That conversation down at the courthouse

“I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations.”

– Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), English writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for her children’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

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The newspaper was still lying there on my desk as I contemplated a column for this week. The March 24 edition of the Pittsburg Gazette that talked about the five-year renovation of the Camp County courthouse.

A couple of hours up the road from Center, Texas, Pittsburg is like a second home to me, although I never lived there. Unless spending time in the summers with my grandparents as a child counts as living.

My father grew up there and graduated from PIttsburg High School in 1941. After a couple of semesters at Texas A&M and a stint in the Army during WW II, he worked for the old five-and-dime store chain, Perry Brothers. And, in 1959, they moved him to Mount Pleasant, 11 miles up the road from Pittsburg, where he would live the rest of his life.

My father’s mother had a strong influence on me. But she was a strong personality and an influence on anyone who knew her. She stood just four-foot-eleven, but you never asked what was on her mind. As a rule, you didn’t have to, she would tell you. Either way, she left little opportunity to ignore her.

That’s just the way she was.

And that’s just the way that conversation down at the courthouse was, I’m sure. The one about the car title 41 years ago. She told me about it right after it happened.

Sylvester and Hattie Aldridge moved into a small frame house on Cypress Street in Pittsburg in 1930 and lived a simple life there for the rest of their days. My grandfather’s soul left this earth in that house in December of 1967. Granny left there for the hospital in October of 1993 and joined her husband of 47 years just weeks later.

The day she left, the house looked precisely as it had every day of my 40-something years of knowing it, save for maybe a few pictures of kids and grand kids on the walls and the new Cardui calendar every year. She even drove the car they bought in 1957 for 24 years. The green Ford sedan they purchased new at Travis Battles Ford near the depot where my grandfather worked in downtown Pittsburg showed just over 46,000 miles in 1981.

That was the year Granny called and said, “I need a car with power steering and air conditioning; you still want Liz?” Liz is what she called her car. I had told her years earlier that I wanted Liz when it was time for a new car.

Yes,” was my quick answer. “And I want that paperwork in the third drawer of your chifforobe.” The original title, the paperwork from the dealership, and the canceled check from the bank were all right where she put them in 1957.

At her house the following Saturday, she handed me the aging envelope of paperwork and a new ownership receipt in my name.

“They didn’t want to let me keep the title down at the courthouse,” she said. It was the lady in the auto registration office, Granny called her Margaret; maybe it was. I don’t remember now. But she called her by name because she knew her. Granny had lived in Pittsburg for 51 years by that time, and she knew everybody.

“You have to turn it in to get a new title in a different name,” the lady we’re calling Margaret told Granny. “Nope,” Granny said she told her. “My grandson wants the original title with the car.”

So, the courthouse lady, Margaret—I think, told her the only way to get a new title is if it’s lost or destroyed.

“So, you couldn’t keep the title,” I said, sadly.

Smiling like the cat that ate the canary, Granny continued, “I dropped the title in my pocketbook, closed it up, and told her, ‘Well, I’ll be John Brown. I guess I’ve lost that title.'”

Margaret reportedly just smiled, shook her head, and pulled out a lost title application. Granny may have known everybody in town, but I’m sure everybody knew her as well.

The newspaper on my desk says the courthouse is six years shy of 100 years old. That means it was two years old when my grandparents first called Pittsburg home. I’m betting by the time Granny “lost” that title half a century later, everyone in the courthouse knew my grandmother.

That’s just the way she was.

And just in case you’re wondering … the answer is yes. Some 41 years after that conversation down at the courthouse, I still have the car and the original title

I have no doubt it’s because of her

“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” — W.E.B. DuBois, 1868-1963 American sociologist, socialist, historian, and civil rights activist.

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I took up my front-row pew at church last Sunday, pausing for reflection before services. Outside, March winds in April were blowing through everything in sight while a myriad of memories was blowing through my mind about where I sat inside.

Sitting at the front these days is a matter of convenience. It’s easier for me to carry out my chosen duties as the congregational song leader. The first time I occupied that prominent seating position for church services decades ago, it was punishment. Apparently, my high school buddies and I distracted the preacher with our whispering conversation while sitting on the back pew at the Southside Church of Christ in Mount Pleasant. Enough so that he stopped mid-sermon and told us to come sit on the front seat directly in front of him.

My mom was born and raised in Kentucky by devout church of Christ parents. I’m somewhat sure that Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” was in the back of her mind. She worked hard to “train up” my sisters and me.

Therefore, I don’t have to explain the words she had for me when the last amen was pronounced that morning. For weeks afterward, I was required to sit within arm’s reach of her, just as I did as a young child. That was so she could remind me of how painful her pinch on my ear used to feel when my conduct did not meet with her approval.

