Be thankful for a few of the small things

“I’m thankful for serendipitous moments in my life, where things could’ve gone the other way.” —Rick Springfield, Australian musician and actor

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“Rode in a police car?”

That question appearing this week on one of those “Have you ever…” true confessions Facebook games triggered memories of my one up-close and personal experience with the back seat of police car. The simple sentence also caused some cringes with its infractions of grammatical law, but I don’t suppose that carries with it any tickets or trips downtown.

It was only appropriate that the memories would have come up during Thanksgiving week while chatting with a friend about what else? Small things for which we are thankful.

My sad saga started with a hasty exit from New Orleans some years ago after a long weekend in the Crescent City. Certain that I had covered everything needed for a clean getaway, I rolled out of the hotel parking garage and onto the interstate. The error of my ways had yet to dawn on me even as I turned north onto I-49. I didn’t know the jig was up until I saw the lights come on—the lights on the fuel gauge letting me know that I was almost out of gas in the middle of nowhere on a sparsely populated stretch of interstate in south Louisiana with dark approaching.

As I was coming to grips with the foils of my folly, a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of an “exit ahead” sign. That glimmer faded, however, when the car sputtered, missed a couple more times and gave a final heave-ho into silence sending us coasting toward the shoulder.

Lady luck was on my shoulder when the big “mobile phone” I had in the pre cell-phone days found a signal. She prevailed when dialing 911 connected me with a friendly voice asking, “What is your emergency?”

“I’m out of gas in the middle of nowhere on I-49.” I’m betting that response did not fall within the realms of a bonified emergency, but when you’re sitting in a fuel-starved car on an isolated stretch of interstate with the sun setting, all bets are off. Sharing with the friendly voice the location of that exit ahead sign I had just seen, the sign that momentarily offered hope a situation like this would not happen, got me assurance that help was on the way.

Sure enough, a sheriff’s unit soon sailed over the top of the hill traveling at a rate of speed sufficient to lay the long “whip” antennas on the back over approaching an almost horizontal position. Headlights dipped and brake lights came on just before the cruiser disappeared into a gully between the north and south-bound lanes. As fast as it had disappeared, it popped up into the northbound lanes and pulled up behind my car. “Need some gas,” the deputy asked with a smile. “Yes sir,” I replied. “Got a gas can,” he asked. “No sir,” I replied with an appreciative smile. “Truthfully, our having the opportunity to meet like this wasn’t in my original plans.”

“No problem, we’re used to that,” he laughed. He invited me to sit in the back seat for a trip into town during which he once again subjected the antennas to that horizontal position. Peering through the heavy mesh isolating the front seat from the “no way out” back seat that lacked window or door handles, one quick glimpse of the speedometer bouncing well north of 100 was enough information for me. I drew a deep breath, sat back and thought, “So this is what it looks like when being addressed as perpetrator.”

Sailing off at the exit plus a left turn under the interstate found us at a convenience store. “Hey, Doris,” the deputy called out as we entered, “You got an old can of some kind we can put some gas in? And how ‘bout some of that yesterday’s coffee?” Doris pointed to the back with a scowl, no doubt her thoughts regarding his coffee reviews. Makeshift gas can in hand and hi-test coffee in Styrofoam cups, we were back on I-49 south taking one more shot at that Louisiana land speed record.

My car fueled up and running again, I thanked the deputy profusely and tendered a donation to the parish sheriff’s office which he politely declined. He also dropped all charges associated with ignoring the gas gauge and wished me a safe trip home.

Hoping to ensure a safe trip myself, I saved the hi-octane, day-old, south Louisiana coffee for fuel just in case I ran out again. Only one time to say that I “rode in a police car,” grammatically correct not, is one small thing for which I am truly thankful.

We know the big things for which we are thankful every day, but I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday this week, and that we all found a few small things on our “To Be Thankful For …” list.

