Random acts of kindness are worth a rerun

“Remember, there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” – Scott Adams, American artist and creator of the Dilbert comic strip.

My new old job at the local newspaper has kept me more than busy lately. It’s also earned me the nickname of “rerun” compliments of local Center, Texas merchant Shana Brittain at a recent Center Business Association meeting.

I accept that title with honor. It just means I’m still going, in the game, and worthy of being called up again. Even with that notable recognition, however, long hours and late nights had been cutting into my duties at home. Most evident was the spring crop of weeds getting a jump on my lawn. I knew it was out of hand when I let the dogs out a few days ago, then had to go looking for them when they couldn’t find their way back to the door.

But that was before a young man came to the office last week. He said, “You probably don’t remember me, but several years ago, me and some friends were walking by your house one night. You were in your garage working on an old car, and we stopped in the street to watch. You saw us, invited us to come on in the garage, and took time to tell us all about the car.”

That much of the story didn’t help in identifying to whom I was talking. I’ve spent many nights over many years working on any number of old cars in more than one garage. A garage door up and the lights on while tinkering with a wrecking yard refugee can prompt a variety of visitors. A few years ago, that included frequent times when a city police car would pull in the driveway. It was never an official visit, though, just Lt. Ed Roberts on night patrol duty stopping to see what I was working on at the time.

My office visitor last week continued his story admitting that he fell in with the wrong crowd as he got a little older and got into trouble. He said that had it not been for a minister spending time with him, involving him in church activities, and teaching him about the Lord, he would most likely be in prison right now. 

All the dots were quickly connected when he said he was mowing a yard in the neighborhood and noticed my grass needing mowing. Remembering the night I invited some young boys I didn’t even know into my garage to look at an old car, he said, “The Lord spoke to me while ago and told me you needed someone to mow your yard. So, I mowed it.”

“You’ve already done it?” I asked in disbelief. ‘Yes, sir,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind.” 

As I was at the same time feeling embarrassed my yard was looking that bad while also feeling thankful that he had mowed it for me, I expressed my gratitude and asked how much I owed him. He said I didn’t owe him anything; he just came to the office to get my permission to go inside my fenced backyard and mow there too.

“That sounds good,” I told him, “but don’t think for a minute I’m not going to pay you for what you’ve done.” He said again he wasn’t looking to get paid; he did it because the Lord told him I needed help to get it mowed. 

I told him the Lord was right; I did. But that didn’t mean I would not pay him for his work, regardless of his motivation for performing such a thoughtful act.

That evening, I walked around my nicely groomed yard, amazed at this one young man’s random act of kindness and his faith that led him to do it. It reminded me that despite depressing news stories about insanity unhinging our way of life in America, good people still do thoughtful things expecting nothing in return. 

It was enough to cause even an old rerun newspaper guy to smile.

—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.

Remembering the day that dog came back to life

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” 

—Cesare Pavese, Italian novelist, poet, short story writer, and essayist.

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One of the best parts of telling a story in the newspaper every week is how it keeps me in touch with friends or reconnects me with those I haven’t talked to in many years. It’s a process which usually leads to more stories … like the one about the dog that came back to life.

That’s what happened last week when one of my missives resonated with Huella Campbell up in Mount Pleasant. She wrote to share her thoughts, reminding me that she and her husband Weldon were friends with me some years ago when I lived there.

While I remembered Weldon and Huella very well, most days I can’t remember where I left my keys ten minutes ago. It’s been said certain moments reinforce memories. Perhaps that’s what accounts for most of my circle of friends who mostly remember moments like the day President Kennedy was assassinated or the day Elvis died.

It was one memory leading to another during the email discussion with Weldon and Huella last week that helped me recall how Weldon and I met when we were both teachers at Frances Corprew School eons ago. And that reminded me of the day he and I witnessed a dog, given up as gone, “miraculously” come back to life.  

Weldon was also a partner in a boat dealership then and invited me to assist one day after school in checking out a used boat. As the last school bell rang that day, we were on a work-related mission to one of the new lakes at that time, Lake Cypress Springs. The older wooden-hull inboard speedboat outfitted with a hot-rod Ford V8 motor made the work fun. However, our squeezing in some skiing time on a spring afternoon was, I’m sure, purely coincidental.

