Without cabooses, what’s for a kid to dream about

“You leave the Pennsylvania Station ’bout a quarter to four,
Read a magazine, and then you’re in Baltimore.
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer,
Than to have your ham an’ eggs in Carolina.”

— Song lyrics from “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” by Glenn Miller

Another small piece of Americana faded silently into history some years ago; mostly unnoticed.

Eliminating the caboose at the end of every train crisscrossing the countryside was a sad event not only for generations like mine, but for kids who will never experience the thrill of watching a train go by and waving at the man in the caboose.

What summertime fun it was to park our bicycles, sit in the grass and count the cars in a passing train and then wave to the man riding in the red car at the end. Wondering where the train had come from and where it was going. Fantasizing about riding the rails.

In any case, we were confident that a friendly greeting was essential training for the job because someone was always in the caboose to wave at any youngster watching a train go by.

Without cabooses, what’s for a kid to dream about?

The caboose, once required by law at the end of a freight train, provided shelter for the crew that performed jobs like switching and braking procedures, damage to equipment and cargo, and overheating axles. However, rail operations, technology, and safety progressed enough into the 1980s that the law was relaxed. By 1988, the familiar caboose had all but disappeared in the U.S.

When it happened, I opined on the loss in a column. Without cabooses, I offered, there would be no one to wave at kids entranced by the mystery of trains. What was the country coming to?

Apparently, not everyone was as deeply disturbed as I was. No calls came from representatives of the railroads or the unions meeting on the issue. I was never consulted about the matter.

My passion may have been because I was prejudiced. My grandfather went to work for the railroad in 1901 at the age of 13. He retired 53 years later, having spent just over half a century maintaining the rail system in Texas and Louisiana.

My childhood summer evenings were spent sitting with him on the front porch of his Cypress Street home in Pittsburg, watching trains rumble down the tracks across the street. With each one, he checked his pocket watch and commented regarding its on-time status and destination. At the same time, I delighted in counting the cars and waving back at the man riding in the caboose.

Along with memories and my grandfather’s stories, I also have my parent’s recollections of riding the rails. With half-fare tickets for servicemen and a weekend pass, many miles could be covered by a World War II G.I. One of those soldiers in uniform was my father. Being from Texas with a new bride from Kentucky, the rails played an essential part in my mother traveling home to visit her family while dad was overseas fighting a war.

Even after the war, I remember my first train trip with mom when we boarded in Gladewater, the nearest passenger service to Pittsburg. After a day of watching the countryside go by outside the window and a night spent in a sleeper bunk, we arrived the following day in Louisville, Kentucky, near mom’s hometown of Winchester. I still remember family members waiting on the platform at the station.

That memory is some 70 years old. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, today’s rail system is almost 140,000 miles. That same source cites the U.S. freight rail network as the largest, safest, and most cost-efficient freight system in the world, creating more than 167,000 jobs.

Many countries offer subsidies to their railways because of the social and economic benefits they bring. According to Wikipedia, rail subsidies are the largest in China at $130 billion followed by Europe and India. The United States, however, has relatively small subsidies for passenger rail with no freight service subsidizing.

Even after 35 years of trains without a caboose, the child in me is still disappointed when I watch one roll through a crossing. Yes, I still count the cars, but I miss the caboose.

And I have to wonder how today’s younger generation can ponder the adventure of riding the rails without a friendly wave from the man riding in the caboose.

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, and The Fort Stockton Pioneer.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2022. 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.

You really can get there from here

“‘Cause I’m leaving on a jet plane, Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”

—Song lyrics by John Denver (1943-1997) American singer-songwriter.

– – – – –

Part of my love for old sayings came from listening to my grandfather when I was a kid. A favorite was his reply when asked for directions involving any degree of complication. “You can’t get there from here,” he would shake his head and smile. “You’ll have to go back to where you came from and start over.”

Trying to learn the intricacies of airline travel for a job some years later, I decided the airlines had proven grandpa wrong. Flyers of the friendly skies can get you anywhere you desire, so long as you don’t get too excited about what direction you’re traveling at any given time.

That job had me crisscrossing the country working trade shows promoting American ingenuity. Outdoing the ingenuity of the airlines in plotting their paths back then, however, was impossible. So, the old saying took on new meaning the first time I tried to get from Center, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia.

Having said all that, I distinctly remember Mrs. Page at South Ward Elementary in Mount Pleasant. She extolled the geographic fact that Georgia is one of the states due east of Texas. She even showed us maps.

So, if Center is in Texas, driving somewhat east to catch a plane at Shreveport, Louisiana, would seem like a head start in the right direction. Not according to the airlines, however.

“That’s correct,” I told the agent. “Shreveport to Atlanta. (Pause) What’s that? To Dallas? That’s the wrong direction.” My argument was to no avail. All connections East went through Dallas to fly back over Shreveport, heading in the right direction.  

