I’ll bet she still remembers moments we shared together

“Real moments fleetingly disappear from the mind, but good memories remain in the heart forever.”

—Unknown

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“Leon, I randomly stumbled across your article where you mentioned N7804G,” the message in my email inbox last week read.

The article was one about my father, and the reference was to the “N” number on an airplane, a series of letters and numbers affixed to each aircraft worldwide as a means of registration and identification. Sort of like the license plate on your car.

N7804G was assigned to a green and white 1970 Cessna 172 based at the old Mount Pleasant Airport in the mid-70s. Owner Grady Firmin operated the aircraft as a flying club, a means of making flying more affordable by sharing expenses among member pilots.

“I thought I would reach out to you since for the past three years I have owned N7804G,” the message from Adam M. Wells continued. “She’s now kept in Ohio just east of Columbus. Since you flew 04G, she has had a new paint job and probably some other changes. Still has the same green plastic interior. Attached is a pic of N7804G and N7805G from annual (inspection) two years ago. Turns out her sister plane is now an Ohio plane too.”

The message concluded with, “I hope all is well with you. My wife and I are planning a trip to TX at some point in the next year. If you want to take another spin in 04G, we can meet up.”

N7804G at the old Center, Texas Airport in about 1977 during the time we were making memories.

“Absolutely,” was my first flash of excitement. What could be more fun than one more trip around the patch in an airplane with which one shared so many memories? My quick response was a sincere “thank you” for contacting me and for sending a current photo. I concluded with, “Let me know if you do make it down this way.”

The exchange and the memories it stirred up whirled in my mind. I started flight training and soloed in April of 1974. Grady established an aviation service at the airport not long after that and became my instructor, continuing my journey toward becoming a licensed pilot. That’s where “Zero Four Golf,” her name in aviation speak, and I first met.

She served me faithfully through the required hours and mandated cross-country trips. And she was my date for the dance when the big day came for my certification flight with an FAA check-ride pilot at what was then Gregg County Airport known today as East Texas Regional Airport.

Hanger talk back then was filled with stories of the legendary check-ride pilot at the East Texas airport whose formidable reputation for flunking student pilots caused shudders at the very mention of his name. So, who did I get with the luck of the draw that Saturday morning? Yep, that one.

Nervous jitters set in as I started the walk-around preflight inspection. Walking into the trailing edge of the wing probably didn’t earn me any bonus points. The bleeding was worse than the wound, but the worst part was the feeling that I had just flunked without ever flying the plane.

Lady luck may have been snoozing when I was assigned a check-ride pilot, but she woke up just in time when he threw a simulated emergency at me during landing. I compensated for his unexpected test with a maneuver Grady taught me saying, “you won’t need this on the check ride, but it’s good to know.” It worked and I landed 04G “on the numbers.”

“The legend” everyone feared was impressed, and I passed the test.

Memories that would follow during my days aloft with 04G are many and remain vivid. One highlight was flying down to Harlingen for the CAF Air Show and camping under 04G’s wing when the historic aircraft association was located there. Also crossing my mind is a hot, humid August takeoff from a small Texas tree-lined strip when she lifted me safely above the treetops defying any reasonable density altitude calculation. And there is the one last flight she performed for me; one for which I was not the pilot.

Grady made that flight to Abilene where I was living and transported my first child back to East Texas for burial. Ashley died unexpectedly one night from a rare childhood disease a week before his first birthday in 1977, and 04G’s final mission for me was to bring him home.

Yes, one more ride in the forgiving aircraft that never faltered—well, unless you count that time the altimeter malfunctioned crossing directly over DFW at 12,000 feet.

I’m sure she’s made lots of memories with other pilots since the last time we had fun dodging tall white clouds on hot Texas summer days just for fun. But I’ll bet she still remembers those moments we shared together.

I can’t wait to see her.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page: N7804G and sequentially numbered aircraft N7805G photo from about two years ago courtesy of current owner Adam Wells.)

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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.

I never wrote that story, but numerous others did

“A good life is a collection of happy memories.” 

—Denis Whatley, American motivational speaker, writer, and consultant.

