Virtues of the hot toddy: medicinal and otherwise

“Well, gimme a bottle of Nyquil,
That restful sleep my body needs.
Analgesic, decongestant,
With an antihistamine.”
—”Nyquil Blues” performed by Alvin Crow

Sneezes, sniffles and similar symptoms combined with watching the faint traces of sleet and snow falling last week turned office breakroom conversation to remedy and relief of winter illnesses. Then someone in the group announced their intentions to go home and fix a “hot toddy.”

Chuckles and eye rolls followed as if to question whether the intentions of said toddy was therapeutic or recreational. But the banter turned serious when stories of home remedies led to recollections of family members and friends, teetotalers for the most part, who were otherwise quick to imbibe distilled spirits claiming them to be for medicinal purposes only.

Many are the time-honored hand-me-down cures taunted to make one feel better. Everything from mama’s chicken noodle soup to plenty of fruit juices, hot tea, herbs, and oils. Despite them all, the supreme healer throughout the ages seems to have remained the “hot toddy.”

Granny, my father’s mother, didn’t hesitate to medicate with her go-to recipe if she deemed it to be a necessity on Saturday night. She would assure you at Sunday morning services, however, that her prescription was strictly for healing purposes as she added her “amen” to the sermon on the evils of alcohol.

While many swear on the virtues of the hot toddy, I’ve secretly wondered if they really possess healing power, or are they just an excuse to enjoy a little nip when you aren’t feeling so well? Inquiring minds want to know, so I did some research and the data is in.

Fact is that alcohol can cause dehydration, disrupt sleep patterns, and suppress the immune system. It can actually worsen the symptoms of a cold, increase congestion, and worsen head and body aches, not to mention other problematic things such as causing behavioral issues and lapses in memory.

But there is also good news. Those drawbacks come with excessive medicating. In small amounts of an ounce or two, it seems there are some positive benefits from the much-heralded hot toddy recipe. Small “doses” of alcohol can dilate your blood vessels, easing inflammation and increasing the blood flow carrying beneficial illness-fighting cells to infected areas. It can also relieve pain and aid in sleep and help alleviate congestion. Want proof? Just take a whiff of a bottle of whiskey and see how quickly it opens up the sinuses. Combined with the steaming hot water, it becomes even more effective.

So, bottom line is that alcohol might actually help with the cold or flu—as long as you keep the dosage small. And that’s most likely why Nyquil, the popular modern-day counterpart of the toddy, is so effective. The liquid form is 10-percent alcohol although the company claims that it’s a “solvent for the other ingredients.”

So powerful is the reputation of this over-the-counter toddy that a tune penned to proclaim its virtues was a hit for Texas singer Alvin Crow in the late 70s.

While Nyquil has its own following, Granny’s age-old concoction might be considered the natural alternative. Her recipe was honey, lemon juice, and cinnamon mixed in hot water. Oh, and a healthy shot of bourbon whiskey from that bottle wrapped in a kitchen towel and hidden in the pantry. Lemon provides vitamin C, cinnamon is a known anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, and the antibacterial properties of honey were known long before Granny’s time.

Therefore, with research data firmly in hand, I am now ready for the testing part—for medicinal research only, of course. Wow, was that a sneeze? Oh man, I think I’m coming down with something.

—Leon Aldridge

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

Somewhere, late birthday wishes are acceptable

“In some parts of the world, it’s customary to send birthday wishes the day after a person’s birthday. I don’t know where, but I’m apparently from there.”—verse found on one of the many belated birthday cards I’ve bought.

A new year’s resolution that’s been making the list now for most of my life has already bit the dust. While that is nothing new, I don’t intend to forget birthdays. Actually, I usually do remember them—sooner or later. It’s just that I forget to send a card. On time. All right, so I sometimes forget to send a card at all.

“Don’t you have a birthday this month,” I said to my youngest sister, Sylvia, one day last week?

“No,” she replied dryly.

“That’s right,” I acknowledged remembering that February is the month for my other sister, Leslie’s birthday. “Yours is in June.”