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—Leon Aldridge

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 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It just wouldn’t be the same memory

“A new generation is about to be blown away by the extraordinary presence of Dean Martin.” —Alki David, Hologram USA C.E.O. on the introduction of a hologram show of Dean Martin in Las Vegas

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A myriad of muses inspire writers to easily produce a column some weeks, while others require random rummaging through notes and reminders to jump start a creative thought. It was during that latter process this week when an aging picture postcard popped up again causing me to pause one more time and think about why I’ve saved it.

The original Thunderbird Hotel in Las Vegas pictured on the card opened in 1948, became the Silverbird in 1976 and the El Rancho in 1982 before closing in 1992. It sat empty and decaying for another eight years before it was imploded into history October 3, 2000 at just after 2:30 a.m.

That image depicting the Thunderbird as it appeared 52 years ago reminded me of my first night in Las Vegas, a city vastly different from the one that lured more than 42 million visitors to the playground in the desert in 2018.

The Thunderbird and I were the same age Memorial Day weekend of 1967 when Mount Pleasant High School friend and classmate of 1966, Ronnie Lilly and I spent the night there enroute from East Texas to California. While the Thunderbird was one of the nicest places in town in the 1960s, it was still concrete block walls, 500 rooms (enlarged from 200 in 1964), and doors opening to the outside motel style. The cocktail lounge décor was murals of cowboys, chuck wagons, and cactus. The combination dining and showroom had a small stage and the hotel’s pool was billed as the largest in Nevada holding 360,000 gallons of water.

Also in 1964, a new facade was added stretching 700 feet making it the largest sign on the strip, more than three times as long as another iconic 60s Vegas hotel, the Stardust.

And, that was the Thunderbird where Ronnie and I stayed in a Las Vegas where travelers could park near the front door, walk in, get a room for the night without a reservation, and get change back from a $20 bill. Also included was a bellman who showed you to your room and took your luggage in from your car. Unfortunately, the bellman’s name that night is lost to time and aging brain cells, but the memory remains of him telling us he had family in Mount Pleasant and visited often in East Texas.

The sight of the enormous sign was the second most breathtaking sight for two 19-year-olds kids from East Texas. The first was the sight of Las Vegas lighting up the desert night as we topped the mountains driving in across the desert from Kingman, Arizona, in Ronnie’s ’57 Chevrolet. Many years and many trips later, the sight of the Vegas lights when flying in after dark is still mesmerizing.

The Thunderbird’s showroom mesmerized visitors over the years with a number of stars performing there, a few being Rosemary Clooney, the Mills Brothers, Judy Garland, Mel Torme, and Dean Martin who helped instill the Thunderbird in my memory.

Seeking to make memories for our one-night stay, we found the showroom that opened onto the hotel’s lobby via an open door allowing anyone walking by to stop and look inside. That’s where we saw the actor, singer and comedian known as “The King of Cool” for his charisma and self-assurance on the stage.

Feeling somewhat self-assured ourselves, we strolled through the doors to a spot along the back wall we thought to be a good place to hide, unnoticed in the darkness. And that worked for about 15 minutes until a large, broad-shouldered guy wearing a dark suit asked to see our IDs. Game over—we left willingly and quietly.

I’ve returned to the “Oasis in the Desert” many times over the years, some for pleasure and many more for business. Years spent in marketing positions meant more trips than I care to remember working trade shows, something for which Las Vegas is a popular spot

In subsequent visits and at a legal age, I’ve added memories of other legendary entertainers of the era including Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis, Jr. Although short-lived and a long time ago, I still count seeing Dean Martin at the Thunderbird during my first trip to Las Vegas as a favorite memory.

Looking one more time at the postcard purchased for a dime in the Thunderbird gift shop decades ago, I’m thinking that a hologram likeness of any of the infamous Rat Pack members without having to sneak in, well, it just wouldn’t be the same memory.

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—Leon Aldridge

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 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Looking forward to connecting the next set of dots

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” —Steve Jobs, (1955 – 2011) Former CEO and co-founder of Apple Inc.

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Apple’s mastermind of the Mac was right on both accounts. While his point was looking forward to plotting one’s future, I contend it’s fun looking back connecting the dots between events in our past.