Nearing the lake, I noticed the black and white dog lying in a driveway off the two-lane country road and smiled at the typical canine surprise attack mode for chasing cars. Sure enough, “bullet dog” charged into the road barking in hot pursuit of a tire as we passed by. I watched and wondered the same thing we all do about dogs that chase cars: what would the critter do if it actually caught one?

The sport of the chase over, the pooch pulled back and slowed down. In doing so, it apparently failed to notice one small detail—the boat trailer approaching from behind. I still remember seeing the trailer wheel catch the unsuspecting pup, roll it around a time or two, throw it up into the air and off into the ditch where it landed in a lifeless lump.

Weldon turned around and went back where we were met by the dog’s owner, an old farmer type. As we gathered around and unanimously agreed the dog was a goner, Weldon apologized profusely and tried to pay the man for his poor animal. The fellow laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it, you did me a favor. I didn’t like the dog anyway.”

All seemed well, and we were about to leave when suddenly the dog moved. In unison, we all turned to witness the miracle about to unfold. The dog shook its head, slowly got up, and wobbled its way back toward the driveway.

A momentary silence was broken when the man said with genuine disappointment, “And here, I thought I was finally shed of that darn dog.” We shared laughter of nervous relief that it was not dead and continued our journey on to the lake amid disbelief of witnessing “the dog that came back to life.”

Passing the scene of the incident later that evening on the way home, we saw no sign of the dog waiting for its next chase. Instead of wondering what a dog would do if it actually caught a car, this time I silently pondered what a dog might remember after it has been caught by a car. Perhaps the dog’s memory was good enough for it to give up chasing cars. But if not, would it remember that moment well enough to look back next time to see if there is a trailer coming? 

In fact, it’s a story I’ve remembered during my own “car chasing moments” over the years.

—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 testimony to the power of newspaper readership

“I see by the paper …”

 —common old saying referring to this week’s local news.

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“Well, I see by the paper …” was a commonly heard phrase before the days of the internet when the only option for readers wanting the latest news was to hold a newspaper in their hands. Whatever came after that introductory statement was news either not received elsewhere or confirmed reports previously heard only as word-of-mouth. It was also testimony to the power of newspaper readership.

That saying came to mind last week as I was still trying to evaluate book potential in Aldridge columns that have appeared in newsprint and ink over the years. Several examples recalling testimony to the power of the printed word were found among them. One penned just a few years ago stood out where I opined about a Saturday drive through the forests of Deep East Texas in my ’55 Ford.

Writing about watching the sunset while cruising tree-lined country roads in a car almost as old I am, I suggested that East Texas had to be the best place on earth to live. I also noted that the feeling reminded me of a word learned some 40 years earlier in a psychology class defining that exact feeling. Ethnocentrism, properly defined, means a mindset based on beliefs and values, giving one a sense of loyalty and likelihood to follow those norms and develop relationships with those of like mind. In other words, I have a deep admiration for East Texas where I was raised, and I think it’s a mighty fine place to call home. 

And I attributed that knowledge to East Texas State University at Commerce, better known today as Texas A&M University-Commerce. With that revelation, I also asserted that my ETSU degree made me “an Aggie by default.”

Days after that column ran, Wyman Williams, then Associate Vice President for Advancement at Texas A&M University-Commerce, read my claim to be an Aggie by another sheepskin. That prompted a call in which he could “see by the paper …” my column offered an opportunity to clear up what the university has decided was poor communication during the name change some years before. Plus how they were then working on improving that image. 

Possibly the best example of “I see by the paper …” is my friend Grady Firmin from Mount Pleasant. An ex-marine pilot, Grady was one of my instructors on the way to obtaining a pilot’s license many years ago. I had not heard from Grady in some time when I wrote a column about him while at the Boerne newspaper in the 90s, The Star. It was a simple “I wonder what ever happened to …” piece like I used to write about friends with whom I had not had contact in a while. 

Mere weeks later, I received a call from Grady, who began the conversation with, “All I have to say is that the pen really is mightier that the sword.” Turns out one of Grady’s friends in Dallas was reading The Star at his mother’s house in San Antonio, saw the column, and took it back to Dallas for Grady to read. 

One of my favorite sayings is “the only constant is change.” While the delivery method has diversified with the advent of the internet, the role of community newspapers remains constant. An enlightened population still desires to be informed. Sorta reminds me of the first fax machine installed at The East Texas Light in the early 1980s. When it announced an incoming message via the distinctive tone, we all gathered around to marvel at the arrival of a letter that was sent from halfway across the nation less than five minutes ago.

I remember making the assertion that it’s possible fax might be adapted to newspaper delivery in our lifetime. Now considered “horse and buggy,” themselves, fax machines turned out not to be the new way of newspaper delivery. That seems to have fallen to the internet. But by whatever means of delivery, readers in most communities still value the validation that goes with saying, “I see by the paper …”

Just ask Grady.

—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 shorter version of a storied pair of prints

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” 

— Generally accepted modern version of an old English adage.

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Comfort is often found in the memories of one’s surroundings. Links to the past as in a song reminding of memorable moments experienced the first time it was heard. Or photos of those who brought pleasure into one’s life. 

Similar thoughts resonated in my office last weekend as I personalized it with items to create comfortable work surroundings. For me, that’s usually accomplished with artwork.

Added to the office walls were nostalgic country scenes by Texas artist George Boutwell and a majestic appearing eagle by Bill Jaxon. The American symbol of freedom at its best. Straight across the room from my desk, easily in view, I positioned a pair of prints that remind me of the business that has been my life’s work.

Half of that pair has been with me since the early 1980s and has graced a wall in every office where I’ve worked since that time. The artist, Ward Nichols, was a third-generation printer whose grandfather was a newspaper publisher in West Virginia. Nichols started his career in the family print shop at the age of 10, but in 1967 left the printing business to pursue his passion as a painter. He rose to national and international fame with his detailed paintings of rural life, coastal scenes, mechanical objects, and, as might be expected, memories of the printing trade from his youth.

My first Nichols print, “Tools of Freedom,” was purchased through a press association offering. I wish I could tell you it was the National Newspaper Association or the Texas Press Association. However, the time elapsed since then prevents that memory from emerging. I do remember that more of his prints were available, most likely related to a fundraiser for journalistic endeavors. But, after acquiring that one, my attempts to purchase another were to no avail. They were sold out.  

“Tools of Freedom” first hung it in my office in the same building where I am again the publisher today. It depicts hot-type printing tools common before the late 60s when offset web printing revolutionized the industry. The collection includes a printer’s apron, pieces of movable type, various other related tools of the trade seldom seen today, and one other essential item that survived to live on for a time in the web press era: a line gauge. Or, as it was more well known in newspaper shops, a “pica pole.” Pica was once a standard measurement in newspaper composition. Adobe Photoshop and InDesign software today still offer picas as a measurement option.

Nichols featured the familiar tool standing straight up in the center of the picture, almost as if placed there as a focal point. 

Long gone from digital newspaper shops, there was not one to be found at The Light and Champion office when I looked a few weeks ago. After years of working with one in my back pocket or within reach, I brought one from home. It now resides on my desk next to my computer … just in case. That comfortable surroundings thing again. 

After Center in the 80s, “Tools of Freedom” was with me at The Boerne Star in the 90s and at The Monitor in Naples from ’98 to ’02. After that, it hung out in my office where marketing was my job and, like me, spent some time at home before coming back to where it started.

And, the second Nichol’s print? I long lamented that I was unable to acquire another work by Nichols. That is until a few years ago when by nothing more elaborate than dumb luck, I was rummaging around at an estate sale and recognized a copy of Nichols’ “Hands of Freedom” among other pieces of art stashed out of plain sight. Perhaps that was because the mat was damaged, but the print was unharmed. And, by the least imagined of methods, I had acquired the other Nichols’ print I sought more than 30 years ago.

“Hands of Freedom” depicts a printer’s hands with ink-stained fingernails feeding a single sheet, hand-fed press, the kind once used to print small weekly newspapers, flyers, and office forms.

