Zooming in on the perfect name

Re-lic /ˈre-lik/noun — 1. a surviving memorial of something past. 2. an object having interest by reason of its age or its association with the past.

Dictionary.com

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The boom in Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 voluntary incarceration posed a couple of challenges for me. One was learning to use Zoom, the newest fad in online meetings. Not that it’s difficult, but by the time I typically get one form of virtual meeting mastered, everyone is flocking to the next version out of nowhere like a rogue virus rendering my hard-earned knowledge to the status of “relic.”

First, it was GoToMeeting. But by the time I learned how to use it, I had missed the meeting. That was followed by Google Hangouts, so I hung out over there attempting to conquer that one. Once I got the hang of it however, the name had changed to Google Meet. But a virtual meeting by any other name by then was of no concern because everyone in my circle had migrated to Microsoft Teams. Before I even got teamed up with that one, coronavirus arrived, and just like that, everybody was meeting on Zoom.

A couple of business meetings helped introduce me to Zoom before a virtual family reunion invitation arrived. After a lifetime of traveling thousands of miles between Texas and Kentucky, plus spots in between, here we were swapping stories about kids, grandkids, in-laws and outlaws, medical records, and talking about whoever didn’t show up. I have to say though, I really missed the fried chicken, potato salad, and the “Snappy Cheese” dip from Hall’s on the River at Boonesborough, Kentucky. Luckily however, I had a small stash of the Blue Grass state’s soft drink bottled only in Mom’s hometown of Winchester, “Ale-8-One,” for sipping at the virtual reunion in the comfort and convenience of my home office room.

And that brings up the second challenge which was inadvertently created by using Zoom at home: my ‘home office.’ I guess it’s really not Zoom’s fault that I was forced into using their meeting site while being imprisoned at home. But what I saw on my computer screen looking over my digital shoulder into my home office was a stark reminder that my home office is … well, anything but typical.

In fact, I’ve struggled for some time over what to call it. Since the days of spare bedrooms after the kids moved out, I’ve continuously commandeered one solely for my business, hobbies, and hide away. However, “office” never has seemed an appropriate moniker for that part of my home. I’ve floated several names over time opting for “office,” mulling over “music room,” then leaning toward “library.” But the default was usually, (cue the deep voice emphasis) “my room.” So it was, that no name felt comfortable or appropriate until that first virtual view of the Johnson family reunion resembling Hollywood Squares as I looked at the surroundings behind me.

Walls of bookcases, hanging art, memorabilia, photos, guitars, computers … relics of all kinds including at least 75-percent of all the books I’ve purchased going back to college textbooks. And records. I’ve collected phonograph records and devices that play them since I was in high school although I pared that collection down a few years ago to my all-time favorite couple thousand or so. When records phased out some years ago, I turned to collecting CDs before vinyl started its comeback, so I also have a few hundred of those.

As I was gazing at the virtual view of “my room” during that first online business meeting, someone referenced an item on the agenda using a term that proved inspirational for what I thought was the perfect name for my room: “The Relic Room.”

But as good as that sounded, it was only while researching the definition for relic that with only slight derivation, I coined a definition of my own: Relic—  anyone having an interest in relics by reason of his or her age from their association with the past.

That’s when I realized I had penned the perfect official name for the room formerly known by many names. It will henceforth fondly and forever be known as, “The Relic’s Room.”

Independence Day postscript: Best wishes to everyone for a blessed time on this special day in American history. God bless the U.S.A. and Happy Birthday to the land of the free because of the brave.

—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.

Delayed reactions seem to run in the family

“A man never sees all that his mother has been to him until it’s too late to let her know that he sees it.”

—W.D. Howells, American author, editor, and critic

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June 12 starts the same way for me every year. Over the years, I’ve observed the date in many ways, but my first thought is always, “Happy birthday, Mom!” Indianola Johnson Aldridge, better known to most as “Inky,” saw 87 birthdays before going to her eternal reward ten years ago this coming December.

The infrequent schedule of those aforementioned thoughts of mine means I crafted this column about Mom’s birthday more than week ago by the time you are reading it now. It’s a deadline thing that has to do with submitting my column to the newspapers a few days before they run there which is a few days more before it’s on the blog on Saturday. All that is to say that anything that far in advance to coincide with the date these days is an iffy proposition for me—sort of  like getting my Christmas shopping done early.

Christmas shopping was a routine for Mom, though. It included stashing away a meager amount every month in her Christmas Club account at the First National Bank in Mount Pleasant and making sure some gifts were on layaway by the time many folks were enjoying the last days of summer at the beach.

