'The Dying Cow'

Sunday, May 29, 2011

'The Dying Cow'

I was exiting the Waldbaum's1 parking lot around 4:30 pm when an utterly unGawdly sound emanated from the Fire District property next door.

It was low and ominous, the likes of which I hadn't heard in over 60 years, and never in Westhampton Beach!

I asked the Traffic Control Officer on Main Street what it had been, and his explanation was that someone in the Fire House had "pushed the wrong button."

(Which button remains unanswered!)

The similar sound from my youth was what my dear ol' Dad, who had a knack for descriptive nicknames, used to call the "Dying Cow."

It was probably 1946 or '47, and we were posted to the Army's Transportation Training Command, Amphibious Warfare Center, at Fort Story on Virginia Beach.

It was the third leg in my post-WWII life as a peripatetic "Army brat," and while the family was seeking suitable housing, we were, briefly, quartered in a barrack.

The Cape Henry Lighthouse, circa 1944

It's important to know that Fort Story is on the "elbow" of Cape Henry at the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, and at the time we were staying there, had the world's most baleful-sounding foghorn attached to its lighthouse.

Not yet seven years old, I would awaken at some unknown hour in the gloom, hearing this monstrous sound... I knew what it was, but it didn't matter.

It was awful, and evoked childhood terrors!

Lying there in an Army cot under coarse sheets and a regulation Olive Drab blanket, my imag­ination would run amok as shapes seemed to form in the darkness, imperceptibly moving ever closer to my huddled form.

Of some consolation much later in life, I learned from Fielding Lewis Tyler's "Fort Story and Cape Henry" that:

"Newly arrived soldiers at Fort Story 'came straight up in their beds' when the fog horn first sounded."

Hey, if it alarmed young soldiers, what chance did a seven-year old stand?

In short order we moved into a house some distance away where the sound of the "dying cow" wasn't quite as pronounced.

  1. Yeah, I know... at the last minute Jeanne needed a pint of Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream for her dinner party dessert. That particular freezer box had failed some­where along the line, and I had to scratch frost off the label just to make sure I got Vanilla. I should have scratched more... it was Frozen Yogurt, not Ice Cream!


1. EastEnd68 said...

Rite Aid and 7-Eleven both sell Häagen-Dazs. There is no reason to ever go to Waldbaum's.

I took temporary leave of my senses.

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