“Do you have a better fare if I drive on down to Jackson, Mississippi, then fly back to Albuquerque and start over,” I asked with a twinge of humorous sarcasm? Who would have ever guessed some airline agents lacked a sense of humor?

Deciding to make the best of the layover in Dallas, I called a friend living there. “Hey, man,” he asked. “What’ cha doing in Big D?” Telling him I was on my way to Atlanta, he asked, “So when did you leave Center?”

Early this morning, I let him know. “Drove to Shreveport to fly to Dallas so I can turn around and go to Atlanta,” I moaned.

“Are you kidding me. At least they didn’t send you father west to some place like Albuquerque,” he laughed out loud.

“Yeah. Well, I tried that too.”

Getting from Atlanta back to Center several days later produced its share of humor as well. Joining a colleague who had worked the Atlanta show with me for the return trip, we decided to grab lunch in a popular barbecue restaurant at the airport. As we finished eating, he placed a “to go” order for some of their famous ribs. “Wrap them up good for me,” he told the waitress. “I’ll sneak them in my carry-on.”

“So how far you guys going,” she asked?

“About 650 miles.”

“Better make that 2,000,” I joked. “They might route us through Albuquerque.”

Taking our seats on the plane, my co-worker put his bag with the ribs in the overhead compartment and settled in for the trip.

Moments before takeoff, the third seat in our row was filled by another hurried business type who hastily loosened his tie and stuffed his jacket in the overhead compartment. The one with the ribs. “Going home is great, huh,” he offered.

As the flight leveled out, attendants made their way down the aisle with snacks. Looking at the bag of peanuts the late-arriving passenger was handed, he frowned. “I thought I smelled barbecue coming. I’m really disappointed.”

“Me too,” I said as I looked out the window, watching Shreveport from 30,000 feet as it passed below me.

Deplaning in Dallas, our last minute fellow traveler walked through the terminal with us, pulling his roller bag, his jacket draped over his shoulder. “Funny, I can’t get that barbecue aroma off my mind.”

“I know,” I agreed. “The power of suggestion can be powerful.”

“You guys have much farther to go,” he added?

“Shreveport … via Albuquerque,” I quipped.

“Shreveport,” he asked? “That’s back the way we just came. And you still have to go through where?”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “It all started last Wednesday when the airline agent said I couldn’t get there from where I was. Said I had to go back to Dallas and start over.

“I think she knew my grandpa.”

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, and The Fort Stockton Pioneer.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2022. 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.

The food was good, but the story was the game

“I stopped at a small roadside cafe called ‘Deja Vu.’ The waitress asked, ‘Don’t I know you?’”

—My kind of place.

– – – – – – –

Getting ready for a trip later this summer has me pumped. Not just any trip, though. Has to be one in a car that was on the dealer’s showroom floor when gas was 26¢ a gallon and you could buy a whitewall tire for what that gallon of gas will set you back today.

The experience of traveling in an old car captivated my sense of adventure decades ago. Finding fun places to eat along the way made it even better.

So much so that a group of 1950s two-seater Ford Thunderbird owners made somewhat of a challenge of it 35 years or so ago. Outdoing each other at finding the best eatery became secondary when telling the best story about where we ate became the game.

Reviewing the road worthiness of my ’57 out in the garage last week reminded me of San Antonio T-Bird Club member Jack Ralph. For my money, his story still stands as the best classic cafe account.

According to Jack, he found the J-J Truck Stop driving up toward the Midwest to judge a car show. “A bad experience with ‘Kentucky Fried Pelican’ the evening before had me looking for a good place to eat breakfast,” he said.

“Proceeding down 1-30,” Jack continued, “Some persuasive signs heralding J-J Truck Stop’s breakfast convinced me it was the answer to my search. Pulling onto the lot, I found wall-to-wall Peterbilts, big red Fords with Cat engines, and Kenworths—sure signs of good eating.

“I parked my little ‘Bird on the outskirts,” said Jack. “Didn’t want it to get squashed in a parking lot where giants roamed. Once inside, I grabbed one of the few counter seats left with great anticipation, knowing this place was going to render a story.”

“I was barely seated when a china mug came sailing down a chute on the inside edge of the counter and stopped about two inches off dead center of where I was sitting,” Jack continued. “This was a coffee man’s coffee—the color of Arco 10W40 that needed changing. Glancing down the counter, I saw a lass with a cross-your-heart figure in a waitress uniform sporting a name tag that read ‘Cindy’ and broadcasting a smile that moved with the rhythm of her non-stop gum chewing.

“Cindy had a nice smile,” Jack said, “obviously proud of her coffee cup shuffleboard demonstration. Patrons at the counter didn’t lift an eyebrow. Regulars, obviously.

