Thankful for the glow of wood burning flames

“The joy of the open fireplace is playing with fire without being accused of playing with fire.” ― Gene Logsdon, “You Can Go Home Again: Adventures of a Contrary Life” 

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Despite the challenges imposed on family gatherings this year, I hope that Thanksgiving was blessings and good times at your house.

Thanksgiving weekend a few years ago, this space was used to opine about flames flickering in a fireplace. I described how the warmth and the fall colors outside my breakfast room window combined to inspire a holiday mood as I nurtured words into a newspaper column for the next edition. 

That same breakfast room window has again debuted picture-perfect Fall hues for my favorite time of the year with family and friends (shhh … don’t tell the holiday gathering police). Again I am crafting a column for another Thanksgiving season, and what better place to do that than by a fireplace. 

Column writing or a journalism career were neither one on my radar in 1971 when I finally accumulated enough hours to wrangle a degree in psychology and art from East Texas State University. That credit likely belongs to my reading Paul Crume’s weekly column, titled “Big D,” that appeared every day on the Dallas Morning News‘ front page for 24 years.

Crume’s best-known column was “Angels Among Us.” The last time I checked, running that piece is still a Christmas tradition for the newspaper 45 years after Crume’s death. My favorite, “Christmas Fires,” spoke to my love for the hypnotic effect of flames, something I still enjoy whether in a cozy fireplace, a backyard burn pit, or a good brush pile on a drizzly fall afternoon.

Ironically, this season’s flickering fireplace flames serve to recant opinions expressed in that column I penned a few years ago declaring my new gas logs as, “an intelligent advancement in the right direction.” I made that declaration saying, “For the first time in all my years of home ownership, I am now relaxing in front of a fire that rises from gas logs.” I rambled in glee about, “Gone are the days of buying or cutting firewood, hauling and stacking it, cleaning the fireplace and the chimney in springtime, and a smoke-filled house when I forget to open the damper.”

Honestly, making that transition to fake fire did not come easy. The gas logs were purchased before procuring a plumber to make the connection. His sobering news that installing a proper gas line to supply the logs would cost nearly three times what the logs themselves cost was a setback, to say the least. But after weeks of watching the glowing fireplace picture pasted on the cardboard box of burner-equipped ceramic timbers sidelined near the fireplace, I bit the bullet bringing fireplace flames to life as easy as turning a knob.

Ironic perhaps was my admission, “Truthfully, when considering the switch from a real fireplace, I feared missing the satisfaction of poking at glowing late-night coals and the smell of wood-burning.” In retrospect, that was probably the most accurate statement in that piece. So, out the faux logs are coming making way for the return of warmth, glow and smell of real wood burning. I’m looking forward in the weeks ahead to once again enjoying mornings reading a good book with coffee by the fireplace, afternoons of fireside naps on the couch and nights of column writing inspired by Paul Crume’s “Christmas Fires” column. Oh, and the satisfaction of poking at glowing late-night coals. I have to admit there really is something to playing with fire without being accused of playing with fire.

As the aforementioned weeks ahead pickup speed toward Christmas and the last vestiges of 2020, the “most thankful award” may be seeing this year come to an end.

But, despite the conflict, catastrophe, and confusion we’ve endured in 2020, I am thankful that the U.S.A. remains the best place on God’s green earth to live … and that I have my real fireplace back.

—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 2020. 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.

Let me envision that dream one more time

“Sit back and dream of a soft June night when spring and summer join together, and the stars twinkle in the velvet cushion of sky overhead. And you two are one with the night and the mood, moving in the breeze in the open splendor of your Buick Convertible.” —1954 Buick magazine ad

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It would be a decade after that ad appeared before I bought my first car as a high school sophomore, but what I wanted that car to be came into focus early. I connected with that vision of the breeze blowing through my hair and those stars twinkling overhead. I wanted a convertible. 

Even before DPS Trooper Gene Campbell approved my ticket to drive by stamping “Restrictions Removed” on my learner’s license, I had my eye on a Model A Ford roadster rusting in a Titus County field. I remember it like yesterday waning in the weeds with its deteriorated cloth top waiting for someone to rescue it for some summer fun: someone like me.   

Summer 2020 looms in the rear-view mirror now, although in East Texas, that just means it’s bearable to get outside the house in “the heat of the day” as my grandmother used to say. My love for automobiles in any season has always led me to believe a journey is not about the route you take or where you are going as much as it’s about the vehicle in which you are traveling. And that’s especially true when the scenic route is in a car with a top that goes down. 

