Working for the love and not for the clock

“Success is often achieved in the 25th, 26th, and 27th hours of the day.” 

— ‘Old Italian Saying’ by Jim Chionsini.

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The official results are still out, but roughly 440 columns in newspapers and on the blog over the last eight-and-a-half years make for a successful mission. Add another estimated 500 columns penned for papers prior to “the blog period,” and as my military pilot friends would say, “We’re set for that 1,000th sortie.”

Reaching that realm is in no small way because of the sage advice above from my mentor and good friend for most of my life. So many of my columns were hammered out in those elusive hours. A time when you’re working for the love and not for the clock.

I typically require extra hours, even on a good day. But, at an age commonly considered the time for slowing down and taking life easier, that’s probably why my hand is still on the throttle, I’m gaining altitude and still good friends with the 25th, 26th, and 27th hours of the day. While some delight in crossing tasks off their”to do” list, throwing everything on mine and calling it a win if I get half of it done has always been my method.

An ex-military fighter pilot and former Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team pilot said it best a few years ago. Applying military strategy to business planning, he compared his combat mission experience in the Middle East to running a business. “As long as you return from the mission,” he said, “there are no failures. Some are successful, the others you learn from in order to increase the success rate of future missions.”

For me, 2015 was a learning mission filled with surprises and adjustments, the kind that blurs the lines between celebrating success and taking a better shot at future missions. Regrouping in those familiar hours of the day, I went back to my favorite parts of connecting with people through newspapers: column writing and photography. So, I challenged myself to expand my column writing experience with a blog. And to put the fun back in photography, spend more “me time” with my camera.

The blog got off the ground and built speed early in the mission but ended the year as more of a learning experience before taking flight the next year. 

As I was fumbling for the ignition switch on shooting pictures, long-time Mount Pleasant friend and photographer Susan Prewitt unknowingly activated the afterburner with a Facebook photo challenge.

I accepted her challenge, but by Sunday, I was four days in and lamenting that it was only a seven-day mission. Hitting the deck just under the deadline, I uploaded a “moon set” photo taken at Lake Murvaul in Panola County when I lived there. The picture reminded me of two things. One, capturing that set of images was fun. Two, it required several sessions between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. during full moon phases while working on the moon’s clock—not mine.

The fact that crafting a column about that photo became part of getting the blog on target was no coincidence.

It was just one small example of what I might have missed without those 25th, 26th, and 27th hours of the day.

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About “Moon Over Murvaul”— While living on Lake Murvaul a few years ago, I woke up early one morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. I discovered a moon bright enough to read a newspaper at 3:00 a.m. So, I grabbed a camera and spent the next half hour shooting frame after frame of the setting full moon images. The result was a collection of fantastic photos. The one I posted to Facebook for the challenge resembled what I would call a harvest moon. I’ve seen many harvest moons rising, but this was my first setting orange moon to witness. See the “Moon Over Murvaul” and other archived columns on the blog at leonaldridge.com.

More than a thousand in one small collection

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Old adage considered cliché by some. For one whose lifetime has been spent behind a camera, it still speaks volumes for me. 

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“You’re a photographer. Come work for me until you figure out what you want to do.” Morris Craig made me that offer. About 1974, I’m thinking it was.

In 1974, college degree done and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do, that I might have been born with ink on my veins was the farthest thought from my mind. At this point in life, however, there is no denying it. Wouldn’t want to if I could.

I know it was destined to be because the few times temptation lured me away, the siren’s song hunted me down and dragged me back. It didn’t hurt either, that I was blessed by having a couple of the best in the business as mentor, employer, partner, and friend.

For getting me in the business to begin with, I owe Morris Craig for making me what another guiding light in my life, Jim Chionsini always said, “An offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Craig started work at The Monitor weekly newspaper up in northeast Texas at Naples in 1956. His first job after graduating from Paul Pewitt High School the same year. Then, in 1968, he and his wife, Melba, became the new owners. The Monitor would be the only job he ever had other than running the projector at the Inez theater in Naples while still in high school.

For the record, everybody calls him Craig. “The only two people who have ever called me Morris,” he will tell you, “was my mother, and my first-grade teacher—Mrs. Orene Slider.” I believe him. Even his wife addresses him as Craig.

I first met Craig when my mother worked for the Mount Pleasant Tribune. For as long as The Tribune had a press, they printed The Monitor every week.

We became friends when I worked for a construction business in Naples a couple of years later. After that company closed, I wasn’t sure what my future would be. That’s when Craig tendered his offer. That’s when I said, “Why not?”

My first stint in newspapers at The Monitor was followed by 40-plus years in communication: editor, publisher, group manager, journalism teacher, even some time in marketing. 

