Finishing a book is still on the bucket list

“When the zombie apocalypse knocks out the electricity in town and the internet is down, your books will still work just fine.”—from 50 Reasons Real Books are Vastly Superior to eBooks by David Ferrer

As I am again itching to dust off my long-labored book drafts with thoughts of finishing one, I’m reading that printed book sales are up and eBook sales are slowing for the first time since Kindle came on the scene. Those reports parallel others of school districts returning to real books and pitching the pads. Research supported reasons, outside of Ferror’s satirical thoughts, include reading comprehension and retention are better with “old-timey” printed books. Works for me, too.

I’ve both collected and accumulated “old-timey” printed books since I was in high school…shortly after the printing press was invented according to my kids. Reading and writing are two things that keep me going. Keep my creative clock wound. Keep me somewhat sane—to the degree that is possible.

After a career of writing everything from news stories, to columns, to technical and promotional writing plus teaching writing skills, my one remaining writing goal is a book, something I’ve been working on since long before digital books came along.

I tried digital, didn’t work for me. I confess to keeping a couple of books online accessible for reading primarily while waiting to see the doctor. When appointments run long past time, a book or two on the phone is a nice way to justify wasted time.

Beyond that, I want real books. Books that I can recognize across the room by looking at the spine. Books that have a distinctive smell much like the olfactory experience of sitting in an old car each with its own distinct automotive aura. Books, any one of which I can pull off one of my shelves and quickly turn to almost any passage I want to revisit regardless of how many years ago I read it. Can’t do that with digital; have you ever thought about why?

Mark Hom on SciTech CONNECT says that’s because the human brain is analog and not digital. For instance, if someone asks directions to a destination, do you reply, “Take US 96N 11 miles to 59N, then Texas 149 5 miles to 281? The majority of us are more likely to answer, you go down here (while pointing) about 11 miles or so to the Denny’s and turn right on the loop then go around to the exit at the Shell station.”

Whatever directions I may follow attempting to add “author” to my resume, I have some ideas about what I want to write should flames miraculously erupt from the embers of my rubbing words together anytime soon.

Plus, I now have new inspiration with three of my colleagues from the ranks of newspapers having published books in the last couple of years. Gary Borders who has published a number of newspapers in his long career wrote, “Yours Faithfully, J.A.” chronicling the life and times of newspaper editor and publisher H.B. Fox. Lou Antonelli at the Clarksville Times published his first novel following numerous award-winning short stories which he terms alternative history. It’s titled, “Another Girl Another Planet,” a novel about secret government agents and a photo taken by a Mars lander. Then there’s Kari Collins at the Iowa Park Leader who, along with Kevin Slimp, published, “Haunted Places and Ghost Sightings Across Texas,” stories from the pages of Texas newspapers about paranormal activity.

Hopefully, one of my drafts will come to normal activity fruition for reading in the form of a real book and I can join the ranks of my published friends before I get to the end of my bucket list … and also hopefully long before the zombie apocalypse.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the  Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. 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.

Friends are the best sunshine on rainy days

“Vicky’s in great shape and we’re ready for some 2019 road trip fun 1950s style—with a little sunshine.” – Leon Aldridge, April 6, 2019

Those words of optimism sounded great when I penned them three months ago after the “Highway 271 Cruise” classic car touring event in Northeast Texas was rained out. Sunshine was still scarce last Saturday when the rescheduled version got underway, but it was soon to come in the form of crossing paths with old friends along the East Texas pine tree route, and making new ones as well.

That morning back in April, I savored hot coffee from my sunshine-less breakfast room window while violent thunderstorms raged outside and Vicky snoozed in the garage. By the way, Vicky is my 1955 Ford—one of Henry’s finest produced 64 years ago.

Rain, lightning and thunder were still in the offering last Saturday, but this time I was sipping coffee from a travel mug and viewing the weather through Vicky’s windshield. The rescheduled touring cruise was a “go” this time based on forecasts of only light scattered rain along the U.S. 271 route. True to the weather prognosticator’s predictions, we were greeted in Mount Pleasant by rainless but cloudy skies. However, that did not include the 103 miles of rain and thunderstorms we weathered from Center to Daingerfield before reaching the starting point for the day’s activities.