As the ad suggested, convertibles put you at one with nature, unlike anything else except a motorcycle, which is probably why I’ve owned several of those, too. They let you become a part of the countryside instead of just passing through it. You get an unobstructed view with all the sights, sounds, and aromas to go with it.

Although my first car was not a convertible, I came close to buying one while still in high school. One summer night while at the Dairy Queen in Mount Pleasant, I heard that Ray Baker was selling his ’59 Chevrolet drop-top, and I was knocking on his door before I finished my chocolate shake. As I looked up at the stars from the driver’s seat, I fantasized about the old car ad and almost heard the song “One Summer Night” by The Danleers playing on the radio. The car and the moment caught my heart, but the reality of my “after school job” budget let it slip through my fingers. I still think about it. 

A couple of years later, a 1929 Ford Model A roadster like the one I had fallen in love with before I had a driver’s license turned my head. While working a summer body shop job for my uncle in California, I bought one with a 50’s vintage DeSoto Hemi motor, no fenders, and no top. The original Ford soft top was long gone and of little concern for a Southern California hot rod. Thus, my first genuine moving in the breeze moments under the stars were experienced in Southern California in the summer of 1967.  

My first genuine convertible with a top that went up and down was a few years later in East Texas. The 1970 VW rag top purchased from John Paul Jones used car lot in Naples was the same color as the ’59 Chevy I had drooled over some years earlier and was one of the most fun cars I’ve owned. 

Convertibles of any kind are fun, at least in my book. In the decades since those early flings, I’ve enjoyed 23 automobiles equipped to allow breezes to flow through my hair and afford me a view of the stars at night. Recalling that list last week with fond moments of each one, I’m now contemplating selling my ’57 Thunderbird convertible … without plans to replace it. The herd needs thinning as three classic cars are becoming more than I can properly care for. And sentimental value would make it difficult to part with the other two, both hardtops. 

But that’s all right. At this age, what gray hair I have left is thin and doesn’t catch much of a breeze. Plus, I’m usually in bed asleep these days by the time the stars come out anyway.

Where is that ad? Let me envision that dream one more time before I put out the ‘for sale’ sign.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page: A summer night shot of “Black ‘Bird” as I call her. While I do like the car a lot, that ray of light is not from on high, it’s a streetlight. And yes, my shoes are the same kind immortalized in song by Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley.)

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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 2020. 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.

If he were here today, I would thank him again

“Six of us huddled there returning fire for several hours until the village was secured. Two of us walked out.” 

— Master Sergeant Leon Aldridge, U.S. Army 1942-1945

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My father and I stood at the base of massive stone buttresses supporting the majestic Cologne Cathedral that has towered above Germany’s Rhine River since 1248.

That sentence introduced this column some 25 years ago for Veterans Day. I still get requests for it, and it was used again this week for Veterans Day in the newspapers that publish my column. I may write a better one some day, but for now it remains my favorite Veterans Day column about my favorite Veteran.

That November in 1984 when we stood together, I marveled at the incredible sight, not realizing until I saw Dad’s tears that he was reliving a night 40 years earlier. “See that spot there,” he said, pointing into a crevice between two spreading buttresses supporting the more than 700-year-old structure.

Leon D. Aldridge in a photo from a scrapbook my Mom assembled as he sent photos to her. There is no notation about where or when it was taken. The sergeant’s stripes on his sleeve indicate it would have been toward the end of his service which would indicate about 1945 in Germany.

“Forty years ago,” he said solemnly, “half a dozen of us huddled there all night. The rest of our outfit was scattered down toward the river. We secured the road for the infantry behind us before encountering what was left of German defenders in the village. The gunfire was bright as day. We weren’t sure we’d see the sunrise,” he said before pausing. “Six of us huddled there returning fire for several hours until the rest of the unit moved up to secure the village. Two of us walked out.”

Dad talked very little about his service, at least not about battlefield experiences. On this rare occasion, I just listened. “When I walked out of this spot, I never expected to return here again,” he said.

Leon D. Aldridge graduated from Pittsburg High School in 1941 as Hitler was marching through Europe. He was a freshman student at Texas A&M in December when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Not long after, the letter arrived. “Greetings, having submitted yourself to a committee composed of your local neighbors and friends, you have been selected …..” 

After reporting to Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, he was assigned to combat engineers training in Dixon, Tennessee, with the U.S. Army 276th Engineer Combat Battalion known as “Rough and Ready.”