Mom and Dad, aka Leon and Indianola (Inky) Aldridge about 1978. Since I missed Father’s Day, I thought I would include Dad in Mom’s birthday column.

Maybe that was easy for her because to my knowledge, she never set foot on a beach. Traveling very far from home for pleasure was a rare indulgence for my mother. The scope of her travel was primarily Johnson family reunions between Texas and Kentucky and camping at Albert’s Pike in Arkansas. Add one conventional family vacation in our ’58 Ford station wagon to Arkansas in 1960, one “girl’s trip” to the Northeast with her sisters in the 70s, and an 80s trip to Europe on which I took her and Dad, and that about sums up the extent of her travels that I recall. At home with Dad and whatever cat she cared for at the time is where she could usually be found.

Mom loved cats. Pictures of her youth in Kentucky depict a black cat she talked about frequently. Maybe it was just coincidence, but the last cat she had was a carbon copy of that one. I think it’s more than coincidence that pets often live up to the image of their names. Mom’s final feline was tagged “Taz,” a namesake derived from the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character the critter easily emulated. But while that was without a doubt the meanest cat I’ve ever seen, in her own funny manner, she loved him.

Mom was funny in many ways though, not the least of which was her reaction time to a joke. Now I’m not saying Mom was slow to get it, but she was usually the last one to laugh. It wasn’t unusual to hear her chuckling alone long after everyone else’s laughter had subsided. It was one day at the vet’s office that humor and her cat crossed paths for a story that she shared many times. Seems that Taz’s reputation was shared with many including Mount Pleasant veterinarian and my fellow MPHS classmate of 1966, Jerry “Gus” Skidmore. Humor is Gus’s specialty in life. If there is humor to be had, Gus never misses an opportunity to be the instigator.

Mom entrusted the care of her favored feline to Gus, but getting Taz to the vet’s office required special handling beyond that of coaxing him into a conventional cat carrier. He went kicking, hissing, and caterwauling in a tow sack or a pillowcase. Mom’s recounting of her very first bagged cat delivery for annual inoculations always focused on how office onlookers glanced suspiciously at her “cat carrier” as it thrashed about emitting evil noises.

In true Skidmore fashion, when Gus returned the cat to Mom in the waiting room a short time later, he played the part for a laugh. According to Mom, when the vet emerged holding the still thrashing and howling bagged cat at arm’s length, his arms and head were haphazardly wrapped in loose and skewed white bandages that suspiciously resembled toilet tissue. In her allotted time to comprehend what was going on, Gus announced with a laugh, “It was close Mrs. Aldridge, but I got it done.”

Mom laughed whenever she told the story, adding how thoughtful Gus was to risk life and limb caring for her ornery cat, and that his joking always made her laugh. But as if she still weren’t sure, she usually added with some delay, “At least I think he was joking.”

Funny how my fully appreciating how much I’m like Mom has come with some delays of my own.

—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.

Renewing an old love that’s lingered for years

“True love stories never have endings.”

—Richard Bach, American writer and author of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’

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Frequent followers of this forum are already familiar with many of my vices and will understand when I say my heart fluttered the first time I saw her. She was a beauty, and she filled my heart with music.

That first meeting was innocent enough. I was out of town with spare time on my hands when she caught my eye. I almost kept walking but stopped to glance over my shoulder for a second look. She was looking back at me. Beckoning to me. Calling my name. Better judgment told me not to go back, but my heart pleaded for a closer look—maybe just one touch.

Having admired others like her before, I began the flirting process. You know—asking questions, acting interested, lingering. She had seen better days but one could say the same for me. Besides, I knew some old-fashioned TLC and devoted attention would give her a new lease on life.

In her heyday of the mid to late 50s, she was the center of attention where fun flourished in places like late-night greasy spoon cafes when Hank Williams was, “So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Burger joints where the bobby-sock crowds swayed to “Sixteen Candles.” Or lakeside concession stand pavilions where teens rocked to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

Alone and forlorn when I found her, most would have said she was over the hill. Retired many years ago and relegated to linger in silence as a reward for her part in the history of music just didn’t seem fair. Without help, the old girl was down to her last dime.

She still had her pride though, she wasn’t cheap. And this wouldn’t be the first time a wild impulse would come between me and my money. I knew better. I really needed to get past these kinds of things at some point in my life, but that day was not to be the one. I wanted her. My heart won, and she went home with me to Center where she entertained family and friends for several years before we moved to the Texas Hill Country. Even there, she was often still the center of attention for gatherings at my house.