In addition to cloudy skies, we were also greeted in Mount Pleasant by an MPHS school mate of 58-years ago. Vicky was just six years old when Kenny Thompson and I occupied school desks on the same Titus County campus, which was also the last time we had seen each other. Light rain would come and go for the rest of the day, but the wonderful time spent catching up on names from years past and the cars associated with each one was non-stop.

We were still working on those “remember that ’57 Chevy he had” memories at the third tour stop in Gladewater. As the 35 or so cars and their owners who took a chance on the wet weather were directed toward parking at “The Antique Capital of Texas,” I recognized the photographer capturing photos. My journalism journey crossed paths with Jim Bardwell’s some 30-plus years ago and we were quickly good friends. I was entrusted with the care of the Center Light and Champion at the time while Jim was guiding the Lindale Times and News in that city over north of Tyler. Jim and his wife Susanne are owners of the Gladewater Mirror these days along with newspapers at Big Sandy and also Lindale. 

Jim and I followed suit in the day’s game of catchup conversations swapping information on the ever-changing business of publishing the local newspaper. It was Suzanne who some years ago during a similar group exchange of “who was where” and “what had they done,” declared that my connections were sufficient to merit a bumper sticker proclaiming, “Honk if You Know Leon Aldridge.” She vowed that night to produce a batch, but I have yet to see one. 

Visits with Jim, Kenny and other friends made during the day’s activities ended in Gladewater and the “Highway 271 Progressive Car Cruise” for 2019 was officially in the books. However, our day was not over. Vicky carried on flawlessly getting us on down to Panola County to join the Shelby County Cruisers car club “date night” supper that included a guided tour of G.W. “Dub” Ayres’ outstanding car collection. The gracious host provided narratives on every pristine car in his collection adding one more friend and many memories to my long list.

To end the evening, the Cruisers met for dinner at a restaurant on the north side of Lake Murvaul discussing what else—old cars and good friends. After that, Vicky purred back into Center where our adventure had started a little more than 12 hours and 285 miles earlier. It also ended just as we had started it; in a downpour of rain. But even on rainy days, there is always sunshine in reconnecting with old friends, making new ones and spending time with all of them.

Oh, if you happen to see one of Suzanne’s bumper stickers in your travels, please don’t forget to honk.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page: The Highway 271 Cruise caravan of cars line up along Jefferson Street in downtown Pittsburg, Texas.)

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. 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.

Good memories from a big ol’ Buick

A good life is a collection of happy memories.”

— Denis E. Waitley, American motivational speaker, writer and consultant

Memories that may or may not have inspired Bob Dylan’s song, “Ballad from a Buick 6” notwithstanding, many of mine shine brighter than all the chrome on one of the big 50s cruisers.

Good memories are the basis for a good life as well as many a good story worth telling. I’m also convinced that memories also help to shape our lives and determine why we enjoy some things more than others.

Friend and mentor, Jim Chionsini, sent me a photo last week of a superb ’53 Buick Skylark convertible belonging to an acquaintance of his. The car captured highest honors at the 2019 Buick Club of America (BCA) Show recently in the Oklahoma City suburb of Midwest City.

The dark blue beauty was indeed a fine specimen of automotive history at the pinnacle of motoring excellence when every car on the road possessed a unique style and personality making each one easily distinguishable from others. Cars of that era were new when I was a kid and I remember easily differentiating a Buick Roadmaster from a Chevrolet Bel-Air at a country mile with one eye while admiring a new Ford Crown Victoria with the other.

That ability went hand-in-hand with developing an affinity for the aroma of gas and oil and the dazzle of chrome plating at an early age. Fond memories include spending a whole week’s allowance on the latest issue of Car Craft magazine and reading Tom McCahill’s automotive column in Popular Mechanics at the barber shop on Saturday.