Mom also worked hard to “train up” my father to attend church with her. However, it just never took with Dad. Oh, he tried at times, but I guess he never felt sufficiently moved by the spirit. Dad’s spirit was moved more by staying home or going fishing.

Along with his love for fishing, Dad was prone to “seasoning” his language a bit with his finely tuned skills in the art of cussing.

According to my college linguistics course eons ago, religious views aside, profanity is often “a verbal expression usually said more out of memorized responses the mind uses as filler when it can’t formulate a more appropriate response.”

Whether it was a memorized response I heard my father use or something else, I quickly learned one Sunday afternoon after church that such responses, particularly while still in grade school, were not only inappropriate, but they also came with consequences.

The family joined Dad for some creek bank fishing that summer afternoon. Mom found a shade tree to enjoy her favorite pastime: reading. And once I tired of trying to outsmart the fish, I went to the back seat of the family Studebaker to pass the time with crayons and coloring books. Upon discovering that the East Texas heat had reduced my crayons to puddled pallets of color, my first verbal expression was one of my father’s favored inappropriate responses.

“What did you say,” Mom exclaimed, looking over the top of her book.

“Nothing,” I stuttered. “It was an accident.”

“Did you hear what he said,” she directed toward my father? I’m confident that was Dad’s cue that he was about to be called on to fulfill his duty as the parent who administered the punishment. But Dad was nowhere to be found in this situation. His fishing gear was right where he had been seconds earlier, but he was gone. Despite his shortcomings in some areas, my father was an intelligent man.

Offering the excuse that I was just trying to “talk like Dad” earned me no grace. It didn’t help Dad very much either, once he came back. It did not go unnoticed that his reprimand for me was not as firm as it had been for other offenses. Nor was it considered coincidence that one of his periodic attempts at going to church with Mom followed that fishing episode. Like I said, Dad was a smart man.

Something my mother did somewhere along the way worked. Maybe it was the ear pinching. Perhaps it was the unspoken understanding that I would attend services with her Sunday mornings as long as I lived in her house. Regardless of whether I wanted to, or no matter how late I stayed out on Saturday night.

Just maybe it was watching her genuine desire to study God’s word and serve Him that convinced me. But for whatever reason, I’m past my three score and ten and still sitting on the front pew.

And I have no doubt it’s because of her that these days, it’s because I want to.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo by the author—An interior view of the Center Church of Christ. I get that view only when entering the building. My view during services is from way down front, on that very first pew.)

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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 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

That’s my old house … at least I think so

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

—Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame professional baseball player who is also remembered for expressions most of which didn’t make sense, but often possessed profound truth.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be confused with north, east, south, and that kind of language when asking for directions.

I want to hear, “Go down that street there past the Texaco station and turn left just before you get to the used car lot. If you pass it, you’ve gone too far. Then go out there to that fork in the road where Mr. What’s-His-Name used to have that stand where he sold stuff out of his garden.”

Never mind that both old Mr. What’s-His-Name and his place have been gone for 30 years. You’re supposed to know that.

Giving qualified directions in East Texas requires living in the vicinity for a while. How long is a while? Doesn’t really matter. You’re still a newcomer if you were not born in the area. Last week, I was reminded of that when someone asked where I lived when I first moved to Center 43 years ago.

“Well, you can get there by going one of two ways,” I started. “First, by driving out Logansport Street. Now that’s not the highway to Logansport,” I cautioned. “The highway to Logansport is Cora Street. Logansport Street will get you there unless you miss the turn at Cotton Ford Road. Otherwise, you’ll just wind up out into the country.

Pointing over past the courthouse, I said, “Turn right off the square at the old post office. You know, it’s a lawyer’s office now. Then you go out a ways to that little brick store building on the left past the fire station. You turn left at the store, well, it’s not a store anymore, but turn left there and that’s what is now Walker Street—but it used to be Kennedy Street. You go a couple city blocks and I lived in that beigey-pink brick house on the right with the columns on the front porch and the big garage beside it.”

“It was 412 Kennedy Street when I lived there,” I added. “But there weren’t any numbers on the house. That was before 911, I guess. And I got my mail at the post office any way—the one on the square that’s not a post office anymore.”

“You know where I’m talking about, don’t you?”

A blank stare led me to fear my friend not only did not understand but was completely lost.

“Okay, back at the square, same old post office that’s a lawyer’s office now,” I started. “This time go out Tenaha Street and turn right on Kennedy Street just past the Dairy Queen. Once on Kennedy, you’ll pass the high school. Well, it was the high school when I lived there, but it’s the junior high now. That dead ends into another street. Actually, it’s still Kennedy Street but Kennedy turns left and makes a quick right because you really don’t have any choice.”

My friend’s bewildered look was back.

“You’ll come to where you have to turn one way or the other. Kennedy Street used to continue right onto what is actually Walker Street before they changed it … a long time ago. So, when you turn right on Walker now that used to be Kennedy, you’ll see the beigy-pink brick with the columns on the porch and the big garage on the left side of the street.

“You know where that is, don’t you?”

“Well,” my friend started, “If you turn … but … no,” he sighed.

How was I ever going to explain what was once the Aldridge residence on what used to be Kennedy Street? After all, we bought the place and lived there for 12 years.

That was when I remembered a conversation with Jerry Samford way back when I first moved to Center. Jerry had a great story about living in a small house in town that never really got to be “his place,” although he bought and paid for it.

“People were referring to the place by its previous owner even after I moved out,” Jerry laughed. “It was the old so-and-so place when I moved in, and it was still the old so-and-so place when I moved out.”

“Say,” I asked my friend. “You know where the old Herbert Sanders place is?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “I know right where that is.”

“Well, that’s my old house … at least I think so.”

—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 2022. 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.

Still doin’ time

“The best memories of old friends and old cars are never fully captured in photos. That’s why we hold them in our heart.” — Author unknown except the part about old cars. I added that.

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An old race car still slugging away at the Texas Motorplex race track over at Ennis caught my eye one afternoon 30-some-odd years ago. As the aged hot rod left the starting line in a hail of a high winding motor and smoking tires, I smiled at the sight of an old George Jones country song title on the side of the car … “Still doin’ time.”

The double entendre struck me as funny. An old car “sentenced” to hard time on a drag strip where competition for the quickest elapsed time is what drag racing is all about.

My father took me to my first race when I was about 10. I was addicted to the automotive sport where adrenaline junkie drivers launch grossly over-powered automobiles from a standing start down a quarter-mile track attempting to reach the finish line in insanely fast times, and I never recovered. With any luck, at this age I never will.

That addiction and the thought of still doin’ time sort of came full circle with an email a while back.

“Hello, good morning, don’t mean to disturb,” the email message read. “But the wife surprised me with a very large collage on my garage wall, the focal point being this ad. Which made me wonder if you were still alive and if you remember. This ad changed my life. Dave.”

The name Dave didn’t fire on all eight cylinders right at first. But the ad Dave sent required no reminder. The small classified with a photo of a race car appeared 35 years ago in National Dragster, the official publication of the National Hot Rod Association. Better known as the NHRA, it is the largest and oldest sanctioning body for drag racing in the U.S.

I knew what the ad said by heart. “1969 Camaro convertible SS/KA, race car since new, RHS 350 glide w/brake, 5.67 Mark Williams rear, former AHRA national record holder, ran low 11s before fresh engine & trans, not on track since, asking $7,900 or offer. CONTACT Leon Aldridge, (409) 598-3377 or (409) 598-8231.”

For those with no clue of what happens under the hood when you press the accelerator pedal, the Cliff Notes version of the ad might something similar to: “Wicked fast and fun former record holding race car for sale.”

I also remembered the car by heart. I gripped the steering wheel many times, oblivious to the deafening sound of 600-and-some odd unharnessed and unmuffled horsepower butting heads with the the 6,000 r.p.m. brake limit while anticipating the green “go” light unleashing every ounce of horsepower to the rear tires in one blast.

Also still in my mind were the rear tires wrinkling in angry protest against the massive torque abruptly dumped on them while they tried to grip the pavement. And the helpless front wheels with no choice that were left hanging in mid air until the rest of the car could resolve the power struggle to propel me and the 3,000-pound car down the track in just over 11 seconds at more than 125 miles per hour.

“Absolutely I remember that car and that ad,” I responded. “Wow! What a pleasant surprise.”

“Yes,” Dave wrote back. “I am the then 34-year-old kid who drove away with your car in May of 1987.”

Dave answered the ad all those years ago and decided to come take a look at the car … to Center, Texas from Canada. Yep, he drove down in a late-70s or early-80s Mopar of some description, perhaps a Plymouth Satellite. I don’t remember now.

The last view I had of my race car headed for its new home with Dave in Canada 35 years ago.

He arrived in East Texas a few days after calling and decided to buy the car after a thorough inspection. The only problem was he didn’t have a trailer. So, I helped him in that area as well. I sold him one I had. But that came with problems. The trailer’s wood floor had worn-out spots making it critical that we strategically park the car to avoid breaking through one of them.

The car loaded to our mutual satisfaction, I watched Dave and his trusty Plymouth hauling my old friend of a race car with which I had made many memories disappear around the corner on Walker Street. I waved and offered a silent prayer the trailer would make it all the way back to Canada.

Dave’s recent message included photos of that journey back to his home, noting one picture was crossing the border just north of Bismarck, North Dakota at sunrise on the last day of his 4,200-mile trip. He shared stories and photos of changes made to the car over the years and racing it at tracks from California to Indy and in between.

I shared more memories that had come to mind in the years since, and probably repeated some old ones. Who remembers after 35 years?

Things like the car having been a race car since it was brand new and raced by a Chevy dealer in New Mexico. That it was green from the factory, red when I bought it and raced in red for many years by Dave before he painted it yellow.

Still doin’ time in Dave’s most recent yellow paint configuration.

Old cars have stories; telling them is what old car guys do. Our stories made me smile again at the thought of another old race car “still doin’ time,” one I had owned and thrilled at the adrenaline rush of driving.

I need to contact Dave again and check on him and the car. His last message concluded with, “The old girl waits quietly in the corner of the garage for the new motor we developed over the long winter. I think I will load the motor in this weekend just to push back on the blues of this new world order that has enveloped us.”

“The sun’s out, think I’ll crack a beer and rub the fenders of our old friend.”

—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 2022. 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.

Catching two dreams in one equinox weekend

“Don’t just chase your dreams, catch them.” — Annette White, travel writer, author, serial adventurer, and creator of the travel blog, “Bucket List Journey.”

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Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s hilarious movie by the same name aside, I’m not fond of the term ‘bucket list.’ My list is more about chasing dreams and making memories. I call it my someday list.

I’ve been blessed. I am thankful to have seen, done, and accomplished many things I never dreamed of experiencing. And what is life without dreams? To be sure, dreams remain on my list waiting to be checked off … someday.

That is probably why I was super excited about a someday list “double play” last Friday.

Hard to imagine, but I had never laid eyes on Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium before last Friday night. The historical contributions to music by the Art Deco venue near downtown Shreveport has earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and designation as a National Historic Landmark. Dreaming of seeing it lingered on my list for years. Mostly because it was the home of Frank Page’s KWKH Louisiana Hayride radio show that helped launch the careers of many aspiring singers. In addition to Elvis Presley, other regular performers who jump-started their notoriety there include Hank Williams, Slim Whitman, Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, and Johnny Horton.

Not that many years after Elvis sang “That’s All Right Mama” on the “stage of stars” in the mid-50s, I was in junior high school and enjoying a variety of music including what has become known as contemporary folk music. The genre was peaking by 1960 with songs and artists like “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett, “Tom Dooley” by The Kingston Trio, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” by Bob Dylan.

Much of Bob Dylan’s most celebrated songs in the 1960s followed the beginnings of social unrest and storytelling that became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. But it was his base in American folk music that spoke to me at the time. Songs like “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “It Ain’t Me Babe” still live in my record collection and in my memories.

That love for music at an early age planted dreams of experiencing in-person, people places and things that have shaped American music: dreams that became my someday list.

I’ve checked a few off the list over the years. Once, sitting at B.B. King’s feet when I could have literally reached up and touched his shoes. Two hours of the legendary blues master playing his guitar he called “Lucille” and singing songs like, “The Thrill is Gone.”

Or the time I stood at the edge of another stage, this time with a camera in hand and press credentials around my neck to watch Ricky Nelson perform songs like “Hello Mary Lou.” Memories of watching Chuck Berry do his signature “duck walk” across the stage while playing and singing “Johnny B. Goode.” The afternoon spent sitting and talking one-on-one to 50s and 60s crooner Fabian and Paul Revere of “Paul Revere and the Raiders” about their influence on American music.

All heady stuff for a lifetime music lover.

Last weekend, watching one of the biggest influences on American music take the same stage on which Elvis Presley and many others started was no less exhilarating.

At 80, Bob Dylan’s movement about the stage appeared frail as he was aided by those around him. But his performance, voice, and timeless music were as inspiring as they were 60 years ago.

Six decades of music and more than 125 million records (making him one of the best-selling musicians of all time) has earned Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ten Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded him a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” And in 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Seeing Bob Dylan in person and feeling the magic of Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium are two dreams I’ve chased for too many years. The stars aligned with an approaching equinox sun and moon when I caught them both in one night.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of the page: Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium where Elvis Presley and many others launched a career in music in the 1950s, and where Bob Dylan added to a six-decade long career in music March 18, 2022. Photo by the author.)

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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 2022. 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.

Being seen out and about with a pretty fancy pup

“Do you know the meanings of these old sayings.”

— Question posed on a website that researches the origins of old sayings.

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“You should have seen him,” I heard someone say last week. “He was puttin’ on the dog Saturday night.”

Time-worn old sayings often convey precise meaning better than the best of scholarly English. So that expression needed no further explanation for me to understand. The speaker implied that someone was making a display of wealth or importance, typically showing off by dressing stylishly or flashily. I knew that because it was a favorite old saying for my grandmother.

I also knew what it meant because … let’s just say, I may or may not have been guilty of puttin’ on the dog myself once or twice.

Internet sources point to European aristocracy as the origin of the saying, during a time when people kept expensive pedigree dogs simply for show. Hence, putting on the dog meant they were seen on the street recently with a fancier pup than the mutt with which they had previously been spotted.

An appreciation for meaningful but short, down-to-earth remarks was cultivated over the years by good friends and trusted associates with names like Brogoitti and Chionsini. Part of the Italian heritage seems to be a penchant for penning some of the best of this witty wisdom. Jim Chionsini capitalized on it combining it with his insight into life to come up with what he termed “Old Italian Sayings.” Some actually had their roots in Italian philosophy and some, Jim “Italian-ized” to effectively get his point across.

One old Italian saying was, “Keep good company, and you will be of their number.” The point was that successful people aren’t born that way; they become successful by associating with successful people and doing things successful people do. That saying came into play the night a few years ago when I must confess to a good time puttin’ on the dog with successful friends over in Shreveport.

The setting was a performance of the Shreveport Symphony with Henry Mancini. A fan of Mancini’s music since high school and college days, the opportunity to see in person, the composer and pianist often cited as one of the greatest composers in the history of film, winner of four Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, and twenty Grammy Awards was something I did not want to miss. After all, I once played on stage with “Doc” Severinsen from The Tonight Show. But that’s another dog story for another time.

Getting out the hometown newspaper every week is a labor of love and money: lots of love and not that much money. Therefore, the opportunity to put on the dog for one night rather than just putting him out for the night sounded like fun.

The fun got even better when my successful Shreveport friend called on his successful friend who owned a limousine company to provide our transportation. The fun factor was bumped up a notch the night of the concert when the limo company owner friend called to report that his “regular” limos were all booked for the night, and he was having to send the only one he had left: a Rolls Royce limo. If his statement was meant to imply the Rolls was an inconvenience for us, it was one to which we quickly adapted.

A light drizzle was falling when we arrived about 30 minutes before curtain time. While elegantly dressed patrons hurried to get out of the wet weather, our uniformed chauffeur parked at “VIP only.” A roped-off, covered, red carpet there led to a separate door out of the rain. The chauffeur whispered something to the doorman at that door, and we were escorted to front row seating near the stage.

Mancini and the Shreveport Symphony delighted with everything from “Chariots of Fire” to “The Pink Panther Theme” plus hit 60s tunes from “Moon River” to “The Stripper” to “Peter Gunn.” The evening brought to mind another old Italian saying, “Life should be like precious metal, weigh much in little bulk.”

I hated to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I had to ask later. “What did you whisper to the doorman to get us those seats?”

“Nothing really,” the chauffeur said, leaning to talk over his shoulder from the front seat. “I may have mentioned something about you possibly being related to the Mancini family and to take good care of you.” Then he added with a smile in his voice. “The doorman is on old friend of mine. It’s who you know that’s most important, not what you know.”

‘Who we knew’ that night was fun. And, it led to a night of doggone good fun … being seen out with a pretty fancy pup.

There will always be those days

“Teaching kids to count is fine but teaching them what counts is best.”

— Bob Talbert (1936-1999), sportswriter, editor, and columnist at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

At my day job as editor and publisher of the Center, Texas, Light and Champion newspaper, we posed that quintessential question to Shelby County first graders a couple of weeks ago. The results were published in this week’s edition. It’s our annual peek into the minds of those who will someday shape our future.

Asking a child what they want to be when they grow up is a question typically posed by those who have already achieved some degree of success with their answer. However, my son, Lee, played the game with me some years ago when he asked what I wanted to be when I grow up.

Trying to recall what I dreamed of being at his age caused me to wish I had been one to keep a diary on those kinds of thoughts. However, writing a column off-and-on for almost 40 years has been a similar exercise.

As we prepared to publish the comments of 2022’s first graders, it reminded me of that conversation with my son when he was about 12 and a column I wrote about it.

“Dad,” Lee asked with a smile, “What do you want to be when you grow up.”

“To tell the truth,” I responded, “I don’t plan to grow up if I can help it. What do you want to be?”

“I don’t know,” he smiled with a shoulder shrug, making me realize it was a question he had been asking himself. And honestly, “I don’t know,” is sometimes the best I can do for myself, even today. Forty, 50, then 60 sailed by faster than Superman’s speeding bullet—a sobering occurrence for one who vowed long ago never to grow up.

Best I can remember, it was a cowboy or a fireman and everything in between. I often daydreamed of flying airplanes. Other times about driving trucks. But every summer afternoon, when the ice cream truck turned onto Redbud Street in Mount Pleasant, I knew what I wanted to do. Visions of driving that ice cream truck captivated any and all aspirations I had about the future.

My high school buddy, Doug Davidson, got that gig once in the early 60s. Even as a teenager, I enviously watched him bring joy to the neighborhood kids in the form of fudge bars, Dixie cups, push ups, and Dreamsicles.

Capitalizing on the conversation with my son as an opportunity to offer direction on things in life that really count, I began to ramble about what I wanted to be when I grew up—if I ever did. Which I haven’t.

Nonetheless, I offered some advice that I hoped he would take to heart as he grew up—which he has. He is now 42.

“Whatever I wanted to be,” I began, “I hope I’ve grown up to become someone who is not pretentious: trying to be anything other than who I am. I also hope I’ve grown up to be someone who says good things about people when they deserve it. In other words, being myself and being an encourager for others.”

Noticing that I still had his attention, I slipped in another more. “I’ve tried to grow up laughing at myself as needed. Oh, most importantly, trusting God to run His universe instead trying to do it myself. Have to admit, though, that one has been difficult”.

Guessing I had by then exceeded the attention span if a 12-year-old for topics of such a serious nature, I decided to wrap it up while I was presumably still ahead.

“And hopefully, I’ve grown up devoting as much time to keeping my body and mind as healthy as I have my cars.” 

“Or, your dog,” Lee interjected wryly.

“You’re right,” I admitted. “I hope I’ve grown up enjoying life as much as Ol’ Max does. Dogs have no pretensions.” I ended my thoughts there and sat back, waiting for a response. Seconds seemed like an eternity before he said anything.

“Is that all, Dad.”

“Well, no …” I hesitated in reflection. “Just to keep everything in perspective, there will always be those days when your biggest dream is still just to drive the ice cream truck.”

—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 2022. 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.

One thing leading to another can be a good thing

“Friendship is like an old guitar. The music may stop now and then, but the melody in the strings will last forever.”

—Source unknown, but it sounds like something Tom Lund would say.

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We’ve all said it at one time or another. “Isn’t it funny how one thing leads to another?”

Simple things like the cost of television dish, cable, this box, or that stick endlessly going up while the quality of programming with any of the above keeps going the opposite direction. Acting on that angst a few weeks ago, I declared myself done with it all. I dissed the dish. Cut the cable. And it’s been the first step toward better health. My blood pressure went down 10 points without television, and my outlook on life went up ten smiles a day.

Reinvesting wasted TV time in pleasures I once enjoyed, like music, led to remembering the uncanny connection between songs and old friends. Friends like Tom Lund.

I met the tall, broad-shouldered, cowboy-type musician with a contradicting Mid-Western accent while living in the Texas Hill Country. The newspaper I published did business with the advertising agency his wife, Tenlee, owned, and I forged a friendship with Tom through my fondness of Boerne’s live music venues.

Boerne was a musician’s community in the 90s. With a couple dozen restaurants and gathering places offering live music on just about any night of the week, it was also a music lovers’ community. I suspect it still is, but it’s been way too long since I’ve been there to confirm.

It was also a mixture of three differing cultures. Descendants of the city’s German settlers and bedroom community dwellers who worked in San Antonio were joined by a growing influx of newcomers. These were people moving there because they liked the small-town Hill Country way of life and the booming economy.

I never heard Tom and Tenlee say what brought them to Boerne, but a safe bet is that last category.

Tom Lund always had a smile on his face and a song to share. Most were his own, typically ballads about twists and turns in life. The kind of feelings set to music that offer a glimpse into the soul of a singer-songwriter.

His voice was as unique and as instantly recognizable as Willie Nelson’s. He didn’t sound like Willie, mind you. But just as the “Red-Headed Stranger’s” voice is recognized on the first note, you also knew Tom Lund was singing before you saw him.

Equally as unique as his voice was the story of his “right place and right time” career. Tom was a leading sales rep for a laparoscopic surgery tool company on the forefront of the device’s popularization in the 1980s. Having sold as many or more of them than anyone else in the country unknowingly put him in the position for a second career: a sought-after expert witness in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Tom’s “never met a stranger” personality led to our friendship. Listening to his songs with a sometimes cynical and often humorous perspective on lost love and the ups and downs of life’s relationships in Hill Country hangouts led to a new dimension of understanding in my music appreciation.

Going through my “vast store of music artifacts” (aka unidentified boxes of stuff in my closet) a few years ago, I ran across a cassette tape of his songs. It was a collection entitled “Lost in the Hills.” Tom performed with a friend whose name sadly became lost in the hills of time in my mind years ago. I remember only that he worked for the local vet, Dr. Lee Carriker. Tom and his veterinarian assistant partner performed together, calling themselves “Back Roads.”

Delighted with my discovery, I jotted the lyrics for a couple of my favorites, “Different Parts of Life” and “The Two Best Friends I Ever Had,” into my iPad and then spent a few minutes working out the chords. On occasion, I’ll strum old guitar strings and sing through one of them, letting the music take me down Texas Hill Country back roads 25 years ago.

I haven’t talked to Tom since I left Boerne in the late 1990s. He and Tenlee left after I did, and no one seems to recall which road out of town they took.

It’s nice, though, when one thing leads to another. Especially when a recovering television addict is led to remembering the melody of a friendship through the strings of an old guitar.

—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 2022. 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.

Things we used to do, I won’t ‘do no more’

“Sleeping under a table at a roadside park, A man could wake up dead.” —Song lyrics, “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” recorded by country music artist Charley Pride.

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It could have been the Winfield Truck Stop decades ago. I could have been listening to Charley Pride’s unique voice on the jukebox and waiting for a late-night BLT with onion rings. But it wasn’t. I was sitting at Fancy’s Cafe in Center last Saturday night.

Same food order as the old spot up near Mount Pleasant. Same Charley Pride, this time just loud enough in the back ground somewhere to hear above restaurant chatter. Same good service. Despite being almost closing time, the waitress assured us there was no need to hurry. 

Music makes strong memories. The song Saturday night called to mind many aspects of societal change since the late 60s when I was in college and eating often at the Winfield diner. For one thing, I’ve slept on a table at a roadside park, but not under one. It was just things we used to do in 1967, and the chances of waking up dead never crossed my mind. 

Life was great for two Mount Pleasant college kids then. Ronnie Lilly and I were on our way home from Southern California following summer jobs. We left Canoga Park late one afternoon in Ronnie’s ’57 Chevy towing a Model A roadster hot rod I had purchased. Yes, school money was the job’s objective, but that’s another story worth telling. 

Crossing the desert at night so the Chevy wouldn’t overheat was a good idea, but it failed to account for other issues. Like towing an old straight-axle car on which the front tires wore out and gave up the ghost somewhere near midnight in Desert Center, California. Sweltering 97-degree heat in the middle of the night and many more miles to go made buying a couple of used tires and taking the hot rod back to my uncle’s house the smart move. Never mind that it ended my California hot rod dreaming days.

Sunrise just below the horizon found us somewhere in Southern Arizona. It also found us suffering from sleep deprivation without a motel in sight when we saw the roadside park. Can’t tell you today where we were and probably didn’t know then. But the concrete picnic tables could have been Simmons Beautyrest mattresses for all we cared.

A couple of hours of sleep and another day’s driving got us into the far reaches of West Texas. Maybe it was night driving in the desert, sleeping at a roadside park, or both. But on a lonely stretch of highway just inside the Texas border, Ronnie asked, “Did you notice the mileage when we filled up?” The gauge on Ronnie’s Chevy didn’t work but knowing how many miles we could go worked—until we forgot to check it.

The blank stare on my face pretty well summed up my, “No.” That and the trusty Chevy sputtering to a stop in the middle of nowhere. Ronnie volunteered to hitchhike into town if I stayed with the car. I added the part about opening both car doors and stretching out across the front seat for a nap until he got back.  

Again, it could have been night driving in the desert, sleeping at a roadside park, or both. Whatever the cause, my dozing was interrupted by music. “All you need is love, all together now … all you need is love, love.” 

“The Beatles,” my hazy brain asked? “Out here? Gotta be dreamin.'” Dreams became reality when I looked up to see a VW microbus adorned in bright colors, flowers, and peace signs rolling up beside the car. 

“Hey man,” the bearded driver drawled. “Need a helping hand?” Rubbing my eyes changed nothing. I was still staring a half-dozen flower-child types, all looking my direction.

“No,” I said. “Ran out of gas; my buddy hitchhiked into town for gas; should be back soon. But thanks.”

“Heavy, man, heavy,” he replied. “Peace brother,” he added, guiding the bus back toward the road with one hand and offering the well-known two-fingered peace sign with the other. I watched them fade into the distance with continued chords of “All We Need is Love” drifting on the afternoon air.

Last weekend’s recollections listening to an old song were about a time when we thought nothing about sleeping on a roadside park picnic table or hitchhiking rides 675 miles from home. Looking back, I guess on any other day, I should not even have questioned a VW van load of hippies in the middle of West Texas.   

It did remind, however, of another jukebox standard from an earlier era, one by blues singer Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones with a verse that declares, “The things I used to do, Lord, I won’t do no more.” 

For me, that’s things like sleeping on picnic tables at roadside parks and hitchhiking.

—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 2022. 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.

Feeling like more than just part of the crowd

“A kind heart is a fountain of gladness, making everything in its vicinity freshen into smiles.” — Washington Irving (1783 – 1859) American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat.

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I met Carlton and Martha McAlister in 1969 and fondly remember being in and out of their house on Magnolia Drive frequently that summer. Back then, few of us growing up on the south side of Mount Pleasant in the neighborhoods around South Ward Elementary School imagined the unique bond we would share today. But it exists.

It’s been 14 years since Carlton passed away. And I last saw Miss Martha four years ago at her 90th birthday party. Yet, her kind heart and contagious smile were ever-present. And despite being one who chose to blend in herself, the way she engaged people to make them feel special—more than just part of the crowd, never changed.

But blending in with the crowd was all I wanted to do Saturday before last when family and friends gathered to say goodbye to her. Try as I did though, blending in is sometimes impossible to do.

To deviate on blending for a moment, my grocery bill includes upkeep for about a half-dozen cats. It varies because one may go off on the crusades for weeks just as another walk-on discovers the food dish is always full on George Ihlo Drive.

Cats are not the only critters I keep fat and happy. Others looking to occasionally steal a meal might include a raccoon, opossum, or a skunk … like the one that waddled across the patio recently. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and almost opened the door to greet the newcomer kitty. Luckily, I saw the white stripe in the nick time.

I was also without glasses the night I noticed a group gathered at my back door for chow time. Seeing what looked like a cat congregation, I turned toward the feedbag before stopping mid stride to think, “Hmmm. Something about that bunch just doesn’t look right.

Upon closer inspection, one of them was noticeably different. The masked face and ringed tail were dead giveaways. A stranger was trying to blend in, hoping to cash in on the cat food.

Still hoping to blend in at the funeral, I followed my sister, Sylvia. Since first grade, she and Susan McAlister Prewitt have been lifelong friends, graduating together in 1971. Their class members were sitting together, so I inconspicuously eased in with Sylvia.

The officiating minister was Dr. Clint Davis, better known as Brother Clint. He also conducted services in 2016 for my lifelong Mount Pleasant friend, Oscar Elliott. A trademark of Brother Clint’s funerals is his skill for lifting spirits by blending humor into a time of sadness. He called on that talent to take a good-natured jab at the class of ’71, intentionally exaggerating their age.

Leaving the service, I shook his hand, told him my name, and reminded him of being at Oscar’s funeral. “I remember you,” he responded. “And I see your picture in the paper, I read your column every week.”

“Oh, I forget about that,” I laughed. “Please don’t hold that against me.”

I was driving home later that afternoon when Susan called to thank me for coming. Then added with a smile in her voice, “Let me tell you about my conversation with Brother Clint while ago. He said, ‘I didn’t know Leon was a member of the class of’ 71.'”

“He’s not,” Susan said she told him.

“He was sitting with them.”

“Yes,” Susan said she responded, “He graduated in 1966, but he came with his sister, my friend Sylvia, so he just sat with them. Leon’s just part of a package deal,” she laughed.

Laughing with her, I told Susan that package was expanding by the minute. I related that when I dropped Sylvia off for a class of 1971 get-together planned weeks before, the group named me a semi, sort of honorary member with a standing invitation to return.

“Just blend in,” I laughed at myself as I continued driving south toward Center in the evening sunshine, “that didn’t work out very well.” I was outed for posing as a member of the class of ’71 by the ever-observant Brother Clint Davis who I had met once six years ago. Then later the same day unofficially named an honorary member of the same group. And along the way, I renewed several friendships, many of whom bravely admitted in public to reading my columns.

Then it hit me, and my smile grew even bigger.

I had been for my final visit with Martha McAlister. And just like every time before, I left smiling, feeling like more than just part of the crowd.

In my mind, I knew she had a hand in that … and was probably smiling herself.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo above: Martha McAlister)

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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 2022. 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.