Thankful for where I am today

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

— William Arthur Ward (1921—1994), American motivational writer.

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It’s Thanksgiving week by tradition. I try to be thankful every day. I do that sometimes by being grateful for my yesterdays. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Enjoying life as an old dude who doesn’t understand what’s happening in today’s world.

Oh yeah, I know that’s what some younger folks say. I know they’re saying it because I said it when I was their age.

Yesterday, when I was their age, it was a great time to be a kid. People didn’t lock their doors or take the keys out of their cars. Didn’t need to because, for the most part, people were more respectful. Even those who weren’t always honest had at least a little respect for good people.

Back then, many small-town moms weren’t even afraid of leaving kids in the car when they parked in front of the corner grocery store to “run in for a couple of things.” My mom knew anyone who snatched her kids would bring them back before they got around the block. That and you could see the car from the front door.

I’m thankful for growing up when a kid could ride a bicycle anywhere. Even all the way from our house on Redbud Lane on the south side of Mount Pleasant to Raney’s Grocery. That is, if I promised mom I would stay off Jefferson Street, the sleepy two-lane main street through town. But, if I also promised to get off and walk my bike across Jefferson, I could ride all the way to downtown on Saturday for a haircut at Chris Durant’s barber shop and a movie matinee next door at the Martin Theater.

Perhaps as much as anything, my list of thankfulness for my yesterdays includes my parents. They didn’t coddle us. We were loved, taken care of, provided for, and protected. But we were also allowed to fall, to know what it felt like, and learn how to get up and go again. We were allowed to make mistakes so we would know the consequences that came with making them. And just maybe, how to prevent them from happening again. We were allowed to experience life so we could cope with it as adults when they weren’t around.

They also set boundaries and explained the consequences of crossing them. But, with that, we never heard, “That’s all right if you promise not to do it again.” I can still hear dad’s belt popping through the loops on his pants as he reminded me that I had been told what would happen if I did what I had just done.

And mom? She was tough too. “You just wait until your father gets home,” was her form of inflicting fear. The anticipation of waiting was excruciating. I begged mom to spank me once because I knew whatever she could dish out would be much less than dad would deliver.

I’m also thankful every day for my mother’s practice of cutting me no slack about going to church with her. Not just as a kid but for as long as I lived in her house. There was no Saturday night curfew, but there was also no question about whether I wanted to attend Sunday services with her. None.

Hard to imagine why back then, she insisted on such punctuality. Learning about a creator whose legacy teaches love and respect for yourself and each other. How to find the good in yourself and in others. Recognizing respect in following Authority. That expounds the value of living a life focused on giving, helping, and nurturing. How to “bloom where you’re planted.” The rewards for living a life seeking those values.

I’m thankful every day for blessings, family, and for friends. Granted, our country is not the same it was when doors remained unlocked, and kids waited in cars. But it’s still the best place to live despite problems rooted in … what was it we were just talking about? Oh yeah, respect. For ourselves, others, and authority.

I’m still thankful every day for the upbringing my parents gave me during my yesterdays, it gotten me to where I am today. Grateful for common days transformed into thanksgiving, thankful for every blessing in life. And for the privilege of becoming an old dude who laughs every time he knows someone half his age is thinking, “He doesn’t understand what’s going on in today’s world.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© 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 full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

Always said if I saw one, I would buy it

“There are places I’ll remember,
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone, and some remain.”

“In My Life,” recorded by The Beatles on their 1965 album, Rubber Soul.

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“Can I take that to the front for you,” she asked, nodding toward the TV lamp tucked under my arm?

She was the antique shop proprietor. I guessed her to be a little younger than me, but that’s just about everyone these days.

“It looks just like the one my mom had,” I said, handing it to her with a smile. “In 1957. I was just nine, but memories remain like it was yesterday. Always said if I saw one, I would buy it.”

“What’s a TV lamp,” some may ask, even some as young as the antique shop lady.

TV lamps flourished as a phenomenon when televisions became common in homes during the early 50s. However, they were not like standard lamps because they lacked a shade, and their primary purpose was not to provide room lighting. Instead, the bulb was located behind the lamp’s body to cast a soft glow of light on the wall behind the television and a silhouette of the lamp toward the viewer.