“I’m not a coffee drinker,” Jack noted. “Years ago, the tummy let me know that enough was enough. However, good sense told me that if you eat here, you better drink coffee. Declining a cup after such a magnificent display of waitressing skills might have gotten me thrown out. I silently sent a subliminal message down to the tummy that read, ‘We’re drinking coffee today, so just shut up.'”

“In no time at all, Cindy was back with an order pad and still working on that chewing gum,” Jack continued. “Allowing as how I was hungry, I asked what she recommended. The sausage omelet was her favorite. Wanting to fit in, I said that’s what I would have.”

“While waiting for breakfast and sipping coffee, I smiled every time Cindy glanced my way. Keeping the waitress happy is the key to good service,” Jack noted. “Studying the environment, I felt out of place. The other patrons wore cowboy hats or caps with an inspiring message like the name of another truck stop, the brand name of their preferred rig, or a political candidate from three elections ago.”

“I, on the other hand, was sporting a clean tee-shirt and a fresh shave further identifying me as a newcomer,” said Jack. “They were all polite, eating breakfast, discussing ‘making good time,’ and keeping Cindy busy refilling coffee cups. I didn’t ask; just assumed that making good time meant ‘on the road.'”

Jack said breakfast arrived quickly. “The omelet must have contained a half dozen eggs. It came with a stack of pancakes as tall as the handle on Reggie Jackson’s baseball bat, a pound of bacon, biscuits the size of a Thunderbird headlight, and a bowl of cream gravy clinging precariously to the side of the plate. I knew I’d found the fix for the fried chicken fiasco,” Jack smiled.

“About halfway through the omelet, this Lincoln Continental pulled up near the front door,” Jack continued. “Sensing a social misalignment of major proportions about to happen, I held my cup in the air signaling my need for a refill and waited to see what was coming through the door.”

A well-dressed elderly couple stepped inside just as Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy,’ came on the jukebox,” Jack laughed. “Taking a long look around the room and frowning at the collection of gimme caps and well-worn cowboy hats, the missus spun the old man around in his nicely polished Florsheims before the door closed behind them. Hastily beating a retreat back to the car, they barely missed getting run over by a Kenworth pulling a reefer in the process.

“Sad part is,” Jack said with a smile as he wrapped up his story, “She will never know they missed out on the best breakfast this side of the Mississippi.”

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, and The Fort Stockton Pioneer.

Maybe I’ll nap better if I go back to cash

“The good news is that the person who stole your credit card is spending less than you were.”

—Probably the next message from my credit card company.

– – – – – – –

Nothing spoils a Sunday afternoon nap quicker than waking up to a text. Especially one like this:

“Hi, it’s your credit card company. Did you just make this purchase with your card ending in 1234?

COMPANY: (I never heard of them.)

APPROVED: $350.47.

Text back ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to protect your account.”

Reeling from that kind of reality while waking up from a nap was more mental dexterity than I am accustomed to demonstrating on Sunday afternoons.

Three hundred and fifty bucks? Was that the bread and milk I picked up at the grocery store last night? Wait, maybe that’s where I topped off the gas tank in my car the day before. Finally satisfied the charge was not mine, a quick ‘no’ reply to the credit card company text sent me to their website. Once I remembered my mother’s maiden name, the color of my first car, my first grade teacher’s name, entered a security code sent to my phone and selected the squares with a traffic light in them, the charge to my account was cancelled. As was my card with the assurance, “A replacement card will be issued.”

At least this occurrence was quick and easy to fix. It was all over in less than 10 minutes, unlike the time a few years ago when my wallet was lost … or stolen. The verdict is still out. Something called the internet was still a dream then, but an old fashioned phone call to the credit card protection company brought results. Some unexpected.

“Was your wallet lost or stolen,” the service rep asked? “I don’t know,” I replied. “Temporarily unfindable is the best explanation I can offer.” She decided that declaring it stolen was the best choice in case one of my cards were used for illegal activities.

And everything was fine. Until that night a week later in a Shreveport department store. Actually, it started a few days before when I discovered a credit card in my desk drawer. Certain it was a new arrival not listed with the protection service, it went into to my new wallet.

Presenting my purchases for payment that night a few days later, I pushed the card across the counter and happily told the young man, “Charge it, please.” Again, being pre-internet days, he crunched the card on the receipt gizmo and dialed up the usual verification phone call.

I was still gazing at the array of point-of-purchase items wondering which ones I could not live without when I overheard, “Oh really.” He repeated the number, paused and said, “OK — sure.” When he nervously glanced at me somewhere about the second “OK,” I knew this situation was going south. What I didn’t know until later was what the credit card service rep was telling him.