But then came our return to Center some years ago where something went wrong. Looking back, I have no explanation. Maybe it was the small house we started out in, maybe it was too many moves in too few years. For whatever reason, she sat ignored, waiting for me to come to my senses and throw more money at the aged dance hall queen. I thought of her often, recalling the good times we had together. Those memories lingered until last week when the words of a Willie Nelson song, “… forgetting seems to take the longest time,” stayed on my heart, and I finally brought her out of retirement again.

It took all afternoon to uncover her, move her out of storage, and haul her home on a trailer. She’s no lightweight at 355 pounds. After a couple of days spent cleaning, polishing, and inspecting, I flipped the power switch. She flickered for a moment then in all her radiant beauty, lit up the room for the first time in many years.

Dropping a dime down the coin chute and selecting K-1 sent a record spinning that produced booming “High Fidelity” notes of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” to compliment her glowing lights. The sentimental sensory overload of the long overdue reunion filled my heart with the same joy she had given me when I first brought her home some 35 years ago.  

I’ve promised her this time that she and I will never be apart again. After all, there just aren’t that many 1955 model 100-J Seeburg jukeboxes still around.

—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.

Inspiration for learning comes from many sources

The more you read, the more you will know, the more you learn, the more places you’ll go.

— Dr. Seuss

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A desire for learning can be inspired by many factors unique and personal to each individual. Learning can come from classrooms, trade schools, military service, experience, on-the-job training, or one of the best teachers around, the “school of hard knocks.”

Center friend Tim Perkins expressed his inspiration for learning a couple of weeks ago explaining how a particularly hard summer job instilled in him the drive to get a college education to avoid jobs like that one in the future. Tim’s story was reminiscent of a summer job in 1968 that was no doubt the reason I persevered to get a four-year degree as well, something I proudly accomplished in just five years.

I had walked the stage at Mount Pleasant High School a couple of Texas summers earlier, and inspired by Mr. Murray’s mechanical drawing classes, knew I was going to college to be an architect. However, first-semester math classes with names I couldn’t pronounce didn’t calculate well for me and sent me searching for new inspiration.

Psychology lured me down the road to a degree and work in special education before forks in my career path led me to an offer that paved the highway for my future. Based solely on hobby-level photography skills, Morris Craig offered me a job at his newspaper, The Naples Monitor “ as he put it, “until you find what you’re looking for.” As it turned out, something for which I was not looking and for which I had no experience or education, turned out to be my path to a rewarding career in communication doing something I loved.

First lesson learned: selecting a profession for the rest of your life at 18 can be a toss of the dice. Second lesson learned: Even if you miss the mark to begin with, that drive to acquire knowledge will take you many more places than you would have gone without it.

If I possessed a drive for learning before that summer of ’68, it got a dose of steroids when classmate and friend since the seventh grade David Neeley and I worked for Hinton Production Company in the Talco oil fields of northern Titus County. Those were the days when derricks dotting the skyline readily identified an oil field, and Talco was well defined by hundreds of the tall structures as well as a plethora of pump jacks steadily extracting black gold from the depths of Northeast Texas.

David’s job was helping repair and overhaul the massive oilfield pump motors. I worked on the maintenance crew responsible for every hot, dirty, sweaty, oil-covered, heavy-lifting, back breaking, knuckle-busting, repair job in the oil field. The “exciting and character-building job,” as my father liked to call it, usually involved a derrick or a pump jack and included things like replacing a broken sucker rod, one of the series of rods connecting the pump jack above ground to the pump itself hundreds of feet in the ground. That meant capturing and extracting the broken piece from somewhere way down in the hole, a process requiring a team of healthy and able bodies, a large “gin-pole” truck and an assortment of large and heavy specialty tools.

The goal, of course, was to keep that “Texas Tea” flowing which other days could mean replacing a broken “bridle” on a pump jack: the big “horse head” looking things going up and down like a see-saw. The heavy cable bridle apparatus attached to the horse head out on the end of the arm called the “walking beam.”

The “exciting and character building” part of that job was enjoyed by the person privileged to climb the ladder up to the walking beam, throw one leg over and shinny out toward the end while lugging an assortment of large and heavy tools. Once at the end of the walking beam, the objective was to remove the broken bridle and replace it with the new one being hoisted up.

It wasn’t enough that this duty was challenging to begin with, but a second and often overlooked objective was watching for wasp nests of gargantuan proportions hidden in nooks and crannies along the walking beam. Encountering one unexpectedly required a rapid reverse shinny and daring descent on the ladder utilizing no more than every other rung until jumping appeared as the better alternative to dealing with the agitated and angry insects.

