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210524 May 24, 2021


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Communicating in Code
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    I would venture to guess that we might be the last generation who experienced telegrams as a method of communicating with others. Were it not for the way that people still sometimes send money by Western Union, I doubt if that service would even still exist. In the same way that land-line telephones have almost disappeared from most households, the concept of sending someone a message by telegraph is almost antique today.

    Our parents’ generation relied upon telegraphs to a much greater extent in their time as a method of communication than we did. I have in my possession the telegraph my mother received informing her that my father was seriously wounded during the D-Day invasion during World War II. That is how most families were informed of losses back then. Can you imagine the shock of opening a telegraph and leering such news in a shortly worded impersonal method? During the Vietnam conflict families of the death of a relative were informed in person. 

    I have heard the jokes but I never received a singing telegram. The one telegram I personally received was sent to me when I was a counselor at the YMCA camp the summer after I graduated in 1964. Since my friend Bob Walker did not have a telephone number to call me there he sent me a telegram wishing me a happy birthday. It was very much like a text message I would receive today, very short and with lots of code word letter combinations. 

    The next year I sent him one on his birthday in return with similar wording. I went to the Western Union telegraph office in downtown Memphis to have it sent to him. That is the only telegraph communication I ever performed.

    I also remember one time when I was a senior at Lee my grandmother had to send my brother Don a Western Union money transfer for $10 when he was in the Navy and had run out of money. Today, scam artists still use Western Union to have money transferred to them when they are successful in scamming some unsuspecting person out of their money.

    My closer connection to the telegraph concept was not the mechanical communication as much as the code used in that system. As a Boy Scout I had to learn the Morse Code, like many other Scouts. Later in the Air Force that knowledge paid off when I started flying and found the same code was used by transmitters to identify radion navigation aides. Even more people learned the code to communicate by amateur radio. How often has dit-dit-dit, dah-dah-dah, dit-dit-dit, get used in the movies we watched growing up and we learned it was Morse Code for SOS?

    I don’t know what today’s generation thinks about this concept which was still a small but fading part of our lives back then. It made me wonder if any of you have a telegraph story to share. It would be interesting if you would share it. 

My Telegraph Experience

Assistance Needed

    (Editor's Note: I had two classmates report seeing  an obit on Berryhill Funeral Home webpage for a Dianne Ralston Cotten, (September 22, 1949 - May 20, 2021) but there is not enough information in the obituary to determine if this is the Dianne Ralston who was a member of the LHS Class of '65. The question of the 1949 birthdate does not seem right for someone who graduated in 1965.  Is there anyone who can give us a positive answer as to whether or not this is our classmate? Please let me know if you do.)

        Memphis, TN - Things are getting closer to normal. Sue and I were able to go to a concert by the lake last week and It was the first group activity we have done for over a year. Areas were mapped out in paint for seating to keep social distancing practices, but still we were outside and did not have to wear masks and that felt good. I hope you will read all the stories included this week and assist where you can, and I thank you in advance for doing so.

        I welcome a new reader this week: Dennis Overcash from the Class of '66.

Key Responses from Last Week's Survey

Ginger Cagle Moore, LHS '66, "Not really a key story, but for Christmas my son" Darren got 3 generations of items , my husband's dog tag, my Daddy's dog tag and my grandmother's Skelton key to her house."

Jimmy Troupe, LHS "66, "Be careful with your keys and use a key locator on them. Lost mine about 3 months ago. Cost me $381.00 to replace the car key and that was a discounted price. Also had a house key with the lost key which also meant I had to call my old friend and classmate Jan Lee to come let me in my house."

Dianne Hughey McClure, LHS '64, "I don't remember ever having a key to lock a door. We didn't even lock it at night In fact I remember at one house we had screen doors and in the summer we left the wooden door open at night so it would be cooler in the house."


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    Roadtrip

Dianne Hughey McClure

LHS "64

    I took a bus trip to Silver Springs Florida my senior year. There wasn't enough kids going from Lee so we shared the trip with Huntsville High School. Carolyn McCutcheon Hanks and I shared a room and  we laughed, talked and stayed up most nights and slept as we rode the bus. It is a memory I will always cherish. One of the biggest events I remember was the bus nearly leaving us when we stopped at a rest stop. We had to run after it to get it to stop. 




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