Then came last year. Craig’s health took a turn for the worse. Melba and family tried to keep the newspaper going, but it was too much. After 134 years of service to the community, The Monitor ceased publication. With 65 years there, Morris and Melba Craig represented almost half the newspaper’s existence.

Then just when life looked its worst, Craig’s health made a miraculous improvement. While visiting with him and Melba in Naples Saturday, I asked, “You realize you are the miracle man, don’t you?”

So now, Craig is talking about reviving The Monitor from an office at home. Unfortunately, that means the office on Main Street where I reported for work nearly 50 years ago will remain closed.

Clearing out the building, Craig had some things he thought I might want. Simply entering the office with him instantly reminded of just what he really gave me many years ago: a future. Documenting those feelings was his gift of matted and framed black-and-white photos that had hung on the wall since I was there: a brief photo essay of what it takes to get a newspaper on the press.

Newspaper rookie Leon Aldridge at The Monitor about 1974.

In the first photo, Craig is “typesetting” on a “Compuwriter Jr,” one of the first “cold type” devices for offset printing. The old hot-type process of metal letters from molten lead had started fading away less than ten years before.

Craig hired me as a photographer, but as has always been the way of small newspapers, everybody on staff learns a little about everything. Therefore, he taught me the basics of gathering news and writing stories on the Compuwriter.

Another photo captured in time, a rookie kid from Mount Pleasant laying out an ad in the long-gone art of hot wax, border tape, and Exacto knives. Craig also taught me the elements of an effective ad and most importantly—how to sell them.

In another, Craig is laying out a page with a line gauge (newspaper office “ruler”) in one hand and black paper for photo placement in the other. Craig taught me how to design attractive and inviting pages. He was a stickler for quality.

Editor and Publisher at The Monitor in about 1974.

A couple more depict the old Cottrell Vanguard press at The Tribune being readied to print the next edition. Craig taught me to watch the preparation and, “Look at every page negative before it goes to plate; make sure it looks good.” Did I mention Craig was a stickler for quality?

The last two photos illustrate the final steps: addressing the papers and delivering them to the post office.

As I look at the photo collection on my office wall this morning, I see pictures worth far more than a thousand words. I see a friend who hired someone who had no clue about his future. I see someone who taught me the basics of journalism, the importance of communication, and the value of community newspapers. I see someone who opened the door to my future.

I hope to see more editions of The Monitor bearing his name soon.

—Leon Aldridge

(All photos by Tim Tenbrook, Naples, 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, the Alpine Avalanche, and The Fort Stockton Pioneer.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2022. 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.

Washing or hanging out; what will it be next?

“During times I’ve felt like throwing in the towel, I keep going when I realize that means one more piece of laundry to deal with.” —Frankie Glover, Mount Pleasant, Texas. I know it’s true, he put it on Facebook.

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Laundry. Who really enjoys the sorting, washing, drying, folding, and hanging up? Makes me tired just thinking about it.

Reminiscing the history of wash day blues crossed my mind last week while helping a friend shop for a new washing machine. And wow, was it an eye-opener.

As my friend, Oscar used to say referring to anyone who appeared to be confused, “He doesn’t know if he’s washing or hanging out.” That’s the way I felt seeing how washing machines have changed since I bought my last one.

Washing and hanging out chores for my grandmother were rooted in methods of more than a century ago. She was born in 1905 and died in 1993, never having owned a washing machine of any kind. I can only imagine what she would think.

As per the custom in her day, wash day was Monday. Unless it rained. Then it was moved to the next sunny day unless that fell on that one day washing was taboo. I don’t remember what day that was, but my “faithful member of the Pittsburg First Methodist Church until her death” grandmother was superstitious. So, according to her, it was bad luck to wash on that day of the week.

I’m not superstitious, but I do have one day that I consider lousy luck for laundry. That’s any day I have to do it.

My grandparents lived just three blocks from downtown. Yet their backyard would have been common sight half a day’s drive down a dirt road. My grandfather’s large hen house hinted of the half dozen chickens roaming the yard at any time. Between that hen house and the tool shed was a grape arbor that produced the best tasting green grapes ever to grace a kid’s summertime palate.

The arbor shaded a long homemade wooden bench serviced by a single water faucet rising straight out of the ground about mid-way. And hanging on the side of a tool shed just steps away under a massive pecan tree were two number-2 galvanized washtubs. Completing the picture was a half-a-block long clothesline and an iron pot to heat wash day water.

A fire under that washpot by the time breakfast was over at 7 a.m. every Monday and Granny headed out the kitchen door with her scrub board and soap bar signaled, “laundry day  was a go.”

