Just looking for memories half as good as the Rose Motel

“Plan vacations by memories, not by clocks.”

– Author unknown, but good advice.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Planning a summer vacation can be easy or challenging in the weekly newspaper business, depending on how you look at it. But a couple days off when warmer weather returns has been on my mind this week.

The only break that many weekly publishers enjoy is a long weekend trip. It’s the time after one week’s edition is mailed, and before it’s Monday morning again and time to start the next edition.

I’ve known small town newspaper publishers 50 years in the business who take off one, maybe two, long weekends a year and call it a vacation. Where to go is the easy part, however. It’s usually the annual Texas Press Association summer convention for sure. And if time allows, maybe the regional press association conference. Working vacations at their best.

Mentor and longtime friend Morris Craig who has either worked for or owned The Monitor up at Naples since 1956, does it a little bit differently. He publishes 51 weekly editions and closes the office, skipping an edition the week after the Christmas paper. But ask him where he goes on “vacation” during that week. “Nowhere,” Craig told me once. “I stay home and rest.”

Family vacations were not frequent when I was a kid, but that had nothing to do with the newspaper business. As a manager for the Perry Brother’s 5-and-10-cent stores 60 or more years ago, my father got one week’s vacation a year. We seldom went anywhere, unless an occasional road trip to Kentucky for a family reunion on my mom’s side of the family counts.

I suppose a trip from Texas to Kentucky might be considered a vacation. Still, I remember only one certified Chevy Chase-style family vacation the Aldridges ever took that wasn’t a family reunion.

On July 13, 1960, U. S. Senator John F. Kennedy won his party’s nomination for President at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Kennedy defeated Lyndon Johnson but selected him as his vice-presidential running mate the next day. And as they say, the rest is history.

Also, on July 13, 1960, but not likely recorded anywhere other than in my childhood memory, dad pulled the family’s tan and white 1958 Ford station wagon into the parking lot at the Rose Motel in Clarksville, Arkansas as the sun was going down.

That trip and the Rose Motel remains in my mind for several reasons. At age 12, it was the first time I stayed in a motel. Road trips were usually charted to spend the night at a relative’s house; a way of travel my Uncle Freddie used to call “the biscuit trail.”

Another was the sign in the office window proclaiming “Ice Cold Air Conditioning.” The family’s first air conditioner was purchased the previous year. Perhaps only because there was a White’s Auto discount coupon in the “Welcome Wagon” basket delivered by the chamber of commerce lady. That tiny one-room window unit barely kept the living room cool leaving the rest of the house still at the mercy of a couple of leaky swamp coolers and an attic fan.

The sign also looked enticing because the station wagon in which we had made the all-day mid-July road trip was not air-conditioned. It would be my senior of high school before dad purchased his first car equipped with that creature comfort, a used ’62 Chevy.

Watching television that night was not a new experience. We added a black-and-white TV to our household a couple of years earlier. But where the image at home was snowy and required frequent antenna adjustments, the picture in air-conditioned comfort was remarkably clear. None of that usual routine with dad trying to watch the Friday night fights while mom was outside turning the antenna pole the get the best reception. In 1960, color TVs were still a year or two away before Walt Disney’s Wide World of Color marked began their popularization in homes.

“Must have someone on the roof making antenna adjustments,” dad joked with a smile that night as we relished in the small but cool room. “Really,” mom responded with a glare.

Time has taken the memory of what we did vacationing that summer in Arkansas. Whatever it was, it must not have been as exciting to a 12-year-old as spending his first night in a motel. One with air-conditioning and a TV without a snowy screen.

The goal for this summer’s trip will be similar. A long weekend to someplace where I can make memories that last half as long as those I have of the Rose Motel.

—Leon Aldridge

(Rose Motel sign, Clarksville, Arkansas: John Margolies Roadside America photograph archive photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-MA05-1])

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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.

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