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“Hey James Paul, got a couple of hours to go through your scrapbook memories with me for a story …”

Those closing words in a January 21, 1986, column I wrote about Shelby County native James Paul Wilson stirred up many memories when I revisited the piece last week. James Paul, or “Squirrelly” as he was better known to his friends, was a member of a late 50s and early 60s quartet from Center called The Four Mints. Look them up. You’ll find numerous stories about the group that made their mark on music some 60 years ago.

A young Elvis Presley may have dominated music, movies, and the fascination of young girls then. Still, groups with names like The Four Aces, The Four Lads, and The Four Mints, Center’s singing sensations James Paul Wilson, brothers Noah Eugene and Alden Lee Warr, and Aubie Jean McSwain (and later Roz Stevens after McSwain left the group), also got their share of radio airtime and record shop sales.

The group performed in Nashville, Birmingham, Biloxi, Mobile, Chicago, and Atlanta, to name a few places noted in historical accounts. Plus the Palace Theater in New York City and the Sands Hotel during the heyday of the Las Vegas strip, where their name shared marquees with Elvis and performers like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Following his Four Mints career, James Paul returned to his roots singing gospel music with Louisiana’s legendary Governor Davis. After many years in music, and even more traffic lights driving across the country from one engagement to another as reported by his wife Lola, he settled into the radio business in Center. I still remember his opening every morning on radio station KDET: a memorable rendition of a rooster crowing. He also introduced Mattie Dellinger’s “Party Line” program with “Here’s Mattie. 

James Paul and I became friends in the late 70s when I landed in Center. My favorite story about him involves a group from Center, including James Paul and his wife Lola, at a live music show in Longview one night. You know the kind; the singer walks through the audience, extending the mic toward random patrons to sing a few words. When the mic wound up in James Paul’s face, he took it from the startled singer, stood up, applied some Four Mints stage presence, and finished the song to a rousing round of applause.

“It always crossed my mind that a copy of something by the Center quartet would pop up in my old record searching,” I wrote. “He had hared the name of the group with me, but my feeble memory faltered one afternoon amid thousands of vinyl discs at Fantasyland Records in Atlanta, Georgia. The Four …?”

It takes imagination to picture Fantasyland Records. It was in far north Atlanta on Peachtree Street in a rundown area between a drug store and a secondhand clothing store. It needed painting inside and out. What Fantasyland Records had going for it, though, was the best selection of old records in the South.

With a stack of records by various groups claiming four members, I boarded a plane toward Center the next day. “Back home,” I wrote, “A call to James Paul tendered the question, ‘What was the name of that group you sang with in the 50s? The four …'”

“Mints,” he finished my sentence.

“I have a 45 with ‘Hey Little Nell’ on one side and on the other …”

“Teenage Wonderland,” he finished my sentence again. “Where did you find that?”

I told him and he responded, “NRC was a brand-new label at that time. Our record was the first one cut in their studio. You would be surprised to know who some of the backup musicians are on the ‘Hey Little Nell’ side,” he continued. “Unheard of kids at the time playing backup for groups in the area. Names like the piano player Ray Stevens. A couple of guys playing guitar by the name of Joe South and Jerry Reed.

“That record did all right regionally,” he continued. “But it never caught on nationally.”

James Paul Wilson died January 1, 2019, not long after his childhood sweetheart and wife, Lola, on November 13, 2018.

I never wrote that story to which I alluded in the 1986 column. But that’s all right. Numerous others did, and their stories are easy to find in the internet age.

But it did my heart good to find those weekly ramblings from 35 years ago that included many good memories.

—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.

That’s when I relaxed and said it again

“I absolutely love this business!” 

—Me, I’ve said that … more than once.

Why are you taking this class?

A fair question for the first day of Stephen F. Austin State University’s gateway course into the discipline of journalism 30-plus years ago. Every new class was filled with students whose goals were as varied as their educational and cultural backgrounds. My purpose for asking was to learn more about those aspirations.

After fielding responses, I narrowed the focus. “In addition to interviewing, writing, grammar, and other related skills you seek to achieve your dreams, we will also touch on required qualities not taught in any text I’ve seen thus far.”

Always preaching the gospel of community newspapers, I hoped that a few in every class would follow that path where a working knowledge of more than classroom education was necessary for real-world satisfaction. “Enjoying what you do and fulfilling your commitment to subscribers and advertisers will sometimes depend on how you react to the unexpected and require actions unrelated to what you learn in the classroom.

“Those are the days when you will learn that loving the business is what keeps you coming back to it,” I concluded. “That love for the business, and as they say, ‘having ink flowing through your veins’ is more than just an old saying—it’s a way of life.”

Those words came back and tapped lightly on my shoulder again last week. The week started as expected, more than an average week in many aspects because of graduations and heading into a national holiday weekend.

The unexpected occurred before lunch with a call from the pressroom: the machine that produces imaging plates for the printing press had malfunctioned halfway through the day’s scheduled six press runs. 

Knowing how to run a press is just part of the necessary skills required to manage a printing plant. The other half is knowing how to perform as much of the maintenance and repairs as possible. Darrell Martinez and his crew are as good as they come in that department. However, reviving the plate processor that day eluded their best efforts.

Far fewer newspapers today have press rooms than when I first warned of expecting the unexpected. The attrition of print products, economics and other factors have led newspapers the size of Nacogdoches, Marshall, and many others to close their press rooms and buy that service elsewhere. The Light and Champion, however, still operates the press it’s had for more than 40 years, and in addition to the local paper, prints publications from all over East Texas. Newspapers from New Boston to Sulphur Springs, Atlanta to Mount Pleasant and many in between are printed in Center.

Fewer presses also make duplicity and backup critical. But last week’s failure and the rare failure of an attempted backup device delivered a perfect printing storm.

A call to the support service resulted in a tech on the ground Tuesday. His ultimate diagnosis was a failed part that could not be acquired and installed before Thursday. Equally frustrating were challenges to plan B: working to find another press capable of producing compatible plates to run on Center’s press. Roadblocks there included things like the width of newsprint, the size of printing plates, and conflicting software programs.

Deafening silence in the press room was looming heavily when help came. The folks at The Longview News-Journal an hour to the north of us offered a solution. A Tuesday night trip in their direction resulted in plates by around 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, and the roar of presses rolling could be heard again on Austin Street in Center soon after. By mid-day Wednesday, press runs from Monday and Tuesday were printed, inserted, labeled, and delivered.

Parts arrived late Wednesday, the tech was back early Thursday, and the disabled machine was soon back online restoring a sense of normality by mid-day. Around the clock dedication by our team, good support service, and help from a neighboring newspaper had averted a disaster.

That was the moment when I finally relaxed, smiled, and said one more time, “I absolutely love this business!”

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page by Leon Aldridge – The Light and Champion printing press in Center, Texas.)

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It may not end well when the device takes control

“Every time you make a typo, the errorists win.”

—Anonymous

“I’m teaching my granddaughter how to drink,” the message read. Although I knew something was terribly awry, the text from my long-time friend still caught me off guard.

I smiled and replied, “So how do you think that’s going to resonate with mom and grandma?” His instant comeback read, “Drive! I’m teaching her how to drive. Stupid autocorrect!”

Most of life is choices, and the rest is just dumb luck, or so goes the old saying. Combine me and a keyboard with intuitive applications intended for convenience or efficiency, and neither choices nor dumb luck is a guarantee for success.

Technology is great when it’s executed with some degree of accuracy. But miss one little letter while not paying attention, and chances are good that it may not end well when the device takes control.

“I always knew you wanted us to work together again,” read another one-line email message a few years ago.

Knowing that didn’t jive with my intended recipient, I looked at the address and muttered, “Oh man, I did it again.” I had sent my question to the wrong person, in this case, the wrong Gary, long-time friend and former business associate Gary Borders, publisher at The Tribune in Mount Pleasant. Instead, I had inadvertently sent it to Gary Stewart, Director of Community Relations at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. 

I first met Gary Stewart about 1981 at The East Texas Light in Center, also about the same time I met Gary Borders. But while I was communicating regularly with Gary Borders, it had been decades since I talked to Gary Stewart.

The Center newspaper needed an editor back then, and New York native Gary Stewart was a couple of years out of college and looking for a job after having worked briefly in Dallas. After navigating successfully through the standard interview questions, Gary’s answers had positioned him as the likely candidate. Any remaining doubt was erased when he answered my last question, “What do want to be doing five years from now.” 

