January 2016
Simple Times

High Tech or Low Tech

  Asberry Lowry and his wife Louvicey

We’ll all still find a way to keep in touch.

This morning was like most other mornings. I fed and watered all the animals, showered, then grabbed breakfast and turned on the computer to check my email and go on Facebook.

That’s much different than two or three decades ago.

Then we completed morning chores while listening to local radio. And when I was growing up, my breakfast was ALWAYS accompanied by local radio WCRL streaming from mama’s little beige-and-turquoise plastic radio on the kitchen counter.

Then local radio broadcast who died (and the funeral arrangements) (and usually even whose mama, grandpa or grandson that person happened to be and maybe even the cause of death!), who had a birthday that day AND the next day, who was admitted to the local hospital and who’d had a baby during the night!

Now local radio still broadcasts the deaths and on into the hour birthdays after "celebrity" birthdays, but the radio station would be sued beyond belief if they reported now about hospitalizations and more!

Another great source of local news just a few years ago in rural areas was the local community columns in the weekly newspapers.

We laugh now when we look back and see where "Frances Smith got a new refrigerator last week" or "Vennie Inmon received a LONG DISTANCE phone call from her daughter in Michigan!" Seems like nothing to us now, but if you were living in those times you’d rejoice with Frances because the rural electric lines hadn’t been extended to her house where she could get a refrigerator until that spring. AND the Inmons were scared (that it might be bad news), but delighted if it was good news when the telephone brought a long distance call from the daughter in Michigan or the one in Fayette because the usual mode of communication for them back then was penny postcards on that my Granny wrote with a stubby, yellow pencil!

And what about reading about the Johnson family "motoring to the Gulf Coast" last week! Before interstates and more reliable cars and tires, that was a major vacation and everybody was envious, but they shared in the joy as they read many of the details of that beach trip in their local newspaper.

The Prickett’s dairy’s unusual large quantity of milk that week, who brought in the first, red, ripe tomato to the newspaper office or who later brought in the largest pumpkin or watermelon (with photos duly recording the events) were big news that almost everybody liked to see or read about.

My birth even made the FRONT page of the local newspaper when I was born in 1952. Somewhere here there is a clipping showing that "Paul and Inez Lowry were the proud parents of a new baby girl" born at one of the tiny local hospitals that itself is no longer in existence.

I also have a clipping of when my great-grandfather, A.S. Lowry, died. It was also on the front page complete with photo and doesn’t sound anything like the obituaries of today:

"On March 1, 1922, the death angel visited our midst and claimed the spirit of Uncle Asberry Lowry. He was born in Etowah County January 27, 1851, and moved to Blount County when he was 19 years old.

"For more than two years he had been in declining health, but hopefully and cheerfully he made a brave, but losing, fight against disease and finally the tired, suffering body fell into decay while the spirit returned to God who gave it.

"Uncle Az, as many were pleased to call him, was a good citizen, companion, father and neighbor and indeed one of God’s noblemen − both loyal to God and his church − having been a member of the Missionary Baptist Church for 50 years.

"He was honored by his brethren and trusted by all who knew him. Relatives and friends mourn his passing away, but since he lived and died in the swelling triumph of faith, we press on up the glorious path ...."

The obituary goes on to tell of him marrying my Great-Grandma at the age of 24 and lists their nine children, one of whom was my grandpa.

It also states that his funeral was held at his home, three miles east of Oneonta, very near the place my little homestead now sits!

You don’t read too many obituaries like that these days! But those old obituaries contained news about the person who died and their families!

Nearly three decades after Great-Grandpa Asberry died, the community, and many others like it, had a new way of keeping up with the news: the party-line telephone!

Even when I was a teenager in the 1960s, we still shared the phone line with eight other families! It seemed each community had at least one person − usually a lady who had too much time on her hands − who "listened in" to everybody else’s business. Then she took it upon herself to spread the news − good or bad − to everybody she came in contact with!

My mama and daddy applied for and received a private phone line in the late 1960s after a then-boyfriend and I made up outrageous stories and talked about them on the phone knowing they would be broadcast throughout the community!

The very first phones (right before my time) were even more suited for "news broadcasting" as all calls went through a central switchboard in Oneonta manned by a couple of ladies working shifts (think Lily Tomlin on the old "Laugh In" TV show of the 1960s, "one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingys"). Everybody’s phone rang when anyone received a call, maybe one ring for you or two for your neighbor and you were SUPPOSED to only pick up when you heard your particular ring.

But if you knew a neighbor was in ill health, expecting a baby or they were expecting some other important news such as news of someone away in the Service, everybody else on the line would wait a second then quietly lift their receivers to hear the news as well.

And if it was really important news such as someone had been killed in the war or someone’s house was on fire, the Central Operator might ring up EVERYBODY and tell them what had happened so they could help their neighbors!

An old hymn book includes an old gospel song that youngsters who are used to cell phones and instant messages wouldn’t even understand. It’s called "The Royal Telephone," with words and music by F. M. Lehman, and notes: "Central’s never ‘busy,’ always on the line; You may hear from Heaven, almost any time .... There will be no charges, telephone is free, It was built for service, just for you and me; There will be no waiting on this royal line, Telephone to glory always answers just in time."

So when you’re on Facebook or other social media and lamenting that you don’t want to read what somebody cooked for dinner that night or where they went that afternoon, just bear with them.

I can hear from my great-nephew who is a second lieutenant in the Army instantly no matter where he is in the world. Likewise, I can keep up with my kids and grandkids (and my GREAT-grandson) even though there may be many miles between us!

I do think we may have lost something from communication and news sharing in the "old days," but knowing instantly when I need to pray for someone or rejoicing the MINUTE they come out of a successful surgery kind of balances that scale!!!

And that’s why practically everyone who’s striving to lead a very simple life, even those completely off the grid, usually first thing hook up a solar panel or some other alternate power source, so they can connect to the Internet!

Suzy Lowry Geno lives a simple life at Old Field Farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.