“Gorgeous example of a rare car,” I responded to Jim’s message. “Reminds me of a childhood memory of spending a few days with my aunt and uncle in Kentucky. They were newly married students at Kentucky Wesleyan where someone drove a big ol’ new Buick convertible.”

My Aunt Jo, my Mom’s younger sister and one of the Johnson siblings from Winchester, Kentucky, married Fred Scott from Hazard, Kentucky, who also admired distinctive vehicles himself.

Remembering the Buick convertible from that summer long ago, I can’t tell you if it was one of the rare Skylark models, but the car none-the-less made an impression on me even at that young age. Uncle Freddie owned at least one Buick himself that I recall, a big black fastback model called the Sedanette with Buick’s signature Straight-8 engine dubbed the “Fireball 8.” Specifically, I remember a trip in that car where we spent several hours one night at a roadside hamburger joint somewhere in Oklahoma waiting to meet my Uncle Bill who was coming from California in a ’49 Mercury convertible. We were all headed to a family reunion and the waiting part occurred because no one knew Bill was stuck at a repair shop somewhere else in the Sooner State after the big Merc broke down.

A couple more memories from that Kentucky summer visit include discovering clover and the fact that it came in three-leaf and four-leaf varieties. That was huge for a youngster who was yet to enter the first grade. I still remember searching for one with four leaves among the blades of grass outside a small tavern where Uncle Freddie took me with him one afternoon.

And that’s the other memory. The color of the neon lights in the tavern, the pool tables and the sound of the balls hitting each other, and the glow of the jukebox filling the establishment with the Big Band music of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw.

Reflecting on all of these wonderful memories, I’m thinking that I probably owe my Uncle Freddie a large debt of gratitude for some of the things that  I appreciate even today. He may very well have played a pivotal role in the fact that I have always harbored a fondness for big cars from the age of motoring excellence, and for taverns with neon lights, pool tables, and jukeboxes.

Especially one that might still have a tune like “Ballad from a Buick 6” vibrating the speakers.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. 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.

One home maintenance show that needs no encore

“Beware of the dog. But keep an eye on the neighbor, too. He’s kinda weird.” —A sign my neighbors would probably consider displaying

 Owning a home or an automobile is deeply rooted in the American way of life often considered as signs of success.

Home ownership can also be an investment, provided one can outwit the sneaky beast—home maintenance. Cars? They are mostly expense although some classics are fun to drive. My dad never considered a car as fun. His philosophy at a time when the classics I own now were still in the new car showrooms was to avoid automobiles with power options. “Just more maintenance to pay for.”

Home maintenance woes greeted me head on Saturday night returning from a road trip car show up in Northeast Texas in my 1955 Ford. Opening the door to the house was like entering an oven. It was hotter inside than the dog day afternoon outside. In fact, the dog decided to stay outside where he had been all day.

In a bit of “lucky dog” fortune, my recently purchased home warranty kicked in a couple of weeks ago. A call about 8:30 Saturday night prompted a scripted response offering little sympathy for my hot house with the message, “a repair contractor will call in 24-48 hours.” Dragging out the fans, I once again pondered the classic question: why do these things always happen weekends or the middle of the night?

Household maintenance issues, day or night, seldom come with any warning and can leave you in hot water, or some times without it. Water heaters, for me, tend to be the sneakiest culprits, more so than climate control systems. You don’t get to simply come home to a sweltering sauna to suffer. It’s a soggy floor or cold shower that is usually your first clue that the water heater has created chaos.

It was water heater chaos that almost got me evicted from the neighborhood one morning a few years ago when thermal shock in the shower at 5:00 a.m. was my first clue that something about the water heater was not so hot. Checking the pilot as my first troubleshooting task was hurriedly executed with a wet head and a towel for attire. Navigating to the garage utility room in the early morning darkness with a flashlight, the steady stream of water coming from under the storeroom door was the beginning of solving the mystery but came very close to being the end of a great relationship with my next-door neighbors.

The exact moment I chose to open the utility room door to turn off the water supply to the heater coincidentally coincided with the same moment my wife chose to push the button to raise the garage door to see what I was doing in the garage with a flashlight at 5:00 a.m. Worse was the fact that the door switch also turned on the garage lights.

