If only money could buy manners

“Top 15 Things Money Can’t Buy: Time. Happiness. Inner Peace. Integrity. Love. Character. Manners. Health. Respect. Morals. Trust. Patience. Class. Common sense. Dignity.” ― Roy T. Bennett, inspirational author

Manners were important to my parents and grandparents. They were incorporated into my upbringing along with an understanding of the importance of that effort, something for which I am deeply grateful.

So it was that I learned things about a civilized society that were important to two generations of my family, and I tried to instill some of the same in my children as well.

Things like a gentleman removes his hat when entering a building or sitting down to eat with others.

“Take your cap off. It’s ill-mannered to wear a hat in the house, ” Granny informed me the first time. “And don’t ever sit down at the dinner table with a cap or hat on your head.” The second time, she wasn’t so subtle. Her reminder consisted of snatching the cap off my head and handing it to me while she asked rather sternly, “What did I tell you about taking off that cap?”

A gentleman always opens the door for a lady.

My father took time to make sure I understood that one. Especially one time that I forgot it when he was with me. As we walked into Perry’s 5¢ and 10¢ store in Mount Pleasant, Texas, where he was the manager, he quickly stepped up to hold the door for the lady behind us, then apologized. “Please pardon my son’s rudeness. I’ve tried to teach him some manners, but he seems to have forgotten them today.”

When asking for something, say, “Please.” When given something, say, “Thank you.”

Granny got her point across on that one at the soda fountain in Lockett’s Drug Store in Pittsburg one summer afternoon where she treated me to a strawberry ice cream cone. Delight was headed my way as the treat was placed in my young hands, but short-lived when she abruptly took it from me.

I looked up with what had to be a terribly startled expression to hear her say, ”Thank you,” to the man who had just delivered the delectable delight to me. She took a bite of it, then looked at me and said, “You must not have wanted it very badly, you didn’t thank the man.” I looked at him, looked at Granny, then back at the man behind the soda fountain and offered my most humble, “Thank you.” I got the ice cream cone back, minus one bite for being minus my manners.

Address others, especially your elders, with respect.

“What do you say,” I remember having drilled into me when speaking to someone. “Yes,” was my response. “Yes … what,” would be the next question coming my way? “Yes, ma’am,” had better have been the next words out of my mouth if I was addressing a lady. “Yes, sir,” if speaking to a man.

“Manners are not important just because I say so,” my father was careful to point out. “They are a measure of how you respect people. If you show people respect, they will come a lot closer to respecting you.”

That upbringing caused a news story that I read last week to strike me as deeply troubling. According to the story, a school teacher reportedly punished a student for including, “Ma’am,” in his response to her because she didn’t like it.

For doing what any properly reared child is expected to do in order to be respectful, the student was reprimanded and made to write, “Ma’am,” four times on each line on each side of a piece of ruled notebook paper.

It’s painfully obvious that not everyone was blessed with parents and grandparents like mine, or with parents like this student is obviously fortunate to have.

True enough, money can’t buy respect, manners, or for that matter common sense. But if it could, there sure are some people these days who would be in dire need of a “Go Fund Me” account.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers.

Loving the memories that last for a lifetime

“To reminisce with my old friends. A chance to share old memories and play our songs again.” —Ricky Nelson

Waxing philosophical or romantic was not what I set out to do at the car show last Saturday. That’s what crossed my mind, however, as I sat comfortably perched in my folding chair in the shade while visitors admired the shiny waxed cars and trucks on display.

What crossed my mind were the bonds formed early in life and how they continue as lifelong memories becoming more precious with time…like appreciation for an old car. Maybe it’s reminiscing about a car we had, one a friend had, or often the one we had when, “in the spring of our life, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

While pondering such deep thoughts on a warm October day in East Texas, I noticed a couple pausing for a moment to inspect “Miss Vicky,’ my ’55 Ford Crown Victoria. They caught my eye walking the rows of cars together, often holding hands. They were, like me and Vicky, vintage—give or take a few years. When they paused to inspect her, looking her over and talking about her, that was my cue.

Leaving my perch, I ventured out into the sun for one of my favorite parts of attending car shows—sharing memories with people and making new friends.

Offering my best hello, the lady responded saying she was looking for the number on “this car” to vote for it. I told her “this car” was number 16 and since it was my car I would be most happy for her to know the number.

