The historical tale of two town’s tasty tamales

“Run little children,
Get your feet out the sand.
Go and tell your mama,
About the hot tamale man.”

—Mount Pleasant tamale street vendor’s verse, late 50s and early 60s

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Long before I was introduced to Zwolle’s tasty tamales in Louisiana, I enjoyed the popular Mexican food in Mount Pleasant, Texas, as a child in 1959 – ’60. Especially entertaining was the “tamale man’s” marketing methods.

Like it was yesterday, I remember standing in the doorway of Perry Brothers 5¢-and-10¢ store on Jefferson Street where my father worked and hearing the hot tamale man’s mixture of melodic and poetic recitations coming from the square. I also knew it was likely Dad would be sending me across the street with money and tamales would be on the menu for supper.

All I knew about Louisiana at that time was my father was born there and that was where most of his family beyond his parents in Pittsburg lived, at least the ones we visited. It also seemed like Louisiana was very different from East Texas with its sugar cane fields and the huge Mississippi River near his sister’s house.

Even in the mid-1970s when I moved to Many, Louisiana, as editor of the Sabine News, it seemed like crossing the border was tantamount to visiting another country. However, my time in Many left me with a new found appreciation for both the similarities and the differences, and with newfound friends and many wonderful memories.

One of the best was learning about the legendary tamales made by Brenda Broyles’ mother. Brenda’s official title at the paper was bookkeeper but as is typical of small newspapers, everybody did whatever needed doing. Brenda and her husband Dale who also worked for the paper managing circulation duties, lived in Zwolle, the small community of just over 1,700 inhabitants in Sabine Parish just up the road from Many where Brenda’s mother also resided. And the best part of that was every Friday when Brenda would bring tamales to feed the office staff which also included Malva Veuleman and Joann Campbell.

It was not until after I left Many relocating to Abilene that I learned Zwolle was not only well-known for its tamales even then, but the Zwolle Tamale Festival that continues today was also founded about the time I was there. Even then, however, it never occurred to me that tamales might seem more of a Texas or Mexico thing, but it all made perfect sense last week reading about how Sabine Parish and Louisiana’s historical ties to Texas go beyond borders and cuisine.

In a story titled “The Lost Texans of the Louisiana Pines” written by Wes Ferguson and published in the October 2020 issue of Texas Monthly magazine, Ferguson recounts the history of the region and how a mission near present-day Zwolle was actually the first capitol of what would become Texas.

The “Reader’s Digest version” is that following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the U.S. and Spain both claimed Western Louisiana’s territory between the Sabine River and the Arroya Hondo and the Calcasieu River which flows through present-day Lake Charles. The two countries first declared a neutral ground to avoid a war, but the U.S. prevailed 15 years later taking the territory for itself and officially making it part of Louisiana in 1828.

Ferguson’s story is a great history read about the El Camino Real and the Texas and Spanish heritage of the area around Zwolle that prevails even today, including how the famous tamales that are in fact more Mexican or Texan than the rest of Louisiana’s French Creole heritage became famous in Louisiana.

I haven’t been to Zwolle since I left Many one Friday night in 1977 headed for Abilene and a new job there. And the Mount Pleasant hot tamale man was gone from the courthouse square even before I graduated from high school. But I never eat a hot tamale anywhere without thinking of the people I worked with at the newspaper in Many or hearing the Mount Pleasant hot tamale man advertise his wares for sale. And now, learning a history lesson tying them both together will make a good hot tamale taste even better—if that’s even possible.

Hot tamales, hot tamales,
Two in the shuck.
One fell out,
And the other one stuck.”  

— another of the Mount Pleasant tamale man’s verses. He had several.

—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.

Music can charm amazing memories from the mind

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way.”

— “I Can See Clearly Now” song lyrics by Johnny Nash

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Singer Johnny Nash, whose song “I Can See Clearly Now” reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the 70s, died last Tuesday at his home in Houston at the age of 80.

Father time was tough on the world of 70s music last week with the death of both Nash and Eddie Van Halen. As with everything, we all have our own tastes when it comes to music and mine was the calypso style of Nash more than Van Halen’s rocker style. I do remember both however and was once again reminded of the uncanny power an old song has to instantly trigger memories hijacking our thoughts back to another day and time.

Psychological studies confirm that songs we like and remember strongly imprint our minds with people, events, and locations. But way before psychological studies explored the phenomenon, I remember my Uncle Bill, mom’s “little brother,” talking about his memories of military service in the Navy when guys on a ship a long way from home would listen to music and share memories of three things associated with a song: the car they were driving, the name of the girl they dated while driving that car, and where they were when that memory was made. He also reported their recall was typically in that exact order.