They were born on the notion of diffusing light near the television, thereby preventing damaged eyesight from watching too much TV—a problem espoused by medical experts in the 1950s. But hey, it was a time when perils parents feared most put going blind from watching too much television second only to shooting an eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun. Or, heaven forbid, catching ringworms from the cat.

Since TV lamps occupied prominent places atop large floor model black-and-white televisions that were like furniture, the lamps quickly became decorative statements. Ceramic frogs, flamingos, seashells, swans, and suchlike. However, for some inexplicable reason, the most common lamp was a panther. Sleek, black, and poised in a stalking stance.

And that was mom’s TV lamp. A squared-off, gold-colored metal mesh base supported the ceramic cat and housed a planter in the bottom. Mom grew ivy under her panther offering the illusion that it might have been prowling the jungle while she watched Perry Mason.

I never forgot mom’s lamp. Nor the night when both her lamp and her heart were broken.

It happened during a move from the public housing apartments in Seymour where we lived out in West Texas until my parents bought a house just a few blocks away on E. Morris Street. I don’t remember what else was stacked in the back of the pickup truck. Maybe a couch, a coffee table, or something else. I just remember the truck hitting a bump, bouncing the panther out onto the pavement, shattering the ceramic figure and my mother’s heart.

That’s about all I remember about that incident. Probably because I was a child watching my mother cry as I helped her pick up the pieces off the dark street, Maybe it was a special gift. Perhaps she had saved money to buy it. Or even used her books of S&H Green Stamps from shopping at Clarence Wilbanks Market and Grocery on the Seymour downtown square. The place where the sign proclaimed “Steaks – Cut Em With a Fork”

Memories defining mom’s attachment to the panther are lost to time. But we all have memories of special moments, places, and things that remain. In my case, I’m not just a memory collector; I collect documentation. I have furniture that belonged to my grandparents. Some of mom’s salt and pepper shaker collection. Dad’s coin collection and his tools. My grandmother’s dishes and nick-nacks. Hey, I even have my grandparents’ 1957 Ford they bought brand new 66 years ago this month at Travis Battles Ford at the intersection of Quitman and Cypress Streets in downtown Pittsburg, Texas.

Every piece evokes a memory. A smile. A laugh. A tear. And every time that TV lamp crossed my mind over the years, I always thought, “If a day comes I ever see one like it, I’m going to buy it.”

That day dawned last Saturday.

“My mother had one like this, too,” the lady at the antique store said as she carefully wrapped it and placed it in a bag. She may have been younger than me, but I was impressed that even her mother had a panther TV lamp. “It brings back lots of memories,” she added.

Tonight, my 1953 vintage sleek black panther planter TV lamp is casting a soft glow on the wall under my flat-screen television mounted above it. I’m drafting memories into words, watching Perry Mason, and remembering how much mom treasured her TV lamp.

I’m also thinking now that I have a TV lamp, I can finally quit worrying about going blind from watching too much television.

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© 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 full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

That’s what I think about on Veterans Day

“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

Elmer Davis, (1890 –1958) American news reporter, author, and Peabody Award recipient.

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What comes to mind when someone says, “Veterans Day?”

I think about many things. Veterans Day parades as a kid. Spectators waving flags while uniformed National Guard members march by. Military vehicles pulling cannons. High school bands playing “The Marine Hymn,” “Anchors Away,” “Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder,” and “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” Veterans waving to the cheering crowd, some walking, some riding in convertibles.

As a grade school kid, I drew pictures of military planes, tanks, and ships in class. Far more fun than listening to the teacher expounding on long division; subjects, verbs, and predicates; and the capital cities of every state.

Math, English, and geography were boring. Pictures of the nation’s tools of military strength in magazines were much more exciting.

The first library book that excited me enough to read it cover to cover was “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” Capt. Ted Lawson’s account of the U.S. retaliation to Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor was spellbinding to this third grader at Seymour Elementary School in 1956. Lawson piloted one of the 16 B-25 bombers led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle launched off the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet to bomb Tokyo. The 1943 book was hailed by the New York Times as “the most stirring story of individual heroism (the war) has produced so far.”

It stirred me enough at eight years old to plead with the principal, Mr. Johnson, to let me buy the book. His answer was a “no,” but he included a smile and an explanation about how the library needed to keep its copy so others could be inspired by it, too.

That same principal’s voice was heard every morning on the loudspeaker; the one on the wall behind the teacher’s desk, above the cursive writing chart and next to the portrait of George Washington: the one with the white “clouds” at the bottom that was said to be an “unfinished portrait.” I wondered why it was unfinished and why the school couldn’t locate a finished portrait of the first president.

“Good morning, students,” Mr. Johnson’s voice boomed. “Everyone stand for the pledge of allegiance to the flag.” Then, almost on cue, with hands over our hearts, we rose and turned toward the window to watch “Old Glory” going up the flagpole outside. After singing the National Anthem to accompany the recorded version on the loudspeaker, the principal recited a prayer. One filled with thanks for a strong and mighty nation and brave military forces that ensured we would always be free.

As I got a little older, Veteran’s Day became synonymous with a growing appreciation for my dad and his generation of World War II veterans. In the mid-80s, I remember his tears as we stood behind a buttress on the side of the massive cathedral in Cologne, Germany. He described it to me as the exact spot where one night 40 years earlier, as a 20-year-old soldier with the 276th Combat Engineers, he and others were pinned down by German gunfire. “We knew we were going to die,” he said.

Some did. Others made it out alive.

Veterans Day reminds me of stories about an entire nation shutting down production of automobiles and everything else mechanical to build wartime aircraft, tanks, ships, and more. Tools needed to defend against governments jealous and fearful of American democracy and freedom.

A great gathering of those warbirds is collected at the Mid-America Flight Museum in Mount Pleasant. Walking around the surviving examples of fighters, bombers, and support aircraft that were a large part of defeating the WW II Axis Powers is a reminder of those unique Americans dubbed “The Greatest Generation.”

Looking at the airplanes I idolized as a kid, I think about fighter pilots in aerial combat, knowing there would be only one victor when it was over. Bomber pilots and crews who flew countless missions over Nazi Germany, each knowing the odds of returning were against them.

With that, it’s startling to remember the average age of those pilots was 17 to 23. A 30-year-old pilot was considered to be an “old man.” Usually tagged with nicknames like “Pops” and “Pappy.”

When I think about Veterans Day, I think about a generation that rose to the occasion when our country was threatened by two evil aggressors on opposite sides of the world. And about the men and women who entered the U.S. military and did what had to be done, not knowing if they would return when the job was done.

I think about how they did it anyway. And because they, and veterans of generations before and since, have done so, we are—so far—still a free nation. That’s what I think about on Veterans Day.

—Leon Aldridge

PHOTO AT TOP OF THE PAGE: From a WW II era photo album my mother put together with snapshots my father sent her while he was serving in the U.S. Army 276th Combat Engineers. Notation with this photo was, “Battalion passing through Dixon, Tennessee headed for maneuvers in the Mt. Juliet area near Nashville.” The 276th had just completed three months of training in building roads and bridges at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, and left for the European Theater after the Tennessee maneuvers were completed.

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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.

© 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 full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

The expectations of some are less than others

“The first step in meeting your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.”

— Roy H. Williams, author, and founder of the Wizard Academy Institute.

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“Yes sir, I do have the parts you’re looking for in stock,” Chris responded to my email last Saturday morning.

One call confirming that Time Machine Spas was open, and I was on my way to Longview. Closing the sale with some friendly conversation about my day job, owner Chris Ogden shared how his college journey began with a desire to be a journalist before he wound up in business. With that, he confessed to having never lost his love for sticking words together to tell a story.

I smiled when he talked about creating a side business in college, writing academic papers for those who were absent the day writer’s genes were passed out. The smile was because I had done the same thing. Truthfully, “ghost writing” for my word-challenged college classmates in the late 1960s was a spur of the moment thought for me.

The Leigh Apartments in Kilgore sat on a hillside above North Henderson Boulevard. A row of lawn chairs under a big shade tree beside the parking lot served as an afternoon roosting spot for apartment dwelling guys to watch traffic on the busy street below. Typical conversation for said apartment dwelling guys watching traffic centered on good-looking cars, fast cars, and any kind of car driven by a good-looking girl.

“Man, I’ve got to get started on that paper for English class,” lamented a member of the lawn chair gallery one afternoon.

“When’s it due,” I asked.

“Tomorrow. And I’d give anything if I could just pay somebody to write it for me.”

Thinking for a minute during the short silence, I challenged the question. “How many pages you need … and what would you pay? “

After supplying the composition criteria, he asked. “You know somebody that would do it by 1:00 o’clock tomorrow? For $20?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Me.”

“You?”

“Yeah, me,” I responded. “I may be flunking trig and calculus, but I’m making ‘A’s in English and composition.”

We struck a deal at four that afternoon and I headed off to the library. I was the last one out when it closed at 10 and kept my portable typewriter busy that night while everyone else, including my first business client, played spades at the apartment four doors down. I presented him with a manuscript about the same time his card game broke up.

Later that week, he was waving his graded paper in the air. “I got B-plus,” he hollered.

“Is that good,” I asked hesitatingly.

“Good? It’s the first passing grade I’ve made in that class,” he beamed. “The teacher said my progress was remarkable.”

“Whew,” I sighed. Word spread and I was soon spending one or two nights a week in the library and some Saturdays when I wasn’t traveling with the band for an out-of-town football game.

By finals, I had earned a nice nest egg toward next semester’s college expenses and had spending money as well. I also had happy customers as references. Well, except for that one paper.

That customer, a football player, was getting out of his car at the apartments when I saw him. “Hey, how’d that paper work for you,” I asked?

The six-foot-two, 260-pound lineman unfolded out of his car, turned toward me, and said, “I got a D.”

“Oh no,” I exclaimed. “I am so sorry. I’ll give you your money back,” I added, reaching into my pocket. “Can I look at it and see what the teacher’s problem with it was—will she let you do something for extra credit? I’ll do that for free.”

“Are you kiddin’, it’s fine,” he said, waving off the money with a grin. “All she wrote on it was, ‘I know this not your work, but I can’t prove it, therefore I cannot fail you.’ She gave me a ‘D’ which is better than the ‘F’ I would have gotten. And I don’t have to take the class over next semester. It’s all good.”

Business lesson number two in my young career was that some customers’ expectations will be less than others. And that will be all right, too.

Last Saturday in Longview, I was happy to buy parts to repair my hot tub and get them the same day without ordering online and waiting. Chris made a sale, albeit a small one, and charged me less than I was about to pay online.

A win-win: getting my hot tub fixed and making a new friend. The bonus: a friend with which to swap common stories about life experiences.

That part was above and beyond my expectations.

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© 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 full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

Open only in case of emergencies

“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore, always carry a small snake.”

— W. C. Fields (1880-1946), American comedian, actor, juggler, and writer.

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During my working to get through college days, an old gentleman in the automobile service department where I was employed often used a variation of that quote. Robert carried a small flask of what he commonly classified as “snake bite medicine” in his jacket pocket.

“That’s in case I run into a snake,” he would chuckle. “And just in case I don’t see one,” he would add with a grin in his deep gravelly voice, “I try to keep a snake handy in my other pocket.”

At least a couple of times in my many years, I’ve crossed paths with one of the slithering reptiles in situations that were way too close for comfort. Looking back, I guess it’s good I managed to dodge suffering from snake bite as I never carried the medicinal elixir Robert relied on. Just in case he met a snake.

Fortunately, it’s been some 30 years since my last close encounter of a snake kind. But for my friend who happened up on one in her kitchen a few weeks ago, the memory is still much too fresh.

I had no idea about the nature of her emergency when I answered her call. I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. I just knew it wasn’t good. “Snake” was all she could say when I arrived. And she was saying it over and over as she pointed toward the kitchen.

Snooping around the refrigerator, the last place she saw it, stirred up old memories for me. Like one night when I had dinner in the oven. The timer was set, and a place for one at my table was neatly prepared.

While thumbing through the latest issue of Hot Rod magazine waiting for the buzzer to summon me back to the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of my cat at the back door. Had I not been deeply engrossed in reading when I opened the door, I might have seen the gift she was bearing. One that moved. Snake.

A lunge toward the cat with the snake was too little, too late. And it was also about that time that the phone rang. And I was doing something else when all this started … what was it?

“Hello. Yes, hey, I’m fine. How are you?” Concentrating on being cordial when you’re pretty sure there’s a loose reptile in the house is not easy. Suddenly, I saw the cat dart out the still-open back door. “You better get out,” I hollered. “Oh, no, not you,” I told the caller.

Did she take the snake with her, I asked myself? The only thing worse than knowing there’s a snake in the house is wondering if there’s a snake in the house.

“Yes,” I continued while looking all around my feet. It has been a long time, hasn’t it?” What’s that noise? It’s the oven timer. “Uh oh, dinner’s ready,” I said aloud. Sharing a quick goodbye with my caller, I took dinner out of the oven and returned to determining whether or not I was sharing my living quarters with a serpent.

Under the dryer, behind the water heater, in the clothes hamper, and under the utility room sink cabinet. Nothing. Maybe, just maybe, the cat carried the thing back outside when she left. At this point, the furry feline was sleeping contentedly on the porch rocker. Deciding there had been enough excitement for one night, snake or no snake, I went to bed, too.

Morning came. I tiptoed toward the kitchen in need of caffeine, looking for any sign of movement along the way. Rounding the corner into the kitchen, I saw it. Not the snake, but last night’s mealtime offering still sitting on the stovetop where I left it; the oven still on. So much for supper.

I never saw the snake again. And I never let the cat back in the house without a TSA style shake-down.

We didn’t find the snake at my friend’s house recently either. Assuming it may have come in through heat and air ducts under the house, we taped off the floor registers and she found overnight lodging with a friend.

The city animal control team located the visiting varmint the next morning. Kudos to them for finding the snake in short order and, per their policy, taking it far, far away for release into the wild.

Snakes in your house do funny things to your mind. She’s still looking cautiously at her house. And, I’m doing the same thing at mine. I’m also considering securing a bottle of snake bite medicine. One clearly marked, “Open only in case of emergencies.”

That’s just in case I meet a snake, you understand.

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© 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 full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

Some battles, we shouldn’t have to fight

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

— Wendy Mass, bestselling author of 29 novels for young people.

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Soft spots for certain things command a place in my heart. Puppies and kittens. Happy innocence in any of God’s creatures. Warm cookies fresh out of the oven. Kind words from a sincere heart. Hot coffee while watching a sunrise or a sunset. People like Doug.

I met Doug one day last week. Odds are, I’ll never see him again. I spotted him While killing time before an appointment. I was early for the meeting, but the other party was going to be late. Driving around seemed a better option than sitting in a parking lot.

As one who believes things happen for a reason, I think my appointment arriving late was meant to be. Otherwise, I would have never met Doug.

Doug was sitting on what looked like a castoff bucket of some description. His clothes resembled what one might assume a person sitting on the side of the road holding an “I Need Help” sign would be wearing. A threadbare plaid shirt suggested flannel, the type typically seen in winter and not a still-hot East Texas October afternoon. To that end, his sleeves were rolled up far enough to expose numerous old and blurred tattoos. One proclaimed, “Proud U.S. Air Force Veteran.” A worn-out feed store “gimmee” cap corralled his long hair to some degree. He looked like the last time his face had met a razor was way before politicized issues like Covid, supply chain problems, and overpriced gasoline gouged us.

I don’t always stop to offer help for people like Doug, but I try. Sometimes, traffic does not permit it. Other times, I want to but selfishly think I’m just in too big of a hurry. However, helping someone who looks like they need it always crosses my mind.

“You know,” someone in the car once heckled when I stopped to offer help, “That person could spend your money on alcohol or drugs.”

“You are right,” I agreed. “They could also spend it for the first nourishing thing they’ve had to eat in days. They also could spend it on a pair of old shoes donated to a thrift store to replace the ones with gaping holes through the bottom they’re wearing now.

“And, if the money does wind up at the liquor store,” I added, that’s on their record. “But if someone were genuinely hungry or needing something to wear, and I pass them up because I’m afraid my money might be spent on those other things, that omission is charged to my account.”

As I slowed and pulled to the side of the road last week, Doug looked my way. I lowered the passenger side window and watched him stand up and struggle to get his balance. I watched him hobble awkwardly on legs that obviously were not working the way they were designed. I watched him put a hand on the side of my vehicle to remain steady while standing. I wished I had gotten out of the car to go to him.

“Hope this will help you, sir,” I said, reaching across to give him some loose bills I extracted from my pocket.

“Yes, sir it will,” he said. “Everything helps.” After a brief pause, he continued. “I’ve been trying to get on disability or help from the V.A. A friend helped me apply but they rejected it. Said it was because I didn’t put down a phone number. My friend resent it explaining that I don’t have one. Haven’t heard back, it’s only been a couple of months though.”

I told him I would pray for him and the many things in our country that are so badly broken right now. “I’m Doug,” he responded. “God bless you for stopping.” I gave him my name, wished him God’s blessings, and told him my prayers were with him and the countless others needing help today.

My appointment had still not arrived when I returned to his place of business. That gave me a few moments to silently reflect on Doug and others like him. Again, it’s above my pay grade to sort out and qualify everyone sitting on an old bucket and asking for help. But those who are having problems with applications for legitimate programs because their application is missing a number for a luxury they don’t even own, that’s a battle they shouldn’t have to fight.

A car pulling up beside me interrupted my thoughts. “I’m sorry I’m late,” my appointment apologized profusely. “You been waiting long?”

“No,” I said, “Just long enough to wish the current batch of bureaucrats spending my hard-earned money could find a softer spot in their hearts for people fighting battles like Doug than they do for their self-serving party platforms.”

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© 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 full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

What was so funny about that

“Sometimes I amaze myself, other times I can’t remember what day it is.”

— I don’t remember who said that.

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A perfect storm of a three-person office with one out sick during the biggest community festival of the year last week robbed me of column writing time.

Funny how somedays, even a 65-hour work week just isn’t enough.

So, I did just what I do on such occasions. I reached into my stash of columns dating to 1980 and freshen up one of my favorites from several years ago.

“You rerun old columns,” a friend asked in disbelief? “What do your reader’s think about that.”

My answer was simple. “I’d wager fair money many of my readers are like me. They don’t remember columns they read 10-20 years or more ago any more than I remember writing them.”

Pondering what I had just said, I was certain there are advantages to growing older. I’m sure one of them will come to mind any minute now.

Sort of reminds me of that time years ago when Tem Morrison in Center asked if I wanted to take a look at some old car parts. For me, that’s like asking my dog if he wants to take a look at a pork chop, so we agreed on a time. Hours after it had passed, the light came on. I had forgotten the conversation. I went straight to Tem’s office, and apologized profusely about my memory lapse.

With that, I related to Tem the story of successful Mount Pleasant businessman, Cortez Boatner, who owned a furniture store when I was a youngster. He always wore a white dress shirt and a tie when he came into Perry Brothers to visit with my father, and I noticed the ever present small spiral notebook and pen in his shirt pocket. As conversation progressed, out came the notebook and Mr. Boatner was busy making notes.

“I used to think that was funny,” I told Tem. But you know, as I’ve gotten older, I’m finding it hard to remember exactly what I thought was so funny about it.”

As grade schoolers, my sisters and I teased our mother about her memory. Actually, it probably wasn’t that bad, but she had this uncanny, comical way of forgetting where she left things. Two classic moments, she never lived down as long as she was with us because we teased about them.

Banana pudding was my dad’s favorite and mom made it often. That was during an ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ time when the whole family sat down together for supper. About three bites into dessert one evening, dad stared into the pudding bowl stirring it with his spoon. “I don’t think there’s any bananas in mine.”

On cue, the rest of us did the same search to discover that there were no bananas in any of our bowls either, just pudding with vanilla wafers.

“Oh no,” mom said on the verge of tears. “I forgot to put the bananas in it.” Sure enough, unpeeled bananas were still lying on the kitchen countertop. We consoled her, however, eating every morsel and praising the pudding trying to make her feel better.

But then the next day, her sewing scissors went missing. “They were right here,” she said, frustration building in her voice. “I just had them in my hand. Did one of you get my good scissors,” she quizzed us kids?

“No,” we chimed in unison. “Besides, mom. You said you just had them.” As she searched, I was conducting my own search. For leftover dessert in the refrigerator. Some of that banana-less pudding. And there, right behind her big plastic bag of ironing bag, lay her good scissors.

Now if you aren’t familiar with an “ironing bag,” then you can’t properly appreciate today’s no-iron world. There was a day when everything was ironed as part of the weekly laundry ritual because laundry was dried hanging on a clothesline and the result was wrinkled clothes. That was also in that same day before wrinkled clothes were fashionable.

My mother ironed school clothes, she ironed church clothes, she ironed play clothes, she ironed my father’s work clothes, she ironed sheets and pillowcases.

And ironing that wasn’t completed in one afternoon session of “As the World Turns” or “Queen for a Day” on our new black-and-white television was sprinkled with water, rolled up and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until the next scheduled ironing time.

“Mom,” I called out snickering at her forgetfulness. “Were you ironing before you were sewing?” We giggled as she retrieved the lost scissors from the refrigerator.

Over the years, like good children, we smiled every time we teased our mother about her forgetfulness. And like the loving mother she was, she graciously smiled as we had fun at her expense.  

But you know, as I think about it these days, I’m trying to remember what it was that we thought was so dad-gum funny?

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© 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 full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

Dedication deserving special appreciation

“Don’t be mad at the preacher. He didn’t know what you did before he preached that sermon.”

— Source unknown but good advice to keep in mind.

– – – – – – – – –

Talking with friends last week when the topic of preachers came up got me thinking about them. Many of them individuals with rare dedication. Deserving, to use the words of an old song, extra stars in their crowns.  

While the Bible mentions nothing of stars or crowns as a heavenly reward, the song lyrics suggest special appreciation here on earth for each other’s deeds.

God love those who preach the Bible, especially those who keep ministering to a faithful few every Sunday in small congregations. Even where they know that passing the plate twice and singing one more chorus of “Count Your Blessings” wouldn’t muster enough money to get the parson’s pay above poverty level.

Preachers I grew up listening to in those small churches would fearlessly cite book, chapter, and verse when outlining the straight and narrow. You could even feel the heat as they described the consequences of failing to follow it.

They were also always ready to help someone when needed and could be found at the church building most any time of the day. That was because there was always something that needed doing there, like emptying trash, changing light bulbs, or knocking down wasp nests. Ridding the building of wasps and other varmints also ensured fewer interruptions Sunday morning in the middle of extolling the virtues of living by God’s word.

One third generation preacher whose sermons I remember sitting through as a kid still sticks in my mind. “I don’t think my grandfather would have cared for big-time television preachers,” he said. “Or extending a toll-free number for sending money instead of extending an invitation to obey God’s will. He didn’t even like preachers who used notes when preaching. He thought they ought to ‘get it straight from the Lord. Politicians, not preachers, use notes,’ he would say.” 

I thought about him years later as an adult when hearing the late Lewis Grizzard, author, newspaper columnist, and humorous speaker address what he called “big ­time television” preachers.

Grizzard wanted to know, and I’ve been curious to hear as well, “How do they find time to be a real preacher visiting the sick, marrying people, and preaching funerals. With all the traveling to foreign countries, speaking out on national political issues, appearances on talk shows, and having a vision that tells them how to raise a few million bucks with an 800 number for donations while keeping the regular long-distance toll number for prayers … when do they find time to work on their Sunday sermons?

“Who mows the grass around their church building. And if one of their following has a problem like losing his job, his wife leaving and his trailer burning all in one week? When does he find time to talk to the poor soul?”

Growing up, attending church with my mother every week was mandatory. She wasn’t one to preach much about right and wrong. I was never given a curfew or told I couldn’t attend a hot rod race or music concert Saturday night. Even when I came in at 2 or 3 a.m., there was no lecture about late hours. But one thing was without question; it was understood that I would be up, dressed, “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” and ready to attend Sunday morning church services with her.

I thank my lucky stars for her and miss her every day. Even with her direction, I still encountered a few close calls with temptation and dodged more than one bullet in my life, figuratively speaking.

We moved a lot until I was in the fifth grade. Everywhere we worshiped, the preacher didn’t drive a new car, and a new suit was a special occasion.

But he always had time for anyone with questions, including one 12-year-old I remember well. When asked about a sermon subject where things didn’t exactly add up, he took the time to give me an adult answer, not just, “you got to have faith, son.”

He was available when the community needed him, whether they were a church member or not, including pleas for answers, comfort, or fried chicken.

Years have gone by. He no doubt went to his reward years ago. But it’s a safe bet he never traveled to foreign countries and never delivered a sermon to a crowd of more 100 people. I’m confident he never ended a sermon with a toll-free number for donations. But hopefully, he was able buy a new suit.

I pray that for every electronic preacher with a mega church, thousands more are still tackling the devil head-on by preaching to small congregations against long odds and unknowingly stepping on toes every week. Many of them praying for just one more new face in the pews to replace the two for which he preached funerals last month.

Many of these “old-time” preachers have gone to their own reward after a lifetime of spreading the word in church buildings so small that you could hear every word while sitting on the back without a sound system.

