Revisiting little things that still make my day

“Go ahead, make my day.” 

—Clint Eastwood’s character Harry Callahan in the film “Sudden Impact.”

“Who remembers Life magazine?” That question was my intro to a column a few years ago about a prized possession that still makes my day every time I pick it up. 

Thinking about that first edition copy of Life magazine last week had more to do with the fact that it was a lack of website skills that relegated the piece to its own page instead of a post on my then newly launched blog. After ignoring its cyber solitude for too long, my question was again how to make my day moving it into the company of the other columns.

Pursuing first-issue publications, I enjoy. Studying web site “under-the-hood” maintenance, not so much. 

Before blogs blew up the internet, a study of photojournalism at Stephen F. Austin State University on the way to a master’s degree in communication left me with an appreciation for two things. One was the amazing work of Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers documenting the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. The other was Life magazine’s pioneering contributions to photojournalism.

The weekly news magazine filled with phenomenal photos debuted November 23, 1936 and was an American staple for more than 40 years. Time magazine founder, Henry Luce, remade an existing publication to launch a revolutionary news magazine utilizing photos by the best photographers he could find. His hunch was that the story-telling power of photographs, more than text, would be a history-making move, and he was right. Today, the magazine’s photos are legendary in the annals of American photojournalism. 

Distribution peaked at more than 13 million copies a week before tapering off and becoming a monthly in 1972. The magazine then struggled until ceasing publication completely in 2002.

While Life featured news makers from all walks of life, the first issue cover photo and feature story was not about any one individual. The subject was Fort Peck dam construction in Montana, or as history has revealed, more about the lives of workers building the dam.

FSA photographer Margaret Bourke-White captured the photos and when the magazine went to press, the cover featured her memorable photo of the dam. But the main attraction was the unplanned photo documentary of “frontier life” in the Northwest which was news to many readers as well as Life’s mostly Northeastern staff. The candid pictures of laborers at work and at home introduced a little-known way of life to Americans via pictures delivering much more impact than the previously printed word.

That historical first edition and my interest in photojournalism crossed paths some years ago at an antique shop stack of old Life magazines in a box bearing a handwritten sign offering them for sale at $10 each. After pulling several keepers, I found myself staring at the Peck Dam photo taken by Bourke-White. Astounded, I stared in disbelief carefully turning the pages and delighting in the distinct aroma of old paper.

Still heady on the unlikely find, I placed the historic issue on my stack and took the magazines to pay out. The proprietor picked up each one, tapping mechanical keys on his antique cash register six times concluding with, “Six at $10 each, that’ll be $60 please.”

“You are aware that one of those is a first edition, aren’t you,” I just had to ask? Without hesitation and with a smile, he replied. “I was going to ask you the same question.”

“And, you’re going to sell it for ten dollars just like the other issues?” He nodded affirmation adding, “I bought the whole box at an estate sale. Got the same money in all of them.”

I handed him a hundred with a smile plus a most appreciative, “thank you,” and turned toward the door. “Wait,” he said. “You’ve got change.” Raising my hand with a wave, I kept walking as I replied, “If you don’t want more for that first edition, then consider it a tip for making my day.”

Revisiting that memory again today brought a smile. Now, if I can just find someone to tip for showing me how to move that blog page to a post, that would really make my day.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Change heard through your children’s ears is the best music

“I welcome change as long as nothing is different.”

—Author unknown but appreciated

Attaining geezer status has its perks.

“I can hear the difference,” daughter Robin shared with excitement as we were enjoying a rare lunch together one day last week. Her exuberance was centered on this thing called a “DAC” that husband, Jonathan, had purchased for her.

“It converts digital music to analog,” she explained. “And the quality difference is amazing— the music sounds so much better.”

“Hold on,” I said. “You mean analog as in old records that were declared obsolete 30 or however many years ago it has been? You are saying that one now can buy a device to make the technology that replaced those records sound as good as the old records it replaced? Let me think about this a minute while I savor this old-fashioned hamburger reminiscent of the car hop days at the old K&N Root Beer stand in Mount Pleasant.”