Having tested Uncle Bill’s theory over the years, I concur that listening to music is not only enjoyable, but it can also charm some amazing memories from the depths of one’s mind. Therefore, it was no fluke that hearing Nash’s song, “I Can See Clearly Now,” accompanying the news of his death last week unleashed a rush of recollections including one trip to Florida about that time. It is now nearing 50 years ago when Nash’s song was popular that a group of motorcycle riders from Mount Pleasant roared into Panama City Beach, Florida, for a week’s stay at the Barney Gray Motel. Whether considering it to be the “World’s Most Beautiful Bathing Beach” as a period chamber ad touted, or the “Redneck Riviera” it has since come to be historically referred to as, didn’t matter to us. We were there for the fun.

Just a year or two out of college and being my first time to Florida, the trip was not only fun but also educational for me. It’s where I learned about severe sunburn, the kind necessitating innovative ways of sleeping to avoid pain, and about nights trying to forget how it hurt while cruising the Miracle Mile Beach road amid hot cycles, cool cars, and non-stop entertainment. It’s also where I learned about the 70’s phenomenon immortalized in another song released a couple of years later by Ray Stevens, “The Streak.”

The bare facts are that a group of us was huddled around an arcade pinball machine watching the player piling up points. I never saw “Ethel,” but I did look when a couple of young women ran through the arcade toward us—au naturel. There was no way to tell whether they were wearing nothing but a smile as Steven’s song reports because they were wearing nothing but a paper bag on their head. Dumbfounded, I called out to alert my unaware friends intently gazing at the pinball player’s score and oblivious to anything else. “Guys,” I stuttered, “Hey guys … over here … look at this!”

The girls flashed right by us and out a nearby door before someone finally turned to me and asked, “What?”

“Never mind,” I said, “You missed it and telling you about it—it just wouldn’t be the same.”

“I Can See Clearly Now,” was released June 23, 1972, and lacking documentation of that trip at my fingertips, I would assume that was same summer we were in Florida. I remember hearing it frequently during that week and I never hear the song today that I don’t think of that summer’s motorcycle journey.

While it would be perfect to close out this report that Nash’s signature song was playing on the jukebox at the arcade that revealing night I got a peek near the pinball machines, I honestly cannot say that it was. But had it been, now that would have produced one appropriately memorable coincidence.

—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.

The need for chivalry in a socially brutal world

“Chivalry is one of the great civilizing forces, taming men and introducing social graces and nuance to what would otherwise be a brutish social world.” 

Heather Mac Donald, American conservative political commentator, essayist, and attorney

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If I had a dollar for every time I heard my father say things like, “respect your elders,” I could have likely retired comfortably a long time ago. 

That, and his quick “yes, what,” should I carelessly answer his question without the respect of “yes sir.”

Many times I’ve commented on how my father wasn’t one to sit me down and share things I needed to know about life. Instead, whether he realized it or not, he was more the epitome of “teaching by example.” I respected him and the way he lived his life, therefore I tried to follow his footsteps along as many paths as I could.  

If pressed to attribute one value that was central in his life, it would have to be respect. Most noticeable to me was the way he respected my mother and doted on her for the almost 63 years they were married to the point of caring for her at home as Alzheimer’s slowly eroded her mind. Other examples would include how I never saw him walk through a door first if he had the opportunity to hold it open for others or fail to quickly pick up dropped items for others such as keys or a pen. In likewise manner, he was also quick to help anyone struggling with an armload of packages; something that may have been second nature having spent his life in retail business as he did. 

Father’s Day and Dad’s birthday have passed for this year, so this is not about Dad, But it was him I thought of while reading an article last week on “The Civility Project” in The Epoch Times newspaper. The piece by Jeff Minick studied the history of chivalry, asked the question, “Is chivalry dead,” and reflected on the value of chivalry even today in relationships at all levels. The one word prominent throughout the article that reminded me of my father was ‘respect.’ He was the best example of chivalry and respect that I knew.

“Fashionably late” was never a part of his vocabulary or his routine but being on time was. Furthermore, simply being on time itself was also not good enough. “If you’re not there five minutes early, you’re already late,” was his advice. “Disrespecting people’s time is not just rude; it makes you look unreliable.”

“Removing your hat when you enter a building is a sign of trust and respect,” he said many times. “Plus it’s just plain rude to wear a hat indoors.” That’s one I rarely failed to forget. If he saw me walk indoors with a hat on my head, he would remove it for me and place it my hands with that, “what have I told you,” fatherly look.