Last weekend was my first opportunity to hang the prints together in a newspaper office. Sometimes, it just takes time to get things together where they belong.

So, if you’re in the neighborhood, stop in The Light and Champion office to see the storied Nichols prints celebrating freedom of the press. And you won’t have to endure the thousand words. You just read the shorter version.

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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.

Following her father’s advice for a happy life

“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” 

—George Bernard Shaw

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My mother was the oldest of five siblings and the first to marry. Before the wedding, her father offered her advice for a happy life in a letter. Among other things, that letter included three admonitions. Remain faithful to God, devoted to your spouse, and close to your family by getting together often.

Mom died in 2010 at the age of 87 years and six months. She and my father had been married 62 years and eight months when he died in 2007. And, she remained a lifelong faithful member of the church of Christ.

Indianola Johnson Aldridge, better known to most as “Inky,” had three sisters and one brother. That “little brother,” Bill, and a sister, Jo, are the only ones still on this side of eternity. Bill is 86, and Jo is 90.

My Uncle Bill and Aunt Jo were among the little more than 100 family members and friends who gathered in Sweetwater last Saturday to celebrate the life of Bill’s son, Danny Johnson. Danny was only 61; far too young to be saying goodbye to anyone. But dreaded diseases don’t seem to respect any boundaries, including age. 

The gathering out in West Texas reminded me once again of the family spirit that mom’s parents, Arthur G. and Bernice Conlee Johnson, instilled in their children. Both of them were educators. They had six children, five of whom reached adulthood. Although they were living in Tennessee when mom met my father, they lived most of their lives where my mother was born and graduated from high school in Winchester, Kentucky. 

Follow that advice to stay close, they did religiously although they were spread out geographically. My parents settled in East Texas, where my father was raised. Two of her sisters settled in West Texas and one in Ohio. Bill went into the Navy in California, married, and started a family there before eventually moving to Sweetwater some years ago.

Despite the distance, family reunions in Kentucky every summer were priority. They all made the trip from where ever they lived as long as they were able to travel. Also fond memories are Christmases at each other’s homes or long weekends together for the Texas-based sisters where the living room floor doubled as a kid’s dorm.

Good memories also include many Saturday meetings for one-day picnics and swimming halfway between Seymour, where we lived before moving to Mount Pleasant, and Kress up in the Texas Panhandle where mom’s sister, Amy, lived. The location was a roadside park with a creek and waterfall known as Silver Falls. And let’s not forget the times when delegations from Texas and Ohio, where mom’s sister Kathrine lived, banded together to make the trek to California while Bill was living there.

The point to sharing all of that is to say that if any family ever heeded a father’s advice, it was mom’s. And they each did it while hauling a car full of kids across the country to be together at every opportunity. Of that generation of kids, I am the oldest. With Danny’s passing, 11 remain. I have two sisters I love dearly, but our clan of cousins regard each other in many ways, more as brothers and sisters than as cousins.

We missed a reunion or any kind of get-together last year as the result of the CCP virus. We did manage a couple of Zoom meetings, but it just wasn’t the same. Someone noted last Saturday that our gathering to say good bye to Danny was sadly, “one of the best family reunions we have had in a while.” To that, they quickly expressed the need to resume the gatherings, but under better circumstances. And before we left, conversation was underway about where we were going to get together this summer.

Family is indeed an earlier version of heaven, and I’ve also heard it said that we don’t choose our family; we are God’s gift to each other. For family like ours, I am thankful. And I’m also thankful God gifted our family with Danny.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page: Johnson Family members doing what they do best when they get together—eating. Gathered at Allen’s Family Style Meal’s in Sweetwater, Texas in October of 2017 were (left to right) Michelle (Johnson) Rybacki, Jo (Johnson) Scott, Teri (Johnson) Brown, Danny Johnson, Judy Scott, Fred Scott (better known to most as “Derf,” Leon Aldridge, and Sean Rybacki.)

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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.

Thinking about how lucky I have been

“Success is 10-percent luck and 90-percent hard work. And if you’re not lucky, just work 10-percent harder.” 

—Jim Chionsini, my long-time friend, business partner, and mentor.

