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A. Ray Lee ss

Telephone represents love-hate relationship 

By A. Ray Lee

Columnist 

I have had ambiguous feelings about Alexander Graham Bell’s invention – feelings that have resulted in a love-hate relationship. This relationship has been evolving ever since I first hooked up two tin cans by means of a string line as a child and tried to talk to Pete – without success – over my makeshift telephone.  

It would be many years before I used the real item. Although Bell received a patent in 1876, it would be the mid-20th century before the device made its way to rural Massey, where a small switchboard was set up and a few lines were strung on rickety poles to select homes in the vicinity.  

In 1954 when, at age 17, I left for college, the only phone on Lee Road was in a cabinet on the wall at Uncle Elmer’s house, connected to a party line servicing a number of others.  

In the following years, progress was made, and the availability of the phone became widespread, although a private line was not yet assured to everyone.  

In 1963 after graduating college and seminary, I returned to north Alabama as pastor of a small rural church. The pastor’s housing included a phone, although it was not a private line.  

In my second church, I was connected to an eight-party line.  

Although the phone was an aid to ministry, I soon learned private conversations with church members over the phone were non-existent. Busybodies would recognize the pastor’s ring and discreetly wait a moment before covering the mouthpiece and listening in on the conversation to see what rumors they could start from what was being said.  

It was also not unusual for impatient individuals to butt in and ask others to hang up so they could make a call they deemed to be timely or urgent.     

Fast-forward to the widespread use of cell phones. I secured a cell phone and kept it updated to the latest flip phone model. I was satisfied, as it gave me the service I expected without added baggage. On it, I could receive or make a call, and that was all I needed.  

When smartphones became the rage of the age, I steadfastly refused to replace my dependable flip phone with one. 

Recently I was given a smartphone by someone who had upgraded to the latest model and no longer needed the old one.  

I delayed activating it for several weeks. To say I am intimidated by its powers is an understatement.  

After several months I have learned how to make and receive a call and take advantage of other information it provides. 

My daughter tells me the phone is there for my benefit, and I don’t have to answer it – unless she is the one calling – but a lifetime of ministry tells me different.   

At least I can rest assured the conversations will be private.         

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