The Sound of One Hand Clapping

First of all, I have NO IDEA why I chose the title I did for this post.  It just seemed appropriate even though this post is about hearing (or, more precisely, what I heard) but it would not make sense to title it “the sound of one ear clapping” or “the sound of one ear hearing” since one ear can hear.

I had returned to my boyhood home to visit my parents.  My mother and I sat in my old bedroom which she had converted into a small den.  It was spring in the Northeast but still quite cool so the windows were all closed.  As we sat and talked, I could discern a muffled noise coming from outside.  Listening closely, I could distinguish two separate voices – one a lower gruff voice, like a pirate captain barking orders to his crew and the second a higher shrill voice, not unlike a screeching night heron.  I don’t know that these are really the most descriptive terms for these voices.  Other descriptors are a fog-horn that smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and fingernails scraped across a chalkboard.   I only know that one voice was lower and male, the other was higher and female and both were harsh and unpleasant.


After a while listening to the voices, my mother and I looked at each other and I said “I think I recognize those voices.  That’s Uncle Fred and Aunt Ethyl.”  [Not their real names, of course.]  My uncle and aunt were having a knock-down, lights-out screaming argument.  There was nothing particularly astonishing about this since arguments between them were commonplace.  My uncle drank heavily, my aunt was shrewish and they made no bones about what each thought of the other.  I will soften this description by pointing out that I recall no physical exchange between them despite the vehemence of the arguments.  The arguments were commonplace and not astonishing to any of us in the immediate family.

What was astonishing was that my aunt and uncle were having this argument in their house – which was two blocks away.  Moreover, they were having the argument inside their house which was two blocks away with all the windows closed!  If I, today, had living witnesses, I would submit this incident to The Guinness Book of World Records as the loudest argument ever held between two people without artificial amplification.

My uncle’s heavy drinking and my aunt’s shrewish disposition and irritation with my uncle continued unabated for a number of years until my uncle’s death, which occurred early on Christmas morning.  To this day, I carry a crystal clear memory of both incidents and it may account for the reason that I have never, since that day, even thought of having a screaming argument with anyone.

After all, how could I compete?

22 thoughts on “The Sound of One Hand Clapping

  1. I can sure understand how those childhood memories would influence your grown up attitude towards loud arguments! My grandpa was an alcoholic, and though he wasn’t loud or angry, the memories I have of him have colored my attitude towards people who drink excessively.

  2. I grew up in New York. Like Rutabaga, my family didn’t know what the term, “inside voices” meant. It was commonplace to hear screaming matches in the neighborhood, it’s part of the New York culture, you know – everyone knew what went on behind closed doors because we could hear what was going on. No need to see it. LOL!
    When I left the North East – I was introduced to the world of peace and quiet. …and so I made my home in the midwest, just out of earshot. 😀

  3. Yikes. Two blocks away? Maybe you have had screaming arguments and didn’t even realize it. Next to that, a full-throated bellow would sound like the most dulcet of whispers.

  4. I don’t blame you. That would be like having an Olympic athlete in the house; you just know you’re not going to be able to live up to that. So why bother? (I just had a revelation about my own lack of ambition).

  5. I like the sound of two ears cringing. You should hear my extended family – they yell in their normal voices. My husband is surprised I’m not deaf growing up with them…but NOT that loud – that’s a good time happening right in that house.

  6. CAL, it’s funny how childhood memories influence how we react to things. I too have scrupulously avoided/dodged/finessed situations that could have escalated into a screaming match. As a child I was afraid of loud fights, fireworks, sirens and anything that alarmed me. However, as a curmudgeon you have a much more potent weapon at your disposal when you seek to express your displeasure!!!

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