Reflections of duty, honor, service, friendship, and flying

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

– Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker and author

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Friendships come in many types, some with frequent visits and others that time attempts to distance. Even with the latter, the best will pick up where it left off as if the time between was mere days rather than years. 

Augustus Randolph “Randy” Presley, Jr.

They’re found in places like schools, jobs, and neighborhoods. For me, flying and the old Mount Pleasant airport facilitated many fond friendships like the one Randy Presley extended to me many years ago. I knew who he was before that because everyone knew him as a businessman and community leader always offering a smile, a good story, and friendship to everyone he met. 

We were also friends through Glass Club Lake just down the road where several Mount Pleasant residents had cabins. When I moved back to East Texas from Boerne just outside San Antonio, buying a place on the small lake in the summer of 1998 led to one of our catching up and storytelling sessions at the annual stockholder’s meeting and fish fry.

“I’ve got one for you,” I said. “Watching the San Antonio news three or four years ago, I saw something about a sonic boom prompting phone calls and furor. When the reporter interviewed the Air Force pilot about the incident, I pointed to the TV and told my kids, ‘I know him, that’s Jack Presley from Mount Pleasant.’” By then, Randy’s smile that had been growing larger by the minute turned to laughter as he picked up on the story about his son where I left off, “Well, here’s the part of that story the news didn’t report.”

That return to northeast Texas was short-lived before a dozen or so years later when I returned once more with the new owners of the Mount Pleasant Tribune. Randy called to welcome me back, but it was his response to my column on a legendary Paris, Texas, pilot and subsequent emails that came to mind last week upon learning that Randy had passed from this life at 90.

“I really enjoyed the article about Junior Burchinal,” that response began. “I doubt if anyone in Mt. Pleasant spent more money with Junior than me! I always wanted to fly a P-51 Mustang and after convincing him that I could fly a T-33 from the back seat with him in front, he finally checked me out in his.”

The Junior Burchinal P-51 Randy flew (in current owner’s paint configuration) — Tom Griffith photo on mustangsmustangs.com

“The P-51 was a plane I had always wanted to fly ever since I soloed off the old E. P. Hendricks grass strip outside of town across the highway from the old Willie Banks store on US-67,” Randy wrote in later emails. “I flew his Cubs and Taylor Crafts until Gus Hoffman built what (became) the first Mt. Pleasant Municipal Airport. Those were a really interesting few years flying (Burchinal’s) planes. His airport was a place that took up all the spare money I could find and from which I did a lot of fun flying.”

“I flew 55 combat missions before the North (Korea) gave up,” he wrote another time. “It was interesting times and I am glad that we saved the country from communism. I always regretted missing the opportunity to fly (P-51s) while I was still in the USAF. In Korea, there was as many as three squadrons of F-51’s, as they were legally referred to in later years. I was flying the F84G ‘Thunderjet.’ We did the air-to-ground work while F-86’s flew top-cover for us. The old F-84G was not supersonic and anytime your airspeed got past the ‘red line’ the controls would lock up, and the only thing you could do was pull off power and put out the speed brakes to get (it) under control again.”

“So much for my long flying tales. I apologize for the long email,” one of his last messages ended. “As you can tell, I still have a lot of interest in aviation although age has stopped much of my flying.” 

In another message, he fondly recalled a return to Korea some years ago with one of his squadron classmates. “I was really amazed at how South Korea had progressed and the capital of Seoul is now a beautiful city.” Again, he ended his missive with, “I got carried away and sent you a lot more than I planned. This was for your information only and not something I wanted published. Always good to hear or read about you. RP”

I’ve honored his request until now, but these tidbits will be nothing new or revealing to those who knew Randy. They’re simply his reflections on a lifelong penchant for duty, honor, service, friendship, and his love for flying.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of page: A Republic F-84G Thunderjet like the aircraft Randy flew during the Korean War — The Warhawk Air Museum photo, Nampa, Idaho)

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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 2020. 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.

National media could learn from community journalists

“In the end, the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art.”