Mom once said that she didn’t feel old until all of her kids were over 40. What mom didn’t tell me is that one of the best perks for living long enough to see your children reach that milestone is getting to experience change with them. Being around to see the appreciation for “new and improved” ways of life being retrofitted to bring back the best parts of the past can be downright  heartwarming for dinosaurs like me.

Turns out that DAC stands for “digital to analog converter,” and the device Robin was thrilled with does in fact return the superior quality sound to digital recordings that was lost when vinyl records were taken off the shelf.

I would say that I’ve missed the spectacular sound quality produced when a needle floats through a vinyl phonograph record groove delivering music with a range of tones that digital sound is not capable of delivering.

But the truth is I never quit listening to my “flat stacks of wax,” as DJ Russ Knight, the “Weird Beard” on KLIF in Dallas used to call records in the 60s. For those whose birthday predates the time when AM radio was the only option for broadcast music, DJ is short for disc jockey, one who played records (called discs) on the radio. And I still spin (DJ speak for play) my records regularly on a turntable connected to an amplifier as old as some of the records driving a pair of 42-inch speakers from the same era.

When vinyl was phased out, old record buffs scoffed at the new format declaring digital as incapable of delivering a sound as good as that of vinyl records. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the debate because I wasn’t going to give up my old records any way. And now, with a vinyl revival underway in the last few years, here comes a device designed to enhance the sound of today’s digital downloads to bring the quality up to that of a vinyl record. Score one for the geezers.

What’s next? Perhaps a device that plugs into the USB port of the digitized megawatt AM/FM/Sirius/Blue Tooth/Pandora/video screen sound system in our homogeneously styled new cars to recreate the sensation of cruising to the oldies on AM radio in a 1950s automobile?

I would say that I’ve missed driving a car in which hearing the motor and feeling the bumps in the road with only an AM radio for tunes was common place. But I also still drive the mid-50s Fords parked in my garage. And I don’t even turn the AM radio on because the sound of an old car is music to my ears.

It would be nice, however, to pull my ’55 up under the awning at the K&N listening to Elvis on the radio and enjoy another old-fashioned hamburger like the one I was enjoying with my daughter when this conversation started.

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—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A good column is just a good story in written form

“We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page, we begin to see images.”

—John Gardner, (1933 –1982) American novelist, essayist, literary critic and university professor

Reminiscing about the newspaper business with Mike Elswick at the Center Light and Champion last week, I allowed as how after 46 years spent in the field of communication, almost 30 of that in newspapers, that one of my favorite parts of the business has long been writing a weekly column.

With my fondness for crafting columns came a love for enjoying the work of others, appreciating the diversity and variety of each writer’s style that sets a few apart from the crowd. I read and enjoy many columns but favor those by writers with a knack for pulling off what I consider to be the key to good column writing: telling a good story.

During time spent at Stephen F. Austin State University attempting to inspire young journalists, my primary advice for writing was to “…paint mental pictures with words, focus on your own naturally distinctive style, and listen to good story tellers.” In my book, a good column is just a good story told in written form.

A perfect example is the work of good friend and former colleague, Gary Borders. If you know Gary, you will hear him telling a story when you read his columns. He writes like he talks, and while that’s difficult for some to do effectively, he is a master. His subtle wit keeps the reader smiling as he tells a simple story that is informative, concise and always interesting. You will find Gary’s columns on Facebook or at garyborders.com.

Another master was the late Gordon Baxter, a newspaper and magazine columnist as well as a pilot in Southeast Texas. His column that ran on the last page of Flying magazine for many years called “Bax Seat” passed over stories about airplanes, equipment or technical aspects of flying to tell great stories about people and their aviation experiences. His style was laid back and almost folksy, but his insight into people and the way he painted pictures with words was phenomenal.