Let’s hope they never discovered that television preachers use notes.

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, and the Fort Stockton Pioneer, , and The Monitor in Naples.

© 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.

I might find someone from Center

“Sometimes this old farm feels like a long-lost friend,
Yes, and hey, it’s good to be back home again.”

— ‘Back Home Again’ song lyrics by John Denver (1943-1997)

– – – – – – –

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.

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© 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 full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

An interview you’ll always remember

“Honesty: The best of all the lost arts.”

—Mark Twain

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“I’m nervous,” the young journalist stuttered. “I’ve never interviewed anyone rich and famous. What if I say something dumb?”

“Start at the beginning,” I responded. “Be honest and ask the same questions you might ask a not rich and famous person. Like me.”

“Interviewing you would be like … just us talking,” he smiled.

“Exactly,” I fired back. “Genuine people talk just like we talk. Rich and famous or not.”

I remembered being his age when interacting with people I considered to occupy a “higher station in life” was scary and awkward. The best early advice for that fear came when I was in college in the late 60s and working in the Sandlin Chevrolet-Olds body shop in Mount Pleasant. Mr. Sandlin spent his life in the auto business, was well-known and respected, and was influential in civic and political circles. Lake Bob Sandlin, one of the largest water reservoirs in Northeast Texas, bears his name, honoring his untiring work in helping get the lake built.

Clad in my body shop painter work jeans and Sandlin work shirt, I was checking on an order in the parts department late one morning when Mr. Bob came in behind me wearing his signature suit, tie, and fedora hat. “Hello, Leon,” he said, “What are you doing for lunch today?”

“Don’t guess I have any plans, sir,” I responded, caught off guard by the question. “Sometimes I eat across the street at the Tastee Freeze; I like their pizza burgers.

“Can I buy your lunch,” he followed?

“OK,” I stammered. Ducking back to the body shop for a paint thinner cleanup along with a high-pressure air blast to knock some of the sanding dust off my clothes, I was still nervous but slightly more presentable.

Mr. Bob often asked employees to lunch, and I felt honored. But it wasn’t the Tastee Freeze he selected; it was the dining room at the Stephens Hotel. With real table clothes, cloth napkins, and an array of silverware from which to choose, it was one of the more exclusive places to eat in Mount Pleasant back then.

Maybe he detected my nervousness during lunch. Or maybe it was my anguish over which utensil to use that made him say, “I learned a long time ago it doesn’t make any difference which fork or spoon you use. No one is watching, they’re all busy eating. Just pick one, be yourself, be honest and enjoy the occasion.”

My lifelong good friend, Oscar Elliott, was the master of being yourself, being honest, and enjoying the occasion wherever he was. Take his story about the elite truck sales promotion in Dallas, for example. He was there as assistant to one of the vice presidents for what was then Texas Utilities Mining Company. As he described his job, “I’m in charge of maintenance for everything from wheelbarrows to the trains that haul the coal.”

The upscale unveiling of new trucks to fleet and industrial buyers was staged around a formal ballroom dinner. As Oscar told it, he was seated with suit wearing types exchanging small talk when the conversation turned to football.

Two things to know about Oscar. First, football was never high on his list of likes. Two, if you asked him a question, you always got an honest answer. Where that might get some of us in trouble, he possessed a unique gift for delivering his opinions with a smile, very seldom offending anyone and more often than not, making people laugh.

Probably because he wasn’t contributing much to the conversation about the sport, one of the guys in the group asked him, “Oscar, who’s your favorite football team?”

True to himself, Oscar chuckled and replied, “Well, I think football’s pretty silly, myself. I don’t care much for it.”

“You would have thought everyone at the table had been cut off from oxygen the way they turned white and started choking,” Oscar said. After seconds of silence, the man who asked the question laughed and said, “You know, Oscar, I’m inclined to agree with you.”

“I didn’t know Bum Bright from Adam,” Oscar laughed whenever he told that story. “All I knew was, he was one of the richest men in Texas and owned a truck leasing company. How was I to know he had just paid $85 million for the Dallas Cowboys?”

Reflecting on Oscar’s finesse with the rich and famous, I wrapped up my conversation with the young journalist.

“So yeah, just be honest. Be yourself, ask the same questions you’d ask the not so rich and famous. It will be an interview you’ll always remember.”

—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, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© 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 full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.