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.

Random acts of kindness are worth a rerun

“Remember, there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” – Scott Adams, American artist and creator of the Dilbert comic strip.

My new old job at the local newspaper has kept me more than busy lately. It’s also earned me the nickname of “rerun” compliments of local Center, Texas merchant Shana Brittain at a recent Center Business Association meeting.

I accept that title with honor. It just means I’m still going, in the game, and worthy of being called up again. Even with that notable recognition, however, long hours and late nights had been cutting into my duties at home. Most evident was the spring crop of weeds getting a jump on my lawn. I knew it was out of hand when I let the dogs out a few days ago, then had to go looking for them when they couldn’t find their way back to the door.

But that was before a young man came to the office last week. He said, “You probably don’t remember me, but several years ago, me and some friends were walking by your house one night. You were in your garage working on an old car, and we stopped in the street to watch. You saw us, invited us to come on in the garage, and took time to tell us all about the car.”

That much of the story didn’t help in identifying to whom I was talking. I’ve spent many nights over many years working on any number of old cars in more than one garage. A garage door up and the lights on while tinkering with a wrecking yard refugee can prompt a variety of visitors. A few years ago, that included frequent times when a city police car would pull in the driveway. It was never an official visit, though, just Lt. Ed Roberts on night patrol duty stopping to see what I was working on at the time.

My office visitor last week continued his story admitting that he fell in with the wrong crowd as he got a little older and got into trouble. He said that had it not been for a minister spending time with him, involving him in church activities, and teaching him about the Lord, he would most likely be in prison right now. 

All the dots were quickly connected when he said he was mowing a yard in the neighborhood and noticed my grass needing mowing. Remembering the night I invited some young boys I didn’t even know into my garage to look at an old car, he said, “The Lord spoke to me while ago and told me you needed someone to mow your yard. So, I mowed it.”

“You’ve already done it?” I asked in disbelief. ‘Yes, sir,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind.” 

As I was at the same time feeling embarrassed my yard was looking that bad while also feeling thankful that he had mowed it for me, I expressed my gratitude and asked how much I owed him. He said I didn’t owe him anything; he just came to the office to get my permission to go inside my fenced backyard and mow there too.

“That sounds good,” I told him, “but don’t think for a minute I’m not going to pay you for what you’ve done.” He said again he wasn’t looking to get paid; he did it because the Lord told him I needed help to get it mowed. 

I told him the Lord was right; I did. But that didn’t mean I would not pay him for his work, regardless of his motivation for performing such a thoughtful act.

That evening, I walked around my nicely groomed yard, amazed at this one young man’s random act of kindness and his faith that led him to do it. It reminded me that despite depressing news stories about insanity unhinging our way of life in America, good people still do thoughtful things expecting nothing in return. 

It was enough to cause even an old rerun newspaper guy to smile.

—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.

Remembering the day that dog came back to life

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” 

—Cesare Pavese, Italian novelist, poet, short story writer, and essayist.

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One of the best parts of telling a story in the newspaper every week is how it keeps me in touch with friends or reconnects me with those I haven’t talked to in many years. It’s a process which usually leads to more stories … like the one about the dog that came back to life.

That’s what happened last week when one of my missives resonated with Huella Campbell up in Mount Pleasant. She wrote to share her thoughts, reminding me that she and her husband Weldon were friends with me some years ago when I lived there.

While I remembered Weldon and Huella very well, most days I can’t remember where I left my keys ten minutes ago. It’s been said certain moments reinforce memories. Perhaps that’s what accounts for most of my circle of friends who mostly remember moments like the day President Kennedy was assassinated or the day Elvis died.

It was one memory leading to another during the email discussion with Weldon and Huella last week that helped me recall how Weldon and I met when we were both teachers at Frances Corprew School eons ago. And that reminded me of the day he and I witnessed a dog, given up as gone, “miraculously” come back to life.  

Weldon was also a partner in a boat dealership then and invited me to assist one day after school in checking out a used boat. As the last school bell rang that day, we were on a work-related mission to one of the new lakes at that time, Lake Cypress Springs. The older wooden-hull inboard speedboat outfitted with a hot-rod Ford V8 motor made the work fun. However, our squeezing in some skiing time on a spring afternoon was, I’m sure, purely coincidental.