—Bill Kovach – American journalist and co-author of the book, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and The Public Should Expect

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Self-incarceration at home might be good when there’s a controversial virus lurking about, but it can sure take its toll on one’s sanity. Many folks who are otherwise ordinarily easy-going types are doing crazy things now. Like me climbing up on my soapbox about the sad state of what is being pedaled as journalism by the majority of the national media outlets.

My father cautioned me, “Son, don’t argue with idiots. Most bystanders can’t tell the difference.” Sorry Dad, this bunch is destroying our country and sorely in need of advice.

My thoughts have nothing to do with politics or societal differences of opinion. Your politics or philosophies may not agree with mine, and that’s perfectly normal. Dad was also quick to remind that it would be a boring world if we all thought the same thing and agreed on everything. So I’m holding out hope that maybe someday we’ll return to a society where civilized people discuss differences and respect each other enough to disagree and still remain friends instead of stooping to belittle, defame, and strip rights away from those with whom we disagree.

The downward spiral in parts of the profession in which I’ve invested a lifetime in learning, practicing, teaching, and mentoring is not just disturbing, in my opinion, it has also contributed to and continues to fuel the fires of civil unrest we’re dealing with today. The worst part is that it’s killing one of the basic cornerstones of the republic—a credible press reporting balanced news covering all sides of every story, even those that may be distasteful to the reporter.

Despite the unsavory state of national networks and publications, responsible journalism is far from dead. It thrives in fact, where dedicated journalists still work to give their audience fair and balanced reporting aimed at preserving and improving local communities where they reside and work. It’s called community journalism, and national news outlets would do well to take lessons.

Wherever they get it, virtually every major news source burning newsprint and air time appears to be sorely in need of J-school 101 refresher courses for principles they either failed to learn or have forgotten while catering to personal agendas and stockholders focused more on bottom lines than getting to the bottom of the truth.

I’ve been blessed with good community journalism mentors in my career, many who were fortunate to have worked for Carmage Walls, one of the most respected community newspaper owners in recent times. Mr. Walls, a Georgia native, was dedicated to holding his newspaper publishers to high standards for producing a quality product for the readers, giving back to the communities that supported them, and returning a profit to their stockholders…and in that order.

Letters he wrote to young publishers in the ’50s and ’60s set forth principles and expectations that remain today as the philosophy of Southern Newspapers, the company for which his daughter Lissa Walls serves as chief executive officer.

In one, he wrote, “My conception of a newspaper is that it is the greatest force for good or evil in a community. It is a semi-public utility. We who are fortunate in holding stock in a newspaper I consider but temporary custodians of this service vehicle in the community. By our ownership of the stock we also assume tremendous responsibilities, first to the public that we service, second to the employees, and lastly to the stockholders.”

In another, he said, “I believe our democracy and way of life in this country could not be continued without our free press,” adding, “I am convinced that too many newspapers are edited to please the publisher-owner-editor without enough regard to the reader.”

What a vast disparity looms between those philosophies aimed at addressing what is on the minds of most Americans regarding the preservation of our nation for future generations, and the shallow, petty, lop-sided, and thinly disguised attacks on elected leadership and policy spewed by many news “celebrities” today.

Before I surrender my soapbox (I’m scared of heights anyway) and return to my otherwise ordinarily easy-going persona, I’ll offer another Bill Kovach quote. “If we’re going to live as we are in a world of supply and demand, then journalists had better find a way to create a demand for good journalism.”

That demand, in my opinion, can come only with a swing back to fair and balanced reporting, open and civil exchange of views free of agendas, and clear reporting of the facts void of bias and distortion. In other words, responsible journalism that is not entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art.

—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 2020. 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.

Validating old sayings by the life he lived

“When your door of opportunity opens, remember it’s because someone oiled the hinges for you.”

— Old saying validated by Jim Chionsini as an “Old Italian Saying.”

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I never heard of old Italian sayings before I met Jim Chionsini. Since that day, however, there’s hardly a day passes that I don’t think about one.

A huge door of opportunity opened for me the day I met Jim at a Lion’s Club meeting in Center, Texas, a little more than 40 years ago. He was the new owner of the East Texas Light newspaper in Center and I was new in town seeking employment with my short newspaper resume. Following that meeting, I shaved my editor’s beard, donned a dress shirt, and walked through the newspaper office door not realizing the professionalism, life philosophy, and friendship waiting on the other side.