Her diligent routine took all morning. Hauling hot water from the iron pot, manually rubbing each piece on the scrub board in one tub and rinsing in the other before hand wringing and hanging. It never varied. Finally, with laundry on the line and washtubs on the tool shed wall, it was time to cook lunch.

My mother, who once said doing the laundry made her feel like people were living in her house she had not met, had one of the tubs on wheels when I was a kid. The kind with a wringer attached. A clothesline did the drying, and the machine sat in the kitchen corner when not in use.

Memory doesn’t serve me well for her first “automatic” washer, but Mom also had dedicated days for laundry. Hers had nothing to do with superstition. It did dictate my after school schedule, however. In grade school, ironing was one of my household chores if I expected to collect a 25¢ allowance on Saturday.

Mom’s first “laundry room” was after moving to Mount Pleasant in 1959. But it wasn’t in the house. It was in a closet out in the garage. After the move to Delafield Street, the laundry room was in the kitchen. Or should I say the kitchen was the laundry room? At least she didn’t have to wait until after breakfast to do laundry. She could multitask and do both at the same time.

But what if my parents or grandparents had access to today’s devices? The selection of “mechanized wash tubs” sends my mind into spin cycle.

Up to 12 cycles. Mine has three: white, color, and permanent press. So, what other kinds of clothes do they make that I don’t know about? And programmable actions with WIFI connectivity? I am already connected to the point that when Center’s “less-than -reliable” internet goes down, I’m out of not only computer service but also useless is my television, telephones, music, climate control system, and home security. And now I’m supposed to risk losing control of laundry, as well? What will it be next?

So here I am, way ahead of Granny’s scrub board and somewhere between mom’s wringer washing machine and wireless laundry devices. However, I’ve decided that it would not matter in which generation’s devices I chose to do laundry. My system would be the same as it has always been.

Thirty minutes to wash, an hour to dry, and seven to ten business days to fold and put away.

—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 2022. 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.

Who among us has not tempted the gas gauge?

Who among us has not tempted the gas gauge?

“Time for my weekly game of “Let’s-see-how-long-I-can-drive-with-my-gas-light-on.”

—Come on. Admit it. You’ve done it, too.

– – – – –

“This stupid car ran out of gas.”

My friend was on the phone with his daughter. She was intermittently describing her location on the side of the road while offering logic as to why it was the car’s fault.

“You should have told me the gas gauge was not working,” he teased her. Teasing daughters is what fathers do. I know; I have a daughter.

“It works, dad. It said I had 43 miles left.”

“And how many miles ago was that?”

In a moment of surrender, she sighed, “I know, dad, but I was driving faster so I would get to a station before I ran out.”

“We’re almost there.” He acknowledged the surrender with comfort and without comment on her new driver logic. That’s a dad thing too.

Who among us hasn’t tempted the gas gauge? Let those who are without stories of coasting to the side of the road in silence cast the first gas can.

I have. More than once. Plus, one near miss. When it comes to gas gauge guardian angels, mine hover close to fuel stops.

Like the day my son, Lee, and I left East Texas headed to the Hill Country. I saw the light announcing 43 miles. It’s programmed into all cars and can mean anywhere between 43 miles and four-tenths of a mile.

No problem, I’ll stop outside of Houston on I-10 west,” I said. “Away from the crazy city drivers.” Several miles from crazy drivers and gas stations, I felt the first surge of a starving motor. “Oh yeah, I thought. “There was that gas thing I was going to do.”

But that guardian angel prevailed. I could see a C-store with fuel pumps. Downhill momentum carried us toward it, not quite to the exit but within walking distance. We were back on the road in no time. And … I owned another new gas can.

Walking distance was out of the question the time I exited a New Orleans parking garage and noted the needle nearing E. “I have enough to get out of this traffic,” I fooled myself again. Actually, I had enough to get off I-10 and onto I-49. You know the area. No sign of civilization anywhere. So, out came that big “mobile phone.” The one that, back then, looked like a WW II military walkie-talkie.

A plea for help brought a sheriff’s deputy to my aid, and I was soon riding with him toward civilization at somewhere north of 100 m.p.h. After flying off an exit and up to a convenience store, he talked the cashier out of an empty can and some coffee.

I got the idea I was not his first offender.

Makeshift gas can filled with fuel and hi-test java in a Styrofoam cup, we were back on I-49 south, taking another shot at that land speed record.

I thanked the officer profusely and tendered a donation to the annual parish sheriff’s ball, which he politely refused. He also dropped all charges of ignoring my gas gauge and wished me a safe trip home.