Things like, “This is a stolen card. Do not show any emotion toward the customer. Do not act surprised. Do not upset him. He may be dangerous. Put him on the phone, but do not under any circumstances let him have the card back.”

“Look … ah, you see …” I started to explain. Before I could finish, the clerk shoved the phone in my direction and said, “They want to talk to you.” It was a toss-up as to which one of us was sweating more profusely.

“Mr. Aldridge,” the voice on the phone said, “I need to ask you one quick question.”

“S-S-S-Sure,” I replied confidently.

“I’m looking at your account history; can you name the restaurant in west Dallas where you ate a couple of months ago and used this charge card?”

Silence. I can’t remember where I ate breakfast, and the man wants to know where I ate in Dallas two months ago. “N-N-No, sir,” I replied, trying to sound like I was in charge of the situation.

Silence again. I’m looking for the SWAT team to converge on the store at any moment.

“How about a hotel in Irving about the same time,” he asked. “The charges were around two hundred dollars.”

A hotel … in Irving … two hundred dollars … a restaurant … in west Dallas. My mind raced as I thought, “I’m going to jail.”

“Oh yes,” I almost shouted when it came to me. Shouting the name of the hotel and the restaurant made me feel like the jackpot winner of a TV game show. The charge was approved. And I surrendered my “stolen” card while apologizing to the store clerk for unknowingly creating a problem.

Sunday afternoon’s rude awakening behind me, I will have a new card in a few days, and life will be good—Sunday afternoon naps and all.

Maybe I’ll nap better, though, if I just go back to cash. They do still make cash … don’t they?

Working for the love and not for the clock

“Success is often achieved in the 25th, 26th, and 27th hours of the day.” 

— ‘Old Italian Saying’ by Jim Chionsini.

– – – – – – –

The official results are still out, but roughly 440 columns in newspapers and on the blog over the last eight-and-a-half years make for a successful mission. Add another estimated 500 columns penned for papers prior to “the blog period,” and as my military pilot friends would say, “We’re set for that 1,000th sortie.”

Reaching that realm is in no small way because of the sage advice above from my mentor and good friend for most of my life. So many of my columns were hammered out in those elusive hours. A time when you’re working for the love and not for the clock.

I typically require extra hours, even on a good day. But, at an age commonly considered the time for slowing down and taking life easier, that’s probably why my hand is still on the throttle, I’m gaining altitude and still good friends with the 25th, 26th, and 27th hours of the day. While some delight in crossing tasks off their”to do” list, throwing everything on mine and calling it a win if I get half of it done has always been my method.

An ex-military fighter pilot and former Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team pilot said it best a few years ago. Applying military strategy to business planning, he compared his combat mission experience in the Middle East to running a business. “As long as you return from the mission,” he said, “there are no failures. Some are successful, the others you learn from in order to increase the success rate of future missions.”

For me, 2015 was a learning mission filled with surprises and adjustments, the kind that blurs the lines between celebrating success and taking a better shot at future missions. Regrouping in those familiar hours of the day, I went back to my favorite parts of connecting with people through newspapers: column writing and photography. So, I challenged myself to expand my column writing experience with a blog. And to put the fun back in photography, spend more “me time” with my camera.

The blog got off the ground and built speed early in the mission but ended the year as more of a learning experience before taking flight the next year. 

As I was fumbling for the ignition switch on shooting pictures, long-time Mount Pleasant friend and photographer Susan Prewitt unknowingly activated the afterburner with a Facebook photo challenge.

I accepted her challenge, but by Sunday, I was four days in and lamenting that it was only a seven-day mission. Hitting the deck just under the deadline, I uploaded a “moon set” photo taken at Lake Murvaul in Panola County when I lived there. The picture reminded me of two things. One, capturing that set of images was fun. Two, it required several sessions between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. during full moon phases while working on the moon’s clock—not mine.

The fact that crafting a column about that photo became part of getting the blog on target was no coincidence.

It was just one small example of what I might have missed without those 25th, 26th, and 27th hours of the day.

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About “Moon Over Murvaul”— While living on Lake Murvaul a few years ago, I woke up early one morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. I discovered a moon bright enough to read a newspaper at 3:00 a.m. So, I grabbed a camera and spent the next half hour shooting frame after frame of the setting full moon images. The result was a collection of fantastic photos. The one I posted to Facebook for the challenge resembled what I would call a harvest moon. I’ve seen many harvest moons rising, but this was my first setting orange moon to witness. See the “Moon Over Murvaul” and other archived columns on the blog at leonaldridge.com.

More than a thousand in one small collection

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Old adage considered cliché by some. For one whose lifetime has been spent behind a camera, it still speaks volumes for me. 

– – – – – – –

“You’re a photographer. Come work for me until you figure out what you want to do.” Morris Craig made me that offer. About 1974, I’m thinking it was.

