Apparently for dad, once was sometimes enough

 “I am prepared to try anything once.
–Richard Branson, business magnate, founder of Virgin Galactic

My father saw no sense in powerful or fancy cars and certainly nothing sensible about car racing. To him, cars were a means of transportation and nothing more.

Despite that, he never gave me a hard time for my obsession with trying things in life once for which he saw “no sense.” He simply shook his head at my exploits and smiled. I’m thinking he must have had a standing chiropractor’s appointment for all of the head shaking I caused him.

That thought came to me last fall after attending the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals car show in Chicago to revisit an era of my life focusing on one car that caused dad a lot of head shaking.

Rummaging through photo albums after the show in search of “memories” of the car, I happened onto one taken in front of our house in Mount Pleasant, Texas, in 1969 depicting three cars. My two “no sense” notoriously fast muscle cars of the era, a Ford Torino Cobra Jet and an Oldsmobile “Ram Rod,” were pictured alongside my dad’s “transportation only” car: a four-door Chevy, six-cylinder with a standard-shift transmission.

69 Olds W-31 & 69 Torino Cobra 2-am
The “Ram Rod” Olds that became a race car shortly after this photo (and my sister, Leslie), my “means of transportation” Ford Torino Cobra Jet behind it contrasting with the top of dad’s ’62 Chevy six-cylinder “means of transportation” barely visible on the right. Photo at top of the page—Cessna N7804G, the aircraft in which my father took his first plane ride with me and decided once was enough.

After the Oldsmobile began its new life as my full-time race car, I asked dad if he wanted to go with me to watch. He declined a few times before he and mom showed up at Interstate 20 Raceway near Tyler, Texas, one Saturday night. Thrilled by their interest, I asked him again the next week but once was evidently enough. “No thanks, I wanted to go once to see what it was you liked about it,” he said, “But, I don’t care to go again.”

The same scenario followed a few years later when flying lessons was next on my try it once list. To my knowledge, he had never been up in an airplane and often expressed a strong fear at just the thought of flying. When I told him about my new adventure, he shook his head, smiled and said, “I don’t see any sense in doing that, but if that’s what you want, that’s your business.”

FAA check ride passed and pilot’s license in my pocket, I stopped by his house the following Sunday morning for coffee on the way to the airport. “Can I go with you,” he asked? After cleaning up the coffee I choked on, I said, “Sure, I would have asked, but never thought you would consider it.”

My logbook entry notes that flight on August 29, 1976 took exactly one hour’s time sight-seeing around Northeast Texas that morning. We flew over the current site of Lake Bob Sandlin for an aerial view of the dam under construction at the time. Then we flew south toward Pittsburg circling over the town, pointing out the house where he grew up, followed by a loop east near Omaha before turning back to Mount Pleasant. Before we landed, I pointed out Gibson’s Discount Center where he worked and our house on Delafield Street.

Through the entire flight, he never said a word. With his right hand clutching the pull strap above the passenger door the whole time, he nodded acknowledging my tour guide narration of things on the ground, but that was it.

Back at the airport and out of the plane, I asked, “How did you like it?”

“It was OK,” he said with a smile. A week or so later when headed to the airport for some more fun flying around the area, I stopped to see if he wanted to go up again. “No thanks, I wanted to go once to see what it was you liked about it,” he said, “But, I don’t care to go again.”

Guess my father was content trying something once to see what I liked about the things in which he saw “no sense.” But apparently, once was enough.

—Leon Aldridge

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

Getting acquainted with nine generations

Grandpa, tell me ’bout the good old days…”
—song lyrics by The Judds

Because my father was adopted by an aunt and uncle and raised as an only child, there is much about his family history’s good ol’ days he didn’t know. He associated briefly with only two of his 12 siblings and the last time I saw them or any of my cousins on dad’s side of the family, I was just 13.

However, through the resources of family tree websites, I’ve recently become acquainted with nine generations of ancestors back to 1500s England. The CliffsNotes version reads like this: An English couple’s son from the Besson family travels across the Atlantic to the Virginia colony in the early 1600s and marries a Maryland woman; their daughter marries a man from England named Aldridge and they settle in Maryland. Subsequent generations bearing the Aldridge name migrate South to Kentucky and Mississippi. Connecting the many lines between the 294 names and five centuries now in my fledging family tree structure has me wishing there was some way to hear their stories about the good old days.

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Francis Besson, born in 1566 in Beeston, Yorkshire, England married Marcella Cunningham and in 1616, she gave birth to Thomas Philip Besson, Sr. at St. Andrews, Plymouth, Devon, England. Young Besson became a captain in the English military before coming to Virginia where he married Anna Hester Talbot from South River Park, Anne Arundel, Maryland. Their daughter, Martha, married Nicholas Aldridge from East Willow Parish, England, thus the first Aldridge surnamed ancestor in the “East Texas branch” settled in America before the Declaration of Independence was even signed.

Nicholas and Martha’s son, Thomas, became the first Aldridge in the “East Texas branch” born in America. He married Mary Margaret Hooks from Maryland and their son born in Kentucky, another Thomas, became the first generation of the “East Texas branch” whose parents were both American born. Kentucky-born Thomas married Elizabeth Knapp from Buckenham, Norfolk, England, and their son, also named Thomas, married Catherine King. Their son, William, married Caroline Massey.

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Stories from the lives of these ancestors would be priceless. What did they do for a living? What successes and failures did they encounter? What historical events did they witness first hand? What prompted the shift of later generations toward the South?

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William and Caroline’s son, Leo, was born in Mississippi in 1859. He married Catherine Crecink and they had several children including brothers Sylvester V. and Willie L. Willie L. Aldridge married and fathered 13 children, the last one, Leon D. Aldridge, born in Doyle, Louisiana, in 1923. His mother died giving birth to him. A record of her name exists, I know it does, but I have yet to locate it. Sylvester V. Aldridge and his wife Hattie Lois Farmer (living in East Texas) took Leon to raise before his first birthday and later adopted him. He married Indianola Johnson in 1944 and they had four children: Peggy Jean born in 1946 and died shortly after birth, Leon Jr. born in 1948, Leslie Diane born in 1951, and Sylvia Anne born in 1953.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Hints of interesting stories from the good old days most likely now lost to time are often suggested by facts found in family history research. Things like how one branch of the Aldridge family went to Kentucky about the time others were apparently headed for Mississippi. Mary Margaret Hooks Aldridge, mother of Thomas Aldridge born in Kentucky in 1757, died in Clark County, Kentucky and was buried there in 1810.

That’s significant because the county seat of Clark County, Kentucky, is Winchester. My mother, Indianola Johnson, was born in Winchester in 1923, some 113 years after Mary Margaret Aldridge was buried there. In 1944, 134 years after Mary Margaret’s burial, Indianola married Leon Aldridge from Texas, my father, who was Mary Margaret’s great-great-great-great grandson.

What a fun story that would have been to tell my parents. I’m sure they had no clue. It’s just one of many I can now share after becoming acquainted with Aldridges in my father’s lineage, ancestors he knew nothing about.

A family tree is a work in progress, and I’m just getting started. I’m looking forward to hopefully uncovering many more stories from the good old days about my father’s family.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo above—Three of my first cousins the one and only time I saw them in 1961. I was 13 years old. The picture was made at my father’s sister’s house near Tickfaw, Lousiana, where I went with my father and the only brother he knew to pick up the car pictured—a new 1961 Ford purchased by my uncle in Baton Rouge.) 

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


Virtues of the hot toddy: medicinal and otherwise

“Well, gimme a bottle of Nyquil,
That restful sleep my body needs.
Analgesic, decongestant,
With an antihistamine.”
—”Nyquil Blues” performed by Alvin Crow

Sneezes, sniffles and similar symptoms combined with watching the faint traces of sleet and snow falling last week turned office breakroom conversation to remedy and relief of winter illnesses. Then someone in the group announced their intentions to go home and fix a “hot toddy.”