“Stand up when an elder or a lady enters the room and don’t sit down until they are seated. It shows respect and politeness to others.” These little life lessons and many others were paramount to my father in what he considered earning the respect of others. “Respect and love are two-way streets,” I remember him telling me one night in a rare and impromptu father and son discussion. “You don’t get either one without first giving it.”

“And,” he concluded, “Before you can respect anyone or anything else, you have to respect yourself.” Looking back, I think he instilled that one in me by never once telling me I couldn’t do anything I aspired to do. “You just have to believe you can do it. Who’s going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself?”

After reading the article on chivalry, I wondered what dad would think of today’s “brutish social world” sorely lacking in chivalry and respect? About the news filled with militant groups rioting, burning, and looting; disrespecting the country and its history? About elected leaders and people in positions of authority spouting rhetoric in arguments, lacking respect for themselves or the citizens they were elected to serve?

I’m betting all those dollars I didn’t collect for listening to Dad that I know what he would have to say about the last one. After watching him just smile and nod once while enduring someone’s rant about something even I knew was senseless, I asked him why he didn’t say anything.

“Above all, never argue with idiots, son,” he said still smiling, “Bystanders can’t tell the difference.”

—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.

A genuinely disturbing question for some of us like me

“As I was motivatin’ over the hill,
I saw Maybellene in a Coupe De Ville.
A Cadillac a-rollin’ on the open road,
Nothin’ will outrun my V8 Ford.”

—Maybellene song lyrics by Chuck Berry

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Shelby County’s car club, the Cruisers, is motivating out of its COVID induced slumber next month. Celebrating ten years of cruising next spring, the club was started by people who like to have fun driving cars of all years that celebrate the culture of motoring in America.

As the Cruisers are set to roll the roads again doing what they like to do best, cruise in fun cars going good places to eat, a lingering question remains. Why do many young people today, as automotive writers keep reporting, seem to care less about cars or even having driver’s licenses? It’s a genuinely disturbing question for some of us like me who squeaked through Mount Pleasant High School sitting on the back row of Coach Gilbreath’s history class reading hot rod magazines discreetly tucked inside a textbook.

I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s an anomaly that has infiltrated even my own family. I hate to divulge dark family secrets in such a public forum as this, but I have to admit to having grandchildren who have no interest in a driver’s license. I know, I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

What is no secret is that most of us in the car club grew up in an age when a teenager’s biggest dream was obtaining that cherished driver’s license. And most of us would also confess our attraction to old cars, and even new cars today inspired by the old ones, evolved from the culture of cars in America. Perhaps it’s owning a car like the one we used to have, or maybe it’s owning the car we couldn’t afford back then. Whatever the inspiration, it’s likely we in some way vicariously enjoy the cars by reliving memories from a time when everything in life centered around the expressions of personality that our cars represented.

It was a time when every car rolling out of Detroit had a unique personality. Identifying a Chevrolet, a Ford, or a Dodge two blocks away was easy for even the youngest auto enthusiast. But today, nine of ten automobiles on the road lack any personality. Even colors with personality are gone. With white, black or gray monotone designs dominating the parking lots, cars nowadays look just alike more closely resembling each than cousins at a family reunion.

It’s fair to say my personality would have been different had cool cars not been an incentive to survive afternoon classes in high school looking forward to the pilgrimage of rolling stock leaving the parking lot headed to after-school jobs or to the Dairy Queen. Add the anticipation of cruising cool on the streets at night and blazing hot on the asphalt at East Texas drag strips on the weekend, and internal combustion-powered wheels were an integral part of many teenager’s personalities.

That’s a concept to which dad didn’t necessarily subscribe, however. “A car is just something to get from point A to point B,” he manitained. I agreed provided the trip in my case was made in the shortest possible amount of time. Whatever I drove had to be fast or loud, or both. That need for speed did two things. It kept me on a first name basis learning to respect the local police officers. It also spawned lots of drag racing fun during high school plus a brief period of drag racing with the professionals while in college.

Maybe it’s true that the younger generations don’t put as much emphasis on cars as their predecessors. But as for me, I own more old cars than newer ones including a 1957 Ford purchased new by my grandparents in Pittsburg, Texas. It’s a survivor of America’s automotive heyday and the car in which I learned to drive. I also took my first girlfriend on dates in the car. My second one too, now that I think about it, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

For now, I’m just happy to be “motivatin’ over the hill” in my ’55 V8 Ford with the Shelby County Cruisers again.