Ironically, my newest favorite column-style pieces are written by a veterinarian. Bo Brock is an engaging storyteller of the finest character. His style draws you into the stories he narrates with hilarious detail as to why some distasteful veterinary procedure he may be performing at the moment is not fun but relates to some greater meaning in life. You can find  him on Facebook.

We could go on all day about columnists like Leon Hale whose writing is a legend in Houston newspaper history, Lewis Grizzard whose newspaper column stories about life in the South led to a career in humorous books and speaking engagements, and many more. But another key to a good column is brevity.

The importance of a brief delivery was best explained by an old country preacher filling the pulpit at a neighboring congregation one Sunday. After preaching for about 20 minutes, he began his wrap-up remarks prematurely ending some good naps and prompting that flurry of activity when members of the congregation begin reaching for a hymnal. As though apologizing for the brevity of the lesson, he said, “I don’t believe in belaboring the point. My philosophy for a good sermon is stand up, speak up, shut up, and sit down.” And with those words, he offered the invitation.

Before I shut up and sit down, I will simply conclude that my passion for column writing could very well have started while reading Paul Crume’s front-page column in the Dallas Morning News when I was in high school. Crume  wrote his “Big D” column six days a week for 25 years. They were short, but witty, whimsical and entertaining. They were about anything and everything from Dallas news stories to life in general. Crume wrote his last column in the mid-70s and died less than a week after it ran.

If there is a distinctive style in my efforts, it is nothing eloquent. I consider column writing good therapy for the writer’s soul and simply begin writing about whatever story is on my mind when I sit down to compose the next column.

My aspiration at this point is to be like Paul Crume. When you read my obituary, I hope my last story worth telling is not yet a week old.

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—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

People seemed to be content, fifty dollars paid the rent

Boy, the way Glen Miller played.
Songs that made the Hit Parade.
Gee, our old LaSalle ran great,
Those were the days.” 

— Those Were The Days (“All In The Family” 70s TV show theme)

The elegance of the old car sitting quietly before me was spellbinding. It waited quietly to be documented in photos on a brisk Saturday morning last week as I studied the piece of automotive history to capture those images. At the same time, I was intrigued by the countless historical events and many personal family moments no doubt shared with its owners the 83-year-old Cadillac had survived.

Patterns of sunlight wrapped around the car’s stylish lines still wearing black paint appearing as the same finish applied at the factory more than eight decades ago. The sleek look, long majestic hood with chrome spears, and large radiator shell adorned with a chrome ornament resembling a feminine figure with arms and hair flowing in the wind evoked timeless imagines of the 3,800 pounds of beautifully styled steel cruising the highways. Even at rest, the majestic automobile centered in my camera’s viewfinder appeared fluid and graceful.

The year that this Cadillac 60 Series sedan rolled off the assembly line, the Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic on May 27. The engineering feat of the iconic bridge was accomplished at a cost of $35 million, almost $664 million in today’s dollars. 

Unemployment continued to drop in 1937 as the country was beginning to see an end to the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the United States. Elected in 1933, he would serve until his death in office in 1945 becoming the longest-serving president in U.S. History and commonly remembered as F.D.R. 

A 1937 60 Series Cadillac from General Motors ranged in price from $1,445 to $1,885 in 1937 ($21,310 to $34,020 in today’s dollars) depending on options. Annual household income averaged $1,780, a Ford or a Chevrolet sold for about $760, and a gallon of gas could be bought for 10¢.

As for options, air conditioning, automatic transmissions, or power anything were still some years into the future. Customers could, however, pay extra for things like wheel trim rings or full wheel cover discs, whitewall tires or a fender well metal tire cover that was not only stylish but also provided additional trunk space. After-market add-on radios were introduced for automobiles by Motorola just seven years prior in 1930. The first radio offered as a factory option in the U.S. was in 1933 by the Crosley Motor Company, but not by Cadillac even in 1937.