It was especially fun last Sunday as I watched a 78-year-old steam locomotive roll through the small East Texas berg of Hallsville headed for its next stop in Marshall. Steam spewing from enormous pistons to the rhythm of their “chug-chug” power thrusts and the massive locomotive’s haunting horn heralding its presence delighted crowds lining both sides of the track for miles. 

For me, it brought back memories of my grandfather who worked for the railroad from the age of 13 to his retirement at age 66. Many are my memories of evenings sitting with him on his front porch across the street from tracks that ran through Pittsburg, Texas. A check of his pocket watch with each passing train prompted comments regarding the “on-time” status just as if he were still on the job. Every kid loves a train and the kid in me Sunday remembered those times when steam locomotives still shared tracks with the “new generation” of diesel-electric locomotives.

It was in the 1960s—’67 to be exact that I spent the summer in Southern California with mom’s younger brother and his family while acquiring skills with a paint gun working in the automotive body shop Uncle Bill managed. My mentor, Ralph Kyger, was nothing short of an artist at applying paint to anything from a VW to a Rolls Royce and matching colors simply by sight. He also possessed a colorful personality, a mixture of prankster and comedian one minute, and a perfectionist the next who didn’t mince words about the quality of work he delivered and likewise expected from me. 

“You would enjoy meeting his son, Leroy Kyger,” my cousin Danny offered at a family reunion last July when conversations about that summer in California more than 50 years ago turned to Ralph. “He races motorcycles in the desert,” said Danny, “He has a restored Datsun pickup that has won tons of awards, and he’s a big fan of the old steam locomotives. I think you two would enjoy knowing each other.” 

Through the modern miracles of social media, that meeting with the Las Vegas, Nevada, resident was soon accomplished. Leroy admitted to being a huge fan of the Big Boy locomotives for 25-plus years, and a supporter of the efforts to restore Big Boy No. 4014 that passed through East Texas Sunday.

According to Union Pacific’s website, 25 “Big Boy” steam locomotives were built for Union Pacific, the first being delivered in 1941. At 1.2 million pounds and just 12-feet shy of twice the length of a modern-day locomotive, they are the biggest locomotives in the world. Eight survive. Seven are non-operational displays in various cities around the country, and No. 4014 is the world’s only operating example. 

No. 4014 was retired in December 1961 after traveling 1,031,205 miles during 20 years of service. Union Pacific reacquired 4014 from a California museum in 2013 and restored it in Cheyenne, Wyoming, before returning it to service in May 2019. Its inaugural tour was to Ogden, Utah, for Union Pacific’s 150th-anniversary ceremony where the Big Boy and historic steam locomotive “Living Legend” No. 844 met nose-to-nose, recreating the iconic image of the May 10, 1869 meeting when the last spike was driven at Promontory Summit completing America’s first transcontinental railroad.

Completing my Sunday afternoon tour, I hurried from Hallsville to Marshall before No. 4014 got there to capture images of the historic locomotive’s chugging and steaming arrival at the depot. This final 2019 tour for No. 4014 started in September and will have taken the historic locomotive through 12 states when it returns to Wyoming.

My Sunday tour connected this set of dots looking back over memories of family, friends, and trains through most of my life. It also left me looking forward to the next set of dots.

—Leon Aldridge

(All photos by Leon Aldridge)

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 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A traffic light just like the ones ignored by drivers

“The worst use of time in a person’s life is when he waits for the traffic lights changing from red into green!” ― Vikrant Parsai, English teacher and author

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The most recent addition to the sign and “automotive stuff” collection surrounding “Miss Vicky” (a ’55 Ford Crown Victoria) out in the garage is a traffic light replica.

It looks just like a real traffic light, but its smaller scale fits nicely with the assortment already adorning the walls. Its smaller price tag also fits my budget nicely. Real ones sell for more than Miss Vicky did back when she was just a used car. And, it even changes from green to yellow, and to red, just like the real ones commonly ignored and abused by drivers today.

The first electric traffic signal light in the nation was installed at the corner of 105th and Euclid in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1914 according to an online article from Hemmings Motor News. “As near as can be determined,” The article reports, “… the noteworthy anniversary of traffic signal lights used at intersections was duly celebrated with the majority of American motorists continuing their recent tradition regarding traffic lights—ignoring them.”

The traffic light was just one of many topics teased by “Tonight” show host Jay Leno’s street interviews. Always good for a laugh, responses were also as mom used to say, “more painfully truthful than humorous,” typically revealing intelligence levels far below minimum requirements for life skills beyond more than just driving.

“What does the yellow light on a traffic signal mean,” evoked dumbfounded stares, “I don’t know,” and suggestions of “hurry up” or “speed up to beat the red light.” About the only answer not heard was the one any officer of the law will provide along with a ticket: traffic laws, common sense, and respect for others dictate a yellow light is a warning that the light is about to turn red, and drivers are to stop if they can safely do so.

That last part calls to mind a personal experience about what can happen if the yellow light changes to red as you pass under it while debating whether “safely to do so” was the best decision.

Christmas was nigh several years ago and Yuletide tensions were high at home. To ease those tensions, I decided one Sunday afternoon would be perfect to get away to the neighboring big city alone to find those last-minute gifts not yet secured.

Passing through one of the small communities south of Shreveport where each has its own traffic light, I saw the yellow and with a millisecond’s debate and decided, “too late to stop, I can make it.”

My second wrong assumption in less than 60 seconds was when I prematurely celebrated too quickly for seeing no flashing lights behind me. After checking my license and insurance card, the officer asked if I was headed back to Center and inquired as to my purpose for visiting Shreveport. I explained how the high level of Christmas anxiety at home prompted my thoughts that it was a good day for me to do some shopping.

“So,” the officer said, “You left your wife at home to go Christmas shopping alone?”

Not sure where he was going with that question, I stammered for an answer. Before I could formulate one, he returned my license and insurance card saying, “The next time you run away from home for some peace and quiet, stop by here and get me to go with you. Merry Christmas and drive safely.”

The worst use of time in a person’s life might be waiting for the traffic lights to change, however, moving on when the light changes regardless of what color it changes to can be much worse…unless you are stopped by an officer with Christmas spirit and a sense of humor.

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—Leon Aldridge

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 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reading old books can often yield hidden treasures

 “There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.” —Bertrand Russell, author of The Conquest of Happiness.

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Granted, there’s pleasure in reading a book as well as sharing in conversations with others about them. But I stumbled onto a third motive some years ago. Reading books, especially old used books, can yield hidden treasures beyond the enjoyment of reading.

In addition to the joy of reading, I find pleasure in reorganizing my library every few years. Collecting books spans most of my life and my collection includes volumes on American music, cars, aviation, Texas, Bible history, photography, writing and textbooks that got me through college. And that’s just a start.

When daughter Robin was about 12, she was struggling with a box of books during a move when she stopped to ask, “Dad, have you ever thought about collecting butterflies or stamps?”

The thought came to me last week that it’s about time for another reorganization. It’s a process where every book accumulated individually, in boxes, donated, via mail order, chain bookstores, used bookstores, and flea markets is touched, handled, and examined, evaluated and systematically classified on the shelves.

Before hitting the shelves, some are read when purchased, some added to the collection as reference books, and some filed there with the thought that I will get around to them later, like after I retire. Most of those are still waiting to be read because I decided along the way that I really don’t know if I will ever retire or not. That’s also when I began letting go of some in garage sales and donating them to the library. Others, I’ll always keep for sentimental reasons. Perhaps they were a gift, or I enjoyed reading them enough that they made my personal favorite list to read again—after I’ve read the others I have not yet read.

It’s through this semi-every now and then reorganization process that I’ve discovered the hidden treasures and the profitability of old books. And I’m not talking about the information, wisdom, or philosophy contained in the words.

Old books I’ve had, some for years before reading them, have yielded documents, letters, and even money. Like the 1949 issue of a book on feature writing that was in a box of books at an estate sale. They gave the appearance of having been hastily unloaded off a bookshelf, dumped n a box and priced at $10 for the sale. I decided to gamble on them. A few days later while flipping through the pages of the feature story writing book, the old book featured a $100 bill stashed in its pages. I’ve always wondered what the story was about how the money got stuck in a journalism book and forgotten. Couldn’t have been a journalist who put it there and forgot about it, they seldom see hundred-dollar bills.

Another treasure discovered among the pages of an old book came with the purchase of an old Ford parts manual at a car swap meet near Fort Worth. I looked at the first few pages, decided it was worth the $5 asking price and bought it. Once back in East Texas, I was pursuing the pages of parts when I discovered the best part of all tucked in the back, a letter written by President Lyndon Johnson to a member of Congress thanking them for  supporting a piece of legislation. It was written on White House stationery, dated in 1965, and bore his trademark artistic signature. A gallery in Dallas declared it to be genuine and offered to buy it for $250. I declined and had it framed with the cover of an old issue of Life magazine with LBJ on the cover.

Having learned the value of old books, it’s with eager anticipation that I’m about to start the next treasure hunt…just as soon as I finish the latest book I’m reading on investments.

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—Leon Aldridge

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 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wearing a shirt and tie made me feel like I had arrived

“Never wear anything that panics the cat.” – P.J. O’Rourke, American political satirist and journalist

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Going out of business signs at Beall’s department stores around East Texas recently was not so much a cause for panic for me as it was cause for some reflection on traditions.

Beall’s in Mount Pleasant was my first “real job” opportunity to dress up for work. As was the norm in most businesses then, my dad wore a dress shirt and tie to work every day as the manager of Perry Brother’s 5¢-10¢ store. Working at Beall’s meant I got to dress up like a businessman and work all day Saturday in the men’s department, even if I was only 15 and a sophomore in high school. Prior employment had been mowing yards and working at the Ben Franklin dime store on the north side of the square in Mount Pleasant where Corbin Merritt was the manager. For assembling bicycles and wagons, plus “trash management” and floor-sweeping on Saturdays, I earned 25¢ an hour—good money for a 13-year-old in 1961.

“Movin’ on up” (actually around the corner on North Jefferson Street) to Beall’s where Virgil Tolbert was the manager meant I could work a couple of hours after school every day plus Saturdays and at minimum wage—$1.25 an hour. But it was wearing a dress shirt and tie in the men’s department Saturdays that made me feel like “I had arrived,”

Male dress attire in the early 60s included a jacket and a tie, even for young males at school functions like banquets and proms. Dressing nicely was a carry-over from church services where just about from the time I could walk, I was required to wear a coat and tie every Sunday morning—a habit that I have not outgrown.

Beall’s assistant manager and really spiffy dresser, Gerald Birdwell, fine-tuned my wardrobe skills and taught me a variety of ways to tie a tie. He also reinforced my upbringing at home about how dressing for success and a sense of self confidence go hand-in-hand. Self-confidence and a positive smile were his trademark. Each task I completed satisfactorily earned his standard complimentary “thank you” that included, “… you’re a gentleman and a scholar, and your charm is exceeded only by your good looks.”

He was also a big guy who drove a big car—a 1958 Buick Roadmaster. Gorgeous cars, the ’58 Buicks had more steel in the front bumper than every nut and bolt of any car on the road today. He typically parked on East Third close to Lil’ Abner’s Cleaners, always leaving the keys in the ignition as was common small-town practice then. No one ever considered that their car might be stolen, after all everybody in town knew each other. Someone capitalized on that practice one afternoon, but stealing was not their motive. Air-conditioned cars were uncommon then except in expensive makes like a Buick. Mr. Birdwell found his car idling, the air conditioning on high, and the fuel gauge on low.

“Guess someone needed to cool off,” he laughed, adding that it would have been nice had they just turned the motor off when they left. Gas was 25-cents a gallon in 1964, you know.

My job at Beall’s came to an end when dad left Perry Brothers to work for McKellar’s Department store, a small East Texas chain. Beall’s policy prohibited family members working for competitors., so I moved on to other employment. However, working at Beall’s, my first “real” job where I got to dress up, has always remained a fond memory.

It’s sad that dressing up has slowly gone the way of cars built like ’58 Buicks, leaving the keys in your car, and 25-cent gasoline. But I’m holding out for a comeback for dressing for success. My closet contains four suits, four sports jackets and a rack of ties I enjoy wearing every chance I get.

And, I’m probably the only person you know who owns a tux just because they love occasions to wear one. But it’s been so long since my last occasion that putting it on now—well, that just might panic the cat.

—Leon Aldridge

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(Photo at top of the page: Men’s dress clothing ad circa 1966)

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 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Smiling because I know fireplace nap season is near

“We no longer build fireplaces for physical warmth, we build them for the warmth of the soul; we build them to dream by, to hope by, to home by.” — Edna Ferber, (1885-1968) American novelist, short story writer, and playwright

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Fall’s first forays into cool weather during the last week or so has put a smile on my face knowing the first fireplace Sunday afternoon of the season is just around the corner. For me, there is no substitute for the soothing comfort of snoozing beside a fireplace.

Fondest fireplace memories include two that stand out as Autumn’s cool winds arrive. One is the house that used to be on Kennedy Street in Center where I lived in the 1980s. The house didn’t move, it’s still there, the city changed the name of the street. The other is the cabin I owned about 20 years ago on Glass Club Lake up in Northeast Texas.

The house on what used to be Kennedy Street had two fireplaces, one real and one fake. The formal living area showcased a white majestic marble example with gas logs and a large elaborate mirror, a perfect setting for formal bridal portraits when I was active doing that kind of photography. No doubt, a few bridal portraits are still hanging near fireplace mantels somewhere featuring photos of soon-to-be brides whose smiles reflected dreams of wedded bliss in that mirror.

The cozy warmth of knotty pine walls and wood tile floors reflected real flames in the den where Sunday afternoon naps were common practice for me. An ornately carved antique oak surround with floor-to-ceiling columns on both sides and a matching mantle framed a beveled glass mirror in the architectural antique that more than 100 years old when it was built into the Center house during construction in the mid-50s.

 A few steps down the scale in terms of formality describes everything about the little cabin on Glass Club Lake including its fireplace. The original four walls central to the original structure were rumored to have been one of the original buildings on the small lake built in the early 1900s as a railroad worker’s camp when rails were being laid along highway 67 between Mount Pleasant and Texarkana.

Over the years, additions had been made to three sides for a kitchen, a living area, and a bedroom. The one wall with no additions was anchored by a rock fireplace original to the one-room cabin that was the most primitive-looking but most efficient fireplace I’ve seen. Pioneer-esque in appearance it was, but it had a draw that never allowed smoke back in the house and produced enough heat to easily keep the living area and bedroom warm.

The best memory of that fireplace was one cold winter weekend while remodeling the place when I traveled up from Center for a weekend of work with Ol’ Max, my basset hound buddy. By the time we arrived, snow on the ground was sufficient to create difficulty for the old basset’s short stubby legs.

A fire in the fireplace seemed the first order of business followed by a pot of coffee after which a few minutes of relaxation in front of the fireplace with coffee was unavoidable. I woke up once sometime later deciding to snooze a little longer before getting serious about work. The next time I awoke it was dark except for the fire’s glow and the resulting patterns of light dancing on the walls. I had spent the better part of a day snoozing by the fireplace as it snowed outside, never regretting that tools still lay untouched.

From the looks of the East Texas forecast this morning, flames flickering in the fireplace won’t happen today, but the morning temps of the last few days are a gentle reminder that it’s coming. My favorite time of the year when there are naps to be taken and dreams to be dreamed, warming my soul by the fireplace.

—Leon Aldridge

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 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.