I grew up in a smallish mid-western town with a population of about 25,000 to 30,000. I was the oldest and the only girl with three younger brothers. I would wake early on those summer mornings and feel called to get outside to experience the morning. I was afraid I would be missing something that wouldn’t return if I didn’t get out there. Not too many people were out and about at that time so I just mostly wandered around, looking at things like the dew on the grass and the flowers.
Throughout the day my brothers and I drifted in and out of the house. We went where the wind blew us, sometimes riding our bikes, and sometimes building things or playing dress up. Sometimes other children came out to play and we would figure out things to do such as burying a dead bird which we named Japan for Jan (and Jeff), Alan, Patty and Nancy. The other A had to stand for my other brother Ken because we couldn’t come up with any name that included the letter K. (Sorry Ken). We probably compensated by giving him some special duty in the burying of Japan.
We wandered, with and without our friends, with or without our bikes. We warred on each other and brokered truces. We always found something to keep us occupied. Sometimes we would find ourselves several blocks away from home. And at six o’clock every night, the town civil defense siren sounded. We would scamper home in different directions knowing that the six o’clock siren was our cue to be home to eat.
It was a completely normal everyday occurrence in my life, and a convenience at a time when we would be lucky if we had a watch. Recently I found myself thinking about that siren. I wondered why it was started. Was it started as a way to send all the kids in the community home to supper? When did it stop, and why? A Google search has turned up absolutely nothing about it. I learned that in other towns the sirens would sometimes sound several times a day indicating the start of the work day, lunchtime, and the end of the work day. But I could find nothing about a town that would sound the siren everyday at 6:00 pm.
But the main point I thought about was how different a time and place it was when a town used a siren to send children to their homes in time for dinner. When they were out and about on their own, away from the sight and reach of their parents. When children could follow their sense of adventure all day long wherever it led them, and just be home when the siren sounded. Our worlds have expanded so much with all of our technology and ability to stay in touch constantly, but I can’t help thinking that our actual world has been shrinking with every generation. I miss the six o’clock siren and all that it stood for.