For reasons I don’t recall, I always assumed I would go to college and always knew my ticket would be whatever jobs I could work. There was plenty of love and encouragement from my parents, but very little money for college.

As for Dr. Seuss’s “… the more you learn, the more places you’ll go” admonition, all I can say is the Talco oil field was one place I didn’t ever want to go again if I didn’t have to. If the notion of quitting school before earning a diploma ever crossed my mind, that summer in Talco—as Tim succinctly said of his experience—“made a college boy out of me.”

—Leon Aldridge

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

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

Feats accomplished only in the bliss of youth

“Age is not how old you are, but how many years of fun you’ve had.”

—Matt Maldre, Senior Web Marketing Strategist at Tribune Content Agency

“How’d we do that,” I quizzed a friend a couple of weeks ago. “Man, I don’t know,” was his reply. “But we sure had fun doing it.”

That conversation convened over recently found memorabilia: photos and drag strip trophies stirring fond memories of fun with fast cars at race tracks more years ago than seems possible. Looking at the pictures made it seem like yesterday but looking in the mirror reminded me it was more like 50 years ago.

That was a time when seemingly superhuman feats were accomplished fueled only by the blissful confidence of youth and an addiction to speed. Where the money and time came from, well that remains as big a mystery as where the years went.

That recent East Texas conversation ironically coincided with a Facebook comment I read written by someone in Canada I’ve never met, but someone who undoubtedly was making very similar memories way north of East Texas during that same era. Paul Polly’s post on the Oldsmobile W-31 Owner’s Group page about the cars we raced and the things we did to race them then was hauntingly familiar, “… every dollar I had went into that race car, best I could afford. Many a summer night I slept in the tow car. I worked two jobs back then wages were not like today. You raced, you loved it, you slept it and all you ever wanted to do was be at that race track. My parents thought I was nuts … but I would never trade one moment nor change one thing I did to race my W-31!”

East Texas in the spring of 1969 found me about halfway through a college education, give or take a party or two, at East Texas State University, (Texas A&M at Commerce today). My self-funded education program included commuting from Mount Pleasant so I could work an almost full-time job in the Sandlin Chevrolet-Olds body shop, plus a few hours for another local shop some nights.

Although already a racetrack regular with whatever used car hot rod daily driver I kept running at the time, dedicating a brand new special-order high-performance Oldsmobile W-31 muscle car to full-time race car status that year was a bold new venture for me.

Where Paul remembered, “Every dollar I had went into that race car … I worked two jobs and back then wages were not like today,” I could have written the same thing. As long as I had gas money and a few bucks for school and eats, the rest of my minimum-wage paychecks went into the race car.

To Paul’s comment, “My parents thought I was nuts …,” down here in Texas, my father simply shook his head every Friday when he saw the racecar on the trailer.

“Many a summer night I slept in the tow car,” Paul wrote. For me back then, that meant the bed of a pickup. My friend since grade school, Oscar Elliott, worked in the service department at Sandlin’s and turned all the wrenches on my car. We used his pickup for the tow vehicle because it had a camper shell to provide lodging many nights including those spent at the long-defunct Dallas International Motor Speedway. But the most memorable was perhaps at another long-gone track, LaPlace Dragway near Houma way down in south Louisiana. So far south that getting to New Orleans requires heading north.

The all volunteer, shoestring budget, pit crew at the National Hot Rod Association Springnationals at Dallas International Motor Speedway in June of 1970. Yes, it was, as I’m certain Oscar declared that day, “Hotter than a road lizard.”

While hot and humid Louisiana summer nights made pickup camper accommodations miserable without any help, Gulf Coast mosquitoes added a whole ‘nother dimension. Within 15 minutes, every opening on the camper was closed except for one tiny roof vent that had a screen. I’m not saying Louisiana has the biggest mosquitoes around, but the “state bird” sized specimens buzzing that night were cause for concern about sleep. “I say we take turns sleeping while one of us stands watch,” Oscar proposed. “Just in case one of them has a can opener.”

All I could say was “amen” when I read Paul’s words, “… you loved it, you slept it and all you ever wanted to do was be at that race track. But I would never trade one moment, nor change one thing I did to race my W-31!”

Now, to my Texas friend’s final question a week or two ago as to whether I would do it again? That’s a big “definite maybe” … provided I could be that age again. We did it then, but I’m pretty sure that blissful youth had a lot to do with the fun part.

—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.

Impromptu pandemic picnic reflections

“This ‘novel’ coronavirus of 2020 may wind up being remembered as the pandemic that all at once sent society spiraling in two completely opposite directions: thrusting us into a new and different society while at the same time forcing us to fondly remember the society that has left us behind.” 