Jim Chionsini

That’s the first time I heard those words that would become second nature to me for the rest of my life. “That reminds of an old Italian saying,” he replied. “Challenge people with more than you think they can accomplish and you’ll both learn something. You learned just how much you can accomplish when challenged, and I learned a lot about your work ethic.”

Jimmy preached the gospel of success via hard work employing his old Italian sayings to punctuate the sermons. When he named me publisher at Center and moved his office across town, he left me with the thought, “Remember that old Italian saying, you lead by example when you unlock the door in the morning and lock it at night.” That lead to another thing I learned about Jimmy, that he practiced what he preached, never asking anyone to do something he would not do himself, or that he had never done.

East Texas Light Christmas party 1980. Left to right: Ad manager Richard Pierce obviously very amused at something Jim said; editor Gary Stewart; Jim Chionsini. Photo by Leon Aldridge

Some thought I was the hardest working new publisher in Center when I was seen in the office well before 7 a.m. and locking the door most days way after 6 p.m. or later. Part of that was anticipating Jimmy’s good morning call with his list of detailed questions. If luck prevailed, my answers to most were satisfactory. But there was always that one question which left me fumbling for an answer: more often than not, his very first question. Noticing that trend, I asked him after stuttering for an answer one morning, “How do you always know which question is the one that I am least prepared for?” Even on the phone, his huge smile could be “heard” as he replied, “By going to work before you do and staying later than you do…which by the way is what you pay me for.”

Perhaps his favorite old Italian saying was, “Success comes from 90-percent hard work and 10-percent luck. And if you’re not lucky, just add another ten-percent of hard work.” He attributed that one to his father who was also a successful business owner with A&A Machine Shop in La Marque, Texas. Jimmy was proud of his Italian ancestry, referring often to his family’s history of work ethic to become successful in America. That conversation went hand-in-hand with his staunch patriotism and appreciation for a country where that opportunity is still afforded anyone desiring it enough to work for it.

While his attributions of many old Italian sayings were to family and friends, it didn’t take long to figure out they were often inspirational quotes borrowed from many sources. What transformed them from catchy sayings on a mug or a poster was when Jimmy ordained one thereby elevating it to validated “Old Italian Saying” status, he lived it.

Left to right — Robert Swonke, Jim’s long-time friend and business partner; Jim Chionsini; Leon Aldridge at Jim’s “No Name Ranch” near San Angelo, Texas.

Over time, the challenge became finding appropriate sayings that were unique for his consideration as “Old Italian Saying” certifiable. I sent him my last submission on May 3 when I fired off an email with, “All things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” His swift reply was, “I believe this will qualify.”

My mentor, employer, business partner, and good friend, James Armand (Jim) Chionsini passed from this life July 21, 2020. If I had a saying to submit to him for an old Italian saying expressing what he meant to me and countless others, it would be, “You don’t get respect, you earn it by giving it to others.”

It’s one he personified with his lifetime of respect, honesty, generosity, and concern for anyone who walked through his door.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of page: (left to right) Albert Thompson, Jim’s long-time friend and business partner; Charles Hutchins, A&A Machine Shop owner and former partner with Jim’s father; Jim Chionsini; Leon Aldridge at the A&A Machine Shop 60th anniversary in 2017.)

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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 2020. 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.

Old fashioned medicine for a return to civility

“A hug a day keeps the demons at bay.”

—German Proverb

Hugs from parents and grandparents reaffirmed the love they gave me in so many other ways. Other times, deserved punishment made me appreciate hugs even more.

Hugs have also been proven to be a miracle cure for pain, both physical and emotional. They might even be powerful enough to sure some of the uncivil ills in today’s society.

Physiologically, hugs release hormones that increase bonding, social behavior, and closeness between humans who trust one another. Other health benefits include lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of harmful stress hormones.

Psychologically, hugs may very well be the cure for some of the social ills menacing the country today. Touch is the first sense a newborn acquires before maturing to civilized adulthood through interaction with people. Although I jokingly (sometimes) refer to those I perceive to be lacking civility as “raised by wolves,” the truth is that much of what even a wolf learns about socializing comes through interaction with the pack.   