Rubbing his bearded chin with thumb and forefinger, Gary smiled and said, “That chair you’re sitting in looks pretty good.” Done deal. I hired him on the spot.

During his tenure in Center, Gary honed his skills, successfully ascending to publisher at a sister publication before leaving the company. He also left me with many memories of our time working together and some wonderful stories. Making good friends and telling great stories about them, to me, is one of the life’s most fulfilling rewards.

“I’ve been invited to go hunting this weekend,” Gary announced one Friday at the office. His keen sense of humor and quick wit allowed him to tolerate the good-natured teasing regularly heaped on the lad from New York by his East Texas colleagues. In return, it usually enabled him to also get one-up on us.

“You ever been hunting,” we quizzed him, ready for some fun.

“No,” Gary replied, adding without hesitation, “But it can’t be all that difficult. I figure we’ll just meet at the city park about noon and find something to shoot.”

That same sense of humor years later in the accidental email exchange with Gary was a pleasant surprise, albeit the result of my inept typing skills. The outcome of another errant message some years ago intended for my sister, Leslie, fortunately ended well too. That’s the day a bit of humor went to another Leslie. In this case, the “wrong” Leslie was a vendor’s rep I had never met personally but communicated with on a business basis.

Seeing the wrong last name on the “to” line just as the message flashed into cyberspace, I immediately fumbled through a lengthy apology, quickly sending it on its way. Her response was equally swift. The wrong Leslie said no harm was done, adding she thought the joke was funny. She even promised to pass it along to her friends. 

Thankfully, the dumb luck resulting from my carelessness both times resulted in fortune as good as the friends I’ve made. 

At least I have not announced any unintended confessions on social media of teaching my grandchildren questionable habits … yet.

—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 real treasures are not the things

“All things come to those who wait.” 

— From an early 20th Century poem by Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie writing under the pseudonym Violet Fane.

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I used to run across the old black-and-white photo and dime store autograph book every so often. When I did, my thought was always the same. Why didn’t I save just a snippet of information as to their origin all those years ago? “No problem, you’ll remember,” said the deceptive little voice in my head.

But every time they popped up in a search for something else hidden in my interesting junk archive, all I could remember was “a lady in Joaquin.” So the last time I saw them, I smiled with resignation that the story of how they came to reside with me would always be lost to time.

That is until I read a column in the May 1985 bound volume of The Light and Champion archives last weekend.

“Want to buy old records, juke boxes, service station and auto garage signs,” I had written about the simple classified ad I often ran back then. “From day one, my phone rang. On the first few calls alone, my collection of interesting junk grew by one album of 78 r.p.m. records, a Mobilgas flying red horse sign, and an autographed 8×10 black-and-white photo of country music legend Ernest Tubb.”

I noted how the best part of the calls and subsequent conversations were the people and their stories. I smiled when I read, “That included the conversation with Carol Racey in Joaquin.” At last, I finally had a name.

The column continued with details about how the trip to see what she had and what she was willing to sell netted me the items that had remained a mystery. I quoted her saying, “That autograph in the corner of the picture is Jim McCoy’s. He was a promoter who started out hosting small programs and performing himself around Winchester, Virginia. Later, he went to work for WHPL in Winchester and was responsible for many great packages of stars in the country music field coming to the area.”

In my column, I had also written about her recollection of those performing with Tubb the night she acquired the autographed photo. “It was a New Year’s Eve bash in Virginia about 1969, or maybe it was 1968,” she said. “There was a heavy snow, and only a few people could the make show. Many names were on the billing, but I remember Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn. Jay Lee Webb (Loretta’s brother), Stan Hitchcock, the Osborne Brothers, and Charlie Louvin.

“I spent most of my time with Loretta Lynn,” Racey recalled. “She charged me with the honor of babysitting her guitar for a few minutes then disappeared. During that time, Louvin came by and wanted me to find him a New Year’s date. I called all the unmarried girlfriends I had with no luck,” she said. “I was glad. I was tired of juggling dimes, a guitar and phone booth doors.”

Commenting on Tubb, she said, “Although I spoke only briefly with him, I could tell what a gentleman he was. He was definitely the reason people came.”

“Carols’ real treasures were Jim Reeves photos and memorabilia,” I had written. “And no amount of talking was going to separate her from them. ‘Maybe if you have any Jim Reeves records,’ she indicated. We might do some trading.’” According to the column, however, I left without many things with which she would rather talk about than part with—definitely my kind of soul.

“The real treasures are not the things,” was my concluding statement to her. “It’s the people and stories we get with them.”

I had to wait more than 35 years, but I no longer have to try and recall the story about where I acquired the photos and the autograph book. Now, I just have to remember the last place I saw them. I’m pretty sure I won’t have another 35 years to wait again.  

And that voice in my head that says, “you’ll remember?” It’s still there.

—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.

Economics 101 and coming clean on the laundromat story

“Marriage is about the most expensive way for the average man to get laundry done.”

— Actor Burt Reynolds

“Laundry and grocery shopping,” anguished my young friend last week. At 19, he is just ending his first year out of the nest and fending for himself at college.

His comment made me smile, recalling my own challenges adjusting to college life. The days of eating out to catch the Dairy Queen “Special of the Week” and dining in on whatever variety of TV dinners were on sale at the grocery store. And just for perspective, that was before microwave was even a word.

Among those memories was a fall morning many years ago, the day I came to appreciate the technical knowledge and skills required to continue wearing clean clothes. Like college freshmen before us, roommates Ronnie Lilly, Mike Williams, and I were forced to face time at the laundromat while pursuing higher education at Kilgore College. Laundry just seemed to take a back seat to higher priority items like visiting hours at the girls’ dorm and who drove the coolest cars.

Things went well for the first week. However, around the middle of that second week, class assignments got down and dirty in direct proportion to laundry piles in the closet.

As I recall, it was a Saturday when I lost track of how many times I had recycled my last “clean” shirt. My hopes had been to tag along with one of the other guys to pick up some wash day wisdom. Recollections don’t include where Mike might have been that day. Possibly, wisely on his way home for the weekend, taking his laundry with him. Ronnie and I decided there was no denying the soap, water, and washing machine routine any longer. It was also no coincidence that we selected an establishment right across the street from the girls’ dorm.

A tight budget, another conversation with my young friend last week, dictated our direct approach to slaying this laundry dragon. Put it all in as few machines as we could and add lots of soap. “Nothing to this,” we agreed, wondering why we had put it off so long.

Washing machines loaded and churning away, there was nothing left to do except attempt friendly conversation with the other laundry patrons in hopes of wearing a freshly laundered shirt that night on a date.

I think I was the first one to notice the increase in soap suds oozing from under the washing machine lid. Ignoring it didn’t work. The more I tried to ignore it, the worse it got. I nudged Ronnie. He looked, shrugged his shoulders, and went back to the promising conversation he was having with one of the dorm tenants from across the street.

When the foam lava flow ran over the side of the machine toward the floor, talking among the other patrons and nodding toward the eruption made it even harder for us to act nonchalantly. Finally, we let the diversion serve as our opportunity to slowly make our way to the door and leave the soapy situation behind.

A subsequent shopping trip to replace the abandoned items made a tight budget squeak that much louder. Luckily, TV dinners were on sale that next week. The bigger casualty was Ronnie losing his promising prospect for a date that night. The last time he saw her, she was with the others at the laundromat, attempting to locate the owner of the clothes in the over-soaped washing machine.

Chuckling at my coming clean on the laundromat story, my young friend said, “I guess it was better when you got married and had someone to do your laundry for you.”

“Sit down.” I told him. “There are topics more critical than laundry that we obviously need to discuss.”

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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.

Corrective eyewear, both a blessing and a curse

“They said eating carrots would be good for my eyes. They lied.” 

—Reflecting on advice from “Every Mom’s Official Training Guide.”

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I despised carrots as a kid. But they were like spinach, broccoli, hominy corn, and other forms of equally hated healthy stuff. If mom put it on my plate, I had to eat it all before leaving the table because “it was good for me.”.

Perusing old issues of The Light and Champion last week, I stumbled onto a column I penned more than 40 years ago. It reminded me of the familiar saying about how the more things change, the more they stay the same. In that missive, I was groaning about glasses. Calling corrective eyewear both a blessing and a curse, I referred to them as a sentence placed on me during my school years.

“Since my nose was unadorned (with glasses) at that point in life, I quickly realized that next year’s family portrait would hold some marked changes in appearance,” I wrote. “For the next few years of high school and college, vanity dictated relegating spectacles to spending more time hanging out of my pocket than hanging on my face.”

Because of these youthful habits, my optometrist at the time said I was not used to glasses as part of my identity. He also threw in something about it being part of why I couldn’t see his eye chart. It occurred to me that it might also have been why my grades didn’t “look” any better than I did.

According to the column, “My trusty eye doctor made a drastic update, hoping to improve my outlook on life. ‘I’m changing your prescription this time; I’m making it quite a bit stronger. It might take a while for you to get used to them,’ he added as I ran into the door facing on my way out of his office.”

“Doc,” I pleaded, “I never will get used to wearing specs. I’ve tried all my life and I just can’t do it.”

“Sure you can,” he smiled knowingly. “And you will. You’re getting to the age now that in a few more years, you’ll find you aren’t comfortable without them.” Evidently, I thought that was funny when I wrote it back then. But reading the column again last week, I’m now trying to remember what was so funny about it.

The truth is I still don’t like to wear glasses. In fact, I refuse to wear them all the time. The only time I put my glasses on is … well, when I want to see something. It is also the truth that I am no more used to them at this point in life than I was when first introduced to optical glass in my teens.

Therefore, I will probably live out my days constantly pushing glasses up on my nose and adjusting them because they annoy me. I will likely forever be looking for them because I’m constantly losing them. And it’s a certainty that every shopping list I make will include a variety of eyeglass cleaning products. That’s because of, and despite the fact, they need cleaning every five minutes.

I am glad to report one thing, however. Somewhere along the way, I learned to eat spinach. I will also eat broccoli, although I still refuse to eat hominy corn. I’m sorry, but some things just weren’t meant for human consumption. 

I’ve even learned to eat carrots, but as for them being good for your eyes. I don’t believe it for one minute. 

Otherwise, thanks to my sweet momma, my vision would be 20/20.

—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.

Friendships from little more than chance meetings

“We meet the people we’re supposed to when the time is just right.”

– Alyson Noël, New York Times bestselling author.

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“They met through a mutual friend at work,” my friend offered as to how her daughter met her husband. The conversation about our children led to talking about how lives are often influenced by little more than chance meetings.

One of those chance meetings for me was at Mount Pleasant’s South Ward Elementary school in 1959. I was finishing the last few weeks of the fifth grade there following our move from West Texas. Home was on Redbud Street, just a short bicycle ride around the corner. While wrangling my bike from the rack near the front door at school one day, I heard someone asked, “You new here?” I looked his way and said simply, “Yes,” guiding my bike toward the street. “Where ya’ live,” he asked, falling in to ride along beside me. “Redbud,” I said. He replied, “I live on Stella, but I’ll ride as far as Redbud with you.”

The friendship that followed that bicycle ride lasted 57 years before Oscar Elliott’s time on earth was up. We built hot rods and race cars during many of those years, rode motorcycles, and swapped life advice. Through it all, we made memories, some of which we took a solemn oath never to divulge. In fact, it was Oscar’s observation in later years that we had to remain friends because we knew too much about each other to be enemies.

And, all by chance because we met at the bicycle rack in 1959.

A couple of years later, riding the school bus home instead of a bicycle required waiting for Mr. Ricks to complete a run out in the county first. After that, he returned to the old Mount Pleasant junior high on Riddle Street downtown for his second run to make sure a handful of city kids who lived on the south side of town got home. Passing time while waiting for him to return often included tetherball on the parking lot separating the junior high and high school buildings with others also waiting.

Most of the time, those games were with David Neeley. Once we discovered that we lived little more than a block from each other, a friendship developed that lasts to this day. Memories of band trips, Saturday trips with David and his mother to Dallas, time spent together at East Texas State University, and getting in the car with some kids in Monclova, Mexico, for a joy ride. 

While David’s mother, who was like a second mother to me, relaxed at the hotel, thinking we were at the swimming pool, David and I took an impromptu tour of the Mexican city. Forget a parent’s advice never to get in the car with strangers. Never mind, they could speak English no better than we could speak Spanish. Two kids in Mexico driving a Volkswagen Beetle and two naive kids from East Texas added up to adventure that summer afternoon.

David and I have gone through periods in later years lacking opportunities to visit as much we used to. But when we do, we pick up where we left off the last time as if the last time was just last week. 

And, all by chance because we were both waiting on the school bus in 1961.

And it was also by chance that Jim Chionsioni and I were at a Lions Club meeting in Center. He was the relatively new owner of The Light and Champion, and I was new in town looking for a job. Taking a chance on my short experience at The Naples Monitor under Morris Craig’s tutelage, he not only gave me a career but also became a lifelong friend who shaped my life in many ways.

And, all by chance because of a Lions Club meeting in 1979.

Maybe it’s true we meet the people we’re supposed to when the time is just right. All I know for sure is I’ve had a great life because of friendships developed from little more than chance meetings.

—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 one move about which I still have questions

“Happiness doesn’t have just one address.”

—Anonymous

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Spent some time last week packing for a move. No, I’m not going anywhere. I just couldn’t say ‘no’ when asked by a friend to help them get ready for an upcoming move.

Besides, moving is something in which I have experience. Probably too much experience. For some, simply saying they had lived much of the last 40 years in one city as I have in Center and received mail at four different addresses in that time would be a lot. But for me, that four decades was punctuated by a five-year stint at Boerne in the Texas Hill Country and a couple of years on Lake Murvaul in Panola County. I still worked in Center while living on the lake, but during another part of that Center time, I maintained a residence here and one in Naples when I owned the newspaper there and split my time between the two cities. 

Confused yet? That’s all right because I am too. And I haven’t even mentioned three homes in Mount Pleasant I owned and one in Abilene when I lived and worked in that West Texas city before settling in Center. Maybe the word ‘settling’ is not the most accurate term here, but you get my drift. 

Perhaps a little of that, I come by honestly. Dad worked for the variety store chain Perry Brothers back before mega discount centers when the five-and-dime stores were popular. Just about the time we got settled in one place, Dad would get transferred to another. That practice led to a common phrase with Perry’s managers back then, “Perry’s moves managers more often than the Methodist Church moves ministers.”

By the time I entered fifth grade in Seymour, Mom and Dad’s sixth stop in Texas during ten years of marriage, we had lived in Muleshoe, Ballinger, Pampa, Midland, and Crockett. I finished the fifth grade in Mount Pleasant, and four years later, Perry Brothers was about to ship Dad to his next assignment when he said, “Enough.” He went to work for a local business, ensuring he would not be faced with another new city.

Contrast that with Dad’s parents, who moved into a small frame house at 323 Cypress Street in Pittsburg Halloween night in 1930 when my father was seven, and never moved again. My grandfather died in 1967, and “Granny,” as I called her, was still living there when she left us in October of 1993 after living 63 years in the same house.

On the day of her funeral, the inside of her house looked just as I pictured it from my earliest childhood days. The same furniture sitting in the same spot for every memory I had spanning 40 years. The only changes were a television from the late 1950s and family photos added over the years as the family grew.

Perhaps happiness doesn’t have to have just one address, but it worked for Granny.

Mom and Dad moved once in Mount Pleasant before spending the rest of their lives there. And that’s the move about which I still have questions. 

I graduated from MPHS in May of 1966 and left home on Redbud Street that fall for Kilgore College just a few miles down the road. Attending classes during the week and football games every weekend as a member of the KJC band meant leaves were falling before I returned home for a visit. 

Excited about a free weekend and a chance to get back home, I called Mom at The Tribune. “That’s nice,” she said when I told her. “I guess we’ll see you Friday?” After reminding me to drive safely, I told her bye. I was about to hang up when she added, “Oh, wait a minute. Don’t go to Redbud Street, I forgot to tell you that we moved.” 

“Moved?” I asked in disbelief. “To where?” After a moment’s silence, she said, “Delafield … 1408 Delafield.”

Puzzled by her hesitation and almost forgetting to tell me, I asked, “So …. were you planning to let me know?” After another moment of silence, with a hint of humor in her voice she just said,” Drive safely coming home, OK?”

That was more than 50 years ago, and I still wonder about it. You don’t think moving without telling me was my parent’s attempt to find happiness at a new address … do you?

—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.

Sharing 1994 Pink Floyd stories with a smile

“You’ll recognize some of these stories. We’re all not that different and you might have one similar to tell.”