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I consider myself lucky that my parents never bought me a car or paid for my college education. Not that they didn’t want to, it was more a case of not able to. I was lucky because they gave me something far more valuable: love, direction, and the understanding that success from the fruits of hard work is the most gratifying kind.

A Facebook story last week about some old photos reminded me of how lucky I’ve been in that regard. Thanks to the efforts of an exceptional individual who took the time and effort to locate members of Virgil Tolbert’s family in my hometown of Mount Pleasant, a number of old family photos are once again with his family. As often happens, that started me to thinking about a couple of things. One was my first real job working for Mr. Tolbert at Beall’s Department Store.

Well, let’s call it my first “employee” job with a regular paycheck. “Self-employed” jobs in junior high were my early sources of income. Things like collecting empty soft drink bottles along the roadsides to cash in for two cents each at the neighborhood grocery and mowing lawns in the summer for a dollar or two. While still in junior high, I graduated to working Saturdays at the Ben Franklin variety store on the downtown square. That paid 25-cents an hour for assembling bicycles and wagons, plus “trash management” and floor-sweeping and was paid in cash for hours worked. Simple economics, but when I spent that money on comic books or a movie, I quickly understood and appreciated just how many hours of work each of those expenditures represented.

Getting a paycheck every week at Beall’s was a warm and fuzzy feeling for a 15-year-old sophomore at MPHS. I had just purchased my first car, a 1951 Chevrolet acquired for $250 from Rex Kidwell at the Fina station. Working after school and Saturdays at the minimum wage of $1.25 an hour meant I could put gas in my car and still have spending money.

The best part, however, was getting to dress like a business professional and work all day Saturday selling clothes in the men’s department. A dress shirt and tie was the norm in most businesses then. Mr. Tolbert at Beall’s and my father, who was the manager of the Perry Brother’s five-and-dime just across the street, wore them every day. Getting to wear a dress shirt and tie every Saturday made me feel like “I had arrived” in the business world.

Mr. Tolbert was the best boss a 15-year-old “just arriving” in the business world could have had. Always wearing a smile and having something pleasant to say, he was courteous to employees and customers alike. He instilled by example the importance of making both feel welcome and appreciated.

More than a half-century later, I can say again, “I was lucky.” I’ve had many bosses, and I’ve been a boss as well. Most of the bosses I’ve had were individuals I’ve enjoyed working for and from whom I’ve learned a lot. Sure, there were a couple of stinkers along the way, but that happens, too.

So what was the second thing? The meaning of real success. I was lucky to learn from my parents, plus these individuals and others like them that success is best measured with a yardstick not marked by dollars. Also, that inspiring individuals to succeed through hard work, care, and respect for others who are also working hard to reach the same goals is more of a measure of someone than what they accumulate.

I’m thinking my luck has been better than 10-percent.

—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.

Coming face to face with a ghost from the past

“Why don’t you go haunt a house? Rattle some chains or something.” 

— Oda Mae Brown in the 1990 movie “Ghosts.” 

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It was really just a joke. After all, who was going to consider as serious, someone snooping around a building and mumbling, “I’m just looking to see if I have any ghosts hiding around here.”

It wasn’t haunting, chain-rattling apparitions I was seeking. Nor was I looking for the invisible variety with which I once shared a house with in Center, Texas. George was the name I gave that one, and we got along famously occupying the same dwelling. He made his presence known in playful ways but never caused a problem. And likewise, I gave him no trouble. After all, I was pretty sure he had lived there longer than I had. 

My views on other-world spirits were noted in a column I wrote about George a few years ago. “While never investing heavily in paranormal perception,” I declared, “I’ve also never doubted unexplained occurrences. Particularly, personal experiences in a house I called home a few years ago, one built in 1900. Experiences that were, well … difficult to explain.” 

Those I joked about last week were more like memories. Recollections aroused by returning to scene of my first assignment as a newspaper publisher 40 years ago at The Light and Champion in Center. Not the office on the corner of San Augustine and Austin Street folks in town have been familiar with since 1983, but the building nearby on Austin Street where the printing company is still located. That facility still has the offices once occupied by staff members, but since the newspaper was moved up on the square decades ago, they have been used only for equipment and storage.

Even so, “haints” were the last thing on my mind last Thursday as I trekked through the snow down to the pressroom to make sure the power was on.  Although I’d been there numerous times in recent years amid the activity of presses and people, the empty quietness that cold morning greeted me with old memories and a feeling that something was beckoning to me. Instead of printing paraphernalia, I saw visions of receptionist Patsy McNamara at her desk to my left. Straight across to the newsroom, I saw Gary Stewart, Patricia McCoy, and Eddie Burke working on stories. And to my right were the ad guys, Richard Pierce and Doug Stark, busy on the phone. Busy throughout the building making sure everything was running smoothly was Lois Cooper.

I walked down the hall to the last office on the left and envisioned where my desk sat. The paper’s owner, Jim Chionsini, preceded me in at that desk before he named me the publisher. I was the last person to occupy it. 

Feeling the familiar old vibes, I recognized the built-in storage cabinet to my left. Like every nook and cranny in the building now, it was filled with press-related parts except for a bottom shelf where a stack of yellowed, dust-covered newspapers rested. 

Always curious to examine an old newspaper, I pulled them out. That’s when blowing the dust off brought me face to face with my ghost. In my hands were several issues of three publications; The Monitor in Naples, The Sabine News in Many, Louisiana, and The Plaquemine Post in Iberville Parish (Metairie), Louisiana. Every issue bore dates between 1975 and 1977.

So, what was that spooky about a stack of old newspapers? The common spirit in them was mine. I moved into that office in 1980 with previous experience at two publications. The first was The Monitor from 1973 to 1976, followed by The Sabine News in 1976 and 1977. While at the Louisiana publication, I gave it a new look resembling The Plaquemine Post, which I regarded as one of the best-looking newspapers around at the time.

That combination of newspapers from that time period could have gotten together in that cabinet by only one means—I put them there when that was my office. And the thick dust on them served as pretty good evidence they had remained where I put them four decades ago before I found them last Thursday.

I’m betting even George would consider the odds of that happening to be pretty spooky.

—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 days when snow and ice seemed magical

“Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood.”

—Andy Goldsworthy, British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist.

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Crafting a column about weather in Texas that will not see the light of ink and paper or digital pixels for several days can be tricky stuff. We all know that today’s forecast can change in two or three hours, let alone days.

As I was writing this last weekend for print publication Wednesday, the weather prognostication through this week was calling for sleet, snow, freezing rain, and temps lower than Black Friday Sale prices. However, I knew it was possible that by Wednesday we could be basking in sunny and 70 degrees. Turns out the weather forecasters were on the mark this time.

But even when bitter winter weather wreaks havoc in our lives, there is always something magical about childhood memories of excitement in the snow and ice. For that matter, even a few adult memories can seem magical, depending on how one defines magical … or adult

Like the day back before I acquired good sense when classes were canceled at East Texas State University after a wave of winter snow and ice clobbered Commerce. With a reprieve from the books and teacher’s looks, some of us decided it would be great fun to make an ice rink out of a huge iced-over parking lot located, to the best of my memory, near the student center and Gee Lake. Instead of skates, however, we found fun on the ice with our cars.

A little acceleration and various brake, steering, and throttle applications provided spinning out of control rides ending on a grassy lawn between the parking lot and Highway 11 where we slowly made our way back to start the fun over again. And great fun we were having until we noticed a new player in the slip and slide activity: a plain Ford sedan with red lights on top and “campus security” on the doors. Parking lot car skating must have been a new activity to them, however. We stood by our cars and waved as they went sliding right past us. Once they did manage to stop, they were quick to also put a stop to our fun.

Some ten years or so later, I like to think I had acquired a little bit of sense, but evidently not enough to prevent me from taking a bus trip across West Texas in an ice storm: a journey that added new meaning to “taking the scenic route.”

“One way to Dallas,” I told the agent, remembering three hours flat and driving the speed limit was a decent time for this trip. “Will the snow pose travel problems to Dallas.”

With a short “no,” I was handed my ticket to some real excitement. In addition to that inaccurate travel information, not disclosed was a seemingly sub-sonic travel time of little more than two hours, including stops in every burg along I-20 boasting at least 10 inhabitants and a convenience store.

The big silver dog express danced on the slippery super slab passing every creeping car and truck in the night. Gotta give the driver credit, though. He missed not one single icy spot as the bus did a series of Texas Two Steps with each one until the wheels accidentally caught the next patch of pavement.

While it was scary, there were memorable moments. A young man toward the rear of the bus traveling with his guitar broke into song. “They say music soothes the soul,” said a nice lady behind me traveling to Mobile with her daughter. “Join us in the singing.” I tried but just couldn’t pick up on the next verse of “Magic Carpet Ride.”

It was a night trip, so I tried to sleep. I’ve always said I hope to die in my sleep. But, truthfully, I had something more peaceful in mind than a bus careening off an icy highway going down Ranger Hill on I-20.

Every slip and slide elicited screams from the women, various expletives from the men, and both from the pregnant lady about two rows up. A couple of older guys across the aisle were taking wagers on when she was going to deliver. One bet on somewhere between Cisco and Strawn while the other put his money on the stretch between Weatherford and Aledo. She didn’t deliver during the trip, but the bus driver did. He brought us into Dallas at 10 minutes to midnight and 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Through the icy winter weather this week, I found myself still working on that good sense thing remembering the days when excitement on the snow and ice seemed magical. I have decided one thing. At this point in life, it’s much more magical viewed through my breakfast room window at home than the windshield of a spinning car or a careening bus.

On the serious side of often dangerous weather like we’ve endured the last few days, I sincerely hope that as temps are rising, everyone has either recovered from the week’s historical event, or is close enough to recovery to see the end. Also, at this point in life, I have a sufficient number of magical memories from every age without adding new ones.

—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 coffee is on; that will not change either

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” 

—Alphonse Karr, French critic, journalist, and novelist.

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More years ago than I care to remember, a young newspaper writer and photographer sat down to pen his weekly column about being named the paper’s new publisher. Although he had about five years of community newspaper experience under his belt plus seven months at this newspaper, this charge would be his first as a publisher. 

That column began, “I’m ready for you, world … is the world ready for me,” sings Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Movie as he heads for California and Hollywood. Being charged with the responsibility of publishing summons me to ask myself, ‘Are you ready?’ The answer to that lies in the fact that here I am writing this column to answer my questions as much as to answer yours.” 

“There will be nothing new at your newspaper,” he continued, “other than a new publisher. And since I am neither new to the paper nor the community, the only thing new will be my face in the publisher’s office.” He espoused some basic principles, which he believed to be the foundation of community newspapers. Things like a common interest in the hopes, the fears, the happiness, and the sadness of the community. “Reporting the news, good and bad, fully and objectively, is any newspaper’s highest task and to that end, we fully subscribe.”

“In today’s economy,” he added, “The shopper wants the most for their spending dollar, the merchant wants the best coverage for his or her advertising dollar, and we intend to help both of them achieve just that. There will be no changes there.” He also touched on supporting the local community by shopping at home. “We are all in this together and if the businesses can’t make a profit, they can’t support the community with the product or service you seek.” 

Concluding by quoting successful newspaper entrepreneur Carmage Walls, he wrote, “Mr. Walls once said something to the effect that newspapers are owned by the people they serve. The stockholders are merely temporary custodians.” Nothing could be truer; this is your newspaper. Let us know what you want. That will never change.”

Some 30-plus years and a resume of publishing stints later, he was crafting another “I’m the new publisher” column at the same newspaper. This time he wrote, “A line in Ben Kweller’s tune ‘Full Circle’ allows as how the singer is ‘… havin’ fun sittin’ shotgun ’cause I’ve come full circle.’  I can’t escape the music of this business. I’ve left a couple of times not so much by choice, but more so by following my muse. And once again, she has tiptoed up and tapped me on the shoulder while softly crooning her hypnotic song, ‘I’m baaack.'” 

And now here I am this week, a few years following those words, once again writing an “I’m the new publisher” column at the very same publication in Center, Texas. This time comes at a period in life when almost everyone in my circle is doing retirement things. However, the Moser Community Media folks who I have known almost all my newspaper life offered me the opportunity to follow the publisher and ad director team of Mike and Stephanie Elswick at The Light and Champion. My response was they will be a very tough act to follow, but I will give it my best.

While I acknowledge the products and methods have changed since I drafted my “no changes” missive decades ago, the mission of community newspapers has not. They may look different, feel different, and in some cases arrive in your home by different means, but they still serve the same community role. The same philosophies I held then remain true today.

The old saying, “the more the things change, the more they stay the same,” comes to mind this time around. Perhaps that has been used as song lyrics as well, but I didn’t research it. We’ll save that for another column.

In the meantime, come see us at The Light and Champion. The coffee is on and that will not change either.

—Leon Aldridge

(Newspaper clipping at top of the page: The Center, Texas, East Texas Light, now The Light and Champion, November 11, 1980.)

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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.

Making choices that affect those around us

“We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.” 

― Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States

It would be wonderful to tell you that I felt like I prepared my children for the future. But honestly, there were times when I worked diligently, just hoping they were prepared for school tomorrow and wondering if I would be prepared for next week.

My paternal grandmother, a devout Methodist, was quick to use Biblical scripture backing up her advice for raising children. That said, she humorously confessed her doubts about Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” To hear her tell it, she had my father perfectly trained until “he went off to the Army where he learned all of his bad habits.”

My mother once expressed thoughts on her parenting, telling me she wished she had done some things differently in raising my sisters and me. I assured her that she apparently did a good job—just look at how great I turned out to be. In the event she didn’t buy that, I also suggested that her sentiment was likely one shared by many parents. Children, unfortunately, do not come with owner’s manuals.

While I concur with my predecessors on parenting, there must have been a bit of acceptable guidance involved in my children’s paths to adulthood. Along with a little luck and a lot of God’s blessings, I have two wonderful children, Robin and Lee, who I love and of whom I am proud to say, “Those are my children.” At 42 and 40, they have families and, like most of us, have thoughts of their own about preparing children for the future.

It’s hard to say where she gets it (wink, wink), but Robin has a penchant for sharing her thoughts through writing short essays on various topics, including parenting and the society in which she is raising her children. Maybe it started with our communication habits at home when she was still in school. Some nights Robin and I sat on the back porch and talked. Other times she would leave me long notes, and I would respond likewise. These days, she posts her thoughts on Instagram, a form of social media I know nothing about other than how to find some of her work. 

One recent piece resonated with me, and I am doing something I have not done in all the years I’ve been writing columns; feature the work of a guest writer. The following was written by my daughter, Robin Osteen, after the recent siege of censoring and blocking social media platforms and news outlets. She closed her Amazon account of many years and wrote the following to express her thoughts on the company’s termination of their hosting agreement with Parler because of political and social opinions with which Amazon did not agree.

“I support companies having every right to make their own policies, support the causes they believe in, and refuse to do business with causes they can’t in good conscience support.”

“But, if we are going to be a country that retains its freedom, individuals have to have enough backbone to put aside their own convenience and even security in order to stop funding entities that are vying for control over other’s freedom.”

“I don’t agree with everything shared on Parler. But I refuse to teach the next generation that the answer to bullying is to become the bully. If society deems disagreement, dissent, and questioning the current perceived reality as unacceptable behavior, the next generation will live as silent slaves to those who dictate and define acceptable reality.”

“Over the last two years, I have extracted myself from social media other than checking in once a week for about 30 minutes. My husband and all of my older children have come to me individually telling me how much better our life is now that I’m not glued to my phone. It’s been over a year since I went down to my half-an-hour-a-week policy and, it was a rough transition. But my relationships have gotten so much better, I feel more connected with my world, and my anxiety has decreased by at least one half.”

“You do what’s right for you. But know that the next generation will look back at the choices this generation made in this season. You are only one person, but the choices you make will affect the people around you. All I ask is that you choose intentionally and with courage.”

“One more thought for the road: We have always taught our children that responsibility and authority are inseparable. You cannot give another person or entity responsibility for an area of your life without also giving them the authority to call the shots.”

That’s my daughter. I’m thinking her children will be prepared for the future as well as prepare a better one for their children.

—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.