This morning I heard that call.
It was that familiar three-tone warble, a delicate harmony that glided through the treetops, injecting life into the pines, the maples, the poplars, the hemlocks, never unnerved by the bite of a chilly New England morning.
It was not a call peculiar to our cul-de-sac, carved from what once was dense, New Hampshire backwoods—though that is where I remember it most fondly. I remember the late Sunday mornings nestled between the folds of my crumpled comforter, Spiderman sheets in a heap at the bedside, wallowing in the crisp, late morning draft that wafted through my cracked window.
That time of year, it smelled of fresh pine needles, of fresh-laid mulch, of newly broken soil and, even if rarely, tainted by the rumble of the lawn mower or, even worse, the nauseous fumes that came with it. No matter—in summers it became the pop of a sprinkler, autumns the sharp cut of freshly mowed lawns, in winters the local snow-shoveler’s pickup truck.
Only that call came Sunday after Sunday. Amidst April showers, toasty summers, and even a blistering snowstorm—every Sunday I heard that three-tone call. It became the music of my childhood in a life where car rides meant NPR rather than Beyoncé. It meant the start of a laid-back day in the neighborhood, sprinting across the lawns, shooting hoops with the neighbors, maybe an impromptu playdate with the Joneses down the street. Surely, at least it meant the audible banging downstairs and the distant roar of a firing cooktop: an upcoming meal, I knew. I would always wait smugly in bed (though peaceful is how I would have described it to anyone who cared to ask), until the gentle knock on the door and my father’s beaming face at the doorway…
“Rise and shine!”
And that was my cue to roll out of bed like a released wind-up toy, my previous moments of meditative listening far behind me, and a breathless sprint downstairs to find fried eggs, seasonal fruits, freshly made toast and, if it was extra special, pound cake from the local bakery. “Brush your teeth,” was the only warning that kept me from wharfing down everything in my sight; a mellowed me would trudge my way back upstairs for the terribly trite routine. I would have surely heard that three-tone call again upon reaching the top stair—but my mind was too distracted by the pound cake to notice it. As the day wore on, any memory of that three-tone call would fade completely from my mind until I barely noticed it at all. It receded, noiselessly and peacefully, into the mosaic of memory that was my childhood.
Which is why, this morning, it came as a complete surprise when I heard that three-tone call again. That’s when everything really hit me.
I had wandered into our bathroom across the hall, careful not to wake my dormmates from their much-needed weekend slumber. I had groggily stuck my toothbrush in my mouth when I heard that call, the three notes ringing all too clearly, unleashing a deluge of nostalgia that is this piece.
It didn’t help that all I had for breakfast was the apple sitting on my dented windowsill.
Frank Zhou is a 17-year-old high school senior at Phillips Academy Andover, where he is editor-in-chief of the campus literary magazine and leads several environmental advocacy initiatives. His Chinese-English translations appear in the Chinese Film Classics Project at the University of British Columbia. When he’s not waist-deep in Chinese novels, he’s an A-list smoothie enthusiast and loves a good black raspberry smoothie!