—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.

Retirement is often related to one’s definition of the word

“Some people spend their “Golden Years” at the country club sipping fine wine quietly waiting for the day they get to meet their maker. But there’s always a couple of jokers who take a little more aggressive approach.”

—One thought on retirement adapted from the caption on the photo below of two gray-haired guys in a high-performance racing boat flying across the water.

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While leisurely activities waiting to meet my maker has never been my plan for the so-called “Golden Years,” neither is flying across the water in a high-performance racing boat. Add to that, gardening, reading the latest retirement magazine, or traveling cross country in an RV. My happiness has always been rooted in getting up to a challenge every morning, finishing the day with the satisfaction that comes in a task completed, and doing all of the above in he company of people having fun for as long my health permits.

Two jokers photo. Source unknown.

With retirement age in sight, I am happy to report those goals are still alive and well.

My “professional career” began mowing yards for neighbors on the south side of Mount Pleasant at age 11. My first real paycheck was at 13 working a summer job for Mr. Corbin Merritt at the Ben Franklin five-and-dime store in downtown Mount Pleasant for 25-cents an hour.

Before there were minimum age work requirements, there were three variety stores, as they were called, within a block of each other in Mount Pleasant: Ben Franklin, Duke & Ayres, and Perry Brothers. Dad was the manager at Perrys and good friends with both Mr. Merritt and Mr. Pauling at Duke & Ayres. I still remember the feeling of that first paycheck and the feeling of accomplishment at completing assigned tasks like assembling bicycles and wagons or cleaning the stock room.

Over the years, jobs have found me at times, and other times I’ve found them in the form of interesting challenges. Interesting is perhaps the best way to describe one of my more creative efforts at securing a job more than 40 years ago in the West Texas oasis of Abilene. Arriving there one night without gainful employment, job hunting was the first order of business the next morning. A couple years of newspaper experience on my crude resume and a ‘help wanted’ ad for a night city editor’s job led me downtown to the Abilene Reporter-News where I was ultimately offered the job. Not long out of college and not sure of what direction I wanted to go then, I also investigated a business manager’s opening at a tire store.

This is probably the time to note something I failed to mention during the interview that day, only because I was not asked: that I had no background or education in office management or bookkeeping. I thought credit was something Raney’s Grocery and gas station on South Jefferson in Mount Pleasant extended to customers and debit was … actually, I had no clue what debit meant. However, I decided not to let that deter me.

My “in” for the interview was a mutual friend of the company’s accountant confirming the old axiom that it’s not always what you know, but sometimes who you know that counts. After a rousing conversation about the friend we shared, I landed the job. Fortune had smiled on me: I had been in Abilene less than 24 hours and I had a job. Considering my lack of business knowledge, however, my next stop was the city library for some speed reading  in “basic bid-ness.” Lady Luck smiled one more time when I learned that McMurry University, one of Abilene’s three fine institutions of higher learning, was enrolling for an accounting night class the very next week.

I successfully met the challenges of that job and remained a few years before moving back to East Texas with new experience and additional education on my resume.

Many years later, as the Golden Years are knocking on my door, I’m thinking one’s vision of retirement has to do with their definition of the word. For me, it’s still the satisfaction of rising to meet a challenge, the fulfillment of completing the task, and having fun doing it.

After spending most of 2020 working on an idea for developing a new business, and like everyone else, dealing with the complications of COVID, I’m still on course. I’ve also been searching to see if there’s at least one more challenging employment opportunity that looks inviting: preferably, one that does not involve high-speed racing boats.

And the best part is that with experience and education gained over the years, bluffing my way into the right job is no longer required.

—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.

Facing the side effects of sheltering in place

“Unfortunately, my social distancing practices did not include my refrigerator.”

— Overheard at the doctor’s office

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Hindsight is 20-20, but somebody’s timing on this pandemic thing was way off. Cooler temps lately are hinting that Fall is near which means Christmas will be here before we can find a mask to fit Santa and eight tiny reindeer.

It also means that I am ill-prepared for the holidays; a time that is very difficult for me without a virus, be it novel or run-of-the-mill. It’s not the holiday decorating. It’s not even Christmas shopping. It’s holiday meals. I love to eat and holiday food is nothing short of heavenly.

Not so divine are the significant side effects of coming off the summer season way behind in my healthy eating and exercise habits after being confined to home and the gym being closed. The timing was terrible because, at a time when I’m typically a few pounds lighter and dreaming of drumsticks and delightful desserts ahead, my annual checkup is coming up next week. I fear the report may not be pretty and that some new dieting habits will be forthcoming.