—Me, I said that.

Looking for lunch while in Tyler the week before restaurants began reopening proved to be more than an exercise in deciding which eat-in-the-car experience sounded more enticing. The bonus was time to reflect on how dining out used to be and how it may come to be.

Eating anywhere on the go was pretty low on my “wow factor” scale that day, but anything sounded more appealing than another drive-through order that concluded with, “you want fries with that?” The winning nod went to an experiment with the curbside cuisine experience at one of the somewhat more upscale, no drive-through window, and temporarily closed inside dining establishments. 

An exquisitely prepared grilled chicken breast on rice with steamed veggies enjoyed by candlelight in a table cloth restaurant setting oozing with ambiance is simply the best. Somehow though, the presentation just isn’t the same served in a Styrofoam container at a pop-up tent by masked and gloved wait staff. But for satisfying my taste buds that day, it was five stars above leaning out the car window debating with a “wha – wha – wha,” faceless metal speaker. 

Decent meal in hand, the next challenge of where to enjoy it other than in my car seat was quickly resolved with the discovery of a patch of tree-shaded grass at the back of the completely empty restaurant parking lot. It was an old-fashioned picnic in the making.

Grilled chicken on the grass for a spring afternoon picnic evoked memories of grade school days in the small town of Seymour near Wichita Falls, just one of Dad’s many gigs with Perry Brothers. The long-gone five-and-dime stores moved managers more often than the Methodist Church moves ministers. And that’s perhaps a fitting comparison as Seymour was where Mom worked diligently to convert Dad to a church-going regular, a crusade that unfortunately yielded very little fruit over the years. 

Dad tried it more than once but was a perpetual backslider who seemed happier with his kitchen ministry of preparing Sunday lunch for the family. However, his being more prone to open the cookbook on Sunday morning than the ‘Good Book’ produced memorable moments. Arriving home after services meant either a delectable dinner on the table or a picnic packed for a driving adventure.

Picnic memories range from afternoons at Lake Kemp near Wichita Falls to some of the many small roadside parks that once dotted the highways every few miles. Sometimes though, it included a special trip to historical sites: places like Fort Belknap located south of Seymour near Newcastle, Texas, the northernmost fort in a line from the Rio Grande to the Red River established to protect the Texas frontier against raids by the Kiowa and Comanches.

Picnics were frequent fun amid growing up in the age of stay at home moms like ours who had every meal on the table like clockwork. Therefore eating out was a rarity for us in the late 50s and early 60s—just not something our family did. On those very rare experiences, the fare was limited to drive-up burger joints with carhops. The closest thing to a chain restaurant in the small Texas towns in which we lived was Dairy Queen, and even they were yet to expand into futuristic things like dining rooms or drive-through window service. 

Enjoying a pandemic picnic purchased from a drive-by popup tent a couple of weeks ago wasn’t quite the equivalent of Dad’s Sunday afternoon picnics. But relaxing on the grass for lunch with spring breezes underscoring the picture-perfect weather did serve to remind me of two things. One, family fun on family picnic outings some 60 years ago. And two, like those picnics, post-pandemic dining out experiences will likely be something completely different.

—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.

One social change from which we may never recover

“Don’t sit in my pew; It belongs to me; I been a sittin’ right here at least forty years; and that’s the way it’s gonna be.”

— Don’t Sit in My Pew song lyrics by Tim Lovelace

Unforeseen fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is everywhere. Circumstances we never dreamed of facing in our lifetime are imposing hardships if not downright intolerable alterations to our lifestyle. Many are just good sense and others will likely go away when the pandemic subsides. Some, however, are creating serious social problems from which we may never recover.

As Americans begin to resume life seeking some semblance of normal, there is one form of forced change testing the very foundation of religious services: the revered practice of claiming territorial rights to “my pew.”

With congregations now easing back into pre-coronavirus schedules incorporating social distancing practices such as assigned seating, that time-honored custom is being challenged all across the country. And I’m here to tell you, reports of reactions are disturbing, to say the least.

“You just won’t believe it,” a friend shared with me last week. “My wife complained all the way to services Sunday morning. Declared that no one was going to tell her where to sit. Said she’d been sitting in that same pew for more than 30 years and that’s where she was going to sit, she didn’t care what the ushers told her.”

“Well,” he continued, “I listened to that all the way to the church house trying to reason with her, and finally just told her to hush.”

