Even with the school yard empty, LeeRoy listened to the playground sounds. He heard the clanking of the rings swaying in the hot October wind. The chains of the swings were banging gently against the poles. Sometimes a tumbleweed got caught under the slide. It would finally be freed by a gust of wind and continue on its way out into the Arizona desert.
His small western town had lots of sounds that LeeRoy knew very well. The playground sounds were very faint, yet he could hear them as he sat inside his third grade classroom.
School was supposed to be fun. All the other kids really liked school. They were always laughing and crowding around the teacher and raising their hands. They got the right answers. Their papers had lots of stickers that read, “Good job” or “Superstar” or “Terrific.” LeeRoy could see their papers from his seat in the back row of the room. He never raised his hand. His papers got no stickers. His papers got comments like “Better” or “Keep trying,” made with a red marker. He sat holding a paper the teacher had just handed back, marked “Try harder, LeeRoy!” Although this was only the fifth week of school, he sighed, feeling as though he had been there forever.
“Today I have a special surprise for all of you,” the teacher announced.
LeeRoy looked out the window. He watched a tumbleweed free itself from under the slide. She has no surprises for me, he thought. I’m just a dumb kid. He heard a faraway train whistling its arrival. There were seven train whistles every day before lunch. He knew because he listened for them.
“Our town newspaper has invited each class in our school to write a story about how we know our town,” the teacher continued. “The class that writes the most unusual, interesting one will get their story printed and will receive awards.”
There was instant chattering in the classroom.
“Raise your hands to talk,” the teacher reminded them.
“What do eight-year-olds know about a town?” Lisa asked as she raised her hand and spoke at the same time.
“Just think about it. We know a lot of things,” Miss Anderson said, including herself as a part of the class.
“I know about catching crawdads in the creek,” Tom boasted.
“Oh how gross!” Molly put in. “How about the new library?” The class had been to it twice, and it was indeed a fine library for a town of only six thousand people.
“That’s boring, Molly,” Danny said, without adding any suggestions of his own.
Miss Anderson quieted the class. She went up and down the aisles, asking for more suggestions. “What do you know about the town, Fred?” she asked. Fred simply shrugged his shoulders. “Keith?” she questioned as she started down another row.
“My dad says we’re going to get tons of snow this winter,” Keith announced.
“It has to be something we know,” corrected Susan. “What about our city park? We all go there.”
“That’s a good idea,” agreed Miss Anderson. She reached the end of the row. “What do you know, LeeRoy?”
LeeRoy looked from the window up to the teacher and said, “Huh?”
“LeeRoy, what do you know about our town?” she repeated, looking disappointed that he had not been paying attention.
LeeRoy looked up again and barely whispered, “I know noise.”
Bursts of laughter broke out. LeeRoy lowered his head and heard his heart pounding, punishing him for being so dumb.
“That’s very interesting, LeeRoy,” Miss Anderson said, waving her hand for the others to be quiet. “Tell me about the noises you know.”
“Just listen,” LeeRoy slowly began. “The playground rings make sounds, and the chains on the swings, and the wind, and the clock, and the trains …” He looked up.
The class got very quiet, surprised to hear LeeRoy talk. The fan on the top of the teacher’s file cabinet whirred as it turned from side to side, clicking each time it stopped and started the other way.
“Listen to the fan,” Molly said, breaking the silence.
Everyone listened until Fred said, “I hear the lights humming.” Again silence fell as everyone held his breath and listened to the lights hum. LeeRoy watched as they all listened.
“That’s a neat idea, LeeRoy!” Tom said. The class listened for more sounds that they hadn’t really thought about before.
“We all know noises,” remarked Susan. “Let’s use LeeRoy’s idea for our story. We could write about the noises in our town.”
“That’s a wonderful suggestion, Susan,” Miss Anderson agreed. “Do we all agree?” When the class yelled its excited approval, she asked, “May we use your idea, Lee Roy? And will you help us learn about your special noises?”
LeeRoy nodded, and a shy grin broke out on his face.
The next day the class members listed all the noises that they’d heard after school and during the night. LeeRoy told them about the sounds that he liked best: the popping of the popcorn in the street vendor’s cart and the squeaking of the film moving in the movie theater. He liked the way the planks of the classroom floor creaked when the heater went on.
The story from Miss Anderson’s third-grade class was titled “My Town’s Noise.” It told about how quiet a desert town like theirs was, yet how alive it was with noise. In describing their noises, they had described their town.
The newspaper printed their story on the front page with a picture of the big blue first-prize ribbon next to the story. Under it was a picture of the class members and their teacher. In the front row, with a big grin on his face, stood LeeRoy.