Offering advice to younger generations on Thanksgiving

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eye of a child, there seven million.” — saying commonly attributed to Walt Streightiff, author and newspaper editor.

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When thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, my top-of-mind moments tend to focus on family, food, and fall weather. That and kids.

Thanksgiving was a favorite holiday for me as a child and grew to become even more so when I watched my own children enjoying the warmth of family gatherings with lots of good food. And now that I am in the older generation, being qualified to offer helpful advice to the younger ones makes the holidays even more enjoyable.

It started at that turkey day dinner gathering a few years ago when a young new father in our large family approached me seeking pointers on child-rearing from the family “old timers.”

“You’ve raised children, and you have grandchildren,” the proud parent asked, seeking wisdom as we sat down to eat. “So, at your age, what do you consider the most important part of child rearing.”

My knee-jerk desire was to tell him at all costs to avoid those words. It’s bad enough, “at this age,” that “at your age” always precedes medical conversations without it invading friendly family talks.

Instead, I replied, “Thanks for the vote of confidence in my child rearing skills, but my mom always said that a parent is never through raising their children. Could be, however,” I added with a shrug, “she was just talking about me.”

Searching for something more informative, I reflected on my parenting skills as compared to those of my parents in the 50s and 60s. Then I shared how watching my own children as parents gave me four generational differences when adding the advice my grandmother left with me.

“Training,” I blurted out to conclude. “Raising a child requires infinite skills, but your training makes the difference.” Then, feeling I had fulfilled what was expected of me, I reached for another helping of turkey and dressing.

“What sort of training do you consider most important,” was the younger generation’s comeback question.

Pausing before taking that next bite, I said, “Maintaining that elusive balance of nurturing valuable life skills without being counterproductive. For instance, we devote the first two years of their life teaching children to walk and talk, followed by the next four, five, or sixteen, teaching them to sit still and be quiet.

“There is no way to describe the feeling,” I continued, “of spending hours coaxing your offspring into uttering infantile noises that only a parent would recognize like ‘momma’ or ‘da-da.’ Then reeling in shock, a couple of years later when one of them blurts, ‘goody-goody, let’s go’ immediately after the ‘amen’ on the closing prayer at church.”

“But,” I added, changing my tone of voice, “Beware of the day when they ask the hardest question of all. “Hopefully,” I added, “You will be better prepared for some of the trickier questions like ‘where does the fire go when it burns the log away?’ Even then, you will never be ready for the dreaded word that should never be taught to children under the age of 37— the infamous ‘Why?’”

“Once the little one feels the power of what can be accomplished with a simple ‘why,’ life is never the same for the parents,” I warned. “It’s a 15-minute delay for going to bed, taking a bath, or eating peas, I added. “And the weary parent is slow to learn that answering one simple question only leads to a barrage of follow-ups.”

“Consider, if you will,” I said, leaning across the table for emphasis, “Trying to tell a four-year old that why he needs let go of the cat’s tail is so that it doesn’t shred the curtains. And, so there is something left to cover the windows to keep the neighbors from watching frustrated parents trying to explain their way out of endless ‘why’ questions posed by preschoolers.”

“And, what usually follows,” I said, turning my attention from the turkey the last time, “is the little tyke will ask ‘what happened to Kitty?’ And you will simply smile and say with a sinister smile, ‘It ran away.’”

“That’s good to know …,” my young listener said slowly.

“In fact,” I concluded, “It will make you wonder what answer your wife will have when your child asks, ‘Mommy, why did daddy run out into the back yard screaming, ‘I don’t know why.’”

As of last Thanksgiving, the young couple still has just one child.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy the holiday gatherings with young people as much as I do.

—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.

It’s more than over-priced gas at service-less stations

“The economy has turned my old car into an expensive, high-performance vehicle. It now goes from 0 to $60 in less than 60 seconds.”

Internet humor

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Keeping cars fueled has changed the way many of us live. Just last week, I had to apply for an increase in my credit limit at the bank, and that was just to buy enough gas to get to the service station. Or, more accurately stated, the inconvenience stores that sell gasoline without service. I heard last week that someone called the police claiming they were robbed at the corner gas station. When the dispatcher asked if they knew the thief’s identity, the caller responded, “Yes, it was pump number 6.”