That near-miss mentioned earlier was somewhere in the 285-mile stretch between the Los Angeles airport and the Las Vegas strip. It’s a desert region marked with cactus, extreme heat, and little else except one town of any size. Barstow, California.

“But it’s a nice drive,” they said. So, I struck out to make my one business call in Vegas, driving my rental car. Headed back to L.A. the following morning to catch my flight back to East Texas, I saw the gauge reminding me to gas up. I hesitated, however, until I was away from the crazy city congestion.

Do you see the pattern yet?

About an hour later, the light came. Not the one in my brain; the one that says, “range 43 miles.” As that changed to “Low Fuel,” there was still nothing in sight but more cactus and sand.

As I was mentally preparing for doom in the desert, a mirage appeared on the horizon. A billboard bearing one word, “GAS.” I shot toward the only structure in sight off the exit ramp: an aging art deco station with rows of gas pumps. It was run down and lonely looking, but it was open. One last push on the accelerator catapulted me toward the nearest pump just before the car’s final gasp for fuel, and I rolled up to the pump.

Wish I could say that was the last time I tempted the fate of gas fumes. But I can’t. Maybe there’s a support group for those who choose to ignore gas gauges.

Hello, my name is Leon, and I’m addicted to that game of “Let’s-see-how-long-I-can-drive-with-my-gas-light-on.”

—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 2022. 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 good old days pop quiz final exam

“Enjoy your life. These are the good old days you’ll miss in the days ahead.”

— Author unknown.

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The good old days.

You remember them, don’t you? I do. I was thinking about the good old days just last week, remembering how simple life was before the internet. Never had to wonder why my AT&T internet stopped working every day like it has the last couple of weeks.

That started right after they sent that nice message apologizing for no service for a couple of days and reassuring me the issue was resolved.

Maybe no internet every day for a few hours is an upgrade from no internet at all for 24-48 hours. I don’t know any more.

I do know we’ve become a society that panics without internet service. Telephone, security and surveillance, climate control, television, and entertainment are all internet based at my house. Drop my internet signal, and I’m reduced to a cell phone (when it works) and my record player.

Which, when I think about it, is twice as much convenience as I had growing up in the good old days. All I had then was a record player.

The good old days.

A time when road trip comfort relied on the only climate control available for cars; the time-honored “4-60” system. Four windows rolled up and down with a crank instead of an electric button and 60 mile-per-hour cruising speed. Which was the maximum speed limit until sundown when it was reduced to 55.

A time when we kept our cool at home with water fan “swamp coolers” by day and attic fans by night. And it had to be in that order because water fans mildewed leather shoes and belts in the closet at night, and attic fans in the daytime just pulled in sweltering outside air.

A time when my class of 1966 was the last “unairconditioned class” graduated from Mount Pleasant High School. I’ve always said I signed up for the band program to learn something about music. Don’t tell anyone, but I learned to play a musical instrument because the band hall was one of the few buildings with a window unit air conditioner at a school without air-conditioned classrooms.

I get it, though. Times change, and good old days become memories.

In those good old high school days, friend and classmate Danny Lewis and I left Titus County in my 1958 Chevy one Saturday bound for a Dallas KLIF radio station-sponsored concert that included the Mamas and the Papas, the Animals, and Herman’s Hermits. Concert over and done later, we began the return trip home sometime after midnight.

At an isolated 24-hour service station somewhere way out in the country near the Gross Road exit on I-30, I related a minor motor noise to the attendant pumping gas. I concluded by asking if he might take a look at it.

He confessed he was not a mechanic, just the night attendant for pumping gas. But he was quick to offer the station’s service bay and tools if I wanted to investigate it myself.

Already seasoned at tinkering with hot rods and drag racing at a young age, chasing motor gremlins was a “no problem” proposition. The comfort and convenience of a service station bay, though? Now that was a bonus. I was used to doing my mechanic work under shade trees in my parent’s front yard.

Identifying a worn-out rocker arm as the culprit, the best (a.k.a. cheapest) alternative for the 1 a.m. trip home was deemed to be nursing the old Chevy back on seven cylinders. Removal of one rocker arm, pushrod, and spark plug wire put us on the road again. 

The car got us back to Mount Pleasant with only a minor miss to ignore. And Redfearn’s Automotive next door to the Martin Theater downtown supplied needed parts Monday to get the car firing on all eight cylinders again.

So, if you are still reading, here’s the good old days pop quiz final exam. If you understood what you just read and identified with any of it, you probably have a good idea what the “good old days thing” is all about.

But if you didn’t have a clue what I was talking about and NSYNC is your idea of “Golden Oldies,” just enjoy life for now. Your good old days will get here soon enough.

I can’t help you with panic attacks when the internet goes down, however.

