Facing the side effects of sheltering in place

“Unfortunately, my social distancing practices did not include my refrigerator.”

— Overheard at the doctor’s office

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Hindsight is 20-20, but somebody’s timing on this pandemic thing was way off. Cooler temps lately are hinting that Fall is near which means Christmas will be here before we can find a mask to fit Santa and eight tiny reindeer.

It also means that I am ill-prepared for the holidays; a time that is very difficult for me without a virus, be it novel or run-of-the-mill. It’s not the holiday decorating. It’s not even Christmas shopping. It’s holiday meals. I love to eat and holiday food is nothing short of heavenly.

Not so divine are the significant side effects of coming off the summer season way behind in my healthy eating and exercise habits after being confined to home and the gym being closed. The timing was terrible because, at a time when I’m typically a few pounds lighter and dreaming of drumsticks and delightful desserts ahead, my annual checkup is coming up next week. I fear the report may not be pretty and that some new dieting habits will be forthcoming.

Habits, or so I once read, are easily modified in less than two weeks. Set goals for a new behavior to eat less and eat healthily, endure short-term pain while your body adjusts, (no pain—no gain), and the new way of eating becomes a new habit. I just want to know one thing. Who determined that eating is a bad habit?

And that word diet: it has a bad connotation. Maybe it’s just me, but I never could make one work. I don’t understand calories, carbs, sugars, and all of that label stuff. Besides, who can stay on a diet when there’s leftover banana pudding in the refrigerator. I’m just not one to make small talk at Thanksgiving dinner like, “Can you believe this dessert has only four grams of sugar?” I’m the one declaring, “Wow, that pecan pie was outstanding. I don’t know about you, but I’m going back for seconds.”

Hopefully my checkup will be better than the time new dietary habits called for cutting down on salt and something called MSG. Trying to exercise more caution in what I ate, the very next time I was dining out, I asked the waitress if their menu items included MSG.

“One moment,” she replied. “I’ll find out.” She was back in a flash to report, “The cook sends his sincere apologies that we do not have MSG but says he will attempt to locate some and have it on the menu soon.”

Then there was also the time a nutritionist tried to explain healthy to me. “Things that should be avoided for a long and healthy life,” she said, “include nitrites, MSG (there it is again), tyramine and phenylethlylamine. I had no issues with eliminating that last one, I’m not eating anything I can’t pronounce. That’s one more reason why I don’t read labels.

“What is tyramine?” I asked. “Produced by fermentation,” she said. “Foods that are aged, smoked, fermented, or marinated plus chocolate, most cheese, Chinese foods such as soy sauce …”

“Hold it right there,” I interrupted. “You lost me at chocolate and cheese. Not going to happen.” I had already learned enough to understand that healthy eating doesn’t necessarily enable you to live longer; life just seems longer having to eat all that boring, tasteless food. I left and went straight to the burger joint. “Double meat and cheese all the way,” I boldly proclaimed at the counter, “with jalapenos and a chocolate shake.”

I know healthy eating is wise, but for me, eating is one of life’s heavenly little pleasures—which reminds me of the story about the married couple that arrived in heaven on the same day. St. Peter was showing them around pointing out, “Here is your cottage, you’ll enjoy the lush gardens with every form of year-round fruit, the golf course is next door, and down the road is your own private tropical beach.”

Surveying the surroundings, the old gentleman said slowly to his spouse of many years, “See how nice this is. Just think, if you hadn’t been feeding us that awful-tasting healthy stuff all these years, we could have been here a long time ago.”

Maybe I’ll share that one with my doctor.

—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.

For me, ‘grandparents’ meant love, direction, and wisdom

“I said Grandpa what’s this picture here, It’s all black and white; And it ain’t crystal clear; … is that you there?”

—song lyrics from “In Color” performed by Jamey Johnson

Sunday is National Grandparents Day. ‘Grandparent’ is sometimes more easily defined in a dictionary than in real-life familial relationships. ‘Grandparent’ can mean different things to different people when lines between generations become blurred by life. Some are close geographically and emotionally while others may be distanced by geography, emotions, or lifestyles. It’s also not uncommon for some grandparents to become the full-time parents for their grandchildren.

For me, ‘grandparents’ always meant love, direction, and wisdom. Oh, and wit if we’re talking about my grandmother. Yep, she was funny. Mom lost her mother during high school and her father died when I was three. Other than faint memories of visiting him before he died, ‘grandparents’ always meant Dad’s parents who lived at 323 Cypress Street in Pittsburg from 1930 until they passed away; my grandfather in 1967 and my grandmother in 1993.