Most early mornings, seeing the neighbor’s garage door start up might trigger the thought that said neighbor was headed for work, maybe taking trash cans to the curb, or letting the dogs out. But, on this particular morning, the retired couple next door loading the car for a vacation trip was given a whole different set of factors with which to work when suddenly subjected to the image of the guy next door in his garage dripping wet and wearing a towel.

The apparent shock and silence were broken when I stammered a weak “good morning,” adding something about the water heater being out of commission in a scene totally reminiscent of the classic  movie, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

“What are you doing,” my spouse called loudly from the kitchen door.

“Hoping our neighbors can unsee what they just saw,” I said. “You could help with that if you will kindly hit that switch to lower the door.”

Fortunately, no encounters of the close kind with neighbors accompanied arriving home Saturday to a hot hacienda. While a towel dress code might have made the heat more bearable, in a manner of speaking, I’m not sure the neighbors could have endured an encore.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Championthe Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. 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.

 

He who laughs last is usually a parent

“Some children threaten to run away from home. This is the only thing that keeps some parents going.”—Phyllis Diller

Just to clarify, I know it’s Father’s Day weekend. But, this week was also special because June 12th was my mother’s birthday. Indianola (“Inky”) Johnson Aldridge was born June 12, 1923. She’s been gone since December 8, 2010, but there has never been a June 12 that I don’t think about her, or any day for that matter.

If I knew where she got the nickname “Inky,” I’ve since forgotten it. Some assume she acquired it working for the Mount Pleasant Tribune for 17 years, but she was known as Inky a long before she ever saw the inside of a newspaper office.

I was blessed with wonderful parents. If you’ve followed the missives in this space for very long, you already know about my father and that was my hero for many reasons. Mom also blessed me with excellent traits for which I am thankful. Things like a love for books and reading, a “mostly” even-keeled temperament, an appreciation for music, the joy of friends, and a deeply-seated faith. I had no Saturday night curfew, but there was also no question where I would be Sunday morning—in church with her. It was mandatory, not an option.

Looking back, I tried to demonstrate my appreciation for the things my parents did for me the best way I knew how although I think at times, surely I was misunderstood.

Like the time when I decided to help out with family haircuts. Snip, snip and my little sister, Leslie, had a new haircut. Done playing barbershop, we took off down the hall past the closet mom was cleaning out. She looked up, then turned back to what she was doing. An instant later, her head snapped back toward us and her scream shattered any silence that may have prevailed. It scared me, I thought something was wrong with her. Well, something was wrong with her, but little did I realize it was my hair styling skills.

How was I to know that mom had done everything she could to make Leslie’s hair grow? I thought all little sisters required taped-on bows for church.

She picked up Leslie, looked at her head, and started sobbing. Sensing something was awry with our beauty shop game, I continued on toward the kitchen. Mom set Leslie on the floor and without taking a step, reached out, grabbed the waistband on my pants and began reeling me in.

Mom used her hairbrush to dispense corporal punishment in those days. Guess she figured that particular day if she didn’t need it for Leslie’s hair, she might as well apply it other ways.

Things settled down by Sunday when off to church we went, everyone with their hair nicely combed and Leslie sporting a bonnet. When mom tried to explain to friends what happened, the crying started all over again.

Another effort to show mom how much I appreciated her was a couple of years after the haircut when I thought she might be proud of my decision-making skills when I decided to go for ice cream with the neighbors. Ice cream is always good and we had good neighbors, there was nothing wrong with there either. And it wasn’t like I didn’t ask for permission— I did. The problems all started when she told me, “no.”

The neighbors were Catholic, had enough kids to field their own baseball team, and drove a big black Buick to haul them in. They were loading up to go and I could taste the ice cream. So, despite the fact that mom told me I couldn’t go, I went anyway.

Upon our return, mom was glad to see me—so glad that she was crying and babbling something about how she had been looking all over for me. When I told her where I had been, we reviewed the terms of our conversation after which she applied another dose of hairbrush helper. The fact that she was now able to use it for brushing Leslie’s hair didn’t deter her from using it once again for punishment purposes.