Nearing the lake, I noticed the black and white dog lying in a driveway off the two-lane country road and smiled at the typical canine surprise attack mode for chasing cars. Sure enough, “bullet dog” charged into the road barking in hot pursuit of a tire as we passed by. I watched and wondered the same thing we all do about dogs that chase cars: what would the critter do if it actually caught one?

The sport of the chase over, the pooch pulled back and slowed down. In doing so, it apparently failed to notice one small detail—the boat trailer approaching from behind. I still remember seeing the trailer wheel catch the unsuspecting pup, roll it around a time or two, throw it up into the air and off into the ditch where it landed in a lifeless lump.

Weldon turned around and went back where we were met by the dog’s owner, an old farmer type. As we gathered around and unanimously agreed the dog was a goner, Weldon apologized profusely and tried to pay the man for his poor animal. The fellow laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it, you did me a favor. I didn’t like the dog anyway.”

All seemed well, and we were about to leave when suddenly the dog moved. In unison, we all turned to witness the miracle about to unfold. The dog shook its head, slowly got up, and wobbled its way back toward the driveway.

A momentary silence was broken when the man said with genuine disappointment, “And here, I thought I was finally shed of that darn dog.” We shared laughter of nervous relief that it was not dead and continued our journey on to the lake amid disbelief of witnessing “the dog that came back to life.”

Passing the scene of the incident later that evening on the way home, we saw no sign of the dog waiting for its next chase. Instead of wondering what a dog would do if it actually caught a car, this time I silently pondered what a dog might remember after it has been caught by a car. Perhaps the dog’s memory was good enough for it to give up chasing cars. But if not, would it remember that moment well enough to look back next time to see if there is a trailer coming? 

In fact, it’s a story I’ve remembered during my own “car chasing moments” over the years.

—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.

A testimony to the power of newspaper readership

“I see by the paper …”

 —common old saying referring to this week’s local news.

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“Well, I see by the paper …” was a commonly heard phrase before the days of the internet when the only option for readers wanting the latest news was to hold a newspaper in their hands. Whatever came after that introductory statement was news either not received elsewhere or confirmed reports previously heard only as word-of-mouth. It was also testimony to the power of newspaper readership.

That saying came to mind last week as I was still trying to evaluate book potential in Aldridge columns that have appeared in newsprint and ink over the years. Several examples recalling testimony to the power of the printed word were found among them. One penned just a few years ago stood out where I opined about a Saturday drive through the forests of Deep East Texas in my ’55 Ford.

Writing about watching the sunset while cruising tree-lined country roads in a car almost as old I am, I suggested that East Texas had to be the best place on earth to live. I also noted that the feeling reminded me of a word learned some 40 years earlier in a psychology class defining that exact feeling. Ethnocentrism, properly defined, means a mindset based on beliefs and values, giving one a sense of loyalty and likelihood to follow those norms and develop relationships with those of like mind. In other words, I have a deep admiration for East Texas where I was raised, and I think it’s a mighty fine place to call home. 

And I attributed that knowledge to East Texas State University at Commerce, better known today as Texas A&M University-Commerce. With that revelation, I also asserted that my ETSU degree made me “an Aggie by default.”

Days after that column ran, Wyman Williams, then Associate Vice President for Advancement at Texas A&M University-Commerce, read my claim to be an Aggie by another sheepskin. That prompted a call in which he could “see by the paper …” my column offered an opportunity to clear up what the university has decided was poor communication during the name change some years before. Plus how they were then working on improving that image. 

Possibly the best example of “I see by the paper …” is my friend Grady Firmin from Mount Pleasant. An ex-marine pilot, Grady was one of my instructors on the way to obtaining a pilot’s license many years ago. I had not heard from Grady in some time when I wrote a column about him while at the Boerne newspaper in the 90s, The Star. It was a simple “I wonder what ever happened to …” piece like I used to write about friends with whom I had not had contact in a while. 

Mere weeks later, I received a call from Grady, who began the conversation with, “All I have to say is that the pen really is mightier that the sword.” Turns out one of Grady’s friends in Dallas was reading The Star at his mother’s house in San Antonio, saw the column, and took it back to Dallas for Grady to read. 

One of my favorite sayings is “the only constant is change.” While the delivery method has diversified with the advent of the internet, the role of community newspapers remains constant. An enlightened population still desires to be informed. Sorta reminds me of the first fax machine installed at The East Texas Light in the early 1980s. When it announced an incoming message via the distinctive tone, we all gathered around to marvel at the arrival of a letter that was sent from halfway across the nation less than five minutes ago.

I remember making the assertion that it’s possible fax might be adapted to newspaper delivery in our lifetime. Now considered “horse and buggy,” themselves, fax machines turned out not to be the new way of newspaper delivery. That seems to have fallen to the internet. But by whatever means of delivery, readers in most communities still value the validation that goes with saying, “I see by the paper …”

Just ask Grady.

—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 shorter version of a storied pair of prints

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” 

— Generally accepted modern version of an old English adage.

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Comfort is often found in the memories of one’s surroundings. Links to the past as in a song reminding of memorable moments experienced the first time it was heard. Or photos of those who brought pleasure into one’s life. 

Similar thoughts resonated in my office last weekend as I personalized it with items to create comfortable work surroundings. For me, that’s usually accomplished with artwork.

Added to the office walls were nostalgic country scenes by Texas artist George Boutwell and a majestic appearing eagle by Bill Jaxon. The American symbol of freedom at its best. Straight across the room from my desk, easily in view, I positioned a pair of prints that remind me of the business that has been my life’s work.

Half of that pair has been with me since the early 1980s and has graced a wall in every office where I’ve worked since that time. The artist, Ward Nichols, was a third-generation printer whose grandfather was a newspaper publisher in West Virginia. Nichols started his career in the family print shop at the age of 10, but in 1967 left the printing business to pursue his passion as a painter. He rose to national and international fame with his detailed paintings of rural life, coastal scenes, mechanical objects, and, as might be expected, memories of the printing trade from his youth.

My first Nichols print, “Tools of Freedom,” was purchased through a press association offering. I wish I could tell you it was the National Newspaper Association or the Texas Press Association. However, the time elapsed since then prevents that memory from emerging. I do remember that more of his prints were available, most likely related to a fundraiser for journalistic endeavors. But, after acquiring that one, my attempts to purchase another were to no avail. They were sold out.  

“Tools of Freedom” first hung it in my office in the same building where I am again the publisher today. It depicts hot-type printing tools common before the late 60s when offset web printing revolutionized the industry. The collection includes a printer’s apron, pieces of movable type, various other related tools of the trade seldom seen today, and one other essential item that survived to live on for a time in the web press era: a line gauge. Or, as it was more well known in newspaper shops, a “pica pole.” Pica was once a standard measurement in newspaper composition. Adobe Photoshop and InDesign software today still offer picas as a measurement option.

Nichols featured the familiar tool standing straight up in the center of the picture, almost as if placed there as a focal point. 

Long gone from digital newspaper shops, there was not one to be found at The Light and Champion office when I looked a few weeks ago. After years of working with one in my back pocket or within reach, I brought one from home. It now resides on my desk next to my computer … just in case. That comfortable surroundings thing again. 

After Center in the 80s, “Tools of Freedom” was with me at The Boerne Star in the 90s and at The Monitor in Naples from ’98 to ’02. After that, it hung out in my office where marketing was my job and, like me, spent some time at home before coming back to where it started.

And, the second Nichol’s print? I long lamented that I was unable to acquire another work by Nichols. That is until a few years ago when by nothing more elaborate than dumb luck, I was rummaging around at an estate sale and recognized a copy of Nichols’ “Hands of Freedom” among other pieces of art stashed out of plain sight. Perhaps that was because the mat was damaged, but the print was unharmed. And, by the least imagined of methods, I had acquired the other Nichols’ print I sought more than 30 years ago.

“Hands of Freedom” depicts a printer’s hands with ink-stained fingernails feeding a single sheet, hand-fed press, the kind once used to print small weekly newspapers, flyers, and office forms.

Last weekend was my first opportunity to hang the prints together in a newspaper office. Sometimes, it just takes time to get things together where they belong.

So, if you’re in the neighborhood, stop in The Light and Champion office to see the storied Nichols prints celebrating freedom of the press. And you won’t have to endure the thousand words. You just read the shorter version.

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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.