After training, Private Aldridge shipped out for Belgium, but not before meeting a 1941 graduate of Winchester, Kentucky High School who would be his wife of 63 years and my mother. Before V.E. Day arrived, he would rise to the rank of Master Sergeant. And the 276th Combat Engineers would return home wearing battle ribbons for three major campaigns: Ardennes, Rhineland, and the Central Europe Campaign. 

On the back of many of the photos Dad sent Mom, he wrote: “All my love to my darling wife,” and signed them “Buddy,” a childhood nickname given him by his mother that was used by most family members all of his life. On this one, he wrote his notation on the front. “All my love & kisses, Buddy.”

“Remagen, about an hour down the river,” he pointed as we walked, “is where I was standing on the abutment when the bridge fell.” Combat engineers preceded infantry and armor to build roadways and bridges. Hence, his presence at the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, a pivotal point in the European campaign and the eventual defeat of the Axis powers. The bridge across the Rhine River was the last German hope against the advancing Allies. After allowing German forces to cross, Hitler’s troops attempted to destroy the structure with explosives, substantially damaging the bridge but not destroying it.

According to “ROUGH AND READY Unit History 276th Engineer Combat Battalion” by Allen L. Ryan, The “Rough and Ready” worked under gunfire for five days to complete repairs while units attached to the 276th built floating structures called “Bailey Bridges” downstream. On March 9, 1945, they returned the bridge to operational status, and American troops crossed as combat engineers continued working to strengthen it. On March 17, as the battalion replaced wooden flooring, steel trusses began to creak and groan, rivets started “popping like gunfire,” according to my father, and the structure collapsed into the Rhine. “Some scrambled for safety,” he said, “but many were not so fortunate.”

“I had been on the bridge earlier that morning,” he continued. “Part of the unit fell back for materials and supplies. We were waiting for the unit ahead of us to advance. Just as we started onto the bridge, it fell. Five more minutes and I would have gone into the river with it and the others who were lost that day.”

My father died in 2007. He was proud of his service. His story of duty and sacrifice as part of the nation’s military is but one small example of why America has survived for 244 years as a free and proud nation. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to thank him. If he were here today, I would hug him and thank him again. 

We live in the land of the free because of the brave who have served. Thank a veteran today and every day for their service to our country. 

—Leon Aldridge

Photo at top of the page: Leon D. Aldridge (far right) at the entrance to Battalion CO, Olpe, Germany. — Photo credit “ROUGH AND READY Unit History 276 Engineer Combat Battalion” by Allen L Ryan.

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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 2020. 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.

Maybe walls can’t talk, but frightened folks will tell it all

“If these walls could talk, I wonder what secrets they’d tell.”

— quote from “Just One Day” by American young adult fiction author, Gayle Forman

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Who hasn’t looked at an old building and thought, “If only these walls could talk?” As quickly as the world changes around us today, a structure doesn’t really have to be that old to have witnessed events worthy of remembrance including some that make for great stories.

While admiring renovations that are changing the looks of Center’s downtown square last week, I began to think of the buildings that I could see by standing in just one spot that have changed since I first traveled the square some 40-plus years ago.

Although I had heard the saying about old buildings talking long before a trip to Europe in the early 80s, my travels provided new meaning. “Old building” in many parts of the world covers a lot more history than it does in the U.S. Many structures in Europe had already qualified for historical markers by the time Paul Revere took a night off from silver smithing to make his famous midnight ride in the infancy of the American colonies.

Old buildings were still on my mind as I left the square to ride over to Pineywoods Seafood for supper. James and Anita moved their restaurant to its current location on Hurst Street some 20 years ago from a small building at Southview Circle. I had always thought the Hurst Street building was built as a Pit Grill in the 1970s. However, someone corrected me saying they thought it was an eatery called Mr. Winkie’s before it was the Pitt Grill.

Whatever the restaurant’s history, looking toward the far end of the building from the front door, the familiar floor tile design was even more noticeable with fewer tables for COVID prevention seating requirements. A flashback of my favorite story about the place made me smile. While bricks and mortar cannot relate the story, it’s one I’ve shared many times.

During its Pitt Grill time, about 1980, a big drug bust went down in Center one afternoon. State agencies arrived with 50-some-odd warrants in hand to round up dealers. The J.P.’s desk was moved to the courthouse lawn to expedite processing of arrestees into the local jail. Shreveport television stations swarmed with mobile news units, and law enforcement vehicles were moving on every street well into the evening setting the community abuzz with the news.

