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210517 May 17, 2021

The Keys of Our Past
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    On our trip to Iowa last week we had to be given keys to the house when we went somewhere and no one else would be home when we returned. They had a garage door opener, but something interfered with its signal and only worked part of the time. The experience reminded me of the days when I was growing up in Huntsville and how most of the time we never bothered to lock the front door when we left home.

    The first house in which I became aware of the need for a key was the one on East Clinton Street we moved into when I was entering the second grade. The front door had one of those twist door bells and the key was to the best of my knowledge a skeleton key you could buy at almost any dime store downtown. I don’t remember keeping the door locked at night even before we started renting out our spare bedroom to our “roomers” who were in town to work on the Redstone Arsenal. There were usually three of them and they came and went at various times to go to work and to go eat and we did not have enough keys to give each person his own key so we just left the door unlocked.

    I suppose we got into the habit of leaving doors unlocked because when we moved to McCullough Avenue when I entered the ninth grade at Lee, I don’t remember ever locking that house’s doors either. The same continued when we moved to Webster Drive when I entered the tenth grade. I don’t remember ever carrying a set of keys to the house with me the whole time we lived there as well. I suppose we did lock the door at night when we went to bed, but I would not swear to it.

    The only keys I remember carrying during that period of my life were the two keys to the 1953 red Ford we called “The Bomb.” It took two keys back then for a car. Ignition and door locks were generally keyed alike. Trunk locks and glove box locks were keyed alike but used a separate key code. Chrysler was the exception. A third key was used for locking Chrysler glove box locks. Another exception was GM Chevrolet and Buick models in the 1950s. These two models used a key system with all locks keyed alike. Or so says the internet. We never locked our cars back then.

    Locking glove boxes were standard, though I doubt many people actually put gloves in them. I don’t remember ever locking anything in mine. I didn’t feel like I had anything worth stealing so why make the effort. We had bought the body of The Bomb from Gene Bales, a friend of my brother Don, and had put the engine of a car Don had wrecked in it. Gene had modified the trunk of the car, so there was a pull lever inside the rear deck that had to be pulled to open the trunk, so I did not even need the second key I guess.

    But keys and houses and cars and locks have radically changed, or at least it has for me. We now keep our doors locked even when we are home inside. We have storm doors with locks and metal front and rear doors which have standard locks plus deadbolt locks. We also have a security alarm system which we set whenever we leave the house. Multiple cameras and motion sensor lights protect our house like it is Fort Knox. I don’t know if we do this because we are getting old or if we are just concerned about the high crime rate here in Memphis.

    As for our cars, we have two of them and both only require one key, but they are not like the keys for the car we had back in the Sixties. The keys are computer programed to provide access to the built-in security system of the cars. One is older and a replacement key would only set us back about $50 because of the required programming. The other is newer and when we bought it from Hertz it had only been driven 24,000 miles but only came with one key when we purchased it. To get a second key cost me more than the cars we owned back then. The replacement key for our Toyota Camry set me back over $350 dollars.

    So, the key to happiness today is not to loose our keys and to keep our possessions locked up and safe. Gone are the days of trusting people and not having to lock our things up to keep bad people from taking them. Is this progress? I don’t think so. I liked the old days better when it applies to this subject. 

    Do any of you have any keys, locks, or security stories to share? Use the form below to reply.

Keys and Locks


        Memphis, TN - Apparently not many of you took road trips when you were in high school, since only two classmates had stories to share. I am sure that later in time many of us had some memorable trips in cars.

    It looks like some of the social requirements put in place with the pandemic are starting to ease up. Please, still use some common sense and continue to stay safe. Hopefully things will return to the new normal sometime soon.

What was your most memorable road trip as a high schooler and what do you remember about it?

Lynn Vanpelt, LHS '66, "Driving to Texas for the World's Fair."

Tommy Bush, LHS '65, "The summer between our sophomore and junior year, Don Catlett, Jim Marbourgh, Randy Sherrill and I drove Randy's car to Panama City. My memory is a little fuzzy, but l think we bought a few bottles of liquor and Catlett (sorry, Don) drank them all the first night."