When parents ponder: how did that happen

“I came to parenting the way most of us do – knowing nothing and trying to learn everything.” — Mayim Bialik, actress, author, and neuroscientist

Life is a path often directed by miracles. Not the least of those miracles is basking in the sunshine of watching our children raising their children while reflecting on our efforts and asking, “How did that happen?”

I better understand now a statement my mom made about the time I graduated from college. While obviously proud of her son’s accomplishments, she also added, “…there are some things I wished I had done differently.” Attempting to offset whatever it was that prompted her to say that, I laughed and said, “No need to doubt anything you did, just look at how good I turned out.”

Now at a point some years past the age at which she lamented some element of her parenting, I can understand how any parent might have similar thoughts. Maybe that was her way of saying, “How did that happen?”

Just as my mom expressed her pride, I am equally proud of both of my children for their accomplishments and the adults and parents they have become. My true delight, however, is in retelling stories about the adventures my children and I shared, often mixed with my arguably unorthodox parenting skills.

A discussion last week with a friend as parents pondering the miracles of child-rearing reminded me of a talk one night some years ago with daughter Robin.

Robin was a debater. Not argumentative—much, she just enjoyed a robust discussion on the merits of how and why. In one of our wonderful back porch chats in Pipe Creek, she and I were admiring a beautiful Texas Hill Country night sky while discussing the universe, the stars, and other miracles of creation when she asked how far the universe went. “Forever,” I said. “No,” she responded, “I mean until it ends. It can’t go on forever.”

“Why,” I asked. “Everything has to have an end,” she countered. I told her that it didn’t have to end and honestly, it can’t. She pondered that in silence for a minute then asked, “How do you know?”

“Let’s say it does end,” I replied. “What is on the other side of it? If there is a warning sign with flashing lights out there proclaiming, ‘universe ends in one mile,’ something has to be on the other side of that. When it comes to the universe you can’t have nothing.”

After a few more minutes of silence, she said, “Dad, that’s not only grammatically incorrect, but it also hurts my brain to think about it.” I told her we didn’t have to think about it. “God knows what is beyond the universe and only He could have engineered something without end,” I said. “Like time—there never was a time when there was no time.”

By this time, Robin’s eyes were glossing over. While she was still working it, I continued, “Remember the Bible verses about how God always has been and always will be?”

“Yes,” she said. “I just never thought about it this much.” Then after a pause, added, “It’s time for Star Trek and my brain needs a rest.” Leaving our rocking chairs of wisdom on the porch and heading for the back door, she stopped, turned and asked, “When I look at the sky and think about it never ending, and time being forever, it’s hard to comprehend. How does that happen?”

“Make a note and get back to me when you experience the miracle of your children,” I said. “You will learn from them.”

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune

Who says a hamburger can’t bring good fortune too

“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.” — Joey Adams, comedian, nightclub performer and author

The right meal on New Year’s Day is supposed to ensure prosperity and health in the coming year. I’m thinking a good meal by itself would go a long way toward both averting troubles and forgetting about resolutions.

But, just in case it doesn’t, what was your New Year’s Day cuisine? Most people likely started with traditional black-eyed peas as the staple. From there, variations were likely many. Some favor turnip greens while others insist it must be cabbage. I say why not cover all the bases and have both.

That’s what Granny did. Dad’s mother was ritualistic about eating for luck on January 1. There was no escaping black-eyed peas at her house. She not only served both cabbage and greens with them but lots more. Sunday dinner at her house any time of the year included fried chicken and ham with a variety of vegetables and desserts. If you left her house hungry, it was nobody’s fault but your own.

My New Year’s eating rituals are, well … less ritualistic. Sorry, Granny. I’ve tried traditional peas, greens, and cabbage, and while they’re certainly good, my New Year’s traditions sometimes lean toward “what’s open today?” While considering my New Year’s menu, I decided to research the traditions.

Most point toward three prevalent foods for the quintessential first meal of the year. The undisputed number-one, must-have New Year’s food is black-eyed peas. Reasons why are cooked up in legend, but two persist. One is an Italian tradition about peas (lentils in general) resembling coins. Therefore, eating them on the first day of the year is certain to add money to one’s good fortune.

The other is based on Southern Civil War lore when black-eyed peas were used to feed cattle. During the Battle of Vicksburg in 1863, the town was cut off from all supplies for nearly two months. Local residents and Confederate troops resorted to eating food reserved for the livestock including the peas, also known as “cowpeas,” in order to survive.