My grandmother wasn’t joking anytime she suspected me of bending the truth to avoid punishment when she said things like, “Look me in the eyes and tell me again that you don’t know how that happened.” Granny swore that when looking someone in the eyes, she could see straight into their soul. Many years of social interaction ranging from business deals to matters of the heart has confirmed that for me.

Also confirmed for me is that handshakes, hugs, facial expressions, and face-to-face talks convey understanding and love better than all the words ever exchanged. Desmond Tutu stated it well in his book The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, “We are wired to be caring … We shrivel when we are not able to interact.”

Think about no interaction across the fence with neighbors. No chats with friends we meet in public places. Never gaining new friends by initiating conversation with strangers at gatherings. And how would we function without social interaction to start the week with visiting Sunday after church services?

Sales 101 taught me years ago that social interaction is also crucial in everyday business. “People do business with people—not with companies,” is more than an inspirational saying. Vance Payne at Payne & Payne hardware in Center, Texas, was known to greet customers by name at the door. Besides inquiring as to what you needed, he might also ask what you were going to do with it. While that may sound a tad nosy in today’s world, it didn’t take long to understand Vance was simply making sure that you left his store with exactly what you needed.

Our civilization that is “wired to be caring” has been “shriveling” from lack of contact via technological social distancing for years. That shriveling of civility from lack of social interaction “went viral” with the COVID-19 misinformation spread by the mixed-up manipulation of major news networks, politicians, and healthcare talking heads.

In a piece published in Imprimus adapted from a lecture presented by Heather McDonald at Hillsdale College titled, “The Coronavirus and Public Policy,” the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal said, “Americans have lived through what is arguably the most consequential period of government malfeasance in U.S. history. Public official’s overreaction to the novel coronavirus put American cities into a coma; those same officials’ passivity in the face of widespread rioting threatens to deliver the coup de grace. Together, these back-to-back government failures will transform the American polity and cripple urban life for decades.” (Reprinted by permission from Imprimus, a publication of Hillsdale College.)

Those remarks were void of any political or social agenda tone. And they were delivered without preference or apology to any political party or level of government, attributing “unprecedented malfeasance” to pretty much every nook and cranny of public offices filled with people whose duty is supposed to be upholding the law and protecting the citizenry.

The Stanford Law School graduate concluded her remarks with, “Pulling the country back from the abyss will require a recalling of our civilizational inheritance.”

Pressed to look my grandmother in the eyes and swear to tell the truth, I believe that recovering America’s civilizational inheritance is going to require more handshakes and hugs than social distancing and political infighting. It might also require some of what I got from Granny for acting without civility—a dose of swift and sure punishment.

—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 2020. 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.

I’m a fan of hanging around as long as possible

“Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.”

― Comedian Groucho Marx 1890-1977

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The iconic comedian who died 43 years ago may have been onto something. A book I stumbled onto recently titled “The Longevity Project” proposes one in 10,000 people are “slow agers” and categorizes them as someone for whom the odds favor reaching 100. I’m not sure what the speed at which one reaches any given age has to do with getting there so long you make it. However it’s done, I’m a fan of hanging around as long as possible. And to the end, I’m happy to report, “So far, so good.”

As for age not being a particularly interesting subject, Groucho didn’t address the fact that the older we get the more interested we become. I’ve never felt as old as what I assumed someone my age should feel. When my parents were the age I am now, I regarded them as “really old.” In fact, when my father reached the age I am now, he had been retired for ten years. Me? Not even considering retirement. My goals for 2020, what’s left of it once COVID-19, social unrest, and an election is through beating up on it, includes learning to play the piano and starting a new business.

At an age when I see others checking things off their bucket list, I keep adding to mine, scratching one off while adding two more. At 64 I got around to learning to play the guitar. With the piano in my sights for a couple of years now, I will get there too provided that I can keep “aging slowly.”

Honestly, I don’t know what one does to age slowly. Maybe it’s related to my recollection as a youngster that waiting a year for Christmas, a birthday, or the last day of school seemed like an eternity. Today, those years are like weeks and weeks like hours. I’m thinking it’s the percentage of life a year represented then as compared to now. At 10, one was 10-percent of our life. These days, for Baby Boomers like me, it’s dropped to about 1.4 -percent: a little stressful when you think about it.

