By the way Mom, Happy Mother’s Day

“God could not be everywhere, and therefore He made mothers.” —Rudyard Kipling

The first Saturday in May, I can usually be found right where I was last Saturday afternoon: watching the Kentucky Derby.

Am I a horse racing fan? Not particularly, but I am a huge fan of my mother’s home state, the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Her family lineage endears me to the running of the first leg of horse racing’s legendary Triple Crown, and reminds me that Mother’s Day is near.

While I’ve watched the race on television many times, experiencing the “Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” in person remains on my bucket list. Maybe someday …

My mother, Indianola Johnson, was born in Winchester, Kentucky in 1923. She spent her childhood there and graduated from Winchester’s Clark County High School in 1941. She was the oldest of six siblings and was the first to marry. While making plans to wed a soldier in Texas named Aldridge and a make a move there to live, she received very good advice from a loving father. In a letter that she kept all her life in a cedar chest, Arthur Johnson advised his oldest daughter to “be true to God, to herself and to her family.” He emphasized the importance of the family part by urging all of his children to remain close to each other as they began their own families.

Aldridge - About Summer 1969
Mom and her family in the summer of 1969. Indianola (Inky) and Leon Aldridge, my sisters, (left to right) Leslie and Sylvia, and yours truly, Leon, Jr.

And, remain close they did. Annual family reunions spread between Texas and Kentucky, and Christmas gatherings for decades rotating between their homes, clearly defined the meaning and the importance of family for me.

As those years went by, Mom would listen to the “Run for the Roses” on the radio, or watch it on television when she could, fondly sharing stories about her heritage growing up in the horse racing region of Kentucky.

My adult years found me watching the derby while calling Mom, regardless of where my wanderings took me. It gave her an excuse to talk about Kentucky and gave me a chance to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Mom died in 2010, but Kentucky Derby weekend still reminds me of her, and it still reminds me that Mother’s Day is coming up.

Not only was the Johnson family’s Kentucky heritage deeply instilled in me, but it also influenced my taste buds. I can’t think of Kentucky without a craving for snappy cheese dip from Hall’s on the Kentucky River at Fort Boonesborough, Hot Brown sandwiches made famous by the Brown Hotel in Louisville, and “Ale 8” soft drinks bottled only in Winchester. Though not a Kentucky original, White Castle hamburgers enjoyed while in Kentucky also rank high on that list.

A favorite photo of mom, the one at the top of this page, records her and her sister, Amy, standing near a roadside Ale 8 sign. Mom is on the right holding a kitten. I would guess them to be teenagers, which dates the snapshot in the mid to late 1930s. As with most old photos, it would be interesting to know the circumstances that placed them flanking that sign and posing for a picture. The additional sign behind Amy would indicate it might have been at a country store, perhaps the one at Becknerville they frequented, but that’s pure speculation on my part. However, the photo speaks volumes about them as it is. Both kept Ale-8 and a cat or two around all their lives.

Mom and Dad married in 1944 in Pittsburg, Texas, and lived their entire married life in Texas, but she never forgot her roots in the Bluegrass State.

I miss you, Mom. Thought about calling you Saturday. Justify got out of the gate clean and ran side-by-side with Promises Fulfilled, a 49-1 long shot, through the first half of the race. He took the lead and extended it down the backstretch to stake the win by two and a half lengths at the pole with jockey Mike Smith aboard.

And, by the way Mom, Happy Mother’s Day.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion (http://www.lightandchampion.com) and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers (http://www.tribnow.com).

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