In 1974, college degree done and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do, that I might have been born with ink on my veins was the farthest thought from my mind. At this point in life, however, there is no denying it. Wouldn’t want to if I could.

I know it was destined to be because the few times temptation lured me away, the siren’s song hunted me down and dragged me back. It didn’t hurt either, that I was blessed by having a couple of the best in the business as mentor, employer, partner, and friend.

For getting me in the business to begin with, I owe Morris Craig for making me what another guiding light in my life, Jim Chionsini always said, “An offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Craig started work at The Monitor weekly newspaper up in northeast Texas at Naples in 1956. His first job after graduating from Paul Pewitt High School the same year. Then, in 1968, he and his wife, Melba, became the new owners. The Monitor would be the only job he ever had other than running the projector at the Inez theater in Naples while still in high school.

For the record, everybody calls him Craig. “The only two people who have ever called me Morris,” he will tell you, “was my mother, and my first-grade teacher—Mrs. Orene Slider.” I believe him. Even his wife addresses him as Craig.

I first met Craig when my mother worked for the Mount Pleasant Tribune. For as long as The Tribune had a press, they printed The Monitor every week.

We became friends when I worked for a construction business in Naples a couple of years later. After that company closed, I wasn’t sure what my future would be. That’s when Craig tendered his offer. That’s when I said, “Why not?”

My first stint in newspapers at The Monitor was followed by 40-plus years in communication: editor, publisher, group manager, journalism teacher, even some time in marketing. 

Then came last year. Craig’s health took a turn for the worse. Melba and family tried to keep the newspaper going, but it was too much. After 134 years of service to the community, The Monitor ceased publication. With 65 years there, Morris and Melba Craig represented almost half the newspaper’s existence.

Then just when life looked its worst, Craig’s health made a miraculous improvement. While visiting with him and Melba in Naples Saturday, I asked, “You realize you are the miracle man, don’t you?”

So now, Craig is talking about reviving The Monitor from an office at home. Unfortunately, that means the office on Main Street where I reported for work nearly 50 years ago will remain closed.

Clearing out the building, Craig had some things he thought I might want. Simply entering the office with him instantly reminded of just what he really gave me many years ago: a future. Documenting those feelings was his gift of matted and framed black-and-white photos that had hung on the wall since I was there: a brief photo essay of what it takes to get a newspaper on the press.

Newspaper rookie Leon Aldridge at The Monitor about 1974.

In the first photo, Craig is “typesetting” on a “Compuwriter Jr,” one of the first “cold type” devices for offset printing. The old hot-type process of metal letters from molten lead had started fading away less than ten years before.

Craig hired me as a photographer, but as has always been the way of small newspapers, everybody on staff learns a little about everything. Therefore, he taught me the basics of gathering news and writing stories on the Compuwriter.

Another photo captured in time, a rookie kid from Mount Pleasant laying out an ad in the long-gone art of hot wax, border tape, and Exacto knives. Craig also taught me the elements of an effective ad and most importantly—how to sell them.

In another, Craig is laying out a page with a line gauge (newspaper office “ruler”) in one hand and black paper for photo placement in the other. Craig taught me how to design attractive and inviting pages. He was a stickler for quality.

Editor and Publisher at The Monitor in about 1974.

A couple more depict the old Cottrell Vanguard press at The Tribune being readied to print the next edition. Craig taught me to watch the preparation and, “Look at every page negative before it goes to plate; make sure it looks good.” Did I mention Craig was a stickler for quality?

The last two photos illustrate the final steps: addressing the papers and delivering them to the post office.

As I look at the photo collection on my office wall this morning, I see pictures worth far more than a thousand words. I see a friend who hired someone who had no clue about his future. I see someone who taught me the basics of journalism, the importance of communication, and the value of community newspapers. I see someone who opened the door to my future.

I hope to see more editions of The Monitor bearing his name soon.

—Leon Aldridge

(All photos by Tim Tenbrook, Naples, Texas.)

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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, the Alpine Avalanche, and The Fort Stockton Pioneer.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2022. 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.

Washing or hanging out; what will it be next?

“During times I’ve felt like throwing in the towel, I keep going when I realize that means one more piece of laundry to deal with.” —Frankie Glover, Mount Pleasant, Texas. I know it’s true, he put it on Facebook.

– – – – – – –

Laundry. Who really enjoys the sorting, washing, drying, folding, and hanging up? Makes me tired just thinking about it.

Reminiscing the history of wash day blues crossed my mind last week while helping a friend shop for a new washing machine. And wow, was it an eye-opener.

As my friend, Oscar used to say referring to anyone who appeared to be confused, “He doesn’t know if he’s washing or hanging out.” That’s the way I felt seeing how washing machines have changed since I bought my last one.

