The Tale within the Tale
When we were little kids, Mom told us that in addition to memorizing our full names, phone number, and address, we would also be learning and memorizing a Family Whistle. A Family Whistle, we soon found out, was something she had read about in the paper in the Dear Abbey column. A woman was complaining to Abbey that the neighbor lady was using such a whistle to call her children in for supper, “Just as though they were dogs!” The reader was aghast.
“But Abbey,” Mom righteously stood up for her, “informed that reader that a Family Whistle was not at all demeaning but potentially a very valuable tool.” Abbey, as was her way, illuminated her statement with a true story.
As I began to relate the tale to a friend, it began to tell itself in far greater detail than in the original newspaper article…
Brothers Johnny and Steve were taught a Family Whistle early on in their lives. It was just four notes arranged into a simple tune which their family used to call each other home. Time passed, the boys grew up, and during WWII both felt the call to go into service. Steve’s regiment boldly faced the worst of it at the front. One fateful day, he, as well as many others, fell under heavy fire. When reinforcement forces finally arrived, not one of their comrades was left standing. Frantically the medics sent out waves of men in search of the wounded, but sadly, wave after wave came back with empty stretchers.
Finally, their disheartened captain stopped the search for the living and ordered the body bagging to begin. When the work was finished and the soldiers were ready to go, Captain Diego sent word to all the vehicle drivers to turn off their engines. He invited the troops to join in a few moments of silence before they left the gruesome scene. Once the quiet was established, Captain Diego’s slow, heavy footsteps going down into the battlefield were all anyone could hear. Then, the sound of his footsteps stopped. Captain Diego, Captain Juan Diego, who was known as “Johnny” to his family and closest friends, began to whistle.
It was a simple four-note melody, one he had learned long ago as a child. He whistled it again, louder this time, and then he waited. Captain Diego felt, in the waiting, the pressure of his soldiers’ want to leave the terrible place with their terrible cargo, but he took one last heavy breath in and pursed his lips. This time the notes sailed forth with more power, strength, and a certain command. As he waited he felt afraid to move, afraid to breathe; he was listening with his entire body. Finally it came – the first few notes of the Family Whistle. It was so faint… at first he was almost convinced it was just the wind or his hope giving wings to his imagination, but no! There it was again, those first three notes!
Johnny found his brother Steve’s severely wounded body wedged between a boulder and an enormous fallen tree trunk. How quickly that trunk was cut up into manageable pieces by Captain Diego’s most enthusiastic men, who henceforth began referring to their Captain as, “The Whistler,” for they believed he could whistle up the dead.