As to whether you compliment your peas with cabbage or turnip greens likely makes little difference because that part of the meal appears to have grown from varying preferences of “green leafy vegetables.” Folks from both the North and the South eat black-eyed peas and greens of some sort for good luck on New Year’s Day following a tradition rooted in the green part representing the assurance of wealth as in greenbacks, or money.

Those decisions made, all that remains for the perfect meal to lure prosperity into one’s future is the inclusion of cornbread. With these three, dining high on the hog is well represented by peas for pennies, greens for dollars, and cornbread for gold.

Speaking of high on the hog, pork has long been well entrenched as the traditional meat for New Year’s whether served as a dish or used in seasoning the vegetables. That term, by the way, is an allusion to the best and more expensive cuts of meat from a hog considered to be those above the belly.

So, what did I feast on for the first day of the new year? An ample meal of long-standing traditions like Granny offered at her house including black-eyed peas, cabbage, greens, and cornbread was enjoyed late in the day. But that was after a really good old-fashioned hamburger earlier. Like I said, I believe in covering all the bases.

Besides, who says hamburgers, barbecue, or enchiladas can’t bring one good fortune in the new year as well?

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

Where would we be without our dreams

“Past and Present I know well; each is a friend and sometimes an enemy to me. But it is the quiet, beckoning Future, an absolute stranger, with whom I have fallen madly in love.”

—Richelle E. Goodrich, American author, novelist, and poet

Life comes alive for me when experiences from roads traveled combine with dreams for the future and the blend produces a perfect today. Appreciation for that concept came only after years of experience—another one of those “if I had known that when I was younger” things. Writer Richelle E. Goodrich’s words above express it perfectly.

I find comfort in reflecting on the days and moments that allowed me to smile and solace in dealing with the days and moments that caused me to cry. I consider both as an essential exercise in looking toward tomorrow.

I find perspective in the past from both the good and the bad. Comparing yesterday with today is one of my greatest inspirations for writing. How can any of us appreciate our successes, lament our failures, or speculate about where we are headed without some direction from our past?

I find knowledge in the past. Knowing something about where I’ve come from and where I’ve been adds understanding to what I am doing today and stability in making decisions about where I’m going tomorrow.

Understanding the past doesn’t mean living in it, however. During my tenure in the communication department at Stephen F. Austin State University, I was often accused of single-handedly trying to bring back the 1950s. I embraced the accusation with honor and still don’t think that is an altogether bad ambition. However, that doesn’t mean I would give up the quality of life and the expanded resources and knowledge that we enjoy today, or the experience gained from life’s journey.

For all my love lavished on the past, there is nothing more exciting to me than the future. Tomorrow holds our ambitions, our dreams, our goals, and our hopes. How could we not be mesmerized by or madly in love with that?

Well before the mystique of Y2K approached, I wondered if I would live to see the age of 50 and thought about the things I hoped to accomplish if I were fortunate enough to do so. Having now blown the dust off 50 and left it long in the rearview mirror, these days I am more amazed about the things I have done since passing the half-century mark.

Things like learning to play a musical instrument, travel to places I had only heard of, read about things I had not dreamed of, witnessed events that I would have never anticipated. I’ve seen dreams come true and experienced failure I never saw coming.

If someone had told me at age 50, that I would have memories I now possess, I would have scoffed at them. And, through it all, I am glad to be where I am. I would say it’s the best time of my life, but I can honestly say I have felt that way at every age.

However, it’s still tomorrow that continues to hold excitement and anticipation for me. I still have dreams about ambitions to fulfill, places to go, knowledge to acquire, love to share. Where would we be without our dreams?”

In just a few more hours, we will have 365 new opportunities to anticipate the excitement and dreams of a new year. May 2019 bring you new hopes and dreams, fulfillment of those you nurtured in 2018, and opportunities in life that you have yet to fall madly in love with.

Happy New Year and best wishes for your best year yet!

—Leon Aldridge

Photo at top of the page: In May of 1966, your author received a diploma from Mount Pleasant (Texas) High School nurturing many dreams for the future. Some of those dreams have been fulfilled, some were lost along the way and some new ones took their place. But, it’s still the dreams of what tomorrow holds that I am most in love with.

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune

 

Memories of Christmas gifts that money can’t buy

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.”

― Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie series of children’s books published between 1932 and 1943

My Christmas spirit tends to replay memories along the lines of one thought or event from each Yuletide season. I guess when the memory banks have as many Christmas season deposits to catalog as mine, that’s the only way they can account for them.