— John Moore, former radio personality and owner of One Moore Production, a multi-media company. His weekly humor column is featured in regional newspapers and on Facebook.

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John Moore addressed a combined gathering of the North and East Texas and West Texas press associations last week, where he expressed his belief that people enjoy reading about others’ personal experiences, things with which they can relate.

Relating a story about riding from his hometown of Ashdown, Arkansas to Shreveport in his friend’s 1974 red VW Beetle to attend a Peter Frampton concert with his then girlfriend sitting in his lap, he concluded, “But I did see Peter Frampton. And for that I’m grateful. Even if the ride over was more like a Pink Floyd song — ‘Comfortably Numb.’”

Subsequently, someone fired off the question, “Your favorite concert?” His quick response was, “Pink Floyd … 1994.”

I smiled.

My only Pink Floyd story was still on my mind later when I bought a couple of Moore’s books. I had to ask, “That Pink Floyd concert you saw in 1994—where was it?” Arlington, he replied as he autographed my my purchases. Naturally, I agreed with his sentiments on storytelling columns then added, “I have to tell you my 1994 Pink Floyd story.”

I shared with him a shorter version of the longer story about my only experience with the English psychedelic rock band. The more extended version began in the mid-90s when I was the publisher at The Boerne Star and stressing over weekly printing deadline challenges. Late charges for missed press times were adding up, and every form of motivation failed until, by chance, I noticed something one evening after the paper had gone to press. Watching the staff leave through the back door at five, every one of them passed their car and headed first to the small Hill Country bar on the other side of the parking lot called the Longbranch.

The light came on, and I smiled.

Perhaps this is a good time to confess that, looking back, not all of my decisions have been steeped in wisdom. But desperate for a solution, this one sure seemed worth a try. Next press day, I announced that every week we made deadline with the paper, I would buy the staff a round of refreshments at the Longbranch. Then I sat back and watched.

The concept was not without scrutiny. The first receipt from the backdoor bar submitted for reimbursement as an office expense prompted a phone call from the paper’s owner, Jim Chionsini. Explaining that a $25 weekly bar tab had eliminated $100 or more in late charges at the press the first week, the conversation quickly became one of simple economics. There was even creative discussion about adding an expense account category for it on the financial statements.

Smiling while driving home one evening after meeting deadlines for three weeks in a row, the scenic Texas Hill Country outside Boerne was especially relaxing. Things got exciting, however, when I topped a hill and was greeted by a sight that didn’t compute with the rolling hills countryside. Floating along slowly just above the hilltops highlighted by long rays of the late evening sun was a blimp. Not just any ordinary blimp, but one embellished in 60s abstract artwork.

I skidded to a stop on the side of the road before running off into the ditch and got out to get to confirm what my eyes were telling me. Watching the dazzling dirigible drift lazily along, barely clearing the hilltops, I stared in disbelief as it crossed the road and disappeared over the next hill headed toward San Antonio.

Photo by Dan Verbin used courtesy of “A Fleeing Glimpse” website at http://www.pinkfloydz.com

I had no idea what I had just seen. Sure, I listened to Pink Floyd’s music, but had never been to a concert and had no clue the group used a lighter-than-air ship to promote their appearances. All I did know was just moments after stopping at the Longbranch to fund the weekly motivational seminar, I saw a psychedelic blimp in the hills outside San Antonio— in the middle of nowhere with nary a witness to corroborate my story.

Carefully, I drove on home, vowing never to mention it to anyone and to never set foot in the Longbranch again, even if just to pay the staff’s tab.

Luckily, redemption came the next morning in the form of a San Antonio Express-News story about the Pink Floyd blimp, “The Division Bell,” arriving for the group’s upcoming concert at the Alamodome. Be that as it may, I never went back to the Longbranch. We never missed another press time as long as I was in Boerne. And come every press day, I met the staff at the back door with motivational money and wished them, “Cheers.”

John laughed and said, “What a great story.” Agreeing, I said, “I think it might be my next story worth telling.”

And I smiled because although I never got to attend a Pink Floyd concert, I had a memorable encounter with their blimp one afternoon in the Texas hills outside San Antonio.

—Leon Aldridge

Photo at the top of the page by Jim Sykes http://www.jrsphotos.com

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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.