On my very first date with my first wife, I stood her up. That was not good. Nobody believed I could get a date with her in the first place. Some bets were made.

But I did, and then stood her up. My contemporaries were big-eyed. You stood HER up? It simply wasn’t done. You wouldn’t believe the amount of  groveling and apologizing I had to do to get over that little episode.

I still don’t remember why I stood her up. Maybe Uncle Kent had hay on the ground, and everybody knows that when there’s hay on the ground, it’s about to rain; so the extended family was loading and hauling and unloading in the barn way into the night.

Or maybe that was the time Everett, J.T., Ross and I went set-hook fishing below the Iron Bridge and spent the night, camping out. We caught one skinny catfish and tried to cook it over the open fire. It never would get done. I’d taste it every hour or so, and it’d be just as raw as the last hour. That’s when I woke up over in the ashes, trying to get warm.

Or maybe Kelley said, “Hey, there’s a big football game in Birmingham. Why don’t we go?” And me’n Turner and Ross went with him, and stayed over to hear and see the Harry James orchestra.

Or, maybe…

My grandsons would think, “Stupid, why didn’t you pick up your cell phone and call her and explain?”

All right, smart alecs. Pay attention. Cell?  We had a crank telephone on the wall, as did the other 20 families on our party line. Each phone had a “ring.” Ours was a long and a short. Uncle Jeff’s was five shorts. Aunt Lessie’s was two longs, etc.

Listening in was not only not discouraged, it was expected. If you heard Aunt Eunice’s ring of five shorts, you might want to know how she was getting along after that fall she had, so pick up the receiver and listen, and maybe contribute to the conversation. “She did? Why, I didn’t know that.”

A single long was a call to the switchboard in town, operated by the Mills family, Alma Sue anem. A long usually meant bad news. Somebody was sick, or their cow or mule was. Everybody listened. You didn’t make intimate calls to girl friends on our party line.

Fidelity was usually very good, although some voices just don’t project well. Like the time Grandpa Boman had a sick cow. Daddy called him to ask about it.

The phone rang. “Hello, this is Bud Boman.”

Daddy said, “Hello, Mr. Boman. How’s your cow?”

“Hello, this is Bud Boman.”

Again,louder: “Hello, Mr. Boman, how’s your cow?”

“Hello, this is Bud Boman.”

Screaming now. “Hello, Mr. Boman. How’s your cow?”

“Hello, this is Bud Boman.”

Daddy said to mother, “Here, you ask him.”

Mother said, in her normal low voice, “Hello, Pa, how’s your cow?

“Oh, just fine.”

Ironically, the quality was best during the worst of the Great Depression. The men in the community would take a couple of days off from farming their rocky hillsides to “work” the line, cutting back limbs, putting new poles and insulators where needed, and generally having a good time.

When the war came, most of the men went away to the service or to a good paying defense job. So the line suffered. Getting a call through became a hit-or-miss proposition.

Eventually, of course, progress came with modern telephones and all; but the old community party line was fine in its day…but no calls to a girl friend unless you wanted 20 families listening in.

* * *

I heard that the oldest store in my hometown may be closing pretty soon. Oh, say it ain’t so. It was where we bought everything from plow shoes and overalls to buggy axles. And it was the only place in town to get caps for the Red Ryder six-shooters we had gotten for Christmas. I felt called upon to create a poem:

When we needed shoes and overalls for autumn

We went to W.B. Clearman’s and bought ‘em.

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.