For me, that part is much more manageable. I just turn on my record player and try to remember the last place I saw my cell phone.

—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 2022. 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.

That conversation down at the courthouse

“I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations.”

– Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), English writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for her children’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

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The newspaper was still lying there on my desk as I contemplated a column for this week. The March 24 edition of the Pittsburg Gazette that talked about the five-year renovation of the Camp County courthouse.

A couple of hours up the road from Center, Texas, Pittsburg is like a second home to me, although I never lived there. Unless spending time in the summers with my grandparents as a child counts as living.

My father grew up there and graduated from PIttsburg High School in 1941. After a couple of semesters at Texas A&M and a stint in the Army during WW II, he worked for the old five-and-dime store chain, Perry Brothers. And, in 1959, they moved him to Mount Pleasant, 11 miles up the road from Pittsburg, where he would live the rest of his life.

My father’s mother had a strong influence on me. But she was a strong personality and an influence on anyone who knew her. She stood just four-foot-eleven, but you never asked what was on her mind. As a rule, you didn’t have to, she would tell you. Either way, she left little opportunity to ignore her.

That’s just the way she was.

And that’s just the way that conversation down at the courthouse was, I’m sure. The one about the car title 41 years ago. She told me about it right after it happened.

Sylvester and Hattie Aldridge moved into a small frame house on Cypress Street in Pittsburg in 1930 and lived a simple life there for the rest of their days. My grandfather’s soul left this earth in that house in December of 1967. Granny left there for the hospital in October of 1993 and joined her husband of 47 years just weeks later.

The day she left, the house looked precisely as it had every day of my 40-something years of knowing it, save for maybe a few pictures of kids and grand kids on the walls and the new Cardui calendar every year. She even drove the car they bought in 1957 for 24 years. The green Ford sedan they purchased new at Travis Battles Ford near the depot where my grandfather worked in downtown Pittsburg showed just over 46,000 miles in 1981.

That was the year Granny called and said, “I need a car with power steering and air conditioning; you still want Liz?” Liz is what she called her car. I had told her years earlier that I wanted Liz when it was time for a new car.

Yes,” was my quick answer. “And I want that paperwork in the third drawer of your chifforobe.” The original title, the paperwork from the dealership, and the canceled check from the bank were all right where she put them in 1957.

At her house the following Saturday, she handed me the aging envelope of paperwork and a new ownership receipt in my name.

“They didn’t want to let me keep the title down at the courthouse,” she said. It was the lady in the auto registration office, Granny called her Margaret; maybe it was. I don’t remember now. But she called her by name because she knew her. Granny had lived in Pittsburg for 51 years by that time, and she knew everybody.

“You have to turn it in to get a new title in a different name,” the lady we’re calling Margaret told Granny. “Nope,” Granny said she told her. “My grandson wants the original title with the car.”

So, the courthouse lady, Margaret—I think, told her the only way to get a new title is if it’s lost or destroyed.

“So, you couldn’t keep the title,” I said, sadly.

Smiling like the cat that ate the canary, Granny continued, “I dropped the title in my pocketbook, closed it up, and told her, ‘Well, I’ll be John Brown. I guess I’ve lost that title.'”

Margaret reportedly just smiled, shook her head, and pulled out a lost title application. Granny may have known everybody in town, but I’m sure everybody knew her as well.

The newspaper on my desk says the courthouse is six years shy of 100 years old. That means it was two years old when my grandparents first called Pittsburg home. I’m betting by the time Granny “lost” that title half a century later, everyone in the courthouse knew my grandmother.

That’s just the way she was.

And just in case you’re wondering … the answer is yes. Some 41 years after that conversation down at the courthouse, I still have the car and the original title

I have no doubt it’s because of her

“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” — W.E.B. DuBois, 1868-1963 American sociologist, socialist, historian, and civil rights activist.

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I took up my front-row pew at church last Sunday, pausing for reflection before services. Outside, March winds in April were blowing through everything in sight while a myriad of memories was blowing through my mind about where I sat inside.

Sitting at the front these days is a matter of convenience. It’s easier for me to carry out my chosen duties as the congregational song leader. The first time I occupied that prominent seating position for church services decades ago, it was punishment. Apparently, my high school buddies and I distracted the preacher with our whispering conversation while sitting on the back pew at the Southside Church of Christ in Mount Pleasant. Enough so that he stopped mid-sermon and told us to come sit on the front seat directly in front of him.

My mom was born and raised in Kentucky by devout church of Christ parents. I’m somewhat sure that Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” was in the back of her mind. She worked hard to “train up” my sisters and me.