Saturday’s photography subject rolled on white wall tires of the 3.5-inch wide variety popular in the car’s heyday. It also sported the optional full wheel cover discs priced at $37.50. And it wore one of the add-on under dash Motorola radios from the period with a matching speaker mounted out of sight under the dash. It was powered by the three-speed, floor-shifted, manual transmission, and 332 cubic- inch 125 horsepower flathead V8 motor that it was born with.   

After close to two hours of photographing and admiring the historical vehicle that had lived part of its life in a museum, I had about 175 frames “in the can,” as we used to say in film days before the can became a disc.

Packing up my camera gear, I still tried to imagine where the car may have traveled, who it may have transported, and what kind of lives its owners had lived. Did they cross the Golden Gate Bridge? Did they listen to F.D.R.’s Fireside chats on the radio, hear the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor, or enjoy a Glenn Miller song as they drove along?

I did all of that and more, at least during a few minutes of fantasies on a chilly January morning, imagining life in a time when those were the days.

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—Leon Aldridge

(To get a closer look at this timepiece or to call it yours and park it in your garage, contact Chrome Reflections Motorcars, 3698 East Marshall in Longview, Texas. Call 903-399-8014 and they are on Facebook.)

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It’s not magicians making some of the magic in life disappear

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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It’s amazing when a magician snaps his fingers and a ball disappears right in front of our eyes. But it’s beyond amazing to witness first hand, masters of magic like Siegfried and Roy causing an elephant to evaporate into thin air not 20 feet from where you’re sitting as I once did in the 1980s.

However, the magician’s manual dexterity and manipulation of the mind are not responsible for some of the magical things disappearing from everyday life—often without our noticing the absence until they are nearly gone.

A little more than 20 years ago, my retired and world-traveled neighbor and I sat in the open doorway of his garage “man cave” spending a Saturday afternoon enjoying idol chitchat in the shade of huge hardwood trees resplendent with fall colors. Making the afternoon most memorable was organ music drifting across the street on the fall breezes.

Yep, organ music. The lady across the street, once a professional organist in New York, was known to pass an occasional Saturday afternoon playing her heart out with the windows in her house open for all to hear. She played because she didn’t want to forget how adding how the music made her happy as it brought back memories of people and events from throughout her life. Music of any kind performs that same magic for me.

My fascination with the majestic melodies of an organ originated somewhere around my second or third-grade year in Seymour, Texas, where we lived at the time. Don’t ask me details, who it was other than my mother’s friends, or why we were treated to a mini recital. Those details are foggy, but vivid are the memories of being mesmerized by the music. I was small and it seemed enormous.

Not only was the sound large, but so was the instrument with its semi-circular row of foot pedals, multiple keyboards, and an assortment of buttons. Mom’s friend skillfully used every extremity she possessed with hands moving across the different keyboards and both feet dancing on the pedals. I was captured by the music that filled the room. While that was my first recollection of seeing an organ, and I’ve seen few since, memories of the music and the times in life it evokes are many.

Perhaps it’s fair to surmise my appreciation comes from my mother. Besides her friend who played, she also listened to “Ken Griffin at the Console” every afternoon on the Mount Pleasant, Texas, AM radio station KIMP. FM radio was yet to arrive. Griffin was one of the many popular organists of the era whose music filled the airwaves and the record stores before WWII and into the 50s and 60s.

Being a one-car family, mom took dad to work and kids to school then ran the reverse route in the afternoons. The routine ended with her parked in front of Perry Brothers about 5:15 with a carload of kids waiting for dad to close up while she listened to the radio.

Organ music records were also standard fare at the skating rink, my hangout well into high school. Although rock-and-roll and pop music were the predominant records played, rink proprietors played organ records as well for the “older” skaters like mom and her friends.

Enjoying the music and the memories that fall afternoon a couple of decades ago, it occurred to me that I had not heard organ music in East Texas in a long time. And if what I am reading 20 years later is true, we could be nearing the end of time for the organ.

Supporting opinions offered include the view that churches may be the last bastion of organ music and that audience is diminishing where traditional hymns are giving way to contemporary praise music. Another reported factor is the difficulty of finding organ players as the current generation of organists reach retirement age with fewer music students interested in learning to play the instrument.