Sylvester Aldridge and Hattie Lois Farmer married New Year’s Day in 1920. She was three months short of 16 and he was already 31, something not that uncommon 100 years ago. He worked for the railroad from the time he was 13 until a heart attack retired him in 1954. Her lifelong labor was taking care of the household, raising my father, and caring for her husband for several years before he died.

My grandfather was quiet, easy-going, and retired for most of the years I knew him. He taught me about tools, yardwork, and how to use a .22 to keep the blue jays out of his prized fruit trees. We also built toy boats from wood scraps and “sailed” them tethered to a piece of string at the city park pond. He was also good to sneak me away from the house for driving lessons at the age of 11 by using the excuse of going downtown to DeWoody’s Western Auto for a lawnmower part or some such item. He also swore me under oath not to tell my grandmother, thereby keeping us both out of trouble.

Best of all, perhaps, were the stories of his childhood in the late 1800s, his military service in World War I, and his accounts of what life was like working on the railroad in the era of steam engines during the first half of the 20th Century.

My grandmother taught me as much about life, love, right, and wrong as anyone did. She stood short of five feet in heels, but never hesitated to speak her mind regardless of how much she had to tilt her head back in order to look someone in the eyes—something she deemed essential in honest conversation.

Her stories were about married life in the 1920s as a teenager living in a railroad boxcar converted to primitive mobile housing traveling from job to job with my grandfather, and how to stretch a dollar farther than anyone thought possible. Few days pass in which I fail to summarize something with one of her “lessons in life” or her witty sayings. Although her school days ended at 15, her wisdom influenced me in a way that my excess of education and degrees never could have.

Honesty and “doing what was right” was perhaps her strongest conviction. She was quick to correct a cashier for overcharging her three cents. But I also recall going with her to Watson’s Grocery Store on Greer Boulevard in Pittsburg one day to return a nickel after she arrived home and discovered they had undercharged her by that amount.

National Grandparents Day on the Sunday after Labor Day was Marian McQuade’s dedication to champion the cause of grandparents in nursing homes. She also noted that her hope was to persuade grandchildren to tap the wisdom and heritage of their grandparents: a vision that would enhance society in so many ways today.

It’s staggering to think that my window of generational learning spans the years between my grandfather’s birth in 1888 to my youngest grandchildren today. Even more thought provoking has been realizing that a wise person learns from their children as well.

Admittedly, it’s taken a furrowed brow and some gray hair to fully appreciate the generational life lessons provided me. I just wish I had more than black-and-white photos with which to share my grandparents with my grandchildren.

Maybe that’s why the line in Johnson’s song resonated so well with me: “A picture’s worth a thousand words; But you can’t see what those shades of gray cover; … you should have seen it in color.”

—Leon Aldridge

(Photos at the top of the page: According to my mother’s handwriting on the back, both of these photos were taken March 25, 1950, at my grandmother’s sister’s house in Fort Worth. The photo on the left depicts (left to right) my grandfather, S.V. Aldridge; me; and my father, Leon Aldridge. The photo on the right is me and my father again, this time with my grandmother, Hattie Lois Farmer 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.

I’m ready to retire that dream

“Hurricanes will never be an issue here.”  

—Leon Aldridge

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The paths I followed the first 30 years of my life in and out of Mount Pleasant up in the Northeast corner of Texas took me just about every direction but south. West to Dallas was the weekend excursion of choice then. Went to the Astrodome in Houston a few times for motorcycle races and one Astros game. Even went to San Antonio once just to say I had been there. But, nothing of interest called me due south through Deep East Texas until a job opportunity led me to Center.

Back then, my Californian Aunt Laverne was quick to express her fear of Texas tornadoes when visiting Mount Pleasant, plus her dislike for the humidity. I didn’t argue with Aunt Laverne on the East Texas humidity, but as for tornadoes, I said I would take my chances with them any day over a California earthquake. Our debates about Mother Nature never touched on hurricanes though. My only recollection growing up was news accounts of Carla in the early 60s as one of the most powerful to hit the Texas coastline.

After my move to Center, however, my mother asked about the city’s distance from the coast during her visit first visit to Shelby County. “I wouldn’t want to live where they have those hurricanes,” she said. That’s when I uttered my famous words, “This is far enough north that hurricanes will never be an issue here.”

And the first several years, I don’t recall hurricanes delivering anything to Center more than some much-needed late summer rain. But last week’s visit from Laura is at least my third experience in the last 15 years of preparing for more than just remnant rains in Shelby County, knowing all along I would be watching from my house without electricity while pondering whether staying at home was really the best decision.

Rita’s arrival in 2005 woke me up just before sunup with high winds bouncing debris off the roof before the power went off. Last Wednesday, I stayed up past midnight watching tracking news and making sure things were secured for coping with the forecasted 50-70 m.p.h. winds with possible gusts to 90.

When I awoke last Thursday, the power was already off. My initial without-coffee thoughts were the same as before the last hurricanes. On the list of “things I’ve always wanted to do but the chances of me ever doing are slim and none,” I thought about my long-time dream of riding with the “hurricane hunters” who fly into the storm’s eye gathering data.

These fearless flyers, who since 1943 have helped advance hurricane forecasting and tracking, are members of the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hurricane Hunters, and they are sometimes assisted by U.S. Navy and regular Air Force units.

Gazing out the breakfast room window at my house Thursday morning, the only flying in the midst of gusting winds and swirling rain I observed was limbs, garbage cans and lawn furniture blowing by. Even lacking caffeine, I smiled knowing they weren’t mine. I had spent two days getting everything loose outside either inside the house, in the garage, or securely tied down.

As always prevails with mother nature, it was all over in a couple of hours or so, and the sun was shining by mid-afternoon. A trip out inspecting the aftermath checking on who had power revealed little evidence of lights anywhere. Virtually every business was dark and the hum of generators could be heard at every turn. Numerous large trees, power poles, and lines were down on barricaded streets. Storm debris covered everything in sight.

Initially, though, it didn’t look as bad as when others blew through Center. While that was a good thing for those in this area, not everyone in Laura’s path was as fortunate. As with every one of these destructive storms, our prayers are with those impacted by last week’s historical hurricane.

So, who would have ever guessed that I would be riding out another hurricane 200 miles from the Gulf? Obviously not me, as I was so quick to inform Mom years ago. But after three times now, I’m ready to retire that dream; the one of a seat on a NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft flight. I’ll just stick with the seat in my breakfast room at home.

And for the record, earthquakes are still a “no” for me.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page: The view from my breakfast room window the morning Hurricane Laura came to visit Center, Texas. Across the street neighbors John and Jenny LIghtfoot’s house serves as a backdrop for the frantic little tree in my front yard desperately clinging to terra firma. While I told John he was wise to protect his windows, I would have missed Laura’s show from my breakfast room had I done the same thing.)

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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.

My old columns: lots of perspective and little skill

“Time’s a funny thing, bending, warping, stretching, and compressing, all depending on perspective.”

—Lisa Genova, American neuroscientist and author

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Continuing efforts to file and archive my columns, some written 40 years ago, have offered renewed perspective on not only events in my life but also on my writing skills over the years.

Some are funny, some are sad, and some should have never seen the light of ink and newsprint. Yep, some are bad. Reading them now, however, helps me see how my perspective on life has changed and my writing skills have improved over the decades, at least a little. Preserving my columns provides me with a historical glimpse of myself and ensures that I never forget where I’ve been or from where I came.

Also enlightening has been the perspective on societal change in just a scant few years. Like thoughts I penned just six years ago about a conversation with retired Texas Ranger Max Womack at the Waco Civic Center. I was serving as the event photographer where he was being honored at the Texas Rangers Association Foundation Reunion.

“You from Waco,” he asked with a smile in his voice that matched the one on his face.

“No sir,” I replied. “I live in Center; grew up in Mount Pleasant.”

“So, you know where Talco is,” he said, his smile growing larger at the mention of the northern Titus County community.

“Yes sir,” I said. “A high school classmate at Mount Pleasant was from Talco, and I worked in the Talco oil field myself some years ago during college.”

“Been there lately,” Womack asked?

“No sir, been a while.”

“Not much there anymore,” the retired Ranger said. “I lived in Talco when I was younger. Left there in 1951 to go to work for the DPS (Department of Public Safety).”

Texas journalist Mike Cox, author of several non-fiction books about the Texas Rangers, records them as the oldest state law enforcement agency in North America dating to 1823 when the ”Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin, called for “ten men … to act as rangers for the common defense… “

In the almost 200 years since, the Rangers have been compared to other world-famous elite law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, Scotland Yard, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. When a tough law and order job needed doing throughout Texas, the solution usually included Texas Rangers like Captain William “Bill” McDonald who served from 1891 to 1907. His 1906 leadership in the Twenty-fifth Infantry case made him known as “the man who would charge hell with a bucket of water.” He’s also credited with making a statement that serves as the epitaph on his tombstone at Quanah, near Wichita Falls, “No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’.”

McDonald is also associated with the legend about a town in frontier Texas that sent for the Rangers to quell a riot. When the mayor met the train, a single Ranger stepped off. The mayor asked, “Just one Ranger,” to which the Ranger’s response was, “There’s just one riot, ain’t there?”

The historical version of “one riot—one Ranger” appears to have been based on a whimsical statement made by McDonald during that time that was used by author Bigelow Paine in his book, Captain Bill McDonald: Texas Ranger.

“One Ranger—one riot,” came to mind that night just six years ago as I listened to Womack’s acceptance speech. His Ranger service began in 1969 in a newly created district in Atlanta where he retired from East Texas’s Company B in 1989. He recounted investigating crime and enforcing the law in a lighthearted manner evoking frequent laughter from the audience. Although humorous, it belied the real-life courage and dedication displayed by men and women like him who exemplify the Texas Ranger Association Foundation website’s declaration, “To preserve and perpetuate the history and heritage of the Texas Rangers.”

Reading my column last week in the perspective of Dallas’s elected official’s recent removal of the Texas Ranger statue captioned, “One Riot, One Ranger” that stood in the city’s Love Field Airport for 58 years, because “it might be offensive to some,” caused me concern.

What if some sensitive folks were to read my early columns and find my writing skills back then to be offensive? They might even want to remove my statue for journalism skills. Oh wait. No need for worry—that statue doesn’t exist.

—Leon Aldridge

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(Photo at top of the page: Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas. http://www.texasranger.org)

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.

Talking more about politics and religion might open some doors

“We should never discuss politics or religion … (pick one: at the dinner table, at work, in polite company).”

—Old axiom handed down for generations

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I’ve heard that saying all my life but never thought about it too strongly one way or the other until recent years. These days, however, it sure seems like we’ve forgotten that we’re all products of our varied upbringing, experiences, and education. And while it’s just not possible, or even desirable for everybody to agree on everything, being civil about it should be.

Speaking of religious views for example, my experiences on the topic were admittedly of one focus until I entered college. My mother, a devout member of the church of Christ, reared me with the unwavering mandate that I would pass through the doors at the Southside congregation in Mount Pleasant every Sunday morning with her. That was her declarative statement, not her suggestion or invitation. While she never questioned me about where I went or what time I got home Saturday night, there was no question as to where I would be when the church doors opened come Sunday morning.

Occasional experiences attending other churches included a few times at the Baptist or Catholic church in Mount Pleasant with friends and more often, attending the Methodist Church in Pittsburg with my grandmother. She was was a member there for 63 years although, as far as I know or was ever discussed, she never succeeded in getting my grandfather to darken the church doors, as some folks like to say.

Stained-glass window in the First Methodist Church in Pittsburg, Texas, taken in the early 1920s. Photo by Leon Aldridge

My impressions of the Pittsburg Methodist Church were inspirational in some ways other than Biblical matters. One was the sight and sound of the massive pipe organ. The other was soft sunlight falling through tall stained-glass windows. One Sunday, I asked for permission to return during the week to take photos inside and was told that I could do that anytime I desired; the church house doors were never locked.

With that, you have the sum total of my upbringing and experiences on religious views … except for that one time which was perhaps the most “moving” religious experience of all. It happened around 1960 on South Jefferson Street in Mount Pleasant, and it didn’t even involve a church house door.

Home was 206 Redbud Lane back when South Jefferson was two lanes, I rode my bicycle to town, everything past South Ward School was cow pastures, and the west side of Jefferson south of Pleasant Street was mostly wooded acreage we called “the big woods” and a great place to play.

Good friend, neighbor, and fellow Southside Church of Christ regular, Ronald Rust, and I spotted a huge tent going up next to “the big woods” one afternoon and thinking maybe the circus had come to town, we parked our bikes to watch the activity. But instead of elephants and tigers, at day’s end the tent was filled with benches, a platform, a piano, and a podium.

When the banner heralding the commencement of a “tent revival” that night went up, after supper we returned to our vantage point across the street as darkness approached. Taking a seat on the soft summer grass, Ronald and I prepared to observe our very first tent revival.

After watching spirited singing and piano playing, enthusiastic preaching, and Bible proclaiming that could be heard for blocks, we sneaked across Jefferson and into “the big woods” for a closer look. As the service reached what was perhaps its crescendo exuberant with frequent ‘amens’ and other expressions of congregational affirmation, two young, wide-eyed, and spellbound church of Christ boys hid in the bushes watching religious practices the likes of which they had never seen.

In fact, we didn’t even notice two figures approaching in the darkness until they were upon us. Startled, and not knowing whether their intent was making sure we weren’t pranksters or praying over us to receive the Holy Ghost, we scampered out of the woods, across Jefferson and back home on Redbud without ever looking back.

In less innocent times today, the rash of church house shootings, having to lock church doors for protection during worship services, and the vandalism of houses of worship is unfathomable. Add the out-of-control local governments in some places imposing unconstitutional church closings and prohibitions on religious services and it’s clear that freedom of religion has joined political views and the growing list of other topics in the arena where differing opinions are no longer tolerated.