Therefore, I don’t have to explain the words she had for me when the last amen was pronounced that morning. For weeks afterward, I was required to sit within arm’s reach of her, just as I did as a young child. That was so she could remind me of how painful her pinch on my ear used to feel when my conduct did not meet with her approval.

Mom also worked hard to “train up” my father to attend church with her. However, it just never took with Dad. Oh, he tried at times, but I guess he never felt sufficiently moved by the spirit. Dad’s spirit was moved more by staying home or going fishing.

Along with his love for fishing, Dad was prone to “seasoning” his language a bit with his finely tuned skills in the art of cussing.

According to my college linguistics course eons ago, religious views aside, profanity is often “a verbal expression usually said more out of memorized responses the mind uses as filler when it can’t formulate a more appropriate response.”

Whether it was a memorized response I heard my father use or something else, I quickly learned one Sunday afternoon after church that such responses, particularly while still in grade school, were not only inappropriate, but they also came with consequences.

The family joined Dad for some creek bank fishing that summer afternoon. Mom found a shade tree to enjoy her favorite pastime: reading. And once I tired of trying to outsmart the fish, I went to the back seat of the family Studebaker to pass the time with crayons and coloring books. Upon discovering that the East Texas heat had reduced my crayons to puddled pallets of color, my first verbal expression was one of my father’s favored inappropriate responses.

“What did you say,” Mom exclaimed, looking over the top of her book.

“Nothing,” I stuttered. “It was an accident.”

“Did you hear what he said,” she directed toward my father? I’m confident that was Dad’s cue that he was about to be called on to fulfill his duty as the parent who administered the punishment. But Dad was nowhere to be found in this situation. His fishing gear was right where he had been seconds earlier, but he was gone. Despite his shortcomings in some areas, my father was an intelligent man.

Offering the excuse that I was just trying to “talk like Dad” earned me no grace. It didn’t help Dad very much either, once he came back. It did not go unnoticed that his reprimand for me was not as firm as it had been for other offenses. Nor was it considered coincidence that one of his periodic attempts at going to church with Mom followed that fishing episode. Like I said, Dad was a smart man.

Something my mother did somewhere along the way worked. Maybe it was the ear pinching. Perhaps it was the unspoken understanding that I would attend services with her Sunday mornings as long as I lived in her house. Regardless of whether I wanted to, or no matter how late I stayed out on Saturday night.

Just maybe it was watching her genuine desire to study God’s word and serve Him that convinced me. But for whatever reason, I’m past my three score and ten and still sitting on the front pew.

And I have no doubt it’s because of her that these days, it’s because I want to.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo by the author—An interior view of the Center Church of Christ. I get that view only when entering the building. My view during services is from way down front, on that very first pew.)

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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 2022. 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.

That’s my old house … at least I think so

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

—Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame professional baseball player who is also remembered for expressions most of which didn’t make sense, but often possessed profound truth.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be confused with north, east, south, and that kind of language when asking for directions.

I want to hear, “Go down that street there past the Texaco station and turn left just before you get to the used car lot. If you pass it, you’ve gone too far. Then go out there to that fork in the road where Mr. What’s-His-Name used to have that stand where he sold stuff out of his garden.”

Never mind that both old Mr. What’s-His-Name and his place have been gone for 30 years. You’re supposed to know that.

Giving qualified directions in East Texas requires living in the vicinity for a while. How long is a while? Doesn’t really matter. You’re still a newcomer if you were not born in the area. Last week, I was reminded of that when someone asked where I lived when I first moved to Center 43 years ago.

“Well, you can get there by going one of two ways,” I started. “First, by driving out Logansport Street. Now that’s not the highway to Logansport,” I cautioned. “The highway to Logansport is Cora Street. Logansport Street will get you there unless you miss the turn at Cotton Ford Road. Otherwise, you’ll just wind up out into the country.

Pointing over past the courthouse, I said, “Turn right off the square at the old post office. You know, it’s a lawyer’s office now. Then you go out a ways to that little brick store building on the left past the fire station. You turn left at the store, well, it’s not a store anymore, but turn left there and that’s what is now Walker Street—but it used to be Kennedy Street. You go a couple city blocks and I lived in that beigey-pink brick house on the right with the columns on the front porch and the big garage beside it.”

“It was 412 Kennedy Street when I lived there,” I added. “But there weren’t any numbers on the house. That was before 911, I guess. And I got my mail at the post office any way—the one on the square that’s not a post office anymore.”

“You know where I’m talking about, don’t you?”

A blank stare led me to fear my friend not only did not understand but was completely lost.