Her companion began talking about how he liked it because he had a good friend in high school who drove one similar to it and then talked about his car from school days. He described a Ford from the same era as mine in which he swapped out the original motor for a more powerful one from another car. That was common practice in early hot rodding days when Olds, Cadillac, and Lincoln motors often found their way under the hoods of lighter, less powerful cars. A transmission and rear axle swap reminiscent of the late 50s with components from the local wrecking yard completed his recollection of the exact style of cars I grew up with and still love.

“All right,” I said jubilantly, “A real hot rod like they used to build them, using parts from other cars and not out of a catalog.”

“Oh yeah,” he agreed, “Got everything out of wrecking yards. Bought the motor out of a wrecked car for fifty dollars.” We reminisced about the old days of hot rods, wrecking yard parts, and untold hours spent on our backs underneath them to keep them running—fun stuff.

As they left, I walked with them, extended my hand to shake his and said, “It’s been a pleasure visiting with you.”

always by your sideHe acknowledged the same. Nodding toward the lady I assumed to be his wife, I reached to shake her hand when he introduced her as a friend from school days and how they had just recently reunited. Recalling with a smile, he recounted memories from how they became acquainted and classes they had together many years ago.

I told them I enjoyed not only the car memories but also loved hearing their special story. Then I watched them walk away as they had arrived: holding hands.

Comfortably perched back in the shade, I smiled, sighed and returned to my earlier thoughts of bonds formed early in life that dominate lifelong memories: “…sharing old memories and playing our songs again.”

 —Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers.

Some good first impression attempts just miss the mark

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” —Old saying

A questionable first impression as a neighbor that has always, you might say, “bugged me,” came to mind last week in a conversation. The topic was tales of good first impression attempts that went badly.

Right out of college and starting a new job, life was making a good impression on me when I bought my first house. Located on a quiet extension of Dogwood Street in Mount Pleasant, Texas, just around the corner from where I grew up, my closest neighbors were across the street.

Mr. and Mrs. Hoggatt were the nicest people anyone could ever want for neighbors. The retired couple with a “yard of the month” home set a high standard for me to follow as the newest neighborhood participant in the water, fertilize, mow and trim game.

While finishing my gourmet TV dinner one evening in my still sparsely furnished “castle,” the phone rang. “Hello, this is Mrs. Hoggatt across the street. We would like to come over and welcome you to the neighborhood if it’s convenient.”

“Sure,” I said. “Come on over.” I had met the Hoggatts once during high school and looked forward to making a good impression on them as their new neighbor. Hastily gathering up leftover aluminum TV dinner plates from previous meals, I carefully filed them under my used couch with copies of car magazines that had been lying here and there.

While dusting off one of the two pieces of furniture in one of my two furnished rooms, I got a glimpse of the tiny moth that flew out of the lampshade and fluttered around my head. I paid no attention as I swatted at him, but he gained my undivided attention once he winged his way into my ear.

I had no concept before that moment that one little moth, once inside your head, could create the acoustical resonance of the Texas A&M Aggie marching band.

First futile attempts to extract the critter with a cotton swab succeeded only in driving him deeper. “Float him out,” was my next plan of attack. My head was still in the sink with warm water running freely in my ear when I heard it.

“Ding-dong!”

“Was that the doorbell,” I wondered raising my drenched head from the sink? “The Hoggatts.” Hastily arranging wet hair with a towel did little to alter the effect of being soaked to the waist.

“Hello, please come in,” I said, stepping back from the door. I wondered what sort of picture I must have presented, but one look at their faces erased any doubt.

“I have furniture in this room,” I said directing them to the rear of the house where my “one couch and lamp den” was set up.

“Well, hasn’t it been hot lately,” Mr. Hoggatt offered as a conversational starter? “Yes, it has,” I responded, shaking my head to one side like a swimmer emerging from the pool, an action that served only to revive the soggy moth and provoke him to resume his thrashing around.

“And, you just graduated from East Texas State University,” Mrs. Hoggatt stated. “Yes, ma’am. That’s correct,” I said, “And I have a bug in my ear.”

“I beg your pardon,” they said simultaneously. “A moth … and he’s having a heyday in there,” I confessed.

Rising and moving toward the door, Mr. Hoggatt said, “We’ll get together another time. But, it’s been nice visiting with you.”

A trip to the ER quickly remedied the moth melee. What took a while longer was my second attempt at a more favorable first impression. Let’s just say there were some bugs that had to be worked out first.

 —Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers.

Talk can be cheap, but it’s not always easy

“Long distance information,
Give me Memphis, Tennessee
Help me find a party
That tried to get in touch with me.”
—“Memphis” song lyrics by Chuck Berry

Phones have come a long way since the days of talking to an operator to place a call. Now, you just talk to Siri.

Our first home phone was simple, black and utilized a rotary dial to reach out and touch others for talking, provided they had one, too. It was also the days of party lines. If you picked up while another party was using the line, you just had to hang up and wait for them to finish talking. Or, if you were mischevious, just pick up on it every couple of minutes to irritate them.

Phones were amazing then, but it sure could be frustrating when I had to wait for someone on the party line in order to talk to my friends.

When I entered the workforce a few years later, the simple, black devices for talking gained a row of buttons across the bottom allowing for more lines. That must have been the system our Dallas newsprint supplier used in the early 1980s when I was the publisher at the Center, Texas, Light and Champion. The young lady who took my call for an order just before 5:00 one afternoon said, “Please hold one second. I have someone on the other line.” A click followed and immediately she was back with me. “I have to go,” she said, “can we get together later for a drink and talk?”

Recognizing what she had done, I calmly replied, “Absolutely, but can you take my order first?” A moment of silence preceded, “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry. I hit the wrong button. I am so sorry.”

“That’s all right, I laughed. “It would take me three hours to get there anyway unless you wanted to meet me half way.”

The trip would have been more than halfway last week when Valerie Cosby at KTBS TV in Shreveport called. She wanted to show me what their marketing programs could do for Bird and Crawford Forestry Monday at 3:00 p.m.

Appointment made, the “goodbyes” had started when I said, “I think I know you.” I was the marketing director at Portacool a few years ago, and we talked about advertising. Your reporter Rick Rowe did a feature story on the company.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “I remember, and I remember you. So how did you wind up in Shreveport?”

“I’m not in Shreveport,” I replied, I’m still in Center.”

Silence followed. Then she said, “I called your number in Shreveport and was told I was being transferred to you.”

“And, you were,” I said. “We also have an office in Houston. Would you like to talk to someone there … I can transfer you?” After explaining how the phones in our offices in Center, Shreveport and Houston were all one system, she laughed and said, ” I’m glad we didn’t hang up before I learned that, otherwise I would have been at your Shreveport office Monday afternoon.”

Phones are still amazing. I don’t have to wait on party lines. Offices can be seamlessly connected between any number of cities as one. Phones have assumed the function of many everyday things like cameras, watches, calculators and more, all while connecting you to the outside world.

Yet with all of the advancements, I still ask myself when I stand in a chair on my patio trying to reach out and touch a cell phone signal: “How long will it be before the major phone company that can do these amazing things learn how to provide Center, Texas, with a decent cell phone signal past the second bush on the left side of Main Street?”

Long distance information? Operator? Siri? Anyone … hello?

The road to success is not always a straight shot

“The road of life twists and turns, and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” —Don Williams, singer and songwriter

Roads to success are not always easy … or easy to explain, for that matter. But, whatever path to success each of us finds, we like to do our best and know that our work is appreciated.

Feedback is a good gauge to help writers know when their readers are engaged. I love all comments, especially from fans I’ve never met and just happen to cross paths with somewhere. I not only get support, ideas, or suggestions for improvement, but I also gain new friends … like the lady in the grocery store last week. We both had that “searching for something” look when we passed in the aisle. She smiled and asked if I knew where the Velveeta was located. “With the baking supplies,” I replied, adding, “Why they put it there, I’ve never understood.”

“You write that column in the paper,” she said. “I recognize your picture.”

“Guilty!”

“I can’t wait to read it every week,” she said. “I can tell by the way you write, you enjoy what you do.”

“Guilty again … and thank you.”

“It must be wonderful to enjoy a career having always known what your passion was and loving what you do.”

I looked around then said with a chuckle, “I’m sorry. I thought you were talking to me.” Knowing my impulsive humor needed an explanation, I continued. “My road to writing was long and winding. Went to college to be an architect but came out with a degree in psychology and art.”

“So, you started writing with a liberal arts degree. That’s fascinating,” she smiled.

“No,” I continued. “I taught special education for a couple of years but learned that just wasn’t for me. So, on the strength of high school mechanical drawing classes, I got a job drafting house plans for a construction company. When it closed, a friend offered me a job at his weekly newspaper as a photographer utilizing skills acquired at racetracks when I was a drag racing driver.

“Education, construction, photography, drag racing …” she said pausing between each word.

Hoping to dig my way out of a hole that was getting deeper by the minute, I added, “That was just until I decided what I wanted to do. I remained in the newspaper business a few years before also working as an office manager for a tire store chain, a brief stint in the office supply business and a nursing home office manager,” I concluded. “Following those diversions, I knew communication is where I belonged, so I returned to journalism.”

“But, you wound up in newspapers without a journalism education,” my newfound friend followed.

“Well not exactly, I have a master’s in communication and post-graduate work toward a Ph.D. in journalism,” I said, “earned while teaching journalism at Stephen F. Austin State University.”

“And, so you also taught journalism …” she said. “So how long have you been with the newspaper here?”

“I’m not employed by any paper,” I said. “But, I’ve worked as editor and publisher for several newspapers, plus owned a newspaper at one time. My writing is part-time freelance now. My full-time profession is marketing director for an environmental and forestry firm. I was the marketing director for an international manufacturing company for 14 years before that.”

“That is some resume you have,” she said. “It is so nice to meet you, but I better move along. Where did you say the Velveeta is located?”

“Go down about three aisles,” I pointed, “Then …”

“I really do enjoy your columns, please keep writing them,” she said walking away before I could finish the directions.

Guess she figured someone with so many twists and turns in their road of life might not be the best source for the shortest route to the Velveeta.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers.

I always tried to obey my mother

“My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.” —Mark Twain

Saw a ’55 Cushman Highlander motor scooter for sale last week at $5,500. That’s considerably more than the one I came within a heartbeat of calling mine when I was 12 years old.

Sixth grade was winding down at South Ward Elementary in Mount Pleasant, Texas, in the Spring of 1960 when my friend Gary Cornett did something that kindled one of the more serious unrequited love affairs of my life.

Just as I threw a leg over my bicycle headed home for lunch, Gary rolled up on his Cushman Highlander. “Nice looking scooter,” I said. Before I could start peddling, he hit me with, “Wanna ride it to lunch?” Some questions have only one logical answer at 12. I thanked him, jumped once on the kick-starter and was gone.

Cushman 1961 annual-smlores
Photo credit—1961 Mount Pleasant, Texas, High School annual “The Arrowhead”

 

The wind in my face and the single-cylinder motor thumping below me while cruising up Redbud Street turned an ordinary lunch into a life-long memory. I parked under a shade tree and went in the house. Whether mom heard me coming, or it was just a keen mother’s intuition, I’ll never know.

“How did you get home?”

“Gary’s scooter,” I said nonchalantly, thinking that would soften her reaction. It didn’t.

“What are you doing riding someone else’s motor scooter,” she asked in that “mom” tone of voice.

“He offered to let me.”

“You know better,” she continued, her voice growing louder. “I don’t like those things. You could get killed … and damage Gary’s scooter. Eat your lunch right now and get it back to school. And, I don’t ever want to hear of you getting on one again—do you understand me?”

“Yes ma’am,” I said.

Scant weeks later while spending summer days with my grandparents down the road in Pittsburg, Texas, my grandfather invited me to ride with him up to W.R. DeWoody’s Western Auto. Another question with only one logical answer because I knew the drill: a stop at the Piggly Wiggly parking lot where he would let me drive. Guiding his ’57 Ford off the parking lot, I awaited his instructions that I already knew by heart, “Shift to second, turn on the back street, park at the back door. And, don’t tell your grandmother I let you drive.”

Once inside, he headed toward the front seeking help for whatever it was he needed. I went straight to the new Cushman scooters sitting near the wall helping myself to some daydreams. I was still dreaming when he came over, took the price tag that dangled from the handlebars in his hand, and said loudly, “Two hundred and nineteen dollars?” He followed that with a loud whistle to further underscore his opinion of the price.

Several seconds of silence passed. Then he asked, “Reckon you could ride that if I bought it?”

“I rode my friend’s,” I said as my heart raced at the thought of taking the scooter home. Then as fast as it had taken off, my heart flatlined when he decided, “I better not. If I bought that for you, your mother would have my hide.”

“We can keep it at your house,” I pleaded.

“Then your mother and your grandmother would have my hide,” he chuckled.

Mom also objected years later when I bought my first motorcycle at age 20, and again every time for some 35 years that I told her about one of my many trips riding throughout much of the U.S.

I was almost 40, however, before the next time I felt the wind in my face riding on a Cushman motor scooter. It was a nicely restored red Super Eagle acquired from Dennis Leggett at Leggett Cycle in Joaquin, Texas, and riding it was just as exciting as that lunchtime ride was at 12.

However, I honored my mom’s warning from the sixth grade. “I don’t ever want to hear of you getting on one again—do you understand me?”

She didn’t. Because I never told her about the one I bought from Dennis.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers.

Photo credit—Top of page: 1959 Cushman Motors subsidiary of Outboard Marine Corporation magazine ad

You go ahead, I’ll watch from here

“Everybody likes a roller coaster ride.” –Pete Wasserman, English record producer, songwriter, and railway enthusiast.

“That looks awesome,” responded my son, Lee. “I would go there to ride that one.”

His reply was to my message last weekend asking if he had plans to ride the world’s tallest, fastest, scariest, baddest roller coaster ever that debuts at Canada’s Wonderland park next year.

Lee’s been a coaster junkie since reaching the minimum height requirement. He’s closing in on 40 and still loves them. I’m betting he’ll ride the Yukon Striker billed as the fastest dive coaster at how fast … 80 mph? My last 80 mph “dives” were at places like a stretch of Titus County, Texas, road appropriately dubbed the “roller coaster” when I was a teenager or the old “thrill hill” in Shelby County.

The Canadian coaster is also touted as the longest dive coaster at how long … 3,625 feet? Can’t be any worse than that Delta Flight I was on landing at Chicago one morning during a thunderstorm. The freefall squeezed three inches off my waist and created enough airspace between my wallet and the seat to accommodate a Sears catalog.

The tallest dive coaster at 245 feet “including underground.” Falling that far into a hole in the earth? No, thanks. I was out on the first two.

Despite my scoffing, there was a time when challenging the best wooden coasters from Panama City Beach, Florida to Santa Monica, California was my passion. My son came by his honestly.

Unlike Lee, my passion soon turned to excitement with both feet planted on terra firma and without all the blood in my body shoved up between my ears.

I still believe every ounce of blood and a couple of organs were behind my eyeballs on The Starliner, an attraction at what was the Miracle Strip in Panama City Beach in the 60s and 70s. The wooden coaster ran the entire length of the park along the beach.

Panama City Beach is a different place now than it was in 1973 when a bunch of bike riders from Mount Pleasant rode to Florida spending a week at the “luxurious” Barney Gray Motel. Besides taming the Starliner, we basked on the beach, suffered the sunburn of a lifetime, and got our first flash from a genuine streaker. Sorry, Ethyl, we looked.Wooden roller coaster

I also looked one night a few years earlier riding the Sea Serpent on the opposite side of the continent at Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica, California. The 1926 wooden coaster offered a dive with an ocean view. Mine was a memorable view of a moonlit Pacific Ocean in the summer of ’67 just months before the once popular pier closed for good.

It was one night at the long closed-for-good Hamel’s Park in Shreveport that I walked away from my last ride. After a youth spent on the best coasters in the country, it was a small kid’s ride beside the Red River where I silently prayed for it to end. I was riding with daughter, Robin, who was about ten at the time. Both of us were shrieking through the night air. For her, they were expressions of joy.

Mine were more along the lines of long-time good friend Petey Gandee’s response to Lee’s message last weekend after watching the video of the Yukon Striker, “I just threw up watching it.” Doubters: Google “Yukon Striker coaster” and see for yourself.

Last week’s coaster conversation ended when Lee said, “I went to Fiesta Texas yesterday and rode The Goliath, The Batman, The Superman and The Wonder Woman (all coasters). I had a blast!”

“Cool! Ride them again and call it my turn,” I told him. “I’ll watch from the ground.“

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers.