Sentimental journeys reminding of who we are

“Décor must have sentimental value. A house must tell a story.”

—Mark Hampton (1940 –1998) American interior designer for Brooke Astor, Estee Lauder, Mike Wallace, and three U.S. presidents.

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My house tells a story for sure. Many, to be truthful. Some pretty cool if I do say so myself, others of perhaps questionable value. All of them, sentimental journeys that remind me of who I am.

I sense a loss of appreciation for sentimental value in segments of society today. And that’s sad. Sentiment connects us with our past and our history. Life, for me, would be cold and frightening without memories derived from parts of the past that can be seen, touched, heard, or appreciated.

“Now I don’t know what to do with all of it,” a friend reported recently about a collection of things she saved from her son’s childhood. A baseball glove, school pictures, toys, and other mementos that once resided on his bedroom shelf defining the years of youth for a now 40-year-old business professional. “He didn’t want them,” his confused mother exclaimed. “He said throw them away, but I can’t do that.”

The story was a familiar one. The only difference was my mom threatened to throw it away. About 35 years ago, she called with the same message for me and both my sisters. “I’ve cleaned out the attic and I have things that belong to you. If you want them, come get them or I’m putting them in the trash.”

I wasted no time retrieving the treasure trove from my youth: Boy Scout merit badges, model cars, books, and more. A slice of history from my childhood that waited 20 years at my mother’s house to achieve sentimental value status.

In the years since, the sentimental decor in my home has grown with memories confirming the wisdom of Dr. Suess: “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until becomes a memory.”

Just a few memories I live with include a 100-year-old buffet that sat in the same corner of my grandmother’s dining room for 63 years, where I could count on finding a full cookie jar. They also include a maple rocking chair that was my mothers for some 60 years and A 1955 Seeburg Jukebox I’ve owned for more than half of its life, a source of entertainment my children when they were in grade school. Even little things like my first driver’s license, dated 1964. And they are just the tip of the sentimental iceberg at my house.

That collective sentimental journey extends even to my garage where my grandmother’s car sits. The 1957 Ford she bought new in November of 1956 isn’t worth a lot monetarily. Still, it hoards a priceless package of memories. It’s a car in which I rode at the age of nine, in which my grandfather taught me to drive, and a car that often served me as a teenager when I needed a vehicle for a Saturday night date.

Last Saturday, a new source of sentimental journeys joined the collection. A simple chifforobe occupying the same place at my grandmother’s house in Pittsburg for at least 43 years that I can remember made its way to my house. On top of it once sat an antique clock that my grandfather wound religiously every Saturday night. The drawer under the mirrored hatbox door was storage for their valuable papers, including the title and registration documents for the old Ford for which I’ve been the caretaker for 40 years. The bottom drawer held my father’s childhood toys with which I, too, played and was a stash for treats, usually a bag of star mints.

When Granny passed away, the old chifforobe went to my niece’s house, where it stayed for many years before ending up in my sister’s spare bedroom. Lacking space for it, she offered it to me. She knew the answer before she asked.

So, now it’s the newest piece of sentimental décor adding stories to my house. Stories about watching my grandfather wind the clock and my grandmother methodically keeping up with her important papers. And about my going to that bottom drawer knowing the tiny book about “Little Tex’s Escape” and a star mint was waiting for me.

—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 2021. 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.

Just a front porch to enjoy a “contented cat” smile

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” —

Anatole France, French poet, journalist, and novelist

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Even though she was a “walk on” with a trace of feral tendencies, “Bob-Bob” was a gentle and loving cat.

She appeared one morning about breakfast time seven or eight years ago. Being prone to help critters in need, I have always had a half dozen or so cats around my house, all walk-ons or adoptions who needed a home. So, what was one more?

The petite gray-and-black tabby with a stub for a tail was nicknamed the first time she was seen lurking in the shrubbery, waiting for the regulars to finish eating. We watched for days as she cautiously crept out alone to eat what the others left.

Hoping to establish some form of contact, we sat nearby talking to her until she ventured out little by little. Eventually, it worked. But as she slowly approached the food, she never took her eyes off us.

It was apparent she was in the family way. Deciding that time was of the essence, we used a cage trap to transport her to the vet for a checkup and vaccinations. Then, with a clean bill of health, we brought the momma-cat-to-be home and set her up in the utility room for safety’s sake, where she could welcome her new arrivals.

By the time kittens came and all but one was rehomed, Bob Bob began to show signs of domestication. She gradually allowed minimal petting periods, often relaxing nearby with that “contented cat” look of contentment on her face.

Her one kitten that became a regular matured into a large tabby marked like his mother with noticeably longer fur and a normal tail. He loved people and craved affection earning him the nickname “Lover Boy.” Also, like her, he spent his time near the company of others with that same “contented cat” smile.

Bob Bob was always free to return to outdoor living but seemed content inside. Then, one day, she ventured out and stayed for several months living in the shrubbery once more but showing up to eat and an occasional petting. But, again, she waited until the other cats had eaten before she approached the feeding dish.

Just as unexpectedly, she strolled in the back door on another day, coming and going at will like the regulars after that.

Sadly, we lost her last week. She was a free agent when she arrived, so we never knew exactly how old she was. The vet’s guess of about two combined with the time she spent with us would have made her about 10.

Pets are sometimes lost to illness. Not this one. Sometimes, their demise comes from the perils of living all or part of their lives outdoors. Not this one. Sometimes we lose pets, and we never know what happened. They simply don’t show up one day. Not this one.

Bob Bob was attacked on our front porch and killed by a couple of dogs that viciously snuffed out her life. I was awakened about 5:45 by a commotion and found dogs playfully tossing her limp body about after mauling her. They ran when I opened the door. When I kneeled beside her, she was still breathing despite puncture wounds from bites and flesh torn from her body. I petted her and talked to her like I did when she was afraid of humans years ago. She moved only her mouth when I gently stroked her and with that, she stopped breathing.

I buried her before going to the office. I shed sad tears for a feral cat that had learned to accept human love. That morning, she was doing nothing more than sitting on her front porch where she had always waited until the other cats finished eating.

It’s been a week, and I’m still sad.

I’m sad about a society where dog owners won’t accept the responsibility of keeping their pets in fenced yards or on leashes and out of other people’s yards. Those in society who think it’s acceptable for vicious animals to roam at will, terrorizing citizens who enjoy walking in neighborhoods, or roaming to attack and kill someone’s pet.

Thankfully however, more and more city governments are recognizing the need for enforced leash laws and animal shelters. More caring communities are working to create a community where pets like Bob Bob can enjoy their front porch with a “contented cat” smile for more years than she was allowed.

—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 2021. 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.

Still journalism at its best

“Newspapers cannot be defined by the second word—paper. They’ve got to be defined by the first word—news.” — Arthur Sulzberg, Jr. American journalist, New York Times publisher 1992 to 2018

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The week just ended, October 3-8, was National Newspaper Week.

This 81st annual National Newspaper Week recognizes the service of newspapers and their employees across North America and is sponsored by Newspaper Association Managers. “Community Forum” is this year’s theme. 

Having spent the better part of half a century in the newspaper business, I can attest that the community journalism forum has been the core business model of successful newspapers from the beginning. It will be the core business model of those that remain viable in the years to come. To be clear, despite hype heralding the end of newspapers heard from some corners, the future is positive for community forum journalism. And newspapers are the stronghold for that brand of journalism. 

That philosophy has never been expressed better than by Carmage Walls, founder of Southern Newspapers, Inc. and a member of the Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame. In 1953, Mr. Walls expressed his personal philosophy in a letter to a young publisher. In part, he wrote, “…wealth cannot be made by doing nothing, nor can we expect long to acquire something for nothing. Therefore, I have always striven to earn more, or to put it another way, to give more into the world than I expect to take out for my own use and for the use of those that I am responsible for.

“The same philosophy will partly apply to the newspaper. My conception of a newspaper is that it is the greatest force for good or evil in a community. It is a semi-public utility. We who are fortunate in holding stock in a newspaper, I consider but temporary custodians of this service vehicle in the community. By our ownership of the stock we also assume tremendous responsibilities, first to the public that we service, second to the employees and lastly to the stockholders.”

That message embodying the spirit of community forum is just as timely today as it was when it was written. Moreover, that spirit of a newspaper belonging to the community makes it just as rewarding today as the day I entered the profession a few years after graduation from high school. 

Many with whom I graduated in the MPHS class of ’66 walked the stage that night with a clear vision of their future. They also graduated with honors after four years of college and are by now comfortably retired from a distinguished and rewarding career.

Let’s be clear once more. I was not one of them.

My aspirations varied but included a teacher, a truck driver, a professional drag racing driver, and an undertaker, to name a few. Leaving Kilgore College with visions of being the next Frank Lloyd Wright of architects was erased by struggles with math. A touch of partying may or may not have been involved as well. Clearly, my best memories of KJC centered around playing in the college band and traveling all over the country with the world-renowned Rangerette drill team.

East Texas State University in Commerce allowed me to escape with a diploma after which a brief encounter with public teaching school sent me searching for something else. That’s when Morris Craig at The Monitor, a weekly newspaper in Naples, said, “Come work for me until you figure out what you want to do.” As they say, the rest is history. And as I say, that was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I have always said there is no other job in town, no better ticket to the catbird seat for knowing more people or knowing more about what is going on than with the local paper. There is also no more rewarding business than being a part of serving the community. 

The local newspaper, in fact, may not always be delivered as ink on paper. But good money says that day is nowhere near dawning. If and when it does arrive, even the success of newspapers by any other format will be journalism. 

And to be perfectly clear in conclusion, newspapers will always be the stronghold for journalism at its best.

—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 2021. 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 chauffeur may have been easier and cheaper

“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of twelve and seventeen, for example, a parent ages as much as twenty years.”

—Henny Youngman, c. 1960s

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“I’ll be glad when Chance gets his driver’s license.” It was a simple statement from Chance’s mom, Light and Champion bookkeeper and office manager, Karol Gray.

Karol’s thoughts were seemingly centered somewhat on convenience, not having to play chauffeur. My memories of that time in my kid’s lives were thinking a chauffeur may have been easier and cheaper.

Daughter Robin was the first to earn her license. She never saw it coming when I told her taking the family car to school meant she took her younger brother with her. “No,” I said. “I am not taking Lee to school. He can ride with you, or I can take both of you. Then I watched as my Jeep Cherokee disappeared out of sight down the driveway from our hilltop home in Pipe Creek.

I also watched a few minutes later as Lee came walking up the same driveway. Even before he reached the house, I knew the news couldn’t be good.

“Robin drove the car into the ditch,” he reported. Seems she missed one of the several turns required to navigate her way to the main highway into Bandera. A tow strap and my pickup remedied the situation, and no one was late for school.

The first-day ditch experience excepted, Robin was a good driver. But a navigator? Mmm …  not so much.

“Are you sure you know the way,” I asked as I watched her and Lee load Bug, Robin’s white-and-brown terrier, for the trip to Tyler. Lee appeared resigned to the trip. Bug was a different story. The pup was reluctant to even get in the car for Robin’s first cross-country solo, a journey that would cover about 300 miles and require about five hours. Dogs can sense danger.

“I’ll follow you into Boerne,” I said. “Then you go 46 to New Braunfels ….”

“I know, Dad,” was my daughter’s reassuring reply. “I know how to get there.” This is probably a good time to mention that cell phones and GPS devices were still over the edge of history’s horizon.

We “good-byed” one last time on the convenience store parking lot in Boerne. I added, “Be careful and let me know when you arrive.” As Robin drove off the parking lot, my uneasiness was exceeded only by the dog’s apprehension. She was looking out the back window of the car with eyes that pleaded for help.

Robin pulled confidently out of the parking lot with a wave, turned left, and they were off. That would have been fine except for one thing. She was supposed to have turned right. And I was still watching when she came back by heading in the other direction. She waved once more as she passed by. Bug was still looking out the back window.

As darkness settled in, I was feeling some concern when the phone rang. “She’s finally there,” I thought.

“How was the trip,” I asked. “Will you accept charges for a collect call?” the operator replied.

“It’s going well,” Robin said. “I was supposed to turn on 291 … right?”

“No,” I replied. “On I-35 at New Braunfels. Where are you now?”

“I don’t know. Let me ask the lady here at the store.” Pause. “She says I am in Johnson City.”

So many questions begging for answers, but none worthy of frustrating a new teenage driver late at night and lost. I let it go with, “So how’s your dog making the trip?”

With new and improved directions, we said “goodbye” once more. Finally, they reached their destination, albeit a few hours later than originally planned. A couple of years later, when Lee was putting a brand-new driver’s license in his pocket, Robin had become a pro at the South Texas to East Texas journey. Bug even went willingly.

Maybe it was his experience riding shotgun with his sister. Still, if Lee was ever directionally challenged, I didn’t know it. His first driving experiences were of a different variety. Things like the tree along the side of the driveway that mysteriously moved into his path and the time his pickup started making left turns only, and he had no idea what happened to the front wheels.

You know, now that I think about it, I don’t remember Bug ever getting in a vehicle with Lee to begin with.

—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 2021. 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 friendship they forged would last 51 years

“True friends are never apart, maybe in distance, but never in heart.”

— Helen Keller, 1880 – 1968 American author, disability rights advocate

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I don’t know what day it was when my mother, Indianola “Inky” Aldridge, and Betty Rust met. I do remember that it was a day in March when the Aldridges settled in Mount Pleasant. Maneuvering from was then a lazy narrow Jefferson Street onto Redbud Lane, Mom extended her arm out the window of her ’54 Chevy signaling her intention to turn. That was what drivers did in 1959 before turn signals were commonplace on automobiles.

Arriving at 206, mom guided her car into the driveway of a house she was seeing for the first time. That was the end of a 280-mile road trip from the West Texas community of Seymour with three kids ages 5 to 11 and my pet bird in a cage that filled half the back seat. That was a day before Interstate highways covered any of that route. And that was also a day before air conditioning was common in cars.

Dad had arrived some weeks before as the newest manager of the downtown Perry Brothers variety store and purchased the Redbud residence for his family. Perry Brothers moved managers more often than the Methodist Church moved ministers in those days. Therefore, we relocated a lot before arriving in Mount Pleasant, where my sisters and I would ultimately graduate from high school, and my parents would live out the rest of their lives. 

The day I never learned about was how they became friends. Maybe it was Mrs. Rust’s gesture as a neighbor welcoming a newcomer. It was a day when neighbors did that. Maybe it was Mom attending services at Southside Church of Christ, and the two discovered they were neighbors.

However it began, the friendship they forged would last 51 years as they started by sharing life in the late 50s and 60s over lots of coffee at each other’s house and laughing about things which only they will ever know.

Those days on Redbud were during an era now all but lost to time. Seemingly, every house on Redbud then was filled with the activity of children. Kids riding bicycles from one end of the street to the other. Sometimes congregating at one home to play and others for summertime games after supper. Games like hide-and-seek, red rover, and dodge ball until dark. Days of knowing when the porch light came on at home was the signal to come inside. Knowing the consequences of not following Mom and Dad’s rules.

It was a day when kids from the Aldridge and Rust households joined in those neighborhood rites of passage with kids from the Halls, the Jones, the Clays, the Fishers, the Campbells, the Chadwells, the Skeltons and others whose names have slipped my mind 50 years later.

During the days when the J.B. Hall family across the street from us owned the skating rink, Mom and Mrs. Rust were Tuesday night regulars where they had as much fun skating as the kids.

As days and years went by, Mom and Dad moved a few blocks over to Delafield Street, and the Rusts moved to the country. But Mom and Mrs. Rust stayed in touch through the church and over coffee cups.

It was a day in April of 2007 when dad passed away suddenly at home, leaving mom, by then with severe dementia, alone. A call from a Mount Pleasant Police officer at Mom and Dad’s house delivered the bad news. And he was concerned about mom being alone.

More than two hours away, who could I contact? “Let me make a phone call and I will call you right back,” I told the officer. Within minutes, Mrs. Rust was there to stay with her friend until I could make the drive.

And it was a day in September, just last week, when my sister, Sylvia, sent me a message that Betty Rust had passed away. We gathered the following Wednesday to celebrate her life, where we talked about the long friendship she and Mom enjoyed.