Along with affordable fuel, I miss the days of real service stations. Places where drivers bought a tank of gas for less than five dollars without getting out of the car, and received an under-the-hood checkup, tire pressure check, a windshield cleaning, and an interior sweeping at no extra charge. That’s a far cry from last week when I paid $3.29 for “regular” gas in Center that I pumped myself, and after selecting ‘yes’ for a receipt at the pump, the message read “clerk has the receipt.”

That’s tantamount to being robbed, then being invited inside to thank them for robbing you.

It’s also a far cry from memories of buying a dollar’s worth of gas at the local station, knowing that would get me to school, to work after school, and home again for several days.

Those after school jobs for me were often at service stations where the life of a high school kid working a part-time job was not only educational but came with perks.

Recounting a few of those experiences to a friend last week reminded me of just how far we’ve come in automobile technology and how much we’ve lost in customer service since then.

Perks included washing your car on slow nights or changing your oil using the station’s service rack and tools just for the cost of the oil and filter. That sure beat doing it across the front yard ditch at home, lying on my back using the few worn-out tools dad owned. While I don’t remember how much a quart of oil cost in the 1960s, I do recall the advertised price for an oil and filter change at Rex Kidwells’ Fina station on South Jefferson was $5.

It wasn’t a bad job either when the cute blonde in algebra class you were too shy to ask out on a date happened to drive in to fill up her car. Just enough time to get better acquainted and find the nerve to ask if she might be interested in going to the midnight show after Friday night’s football game. It was, after all, a sci-fi flick, “Terror From Outer Space.”

The job even had its humorous moments. Like the night the ’57 Chevrolet squealed in the driveway with strains of Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” recognizable through rolled-down windows. The driver barked, “Two bucks of regular, check the tires, and make it snappy, kid. I’m in a hurry.” He then returned to swaying with the music of “Maybelline, coming over the hill in her Coupe Deville.”

Gas pumped and tires checked, I leaned across the fender for the obligatory free windshield cleaning when the radio’s volume suddenly dropped drastically. The startled driver turned the knob up and began pounding on the dash. Finished cleaning one side, I stepped back to walk to the other side, and the volume blasted back.

I was halfway around the car when it dawned on me. With the driver’s side clean and sparkling; I smiled and walked back to the other side for a “touch up.” Sure enough, when I leaned across the fender, reaching for the windshield, my arm touched the radio antenna. And just like before, the volume vanished. The driver sprang into action again, attempting to “fix” the radio’s volume. I let him go through his antics one more time before moving my arm enough for the sound to boom back.

Apparently, the antenna had a short or a loose connection, and my touching it was enough to ground the signal. Realizing I was in control, I bumped it a couple more times just to have some fun with “Mr. Make it Snappy” before collecting his two dollars.

America has lost more than just money out of working people’s pockets for over-priced and over-taxed gasoline at service-less stations. It has lost one of the best places for a high school kid to work: the full-service station where gas was 29¢ a gallon, wash jobs were $1.25, and every day was fun.

—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.

Some of those roads lead to good fortune

“The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.”

—Song Lyrics by Robert Earl Keen

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Tickets. Pesky pieces of paper that typically bear bad news about fines and things like that.

Center removed their parking meters sometime in the 1980s, hence no parking tickets. However, with the crazy parking and driving practices on the downtown square, plus the number of semi-rigs coming through openly defying the “no trucks,” signs, some tickets would be in order.

But we’ll ticket the “crazy drivers” on another day.

While I don’t remember when parking meters came down in Center, I do remember them still collecting coins when I came here more than 40 years ago. That same memory wants to convince me that the last meter reader for the city was Tincy Griffith. But don’t hold me to that; it’s not been confirmed by researching Mattie’s columns where I’m confident that topic is talked about somewhere in her legacy of history.

I also remember the day that city manager at the time Ron Cox asked if I would like to have a decommissioned meter to compliment my eclectic collection of motoring memorabilia. Of course I did, and yes, I do … still have it.

Last week’s piece about scoring parking tickets during a recent return to his alma mater Stephen F. Austin State University campus by fellow Light and Champion columnist Chris Watlington reminded me of a similar experience.

A return visit of my own to the campus in the pines in the 1980s was a similar account. One of where searching for a legal parking spot gone wrong posed the likelihood of, well, getting caught—and getting a ticket.

