“Sometimes this old farm feels like a long-lost friend,— ‘Back Home Again’ song lyrics by John Denver (1943-1997)
Yes, and hey, it’s good to be back home again.”
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Thoughts of skipping town for a long weekend are looming in the back of my mind again. Working at a small newspaper, weekend road trips are therapeutic when finding time for a whole week’s vacation is like looking for toilet paper in a pandemic.
My first thought was the road north to Mount Pleasant. Something about where we called home when we were growing up never leaves us. Doesn’t matter how long we’ve been away or where we’re calling home now.
Except for those five years in the Hill Country burg of Boerne, I’ve lived and/or worked in Center since 1978. That’s 39 years compared to 14 in Mount Pleasant where I entered fifth grade, graduated from high school, and lived during college years. Center has long been my adopted home, but Mount Pleasant will always be “home.”
Plus, there’s this ongoing thing between my childhood hometown and my adopted hometown. They keep connecting with each other.
The first time I set foot in Center, Texas, about 1975, I had never even seen the city limits sign. And that trip was without any intention of staying. I just came to town for lunch.
While editor at The Sabine News in Many, La., Tenaha was a weekly visit because both newspapers were owned by Lloyd Grissom. With the mention of lunch one day, someone said, “Call the Sonic down at Center.” So, I did and was subsequently sent to go get it.
“My boss wants to know if you are Leon Aldridge from Mount Pleasant,” the car hop said. Thinking I knew no one in Center, I jokingly responded, “Yes … unless I owe your boss money.”
When Mount Pleasant native Leroy Newman came out to say ‘hello,’ I learned I had a friend in Center and didn’t know it.
As destiny dealt her cards, just three years later I was living in Center. During a weekend trip “back home” to mom and dad’s house in Mount Pleasant, my sister, Sylvia, and I were catching up. “I met two sweet little ladies in Snyder that used to live in Canter,” she said.
“What’s their names,” I asked? She recalled that they lived in Center in the early 30s and taught dance. As the story goes, their father was a vaudeville dancer in the 20s. When the depression era put him out of work, the family settled in Shelby County where a dance studio put food on the family table.
“They’re the cutest things,” Sylvia added. But she couldn’t come up with a name.
“I’ll ask Mattie at the office Monday,” I said. “She’ll know who they are. Probably knew them when they lived in Center.”
Saturday morning that same weekend, in downtown Mount Pleasant I spotted a crowd of runners in the parking lot of a local bank stretching and warming up for a 5K. I scanned faces, looking for old friends. Two were familiar, but they belonged in Center.
Getting ready to run was my Sonic buddy, Leroy from Center. With him was Cecil Jones, minister at a Center church.
But the Center and Mount Pleasant connection that weekend didn’t end there.
Sunday morning at Southside Church of Christ, a familiar voice asked, “Do you ever see my brother down there in Center?” It was Vernon Bailey, a guiding influence throughout my youth. He extended a hand to shake. I grabbed it and asked, “Who is your brother?”
“Leo Bailey,” he said. “Sure,” I acknowledged. “He brings in senior citizen news to the paper. I guess we just haven’t discovered that Mount Pleasant connection yet.”
The tale of two cities doesn’t stop there, either.
A few years later, Steve Waters entered Center’s banking business scene. Steve attended school in Mount Pleasant where his father was a minister at the Methodist Church. We shared Mount Pleasant memories before I happened on a social media mention of the wedding anniversary of long-time friends, Jim and Debbie McGuire. The photo of that ceremony I attended at the Methodist church in the mid-1970s certified another Center to Mount Pleasant connection when Steve’s father was spotted in the picture as the minister who married my friends.
Maybe I’ll go “back home” again if I can get away. Although time or life has taken my parents and many of my friends from the Northeast Texas city where I grew up, that home town thing still kicks in regularly.
I see friends. I cruise the streets noticing the changes. I scare up memories by driving through old neighborhoods. I visit the cemeteries. Yes, it’s always good to go back home again.
And who knows. I might find someone there from Center.
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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, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.
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