“Okay, back at the square, same old post office that’s a lawyer’s office now,” I started. “This time go out Tenaha Street and turn right on Kennedy Street just past the Dairy Queen. Once on Kennedy, you’ll pass the high school. Well, it was the high school when I lived there, but it’s the junior high now. That dead ends into another street. Actually, it’s still Kennedy Street but Kennedy turns left and makes a quick right because you really don’t have any choice.”

My friend’s bewildered look was back.

“You’ll come to where you have to turn one way or the other. Kennedy Street used to continue right onto what is actually Walker Street before they changed it … a long time ago. So, when you turn right on Walker now that used to be Kennedy, you’ll see the beigy-pink brick with the columns on the porch and the big garage on the left side of the street.

“You know where that is, don’t you?”

“Well,” my friend started, “If you turn … but … no,” he sighed.

How was I ever going to explain what was once the Aldridge residence on what used to be Kennedy Street? After all, we bought the place and lived there for 12 years.

That was when I remembered a conversation with Jerry Samford way back when I first moved to Center. Jerry had a great story about living in a small house in town that never really got to be “his place,” although he bought and paid for it.

“People were referring to the place by its previous owner even after I moved out,” Jerry laughed. “It was the old so-and-so place when I moved in, and it was still the old so-and-so place when I moved out.”

“Say,” I asked my friend. “You know where the old Herbert Sanders place is?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “I know right where that is.”

“Well, that’s my old house … at least I think so.”

—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 2022. 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 doin’ time

“The best memories of old friends and old cars are never fully captured in photos. That’s why we hold them in our heart.” — Author unknown except the part about old cars. I added that.

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An old race car still slugging away at the Texas Motorplex race track over at Ennis caught my eye one afternoon 30-some-odd years ago. As the aged hot rod left the starting line in a hail of a high winding motor and smoking tires, I smiled at the sight of an old George Jones country song title on the side of the car … “Still doin’ time.”

The double entendre struck me as funny. An old car “sentenced” to hard time on a drag strip where competition for the quickest elapsed time is what drag racing is all about.

My father took me to my first race when I was about 10. I was addicted to the automotive sport where adrenaline junkie drivers launch grossly over-powered automobiles from a standing start down a quarter-mile track attempting to reach the finish line in insanely fast times, and I never recovered. With any luck, at this age I never will.

That addiction and the thought of still doin’ time sort of came full circle with an email a while back.

“Hello, good morning, don’t mean to disturb,” the email message read. “But the wife surprised me with a very large collage on my garage wall, the focal point being this ad. Which made me wonder if you were still alive and if you remember. This ad changed my life. Dave.”

The name Dave didn’t fire on all eight cylinders right at first. But the ad Dave sent required no reminder. The small classified with a photo of a race car appeared 35 years ago in National Dragster, the official publication of the National Hot Rod Association. Better known as the NHRA, it is the largest and oldest sanctioning body for drag racing in the U.S.

I knew what the ad said by heart. “1969 Camaro convertible SS/KA, race car since new, RHS 350 glide w/brake, 5.67 Mark Williams rear, former AHRA national record holder, ran low 11s before fresh engine & trans, not on track since, asking $7,900 or offer. CONTACT Leon Aldridge, (409) 598-3377 or (409) 598-8231.”

For those with no clue of what happens under the hood when you press the accelerator pedal, the Cliff Notes version of the ad might something similar to: “Wicked fast and fun former record holding race car for sale.”

I also remembered the car by heart. I gripped the steering wheel many times, oblivious to the deafening sound of 600-and-some odd unharnessed and unmuffled horsepower butting heads with the the 6,000 r.p.m. brake limit while anticipating the green “go” light unleashing every ounce of horsepower to the rear tires in one blast.

Also still in my mind were the rear tires wrinkling in angry protest against the massive torque abruptly dumped on them while they tried to grip the pavement. And the helpless front wheels with no choice that were left hanging in mid air until the rest of the car could resolve the power struggle to propel me and the 3,000-pound car down the track in just over 11 seconds at more than 125 miles per hour.

“Absolutely I remember that car and that ad,” I responded. “Wow! What a pleasant surprise.”

“Yes,” Dave wrote back. “I am the then 34-year-old kid who drove away with your car in May of 1987.”

Dave answered the ad all those years ago and decided to come take a look at the car … to Center, Texas from Canada. Yep, he drove down in a late-70s or early-80s Mopar of some description, perhaps a Plymouth Satellite. I don’t remember now.

The last view I had of my race car headed for its new home with Dave in Canada 35 years ago.

He arrived in East Texas a few days after calling and decided to buy the car after a thorough inspection. The only problem was he didn’t have a trailer. So, I helped him in that area as well. I sold him one I had. But that came with problems. The trailer’s wood floor had worn-out spots making it critical that we strategically park the car to avoid breaking through one of them.