As Editorial Excellence contest chair for the North and East Texas Press Association back then, I solicited assistance from the communication department at SFA, where I met instructor Ben Hobbs, and he graciously volunteered the faculty’s aide for critiquing the entries.

With boxes of publications from the Iowa Park Leader to the Center Light and Champion and from the Bowie County Citizen in New Boston to The Hood County News in Granbury, I was soon seeking a parking spot on campus near the communication department.

Lacking a proper permit for the myriad of parking spaces, I parked in a short driveway beside the Boynton Building long enough to find Mr. Hobbs.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It just serves as a side entrance to the Boynton Building, it’s not a street.” Sure enough, I was pleasantly surprised that all was well when we returned to the car with a dolly for transporting the boxes back upstairs.

Before I left, I had a short discussion on judging criteria. Then with a wave of thanks, I boarded the elevator back down. Arriving at my car the second time, I was again surprised. My car was adorned with a “greeting” from the campus police department for parking in a no parking zone.

A quick letter penned from my office the next day apologizing for my parking manners was combined with an explanation of my mission. It even mentioned that Mr. Hobbs in the communication department said parking there was necessary to complete our mission. I closed offering in good faith to pay the fine if my excuse was not acceptable.

A reply was quick in coming. The fine was graciously waived, and an invitation was extended to visit the campus any time. That invitation included a hand-written note from the SFA Chief of Police urging me to stop by the campus PD office to see him. Turns out that the chief was Tony Hill, a 1967 graduate of my high school alma mater in Mount Pleasant. “I remember him,” I smiled. Coincidentally, Tony also dated my younger sister in high school.

I’m guessing the road to parking problems will go on forever. And while it’s hardly a party, the tickets will never end.

I’m also guessing that Chris didn’t happen to have the good fortune of traveling the road of discovering that the campus police chief was an old friend from high school.

—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.

Veteran’s Day and the Braves, my unique opportunity

“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.”

— Yogi Berra

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Next Thursday is Veterans Day. And the Braves won the World Series for the first time since 1995, clinching the Championship title Tuesday night in Houston. For some, connecting those two would be a stretch. But I can do it easily in this allotted column space.

I’m a Texan by birth, but I cheer for the Braves when it comes to baseball. That allegiance goes back to 1944, four years before I was born. It began with a wartime Braves pitcher named Warren Spahn who spent 21 years in the National League. He retired in 1965 with 363 wins—more than any other left-handed pitcher in major league baseball history, a record that still stands today. He also won 20 games an unheard of 13 times, was a Cy Young Award winner once and runner-up three times, and he ranks sixth in history for MLB wins. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.

Spahn started in 1942 with the Boston Braves remaining all but his last year with the franchise that moved to Milwaukee in 1953, then to Atlanta the year after he retired.

In 1944, Spahn pitched for a different team, the U.S. Army 276th Engineer Combat Battalion at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. Baseball was recreation for the young inductees training for duty overseas, and the 276th defeated the 232nd Infantry for the camp championship that year.

That same year, a young batter from East Texas stepped to the plate during a practice session and waited for Spahn’s pitch. In his trademark windup, the lefty from Oklahoma threw his right leg skyward and sent the ball scorching across the plate.

Warren Spahn 1944

Later, that batter would say, “Heard it hit the catcher’s mitt, but never saw the ball.” That batter was my father, Leon Aldridge, Sr., from Pittsburg. He never played professional baseball but loved to tell the story of feeling first-hand, the heat of a Warren Spahn pitch.

“Few of us got any hits off him,” said dad. “But neither did the batters on the other teams. Hard to hit something you can’t see.”

Spahn volunteered for service at the end of the 1942 baseball season. Dad was drafted while a student at Texas A&M University. Before WW II ended, they saw combat duty together in the Battle of the Bulge and at the Battle of Remagen (Ludendorff Bridge), becoming friends along the way.

As a kid, I enjoyed schoolyard baseball and Little League summers in the late 1950s. But my father was not a big sports fan unless the Braves were on television and Spahn was pitching. Those games, he never missed.

However, it was pretty cool to me that my father got a Christmas card every year from a major league pitching star I watched on television and whose baseball cards I had in my collection.

