’ and actions. In the fall of each year our traffic (along with the sound of the horns) would increase dramatically from the influx of Northerners escaping the snow up north (Snow-birds). The increase of traffic was always noticeably hectic remaining throughout the cooler months. The relaxed local pace returned with the summer heat and Kids played in the streets.
The distinctive difference in that hectic seasonal pace of the fifties and early sixties was that it began to lengthen through the years. One spring in the late 60’s the traffic and the Northerners that came – stayed. Our little intersection then became busy year-round – accidents, well – the squeal of tires followed by a sudden thud became part of the ‘norm.’ The intensity of any impact indicated whether or not we even looked; ‘just another accident.’
Over time the traffic signal was updated, re-timed (Wendell Leigh) and the system computerized. The late-night change to caution-lite (yellow blinking) was extended from ten o’clock to midnight and then removed all together. The once sporadic traffic now had to be controlled 24-hours.
Outside my window that little highway had grown from a rutted two, to a smooth six lanes of highway. The moments of ‘dead-quiet’ periods within those long nights became replaced by the buzzing of large fluorescent signs.
The highway is but one example of so many impressions that came to this child through a simple bedroom window. The natural sounds, those man-made, the smell, the changes – and that damn mocking bird’s ever-present morning compilation still lurks more than fifty years later
– it leads me to believe that a child’s bedroom window could influence a young life forever.
– Born/raised in SW Florida
– Fort Myers High School 70
– raised a family in the Mountains of North Carolina (Weaverville/Asheville/Hendersonville)
– retired from the City of Asheville, Fire Department (31 years)
-‘default‘ is a quiet little lake amidst the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mtns. SC
– Dad’s Old Pickup (Ft. Myers)