I’ve penned columns for Christmas past about my belief that Christmas lives in the heart of a child. Ask me about a childhood Christmas and while I may not be able to precisely peg it with a year, I will have a story worth telling about it.

Like the Christmas in Pampa before I started school which means it was prior to 1954. My uncle Bill, mom’s younger brother who was in the Navy at the time, came to visit and brought a buddy with him. I got an electric train and it was a miserably cold Texas Panhandle Christmas.

Ask me about a Christmas from my children’s childhood and I have many. Like the Christmas when I grossly overestimated my toy assembling speed skills and stayed up all night finishing just as both the sun and curious children eager to see what Santa had left were rising. That one I would catalog at about 1985 or ’86—the year that Robin glanced at her gifts, then disappeared to her room with boxes and wrapping paper to create a magnificent model of Elvis’s Graceland home in Memphis.

Things like that go with the territory when your children are raised in an environment of cars and music from the 1950s.

Ask me about Christmas memories I’m making at this stage of life and I’m likely to share things like the fact that the progression of Christmas trees at our house has diminished in size and gifts have paled in importance.

Last year, I got the tree up but never got around to completing the decoration duties, so this year I have a tabletop tree that comes out of the box already decorated. As a bonus, it also comes down quicker and stores easily. Deck the halls with Christmas convenience.

As a good friend reminded me last week, there comes a time in life when our list gets smaller and we learn that the things we really want can’t be bought. Watching the generations following us and the memories made with them become our list.

So, it will most likely be that Christmas 2018 will be remembered as the year we gathered in Lindale, Texas, to hear grandson Sam Osteen perform at his first piano recital. Four generations of my daughter Robin’s family on her husband Jonathan’s side filled a couple of rows close to the front as 10-year-old Sam rendered a remarkable rendition of “Carousel.”

In all, 19 piano students under the tutelage of Cyndi Stripling in Lindale performed a variety of songs to the delight of family and friends before she concluded the recital with a stunning performance of “The Bell Carol.”

Combined with lunch and time to visit with my daughter and her family Sunday afternoon, this past weekend was the perfect seasonal inspiration for me as we entered the final few days before Christmas morning.

I wish for you the very best of what the Christmas spirit holds sacred in your heart. See the season through the heart of a child and make memories of Christmas gifts that money can’t buy.

Merry Christmas!

—Leon Aldridge

Photo at the top of the page: Sam Osteen playing “Carousel” at his first piano recital in Lindale, Sunday, December 16, 2018.

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

 

What goes up must come down—eventually

“Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes, and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator.”— American writer and musician Daniel Handler

Whether my elevator goes all the way to the top floor has been debated on more than one occasion, and there are days when I’m not sure about it myself. Two premises about elevators I can verify with certainty, however. One, the elevator isn’t going anywhere until you push a button. Two, lack of good judgment may interrupt your journey to the top.

Staying at a hotel near the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals car show in Chicago last month (top floor by the way) meant everywhere I went required an elevator ride. Waiting for one trip up, I noticed the guy waiting with me was wearing an Oldsmobile jacket. “Nice jacket,” I commented as the doors closed. “I’m here for the Olds W-31 Invitational.”

“Are you showing a car,” he asked. I replied no, attending because I had owned two of the featured Oldsmobile muscle cars. Acknowledging he was a spectator too, our conversation continued until we figured out that our elevator was never going to reach the top, or anywhere else for that matter. Neither of us had pushed a button leaving the elevator patiently waiting for some direction.

“Going nowhere is better than stuck between floors,” he laughed. “Been there, done that,” I said. The weather was cold and snowy in Chicago that day, but it was warm and sunny at a Dallas hotel some years ago when my elevator not only didn’t reach the top, it got stuck trying to get there.

Attired in swimwear and towels after a splash at the pool, my family and I boarded the elevator headed for the top floor. Always teasing my kids when they were young (actually, I still do), a temporary lapse of good judgment led me to think it would be entertaining to “demonstrate” how if one jumps up in an elevator, it rises up to meet them. I had absolutely no scientific data to support that theory, but it sounded good.

The jumping up part went swimmingly well. It was the coming back down part that failed. When I hit the elevator floor, it stopped—dead still. In the waning seconds of silence afterward, both kids looked up at me. My son, Lee, whispered, “Dad, you can make it start again now.”

I really wanted to tell him I wished that were possible. Problem is, I couldn’t. All I could do was push every button on the panel before selecting “emergency.” Doing that invited a calm, polite speaker voice into the elevator. “Is there a problem?”