“Hush,” was not on one little lady’s mind at that small East Texas congregation where I worshiped some years ago the Sunday morning visitors came in, introduced themselves, and took “that” seat. Everyone gasped when they sat down at the end of the fifth pew on the left side where many years prior, Miss Edna claimed that spot as hers. Miss Edna was the sweetest, kindest little lady you could ever meet. She had been present for every service for longer than anyone alive could remember with her “right on time” arrival customarily coinciding with the minister stepping to the pulpit for the welcome and announcements. Not one to break with tradition, just as the preacher stood up that particular Sunday morning, in walked Miss Edna.

Everyone, including the preacher poised in the pulpit and silently praying under his breath, watched Miss Edna as she walked slowly and quietly to the end of the fifth pew on the left side. Seeing it was not empty, she sweetly said to the visiting couple with a smile, “Well, good morning. I do believe we have visitors this morning. Welcome, we are so glad to have you. And what is your name?”

“Thank you,” the man said warmly. “We’re the Browns.”

“We are thrilled that you are visiting with us and hope you will come back,” Miss Edna replied, then paused and added, “However, Mr. Brown, you and your lovely wife are sitting in my pew and if you will be so kind as to move, we can start our service.”

The startled visitors politely relocated to the empty pew ahead allowing Miss Edna to sit in “her pew” thereby ending any further discussion on the 11th Commandment of “thou shalt not sit in someone else’s pew.”

With the pandemic pounding the economy, perhaps our return to congregational worship now might be an opportune time for churches to fall back on a common practice in Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian churches up until the early to mid-twentieth century: renting pews to families or individuals as an additional means of income. At the very least it would clear up any potential showdowns on which pew belongs to whom.

All of this change will no doubt work itself out and life will go on. But you know, I’ve always wondered about one thing the morning Miss Edna claimed her pew. Was that really just a coincidence when the song leader took the podium and announced with a straight face, “Please turn in your hymnals to number 819 … I Shalt Not Be Moved.”

—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.

Whatever happened to that movie I wasn’t in?

“If you have to have a job in this world, a high-priced movie star is a pretty good gig.”

—Tom Hanks

A bevy of old cars has brought its share of fun over the years. Advertising props, event decorations, magazine photo shoots, transporting local celebrities in small-town parades to chauffeuring the sheriff of Bexar County in San Antonio’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, or just weekend cruising: making antique auto memories has been fun.

However, it’s a near-miss at the movies in the late 80s when a movie made in San Augustine, Texas, vanished into thin air that’s kept me wondering: Whatever happened to that movie I wasn’t in?

Hollywood came to East Texas in 1987. The cast of stars was impressive: Brian Keith, Ned Beatty, Barbara Barrie, Alexandra Paul, and others. Dates were set for local talent auditions plus a call for 1930s autos. Answering that last call, I spent a day cleaning and polishing my green 1935 Ford “Betsy” before heading down to San Augustine early the next morning.

Arriving at the location near a small church in the woods of Deep East Texas, I parked Betsy to glisten in the sunlight awaiting her opportunity at stardom on the silver screen. She made the cut and I was offered $100 for the day, the opportunity to stay and watch the filming, meet the cast and have a catered box lunch with them. Oh, and another $100 if I wanted to be an extra in a group of mourners at the graveside service scene.

“Deal,” I declared, “but I’ll pass on the part, I just want to watch.” And watch I did as crews carefully splashed mud and dirt all over my shiny old Ford. Amidst my stuttering, they explained how the cars needed to look the part of daily transportation used on 1930s red-dirt muddy roads.

The cool badge I received identifying me as “crew” took my mind off my once sparking car transformed into a muddy mess as did the mesmerizing movie magic of transforming the summer’s greenery to look like the dead of winter. Hay scattered on the ground and low-hanging leafy green tree branches replaced with leafless limbs from a brush pile changed the seasonal look of the old cemetery but did nothing for the beads of summer sweat on brows that hot morning.

The cool and glamorous image of being an actor also melted at “scene 1, take 1, action” when the cast was called to “places.” One by one, they assembled around the grave completing the wintery illusion wearing heavy black wool overcoats, scarves, hats, and gloves. At that point, $100 for a summer day in winter garb would not have been anywhere near high-priced or glamorous enough for me, especially at around “take 17” several hours later.

As the sun was sinking behind the pines, Betsy had not moved from where she was parked and “prepared” earlier. Turns out, directors got all the film footage they needed for that scene without cars. I collected $100, pointed my dirty old Ford north toward Center, and smiled at thoughts of someday seeing the only movie in which Betsy had the missed opportunity to be a tiny part.

And, 30-plus years later I’m still waiting. Time passed and I heard nothing about the movie. Supposedly, a few Center residents had small extra parts in it, but I never found anyone who saw it. Every glimpse of a Ned Beatty movie over the years reminded me of it, so finally, I decided a couple of weeks ago to research it one last time.

