Listen My Children, And You Shall Hear, Part 1

My apologies to Longfellow, for this has nothing to do with his magnificent “Paul Revere’s Ride”. I was actually thinking about something we often repeated as children:

Didn’t know it
Feet Showed it
They were Longfellow’s

But I digress. I think the phrase came to mind when thinking about telling stories of ‘the good ole days’ and ‘when I was a kid’. I guess we do that more and more the older we get.

When chatting with a friend last week we were laughing about how technology bound we have become and I wanted to capture the thought before the idea left me.

I can remember when our first black wall phone was installed in my grandmother’s house. We were on a party line with four to six other houses. Everyone on the party line had a particular ring, so you knew if the incoming call was for you. Sharing the line was always a problem. Older shut-in people liked to talk a long time as did children. And then there was the listening in on your conversations. I can still remember my grandmother chastising heavy breathing neighbors to ‘hang up the phone’.

The phone companies also provided the telephones. Standard issue rotary phones were the first we had to choose from. There was no buying a phone elsewhere. I vaguely remember visiting an AT&T store. I wanted a pink Princess Phone so badly, but all we ever got was a pushbutton Trimline phone and rotary wall phone, both in harvest gold color. There were also extra charges for ‘touchtone’ and extra charges if you wanted an unlisted number and extra charges if you wanted the phone company to service the wiring inside your home.

Traveling to see loved ones was always a lesson in faith and trust. There were no cell phones to report on progress. When we traveled the 12 hours from Ohio to Virginia to visit my grandparents it was a long haul. They must have worried as we were on the road for so long. When we made the return trip home, we used the collect call to a ‘code name’ to let them know we arrived safely.

Operator: “Will you accept a collect call from Bartholomew Smith”?
Grandparents: “No”
Operator: “I’m sorry, the charges were refused.”

Everyone would giggle and the message was conveyed. We got home ok. And the message did not cost anything. Long distance calls were expensive, and collect calls even more so. Any operator assisted calls caused the cost to skyrocket.

Which made me wonder. If I press ‘0’ on my cell phone, what would happen? Or on a landline? Do operators exist anymore? What about overseas operators? They were a specialty – located in Denver if I remember correctly.

Then of course, we dialed 411 for directory assistance when we needed a Local phone number. An information operator would ask what number you were seeking, look it up and recite the number to you. The service was also used for long distance. Dial the area code +555-1212.

Many towns and cities also had a reserved number you could call for time and temperature. I do not recall any of those numbers. There is a great scene in the movie “Doc Hollywood” where Michael J. Fox calls back to Grady from Los Angeles just to hear the time and temperature recording.

Then there were pay phones. I can remember going to a payphone with a change purse full of quarters to make a ‘long distance’ call, which in reality, was not necessarily long distance. If your time ran out, an operator would come back online instructing you to add more money or your call would end abruptly.

I worked as a switchboard operator when I lived in Alaska. I worked with a few of the local telco technicians. They told me about a man that was finally arrested for making thousands of dollars of fraudulent phone calls. You see, when you put money in a pay phone, each coin made a specific sound. That’s how the operator knew if you had paid the proper amount. Well, this kindly older gentlemen would call the operator and chat with her and would pay the appropriate cost for the call – except he didn’t. He had in his possession a recording of the sound the coins made when falling into the machine. It took a while to find him, but they knew something was up when the money was collected from the phones and there was nothing there.

I cannot remember the last time I saw a working payphone. There are still some boxes around, but the phones have long since been removed.

I never imagined telephones would become part of my nostalgia. Another scene – all too familiar – of a stretched out phone cord taken into the bathroom for privacy plays out in the movie “Home for the Holidays”.

The phone was our connection as cumbersome as it seems now. Maybe here in 2020, we are reminded of what it was like to ‘reach out and touch someone’ through the phone.



Song Lyric Sunday – Sweet Cherry Wine

This week we have the fruit prompts of Apple / Banana / Cherry / Olive / Orange /Strawberry.

Mid sixties, enter the era of psychedlia. This era encompassed everything to do with the psychedelic drug culture. Music, art, and manner of dress all encompassed the bright ‘psychedelic’ colors and aura of the time.

Tommy James and the Shondells had been labeled a ‘bubblegum’ band following their releases of “I Think We’re Alone Now”, “Mirage”, and “Mony Mony”. The label did not sit well with the band. At some point they were able to shift their identity to a Psychedelic Band with songs like “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Crimson and Clover”.

Released in 1969 on their album “Cellophane Symphony”, “Sweet Cherry Wine”, like some of their other songs, were thought to be about the drug culture or an anti-war anthem. This was disputed in an interview with Songfacts:

“Expressing his Christian beliefs in this song, James told us that the “sweet cherry wine” is “A metaphor for the blood of Jesus.” Talking about his faith, James said: “I don’t worship every Sunday; I worship every day. Every hour of every day. It’s just me, it’s part of me. I became a Christian in 1967. I was brought up Catholic, but I really didn’t know my faith very well, didn’t know what I believed, why I believed what I believed. And in 1967 I was listening to Billy Graham at Shea Stadium on television. And we were writing, as a matter of fact, and I put the guitars down and started listening. And he just gave the most amazingly lucid teaching on why Jesus came. And I had never heard it put quite that way before. I had heard a lot of over-my-head sophisticated kind of things growing up. But I never really heard the gospel message quite like that. And there’s a moment, I equate it to hitting a champagne glass – a crystal champagne glass with a fork, you know how you get that pure tone? That’s kind of how I felt when I heard Billy Graham explain why Jesus came. And I knew I’d heard the truth. It’s too simple and too beautiful to not be the truth, and not be God. And I was actually high at the time, it’s true. It just cut right through everything that was going on with me, and I just got right up to the TV and put my hand on the TV and made my commitment right there.”

In 1970, Tommy James collapsed coming off stage from a reaction to drugs. He was actually pronounced dead, but did recover. He left the band and moved to the country to recuperate.

He would go on to a solo career which produced a few notable songs like “Dragging the Line”

He went on to re-record the song with a gospel group “The Kootz” with the style and feel of the song drastically altered. The song was released in 2005, the same week the original was released 36 years earlier.

Sweet Cherry Wine
Lyrics from Songfacts

Come on everyone we gotta get together now
Oh yeah, love’s the only thing that matters anyhow
And the beauty of life can only survive
If we love one another

Oh yeah yesterday my friends were marching out to war
Oh yeah listen now we ain’t a marching anymore
No we ain’t gonna fight
Only God has the right

To decide who’s to live and die
He gave us sweet cherry wine
So very fine
Drink it right down, pass it all around

So stimulating, so intoxicating
Sweet cherry wine
To open your mind
And everybody’s gonna feel so fine
Drinking sweet cherry wine
Yes they will

Watch the mountain turn
To dust and glow away
Oh Lord, you know there’s got to be a better way
And the old masquerade is a no soul parade
Marchin’ through the ruins of time
To save us He gave us sweet cherry wine

Sweet cherry wine, so very fine
Drink it right down
Pass it all around
So stimulating, so intoxicating

Sweet cherry wine
Drink it with your brother
Trust in one another, yeah, yeah
He gave us sweet cherry wine

Sweet cherry wine
Drink it right down
Pass it all around
People don’t you know the cup is running over
Sweet cherry wine


Why not join in on this Sunday blogging ritual. Head over to Jim Adams’ blog to check out the rules and read some of the great responses to the weekly prompt.