Rather than saying the first thing that came to mind, I replied, “I think we’re stuck.” After an eternity of minutes, polite voice confirmed my assumption, we were stuck. Then asked if we were OK, encouraged us to remain calm, and assured us that we would be out quickly.

Time has blurred the memory of how long it took, but eventually, polite voice returned. “You’re stuck between floors. Our plan is to pry the door open below you, allowing enough room to crawl out and down a ladder.”

Not having a better plan, I responded, “Perfect.”

A variety of noises were followed by voices before doors were parted revealing a space about three-feet high along the floor through which a fireman’s face smiled. “You folks ready to get out of there.”

Deciding any answer would have been rhetorical, I got on my knees to see a sea of rescuers and spectators peering back at me.

Time would pass before my family would board an elevator with me again. Even today, entering an elevator with either of my now adult children gets me a “don’t even think about it” look.

Guess they’re afraid my elevator still doesn’t go all the way to the top.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

 

There are many reasons to love a parade, here’s two

“I love a parade, The tramping of feet; I love ever beat; I hear of a drum. I love a parade.” —Broadway singer Harry Richman

Have you ever wondered how parades got started? Things like who decided caravanning through a crowd of people watching everyone go by while smiling and waving at each other is so popular? It’s crossed my mind, and while I may not have all the answers, I think I’ve picked up a couple of clues along the way.

The Christmas parade in Center, Texas, last Saturday night was outstanding, an inspiring kickoff for the season in which we were honored to provide transportation for the Grand Marshal, Dr. Jheri-Lynn McSwain.

“We” being me and “Miss Vicky,” my 1955 Ford Crown Victoria.

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Dr. Jheri-Lynn McSwain, Grand Marshal of the Center, Texas, Christmas parade. — photo courtesy of J.J. Ford, Shelby County Today

 

I confess, I love a parade. Loved watching them as a kid, but that love affair flame was fanned during high school and college band years marching in Christmas parades, homecoming parades, festival parades, and even a few college bowl game parades. Add to that, countless parades for years of car club activities and providing classic cars for grand marshals, pageant participants, dignitaries, elected officials, and yes—I do love a parade.

Early clues about some aspects of fascination for them came years ago via my children. The event was a Gilmer, Texas, Yamboree parade, and the time was when my kids were, well, still kids.

“What kind of parade is this,” asked daughter Robin. “It’s the Yamboree parade,” I answered. “What’s a Yamboree?” Explaining that it’s a festival to celebrate sweet potatoes prompted the obvious next question, “Why do they have a parade for sweet potatoes?”

“It was a primary crop here in the 1930s when the festival began, and everybody just loves a parade to celebrate,” I replied trying to hold my own with my daughter in a game 20 questions.

“Who’s riding with us,” was next? “I’m not sure,” I said. “Perhaps a pretty girl, a Yamboree princess, the queen, somebody like that.”

“See, Lee,” Robin told her brother. “That’s why daddy sent mommy to take pictures of the parade instead of coming with us.”

While sucking wind searching for a suitable response, I was saved by the parade. “Mr. Aldridge, our mayor will be riding with you,” I was informed. The parade was ready. Bands were tuning up. Clowns were conducting their own little parade much to the delight of the kids. Last minute touchups were being performed on floats. Sirens were being tested.

“I know why they paint police cars different colors and put sirens on them,” my son, Lee, offered. “Why,” I asked. “So, they can be in parades. You’ve got to look funny and make lots of noise to be in parades.”

The mayor arrived, we were in the car, and the parade was almost underway when Lee offered his statement from the back seat, “I thought you said we would have a pretty girl riding with us.”

“I said we might,” I replied, intending to leave the conversation right there. However, his honor the mayor looked  back over the seat, smiled at my kids and asked, “Don’t you just love a parade?”

“Yes sir,” Lee said. “Parades are full of pretty girls, clowns and funny people making lots of noise.”

“Well, I might fit into a couple of those categories,” he graciously laughed.

The conversation was concluding, the cacophony was growing, and the mayor was smiling and waving a few minutes later when the parade momentarily came to a halt where a group of young boys was standing just inches from the car smiling and waving back. As the procession started moving again, one of the boys hollered, “Hey mister, where’s the pretty girls.”

Everyone loves a parade for their own reasons. At least two were duly noted that day: pretty girls and sweet potatoes.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune.

 

Old cars and new friends; the second time around

“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it yet.” —author Mitch Albom

In a column published just shy of five years ago, I mulled as to how coming full circle can be many things. True enough, it can be an ending, a beginning, or both.