This press release photo featuring the movie’s cast, Brian Keith, Ned Beatty, Barbara Barrie, and Alexandra Paul is the only tangible evidence I have that the movie which was apparently never released in the U.S. was ever made.

Ned Beatty’s filmography yielded nothing recognizable although I’m not sure what I was expecting because I didn’t know the name of the movie to begin with. Searches yielded only inquiries of others like me trying to find the film until one source reported a 1988 Tyler, Texas, premier titled, “After the Rain.” For reasons unknown  however, it apparently was never released in U.S. theaters, although a 1990 VHS version was supposedly found in Japan titled, “The Passage.” The only tangible evidence of either title found online was press release photos for, “After the Rain.”

As for a high-priced movie star being a pretty good gig, I’m sure it has its cool and glamorous moments at the right price. But $100 for a day of woolly winter wear in the Texas summer sultry sun? Nah, I still think not being in the movie I’m still waiting to see was, let’s just say, still the cooler decision.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo top of the page—”Betsy” the green 1935 Ford I owned in the late 1980s that almost got to be a movie star.)

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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.

People like Salty made the moments memorable

“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.”

— Cesare Pavese, Italian Poet 1908-1950

The best part of life is the people we meet living it. We mark years by moments, but time often marks moments by the people we meet.

Memories of meeting stars, celebrities, and famous people are special. But sitting and watching the sun go down some evenings, it’s people like Lee “Salty” Aycock from Avinger, Texas, I often think of. During the 1967 spring semester at Kilgore College, we were neighbors at the Leigh apartments just north of the campus on a hill behind the highway 259 Enco station at North Street. 

A convenience store has since replaced the service station, the apartments and a huge oak on the parking lot that furnished afternoon shade for a gallery of lawn chair observers: college guys swapping embellished stories about fast cars and pretty girls while scanning the busy street’s traffic for both. 

Lawn chair regulars included three ’66 MPHS classmates, Ronnie Lilly and I who shared #9 at the Leigh, and frequent visitor Mike Williams. Doors were often open welcoming all in search of socialization that was most often found a few doors down from #9 where Salty lived.

Lee “Salty Aycock

Salty was a big, soft-spoken, easy-going kind of guy; tall and broad-shouldered, looking more like a refugee from the athletic dorm. Few bothered him mostly because of his size, but few had issues with him anyway because he was a friend to everyone.

Another regular was Dugan, as everyone called him. Lost to time is whether he was a resident at the Leigh or a frequent visitor, but I remember he was Salty’s friend. Also foggy is Dugan’s first name, but I want to think it was Robert. I do remember that he was smaller, quiet, and by nature a little more excitable, but also good-natured, never causing any problems … which is more than can be said for some of the rest of us. Like the night when someone who shall remain nameless out of concern for legal statutes of limitation thought it a swell idea to have a laugh on Dugan. Hiding a “track starter’s gun” loaded with blanks, that unnamed someone walked into a spade game at Salty’s apartment alleging Dugan had been seen with his girlfriend.

Leaned against the wall in his chair, Dugan surveyed his cards without looking up and leisurely responded, “You’re crazy, man, I haven’t seen your girlfriend.”

The “shooter” swung the pistol around and said, “I don’t believe you!” Dugan looked up just in time to see the flash and hear the shot ring loud enough for three blocks in all directions. Cards, glasses, feet, chairs—they were all flying as people hit the floor. Dugan, certain he was mortally wounded, tumbled out of the inclined chair in a lasting image of cowboy boots going up in the air. 

It was over as quickly as it had started, but amid a cacophony of cursing, crying, and screaming, Salty just sat silently smiling, surveying the situation. After convincing Dugan it would be a good thing for him to resume breathing soon, he calmly suggested to the jokesters that they had done a really stupid thing—“funny, yes,” he added with a chuckle, “but not very smart.” 

Remarkably, no one called the police, and the card game resumed after Salty declared, “Don’t worry about it, everybody’s OK, just get this place cleaned up so we can play cards.”

Another testament to Salty’s easy going nature was the time I aided him in completing a term paper for one of his classes with which he was struggling. I felt horrible when he told me the paper earned him a C. “Don’t worry about it,” he consoled me with his same trademark smile. “The teacher told me the paper deserved an A, but she gave me a C ‘cause she could tell I didn’t write it—which is better than the F that I would’ve gotten without your help.”

