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A whole new sense of hearing

After a weekend in Kenosha "Kenowhere" Wisconsin, I'm hearing in a whole new light.

Last Thursday I hit the highway with Jake and Family for his cousin/my new pal Erin's graduation. In a single Suburban space-consciously packed with two parents, three college kids, two preteens and a long weekend's allotment of stuff times seven, we bravely began the 570-some mile drive to southeast Wisconsin's "biggest small town you'll ever see," according to a freshly graduated Miss Erin.

The thing about being in a car for 10-plus hours is that you become finely attuned to the novelty of noise.

At any minute, close quarters might cause vocal protests, like "Collin's feet are in my face;" just as quickly, driving drowsiness might mute the vehicle's entire population to a sleepy hush, broken only by a string of snores, video games bleeps and whirs or radio station static.

Because the inner workings of a road trip revolve around such sound cycles, you start to take especial note of the volume varieties. The quiet of a sleeping car full is a restless silence, anxious for arrival; the upped decibels of an in-car quarrel, contained in an inescapable space, are amplified to piercing proportions.

When we arrived, after the excitement of a non-moving structure had been worn off and the exhaustion from an all-night drive had been slept off, there were new sorts of sounds screaming, whispering, ringing, laughing and calling to be heard.

With much of Jake's family congregating for the occasion, there were many warm exclamations of greeting; with plenty of grad party preparation to be done, there were a lot of appeals for assistance. Card games brought conversation, recollection, teasing and laughter; video games again brought their brand of clamor to the mix.

The continual movement of people throughout the house -- including the late-to-bedders who went to sleep only moments before the early-risers woke up -- ensured there was never a lack of noise in the near vicinity.

Of course, there were quiet times. When the house was partially emptied as errands took chosen inhabitants to town, there was a deserted calm, contrasting the cozy commotion of a houseful of family. The errands themselves weren't noisy, either, like when Jake and I self-navigated through Kenosha's numbered streets, and the only sounds were us debating whether we'd taken a right turn or gone straight at the Piggly Wiggly?

And as the clocks ran down and dozes replaced bustling, fewer thoughts were given voice and greater quiet settled in for the evening.

Of course, there were also afternoon excursions to the beach, Lake Michigan's softly sandy coastline lying just a block from the house. Although the waves were large and loud and ocean-like, the beach didn't seem at all agitated by it. The time we spent picking rocks, trying to skip them across the water's surface, writing things in the sand and talking about whatever people talk about on beaches was like sitting inside a sea shell, tranquilly coexisting with the rhythmic crash.

And then it was time to get back in the Suburban and go home, which was half an hour's worth of chaotic settling in followed by nine hours of sleepy silence and a reemergence into sound when we hit Detroit Lakes.

Jake and I, hungry from a weekend's worth of hearing, went to Main Street for a quiet breakfast.

Midway through the meal, a group of men began to materialize in the corner by our booth, socializing and singing to the clink of coffee cups and stumbles through sticky buns.

So much for silence.

As Jake and I edged by to pay our bill and be on our way, one of the men called out: "Sorry for being so rowdy."

We told him we didn't mind, and Superintendent Doug Froke turned to the rest of the group and said, "We'll probably end up in the newspaper now."

Well, Mr. Froke, you did -- and you have my newfound appreciation for sound to thank for it.

Thressa Johnson graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends Hamline University in St. Paul.