Light and Sound

When I was a kid, my grandparents (on Dad’s side) lived in a house in a neighborhood that was located behind a high school. I’m sure if I were to drive through that neighborhood today, it would be completely different than the way I remember it. But the way I remember things being back in the day, the house was basically across the road from the school’s baseball field.

I’m really not sure how long my grandparents lived there before they made the move to Nashville, but I do remember watching baseball games with Dad from the front porch from time to time. I guess we could have been watching baseball practice… who can say? I’m pretty sure I was still in the single digits, age-wise.

One spring day in particular, Dad and I were watching as a batter swung his aluminum bat and made solid contact with the ball. And my tiny mind registered that we heard the sound of the bat and ball connecting a split second after seeing the action occur. Being the inquisitive child I was, I asked Dad why it was that I could see it before I could hear it.

That’s when Dad gave me my first physics lesson, right there on my grandparents’ front porch.

Wait… it is physics, right? Speed of light versus the speed of sound? Yeah… that’s physics.

Right?

Anyway, that’s what it boiled down to in that lesson. Dad talked about how fast light travels versus how fast sound waves travel. Apparently there’s a big difference. He wasn’t able to give me exact numbers on the speed of light or sound. It was the ’80s and smartphones were about 20 years off. At this point, we couldn’t have even gone inside and dialed into America Online to do a 20 minute search for that information.

Today, I can just open up another window and Google the speed of light (299,792,458 miles per second) and the speed of sound (343 miles per second). And, yeah, there’s a big difference.

Dad was also able to draw on other practical experiences, such as the difference between seeing lightning flash and hearing the thunder it causes. The closer the lightning, the sooner we hear the thunder. I’m still not sure how accurate the whole counting seconds between lightning and thunder really is. But it sure made me feel better when I was a kid and terrified of storms.

That memory has always stuck with me. It’s not one I talk about much. I mean, how often does a child’s discovery that light travels faster than sound come up on conversation? But Dad used to bring it up from time to time. I used to pretend like it wasn’t a huge deal to remember it. “Remember that time we watched the baseball team and I taught you about the speed of light and sound?” he’d ask throughout my adult years.

“Yeah, Dad… I remember,” I’d respond, rolling my eyes but secretly cherishing the memory. “Glad you keep bringing it up and reminding us all about how brilliant you were when I was seven.”

“Were?!”

“Are!” I’d quickly correct. Because, of course, Dad was always brilliant. If I’m a cesspool of useless knowledge, Dad was a… um… what’s more impressive than a cesspool? A water tower? Reservoir? A Great Lake?

If the Jeopardy! online test had been a thing before Dad passed away, he totally would have passed the thing and been invited to try out for the show.

Do you have any special memories of a parent imparting practical knowledge to you in your childhood? Share your memory in the comments or share it in your own blog post! But be sure to link back here so I’ll get a chance to follow over and read what you’ve written!

Feature Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

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