And speaking of that frightful nemesis called stress, current data reports that a certain amount of worrying is “healthy,” just don’t overdo it. So, how much is too much? Apparently, it’s all about being optimistic. Some smile knowing the glass is half full while others stress thinking it’s half empty. The way I try to look at life is the proverbial glass is always full: half beverage and half air—both essential elements for a happy life.

Considered essential by some for happily aging slowly is also lifestyle. My paternal grandfather worked outdoors all his life, carried a can of Prince Albert tobacco in his pocket, smoked “roll your own” cigarettes, and ate fried eggs and bacon for breakfast every day of his life that I knew him. And, that unhealthy lifestyle finally got him—just short of his 80th birthday.

But he was active, and as Leslie R. Martin, professor of psychology at La Sierra University in Riverside, California, and co-author of The Longevity Project said, “There was a clear, similar trend (for living longer) among people who had civic engagements, were active in their communities, volunteered, and otherwise stayed connected.” Phrased another way by my Uncle Bill, Mom’s baby brother, while visiting my parents after their retirement, “If we could unplug that television and burn those recliners, they would live longer.” Dad died at 83 and Mom at 87. Uncle Bill? He’s still active, working and going places at 85.

In another tidbit of aging advice, Groucho Marx reportedly revealed his outlook for a happy life in an interview during his “golden years.” When asked what he hoped people would be saying about him 100 years from now, he quipped, “Doesn’t he look good for his age.”

I’m still evaluating whether all of this is working for me, but you can bet your life something must be. After all, I’m old enough to remember Groucho Marx.

—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 2020. 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 new old saying that gets the point across

“Words are but pictures of our thoughts.” –John Dryden (1631-1700) English poet, literary critic, and playwright

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“Hotter than a road lizard.” That’s the words my buddy Oscar up in Mount Pleasant would have used to describe days like some that we’ve already experienced during this young summer of the craziest year I can remember. I did remember the saying last week though and throwing it into the old-timer’s coffee conversation launched a litany of sage sayings illustrating how well a blend of humor and vivid imagery can get the point across.

“You can tell it’s been hot” one member of the group offered, “Some of these people on the news have been out in the heat so long they’ve got crazy doing a land-office business. But at least we’ve been gettin’ some rain here. I remember summers when the catfish in Toledo Bend carried canteens and my ducks forgot how to swim.”

“Here we are griping about the heat,” offered another, “but y’all know we’ll still be complaining this winter when the weather is colder n’ an ex-wife’s heart.”

“That’s pretty cold,” I said, “and don’t believe I’ve heard that one.” As one who appreciates witty words as much as anyone else, the fact that I had not heard that saying at all, or the one about road lizards since relocating to Center from Mount Pleasant some 40 years ago, served to remind me that the use of certain words and sayings tend to be regional.

Right after I arrived in Shelby County, a caller looking for a fellow employee one morning commented, “That old boy sure is hard to get up with.” Agreeing with the caller, I replied, “Yes sir, he doesn’t appear to be an early riser.” It was not until sometime later I learned that “getting up with” someone in this area meant they were hard to get in touch with, not a comment on what time they got out of bed. Despite all my years as a native Texan, obtaining a Texas college education and attending countless county fairs and hog callings, I had never heard that saying outside of Shelby County.

While working on that East Texas State University college education, a book written by one of my English professors turned me on to a lifetime of loving words and their varied uses. “From Blinky to Blue-John: A Word Atlas of Northeast Texas” by Fred Tarpley was the result of the author’s research across East Texas to determine that it was often possible to pinpoint simply by their peculiar use of certain words, sometimes right down to which county, where a person had spent the majority of their life. The title was derived from just one of the many examples, the word “blinky.” Most of us have used “blinky” at one time or another to describe milk. But how many of us knew that in some parts of East Texas, blinky means milk not yet soured, but not tasting as good as fresh milk, while in other places blinky labels milk that is no longer fit for consumption: just plain old “soured milk.”

