An extended mechanical moan accompanied by our dachshund's mournful descant and Mom's call to lunch: that's how I remember noon as a boy. The noon whistle was a part of growing up in a small town. There was no reason to it. If it marked the beginning of a lunch break, why didn't another whistle mark the end? It certainly didn't mark the end of a work shift. There weren't any businesses in town big enough to work in shifts. Besides, it wasn't a factory whistle; it was the noon whistle. It was a fact of life like green grass, blue skies, and chewing gum on the bottom of school desks.
I'd forgotten about noon whistles and other facts of life while busy learning more important facts at college and various other places far from home. I was reminded of them after settling down in small-town Iowa again.
"What's that? Fire? Police? Ambulance?" But the siren had stopped before my wife finished the question.
"That's the noon whistle," I answered. Providing answers is what I do best.
"But it's not noon," she said. My wife is Swiss. Time is an absolute.
I looked at my watch. It was 11:52. "Noon isn't really an exact time. It refers to the time when the sun is highest in the sky," I informed her. Some answers need elaboration.
"When is the sun highest in the sky?" she asked.
"At 12 o'clock," I replied. I had no intention of trying to explain daylight savings time.
"But it's not 12 o'clock," she repeated.
I tried a different approach. "The noon whistle isn't to set your watch by. It's a tradition. A person at the town hall turns it on as a kind of signal that it's time to go to lunch," I explained.
"Today he must have been really hungry," she said.
I couldn't swear that the whistle always blew at exactly 12:00 when I was growing up. Kids didn't have watches, and time wasn't important back then. Noon was whenever the noon whistle blew. But now I had to look at my watch to see when hunger struck the designated town official. It generally ranged from five to ten minutes early, though occasionally it was as early as twenty till and once it was five minutes late.
Then, without warning, it sounded at exactly 12:00 for a full week. Was the person on a diet? Had the clerk been fired and replaced with a more efficient bureaucrat? Had the fallible human been replaced by an automatic timer?
On Monday the whistle blew at 11:48. My wife and I looked at each other.
"Back from vacation."
About Iowa Writes
Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.
Find out more about submitting by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
David Mitschelen's boyhood home was Madrid, Iowa. He earned a Master in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa in 1993 and currently provides answers at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
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