Hardly noticed that very same afternoon was the arrival of a newspaper owner from up in Arkansas to discuss the potential sale of his business over a dinner meeting planned at the Pitt Grill.

Then owner of the East Texas Light newspaper in Center, Jim Chionsini, our Arkansas visitor, and I drove around the square during the peak of the activity headed to the Pitt Grill for dinner marveling at the biggest drug bust in Shelby County history.

The evening’s meeting to discuss business warranted dressing nicely, therefore all three of us were sporting jackets and ties for dinner. And being as how it was a business meeting; we were also toting brief cases and files.

So, three guys completely out of context for the Pitt Grill enter and pause at the door to be seated. The first person to spot us was a young waitress bounding out of the kitchen delicately balancing a tray loaded with water glasses above her head on one hand. She took one look at us, stopped dead in her tracks, threw both hands in the air sending the tray of glasses flying while loudly exclaiming, “It wasn’t me. It’s my boyfriend you’re looking for … and I told him he shouldn’t be sellin’ that stuff. I had nothing to do with it, I promise. I promise. Please don’t arrest me.”

Silence filled the restaurant before Jim, struggling to maintain a straight face, said with a smile, “We just want a table for three please.”

Leaving Pineywoods with my take-home order last week, I was still laughing at the memory trip I had just taken back some 40 years. Maybe walls can’t talk, but if they could, they might tell the story about the night a young waitress was talking—and she was telling it all.

—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 2020. 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.

Love it, despise it, or prank it, it’s time to reset the clocks

“Time goes, you say? Ah, no! Alas, time stays, we go.”

— Austin Dobson (January 18, 1840 – September 2, 1921) English poet and essayist

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With the “fall back” version of our biannual time change coming up tonight, I’m voting to award the funniest online poster for 2020 to one that proclaims, “I am not setting my clock back in November. I do not want another hour of 2020.”

Whether you love or despise daylight savings time (DST), there’s perhaps more truth than humor in Dobson’s notion considering our nation’s “current distress.” It’s not documented whether he was commenting on daylight savings time although it’s possible because he died in 1921 in England and DST was introduced in Britain in1916. The first implementation of DST in the world was in Port Arthur, Ontario, Canada on July 1, 1908, after it was first proposed in 1895 by New Zealand entomologist George Hudson touting it to give him leisure time after work to collect insects.

DST was first enacted in the U.S. in 1918. It was abandoned by many countries in the years after World War II but resumed by most again by the 1970s. And while 26 states have considered making DST permanent since, Americans remain divided on its usefulness.

With daylight savings time for 2020 just a few days away, I’m betting the truth is you’re either looking forward to that extra hour of sleep Saturday night or you’re bemoaning how badly you’re going to feel because the time change disrupts your sleep patterns. It really doesn’t matter to me. I’ve long been accused of being able to fall asleep propped up in the corner of a noisy room any time of day. In my book, sleep is sleep, whenever you get it. 

As for the aforementioned humorous aspect of it, the time change also reminds me of DST’s post-WW II return to the U.S. after Congress established The Uniform Time Act of 1966. It was my second semester at Kilgore College when life was good for the students comprising the majority of the residents at the Leigh Apartments on North Henderson. The usual afternoon pastime event for the guys was a parking lot lawn chair reviewing stand watching for girls and cool cars cruising the city’s main thoroughfare. Those of us holding down lawn chair duty late that first DST Sunday Spring afternoon were greeting residents returning from a weekend at home when one of the earlier “arrivalees” parked, checked in, and opted out of lawn chair duty to invest his time in a nap.

Sometime later, the rest of us (names withheld to protect the guilty) were marveling at the unique feeling created by changing the clocks, and how much the seven-ish p.m. dusky daylight closely resembled the seven-ish a.m. of the prior day’s sunrise. It was from that discussion on how the end of that day might be easily mistaken for yesterday’s morning time that a diabolical scheme developed for what seemed like the perfect prank.

A coin toss was conducted to pick the perpetrator—the one to wake the napper fast asleep in his apartment convincing him the seven-ish outside was Monday morning instead of Sunday evening. “You think he’ll fall for it,” asked one of the lawn chair geniuses? “Sure he will,” the others echoed in unison. With that vote of confidence, the instigator went to deliver the message. “Hey, wake up. You’re oversleeping. You’re about to miss your first class.”