Will organs and organists disappear right in front of our eyes like the magician’s elephant in Las Vegas? Will they someday be gone like the magic of shade tree Saturday afternoons with neighbors and organ music in the breeze?

I hope not. But for now, I’ll hang on to Mom’s Ken Griffin records and keep that little hardwood tree in my backyard healthy…just in case I need a dose of magic.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Guardian angels often deliver good fortune when it’s needed

“After bad luck comes good fortune.”

—Gypsy Proverb

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One of the morning coffee club drinkers extended wishes for luck and good fortune in 2020 last week and was promptly met with, “Well, I hope my luck brings more good fortune in 2020 because my 2019 was a wreck.”

Another of the caffeine consuming consultant’s club offered as how maybe this could be the respondent’s lucky year. “Good fortune often follows unfavorable circumstances, you know.”

Those words still lingered a few days later as I read Larry Edsall’s column on ClassicCars.com about the death of Bill Simpson, a racer whose safety innovations, including helmets for racers and riders add an extra layer of luck for protection. Edsall wrote, “Raise your hand if Bill Simpson saved your life or limb or, like me, perhaps your noggin.” 

I subconsciously raised my hand remembering a night some years ago that if good fortune was ever present in unfavorable circumstances for me, it had to be when a motorcycle and I parted company on an open stretch of four-lane highway. More than luck was with me that night when I body surfed a lengthy stretch of pavement with my noggin and shoulder.

The late-night trip on U.S. 67 from The Monitor, the newspaper where I worked in Naples, to home in Mount Pleasant was one I made daily. That night’s trip was almost completed when the bike’s rear tire abruptly abandoned its air at around 70 miles-per-hour producing violent swerving that projected me over the handlebars in the process.

After meeting the pavement head-on, literally, I still remember wishing my forward travel would slow down enough for the rest of my body to rejoin earth and hopefully end the trail my upper body was blazing across the asphalt.

My guardian angel was already dispensing favors of good fortune into my night’s unfavorable circumstances when that prayer was answered. I stopped sliding, but the motorcycle that was still tumbling my direction miraculously stopped just short of our reunion. I stood up slowly and looked around in the middle of a dark four-lane highway where I could see no cars in either direction before realizing the full extent of good fortune that was allowing me to do so. A quick inventory of body parts revealed that I had not only survived but did so miraculously without gaping holes or missing limbs. 

Reaching up to remove the helmet from my head for which I was gaining appreciation for still having was a sobering enlightenment. Most of the outer shell on the right side was mangled or missing, ground completely through to the padded lining in some places.

Lights at the H. E. Spann concrete company atop the next hill offered hope that help was near. Efforts to lift the beat up bike and push it along with me were quickly abandoned after noticing my right shoulder and oddly positioned arm didn’t work very well.

“Don’t move. I’ll take you to the emergency room,” said James Spann who was finishing a late-night concrete pour when I hobbled up a few minutes later. Funny, I really didn’t feel too bad until I saw the look in his eyes. Family doctor Lee McKellar assessed the damage. “You’re lucky, nothing broken, but everything in your shoulder is separated. The orthopedic surgeon in Paris can fix it and you will be fine,” he assured me.

Over decades of riding from Texas to Colorado, Florida and through the Smokies, I relied on Simpson, Bell and other top-quality “skid lids” as we called them. For a long time, I saved what was left of the one that skidded with me down a dark highway one night saving my noggin and likely my life in a plethora of good fortune amidst really unfavorable circumstances. Sitting right beside its brand-new replacement, it was my reminder should I ever be tempted to take a “quick ride” without one.

The helmet got away somewhere over the years, but one reminder of good fortune coming with unfavorable circumstances remains today. Medical choices offered the next morning by the surgeon (and would-be comedian) were surgery and screws or a harness holding everything together for healing with one caveat: healing would be longer with the harness and my collarbone would leave me with a small protrusion on my shoulder whereas screws offered a more cosmetically correct repair. “The downside,” he added with a smile, “is that it will show if you ever decide to wear strapless evening gowns.”