Maybe talking more about these subjects would be a good thing instead of running away like frightened kids or violently attacking and condemning those with whom we disagree. We just might relearn how to have civil conversations, respect each other’s views, and remain friends by agreeing to disagree.

Who knows, such civility might even lead to more people darkening church house doors again—if that’s what they choose to do.

—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.

Reflections of duty, honor, service, friendship, and flying

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

– Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker and author

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Friendships come in many types, some with frequent visits and others that time attempts to distance. Even with the latter, the best will pick up where it left off as if the time between was mere days rather than years. 

Augustus Randolph “Randy” Presley, Jr.

They’re found in places like schools, jobs, and neighborhoods. For me, flying and the old Mount Pleasant airport facilitated many fond friendships like the one Randy Presley extended to me many years ago. I knew who he was before that because everyone knew him as a businessman and community leader always offering a smile, a good story, and friendship to everyone he met. 

We were also friends through Glass Club Lake just down the road where several Mount Pleasant residents had cabins. When I moved back to East Texas from Boerne just outside San Antonio, buying a place on the small lake in the summer of 1998 led to one of our catching up and storytelling sessions at the annual stockholder’s meeting and fish fry.

“I’ve got one for you,” I said. “Watching the San Antonio news three or four years ago, I saw something about a sonic boom prompting phone calls and furor. When the reporter interviewed the Air Force pilot about the incident, I pointed to the TV and told my kids, ‘I know him, that’s Jack Presley from Mount Pleasant.’” By then, Randy’s smile that had been growing larger by the minute turned to laughter as he picked up on the story about his son where I left off, “Well, here’s the part of that story the news didn’t report.”

That return to northeast Texas was short-lived before a dozen or so years later when I returned once more with the new owners of the Mount Pleasant Tribune. Randy called to welcome me back, but it was his response to my column on a legendary Paris, Texas, pilot and subsequent emails that came to mind last week upon learning that Randy had passed from this life at 90.

“I really enjoyed the article about Junior Burchinal,” that response began. “I doubt if anyone in Mt. Pleasant spent more money with Junior than me! I always wanted to fly a P-51 Mustang and after convincing him that I could fly a T-33 from the back seat with him in front, he finally checked me out in his.”

The Junior Burchinal P-51 Randy flew (in current owner’s paint configuration) — Tom Griffith photo on mustangsmustangs.com

“The P-51 was a plane I had always wanted to fly ever since I soloed off the old E. P. Hendricks grass strip outside of town across the highway from the old Willie Banks store on US-67,” Randy wrote in later emails. “I flew his Cubs and Taylor Crafts until Gus Hoffman built what (became) the first Mt. Pleasant Municipal Airport. Those were a really interesting few years flying (Burchinal’s) planes. His airport was a place that took up all the spare money I could find and from which I did a lot of fun flying.”

“I flew 55 combat missions before the North (Korea) gave up,” he wrote another time. “It was interesting times and I am glad that we saved the country from communism. I always regretted missing the opportunity to fly (P-51s) while I was still in the USAF. In Korea, there was as many as three squadrons of F-51’s, as they were legally referred to in later years. I was flying the F84G ‘Thunderjet.’ We did the air-to-ground work while F-86’s flew top-cover for us. The old F-84G was not supersonic and anytime your airspeed got past the ‘red line’ the controls would lock up, and the only thing you could do was pull off power and put out the speed brakes to get (it) under control again.”

“So much for my long flying tales. I apologize for the long email,” one of his last messages ended. “As you can tell, I still have a lot of interest in aviation although age has stopped much of my flying.” 

In another message, he fondly recalled a return to Korea some years ago with one of his squadron classmates. “I was really amazed at how South Korea had progressed and the capital of Seoul is now a beautiful city.” Again, he ended his missive with, “I got carried away and sent you a lot more than I planned. This was for your information only and not something I wanted published. Always good to hear or read about you. RP”

I’ve honored his request until now, but these tidbits will be nothing new or revealing to those who knew Randy. They’re simply his reflections on a lifelong penchant for duty, honor, service, friendship, and his love for flying.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of page: A Republic F-84G Thunderjet like the aircraft Randy flew during the Korean War — The Warhawk Air Museum photo, Nampa, Idaho)

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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.

National media could learn from community journalists

“In the end, the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art.”

—Bill Kovach – American journalist and co-author of the book, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and The Public Should Expect

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Self-incarceration at home might be good when there’s a controversial virus lurking about, but it can sure take its toll on one’s sanity. Many folks who are otherwise ordinarily easy-going types are doing crazy things now. Like me climbing up on my soapbox about the sad state of what is being pedaled as journalism by the majority of the national media outlets.

My father cautioned me, “Son, don’t argue with idiots. Most bystanders can’t tell the difference.” Sorry Dad, this bunch is destroying our country and sorely in need of advice.

My thoughts have nothing to do with politics or societal differences of opinion. Your politics or philosophies may not agree with mine, and that’s perfectly normal. Dad was also quick to remind that it would be a boring world if we all thought the same thing and agreed on everything. So I’m holding out hope that maybe someday we’ll return to a society where civilized people discuss differences and respect each other enough to disagree and still remain friends instead of stooping to belittle, defame, and strip rights away from those with whom we disagree.

The downward spiral in parts of the profession in which I’ve invested a lifetime in learning, practicing, teaching, and mentoring is not just disturbing, in my opinion, it has also contributed to and continues to fuel the fires of civil unrest we’re dealing with today. The worst part is that it’s killing one of the basic cornerstones of the republic—a credible press reporting balanced news covering all sides of every story, even those that may be distasteful to the reporter.

Despite the unsavory state of national networks and publications, responsible journalism is far from dead. It thrives in fact, where dedicated journalists still work to give their audience fair and balanced reporting aimed at preserving and improving local communities where they reside and work. It’s called community journalism, and national news outlets would do well to take lessons.

Wherever they get it, virtually every major news source burning newsprint and air time appears to be sorely in need of J-school 101 refresher courses for principles they either failed to learn or have forgotten while catering to personal agendas and stockholders focused more on bottom lines than getting to the bottom of the truth.

I’ve been blessed with good community journalism mentors in my career, many who were fortunate to have worked for Carmage Walls, one of the most respected community newspaper owners in recent times. Mr. Walls, a Georgia native, was dedicated to holding his newspaper publishers to high standards for producing a quality product for the readers, giving back to the communities that supported them, and returning a profit to their stockholders…and in that order.

Letters he wrote to young publishers in the ’50s and ’60s set forth principles and expectations that remain today as the philosophy of Southern Newspapers, the company for which his daughter Lissa Walls serves as chief executive officer.

In one, he wrote, “My conception of a newspaper is that it is the greatest force for good or evil in a community. It is a semi-public utility. We who are fortunate in holding stock in a newspaper I consider but temporary custodians of this service vehicle in the community. By our ownership of the stock we also assume tremendous responsibilities, first to the public that we service, second to the employees, and lastly to the stockholders.”

In another, he said, “I believe our democracy and way of life in this country could not be continued without our free press,” adding, “I am convinced that too many newspapers are edited to please the publisher-owner-editor without enough regard to the reader.”

What a vast disparity looms between those philosophies aimed at addressing what is on the minds of most Americans regarding the preservation of our nation for future generations, and the shallow, petty, lop-sided, and thinly disguised attacks on elected leadership and policy spewed by many news “celebrities” today.

Before I surrender my soapbox (I’m scared of heights anyway) and return to my otherwise ordinarily easy-going persona, I’ll offer another Bill Kovach quote. “If we’re going to live as we are in a world of supply and demand, then journalists had better find a way to create a demand for good journalism.”

That demand, in my opinion, can come only with a swing back to fair and balanced reporting, open and civil exchange of views free of agendas, and clear reporting of the facts void of bias and distortion. In other words, responsible journalism that is not entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art.

—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.

Validating old sayings by the life he lived

“When your door of opportunity opens, remember it’s because someone oiled the hinges for you.”

— Old saying validated by Jim Chionsini as an “Old Italian Saying.”

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I never heard of old Italian sayings before I met Jim Chionsini. Since that day, however, there’s hardly a day passes that I don’t think about one.

A huge door of opportunity opened for me the day I met Jim at a Lion’s Club meeting in Center, Texas, a little more than 40 years ago. He was the new owner of the East Texas Light newspaper in Center and I was new in town seeking employment with my short newspaper resume. Following that meeting, I shaved my editor’s beard, donned a dress shirt, and walked through the newspaper office door not realizing the professionalism, life philosophy, and friendship waiting on the other side.

Jim Chionsini

That’s the first time I heard those words that would become second nature to me for the rest of my life. “That reminds of an old Italian saying,” he replied. “Challenge people with more than you think they can accomplish and you’ll both learn something. You learned just how much you can accomplish when challenged, and I learned a lot about your work ethic.”

Jimmy preached the gospel of success via hard work employing his old Italian sayings to punctuate the sermons. When he named me publisher at Center and moved his office across town, he left me with the thought, “Remember that old Italian saying, you lead by example when you unlock the door in the morning and lock it at night.” That lead to another thing I learned about Jimmy, that he practiced what he preached, never asking anyone to do something he would not do himself, or that he had never done.

East Texas Light Christmas party 1980. Left to right: Ad manager Richard Pierce obviously very amused at something Jim said; editor Gary Stewart; Jim Chionsini. Photo by Leon Aldridge

Some thought I was the hardest working new publisher in Center when I was seen in the office well before 7 a.m. and locking the door most days way after 6 p.m. or later. Part of that was anticipating Jimmy’s good morning call with his list of detailed questions. If luck prevailed, my answers to most were satisfactory. But there was always that one question which left me fumbling for an answer: more often than not, his very first question. Noticing that trend, I asked him after stuttering for an answer one morning, “How do you always know which question is the one that I am least prepared for?” Even on the phone, his huge smile could be “heard” as he replied, “By going to work before you do and staying later than you do…which by the way is what you pay me for.”

Perhaps his favorite old Italian saying was, “Success comes from 90-percent hard work and 10-percent luck. And if you’re not lucky, just add another ten-percent of hard work.” He attributed that one to his father who was also a successful business owner with A&A Machine Shop in La Marque, Texas. Jimmy was proud of his Italian ancestry, referring often to his family’s history of work ethic to become successful in America. That conversation went hand-in-hand with his staunch patriotism and appreciation for a country where that opportunity is still afforded anyone desiring it enough to work for it.

While his attributions of many old Italian sayings were to family and friends, it didn’t take long to figure out they were often inspirational quotes borrowed from many sources. What transformed them from catchy sayings on a mug or a poster was when Jimmy ordained one thereby elevating it to validated “Old Italian Saying” status, he lived it.

Left to right — Robert Swonke, Jim’s long-time friend and business partner; Jim Chionsini; Leon Aldridge at Jim’s “No Name Ranch” near San Angelo, Texas.

Over time, the challenge became finding appropriate sayings that were unique for his consideration as “Old Italian Saying” certifiable. I sent him my last submission on May 3 when I fired off an email with, “All things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” His swift reply was, “I believe this will qualify.”

My mentor, employer, business partner, and good friend, James Armand (Jim) Chionsini passed from this life July 21, 2020. If I had a saying to submit to him for an old Italian saying expressing what he meant to me and countless others, it would be, “You don’t get respect, you earn it by giving it to others.”

It’s one he personified with his lifetime of respect, honesty, generosity, and concern for anyone who walked through his door.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of page: (left to right) Albert Thompson, Jim’s long-time friend and business partner; Charles Hutchins, A&A Machine Shop owner and former partner with Jim’s father; Jim Chionsini; Leon Aldridge at the A&A Machine Shop 60th anniversary in 2017.)

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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.

Old fashioned medicine for a return to civility

“A hug a day keeps the demons at bay.”

—German Proverb

Hugs from parents and grandparents reaffirmed the love they gave me in so many other ways. Other times, deserved punishment made me appreciate hugs even more.

Hugs have also been proven to be a miracle cure for pain, both physical and emotional. They might even be powerful enough to sure some of the uncivil ills in today’s society.

Physiologically, hugs release hormones that increase bonding, social behavior, and closeness between humans who trust one another. Other health benefits include lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of harmful stress hormones.

Psychologically, hugs may very well be the cure for some of the social ills menacing the country today. Touch is the first sense a newborn acquires before maturing to civilized adulthood through interaction with people. Although I jokingly (sometimes) refer to those I perceive to be lacking civility as “raised by wolves,” the truth is that much of what even a wolf learns about socializing comes through interaction with the pack.   

My grandmother wasn’t joking anytime she suspected me of bending the truth to avoid punishment when she said things like, “Look me in the eyes and tell me again that you don’t know how that happened.” Granny swore that when looking someone in the eyes, she could see straight into their soul. Many years of social interaction ranging from business deals to matters of the heart has confirmed that for me.

Also confirmed for me is that handshakes, hugs, facial expressions, and face-to-face talks convey understanding and love better than all the words ever exchanged. Desmond Tutu stated it well in his book The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, “We are wired to be caring … We shrivel when we are not able to interact.”

Think about no interaction across the fence with neighbors. No chats with friends we meet in public places. Never gaining new friends by initiating conversation with strangers at gatherings. And how would we function without social interaction to start the week with visiting Sunday after church services?

Sales 101 taught me years ago that social interaction is also crucial in everyday business. “People do business with people—not with companies,” is more than an inspirational saying. Vance Payne at Payne & Payne hardware in Center, Texas, was known to greet customers by name at the door. Besides inquiring as to what you needed, he might also ask what you were going to do with it. While that may sound a tad nosy in today’s world, it didn’t take long to understand Vance was simply making sure that you left his store with exactly what you needed.

Our civilization that is “wired to be caring” has been “shriveling” from lack of contact via technological social distancing for years. That shriveling of civility from lack of social interaction “went viral” with the COVID-19 misinformation spread by the mixed-up manipulation of major news networks, politicians, and healthcare talking heads.

In a piece published in Imprimus adapted from a lecture presented by Heather McDonald at Hillsdale College titled, “The Coronavirus and Public Policy,” the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal said, “Americans have lived through what is arguably the most consequential period of government malfeasance in U.S. history. Public official’s overreaction to the novel coronavirus put American cities into a coma; those same officials’ passivity in the face of widespread rioting threatens to deliver the coup de grace. Together, these back-to-back government failures will transform the American polity and cripple urban life for decades.” (Reprinted by permission from Imprimus, a publication of Hillsdale College.)

Those remarks were void of any political or social agenda tone. And they were delivered without preference or apology to any political party or level of government, attributing “unprecedented malfeasance” to pretty much every nook and cranny of public offices filled with people whose duty is supposed to be upholding the law and protecting the citizenry.

The Stanford Law School graduate concluded her remarks with, “Pulling the country back from the abyss will require a recalling of our civilizational inheritance.”

Pressed to look my grandmother in the eyes and swear to tell the truth, I believe that recovering America’s civilizational inheritance is going to require more handshakes and hugs than social distancing and political infighting. It might also require some of what I got from Granny for acting without civility—a dose of swift and sure punishment.

—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.

I’m a fan of hanging around as long as possible

“Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.”

― Comedian Groucho Marx 1890-1977

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The iconic comedian who died 43 years ago may have been onto something. A book I stumbled onto recently titled “The Longevity Project” proposes one in 10,000 people are “slow agers” and categorizes them as someone for whom the odds favor reaching 100. I’m not sure what the speed at which one reaches any given age has to do with getting there so long you make it. However it’s done, I’m a fan of hanging around as long as possible. And to the end, I’m happy to report, “So far, so good.”

As for age not being a particularly interesting subject, Groucho didn’t address the fact that the older we get the more interested we become. I’ve never felt as old as what I assumed someone my age should feel. When my parents were the age I am now, I regarded them as “really old.” In fact, when my father reached the age I am now, he had been retired for ten years. Me? Not even considering retirement. My goals for 2020, what’s left of it once COVID-19, social unrest, and an election is through beating up on it, includes learning to play the piano and starting a new business.

At an age when I see others checking things off their bucket list, I keep adding to mine, scratching one off while adding two more. At 64 I got around to learning to play the guitar. With the piano in my sights for a couple of years now, I will get there too provided that I can keep “aging slowly.”

Honestly, I don’t know what one does to age slowly. Maybe it’s related to my recollection as a youngster that waiting a year for Christmas, a birthday, or the last day of school seemed like an eternity. Today, those years are like weeks and weeks like hours. I’m thinking it’s the percentage of life a year represented then as compared to now. At 10, one was 10-percent of our life. These days, for Baby Boomers like me, it’s dropped to about 1.4 -percent: a little stressful when you think about it.

And speaking of that frightful nemesis called stress, current data reports that a certain amount of worrying is “healthy,” just don’t overdo it. So, how much is too much? Apparently, it’s all about being optimistic. Some smile knowing the glass is half full while others stress thinking it’s half empty. The way I try to look at life is the proverbial glass is always full: half beverage and half air—both essential elements for a happy life.

Considered essential by some for happily aging slowly is also lifestyle. My paternal grandfather worked outdoors all his life, carried a can of Prince Albert tobacco in his pocket, smoked “roll your own” cigarettes, and ate fried eggs and bacon for breakfast every day of his life that I knew him. And, that unhealthy lifestyle finally got him—just short of his 80th birthday.

But he was active, and as Leslie R. Martin, professor of psychology at La Sierra University in Riverside, California, and co-author of The Longevity Project said, “There was a clear, similar trend (for living longer) among people who had civic engagements, were active in their communities, volunteered, and otherwise stayed connected.” Phrased another way by my Uncle Bill, Mom’s baby brother, while visiting my parents after their retirement, “If we could unplug that television and burn those recliners, they would live longer.” Dad died at 83 and Mom at 87. Uncle Bill? He’s still active, working and going places at 85.

In another tidbit of aging advice, Groucho Marx reportedly revealed his outlook for a happy life in an interview during his “golden years.” When asked what he hoped people would be saying about him 100 years from now, he quipped, “Doesn’t he look good for his age.”

I’m still evaluating whether all of this is working for me, but you can bet your life something must be. After all, I’m old enough to remember Groucho Marx.

—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.