Vowing to reference Tarpley’s book to see if any of these gems from last week fit within regional references, I jokingly questioned the group about where that last one about chilly weather came from. My doubt was instantly answered with, “If I tell you a mosquito can pull a plow, you better hitch him up.”

With that one, I surrendered. “Gotta go guys. I’m off to a great start this morning, but I’ll leave you with the best new old saying I’ve heard this year, one I am sure everyone can take to the bank. If anything goes crazy stupid wrong before the day’s over, I’ll just shake my head and say, ‘well that one sure went 2020 on me.’”

—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 2020. 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.

Zooming in on the perfect name

Re-lic /ˈre-lik/noun — 1. a surviving memorial of something past. 2. an object having interest by reason of its age or its association with the past.

Dictionary.com

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The boom in Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 voluntary incarceration posed a couple of challenges for me. One was learning to use Zoom, the newest fad in online meetings. Not that it’s difficult, but by the time I typically get one form of virtual meeting mastered, everyone is flocking to the next version out of nowhere like a rogue virus rendering my hard-earned knowledge to the status of “relic.”

First, it was GoToMeeting. But by the time I learned how to use it, I had missed the meeting. That was followed by Google Hangouts, so I hung out over there attempting to conquer that one. Once I got the hang of it however, the name had changed to Google Meet. But a virtual meeting by any other name by then was of no concern because everyone in my circle had migrated to Microsoft Teams. Before I even got teamed up with that one, coronavirus arrived, and just like that, everybody was meeting on Zoom.

A couple of business meetings helped introduce me to Zoom before a virtual family reunion invitation arrived. After a lifetime of traveling thousands of miles between Texas and Kentucky, plus spots in between, here we were swapping stories about kids, grandkids, in-laws and outlaws, medical records, and talking about whoever didn’t show up. I have to say though, I really missed the fried chicken, potato salad, and the “Snappy Cheese” dip from Hall’s on the River at Boonesborough, Kentucky. Luckily however, I had a small stash of the Blue Grass state’s soft drink bottled only in Mom’s hometown of Winchester, “Ale-8-One,” for sipping at the virtual reunion in the comfort and convenience of my home office room.

And that brings up the second challenge which was inadvertently created by using Zoom at home: my ‘home office.’ I guess it’s really not Zoom’s fault that I was forced into using their meeting site while being imprisoned at home. But what I saw on my computer screen looking over my digital shoulder into my home office was a stark reminder that my home office is … well, anything but typical.

In fact, I’ve struggled for some time over what to call it. Since the days of spare bedrooms after the kids moved out, I’ve continuously commandeered one solely for my business, hobbies, and hide away. However, “office” never has seemed an appropriate moniker for that part of my home. I’ve floated several names over time opting for “office,” mulling over “music room,” then leaning toward “library.” But the default was usually, (cue the deep voice emphasis) “my room.” So it was, that no name felt comfortable or appropriate until that first virtual view of the Johnson family reunion resembling Hollywood Squares as I looked at the surroundings behind me.

Walls of bookcases, hanging art, memorabilia, photos, guitars, computers … relics of all kinds including at least 75-percent of all the books I’ve purchased going back to college textbooks. And records. I’ve collected phonograph records and devices that play them since I was in high school although I pared that collection down a few years ago to my all-time favorite couple thousand or so. When records phased out some years ago, I turned to collecting CDs before vinyl started its comeback, so I also have a few hundred of those.

As I was gazing at the virtual view of “my room” during that first online business meeting, someone referenced an item on the agenda using a term that proved inspirational for what I thought was the perfect name for my room: “The Relic Room.”

But as good as that sounded, it was only while researching the definition for relic that with only slight derivation, I coined a definition of my own: Relic—  anyone having an interest in relics by reason of his or her age from their association with the past.

That’s when I realized I had penned the perfect official name for the room formerly known by many names. It will henceforth fondly and forever be known as, “The Relic’s Room.”

Independence Day postscript: Best wishes to everyone for a blessed time on this special day in American history. God bless the U.S.A. and Happy Birthday to the land of the free because of the brave.

—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 2020. 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.

Delayed reactions seem to run in the family

“A man never sees all that his mother has been to him until it’s too late to let her know that he sees it.”