The Bible is not clear as to what degree we will know each other in heaven, just implications that to some degree, we will recognize those we knew here on earth.

I would like to think of it as timeless days where Mom and Betty Rust have coffee again.

And where they once again reflect on life on Redbud Lane, their years at Southside Church of Christ, and when they laugh about things which only they will ever know.

—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 2021. 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.

Anybody seen my … (insert something, insert anything)

“Looking for my wallet, and my car keys.
Well, they can’t have gone too far.
Just as soon as I find my glasses,
I’m sure I’ll see just where they are.”

— “Remember Song” lyrics by Tom Rush

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A desperate remedy came to me in moments of frustration last week. Realizing that I spend an average of 30 minutes a day looking for my cell phone, I considered painting it glow-in-the-dark emergency orange. Thought it might even work for my keys, glasses; you name it. I have not tried it yet, for the record, but I haven’t ruled it out either.

My memory just isn’t what it used to be: truth be known, it probably never was. Good memory has never been one of my strong suits. And it seems the more historical the birth date on my driver’s license becomes, the worse my memory gets.

As they say, sometimes it’s easier to laugh than to cry. And laugh I do now about a day when I previously reported for work at this newspaper. That’s when it was The East Texas Light, and the office was on Austin Street where the printing operation remains today.

Arriving early that morning, I discovered having left a needed file at home during the previous night’s catch-up session. As soon as Payne’s Community News was over, I turned off the radio, got in my car, and headed out to retrieve it. With the file in hand, I apologized to my dogs, neighbors, the postman, and the garbage collector for startling them. Being seen at home during daylight hours was almost as rare as Haley’s Comet.

My adult ADD kicked in on the drive back when I pulled into the Farmer’s Bank parking lot and went up to the third-floor break room for caffeine. Coffee craving cured, I rode the elevator down and walked out the front door toward the newspaper office.

Walking has always been a preferred method of moving about the square. It’s a favored form of exercise as well. Like my friend and former publisher of Granbury’s Hood County News, Jerry Tidwell used to say, “If my other methods of weight loss are not successful soon, I fear I’m going to have to resort to diet and exercise.”

Barely back to my desk, I got a buzz from Lois Cooper at the front. The automotive store on the square in the current location of The Forge (give me a minute, and the name of the business will come to me; maybe) needed my car keys for an appointment with new tires.

Surrendering said keys to Lois, I said, “It’s out there on the parking lot in my usual spot beside the building.”

She was back in a minute with a puzzled look. “You sure that’s where you parked this morning? It’s not there.”

Heading for the door, I said jokingly, “I know I did. Maybe somebody stole it.”

“Your car was stolen,” echoed a customer at the front desk buying a classified ad?

“Whose car was stolen,” said Mattie looking up from her desk? “Was someone’s car stolen?”

There I was, standing in the parking lot. By passers stopped to see what the commotion was about. Anytime you see newspaper people gather in a small town, it’s worth pulling over.

“Call the police,” somebody in the crowd suggested. Then a dim light began to glow. Retracing steps in my mind, it occurred to me where my car was. “It’s all right folks, my car’s been located. Everyone back to work now. Break it up.”

As the crowd dispersed, I looked over the top of my glasses at Lois and said to her in hushed tones, “Lois Ann, take those car keys I gave you, and walk quietly over to the Farmer’s Bank parking lot. You’ll find my car there. Drive it the long way back. Not a word to anyone—and here’s twenty bucks.”

“What’s the $20 for,” asked Lois.

“That,” I said, “Is so that your ability to remember this incident five minutes from now will be about as good as my ability to remember where I left my car.”

Only memories can prevent a repeat of history

“Photos capture our memories in print, but our memories are always with us in our minds.”

— Catherine Pulsifer 1946-2013 “Teach Me Soft Skills” inspirational works

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Photos evoke memories, but we humans seem to have a penchant for bookmarking history in another way. We remember history making events by where we were, who we were with, and what we were doing when we heard the news.

Today, September 11, is one of those events. The day anti-American terrorists attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001, killing 2,977 people and injuring an estimated 6,000 others in the deadliest terrorist act in the world. It’s a day many find hard to believe happened 20 years ago. Yet, for others, it may seem like yesterday.