In a flash, the still groggy napper ran toward his car, dropping books while attempting to tuck shirttails and fumbling with keys. We all sat silently in the lawn chairs and watched with straight faces, astonished that he never stopped to wonder why we were still calmly lounging in the street-side reviewing stand when it was supposedly time for class.

Laughter erupted as he cleared the parking lot racing for the campus. We were still chuckling a short time later when he drove slowly back up the hill to the apartments, parked, and went into his apartment without a word for any of us: at least none that were audible.

Eventually however, he resumed speaking to us possibly attributable to another well-known axiom about the value of time. The one about how time heals all wounds and wounds all heels, or something like that.

—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 2020. 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 historical tale of two town’s tasty tamales

“Run little children,
Get your feet out the sand.
Go and tell your mama,
About the hot tamale man.”

—Mount Pleasant tamale street vendor’s verse, late 50s and early 60s

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Long before I was introduced to Zwolle’s tasty tamales in Louisiana, I enjoyed the popular Mexican food in Mount Pleasant, Texas, as a child in 1959 – ’60. Especially entertaining was the “tamale man’s” marketing methods.

Like it was yesterday, I remember standing in the doorway of Perry Brothers 5¢-and-10¢ store on Jefferson Street where my father worked and hearing the hot tamale man’s mixture of melodic and poetic recitations coming from the square. I also knew it was likely Dad would be sending me across the street with money and tamales would be on the menu for supper.

All I knew about Louisiana at that time was my father was born there and that was where most of his family beyond his parents in Pittsburg lived, at least the ones we visited. It also seemed like Louisiana was very different from East Texas with its sugar cane fields and the huge Mississippi River near his sister’s house.

Even in the mid-1970s when I moved to Many, Louisiana, as editor of the Sabine News, it seemed like crossing the border was tantamount to visiting another country. However, my time in Many left me with a new found appreciation for both the similarities and the differences, and with newfound friends and many wonderful memories.

One of the best was learning about the legendary tamales made by Brenda Broyles’ mother. Brenda’s official title at the paper was bookkeeper but as is typical of small newspapers, everybody did whatever needed doing. Brenda and her husband Dale who also worked for the paper managing circulation duties, lived in Zwolle, the small community of just over 1,700 inhabitants in Sabine Parish just up the road from Many where Brenda’s mother also resided. And the best part of that was every Friday when Brenda would bring tamales to feed the office staff which also included Malva Veuleman and Joann Campbell.

It was not until after I left Many relocating to Abilene that I learned Zwolle was not only well-known for its tamales even then, but the Zwolle Tamale Festival that continues today was also founded about the time I was there. Even then, however, it never occurred to me that tamales might seem more of a Texas or Mexico thing, but it all made perfect sense last week reading about how Sabine Parish and Louisiana’s historical ties to Texas go beyond borders and cuisine.

In a story titled “The Lost Texans of the Louisiana Pines” written by Wes Ferguson and published in the October 2020 issue of Texas Monthly magazine, Ferguson recounts the history of the region and how a mission near present-day Zwolle was actually the first capitol of what would become Texas.

The “Reader’s Digest version” is that following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the U.S. and Spain both claimed Western Louisiana’s territory between the Sabine River and the Arroya Hondo and the Calcasieu River which flows through present-day Lake Charles. The two countries first declared a neutral ground to avoid a war, but the U.S. prevailed 15 years later taking the territory for itself and officially making it part of Louisiana in 1828.

Ferguson’s story is a great history read about the El Camino Real and the Texas and Spanish heritage of the area around Zwolle that prevails even today, including how the famous tamales that are in fact more Mexican or Texan than the rest of Louisiana’s French Creole heritage became famous in Louisiana.

I haven’t been to Zwolle since I left Many one Friday night in 1977 headed for Abilene and a new job there. And the Mount Pleasant hot tamale man was gone from the courthouse square even before I graduated from high school. But I never eat a hot tamale anywhere without thinking of the people I worked with at the newspaper in Many or hearing the Mount Pleasant hot tamale man advertise his wares for sale. And now, learning a history lesson tying them both together will make a good hot tamale taste even better—if that’s even possible.

Hot tamales, hot tamales,
Two in the shuck.
One fell out,
And the other one stuck.”  

— another of the Mount Pleasant tamale man’s verses. He had several.

—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 2020. 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.

Music can charm amazing memories from the mind

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way.”

— “I Can See Clearly Now” song lyrics by Johnny Nash

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Singer Johnny Nash, whose song “I Can See Clearly Now” reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in the 70s, died last Tuesday at his home in Houston at the age of 80.