He was right. I still proudly bear the protrusion, but that’s OK. I survived unfavorable circumstances one night when good fortune via my overworked guardian angel allowed me to hang around for many more new year’s wishes to come…with the added good fortune of never having to face wearing a strapless evening gown.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Good luck and prosperity for the price of a penny

“So don’t pass by that penny when you’re feeling blue. It may be a penny from heaven, that an angel’s passed to you.”

—Poet Charles Marshburn

Every new year, we traditionally extend proverbial wishes for good luck and prosperity. After some thought, I’ve decided the lowly penny might be the way to cover both bases.

After all, who didn’t grow up hearing, “Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck?” To this day, I’m still guilty of the childhood practice of picking up a “heads up” penny for luck but turning over a “tails up” one-cent piece, leaving it for someone else to find good fortune.

Fortune in some perspective might be hard to measure in pennies today, but the copper tokens bearing the familiar profile of Honest Abe represent more than mere monetary value. In fact, the penny evokes priceless value in expressions that have coined philosophies of American life for generations.

My grandmother’s favorite was, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” As a young couple with a child in the 1920s, my father’s parents survived “The Great Depression” when most people were so poor, they “didn’t have two pennies to rub together.” That experience likely gave rise to financial advice she and her generation offered mine. Sayings like “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves,” were reminders that taking care of every penny was paramount to financial security.

That advice no doubt served my grandparent’s generation well. Neither graduated from high school, he worked the same job six days a week for 53 years and she managed the home front never owning a washing machine or working a day at an outside job. They paid cash for everything except the only house they ever owned, never wanting for anything and living a comfortable and happy life in the process. While I’m thankful there are better opportunities for today’s generations, their example speaks volumes about a healthy respect for the value of a penny.

“A penny for your thoughts,” is another bit of wisdom attributed to the meager one-cent piece. While my response to that query is usually, “advice is worth what you pay for it,” the offer establishes some modicum of value for knowledge.

Then there’s “bad pennies” that seem to turn up in life. Never was sure what a bad penny was exactly. To my father, all pennies were good pennies. He was a coin collector, and I spent hours helping him scrutinize every penny that passed through the family pockets searching for that elusive, unique or valuable piece of minted money which he proudly displayed in books of U.S. minted “big” pennies, “Indian Head” pennies and the “newer” Lincoln pennies.

Today, “rattling money” is little more than a nuisance in my pockets amid plastic money, folding money, or more often no money. But perhaps dad’s appreciation for a penny is why my gaze stopped on a “wheat” penny in my pocket pile one day a couple of years ago.

For those with birth certificates newer than mine, a wheat penny has Lincoln on the front and two stalks of wheat on the back framing the words, “One Cent” and “United States of America.” They were minted from 1909 to 1958. In 1959, the reverse side was replaced with a likeness of the Lincoln Memorial.

Finding a wheat penny in pocket change today is rare enough, but the odds of someone giving me one bearing the date 1919 in change at a Center, Texas, business that day might have been good enough to win the lottery. The coin, nearly 100 years old at the time, was minted when plenty of Indian Head pennies were still in pockets and cash registers. World War I had ended the year previous year when someone first pocketed the penny.

The same year, Congress approved the Grand Canyon as a national park; a flight from New York to Atlantic City established the first commercial airline service; and the 19th amendment to the constitution giving women the right to vote was newly ratified. My father’s parents were practically newlyweds having tied the knot in 1920.

So, what’s a 1919 “wheat” penny worth? Besides lots of memories and some sage advice about life and luck, about 70¢ according to numismatic value guides.

Depending on how you look at it, however, the luck of receiving an almost 100-year-old coin in change at a local business—that was priceless. Or, maybe it was “worth a pretty penny” in financial wisdom.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.