The first history making event for me was my sophomore year at Mount Pleasant High School. Lunch was over that Friday, November 22, 1963, as I sat atop my drafting board stool in David Murray’s mechanical drawing class. Staying awake in any class right after lunch was difficult. Even Mr. Murray looked as though he might be thinking about a nap as he sat leaned back in his desk chair, feet propped on his desk, and eyes closed.

The lazy silence was interrupted by a knock on the classroom door when Mrs. Black entered the room before Mr. Murray could get there. She had come from the main building to the annex where drawing and homemaking classes were conducted. “Oh, Mr. Murray, she sobbed through tears. “Someone has assassinated the president in Dallas.”

After a brief inaudible conversation between the two long-time Mount Pleasant educators, Mrs. Black left, and Mr. Murray turned to address the class, already abuzz over the news. Although expressing his sorrow over the news, with the rap of a T-square in his desk, he left no doubt that the day’s assignment was still due when the bell rang.

Friday night was a home game for the black and gold Tigers. And it was played like any other game. The only hint of the day’s events was an extended prayer for the family of President John F. Kennedy and for our country.

Just shy of six years later, on Sunday night, July 20, 1969, U.S. astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins landed the lunar module, Eagle, on the moon’s surface. With more than half a billion people watching on television at shortly after at 9:56 p.m. Texas time, Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder to become the first human to set foot on another world and proclaim, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I watched history unfold on the black and white television in the living room of my parent’s house in Delafield Street in Mount Pleasant. The memories are mingled with those of a summer job at Sandlin Chevrolet and Olds in Mount Pleasant, drag racing every weekend, and one of those summer romances that a young man never forgets. But that’s another story for another time.

Scant years later, Tuesday, August 16, 1977, was winding down in Abilene, Texas. The radio behind my desk where I worked on the downtown corner of 8th and Pine Streets softly played country music as it did every day. Then, suddenly, the music ended when the voice on the radio said, “This bulletin from Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis …” During that brief pause when the radio announcer was gathering his notes or maybe his composure, it hit me. Something in my mind said, “Elvis.”

It was true. The rest of the bulletin confirmed that the “King of Rock and Roll” was dead at the age of 42.

At another desk and another job in Center 24 years later, my sister Sylvia called. She was watching an unfathomable tragedy unfold on television news and asked if I was aware of it. I was not. While she relayed the report of a commercial airliner flying into one of the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York, she witnessed live the second aircraft fly directly into the second tower. Shock and disbelief confirmed the worst. The U.S. was under attack by terrorists.

Twenty years later, attacks on freedom and the American way of life are still being waged; some from within our own government.

Some memories make us happy; some make us sad. Only by remembering that freedom is never free and there will always be those who want to abolish it, can a free nation continue. God bless America as we remember and pay tribute to those who died in the deadliest act of terrorism the free world has ever known.

—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 2021. 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.

Reminders that the best life is one lived one day at a time

“Yesterday’s gone, sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine …”

— “One Day at a Time” 1975 song lyric written by Kris Kristofferson and Marijohn Wilkin.

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One day at a time. It’s more than a song or a saying. In the years since I first heard it in the 70s, the words have become a constant reminder that the best life is one lived one day at a time. Granted, I forget that from time to time, but the reminders get closer together with each passing year.

One reoccurring reminder is the story of the “weirdest and most surreal adventure” embarked upon by a trio of friends. We dubbed the vehicle employed for this journey the Starship Enterprise, but our version of the well-known stellar exploration vehicle bore no resemblance to the TV show ship. It was a well-seasoned old motorhome rescued from a wrecking yard.

We had no idea what lay in store before embarking on our first mission chosen for the newly acquired ship. To loosely quote Captain Kirk, “Our mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Our 1987 mission: blaze a trail to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the 71st running of the Indy 500 classic auto race on May 24 and return successfully to Center without the loss of a single soul. And do it in an old Winnebago that should have been scrapped at least 100,000 miles ago.

“I have been, and ever shall be, your friend. Live long and prosper.” — Spock

Oscar Elliott and I were grade school friends in Mount Pleasant in 1959. We had survived numerous adventures, living to tell about the ones that we dared repeat. Gary Hart and I became friends when he moved to Center in the mid-1980s to open the community’s first McDonald’s restaurant. New galaxies were already being discovered in East Texas.