In Spahn’s final season playing for the Mets, Yogi Berra came out of retirement to catch a few games, one in which Spahn was pitching. Spahn was 42 and still playing. Berra was 40 and had retired the previous year. Berra was quoted as saying, “I don’t think we’re the oldest battery, but we’re certainly the ugliest.”

If you asked dad about his Army service, you heard little about combat, but you would likely have heard about the time he might have gotten a hit off Warren Spahn … if he could have just seen the ball coming.

Spahn died in 2004, three years before dad in 2007.

When I saw Veteran’s Day coming close to the Braves in the Series, I knew it was a unique opportunity. I could extend my Veteran’s Day salute to the country I love and work in how baseball is pretty good, too, when the Braves are playing.

God bless America and God bless veterans. Men and women like my father, Warren Spahn, and countless others who have proudly served to keep peace and freedom … because freedom isn’t free.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of page: “276 Engineer Combat Battalion” yearbook published 1946 by Clayton Rust. My father, Leon D. Aldridge, front row, far right.)

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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.

So what does it mean if it thunders on Easter

“If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”

― Groucho Marx

Last Saturday’s brief episode of rainfall and sunshine at the same time prompted a friend whose company I was enjoying to say, “The devil is chasing his wife.”

“That’s what my grandmother used to say,” I countered with a laugh. “And sometimes that it means it’s going to rain at the same time tomorrow.”

My father’s mother had plenty of sage sayings about the weather and most every other aspect of daily life. “If it thunders in February, it’s going to thunder on the same date in May,” was one. “Thunder on Tuesday in early summer foretells a good harvest,” was another. Then there was that one about Thunder on Easter Sunday, but I’ve forgotten what she said about that one.

I thought most of Granny’s offerings were witty, but they were serious business to her.

Hattie Lois Farmer was born in 1905 and reared near the West Texas community of Aledo. She met and married Sylvester Aldridge in 1920 when she was 15. He was 31. Such age differences in marriages were common then but evidently worked. Theirs lasted until his death in 1967.

Some hold the belief that superstition is contrary to faith in God, but I cannot make a case for that with my grandmother’s sayings. Granny missed very few services at the First Methodist Church in Pittsburg, Texas, in 60-something years of membership. She professed and practiced as much faith in God as anyone I’ve known.

Perhaps there’s a fine line between superstition and folklore. Perhaps it’s also the attitude one holds in the heart. I teased my grandmother a lot about hers.

“Don’t walk under that ladder. You’ll have bad luck,” she would say. “Only if someone on the ladder drops something on my head,” I would reply with a smile.

“It’s bad luck to wash clothes on Monday,” was another standard saying. “Any day I have to deal with laundry is bad luck for me,” I would let her know.

“A black cat crossing your path is bad luck,” was perhaps her most adamant admonition. As a result, I’ve seen her take a detour to avoid those chance occurrences.

“So, if you cross the cat’s path instead of it crossing yours,” I asked on one occasion, “Would that not undo the bad luck?” She didn’t have an answer, just a smile and a reminder that she wasn’t going to test my theory to find out.

My dad was also one to dispense a little superstition now and then. I guess he came by it honestly. “Palm of my right hand itches,” he would declare. “Money is coming my way.”

Another favorite wish for wealth to him was “stamping” the sighting of a white horse. That tricky little maneuver required licking a finger, tapping that finger to a palm, then “stamping” the palm with a fist as if to seal the deal.

“Does it work?” I asked him once. “Have you ever received unexpected money after trying those tricks?”

“Not that I remember,” he replied thoughtfully, “But it doesn’t hurt to wish.”

Quicker than a wish, the brief weather phenomenon last weekend ended. But fun comparisons of old sayings remembered with my friend continued.

“Drop a fork—a woman is coming to visit,” was one we both recalled hearing in our youth. “Drop a knife, a man’s coming to visit. Drop a spoon,” I shared having heard Granny say, “Meant a child was coming to visit.”

“So, what does it mean if I drop all the silverware at once?” I tried her with one time, apparently catching her off guard. She paused briefly and said, “I don’t know.”

“It means really bad luck,” I teased her, “Because it means I have to wash all the forks, spoons, and knives again.”

If Granny had been with us Saturday, I’m sure she would have offered whimsical expectations for crossing paths with the weather, felines, kitchenware, or most anything else.

I know she could have reminded me about what it means when it thunders on Easter Sunday.

—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.

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.