Father time was tough on the world of 70s music last week with the death of both Nash and Eddie Van Halen. As with everything, we all have our own tastes when it comes to music and mine was the calypso style of Nash more than Van Halen’s rocker style. I do remember both however and was once again reminded of the uncanny power an old song has to instantly trigger memories hijacking our thoughts back to another day and time.

Psychological studies confirm that songs we like and remember strongly imprint our minds with people, events, and locations. But way before psychological studies explored the phenomenon, I remember my Uncle Bill, mom’s “little brother,” talking about his memories of military service in the Navy when guys on a ship a long way from home would listen to music and share memories of three things associated with a song: the car they were driving, the name of the girl they dated while driving that car, and where they were when that memory was made. He also reported their recall was typically in that exact order.

Having tested Uncle Bill’s theory over the years, I concur that listening to music is not only enjoyable, but it can also charm some amazing memories from the depths of one’s mind. Therefore, it was no fluke that hearing Nash’s song, “I Can See Clearly Now,” accompanying the news of his death last week unleashed a rush of recollections including one trip to Florida about that time. It is now nearing 50 years ago when Nash’s song was popular that a group of motorcycle riders from Mount Pleasant roared into Panama City Beach, Florida, for a week’s stay at the Barney Gray Motel. Whether considering it to be the “World’s Most Beautiful Bathing Beach” as a period chamber ad touted, or the “Redneck Riviera” it has since come to be historically referred to as, didn’t matter to us. We were there for the fun.

Just a year or two out of college and being my first time to Florida, the trip was not only fun but also educational for me. It’s where I learned about severe sunburn, the kind necessitating innovative ways of sleeping to avoid pain, and about nights trying to forget how it hurt while cruising the Miracle Mile Beach road amid hot cycles, cool cars, and non-stop entertainment. It’s also where I learned about the 70’s phenomenon immortalized in another song released a couple of years later by Ray Stevens, “The Streak.”

The bare facts are that a group of us was huddled around an arcade pinball machine watching the player piling up points. I never saw “Ethel,” but I did look when a couple of young women ran through the arcade toward us—au naturel. There was no way to tell whether they were wearing nothing but a smile as Steven’s song reports because they were wearing nothing but a paper bag on their head. Dumbfounded, I called out to alert my unaware friends intently gazing at the pinball player’s score and oblivious to anything else. “Guys,” I stuttered, “Hey guys … over here … look at this!”

The girls flashed right by us and out a nearby door before someone finally turned to me and asked, “What?”

“Never mind,” I said, “You missed it and telling you about it—it just wouldn’t be the same.”

“I Can See Clearly Now,” was released June 23, 1972, and lacking documentation of that trip at my fingertips, I would assume that was same summer we were in Florida. I remember hearing it frequently during that week and I never hear the song today that I don’t think of that summer’s motorcycle journey.

While it would be perfect to close out this report that Nash’s signature song was playing on the jukebox at the arcade that revealing night I got a peek near the pinball machines, I honestly cannot say that it was. But had it been, now that would have produced one appropriately memorable coincidence.

—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 2020. 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 need for chivalry in a socially brutal world

“Chivalry is one of the great civilizing forces, taming men and introducing social graces and nuance to what would otherwise be a brutish social world.” 

Heather Mac Donald, American conservative political commentator, essayist, and attorney

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If I had a dollar for every time I heard my father say things like, “respect your elders,” I could have likely retired comfortably a long time ago. 

That, and his quick “yes, what,” should I carelessly answer his question without the respect of “yes sir.”

Many times I’ve commented on how my father wasn’t one to sit me down and share things I needed to know about life. Instead, whether he realized it or not, he was more the epitome of “teaching by example.” I respected him and the way he lived his life, therefore I tried to follow his footsteps along as many paths as I could.  

If pressed to attribute one value that was central in his life, it would have to be respect. Most noticeable to me was the way he respected my mother and doted on her for the almost 63 years they were married to the point of caring for her at home as Alzheimer’s slowly eroded her mind. Other examples would include how I never saw him walk through a door first if he had the opportunity to hold it open for others or fail to quickly pick up dropped items for others such as keys or a pen. In likewise manner, he was also quick to help anyone struggling with an armload of packages; something that may have been second nature having spent his life in retail business as he did. 