The three of us set out in Gary’s newly acquired project. Gary accumulated projects—neat old vehicles that needed anything from lots of major work to complete restoration. However, the Winnebago was different. It ran. Under its own power. Or at least he assured us it did.

“Don’t let all the corrosion, dents and duct tape fool you,” Gary smiled.

“Ahh, Mr. Scott, I understand you’re having difficulty with the warp drive. How much time do you require for repair?” — Spock

The wrecking yard refugee that was to be our trusty transportation sat quietly rusting in the parking lot next to Gary’s fast-food franchise at 9 a.m. on the designated departure date. After finishing lunch about noon, we rumbled out of Center, rolling north with plans to drive without stopping. The schedule was four-hour shifts at herding the old heavyweight with a refrigerator full of food and a heart full of hopes that the noisy little fridge functioned.

 “She’s in tip-top shape.” Gary assured us about ten minutes before the alternator belt gave up the ghost with a nasty noise. Lucky for us, it expired within sight of a garage.

Later, somewhere in northern Missouri at about 2:00 a.m. on a highway with expansion joints the size of speed bumps, Oscar was bouncing through his sleep shift in the back bedroom. Gary was piloting, and I was riding shotgun. Sleeping was no easy endeavor with the smell of musty drapes flapping in the window and rotting plywood the only thing preventing us from plummeting to the pavement. Any sleep ended abruptly when a tire on the inside rear dual exploded, sending the elderly RV rocking and its passengers praying.

Once again, lady luck lingered when we determined the glow ahead to be an all-night truck stop. It was at that very moment on the side of a dark highway that we christened the worn-out Winnebago as the, “Star Ship Enterprise.”

“Ru’afo, we’re getting too old for this.” — Admiral Dougherty

The trip to Indy eradicated a few issues in the old Winnie. The races were great, the trip home uneventful, and the experience endearing.

“I think that is the weirdest and most surreal adventure we ever went on. I can barely remember anything that happened.” — Oscar Elliott

Yesterday is gone, and since I am now the sole survivor of that trip still on this side of eternity, it’s a “one day at a time” treasured memory.

Finding an escape in the seat of an old chair

“Sitting in the morning sun, I’ll be sitting when the evening comes.”

— Otis Redding (1941-1967) American singer and songwriter.

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We all find ourselves sitting there from time to time. Work piles up and finding the hours necessary to catch up looms. Time for chores on the home front suffers as a result, adding to already high stress levels. Then August arrives, turning up the heat on all of it, and we start looking for escapes.

Escape was on my mind a couple of weeks ago when I looked toward the heavens. News of the Perseid meteor showers reminded me of stargazing in the Hill Country, where my hilltop home was the perfect spot. Miles from the city without a neighbor in sight was the setting for many memorable nights of staring in wonder at the millions of stars, planets, and heavenly bodies not visible near city lights.

Remembering that late-night showing from more than 25 years ago, I loaded up my old folding chair and armed with astronomical information, set out seeking a celestial event encore. Lacking a good viewing spot from my city dwelling, I headed out into the countryside. That journey ended in Nacogdoches at the Pecan Acres Park near Stephen F. Austin State University. Finally, the darkness beside Bayou La Nana provided a place to settle back in my folding chair and wait for meteor sightings to begin.

Perseids did not disappoint. Long before the publicized peak of 6:00 a.m. rolled around, I was back in Shelby County, having left the cobwebs in my mind beside the creek bank under the stars.

Lake living on Murvaul some years ago provided sitting sessions of another form; that time by the water where coffee was relished while absorbing early morning sights and sounds. Birds flying just above the water, looking for breakfast. Turtles bobbing up then quickly disappearing. And that one faithful Nutria that swam slowly past the pier every morning heading north toward the dam, returning every evening to the cove.

I can’t say for sure that it was the same creature making both trips. From my lawn chair, they all looked alike. I pictured it as a family breadwinner on the way to work in the morning and returning home in the evening. It made a good story.