Fast forward some 35 years to Center’s performing arts series featuring a bluegrass band from Avinger. During intermission, the purchase of a CD and an inquiry about my old schoolmate and Avinger friend, Lee Aycock elicited a smiling response from one of the musicians. “You went to school with Salty? He’s still in Avinger … everybody knows Salty!”

I was reminded that it was about this time last year when Salty passed away when I ran across his obit in a desk drawer last week. I didn’t know it at the time until Mike Williams’ email informed me of his attending the memorial service. I also didn’t know things about Salty I learned from his obit, things like his running the family business in Avinger, A&P Home and Auto, before working for the school district as a custodian where he retired after 25 years. “Salty made many lifelong friendships and memories …” the obit with his picture wearing a cowboy hat read. 

I don’t recall him wearing a hat back then, but the face in the photo was the same soft-spoken, “don’t worry about it,” face I remembered from Kilgore College more than 50 years ago. It was a time and place where the people I met, like Salty, marked the “somewhat less than scholastic, but a lot more fun” moments at Kilgore College. 

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Wishing all mothers a safe and happy Mother’s Day this weekend. I’m remembering my mom, Indianola “Inky” Aldridge, who we’ve missed every day since we lost her in December of 2010. Mom knew about most of my friends, including Salty, although she never met him. She knew them because I shared a lot with her. For the record, I did not share the above story about the “shooting” with her. I never told her because there are some things I am convinced a mother would just as soon not know.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo credits – top of the page: the “Ranger” 1967, Kilgore College yearbook, Kilgore, Texas. Lee “Salty” Aycock – Haggard Funeral Home obituary, Jefferson, Texas)

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

Tracking the weather is not hard given accurate information

“Weather tonight: dark. Turning partly light by morning.”

—Comedian George Carlin as Al Sleet, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman, 1966

Keeping track of the changing weather in East Texas this spring has kept senior weather watchers like me busy. It’s been a full-time job with this year’s inclementness mimicking last year’s rainy, stormy start, but it’s not hard given accurate information.

And when it comes to information, I’ve got that covered. A quick glance at the digital weather station indoor outdoor thermometer in the kitchen provides a glimpse of what’s already happening on the other side of the breakfast room windows. For the upcoming forecast on any bad stuff sneaking in, there’s not just one app on my phone, but two. That way, if I don’t like the first one, I have choices. Need in-depth details plus prognostications provided with live radar and more? That’s when weather.gov on the laptop is my go-to guru.

However, if I by some circumstance I happen to miss all of those, or I’m sleeping soundly in the middle of the night, I’m still covered. The home security system sends audible alerts often arriving before warnings on the other devices.

Oh, and let’s not forget Center’s text alert system called Code Red. If there is any danger of severe thunderstorms, flooding conditions, tornadoes—they are on it. I was in line to check-in at the Midtown Hilton in New York City not long after Center adopted the system when my phone rang. Now I’ll admit that big cities and large crowds make me nervous to begin with, but seeing “Code Red” flashing in one hand and still clutching bags in the other just minutes after a “code red” cab ride from the airport in the largest city in the U.S. got my attention. Relief came quickly however, when I learned all was well in the Big Apple. But it was interesting to know about the “severe thunderstorms and potential flooding” half a continent away in Center.

All that said, the best two weather warning systems in my home are not on the above list. They’re far more accurate than any of the others, not dependent on electricity or batteries, always ready and always active.

You can take it to the bank that storms are imminent when my “bless her heart,” goofy little schnauzer-yorki mix, “Sassy the weather dog” hunkers down under my chair and commences her shrill serenade of whimpers and whines not unlike a tornado warning siren. And should the weather dog need back up, check to see if I’m rubbing the pains in my hip and shoulder.

I used to think it funny that the only thing “the old people” talked about was the weather and their latest physical ailment, surgical procedure or trip to the doctor. Both my sisters and I garnered great delight in our younger years by laughing at our elders for such conversations at family reunions. However, by the time we were all three looking at 40 in the rear-view mirror, I was already wondering what used to be so funny about it.

Then there was that night many years ago that I had that motorcycle wreck. I also thought it funny that the orthopedic surgeon repairing my shoulder joked about the “bright side” and how I would become proficient at forecasting the weather as I grew older. I’m also trying to remember what was so dadgum funny about that.

The sun has been shining the last few days after storms in East Texas last week that wreaked havoc including a huge tornado ripping along Lake Sam Rayburn. However, odds on favorite for the next few weeks on all household devices is still more stormy days before summer heat arrives.

Never fear though, Sassy and I are currently conferring on the next wave of weather headed this way. So, if all you have are the fancy new digital devices to determine the weather, just send me your text number. We’ll keep you updated.

—Leon Aldridge

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

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