Washing and hanging out chores for my grandmother were rooted in methods of more than a century ago. She was born in 1905 and died in 1993, never having owned a washing machine of any kind. I can only imagine what she would think.

As per the custom in her day, wash day was Monday. Unless it rained. Then it was moved to the next sunny day unless that fell on that one day washing was taboo. I don’t remember what day that was, but my “faithful member of the Pittsburg First Methodist Church until her death” grandmother was superstitious. So, according to her, it was bad luck to wash on that day of the week.

I’m not superstitious, but I do have one day that I consider lousy luck for laundry. That’s any day I have to do it.

My grandparents lived just three blocks from downtown. Yet their backyard would have been common sight half a day’s drive down a dirt road. My grandfather’s large hen house hinted of the half dozen chickens roaming the yard at any time. Between that hen house and the tool shed was a grape arbor that produced the best tasting green grapes ever to grace a kid’s summertime palate.

The arbor shaded a long homemade wooden bench serviced by a single water faucet rising straight out of the ground about mid-way. And hanging on the side of a tool shed just steps away under a massive pecan tree were two number-2 galvanized washtubs. Completing the picture was a half-a-block long clothesline and an iron pot to heat wash day water.

A fire under that washpot by the time breakfast was over at 7 a.m. every Monday and Granny headed out the kitchen door with her scrub board and soap bar signaled, “laundry day  was a go.”

Her diligent routine took all morning. Hauling hot water from the iron pot, manually rubbing each piece on the scrub board in one tub and rinsing in the other before hand wringing and hanging. It never varied. Finally, with laundry on the line and washtubs on the tool shed wall, it was time to cook lunch.

My mother, who once said doing the laundry made her feel like people were living in her house she had not met, had one of the tubs on wheels when I was a kid. The kind with a wringer attached. A clothesline did the drying, and the machine sat in the kitchen corner when not in use.

Memory doesn’t serve me well for her first “automatic” washer, but Mom also had dedicated days for laundry. Hers had nothing to do with superstition. It did dictate my after school schedule, however. In grade school, ironing was one of my household chores if I expected to collect a 25¢ allowance on Saturday.

Mom’s first “laundry room” was after moving to Mount Pleasant in 1959. But it wasn’t in the house. It was in a closet out in the garage. After the move to Delafield Street, the laundry room was in the kitchen. Or should I say the kitchen was the laundry room? At least she didn’t have to wait until after breakfast to do laundry. She could multitask and do both at the same time.

But what if my parents or grandparents had access to today’s devices? The selection of “mechanized wash tubs” sends my mind into spin cycle.

Up to 12 cycles. Mine has three: white, color, and permanent press. So, what other kinds of clothes do they make that I don’t know about? And programmable actions with WIFI connectivity? I am already connected to the point that when Center’s “less-than -reliable” internet goes down, I’m out of not only computer service but also useless is my television, telephones, music, climate control system, and home security. And now I’m supposed to risk losing control of laundry, as well? What will it be next?

So here I am, way ahead of Granny’s scrub board and somewhere between mom’s wringer washing machine and wireless laundry devices. However, I’ve decided that it would not matter in which generation’s devices I chose to do laundry. My system would be the same as it has always been.

Thirty minutes to wash, an hour to dry, and seven to ten business days to fold and put away.

—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 2022. 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.

Who among us has not tempted the gas gauge?

Who among us has not tempted the gas gauge?

“Time for my weekly game of “Let’s-see-how-long-I-can-drive-with-my-gas-light-on.”

—Come on. Admit it. You’ve done it, too.

– – – – –

“This stupid car ran out of gas.”

My friend was on the phone with his daughter. She was intermittently describing her location on the side of the road while offering logic as to why it was the car’s fault.

“You should have told me the gas gauge was not working,” he teased her. Teasing daughters is what fathers do. I know; I have a daughter.

“It works, dad. It said I had 43 miles left.”

“And how many miles ago was that?”

In a moment of surrender, she sighed, “I know, dad, but I was driving faster so I would get to a station before I ran out.”

“We’re almost there.” He acknowledged the surrender with comfort and without comment on her new driver logic. That’s a dad thing too.

Who among us hasn’t tempted the gas gauge? Let those who are without stories of coasting to the side of the road in silence cast the first gas can.

I have. More than once. Plus, one near miss. When it comes to gas gauge guardian angels, mine hover close to fuel stops.

Like the day my son, Lee, and I left East Texas headed to the Hill Country. I saw the light announcing 43 miles. It’s programmed into all cars and can mean anywhere between 43 miles and four-tenths of a mile.

No problem, I’ll stop outside of Houston on I-10 west,” I said. “Away from the crazy city drivers.” Several miles from crazy drivers and gas stations, I felt the first surge of a starving motor. “Oh yeah, I thought. “There was that gas thing I was going to do.”

But that guardian angel prevailed. I could see a C-store with fuel pumps. Downhill momentum carried us toward it, not quite to the exit but within walking distance. We were back on the road in no time. And … I owned another new gas can.

Walking distance was out of the question the time I exited a New Orleans parking garage and noted the needle nearing E. “I have enough to get out of this traffic,” I fooled myself again. Actually, I had enough to get off I-10 and onto I-49. You know the area. No sign of civilization anywhere. So, out came that big “mobile phone.” The one that, back then, looked like a WW II military walkie-talkie.

A plea for help brought a sheriff’s deputy to my aid, and I was soon riding with him toward civilization at somewhere north of 100 m.p.h. After flying off an exit and up to a convenience store, he talked the cashier out of an empty can and some coffee.

I got the idea I was not his first offender.

Makeshift gas can filled with fuel and hi-test java in a Styrofoam cup, we were back on I-49 south, taking another shot at that land speed record.

I thanked the officer profusely and tendered a donation to the annual parish sheriff’s ball, which he politely refused. He also dropped all charges of ignoring my gas gauge and wished me a safe trip home.

That near-miss mentioned earlier was somewhere in the 285-mile stretch between the Los Angeles airport and the Las Vegas strip. It’s a desert region marked with cactus, extreme heat, and little else except one town of any size. Barstow, California.

“But it’s a nice drive,” they said. So, I struck out to make my one business call in Vegas, driving my rental car. Headed back to L.A. the following morning to catch my flight back to East Texas, I saw the gauge reminding me to gas up. I hesitated, however, until I was away from the crazy city congestion.

Do you see the pattern yet?

About an hour later, the light came. Not the one in my brain; the one that says, “range 43 miles.” As that changed to “Low Fuel,” there was still nothing in sight but more cactus and sand.

As I was mentally preparing for doom in the desert, a mirage appeared on the horizon. A billboard bearing one word, “GAS.” I shot toward the only structure in sight off the exit ramp: an aging art deco station with rows of gas pumps. It was run down and lonely looking, but it was open. One last push on the accelerator catapulted me toward the nearest pump just before the car’s final gasp for fuel, and I rolled up to the pump.

Wish I could say that was the last time I tempted the fate of gas fumes. But I can’t. Maybe there’s a support group for those who choose to ignore gas gauges.

Hello, my name is Leon, and I’m addicted to that game of “Let’s-see-how-long-I-can-drive-with-my-gas-light-on.”

—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 2022. 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.

The good old days pop quiz final exam

“Enjoy your life. These are the good old days you’ll miss in the days ahead.”

— Author unknown.

– – – – – – – –

The good old days.

You remember them, don’t you? I do. I was thinking about the good old days just last week, remembering how simple life was before the internet. Never had to wonder why my AT&T internet stopped working every day like it has the last couple of weeks.

That started right after they sent that nice message apologizing for no service for a couple of days and reassuring me the issue was resolved.

Maybe no internet every day for a few hours is an upgrade from no internet at all for 24-48 hours. I don’t know any more.

I do know we’ve become a society that panics without internet service. Telephone, security and surveillance, climate control, television, and entertainment are all internet based at my house. Drop my internet signal, and I’m reduced to a cell phone (when it works) and my record player.

Which, when I think about it, is twice as much convenience as I had growing up in the good old days. All I had then was a record player.

The good old days.

A time when road trip comfort relied on the only climate control available for cars; the time-honored “4-60” system. Four windows rolled up and down with a crank instead of an electric button and 60 mile-per-hour cruising speed. Which was the maximum speed limit until sundown when it was reduced to 55.

A time when we kept our cool at home with water fan “swamp coolers” by day and attic fans by night. And it had to be in that order because water fans mildewed leather shoes and belts in the closet at night, and attic fans in the daytime just pulled in sweltering outside air.

A time when my class of 1966 was the last “unairconditioned class” graduated from Mount Pleasant High School. I’ve always said I signed up for the band program to learn something about music. Don’t tell anyone, but I learned to play a musical instrument because the band hall was one of the few buildings with a window unit air conditioner at a school without air-conditioned classrooms.

I get it, though. Times change, and good old days become memories.

In those good old high school days, friend and classmate Danny Lewis and I left Titus County in my 1958 Chevy one Saturday bound for a Dallas KLIF radio station-sponsored concert that included the Mamas and the Papas, the Animals, and Herman’s Hermits. Concert over and done later, we began the return trip home sometime after midnight.

At an isolated 24-hour service station somewhere way out in the country near the Gross Road exit on I-30, I related a minor motor noise to the attendant pumping gas. I concluded by asking if he might take a look at it.

He confessed he was not a mechanic, just the night attendant for pumping gas. But he was quick to offer the station’s service bay and tools if I wanted to investigate it myself.