Another of mom’s good qualities was that she was understanding. As time went along, we both laughed about these episodes and others that followed through the years.

Best I can recall, she started laughing about them somewhere around the time I had children of my own.

—Leon Aldridge

Photo at top of the page—Undated snapshot of my parents, Leon (Buddy) Aldridge and Indianola (Inky) Aldridge published for memories of Father’s Day and my mom’s birthday. I suspect the photo was taken about the time of the episodes chronicled above or maybe slightly before. Certainly not the same day because they were both smiling.

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Championthe Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. 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.

Enforcing the rules while teaching by example

“If you set a good example, you need not worry about setting rules.” —Lee Iacocoa

If you earned a driver’s license in Texas about the time I did, you know it was a time when one small piece of pink paper was a rite of passage—a revered step toward adulthood. If like me, you also crossed that threshold in Mount Pleasant, you remember Gene Campbell, the Texas State Trooper who served in the Driver’s License Division for 37 years.

When I first got to know Mr. Campbell as a neighbor, a bicycle was still my means of transportation. And, I later knew his family from sharing a pew at the North Jefferson Church of Christ in Mount Pleasant.

Growing up on Redbud Street on Mount Pleasant’s south side in the late 50s and early 60s was a time when kids spent summer evenings after supper making memories playing neighborhood games like hide-and-seek, Red Rover, and dodge ball. The concentration of kids on Redbud then included Kris and Kim Campbell who lived three doors up the street from us where the Highway Patrol vehicle, as it was called back then, was a neighborhood fixture in the driveway.

It was also a time when we learned by example to show respect for others, to say, “yes sir” and “yes, ma’am,” to obey the law and respect the men and women who enforced it.

My parents left no doubt in my mind about an example of what to expect should I get into trouble at school or with an officer of the law. No questions asked—the word of the teacher or the police officer was enough. I knew the parental punishment awaiting me at home was worse than any I might have already received from those whose duty it was to enforce the rules.

Those examples set at home are why Gene Campbell and a generation of officers of the law then might have asked a young person regarding questionable conduct, “What would your daddy think?” Nothing was harder than the thought of having failed in my parent’s eyes or standing before my father to account for disrespecting the examples set for me. It was far more painful than a properly applied switch to the backside.

Like Mr. Campbell, Mount Pleasant Police Chief B.C. Sustaire was of that same generation of officers who understood that when a badge was respected, officers of the law could temper strict law enforcement with a dose of common-sense wisdom when the latter better served the purpose.

Skipping the details of the night that landed my friends and I at the police station to face Chief Sustaire, I’ll simply say that the chief quizzed us sternly about the mischief we he had been accused of and let us go home. We thought we had lucked out, but he knew that word traveled faster than wheels in a small town and when it reached our parents, we would be back. And he was right.

The chief was gracious when my father marched me to the police station a couple of days later. He knew justice had been served because he also knew I respected the example set by my father…who was somewhat less gracious once we got home.

DL book 1962-sm
1962 Texas Department of Safety Driver’s Handbook

As a driver’s license officer, about the worst outcome of any meeting with Mr. Campbell might have been failing a driving test. Fortunately, my experience with him as a freshman for a driver’s license, a commercial license the summer I graduated from high school, and a motorcycle endorsement while in college all had good outcomes.

Still, Mr. Campbell was the perfect example of a uniformed officer of the law who commanded respect. His military-style stature and esprit de corps step exemplified dedication to the uniform he wore. More importantly, however, he was at the same time always polite, always  professional, and always a good example to young people. I know he was to me which is why I was saddened to read that Mr. Campbell passed away May 25.

Although his job was to enforce the rules, I remember him as someone who set a good example as a neighbor, a Christian, and an officer of the law.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Championthe Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. 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 best part about memories is making them

“We had no idea we were creating memories, we just thought we were having fun.” —author unknown

“You’ve enjoyed many adventures,” a good friend complimented me a couple of weeks ago. “Adventures? I just enjoy having fun.”