One continuous thread throughout my three-score and ten has been cars. Old cars, unique cars, cool cars, fast cars. My father never fully appreciated this concept, to him an automobile was “just a way to get from point A to point B.” He was still shaking his head when by the time I graduated from college at age 23, I had owned seven vehicles: two new from Sandlin Chevrolet and Olds in Mount Pleasant, Texas, where I worked my way through college (and cars); four of them high-performance muscle cars of the era.

In reality, I agreed with dad. Cars were about getting from A to B. For me, it just had to be as fast as possible.

A fast trip to the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN) show in Chicago the weekend before Thanksgiving proved to be a “coming full circle” experience as well as a look back at my history of getting from A to B in fast fashion. Organizers promote the annual event as “…the ultimate gathering place for young and old who have a passion for horsepower…a showcase for the cars that have become a part of our lives…a place to revive past memories and friendships while opening the door to new ones.”

I could not have said it better.

 

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My 1969 Olds F-85 with the W-31 performance package in racing configuration and ready for the 1970 NHRA Springnationals. Just one on that long list of, “Should’a never sold it.”

Having owned a number of high performance and muscle cars both when they were new and in the years since, the show had been on my radar for a couple of years. Two things determined that this was my year to go.

The first was a low-production, high-performance Oldsmobile muscle car manufactured from 1968 to 1970, one of which I bought new at Sandlin’s. Dubbed as the “W-31 Ram Rod,” it was built to make lots of power with a high-flow forced air induction system, a number of unique speed components, and marketing with “Dr. Olds W-Machine” black-and-white ads that would have made Boris Karloff and Dr. Frankenstein proud.

The other was a friend I had yet to meet, Stephen Minore of New Haven, Connecticut. Stephen is a life-long Olds W-Machine fan recognized as the “guru” for identifying and authenticating surviving examples. I contacted him in 2016 about the one I owned and raced 49 years ago. He tipped me off earlier this year about a W-31 Invitational as part of the MCACN where his own 1970 W-31, fresh out of a complete restoration would be unveiled.

That was all I needed. I was all in.

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Stephen Minore’s freshly restored 1970 Olds Cutlass W-31 in Chicago at the MCACN show.

 

Oldsmobile built a scant 212 copies of the car like I raced. Try and find one today and you’ll likely score a genuine set of hen’s teeth first. Seeing a dozen or so examples in one place and remembering my drag racing days was a pinnacle moment in that full circle.

As for making new friends, not only did I get to finally shake hands with Stephen after more than two years of email and phone calls, attending the show also resulted in making another new friend—someone else who lived those drag racing days.

 

Dr Olds ad
“Dr. Oldsmobile” W-31 ad from 1969.

Tweed Vorhees of Dover, Ohio, drag raced a ’67 Olds W-30 and Ron Garey raced a ‘68 Olds W-31 (pictured at the top of the page), both sponsored by the Chesrown Olds dealership in Newark, Ohio. Garey won his class at the 1970 NHRA Springnationals at the old Dallas International Motor Speedway. Other Oldsmobile W-Machines competing that June weekend were from California, Nebraska, Iowa, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, Massachusetts, and Washington. Oh, and a kid from Mount Pleasant racing a ’69 Sandlin sponsored Olds W-31.

 

A few years ago, Tweed located the 1968 Ron Garey car that had been lost since 1970 and restored it to its racing glory days. He had it on display at the show where we shared memories about the history-making cars and some of the drivers we both knew back then, many of whom drove for a Smothers Brothers sponsored team of the W-equipped Oldsmobiles.

When I sold my Olds W-Machine in 1971 and ended my racing career, I never dreamed there might one day be the beginning of a new circle with the old cars and new friends in my future—an end and a beginning.

By the way, I’m loving the second time around.

—Leon Aldridge

(As a postscript to this sentimental journey, I would be remiss in failing to acknowledge my lifelong friend who passed away in 2016, Oscar Elliott. It was Oscar who encouraged me to buy a W-31 Oldsmobile and race it when we both worked at Sandlin’s. He performed all the work needed to transform it into a competitive race car in Sandlin’s service department and maintained it for me. It was his 1968 SS 396 El Camino that we used to tow the W-31 Olds to race tracks from Dallas to Houma, Louisiana, down close to New Orleans and numerous drag strips in between making memories that have lasted a lifetime. I thought about him at the show knowing he would have enjoyed this new circle as much as I have.) 

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune