Walking through centuries of architecture and art

 

“I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall.”
—song lyrics by Cole Porter

Recognizing places I’ve visited watching a movie or a news story always evokes a memory—that is to say places at least four counties removed from Center, Texas. News reports of the fire at the Notre Dame cathedral a couple of weeks ago, while disturbing, reminded me of Paris: the city I came to love some years ago.

By the way, Cole, I was there in the fall.

History damaged or destroyed is always saddening. Seeing severely damaged Antebellum homes after the Mississippi and Louisiana hurricanes a few years ago was heartbreaking. Worse were the sites where little more than brick piers or a few timbers were the only reminders of magnificent homes that had stood since Civil War days.

I’m glad Notre Dame survived and will be restored.

Documented in hundreds of Kodachrome slides stored somewhere are Paris memories from 30-plus years ago. Things like spectacular skylines at night surrounding the Eiffel Tower, renown restaurants, music, and entertainment. And recollections of strolls along the Seine that were as romantic as I had envisioned them. But seeing Notre Dame sitting on a small island in the middle of the Seine was especially moving, particularly for an East Texas country boy who considered Paris, Texas, a pretty impressive sight.

Notre Dame was impressive, but my small-town East Texas upbringing was again exposed when I confessed that the historic structure reminded me of scenes from the movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the 1939 version with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. Maybe it was the fact that as a kid, I was addicted to the old monster movies. Granted, the story is more romanticism than horror. However, to an 8-year-old, the black-and-white Hunchback character, Quasimodo, closely enough resembled the mummy and Frankenstein that it too kept me awake at night making sure there was nothing under my bed to go bump in the night.

Walking through Notre Dame where Charles Laughton’s character had once shuffled during the filming of the classic movie was breathtaking for its history as well. Realization that construction was started more than 850 years ago puts the relatively short time of our own life span into a new perspective. With luck and a few blessings, we get short of 100 years here. And for most like me, little will be recorded other than a few memories and pictures relatives keep in a cedar chest.

But the massive cathedrals representing centuries of labor displaying furniture, paintings, sculptures, and documents represent more generations than a family-tree website can fathom. Who visited or worshipped here in the centuries it has been standing? What world events transpired during eons of time long before Columbus discovered the New World?

Placed in terms of centuries, time spent walking where figures of ancient history walked becomes a sobering experience.

Also sobering was visiting the Louvre, the world’s largest art museum established in 1793, in awe of masterpieces such as Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, and Winged Victory. Also remembered is meeting the only remaining authority at that time on the works of French artist Edward Cortez in hopes of verifying a Cortez painting I owned. Looking back, it’s more than sobering to think that I found her house with just a street map by walking from the hotel and riding the subway in one of the largest cities in the world.

The adventurous trek, however, afforded me a view of Paris not many tourists see.

Speaking of seeing, where are those slides? I need them digitized … while I can still see the pictures and tell stories about how I loved Paris in the fall.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion,the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.

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

 

A life and a living doing things ‘the right way’

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill

In search of a living, I entered journalism through the front door of The (Naples, Texas) Monitor. The list of mentors I would accumulate started with Morris Craig, editor and publisher of The Monitor then, and today.

I had been there just long enough to learn how to spell journalism when Craig (that’s what everyone except his mother and his first-grade teacher called him) sent me up north of Dallas to accept North and East Texas Press Association (NETPA) awards for The Monitor. I’d like to tell you where it was but that has been some 45 years and many conventions ago.

Where ever it was, that’s where I met several newspaper professionals who I would not only come to consider mentors for journalism “the right way,” but also friends. People like Roy Eaton at the Decatur Wise County Messenger, Bob Hamilton at The Iowa Park Leader, Dick White at The Pittsburg Gazette, and others whose names will come to me probably right after this piece is printed.

I knew one person in the room that day, Dick White. He and my father were both graduates of Pittsburg (Texas) High School: dad Class of ’41, Mr. White class of ’42. Childhood summers at my grandparents in Pittsburg left me with memories of the Gazette office where Granny took me when she placed classified ads or bought extra papers for friends or family.

Memories of strawberry ice cream cones at Lockett’s Drug Store next door rank right up there with Mr. White’s personal attention to customers whether for 10-cent newspapers or 25-cent classified ads.

Following The Monitor and a stint at the Many, Louisiana, Sabine News, I decided purchasing a community newspaper was next. Desiring to locate near my Mount Pleasant hometown, my first stop was dad’s friend and my press association mentor, Mr. White in Pittsburg.

Sporting my new blue leisure suit and tie wide enough for billboard space, I entered the Gazette office one Saturday morning where Mr. White listened intently to my thoughts about how my “background and knowledge” had not only convinced me community newspapers was where I belonged but also compelled me to join the ranks of newspaper ownership.

Hearing my passionate presentation, he followed with his respect for my insight, research, and planning while adding questions about methods of operation, goals for the future, and my thoughts on what was to come for newspapers.

After a long, enlightening, and enjoyable visit, he thanked me for considering The Gazette as an acquisition but told me, almost apologetically, that he was not quite ready to sell yet. He promised, however, when that day came, I would be his first call.

Fast forward from the 70s into the mid-1980s when I was serving as publisher of the Light and Champion in Center, Texas, held ownership interests in a small group of newspapers and was about to become president of NETPA. That additional time and experience had taught me how little I actually knew the day I asked Mr. White to sell me his paper. It also taught me that he probably knew that the day he politely listened to me before graciously saying he just wasn’t ready to sell. Time had also changed both of his thoughts on selling when he called to tell me that he had a good offer for The Gazette but wanted to give me the first right of refusal as he had promised he would years before.

Thanking him profusely, I told him that I had a great opportunity where I was and added again before we ended our conversation that I really appreciated his call. It’s rare when people say things like that then actually follow through on it years later when the time comes. But, that’s just the kind of guy he was.

“Thomas Richard (‘Dick’) White, loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather died peacefully on April 6, 2019. Dick’s life showed devotion to God, family, friends, community, and country,” his obituary in The Gazette begins.

The Gazette was Mr. White’s living, but the innumerable stories like mine, what he gave to people like me, and devoted to community journalism “the right way” was his life and is his legacy.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor, Texas, Press, the Alpine, Texas, Avalanche.

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

Have I been overlooking a third fix-it essential

“Holding things together
Ain’t no easy thing to do
.”
—song lyrics by Merle Haggard

As an old car tinkerer and household repair artist, employing WD-40  and duct tape to fix just about anything is a regular routine. However, I’m thinking that I may have been overlooking a third fix-it essential that performs miracles when it comes to holding things together.

Last week, one of the earpieces on my glasses felt loose. I didn’t spend time fretting knowing that I had an eye exam on Monday. “Yep,” the optician confirmed. “It’s broken and hanging by a thread.” An order for new frames came with the warning, “Better baby those until we get the new ones.”

Guess I’m out of practice when it comes to babying. Three days later, I found myself holding the ailing earpiece in one hand and the rest of my glasses in the other. Hoping for a miracle in my workshop, I became reacquainted with an old friend akin to the WD-40  and duct tape family: J-B Weld. J-B Weld and I go way back. It’s true what they say about how the unique epoxy will fix anything but a broken heart.

Our relationship started not with a broken heart, but with a broken 1946 Chevrolet panel truck that served as the emergency service vehicle for Mount Pleasant Explorer Scout Post 206 in high school. The vehicle aided our scouting organization’s effort to assist police and fire department personnel with directing traffic at wrecks and fighting grass fires. H.O. Townsend’s father was the advisor and a father with an interest in helping guide young men in a positive direction.

Taking a positive direction with the old truck, we liberally applied white paint to every inch of the interior and painted the outside “emergency orange” with the help of a local body shop after which “Explorer Post 206, Mount Pleasant, Texas, Emergency Service” was artistically added to the sides by a local sign painter donating his skills.

The wrecking yard refugee looked good and was reliable, but was not swift. At full throttle, the big orange truck rumbled along faster than a heard of turtles in a cloud of snail dust while leaking a variety of fluids along the way. And there was that thing about the transmission jumping out of high gear. We soon learned that getting to a fire before it burned out on its own required a two-man team: a driver and someone to hold the floor-mounted shift lever in gear.

Seeking more speed, we pulled the head off the stove bolt six-cylinder motor hoping to freshen up the valves. In the process, we also solved part of the fluid leak mystery, the one about where that water puddle was coming from. With the manifolds removed, a hairline crack in the block was clearly visible. Popular opinion was the busted block was not fixable: we would need a new motor.

Cash was scarce and new was not in the vocabulary, but creativity was abundant. We cleaned the area around the crack and applied a liberal dose of the magical J-B Weld epoxy. Once the engine was back together, we filled the radiator, crossed our fingers, and fired up the old Chevy letting it run long enough to get hot before we ventured off farther than we could push it if the repair failed. Our gamble paid off; at least one leak was long gone.

We continued to operate the noble steed until the majority of us graduated from high school and moved on the next phase of solving life’s problems. Last word was that Bobby Joe Spearman bought it for parts. He already had one like it that was his father’s plumbing business service vehicle for many years.

When we sold the truck, the J-B Weld repair was still doing its job, and I’m happy to report several decades removed from the Explorer Post engine experience that the fix-it compound has once again solved one of my life’s problems. As I type this missive, I’m four days into looking through salvaged spectacles. It’s not a broken heart, but JB-Weld is still holding things together.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche.

 

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

No rainy day roads, just a cup of coffee at home

Born in Detroit City back in ’51
She still looks pretty and she’s loads of fun
Through thick and thin she’s been my only one
It’s my Crown Victoria Custom ’51
—”Crown Victoria Custom ‘51” lyrics – performed by Jerry Lee Lewis

Oil-OK. Tires-check. Coolant-perfect. Can’t be too cautious when heading out on a 250-mile road trip to cover in one day.

At least that was the plan. My columns are penned a week in advance to meet multiple deadlines, and we all know how East Texas weather can change in a day’s time. Give Mother Nature a whole week and an entire season can come and go.

I had planned to lead today’s post with, “If you are reading this week’s column on Saturday, Miss Vicky and I are on the road participating in the annual Highway 271 Cruise in Northeast Texas.” Instead, I’m savoring coffee this morning watching the dark clouds roll in and Miss Vicky is still slumbering out in the garage.

With Saturday’s 70 to 80-percent chance of rain across East Texas looming in the forecast all week, the event’s organizers opted Thursday to pull the plug for this week and reschedule in hopes of dryer forecasts on a future weekend. Rain is no stranger to the Highway 271 Cruise. In fact, much of last year’s event was driving in the rain.

Old cars are not allergic to rainy road trips, they are just not as much fun to drive and harder to clean up afterward. Plus, it cuts down on the crowds coming out to enjoy them in the participating cities which is the main focus of the chambers of commerce in the cities along the way.

Vicky and I were ready, however. Everything was checked, prepared and ready to roll. Inspecting everything on the car used to be standard preparation for even a short 1950s road trip. But today? Trips of 1,000 miles or more are started without a second thought checking only the fuel gauge and the cup holders.

Before Vicky (she’s my 1955 Ford Crown Victoria by the way – not a ’51 as the one Jerry Lee croons about) and I head out whenever the cruise is rescheduled, the checklist will be thorough. We’ve made trips together in the past including this one, but neither one of us is getting any younger.

While the event is only 45 miles long, she and I will travel 120 miles just getting to the starting point in Mount Pleasant. Stops along U.S. 271 include Pittsburg and Gilmer before the rolling car show arrives in Gladewater at 2:30 p.m. Each city offers culinary treats for the classic car cruisers and a 90-minute downtown mini-car show for the local citizens. At 4:00 p.m. it’s over and everyone departs Gladewater heading for home which for Vicky and me will be another 81-mile journey. By the time we return late Saturday, Vicky will have another 250 miles on her ticker.

But that’s no hill for a stepper as my friend Oscar used to say. I am not privileged to know everywhere Vicky has ventured in her 64 years on the road. All old cars have their secrets. I do know she came down from Arkansas in 1984 spending 28-years in Bossier City where she received a complete restoration before crossing the Red River to her new home in Center.

Having earned a driver’s license in 1964, I could use a restoration myself. Highlights on my road trip adventures involving vintage vehicles includes two trips to Daytona Beach, Florida in a ’56 Thunderbird and one from Chicago to Center in a ’65 Chevelle Malibu SS that was fresh out of storage in Iowa: 950 miles in 21 hours non-stop.

That trip crossed my mind last November driving home from the Corvette and Muscle Car Nationals car show in the Windy City. I didn’t set out to do a repeat non-stopper, it just turned out that way. The difference was that the original in the classic Malibu was an adventure whereas last year’s trip was a boring snoozer in a new but bland “looks like everything else on the road” styling econobox loaded with computers and auto everything.

Way before look-alikes loaded with computers and auto everything, there was also a trip I made from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Mount Pleasant and back in a 1965 Mustang …that one all in one long day, too. But, that’s a whole ‘nother story worth telling.

Oh, and let’s not forget cruising a ’69 Olds Cutlass W-31 muscle car purchased in Mount Airy, Georgia halfway back to Texas before unidentified noises spooked me into renting a truck and trailer to finish the trip home.

Whatever Saturday it happens, the Highway 271 Cruise will not be without its strange noises. After Vicky was restored about 12 years ago, she became a garage queen. However, I do have a couple of concerns.

There’s this vibration thing like something is loose that I can’t pinpoint. Maybe I will find the source before something falls off. Also, age brings on a lot of wind noise and there’s that aggravating roar in the rear end. A transplant may be in order, but it won’t happen before Saturday.

But that’s enough about me. Vicky’s in great shape and we’re ready for some 2019 road trip fun 1950s style—with a little sunshine.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion , the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor Press and the Alpine Avalanche

Hunting and golf, never mastered either one

Money can’t buy happiness. But it can buy a hunting license and that’s happiness.
Tee-shirt slogan in a hunting shop.

Know anyone who’s framed a hunting license? Me either, maybe I’ll be the first. Very appropriate since the license is my first.

I’m not a hunter. Just never caught on with me. Like playing golf. I’ve tried both hunting and golf and all I have to show for my efforts are demeaning but funny stories.

Dad took me duck hunting when we lived in West Texas. At the age of nine, I’m guessing a license wasn’t required. The only requirement I do recall was arising way too early for a weekend morning when it was way too cold to be outside. Plus, it was way too hard sneaking up on a handful of ducks floating around on a Baylor County, Texas tank: that’s West Texas speak for an East Texas pond.

Gave deer hunting my best shot in the late 60s up in Titus County where co-worker Johnny Garner invited me to go. I quickly accepted adding I‘d borrow dad’s 22. Allowing as how it would take a little larger weapon, he loaned me an appropriate firearm.

Hunting deer in East Texas woods bore some resemblance to hunting ducks on West Texas tanks. It was still way too early and way too cold. Before heading off in another direction, Johnny sat me under a tree to watch a nearby brush pile for the “big one.”

Ten minutes later, my first realization was despite wearing every layer of clothing I owned, it wasn’t nearly enough. Twenty minutes in, I realized the ground on which I was sitting was about as cold as the water in a West Texas tank or an East Texas pond.

The sky was turning shades of blue, like my feet, when predawn light cast shadowy details in the undergrowth. It was the biggest buck I had ever seen, actually, the only one I had ever seen. He peered around the heap of tree limbs, turning his head from side to side as his breath cast a vapor in the cold air. He moved cautiously closer. I didn’t move. I didn’t breathe. I even forgot how cold it was.

He nibbled at the remnants of winter grass as I planted the gun to my shoulder and centered the magnificent beast in the crosshairs. Through the scope, I could see details in his face and caution in his eyes.

Just as quickly as he appeared, he was gone when something caught his attention. It didn’t matter. I had already laid the gun down across my legs, content to simply gauge his reactions to the nature we both shared on a cold morning.

Sunlight was restoring my circulation when Johnny appeared from the undergrowth. “See anything?”

“Naw,” I replied. “Nearly froze to death but enjoyed watching the woods come alive at sunrise.”

Confessing that I shot nothing, I will further admit to remembering nothing about a license or even needing one for that adventure. I’m also hoping that will make it easier on me if the statute of limitations is more than 50 years.

The license last week was for a tower shoot at a Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort, a team building activity during a company business meeting.

While not a hunter, I used to shoot targets and cans. Even so, the safest place for a bird last week was still right in front of me. At least this time, I was not only legally licensed but also a little lucky. I came home with supper.

Anyone have a good recipe for pheasant, or a picture frame—one about the size of a hunting license?

—Leon Aldridge

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

An answer to virtually any question, except maybe one

“Some things man was never meant to know. For everything else, there’s Google.”—Anonymous

The encyclopedia salesman sat in our living room one West Texas summer night in 1957 touting the wisdom and knowledge in the volumes of bound books he was hoping to sell my father. His dramatic closing pitch was to lean forward, look at me and say, “Ask me a question, son. Any question, and I’ll find the answer right here.”

Somewhat shy at nine, I sat silently glancing first at my father, then at the salesman. “Go ahead,” dad encouraged. “Ask him a question.”

“What was the Lone Ranger’s real name,” I blurted out.

The suddenly drowning salesman stammered for a lifeline, but he needn’t have feared. Dad bought the encyclopedias even though the Lone Ranger’s identity remained a mystery.

Fifty-three years later, Encyclopedia Britannica published its last printed volumes after 244 years. The final updates were printed in 2012 although Britannica lives on in digital format only.

My reliance on digital devices today is remarkable given that in the early 80s I was heard to say, “I’ll never need to know how to operate a computer, just bring me the printouts to read.” Yeah, famous last words.

In an age when even printouts are almost a thing of the past, there is precious little I do without a computer. Checks? Hardly see one anymore. My income is direct deposited, my bills are paid online, and my cash is this thing called debit card. I shop the internet when I can’t buy locally and get it a couple of days later, if not overnight. I can visit more friends and family in one day than was once possible in months before cyberspace.

Daily Bible scriptures; health and nutrition tips; magazines; newspapers; books: all in my own personal pocket library for reading anywhere including the doctor’s waiting room where five-year-old magazines are standard enlightenment.

Speaking of doctors, personal medical records are a heartbeat away on most physician’s websites offering more medical knowledge in 60 seconds than one busy doctor ever provided in ten minutes of questioning, plus answers to those questions I forgot to ask.

Many things once commonplace, are today not only just a click away but often a click away only, period. “Online only” is something that has its good points and some maybe not so good.

When my device blinks once, it’s an Excedrin headache of unfathomable proportions—worse even than a number 23. I believe the degree of improvement in lifestyle when technology works and the degree of frustration when it doesn’t is proportionately equal to the “good old ways.” When the good old ways didn’t work, it was mildly frustrating but only a minor inconvenience. We had yet to get trapped in the age of an “instantaneous gratification” lifestyle.

We mailed checks or took them into the store and forgot about it. Missing a call wasn’t a big deal. In fact, we didn’t know we had missed one before voice mail. We always caught up with real face-to-face visits the next time we saw each rather than rudely thumbing away on phones. We bought things in real stores and talked to real people.

Some complain about “wasting too much time on computers.” Granted, some do while away excess hours on devices. But savor the reality of a simplified life via speed of communication and ease of performing everyday tasks in many ways. And a wealth of information, including the Encyclopedia Britannica, is available at your fingertips in seconds.

In fact, just one question remains for which I cannot find the answer. I still don’t know the Lone Ranger’s real name.

—Leon Aldridge

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

Getting a charge out of good customer service

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”— Henry Ford

My contention that customer service is too often an oxymoron these days was echoed this week by my newspaper friend, Bill Hartman. His column in the Fort Bend Herald recounted an occurrence sounding all too familiar.

“The shopping part was easy,’ he wrote about his experience, complimenting the salesperson. The problem, he reported, was when it was time to pay out and the checkout employee encountered problems with the store’s check processing machine. When the malfunctioning device failed repeatedly to read his check, she told him it was broken and they couldn’t process the check.

“And what does that mean,” he asked?

“We can’t finish the sale,” was the reply he got. To that, he responded, “Have you ever considered doing it the old-fashioned way by just taking the check to the bank and depositing it.”

The checkout clerk was quick to say, “We don’t do that, don’t you have a credit card you could use?”

“Nope,” he said. “I guess we have no deal then.”

“About that time,” his column continues, “The young lady who did the selling sprinted by and returned with a lady in tow who must have been the manager. All of them gathered around. Finally, the manager whispered something to the money collector, and she went to her computer…and a piece of paper flew out of her printer.”

‘It’s your receipt,’ the wounded-looking money collector said. “The manager said we’d just do it the old-fashioned way.”

“There’s a moral to this tale,” Mr. Hartman concluded. “When someone is ready to buy something from you, try your best to accommodate them. You never know when it might be your last sale.”

One of the gurus of accommodating the customer had to have been Dean Redfearn who owned an auto parts store on Third Street in Mount Pleasant between the Martin Theater and city hall when I was in high school.

I bought parts there because he was always quick to accommodate me, taking time to help this school kid customer keep his hot rod ’55 Chevy running. One Saturday morning I was perusing a parts list at the end of the counter when an older gentleman walked in and heaved a dead battery up on the counter with a “thud” saying that he needed a new one. Mr. Redfearn greeted him with a smile, identified the battery, then disappeared down one of the long rows of parts bins. In a jiffy, he returned with a shiny new, freshly charged version of the expired power supply.

As the customer reached for his wallet, Mr. Redfearn produced a hand-written receipt. If memory serves me correctly, the 1965 price was about $9.95.

“Phew,” the old fellow whistled. “I can get the same battery out of the Sears catalog for $6.95. Can’t you sell it to me the same as Sears?”

Without blinking an eye, Mr. Redfearn smiled and said, “Sure, I’d be glad to.” Pushing the same receipt toward the customer, he said, “That’ll be $6.95 plus three dollars for shipping and handling.” He then picked up the new battery, put it on the shelf behind him and added with the same pleasant smile. “It will be ready to pick up next Tuesday.”

The befuddled fellow stared in silence for a second, then grinned and slapped a $10 bill on the counter. “Gim’me that battery.”

Mr. Redfearn put the battery back on the counter, took the customer’s money and the two shook hands, still smiling. Mr. Redfearn added, “Could I put that in your pickup for you?”

—Leon Aldridge

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