So it was no surprise that last weekend found me searching for that tranquility at Lake Murvaul in nearby Panola County. After driving around the lake, the marina at Decker-Hill Park was my first stop to watch end-of-day activities. The story from my chair last weekend was watching boaters loading up and leaving for the day as the night anglers began arriving. Some on the water and others along the bank, they all set up shop for whatever species of fish are caught after dark.

A vacant vantage point on the end of a pier opened up, so I unfolded my chair to relax. As darkness prevailed, soft strains of soulful songs were coming from a nearby dock where a couple was fishing. Presumably oblivious to their lines in the water as they relaxed in lawn chairs, the mood of the music prevailed as they quietly enjoyed each other’s company.

That’s when I realized what I had been overlooking; how to find the escape for which I had been searching. Stargazing, lake watching, even the solitude of the night might have been the escape, but the missing link was my chair. Moments of peace and solitude were around me all the while, but they went unnoticed until I unfolded my old chair and ignored time for just a little while—long enough to sit still and relax in the moment.

—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 2021. 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.

Words penned with inspiration

“It’s only words, and words are all I have, To take your heart away.”

Song lyrics, “Words” recorded by The Bee Gees 1968

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“Your words are perfect,” a friend commented recently about something I had written. The comment humbled me. I don’t accept compliments very well. And perfect? That’s a tall order in the realm of writing.

It wasn’t that long ago when someone asked me how I found writing as my calling. Calling: another lofty word with connotations. Whatever you call it, I must admit it wasn’t a direct path, but one with many crooks and turns. There were clues along the way, but I was a long time learning the difference between those so-called left brain and right brain concepts. You’ve heard about them: people described as left-brain thinkers are told they have strong math and logic skills, while those described as right-brain thinkers are told that their talents are more on the creative side of things.

Through the educational process, my grades in math and science were lacking, for lack of a better word. But my grades in English, literature, and related courses were good. That included my junior year at East Texas State University. Four semesters of English were required for all disciplines, and a passing grade on the dreaded “Junior English Usage Test” was needed to escape another semester of training in the proper use of the Queen’s English before being released into society.

No easy hurdle, that “Junior English Usage Test.” Requirements allowed only a Blue Book, a small commonly used notebook for writing essays in college back when handwriting was still taught, and a ball point pen. Nothing else. Test takers were given simple instructions: write an essay on one of the three topics supplied. Granted, the topics were not terribly difficult because subject knowledge was not as much a criterion as that of word choice, sentence structure, organization of thoughts, and penmanship.

That was in about 1968 or ’69. As a side note, in 2021, I’m wondering … why did we ever let those communication concepts escape the educational process?

My passing grade garnered heckling from my circle of so-called friends. They wondered as to what kind of crazy I must have been signing up for additional English and literary pursuits not required instead of things like archery and trampoline P.E. courses. Oh wait, I took those, too.

Admittedly, my weekends then were filled with hot rods, race cars, and other activities not commonly associated with wordsmithing. Despite that, I still had a propensity for sticking words together to express my feelings, and some of those efforts in poetry and short stories made their way into an ETSU literary publication. Were they good? Not really, but they were my introduction to what was to come.

After five of the best years of my life spent in college classrooms taxing both sides of my brain, I escaped with an education preparing me to educate others. Unfortunately, even that did not tap enough of my right brain to achieve satisfaction. So I left that profession in search of … well, that was my next problem. I wasn’t sure what for.

That’s when longtime friend and newspaper mentor Morris Craig at The Monitor in Naples said, “I know you can take pictures; why don’t you come work for me while you make up your mind about what you want to do.” So, I guess this is the place to interject those well-worn words, “And the rest is history.”

Words are assigned definitions by people working for companies like Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and Random House. They can be arranged in a variety of random patterns to get one’s point across. But words begin to touch other people when penned with inspiration.

Inspiration can come from memories, life experiences, friends, family, love, or heartache: the source for inspiration is unlimited. But when your words move someone to feel as though they are perfect, maybe — just maybe, you’ve found your calling.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page: My first words printed on newsprint (for a paycheck). “The Final Shuffle” about the every afternoon gathering of domino players in Naples, Texas. Published in The Monitor in Naples, April 3, 1975.)

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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 2021. 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.