Chuckles and eye rolls followed as if to question whether the intentions of said toddy was therapeutic or recreational. But the banter turned serious when stories of home remedies led to recollections of family members and friends, teetotalers for the most part, who were otherwise quick to imbibe distilled spirits claiming them to be for medicinal purposes only.

Many are the time-honored hand-me-down cures taunted to make one feel better. Everything from mama’s chicken noodle soup to plenty of fruit juices, hot tea, herbs, and oils. Despite them all, the supreme healer throughout the ages seems to have remained the “hot toddy.”

Granny, my father’s mother, didn’t hesitate to medicate with her go-to recipe if she deemed it to be a necessity on Saturday night. She would assure you at Sunday morning services, however, that her prescription was strictly for healing purposes as she added her “amen” to the sermon on the evils of alcohol.

While many swear on the virtues of the hot toddy, I’ve secretly wondered if they really possess healing power, or are they just an excuse to enjoy a little nip when you aren’t feeling so well? Inquiring minds want to know, so I did some research and the data is in.

Fact is that alcohol can cause dehydration, disrupt sleep patterns, and suppress the immune system. It can actually worsen the symptoms of a cold, increase congestion, and worsen head and body aches, not to mention other problematic things such as causing behavioral issues and lapses in memory.

But there is also good news. Those drawbacks come with excessive medicating. In small amounts of an ounce or two, it seems there are some positive benefits from the much-heralded hot toddy recipe. Small “doses” of alcohol can dilate your blood vessels, easing inflammation and increasing the blood flow carrying beneficial illness-fighting cells to infected areas. It can also relieve pain and aid in sleep and help alleviate congestion. Want proof? Just take a whiff of a bottle of whiskey and see how quickly it opens up the sinuses. Combined with the steaming hot water, it becomes even more effective.

So, bottom line is that alcohol might actually help with the cold or flu—as long as you keep the dosage small. And that’s most likely why Nyquil, the popular modern-day counterpart of the toddy, is so effective. The liquid form is 10-percent alcohol although the company claims that it’s a “solvent for the other ingredients.”

So powerful is the reputation of this over-the-counter toddy that a tune penned to proclaim its virtues was a hit for Texas singer Alvin Crow in the late 70s.

While Nyquil has its own following, Granny’s age-old concoction might be considered the natural alternative. Her recipe was honey, lemon juice, and cinnamon mixed in hot water. Oh, and a healthy shot of bourbon whiskey from that bottle wrapped in a kitchen towel and hidden in the pantry. Lemon provides vitamin C, cinnamon is a known anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, and the antibacterial properties of honey were known long before Granny’s time.

Therefore, with research data firmly in hand, I am now ready for the testing part—for medicinal research only, of course. Wow, was that a sneeze? Oh man, I think I’m coming down with something.

—Leon Aldridge

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

Somewhere, late birthday wishes are acceptable

“In some parts of the world, it’s customary to send birthday wishes the day after a person’s birthday. I don’t know where, but I’m apparently from there.”—verse found on one of the many belated birthday cards I’ve bought.

A new year’s resolution that’s been making the list now for most of my life has already bit the dust. While that is nothing new, I don’t intend to forget birthdays. Actually, I usually do remember them—sooner or later. It’s just that I forget to send a card. On time. All right, so I sometimes forget to send a card at all.

“Don’t you have a birthday this month,” I said to my youngest sister, Sylvia, one day last week?

“No,” she replied dryly.

“That’s right,” I acknowledged remembering that February is the month for my other sister, Leslie’s birthday. “Yours is in June.”

“May,” she quipped adding just for my benefit, “I lucked out, got the same month again this year.”

My intentions are good. However, I’m typically in trouble by the first week. My niece Diana and a good friend from living on Lake Murvaul days, “Postmaster Paula,” both have birthdays the first week of January. If I miss them, and I usually do, then I’m already behind before my grand twins, Sarah and Haven’s birthday rolls around a couple of weeks later. That’s when I admit defeat, hang it up and move that resolution to next year’s list. Again.

I really thought I had the perfect solution some years ago. Rather than remain Hallmark’s best customer for belated cards, just send everyone a birthday card on January first. That way, everyone gets a card from me before I have a chance to forget their birthday. About halfway through addressing cards on New Year’s Day, however, second thoughts crept in as I envisioned the potential confusion I was about to create.

Diana would get hers first and call her mom. Sylvia would, in turn, be calling family members to spread the news, “Bubba’s on the ball this year, Diana got a birthday card.” That would likely have happened before she found a card in her mailbox.

About the time Sylvia was scratching her head, Mom would have been going through her mail. I loved my Mom. I’m not saying she was slow you understand, but when telling her a joke, you had to sometimes wait for that sound—you know, that “whoosh” sound that flies over someone’s head while they’re processing. Receiving a birthday card in January would have triggered that sound and that look on her face. “A birthday card? It’s not June.”

Knowing mom as we all did, Sylvia would have already been on the phone. “Don’t get excited mom, we’re not sure what Bubba’s up to, but it’s not June. Just save your card and open it again on your birthday. By then you will have forgotten, and you’ll be surprised again.”

Before that conversation was over, Leslie would have been on the phone to Sylvia. “I don’t believe it. Leon mailed me a birthday card a month early.”

“He sent me one too—five months early,” Sylvia would likely have responded. “Not to mention Mom five months early and dad seven months early”

I just couldn’t do it. Carefully considering the havoc I could be inflicting on my family, I put the cards aside electing to mail them on the appropriate dates. Hey, they were already addressed.

If memory serves me correctly, it was in March of that year when Sylvia called. “Oh no,” I said upon hearing her voice. “I addressed birthday cards for everyone and forgot to send them.”

“You bought birthday cards,” she asked? “Yeah, right.”

“Really,” I argued. “They’re around here somewhere.”

“Sure, they are,” she laughed. “So, where did you put them?”

“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “Hey, did you just hear that—that whoosh sound?”

—Leon Aldridge

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


‘Leave the driving to us’ took on a new meaning

“I don’t want to cause no fuss, But can I buy your Magic Bus?” —song lyrics “Magic Bus” by The Who 1970

Countless are the miles my “always going somewhere” nature has taken me in a lifetime of cars, motorcycles, airplanes, and boats. Ready to go at the drop of a hat, many are the places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. Wonderful are most of the memories, but thankful is the keyword for surviving a few that became stories worth telling.

Earliest travel memories center around trips with my mom. Boarding a train bound for Kentucky. Buckling in for the same trip in a DC-3 prop-driven airliner for which I  still have a certificate noting my first airplane ride at the age of three. And, then there were the many trips on commercial bus lines.

Reading a history of the Greyhound Bus Line last week conjured college band memories of the black smoke belching, diesel driven, air-brake spewing, silver giants with the dog on the side. Boarding the big charter buses transporting the Kilgore College band and the Rangerettes to games and special appearances was cool stuff compared to the yellow school buses that transported the Tiger band to Friday night games at Mount Pleasant High School.

My last bus ride six or seven years ago was the first leg home from the Oshkosh “AirVenture” air show in Wisconsin. American Airlines stood ready to whisk me from Milwaukee to DFW, but the 90-minute bus ride from the air show to General Mitchell International Airport in Wisconsin’s largest city reminded of a night during the winter of 1978 when, “Leave the driving to us,” took on a new meaning: a trip from Abilene to Dallas. In snow and ice.

Three hours for that trip was making good time driving the speed limit in the family cruiser on a sunny afternoon. Taking the bus that night was necessitated by purchasing a car in Dallas and driving it to Abilene, then hopping a bus back the following weekend to bring said family cruiser home.

“One-way to Dallas, please,” I said. “Will the snow pose problems tonight.”

A short “no” and a punched ticket was my answer. Besides faulty weather prognostication, undisclosed information included the sub-sonic travel time featuring stops in every burg along I-20 boasting an exit and a convenience store.

Despite all of those minor details, we were soon passing everything on the highway blowing plumes of snow onto creeping cars and idling trucks as the silver dog danced on the slippery super slab. The driver was good. He managed to hit every icy spot on the road causing the big bus to execute variations of the Texas Two Step while spinning wheels searched for spots of dry pavement.

A variety of diversions inside helped keep our minds off the road conditions outside. A young man with a guitar toward the rear of the bus broke into song. “They say music soothes the soul,” said the lady behind me traveling to Mobile with her daughter. I tried joining in, but holding my breath just wasn’t conducive to harmonizing on the next verse of “Magic Bus.”

The momentary jolts of traction between every slip and slide sent a cacophony of screams and four-letter expletives from the back all the way up to the pregnant lady at the front. A couple of older guys across the aisle wagered on when she was going to deliver. One bet it would be between Cisco and Strawn while the other put his money on the stretch of interstate between Weatherford and Aledo. As word of the wager spread, others began to lay down money as well.

Nobody claimed any winnings. She failed to deliver, but fortunately, the bus driver didn’t, bringing us into the Dallas terminal at 10 minutes to midnight, 15 minutes ahead of schedule and 30 minutes faster than I had ever driven it on a sunny afternoon in the old family cruiser.

“Thank you, driver, for getting me here, You’ll be an inspector, have no fear. Too muuuch—Magic Bus…”

—Leon Aldridge

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

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(Photo at top of the page: 1959 Greyhound promotional postcard. The Scenicruiser bus was unique to Greyhound and was in-service from 1954 into the mid-70’s.)

My only notion is that my notions are always right

“Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.” —A philosophy to which I admittedly have been known to occasionally subscribe.

Preconceived notions, I think they are called. Thank goodness I am afflicted with only one: that my notions are always right.

Going through my “archives” a couple of weekends ago, I stumbled onto reminders of my California summer of 1967 during college. Among the treasures were Disneyland ticket stubs where I paid the princely sum of $4.50 for a day at Walt’s World of Magic 52 years ago and an aging checkbook from the Bank of America in Canoga Park, California, where I banked.

Ironically, that same weekend a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that I was probably courting disaster by banking on the outdated personal accounting software I’ve been clinging to for a couple of years now. My mind was made up that the last “friendly to me” software version was better than the newer iterations. Did I say a couple of years? In full disclosure, I confess it was version 2007.

The software was sold to another company that soon dropped the Mac version. Finding no replacement options of which I approved, I stuck with 2007 insisting the replacements “didn’t work like the one I had been using.” When the software resurfaced as a subscription version “in the cloud,” I tried it. Nope, I thought, “Doesn’t work like the one I am used to using.”

Signs of a perfect storm were gathering in the cloud when an ominous screen started appearing. That would be the one that read something like, “Unable to back up your files.” The company had already announced they were dropping support for 2007 when Mac’s newest operating system turned its digital nose up at it as well. My comfort level was declining in direct proportion to the realization that I was trusting my personal finances to 12-year old software with no technical support running on a computer operating system that had also disowned it.

But I didn’t let facts or fear interfere with my notions that the online versions not only looked different, but they also operated differently. Plus, the learning curve looked pretty steep to the baby boomer brain under my gray hair. They still didn’t work like the version I was used to using.

Version 2007 did continue to work, but I knew I was gambling with the odds and a day was looming when I would roll the wrong number. Begrudgingly, I bit the bullet, downloaded the new version, and paid the ransom for the first year all while dreading the hours of work it was going take to get my accounts reconciled. I was still complaining when a screen appeared listing data files on my computer and telling me which one I should select. After I entered the required financial institution login data, I then watched as one-by-one, accounts updated, fields populated, and balances appeared.

“Well,” I thought still harboring a little doubt and disdain, “Those look kinda close. Maybe this won’t be too bad to fix.” A quick check with said financial institutions revealed perfectly matched balances. There was nothing left for me to do.

My preconceived notions were debunked by simply introducing my computer to my finances via the internet and letting them work things out without me. “OK,” I thought. “My mind is not made up yet…this probably isn’t going to work like what I’ve been using, why do they always have to change things.” Then looking around to see if anyone was listening, I whispered to myself, “But, I think I might like this one.”

Semi-related, fun historical footnote: David Brogoitti, my Mount Pleasant friend Randy Brogoitti’s father, was a founder of the Gateway National Bank in Fort Worth that opened for business January 2,1962 and was the first Texas bank to utilize computers.

—Leon Aldridge

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

Texas state reptile’s extinction has been exaggerated

“Nature doesn’t need people – people need nature; nature would survive the extinction of the human being and go on just fine, but human culture, human beings, cannot survive without nature.” — Harrison Ford

It is with great joy that I report news of the horned toad’s extinction has been greatly exaggerated.

Conversation during a coffee conference last week turned to species that are thought to be nearly extinct now because of fire ants. It was duly noted among the majority of the caffeine consumers that the horned toad was one of them, but I’m here to report that might not necessarily be so.

I speak with some degree of affection for the strange tiny creatures by virtue of my dual citizenship. While I attained what is for most people a mature age in the Northeast corner of the Lone Star State, my years preceding the sixth grade were spent in the regions of West Texas in places like, Seymour, Ballinger and even Pampa in the Texas Panhandle. Living West of Fort Worth qualifies one to claim acquaintance with the little critters that were a kid’s companion for playing in the dirt and a means of getting in trouble at school should you get caught with one while harboring intentions of frightening the girls.

Some years ago, while visiting family in West Texas, l took my East-Texas reared kids out to the edge of town in search of the little critters—the edge of town being a relative term. We were in, Kress, a wide spot in the road that is easily missed it if you blink. l know—I did it.

I was certain that we would see multitudes of them, but our search rendered not one single specimen. We looked, we walked, and we searched the sunbaked, cracked dry ground, but we found not one. Dismayed, we inquired back in town and were told by locals that, “they’re extinct — the fire ants killed ‘em out.” I was devastated.

For the uninformed, horned toads resemble nothing less than a miniature, hand-held size dinosaur. Never mind that reference books will tell you they are properly called “Horned Lizards,” you’ll not hear them called a lizard anywhere in the regions of Texas outside of academia.

The same scientific references will tell you the tiny creatures are also known as “horny toads” or “horntoads,” and they are a genus of North American lizards of the family Phrynosomatidae meaning “toad-bodied.” Their flat bodies, about the size of a quarter, sport four little legs that stick straight out. On the opposite end of a tiny piece of a pointed tail is a flat-topped head with reptile looking eyes and spiny little horns giving them a prehistoric look earning them their name.

Recent research has revealed that the Texas reptile is in fact not extinct although their numbers have been in decline since the days when folks my age were youngsters and considered them backyard and playground playmates.

More than twenty years ago, biologists began research projects that included capturing, tagging and releasing some hundreds of horned toads in hopes of gathering data to aid in their preservation. At that time, there was even a Chapter of the Horned Lizard Conservation Society headquartered in Austin. As recent as last fall, the Dallas Morning News reported that Texas zoos, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials, Texas Christian University biologists (the only college or university in the world that has the horned frog, as they call it, as its mascot) and others are working together to release hundreds of horned toad hatchlings in a variety of places on state land.

CNN will continue reporting its fake news and Washington will likely always refuse to agree on something, but there is a sense of balance in life as long as there are still horned toads in Texas.