Storyteller Tom T. Hall died yesterday. RIP. He was best known for the song “Harper Valley PTA” that captured the soul of the 1960s and has been kept alive by so many performers over the years. Still a hit every time.
In this introduction to “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine” he talks about performing at the contentious 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach. That ultimately disastrous event was also covered by Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72”. This followed the earthshaking 1968 convention recently re-enacted for us in the movie “Trial of the Chicago 7” last year. I never heard Tom T. Hall perform live but heard many musicians express their admiration of his poise and style.
The recording is worth a listen.
How old do you think I am?” he said I said, well, I didn’t know He said, “I turned 65 about 11 months ago”
I was sittin’ in miami pourin’ blended whiskey down When this old gray black gentleman was cleanin’ up the lounge
There wasn’t anyone around ‘cept this old man and me The guy who ran the bar was watchin’ Ironsides on tv Uninvited, he sat down and opened up his mind On old dogs and children and watermelon wine
“Ever had a drink of watermelon wine?” he asked He told me all about it, though I didn’t answer back “Ain’t but three things in this world that’s worth a solitary dime But old dogs and children and watermelon wine”
He said, “Women think about they-selves, when menfolk ain’t around And friends are hard to find when they discover that you’re down” He said, “I tried it all when I was young and in my natural prime Now it’s old dogs and children and watermelon wine”
“Old dogs care about you even when you make mistakes God bless little children while they’re still too young to hate” When he moved away I found my pen and copied down that line ‘Bout old dogs and children and watermelon wine
I had to catch a plane up to atlanta that next day As I left for my room I saw him pickin’ up my change That night I dreamed in peaceful sleep of shady summertime Of old dogs and children and watermelon wine
This is perhaps the most famous performance of “Harper Valley PTA”: https://youtu.be/B4uJ8QV-8R8
I am happy to say goodbye to the decade that lowered my expectations of the future of humanity.
I had allowed past events to create the illusion that we were advancing beyond ignorance as the standard of society. Ten years ago I believed that more information would inevitably lead to enlightenment. That proved wrong.
We are reminded of the incredible power of ignorance, bigotry, greed and hate fueled by anti-social media powers. We aren’t out of the woods yet, but at least we have some strategies. We know that deep-fake propaganda is the next wave to hit us. It will be difficult to learn that we cannot trust what we see with our eyes, hear with our own ears. Instead, we will need to learn to apply a cognitive mental process, probably combined with machine-driven algorithms to learn the truth. It won’t be easy.
It’s sad to end my blog this decade on such a sour note. But I remain committed
On Friday Lance and I took a long walk from our home in Belmont Hills, through the roads of Penn Valley and to the neighborhoods of Bala Cynwyd to my mechanic’s shop on Montgomery Avenue near the post office. It was perfect fall weather for a walk. We’ve taken that two and a half mile walk before; he loves it. Our Australian shepherd/Burmese mix just loves to walk. It’s a welcome change from the daily beach walks we’ve taken all summer. I first came to this neighborhood when I started graduate school in Philadelphia at age 21. That was 38 years ago. I left for a while to live in Doylestown but returned when it was time to start a family. Years later after a second divorce I left to live in Ocean City for a while but returned as soon as I could afford a home here again.
I passed my closest neighbor Joe on the street in front of the house. We said goodbyes knowing that our moving day is approaching. I joked with him that I thought I would die in this house, just like the former owner (a weird long standing joke between us). He has always been a great neighbor. I came to this Jones Street neighborhood in 2003 after divorce. I told a Realtor that I wanted a house in the Lower Merion school district with a yard where the kids and I could have a tree fort and a garden. Then I told him how much I could afford. He laughed. I bought this house cash “as is” for $132,000. The only thing from the original 1901 construction is the thick stone wall frame. We rebuild everything else. We did have an awesome treehouse and a garden and greenhouse and hot tub. So many nights were spent in the hot tub looking out over the lights reflecting off the Schuylkill River and the Roxborough radio towers. It was a great house.
Lance and I started up the steep hills from our block where my heavy breathing reminds me than I’m not getting any younger. Then past the library and the community pool where we made so many family memories when the kids were young. In the 1990s living in Narberth we lived to get to the pool in the summer. I remember some desperate measures we took to get there on hot summer weekends. I remember the last time I visited in my early 40s I swam a mile as part of a triathlon training and I never had the urge to swim again.
We passed my favorite trees in Belmont Hills; oriental apricots I think. I remember speaking with the owner once. I noticed that some other houses look like they’ve have had no attention in four decades.
We passed through the roads of Penn Valley that makes me feel like we are risking our lives to cross the street. I was tense. In Lower Merion, we say, traffic lights are only a suggestion. I remember the day I saw a kid doing donuts in the small park presumably in the parents’ Rolls Royce. I called the police later when I got home. They knew about it already but seemed unconcerned. The mix of interactions of the ultra-rich and ordinary folks has always been an issue here.
We walked past the Cynwyd houses where I delivered the kids for play dates and wound up at the Cynwyd Elementary School. I remember when the school was the center of the universe for us. Then the middle school next door. Then to Lower Merion High School just down Montgomery Avenue. It seems so long ago.
Approaching the commercial neighborhood I am reminded of my friends at Rotary. Life would be have been empty without them.
When I got the neighborhood where the kids’ apartment, I lost emotional control. I had to sit down at a bench and cry. I remember that they moved there with their mom and step-dad after our marriage broke. I felt so bad, that I had let them down from a nearly perfect family life. At my lowest moment of post-breakup despair I sneaked to the house there one night and looked into the window where the kids were sleeping. But I also remember being grateful that if I couldn’t be there throwing a ball in the yard with my kids, I was really grateful that Ed was. And there was never any doubt they had a super mom. The story of how our marriage broke is compelling, but not appropriate here. I remember saying that I needed to have more quiet time to read and to write. That was about the time that I started spending more time at Money Island, my summer home now.
After I pulled myself together we walked up to the drive-through ATM. I planned to withdraw a pile of cash to pay the mechanic. By amazing coincidence an old relationship pulled up. He probably wondered who was the weirdo walking through the drive through. It turned out to be Lance, the retired Philadelphia police officer turned trainer at Friends Central School. I used to coach wrestling there. Lance was an amazingly strong positive influence. I still remember the intensity of his exercise classes. I also remember his strong positive attitude. We hadn’t seen each other in many years but he recognized me right away. I wonder if he saw that I had been crying. I explained briefly and I invited him to bring his boat and visit me at Money Island.
We continued our walk through the center of Bala village. Wow, so much has changed. I remember when I had a house charge account at the hardware store after we bought our first home there. I was a regular customer with constant remodeling projects. The hardware store, the pizza parlor and the movie theater made that block the perfect downtown small neighborhood. We passed Stephanie’s condominium where my kids grew up; where they still call home. I’m proud of them – Steph and Ed and that whole community there for being such a positive force for Josh and Arielle over the years.
Of course it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The months and years of recovery from an assassination attempt and TBI. Absurd! Then the devastation of Superstorm Sandy on the bayshore business and how it ripped me away from my life in PA.
I thought about all the great effort that Lori put into selling this house and finding us a new home over this past year. She did a fantastic job. I deliberately disengaged from the whole process and that was the best approach for us. I know how blessed I am that she’s been able to tolerate me through all I’ve been through in the past two decades. Few spouses would put up with my drama.
When Lance and I made it to the marina work truck at the mechanic’s shop I felt emotionally exhausted. I couldn’t focus on work so I took the rest of the day off to move some lumber and household items.
It is likely that this will be our last walk through the neighborhoods of Lower Merion. Thank you for all the memories.
I know a father
Who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he’d done
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again