The car loaded to our mutual satisfaction, I watched Dave and his trusty Plymouth hauling my old friend of a race car with which I had made many memories disappear around the corner on Walker Street. I waved and offered a silent prayer the trailer would make it all the way back to Canada.

Dave’s recent message included photos of that journey back to his home, noting one picture was crossing the border just north of Bismarck, North Dakota at sunrise on the last day of his 4,200-mile trip. He shared stories and photos of changes made to the car over the years and racing it at tracks from California to Indy and in between.

I shared more memories that had come to mind in the years since, and probably repeated some old ones. Who remembers after 35 years?

Things like the car having been a race car since it was brand new and raced by a Chevy dealer in New Mexico. That it was green from the factory, red when I bought it and raced in red for many years by Dave before he painted it yellow.

Still doin’ time in Dave’s most recent yellow paint configuration.

Old cars have stories; telling them is what old car guys do. Our stories made me smile again at the thought of another old race car “still doin’ time,” one I had owned and thrilled at the adrenaline rush of driving.

I need to contact Dave again and check on him and the car. His last message concluded with, “The old girl waits quietly in the corner of the garage for the new motor we developed over the long winter. I think I will load the motor in this weekend just to push back on the blues of this new world order that has enveloped us.”

“The sun’s out, think I’ll crack a beer and rub the fenders of our old friend.”

—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 2022. 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.

Catching two dreams in one equinox weekend

“Don’t just chase your dreams, catch them.” — Annette White, travel writer, author, serial adventurer, and creator of the travel blog, “Bucket List Journey.”

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Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s hilarious movie by the same name aside, I’m not fond of the term ‘bucket list.’ My list is more about chasing dreams and making memories. I call it my someday list.

I’ve been blessed. I am thankful to have seen, done, and accomplished many things I never dreamed of experiencing. And what is life without dreams? To be sure, dreams remain on my list waiting to be checked off … someday.

That is probably why I was super excited about a someday list “double play” last Friday.

Hard to imagine, but I had never laid eyes on Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium before last Friday night. The historical contributions to music by the Art Deco venue near downtown Shreveport has earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and designation as a National Historic Landmark. Dreaming of seeing it lingered on my list for years. Mostly because it was the home of Frank Page’s KWKH Louisiana Hayride radio show that helped launch the careers of many aspiring singers. In addition to Elvis Presley, other regular performers who jump-started their notoriety there include Hank Williams, Slim Whitman, Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, and Johnny Horton.

Not that many years after Elvis sang “That’s All Right Mama” on the “stage of stars” in the mid-50s, I was in junior high school and enjoying a variety of music including what has become known as contemporary folk music. The genre was peaking by 1960 with songs and artists like “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett, “Tom Dooley” by The Kingston Trio, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” by Bob Dylan.

Much of Bob Dylan’s most celebrated songs in the 1960s followed the beginnings of social unrest and storytelling that became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. But it was his base in American folk music that spoke to me at the time. Songs like “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “It Ain’t Me Babe” still live in my record collection and in my memories.

That love for music at an early age planted dreams of experiencing in-person, people places and things that have shaped American music: dreams that became my someday list.

I’ve checked a few off the list over the years. Once, sitting at B.B. King’s feet when I could have literally reached up and touched his shoes. Two hours of the legendary blues master playing his guitar he called “Lucille” and singing songs like, “The Thrill is Gone.”

Or the time I stood at the edge of another stage, this time with a camera in hand and press credentials around my neck to watch Ricky Nelson perform songs like “Hello Mary Lou.” Memories of watching Chuck Berry do his signature “duck walk” across the stage while playing and singing “Johnny B. Goode.” The afternoon spent sitting and talking one-on-one to 50s and 60s crooner Fabian and Paul Revere of “Paul Revere and the Raiders” about their influence on American music.

All heady stuff for a lifetime music lover.

Last weekend, watching one of the biggest influences on American music take the same stage on which Elvis Presley and many others started was no less exhilarating.

At 80, Bob Dylan’s movement about the stage appeared frail as he was aided by those around him. But his performance, voice, and timeless music were as inspiring as they were 60 years ago.

Six decades of music and more than 125 million records (making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time) has earned Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ten Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” And in 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Seeing Bob Dylan in person and feeling the magic of Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium are two dreams I’ve chased for too many years. The stars aligned with an approaching equinox sun and moon when I caught them both in one night.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page: Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium where Elvis Presley and many others launched a career in music in the 1950s, and where Bob Dylan added to a six-decade long career in music March 18, 2022. Photo by the author.)

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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 2022. 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.