“May,” she quipped adding just for my benefit, “I lucked out, got the same month again this year.”

My intentions are good. However, I’m typically in trouble by the first week. My niece Diana and a good friend from living on Lake Murvaul days, “Postmaster Paula,” both have birthdays the first week of January. If I miss them, and I usually do, then I’m already behind before my grand twins, Sarah and Haven’s birthday rolls around a couple of weeks later. That’s when I admit defeat, hang it up and move that resolution to next year’s list. Again.

I really thought I had the perfect solution some years ago. Rather than remain Hallmark’s best customer for belated cards, just send everyone a birthday card on January first. That way, everyone gets a card from me before I have a chance to forget their birthday. About halfway through addressing cards on New Year’s Day, however, second thoughts crept in as I envisioned the potential confusion I was about to create.

Diana would get hers first and call her mom. Sylvia would, in turn, be calling family members to spread the news, “Bubba’s on the ball this year, Diana got a birthday card.” That would likely have happened before she found a card in her mailbox.

About the time Sylvia was scratching her head, Mom would have been going through her mail. I loved my Mom. I’m not saying she was slow you understand, but when telling her a joke, you had to sometimes wait for that sound—you know, that “whoosh” sound that flies over someone’s head while they’re processing. Receiving a birthday card in January would have triggered that sound and that look on her face. “A birthday card? It’s not June.”

Knowing mom as we all did, Sylvia would have already been on the phone. “Don’t get excited mom, we’re not sure what Bubba’s up to, but it’s not June. Just save your card and open it again on your birthday. By then you will have forgotten, and you’ll be surprised again.”

Before that conversation was over, Leslie would have been on the phone to Sylvia. “I don’t believe it. Leon mailed me a birthday card a month early.”

“He sent me one too—five months early,” Sylvia would likely have responded. “Not to mention Mom five months early and dad seven months early”

I just couldn’t do it. Carefully considering the havoc I could be inflicting on my family, I put the cards aside electing to mail them on the appropriate dates. Hey, they were already addressed.

If memory serves me correctly, it was in March of that year when Sylvia called. “Oh no,” I said upon hearing her voice. “I addressed birthday cards for everyone and forgot to send them.”

“You bought birthday cards,” she asked? “Yeah, right.”

“Really,” I argued. “They’re around here somewhere.”

“Sure, they are,” she laughed. “So, where did you put them?”

“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “Hey, did you just hear that—that whoosh sound?”

—Leon Aldridge

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


‘Leave the driving to us’ took on a new meaning

“I don’t want to cause no fuss, But can I buy your Magic Bus?” —song lyrics “Magic Bus” by The Who 1970

Countless are the miles my “always going somewhere” nature has taken me in a lifetime of cars, motorcycles, airplanes, and boats. Ready to go at the drop of a hat, many are the places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. Wonderful are most of the memories, but thankful is the keyword for surviving a few that became stories worth telling.

Earliest travel memories center around trips with my mom. Boarding a train bound for Kentucky. Buckling in for the same trip in a DC-3 prop-driven airliner for which I  still have a certificate noting my first airplane ride at the age of three. And, then there were the many trips on commercial bus lines.

Reading a history of the Greyhound Bus Line last week conjured college band memories of the black smoke belching, diesel driven, air-brake spewing, silver giants with the dog on the side. Boarding the big charter buses transporting the Kilgore College band and the Rangerettes to games and special appearances was cool stuff compared to the yellow school buses that transported the Tiger band to Friday night games at Mount Pleasant High School.

My last bus ride six or seven years ago was the first leg home from the Oshkosh “AirVenture” air show in Wisconsin. American Airlines stood ready to whisk me from Milwaukee to DFW, but the 90-minute bus ride from the air show to General Mitchell International Airport in Wisconsin’s largest city reminded of a night during the winter of 1978 when, “Leave the driving to us,” took on a new meaning: a trip from Abilene to Dallas. In snow and ice.

Three hours for that trip was making good time driving the speed limit in the family cruiser on a sunny afternoon. Taking the bus that night was necessitated by purchasing a car in Dallas and driving it to Abilene, then hopping a bus back the following weekend to bring said family cruiser home.

“One-way to Dallas, please,” I said. “Will the snow pose problems tonight.”

A short “no” and a punched ticket was my answer. Besides faulty weather prognostication, undisclosed information included the sub-sonic travel time featuring stops in every burg along I-20 boasting an exit and a convenience store.

Despite all of those minor details, we were soon passing everything on the highway blowing plumes of snow onto creeping cars and idling trucks as the silver dog danced on the slippery super slab. The driver was good. He managed to hit every icy spot on the road causing the big bus to execute variations of the Texas Two Step while spinning wheels searched for spots of dry pavement.

A variety of diversions inside helped keep our minds off the road conditions outside. A young man with a guitar toward the rear of the bus broke into song. “They say music soothes the soul,” said the lady behind me traveling to Mobile with her daughter. I tried joining in, but holding my breath just wasn’t conducive to harmonizing on the next verse of “Magic Bus.”

The momentary jolts of traction between every slip and slide sent a cacophony of screams and four-letter expletives from the back all the way up to the pregnant lady at the front. A couple of older guys across the aisle wagered on when she was going to deliver. One bet it would be between Cisco and Strawn while the other put his money on the stretch of interstate between Weatherford and Aledo. As word of the wager spread, others began to lay down money as well.

Nobody claimed any winnings. She failed to deliver, but fortunately, the bus driver didn’t, bringing us into the Dallas terminal at 10 minutes to midnight, 15 minutes ahead of schedule and 30 minutes faster than I had ever driven it on a sunny afternoon in the old family cruiser.

“Thank you, driver, for getting me here, You’ll be an inspector, have no fear. Too muuuch—Magic Bus…”

—Leon Aldridge

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

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(Photo at top of the page: 1959 Greyhound promotional postcard. The Scenicruiser bus was unique to Greyhound and was in-service from 1954 into the mid-70’s.)

My only notion is that my notions are always right

“Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.” —A philosophy to which I admittedly have been known to occasionally subscribe.

Preconceived notions, I think they are called. Thank goodness I am afflicted with only one: that my notions are always right.

Going through my “archives” a couple of weekends ago, I stumbled onto reminders of my California summer of 1967 during college. Among the treasures were Disneyland ticket stubs where I paid the princely sum of $4.50 for a day at Walt’s World of Magic 52 years ago and an aging checkbook from the Bank of America in Canoga Park, California, where I banked.

Ironically, that same weekend a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that I was probably courting disaster by banking on the outdated personal accounting software I’ve been clinging to for a couple of years now. My mind was made up that the last “friendly to me” software version was better than the newer iterations. Did I say a couple of years? In full disclosure, I confess it was version 2007.

The software was sold to another company that soon dropped the Mac version. Finding no replacement options of which I approved, I stuck with 2007 insisting the replacements “didn’t work like the one I had been using.” When the software resurfaced as a subscription version “in the cloud,” I tried it. Nope, I thought, “Doesn’t work like the one I am used to using.”

Signs of a perfect storm were gathering in the cloud when an ominous screen started appearing. That would be the one that read something like, “Unable to back up your files.” The company had already announced they were dropping support for 2007 when Mac’s newest operating system turned its digital nose up at it as well. My comfort level was declining in direct proportion to the realization that I was trusting my personal finances to 12-year old software with no technical support running on a computer operating system that had also disowned it.

But I didn’t let facts or fear interfere with my notions that the online versions not only looked different, but they also operated differently. Plus, the learning curve looked pretty steep to the baby boomer brain under my gray hair. They still didn’t work like the version I was used to using.

Version 2007 did continue to work, but I knew I was gambling with the odds and a day was looming when I would roll the wrong number. Begrudgingly, I bit the bullet, downloaded the new version, and paid the ransom for the first year all while dreading the hours of work it was going take to get my accounts reconciled. I was still complaining when a screen appeared listing data files on my computer and telling me which one I should select. After I entered the required financial institution login data, I then watched as one-by-one, accounts updated, fields populated, and balances appeared.

“Well,” I thought still harboring a little doubt and disdain, “Those look kinda close. Maybe this won’t be too bad to fix.” A quick check with said financial institutions revealed perfectly matched balances. There was nothing left for me to do.

My preconceived notions were debunked by simply introducing my computer to my finances via the internet and letting them work things out without me. “OK,” I thought. “My mind is not made up yet…this probably isn’t going to work like what I’ve been using, why do they always have to change things.” Then looking around to see if anyone was listening, I whispered to myself, “But, I think I might like this one.”

Semi-related, fun historical footnote: David Brogoitti, my Mount Pleasant friend Randy Brogoitti’s father, was a founder of the Gateway National Bank in Fort Worth that opened for business January 2,1962 and was the first Texas bank to utilize computers.

—Leon Aldridge

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

Texas state reptile’s extinction has been exaggerated

“Nature doesn’t need people – people need nature; nature would survive the extinction of the human being and go on just fine, but human culture, human beings, cannot survive without nature.” — Harrison Ford

It is with great joy that I report news of the horned toad’s extinction has been greatly exaggerated.

Conversation during a coffee conference last week turned to species that are thought to be nearly extinct now because of fire ants. It was duly noted among the majority of the caffeine consumers that the horned toad was one of them, but I’m here to report that might not necessarily be so.

I speak with some degree of affection for the strange tiny creatures by virtue of my dual citizenship. While I attained what is for most people a mature age in the Northeast corner of the Lone Star State, my years preceding the sixth grade were spent in the regions of West Texas in places like, Seymour, Ballinger and even Pampa in the Texas Panhandle. Living West of Fort Worth qualifies one to claim acquaintance with the little critters that were a kid’s companion for playing in the dirt and a means of getting in trouble at school should you get caught with one while harboring intentions of frightening the girls.

Some years ago, while visiting family in West Texas, l took my East-Texas reared kids out to the edge of town in search of the little critters—the edge of town being a relative term. We were in, Kress, a wide spot in the road that is easily missed it if you blink. l know—I did it.

I was certain that we would see multitudes of them, but our search rendered not one single specimen. We looked, we walked, and we searched the sunbaked, cracked dry ground, but we found not one. Dismayed, we inquired back in town and were told by locals that, “they’re extinct — the fire ants killed ‘em out.” I was devastated.

For the uninformed, horned toads resemble nothing less than a miniature, hand-held size dinosaur. Never mind that reference books will tell you they are properly called “Horned Lizards,” you’ll not hear them called a lizard anywhere in the regions of Texas outside of academia.

The same scientific references will tell you the tiny creatures are also known as “horny toads” or “horntoads,” and they are a genus of North American lizards of the family Phrynosomatidae meaning “toad-bodied.” Their flat bodies, about the size of a quarter, sport four little legs that stick straight out. On the opposite end of a tiny piece of a pointed tail is a flat-topped head with reptile looking eyes and spiny little horns giving them a prehistoric look earning them their name.

Recent research has revealed that the Texas reptile is in fact not extinct although their numbers have been in decline since the days when folks my age were youngsters and considered them backyard and playground playmates.

More than twenty years ago, biologists began research projects that included capturing, tagging and releasing some hundreds of horned toads in hopes of gathering data to aid in their preservation. At that time, there was even a Chapter of the Horned Lizard Conservation Society headquartered in Austin. As recent as last fall, the Dallas Morning News reported that Texas zoos, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials, Texas Christian University biologists (the only college or university in the world that has the horned frog, as they call it, as its mascot) and others are working together to release hundreds of horned toad hatchlings in a variety of places on state land.

CNN will continue reporting its fake news and Washington will likely always refuse to agree on something, but there is a sense of balance in life as long as there are still horned toads in Texas.

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.