Already seasoned at tinkering with hot rods and drag racing at a young age, chasing motor gremlins was a “no problem” proposition. The comfort and convenience of a service station bay, though? Now that was a bonus. I was used to doing my mechanic work under shade trees in my parent’s front yard.

Identifying a worn-out rocker arm as the culprit, the best (a.k.a. cheapest) alternative for the 1 a.m. trip home was deemed to be nursing the old Chevy back on seven cylinders. Removal of one rocker arm, pushrod, and spark plug wire put us on the road again. 

The car got us back to Mount Pleasant with only a minor miss to ignore. And Redfearn’s Automotive next door to the Martin Theater downtown supplied needed parts Monday to get the car firing on all eight cylinders again.

So, if you are still reading, here’s the good old days pop quiz final exam. If you understood what you just read and identified with any of it, you probably have a good idea what the “good old days thing” is all about.

But if you didn’t have a clue what I was talking about and NSYNC is your idea of “Golden Oldies,” just enjoy life for now. Your good old days will get here soon enough.

I can’t help you with panic attacks when the internet goes down, however.

For me, that part is much more manageable. I just turn on my record player and try to remember the last place I saw my cell phone.

—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 2022. 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.

That conversation down at the courthouse

“I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations.”

– Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), English writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for her children’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

– – – – – – –

The newspaper was still lying there on my desk as I contemplated a column for this week. The March 24 edition of the Pittsburg Gazette that talked about the five-year renovation of the Camp County courthouse.

A couple of hours up the road from Center, Texas, Pittsburg is like a second home to me, although I never lived there. Unless spending time in the summers with my grandparents as a child counts as living.

My father grew up there and graduated from PIttsburg High School in 1941. After a couple of semesters at Texas A&M and a stint in the Army during WW II, he worked for the old five-and-dime store chain, Perry Brothers. And, in 1959, they moved him to Mount Pleasant, 11 miles up the road from Pittsburg, where he would live the rest of his life.

My father’s mother had a strong influence on me. But she was a strong personality and an influence on anyone who knew her. She stood just four-foot-eleven, but you never asked what was on her mind. As a rule, you didn’t have to, she would tell you. Either way, she left little opportunity to ignore her.

That’s just the way she was.

And that’s just the way that conversation down at the courthouse was, I’m sure. The one about the car title 41 years ago. She told me about it right after it happened.

Sylvester and Hattie Aldridge moved into a small frame house on Cypress Street in Pittsburg in 1930 and lived a simple life there for the rest of their days. My grandfather’s soul left this earth in that house in December of 1967. Granny left there for the hospital in October of 1993 and joined her husband of 47 years just weeks later.

The day she left, the house looked precisely as it had every day of my 40-something years of knowing it, save for maybe a few pictures of kids and grand kids on the walls and the new Cardui calendar every year. She even drove the car they bought in 1957 for 24 years. The green Ford sedan they purchased new at Travis Battles Ford near the depot where my grandfather worked in downtown Pittsburg showed just over 46,000 miles in 1981.

That was the year Granny called and said, “I need a car with power steering and air conditioning; you still want Liz?” Liz is what she called her car. I had told her years earlier that I wanted Liz when it was time for a new car.

Yes,” was my quick answer. “And I want that paperwork in the third drawer of your chifforobe.” The original title, the paperwork from the dealership, and the canceled check from the bank were all right where she put them in 1957.

At her house the following Saturday, she handed me the aging envelope of paperwork and a new ownership receipt in my name.

“They didn’t want to let me keep the title down at the courthouse,” she said. It was the lady in the auto registration office, Granny called her Margaret; maybe it was. I don’t remember now. But she called her by name because she knew her. Granny had lived in Pittsburg for 51 years by that time, and she knew everybody.

“You have to turn it in to get a new title in a different name,” the lady we’re calling Margaret told Granny. “Nope,” Granny said she told her. “My grandson wants the original title with the car.”

So, the courthouse lady, Margaret—I think, told her the only way to get a new title is if it’s lost or destroyed.

“So, you couldn’t keep the title,” I said, sadly.

Smiling like the cat that ate the canary, Granny continued, “I dropped the title in my pocketbook, closed it up, and told her, ‘Well, I’ll be John Brown. I guess I’ve lost that title.'”

Margaret reportedly just smiled, shook her head, and pulled out a lost title application. Granny may have known everybody in town, but I’m sure everybody knew her as well.

The newspaper on my desk says the courthouse is six years shy of 100 years old. That means it was two years old when my grandparents first called Pittsburg home. I’m betting by the time Granny “lost” that title half a century later, everyone in the courthouse knew my grandmother.

That’s just the way she was.

And just in case you’re wondering … the answer is yes. Some 41 years after that conversation down at the courthouse, I still have the car and the original title