Father’s Day and Dad’s birthday have passed for this year, so this is not about Dad, But it was him I thought of while reading an article last week on “The Civility Project” in The Epoch Times newspaper. The piece by Jeff Minick studied the history of chivalry, asked the question, “Is chivalry dead,” and reflected on the value of chivalry even today in relationships at all levels. The one word prominent throughout the article that reminded me of my father was ‘respect.’ He was the best example of chivalry and respect that I knew.

“Fashionably late” was never a part of his vocabulary or his routine but being on time was. Furthermore, simply being on time itself was also not good enough. “If you’re not there five minutes early, you’re already late,” was his advice. “Disrespecting people’s time is not just rude; it makes you look unreliable.”

“Removing your hat when you enter a building is a sign of trust and respect,” he said many times. “Plus it’s just plain rude to wear a hat indoors.” That’s one I rarely failed to forget. If he saw me walk indoors with a hat on my head, he would remove it for me and place it my hands with that, “what have I told you,” fatherly look.

“Stand up when an elder or a lady enters the room and don’t sit down until they are seated. It shows respect and politeness to others.” These little life lessons and many others were paramount to my father in what he considered earning the respect of others. “Respect and love are two-way streets,” I remember him telling me one night in a rare and impromptu father and son discussion. “You don’t get either one without first giving it.”

“And,” he concluded, “Before you can respect anyone or anything else, you have to respect yourself.” Looking back, I think he instilled that one in me by never once telling me I couldn’t do anything I aspired to do. “You just have to believe you can do it. Who’s going to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself?”

After reading the article on chivalry, I wondered what dad would think of today’s “brutish social world” sorely lacking in chivalry and respect? About the news filled with militant groups rioting, burning, and looting; disrespecting the country and its history? About elected leaders and people in positions of authority spouting rhetoric in arguments, lacking respect for themselves or the citizens they were elected to serve?

I’m betting all those dollars I didn’t collect for listening to Dad that I know what he would have to say about the last one. After watching him just smile and nod once while enduring someone’s rant about something even I knew was senseless, I asked him why he didn’t say anything.

“Above all, never argue with idiots, son,” he said still smiling, “Bystanders can’t tell the difference.”

—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 2020. 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 genuinely disturbing question for some of us like me

“As I was motivatin’ over the hill,
I saw Maybellene in a Coupe De Ville.
A Cadillac a-rollin’ on the open road,
Nothin’ will outrun my V8 Ford.”

—Maybellene song lyrics by Chuck Berry

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Shelby County’s car club, the Cruisers, is motivating out of its COVID induced slumber next month. Celebrating ten years of cruising next spring, the club was started by people who like to have fun driving cars of all years that celebrate the culture of motoring in America.

As the Cruisers are set to roll the roads again doing what they like to do best, cruise in fun cars going good places to eat, a lingering question remains. Why do many young people today, as automotive writers keep reporting, seem to care less about cars or even having driver’s licenses? It’s a genuinely disturbing question for some of us like me who squeaked through Mount Pleasant High School sitting on the back row of Coach Gilbreath’s history class reading hot rod magazines discreetly tucked inside a textbook.

I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s an anomaly that has infiltrated even my own family. I hate to divulge dark family secrets in such a public forum as this, but I have to admit to having grandchildren who have no interest in a driver’s license. I know, I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

What is no secret is that most of us in the car club grew up in an age when a teenager’s biggest dream was obtaining that cherished driver’s license. And most of us would also confess our attraction to old cars, and even new cars today inspired by the old ones, evolved from the culture of cars in America. Perhaps it’s owning a car like the one we used to have, or maybe it’s owning the car we couldn’t afford back then. Whatever the inspiration, it’s likely we in some way vicariously enjoy the cars by reliving memories from a time when everything in life centered around the expressions of personality that our cars represented.

It was a time when every car rolling out of Detroit had a unique personality. Identifying a Chevrolet, a Ford, or a Dodge two blocks away was easy for even the youngest auto enthusiast. But today, nine of ten automobiles on the road lack any personality. Even colors with personality are gone. With white, black or gray monotone designs dominating the parking lots, cars nowadays look just alike more closely resembling each than cousins at a family reunion.

It’s fair to say my personality would have been different had cool cars not been an incentive to survive afternoon classes in high school looking forward to the pilgrimage of rolling stock leaving the parking lot headed to after-school jobs or to the Dairy Queen. Add the anticipation of cruising cool on the streets at night and blazing hot on the asphalt at East Texas drag strips on the weekend, and internal combustion-powered wheels were an integral part of many teenager’s personalities.

That’s a concept to which dad didn’t necessarily subscribe, however. “A car is just something to get from point A to point B,” he manitained. I agreed provided the trip in my case was made in the shortest possible amount of time. Whatever I drove had to be fast or loud, or both. That need for speed did two things. It kept me on a first name basis learning to respect the local police officers. It also spawned lots of drag racing fun during high school plus a brief period of drag racing with the professionals while in college.

Maybe it’s true that the younger generations don’t put as much emphasis on cars as their predecessors. But as for me, I own more old cars than newer ones including a 1957 Ford purchased new by my grandparents in Pittsburg, Texas. It’s a survivor of America’s automotive heyday and the car in which I learned to drive. I also took my first girlfriend on dates in the car. My second one too, now that I think about it, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

For now, I’m just happy to be “motivatin’ over the hill” in my ’55 V8 Ford with the Shelby County Cruisers again.

—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 2020. 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.

Retirement is often related to one’s definition of the word

“Some people spend their “Golden Years” at the country club sipping fine wine quietly waiting for the day they get to meet their maker. But there’s always a couple of jokers who take a little more aggressive approach.”

—One thought on retirement adapted from the caption on the photo below of two gray-haired guys in a high-performance racing boat flying across the water.

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While leisurely activities waiting to meet my maker has never been my plan for the so-called “Golden Years,” neither is flying across the water in a high-performance racing boat. Add to that, gardening, reading the latest retirement magazine, or traveling cross country in an RV. My happiness has always been rooted in getting up to a challenge every morning, finishing the day with the satisfaction that comes in a task completed, and doing all of the above in he company of people having fun for as long my health permits.

Two jokers photo. Source unknown.

With retirement age in sight, I am happy to report those goals are still alive and well.

My “professional career” began mowing yards for neighbors on the south side of Mount Pleasant at age 11. My first real paycheck was at 13 working a summer job for Mr. Corbin Merritt at the Ben Franklin five-and-dime store in downtown Mount Pleasant for 25-cents an hour.

Before there were minimum age work requirements, there were three variety stores, as they were called, within a block of each other in Mount Pleasant: Ben Franklin, Duke & Ayres, and Perry Brothers. Dad was the manager at Perrys and good friends with both Mr. Merritt and Mr. Pauling at Duke & Ayres. I still remember the feeling of that first paycheck and the feeling of accomplishment at completing assigned tasks like assembling bicycles and wagons or cleaning the stock room.

Over the years, jobs have found me at times, and other times I’ve found them in the form of interesting challenges. Interesting is perhaps the best way to describe one of my more creative efforts at securing a job more than 40 years ago in the West Texas oasis of Abilene. Arriving there one night without gainful employment, job hunting was the first order of business the next morning. A couple years of newspaper experience on my crude resume and a ‘help wanted’ ad for a night city editor’s job led me downtown to the Abilene Reporter-News where I was ultimately offered the job. Not long out of college and not sure of what direction I wanted to go then, I also investigated a business manager’s opening at a tire store.

This is probably the time to note something I failed to mention during the interview that day, only because I was not asked: that I had no background or education in office management or bookkeeping. I thought credit was something Raney’s Grocery and gas station on South Jefferson in Mount Pleasant extended to customers and debit was … actually, I had no clue what debit meant. However, I decided not to let that deter me.

My “in” for the interview was a mutual friend of the company’s accountant confirming the old axiom that it’s not always what you know, but sometimes who you know that counts. After a rousing conversation about the friend we shared, I landed the job. Fortune had smiled on me: I had been in Abilene less than 24 hours and I had a job. Considering my lack of business knowledge, however, my next stop was the city library for some speed reading  in “basic bid-ness.” Lady Luck smiled one more time when I learned that McMurry University, one of Abilene’s three fine institutions of higher learning, was enrolling for an accounting night class the very next week.

I successfully met the challenges of that job and remained a few years before moving back to East Texas with new experience and additional education on my resume.

Many years later, as the Golden Years are knocking on my door, I’m thinking one’s vision of retirement has to do with their definition of the word. For me, it’s still the satisfaction of rising to meet a challenge, the fulfillment of completing the task, and having fun doing it.

After spending most of 2020 working on an idea for developing a new business, and like everyone else, dealing with the complications of COVID, I’m still on course. I’ve also been searching to see if there’s at least one more challenging employment opportunity that looks inviting: preferably, one that does not involve high-speed racing boats.

And the best part is that with experience and education gained over the years, bluffing my way into the right job is no longer required.

—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 2020. 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.