Habits, or so I once read, are easily modified in less than two weeks. Set goals for a new behavior to eat less and eat healthily, endure short-term pain while your body adjusts, (no pain—no gain), and the new way of eating becomes a new habit. I just want to know one thing. Who determined that eating is a bad habit?

And that word diet: it has a bad connotation. Maybe it’s just me, but I never could make one work. I don’t understand calories, carbs, sugars, and all of that label stuff. Besides, who can stay on a diet when there’s leftover banana pudding in the refrigerator. I’m just not one to make small talk at Thanksgiving dinner like, “Can you believe this dessert has only four grams of sugar?” I’m the one declaring, “Wow, that pecan pie was outstanding. I don’t know about you, but I’m going back for seconds.”

Hopefully my checkup will be better than the time new dietary habits called for cutting down on salt and something called MSG. Trying to exercise more caution in what I ate, the very next time I was dining out, I asked the waitress if their menu items included MSG.

“One moment,” she replied. “I’ll find out.” She was back in a flash to report, “The cook sends his sincere apologies that we do not have MSG but says he will attempt to locate some and have it on the menu soon.”

Then there was also the time a nutritionist tried to explain healthy to me. “Things that should be avoided for a long and healthy life,” she said, “include nitrites, MSG (there it is again), tyramine and phenylethlylamine. I had no issues with eliminating that last one, I’m not eating anything I can’t pronounce. That’s one more reason why I don’t read labels.

“What is tyramine?” I asked. “Produced by fermentation,” she said. “Foods that are aged, smoked, fermented, or marinated plus chocolate, most cheese, Chinese foods such as soy sauce …”

“Hold it right there,” I interrupted. “You lost me at chocolate and cheese. Not going to happen.” I had already learned enough to understand that healthy eating doesn’t necessarily enable you to live longer; life just seems longer having to eat all that boring, tasteless food. I left and went straight to the burger joint. “Double meat and cheese all the way,” I boldly proclaimed at the counter, “with jalapenos and a chocolate shake.”

I know healthy eating is wise, but for me, eating is one of life’s heavenly little pleasures—which reminds me of the story about the married couple that arrived in heaven on the same day. St. Peter was showing them around pointing out, “Here is your cottage, you’ll enjoy the lush gardens with every form of year-round fruit, the golf course is next door, and down the road is your own private tropical beach.”

Surveying the surroundings, the old gentleman said slowly to his spouse of many years, “See how nice this is. Just think, if you hadn’t been feeding us that awful-tasting healthy stuff all these years, we could have been here a long time ago.”

Maybe I’ll share that one with my doctor.

—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.

For me, ‘grandparents’ meant love, direction, and wisdom

“I said Grandpa what’s this picture here, It’s all black and white; And it ain’t crystal clear; … is that you there?”

—song lyrics from “In Color” performed by Jamey Johnson

Sunday is National Grandparents Day. ‘Grandparent’ is sometimes more easily defined in a dictionary than in real-life familial relationships. ‘Grandparent’ can mean different things to different people when lines between generations become blurred by life. Some are close geographically and emotionally while others may be distanced by geography, emotions, or lifestyles. It’s also not uncommon for some grandparents to become the full-time parents for their grandchildren.

For me, ‘grandparents’ always meant love, direction, and wisdom. Oh, and wit if we’re talking about my grandmother. Yep, she was funny. Mom lost her mother during high school and her father died when I was three. Other than faint memories of visiting him before he died, ‘grandparents’ always meant Dad’s parents who lived at 323 Cypress Street in Pittsburg from 1930 until they passed away; my grandfather in 1967 and my grandmother in 1993.

Sylvester Aldridge and Hattie Lois Farmer married New Year’s Day in 1920. She was three months short of 16 and he was already 31, something not that uncommon 100 years ago. He worked for the railroad from the time he was 13 until a heart attack retired him in 1954. Her lifelong labor was taking care of the household, raising my father, and caring for her husband for several years before he died.

My grandfather was quiet, easy-going, and retired for most of the years I knew him. He taught me about tools, yardwork, and how to use a .22 to keep the blue jays out of his prized fruit trees. We also built toy boats from wood scraps and “sailed” them tethered to a piece of string at the city park pond. He was also good to sneak me away from the house for driving lessons at the age of 11 by using the excuse of going downtown to DeWoody’s Western Auto for a lawnmower part or some such item. He also swore me under oath not to tell my grandmother, thereby keeping us both out of trouble.