The conversation started while recounting a fun story involving a mutual friend, Jimmy Mason at Mason Hardware in Mount Pleasant, Texas. I was a brand-new pilot in 1974 with less than 100 hours logged, Jimmy was a student pilot working on his license, and we shared a common instructor in Grady Firmin who suggested, “Let’s go to the CAF air show down in Harlingen.” The CAF, aka the Commemorative Air Force, has for decades produced one of the best air shows in the country celebrating vintage military warbirds. Their spine-tingling re-enactment of the 1941 surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II, “Tora Tora, Tora,” is something not soon forgotten.

CAF Tora
Commemorative Air Force, “Tora, Tora, Tora,” 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor reenactment. Photo Credit — Commemorative Air Force / CAF Wings Over Dallas / tora_Brian Silcox

A plan was forged for flying to the southernmost border of Texas loaded with bags and bedrolls for camping under the wings. For reasons lost to time, I was designated pilot-in-command, student-pilot Jimmy filled the right seat, and Grady, a Vietnam veteran combat pilot with logbook entries for flying Huey gunships and F-8s off aircraft carriers took the back seat. Go figure!

“Let’s go,” Grady said. “Wait,” I objected, “We need weight and balance checks with all this baggage and a full load of fuel.”

“Give it ten degrees of flaps,” Grady commanded. “Run up to full power and release the brakes. If she doesn’t want to fly by mid-field, stop. We’ll throw some of this stuff out and try again.”

The plane lifted off albeit begrudgingly, and we were headed south as sunlight slipped away. I still maintain that the most memorable sunsets and sunrises are those viewed from a mile high or more.

A stop for the night in Corpus Christi and we were back at the airport early the next morning. I prefilghted the plane and requested a Brownsville sectional to get us to Harlingen. Navigation then was with paper sectionals, not a whole lot unlike a Texaco road map.

“Sold out,” the attendant replied. “Everybody’s headed to Harlingen.”

“How do we get there without a sectional?”

“Easy,” he said. “Fly the coastline south toward Mexico until you don’t hear English on the radio any more. Turn around, fly back about 30 miles and you should be pretty close.” His intent was humor…I think.

The serenity of the early morning flight down the coast was interrupted when we began to encounter hundreds of other planes swarming the area heading for the same place. “Enter holding pattern over Combes,” the radio repeated, “Maintain 500-feet vertical spacing, when the last digit of your N number is called, switch to tower frequency and enter left downwind for 35, maintain one-mile spacing on final.”

We joined the others circling the tiny burg of Combes below us where we stayed until I had memorized the recorded instructions and the fuel gauge was about to bottom out. Finally, I heard the magic number—ours. On final approach, airspeed was bleeding off and runway was rising up to greet us when the tower directed, “Go around—you’re too close to the aircraft ahead of you.”

“Forget it”, Grady said from the back seat, “You’re fine!” Who was I to argue with the veteran? Keying the mic, I replied, “Negative Harlingen tower, insufficient fuel for go-around.”

Seconds later, I pulled the nose up to flare for landing and breathed a sigh of relief as the tires chirped on the runway confirming our reunion with Mother Earth. We had arrived.

Loaded with memories of one of the best airshows on earth for the return trip home a couple of days later, we touched down at Mount Pleasant about midnight with no clue regarding the value those memories would have in the years to come. After all, we were just having fun.

—Leon Aldridge

A&A 4-11-17 group photo-sm
“Long-time Friends” (from left to right) Albert Thompson; retired CAF “Tora” pilot Charles Hutchins; Jim Chionsini; and Leon Aldridge. (2017)

P.S: “Tora” footnote—Not long after this adventure, I was fortunate to meet Charles Hutchins, one of the CAF “Tora” pilots, and to call him my friend ever since. Charles retired as a Tora pilot a few years ago, and his son, Patrick, now flies the same replica Japanese Zero aircraft in the CAF airshows. The replica airplane Hutchins flies was built by 20th Century Fox Corp. for the 1970 movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!”

 

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion,the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2019. 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.