Almost 50 years ago

Published 7:51 pm Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I couldn’t tell you too much about my birthday in 1961.

If the truth be told, I couldn’t tell you too much about last year’s birthday, so what would you expect me to remember about one almost 50 years ago. Not much, but a few days ago something happened that made me remember even the words of November 1961.

While we were having a great time down at Mexico Beach, we were doing just as I told you last week that we would. Our family was eating way too much, playing more cards than Las Vegas (although not the same kind), and, best of all, laughing so much, at times, that we couldn’t see straight. As the old commercial for Mennen Skin Bracer used to say, “Thanks, I needed that!”

Email newsletter signup

At one time during the weekend, I happened to have said a line from an old song that I have never forgotten. The song was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 List for November 1961. When I say the first part of the line, many of you who are close to my age will be able to finish it. I not only said them during this past weekend, but I have said them quite often. Why? I don’t know.

As I began just a few moments ago, I don’t know what causes some phrases or a song to stick in the mind, but some do. As a preacher, I wish it would be verses from the Bible, but, oh no, those just have to be read over and over again! But, just name some songs from almost 50 years ago and I can sing verses without mistake.

OK, I’ve spent enough of your time writing about these words.

Here’s what I said. “Every morning at the mine you could see him arrive.”

My brother finished without any prompting.  “He stood six foot six and weighed 245.”

We both chimed in, “Kinda’ broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip and everybody knew you didn’t give no lip to Big John. Big John, Big John, Big Bad John!”

How many of you can hear that hammer pinging in the background?

The singer of “Big Bad John,” Jimmy Dean, died this past Sunday, just a few days after I had been thinking of the song. Almost 50 years ago, he was on top of the music world, but at his death, would probably have been better known for sausage. For me, though, the very mention of his name will mean a song that I have never forgotten.

As we sat around the table at Mexico Beach there were other 50-year-old subjects that were mentioned.

Many of these same items were talked about as a few church members my age and a little older gathered around another table on Sunday afternoon. It’s amazing how comfortable conversations come gathered around a table.

For instance, at the beach, the air-conditioner in the condo was working overtime. It was brutally hot outside, but on the inside, as the night and the cooling unit combined, I made the remark that “meat could be hung.” Someone asked why I was so cold-natured, meaning that, for me, air-conditioning was not needed all that much.

I said that I had not grown up in an air-conditioned house. The younger folks couldn’t believe that we all used to live with the windows open and the sufficiency of a simple electric ceiling fan. One thing led to another and we began to talk about all the things that we had seen come into our lives.

One said, “I remember when there was no electricity.”

I don’t go back that far, but back in November 1961, I don’t think we had a telephone.

Imagine all the communicative contraptions we have nowadays. Everyone seems to have not only a telephone, but a cell phone that can go anywhere and at anytime. Plus, it doesn’t even have a cord! I made a point of saying that it was a big deal in our house when we got one of those “curly-cue” cords that could reach across the room.

Speaking of telephones, most of us remembered, and the young folks got a big kick, out of what we knew as telephones with party lines.

“What was a party line?” someone younger than I asked.

I didn’t know quite where to begin, but tried to explain that there was a time when houses or neighbors shared a telephone line. When the phone rang or was used, every phone that shared that line could pick up and listen to the conversation. It was called a party line and each house would not answer unless a specific ring occurred.

The ring at our house was one long and one short. My grandparents answered to three short rings. I forgot who all was on our line, but I do know that it wasn’t unusual for someone to interrupt a private conversation with a question like, “how much longer are you going to talk.”

From telephones to televisions we moved our talk.

The young folks couldn’t believe that there were only black and white images. That is until some salesman came along with a piece of colored cellophane and convinced some to place it over the black and white screen and create “colored” television!

“How about the remote? Who controlled the remote?” the question was asked.

“Remote!” we said in unison.

“There were only two channels and the only remote we knew was when daddy told someone to get up and change the channel.”

Fifty years ago was not so long on one hand, but on the other it might have been “The Twilight Zone,” but that’s a story for another day. For now, let’s just let Big Bad John rest in peace.