Best of all, perhaps, were the stories of his childhood in the late 1800s, his military service in World War I, and his accounts of what life was like working on the railroad in the era of steam engines during the first half of the 20th Century.

My grandmother taught me as much about life, love, right, and wrong as anyone did. She stood short of five feet in heels, but never hesitated to speak her mind regardless of how much she had to tilt her head back in order to look someone in the eyes—something she deemed essential in honest conversation.

Her stories were about married life in the 1920s as a teenager living in a railroad boxcar converted to primitive mobile housing traveling from job to job with my grandfather, and how to stretch a dollar farther than anyone thought possible. Few days pass in which I fail to summarize something with one of her “lessons in life” or her witty sayings. Although her school days ended at 15, her wisdom influenced me in a way that my excess of education and degrees never could have.

Honesty and “doing what was right” was perhaps her strongest conviction. She was quick to correct a cashier for overcharging her three cents. But I also recall going with her to Watson’s Grocery Store on Greer Boulevard in Pittsburg one day to return a nickel after she arrived home and discovered they had undercharged her by that amount.

National Grandparents Day on the Sunday after Labor Day was Marian McQuade’s dedication to champion the cause of grandparents in nursing homes. She also noted that her hope was to persuade grandchildren to tap the wisdom and heritage of their grandparents: a vision that would enhance society in so many ways today.

It’s staggering to think that my window of generational learning spans the years between my grandfather’s birth in 1888 to my youngest grandchildren today. Even more thought provoking has been realizing that a wise person learns from their children as well.

Admittedly, it’s taken a furrowed brow and some gray hair to fully appreciate the generational life lessons provided me. I just wish I had more than black-and-white photos with which to share my grandparents with my grandchildren.

Maybe that’s why the line in Johnson’s song resonated so well with me: “A picture’s worth a thousand words; But you can’t see what those shades of gray cover; … you should have seen it in color.”

—Leon Aldridge

(Photos at the top of the page: According to my mother’s handwriting on the back, both of these photos were taken March 25, 1950, at my grandmother’s sister’s house in Fort Worth. The photo on the left depicts (left to right) my grandfather, S.V. Aldridge; me; and my father, Leon Aldridge. The photo on the right is me and my father again, this time with my grandmother, Hattie Lois Farmer 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.

I’m ready to retire that dream

“Hurricanes will never be an issue here.”  

—Leon Aldridge

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The paths I followed the first 30 years of my life in and out of Mount Pleasant up in the Northeast corner of Texas took me just about every direction but south. West to Dallas was the weekend excursion of choice then. Went to the Astrodome in Houston a few times for motorcycle races and one Astros game. Even went to San Antonio once just to say I had been there. But, nothing of interest called me due south through Deep East Texas until a job opportunity led me to Center.

Back then, my Californian Aunt Laverne was quick to express her fear of Texas tornadoes when visiting Mount Pleasant, plus her dislike for the humidity. I didn’t argue with Aunt Laverne on the East Texas humidity, but as for tornadoes, I said I would take my chances with them any day over a California earthquake. Our debates about Mother Nature never touched on hurricanes though. My only recollection growing up was news accounts of Carla in the early 60s as one of the most powerful to hit the Texas coastline.

After my move to Center, however, my mother asked about the city’s distance from the coast during her visit first visit to Shelby County. “I wouldn’t want to live where they have those hurricanes,” she said. That’s when I uttered my famous words, “This is far enough north that hurricanes will never be an issue here.”

And the first several years, I don’t recall hurricanes delivering anything to Center more than some much-needed late summer rain. But last week’s visit from Laura is at least my third experience in the last 15 years of preparing for more than just remnant rains in Shelby County, knowing all along I would be watching from my house without electricity while pondering whether staying at home was really the best decision.

Rita’s arrival in 2005 woke me up just before sunup with high winds bouncing debris off the roof before the power went off. Last Wednesday, I stayed up past midnight watching tracking news and making sure things were secured for coping with the forecasted 50-70 m.p.h. winds with possible gusts to 90.

When I awoke last Thursday, the power was already off. My initial without-coffee thoughts were the same as before the last hurricanes. On the list of “things I’ve always wanted to do but the chances of me ever doing are slim and none,” I thought about my long-time dream of riding with the “hurricane hunters” who fly into the storm’s eye gathering data.

These fearless flyers, who since 1943 have helped advance hurricane forecasting and tracking, are members of the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hurricane Hunters, and they are sometimes assisted by U.S. Navy and regular Air Force units.

