Songs trigger memories of growing up in Auburn | Whale’s Tales

That’s what happens whenever I hear the opening notes of Bruce Springsteen’s wonderful “My Hometown.”

They catch us unprepared.

Those moments when a snatch of a song on the radio, a hint of transitory spring sweetness in the air, a familiar joke summon to the surface the deep events in our lives.

And as they do, they stoke an almost irresistible urge in us to turn to someone who shares that memory, and ask, “You remember that?”

That’s what happens whenever the opening notes of Bruce Springsteen’s wonderful “My Hometown,” told from the perspective of a man recalling a boyhood moment with his father, reach my ears:

“I’d sit on his lap, big old Buick, steer as we drove through town. He’d tousle my hair, say, ‘Son, take a good look around. This is your hometown. This is your hometown.’”

The song goes on to describe changes the years have wrought on the pleasant hometown of his memory, through the turmoil of the ‘60s to the town’s present hard times, when the textile mill has closed, jobs are hard to come by, and the downtown of memory has become rows of “whitewashed windows and vacant stores.”

My dad never drove a Buick when I was a kid, just an old Nash, a 1962 pink Rambler and a Ford. But all served as the vehicle of many treasured cross-town outings to Mel’s Lumber, Cavanaugh’s Hardware, you name it.

What hits me sharply is how my dad he took the time to remind me about the meaning of a hometown and to remember it as it was when I was a kid. My father knew that whatever its shortcomings, there would never be another place like it.

And when I hear the Springsteen song, I want turn to my father and say, “you hear that, dad?” But of course, he’s gone.

In its train, the song tugs on memories of those refreshing “dad’s home” dips in the cool, revivifying waters of the Green River near Isaac Evans Park on the boiling hot summer days of my kidhood.

Oddly enough, it even drags along the many creative, umm, let’s call them, “terminological inexactitudes” the old man BS’d his kids with during the Sunday drives he loved so much — like the whopper that Bing Crosby lived in a certain red farmhouse near Orting. When I brought that story up years later, still believing it, he could hardly believe that I’d swallowed his malarkey.

The radio evokes other memories, too. Like when I hear ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” I see once more my late brother, Jim, gone 49 years this April 12, take his Baldwin bass guitar in hand, spin it and introduce himself with his pseudonym JJ Humboldt before a packed hall.

I know I was often a pest to him, in proper little brother fashion. But the song again reminds me how he took the time to teach me how to skip rocks during that haunted last summer when he was with us on a family vacation at Lake Sutherland on the Olympic Peninsula. I wish my memories with him had included sitting down and playing guitar together. I only picked up the instrument a week after his death at 18.

My sister Diane wants to get the Whale offspring together soon to share our childhood memories, to see if we all remember things the same way. I sure that at some point we’ll all turn to each other and ask, “You remember that?”

Robert Whale can be reached at