Gazing out the breakfast room window at my house Thursday morning, the only flying in the midst of gusting winds and swirling rain I observed was limbs, garbage cans and lawn furniture blowing by. Even lacking caffeine, I smiled knowing they weren’t mine. I had spent two days getting everything loose outside either inside the house, in the garage, or securely tied down.

As always prevails with mother nature, it was all over in a couple of hours or so, and the sun was shining by mid-afternoon. A trip out inspecting the aftermath checking on who had power revealed little evidence of lights anywhere. Virtually every business was dark and the hum of generators could be heard at every turn. Numerous large trees, power poles, and lines were down on barricaded streets. Storm debris covered everything in sight.

Initially, though, it didn’t look as bad as when others blew through Center. While that was a good thing for those in this area, not everyone in Laura’s path was as fortunate. As with every one of these destructive storms, our prayers are with those impacted by last week’s historical hurricane.

So, who would have ever guessed that I would be riding out another hurricane 200 miles from the Gulf? Obviously not me, as I was so quick to inform Mom years ago. But after three times now, I’m ready to retire that dream; the one of a seat on a NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft flight. I’ll just stick with the seat in my breakfast room at home.

And for the record, earthquakes are still a “no” for me.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page: The view from my breakfast room window the morning Hurricane Laura came to visit Center, Texas. Across the street neighbors John and Jenny LIghtfoot’s house serves as a backdrop for the frantic little tree in my front yard desperately clinging to terra firma. While I told John he was wise to protect his windows, I would have missed Laura’s show from my breakfast room had I done the same thing.)

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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.

My old columns: lots of perspective and little skill

“Time’s a funny thing, bending, warping, stretching, and compressing, all depending on perspective.”

—Lisa Genova, American neuroscientist and author

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Continuing efforts to file and archive my columns, some written 40 years ago, have offered renewed perspective on not only events in my life but also on my writing skills over the years.

Some are funny, some are sad, and some should have never seen the light of ink and newsprint. Yep, some are bad. Reading them now, however, helps me see how my perspective on life has changed and my writing skills have improved over the decades, at least a little. Preserving my columns provides me with a historical glimpse of myself and ensures that I never forget where I’ve been or from where I came.

Also enlightening has been the perspective on societal change in just a scant few years. Like thoughts I penned just six years ago about a conversation with retired Texas Ranger Max Womack at the Waco Civic Center. I was serving as the event photographer where he was being honored at the Texas Rangers Association Foundation Reunion.

“You from Waco,” he asked with a smile in his voice that matched the one on his face.

“No sir,” I replied. “I live in Center; grew up in Mount Pleasant.”

“So, you know where Talco is,” he said, his smile growing larger at the mention of the northern Titus County community.

“Yes sir,” I said. “A high school classmate at Mount Pleasant was from Talco, and I worked in the Talco oil field myself some years ago during college.”

“Been there lately,” Womack asked?

“No sir, been a while.”

“Not much there anymore,” the retired Ranger said. “I lived in Talco when I was younger. Left there in 1951 to go to work for the DPS (Department of Public Safety).”

Texas journalist Mike Cox, author of several non-fiction books about the Texas Rangers, records them as the oldest state law enforcement agency in North America dating to 1823 when the ”Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin, called for “ten men … to act as rangers for the common defense… “

In the almost 200 years since, the Rangers have been compared to other world-famous elite law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Scotland Yard, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. When a tough law and order job needed doing throughout Texas, the solution usually included Texas Rangers like Captain William “Bill” McDonald who served from 1891 to 1907. His 1906 leadership in the Twenty-fifth Infantry case made him known as “the man who would charge hell with a bucket of water.” He’s also credited with making a statement that serves as the epitaph on his tombstone at Quanah, near Wichita Falls, “No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’.”

McDonald is also associated with the legend about a town in frontier Texas that sent for the Rangers to quell a riot. When the mayor met the train, a single Ranger stepped off. The mayor asked, “Just one Ranger,” to which the Ranger’s response was, “There’s just one riot, ain’t there?”

The historical version of “one riot—one Ranger” appears to have been based on a whimsical statement made by McDonald during that time that was used by author Bigelow Paine in his book, Captain Bill McDonald: Texas Ranger.

“One Ranger—one riot,” came to mind that night just six years ago as I listened to Womack’s acceptance speech. His Ranger service began in 1969 in a newly created district in Atlanta where he retired from East Texas’s Company B in 1989. He recounted investigating crime and enforcing the law in a lighthearted manner evoking frequent laughter from the audience. Although humorous, it belied the real-life courage and dedication displayed by men and women like him who exemplify the Texas Ranger Association Foundation website’s declaration, “To preserve and perpetuate the history and heritage of the Texas Rangers.”

Reading my column last week in the perspective of Dallas’s elected official’s recent removal of the Texas Ranger statue captioned, “One Riot, One Ranger” that stood in the city’s Love Field Airport for 58 years, because “it might be offensive to some,” caused me concern.

What if some sensitive folks were to read my early columns and find my writing skills back then to be offensive? They might even want to remove my statue for journalism skills. Oh wait. No need for worry—that statue doesn’t exist.

—Leon Aldridge

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(Photo at top of the page: Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas. http://www.texasranger.org)

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.

Talking more about politics and religion might open some doors

“We should never discuss politics or religion … (pick one: at the dinner table, at work, in polite company).”

—Old axiom handed down for generations

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I’ve heard that saying all my life but never thought about it too strongly one way or the other until recent years. These days, however, it sure seems like we’ve forgotten that we’re all products of our varied upbringing, experiences, and education. And while it’s just not possible, or even desirable for everybody to agree on everything, being civil about it should be.

Speaking of religious views for example, my experiences on the topic were admittedly of one focus until I entered college. My mother, a devout member of the church of Christ, reared me with the unwavering mandate that I would pass through the doors at the Southside congregation in Mount Pleasant every Sunday morning with her. That was her declarative statement, not her suggestion or invitation. While she never questioned me about where I went or what time I got home Saturday night, there was no question as to where I would be when the church doors opened come Sunday morning.

Occasional experiences attending other churches included a few times at the Baptist or Catholic church in Mount Pleasant with friends and more often, attending the Methodist Church in Pittsburg with my grandmother. She was was a member there for 63 years although, as far as I know or was ever discussed, she never succeeded in getting my grandfather to darken the church doors, as some folks like to say.

Stained-glass window in the First Methodist Church in Pittsburg, Texas, taken in the early 1920s. Photo by Leon Aldridge

My impressions of the Pittsburg Methodist Church were inspirational in some ways other than Biblical matters. One was the sight and sound of the massive pipe organ. The other was soft sunlight falling through tall stained-glass windows. One Sunday, I asked for permission to return during the week to take photos inside and was told that I could do that anytime I desired; the church house doors were never locked.

With that, you have the sum total of my upbringing and experiences on religious views … except for that one time which was perhaps the most “moving” religious experience of all. It happened around 1960 on South Jefferson Street in Mount Pleasant, and it didn’t even involve a church house door.

Home was 206 Redbud Lane back when South Jefferson was two lanes, I rode my bicycle to town, everything past South Ward School was cow pastures, and the west side of Jefferson south of Pleasant Street was mostly wooded acreage we called “the big woods” and a great place to play.

Good friend, neighbor, and fellow Southside Church of Christ regular, Ronald Rust, and I spotted a huge tent going up next to “the big woods” one afternoon and thinking maybe the circus had come to town, we parked our bikes to watch the activity. But instead of elephants and tigers, at day’s end the tent was filled with benches, a platform, a piano, and a podium.

When the banner heralding the commencement of a “tent revival” that night went up, after supper we returned to our vantage point across the street as darkness approached. Taking a seat on the soft summer grass, Ronald and I prepared to observe our very first tent revival.

After watching spirited singing and piano playing, enthusiastic preaching, and Bible proclaiming that could be heard for blocks, we sneaked across Jefferson and into “the big woods” for a closer look. As the service reached what was perhaps its crescendo exuberant with frequent ‘amens’ and other expressions of congregational affirmation, two young, wide-eyed, and spellbound church of Christ boys hid in the bushes watching religious practices the likes of which they had never seen.

In fact, we didn’t even notice two figures approaching in the darkness until they were upon us. Startled, and not knowing whether their intent was making sure we weren’t pranksters or praying over us to receive the Holy Ghost, we scampered out of the woods, across Jefferson and back home on Redbud without ever looking back.

In less innocent times today, the rash of church house shootings, having to lock church doors for protection during worship services, and the vandalism of houses of worship is unfathomable. Add the out-of-control local governments in some places imposing unconstitutional church closings and prohibitions on religious services and it’s clear that freedom of religion has joined political views and the growing list of other topics in the arena where differing opinions are no longer tolerated.

Maybe talking more about these subjects would be a good thing instead of running away like frightened kids or violently attacking and condemning those with whom we disagree. We just might relearn how to have civil conversations, respect each other’s views, and remain friends by agreeing to disagree.

Who knows, such civility might even lead to more people darkening church house doors again—if that’s what they choose to do.

—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.