—W.D. Howells, American author, editor, and critic

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June 12 starts the same way for me every year. Over the years, I’ve observed the date in many ways, but my first thought is always, “Happy birthday, Mom!” Indianola Johnson Aldridge, better known to most as “Inky,” saw 87 birthdays before going to her eternal reward ten years ago this coming December.

The infrequent schedule of those aforementioned thoughts of mine means I crafted this column about Mom’s birthday more than week ago by the time you are reading it now. It’s a deadline thing that has to do with submitting my column to the newspapers a few days before they run there which is a few days more before it’s on the blog on Saturday. All that is to say that anything that far in advance to coincide with the date these days is an iffy proposition for me—sort of  like getting my Christmas shopping done early.

Christmas shopping was a routine for Mom, though. It included stashing away a meager amount every month in her Christmas Club account at the First National Bank in Mount Pleasant and making sure some gifts were on layaway by the time many folks were enjoying the last days of summer at the beach.

Mom and Dad, aka Leon and Indianola (Inky) Aldridge about 1978. Since I missed Father’s Day, I thought I would include Dad in Mom’s birthday column.

Maybe that was easy for her because to my knowledge, she never set foot on a beach. Traveling very far from home for pleasure was a rare indulgence for my mother. The scope of her travel was primarily Johnson family reunions between Texas and Kentucky and camping at Albert’s Pike in Arkansas. Add one conventional family vacation in our ’58 Ford station wagon to Arkansas in 1960, one “girl’s trip” to the Northeast with her sisters in the 70s, and an 80s trip to Europe on which I took her and Dad, and that about sums up the extent of her travels that I recall. At home with Dad and whatever cat she cared for at the time is where she could usually be found.

Mom loved cats. Pictures of her youth in Kentucky depict a black cat she talked about frequently. Maybe it was just coincidence, but the last cat she had was a carbon copy of that one. I think it’s more than coincidence that pets often live up to the image of their names. Mom’s final feline was tagged “Taz,” a namesake derived from the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character the critter easily emulated. But while that was without a doubt the meanest cat I’ve ever seen, in her own funny manner, she loved him.

Mom was funny in many ways though, not the least of which was her reaction time to a joke. Now I’m not saying Mom was slow to get it, but she was usually the last one to laugh. It wasn’t unusual to hear her chuckling alone long after everyone else’s laughter had subsided. It was one day at the vet’s office that humor and her cat crossed paths for a story that she shared many times. Seems that Taz’s reputation was shared with many including Mount Pleasant veterinarian and my fellow MPHS classmate of 1966, Jerry “Gus” Skidmore. Humor is Gus’s specialty in life. If there is humor to be had, Gus never misses an opportunity to be the instigator.

Mom entrusted the care of her favored feline to Gus, but getting Taz to the vet’s office required special handling beyond that of coaxing him into a conventional cat carrier. He went kicking, hissing, and caterwauling in a tow sack or a pillowcase. Mom’s recounting of her very first bagged cat delivery for annual inoculations always focused on how office onlookers glanced suspiciously at her “cat carrier” as it thrashed about emitting evil noises.

In true Skidmore fashion, when Gus returned the cat to Mom in the waiting room a short time later, he played the part for a laugh. According to Mom, when the vet emerged holding the still thrashing and howling bagged cat at arm’s length, his arms and head were haphazardly wrapped in loose and skewed white bandages that suspiciously resembled toilet tissue. In her allotted time to comprehend what was going on, Gus announced with a laugh, “It was close Mrs. Aldridge, but I got it done.”

Mom laughed whenever she told the story, adding how thoughtful Gus was to risk life and limb caring for her ornery cat, and that his joking always made her laugh. But as if she still weren’t sure, she usually added with some delay, “At least I think he was joking.”

Funny how my fully appreciating how much I’m like Mom has come with some delays of my own.

—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 2020. 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.

Renewing an old love that’s lingered for years

“True love stories never have endings.”

—Richard Bach, American writer and author of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’

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Frequent followers of this forum are already familiar with many of my vices and will understand when I say my heart fluttered the first time I saw her. She was a beauty, and she filled my heart with music.

That first meeting was innocent enough. I was out of town with spare time on my hands when she caught my eye. I almost kept walking but stopped to glance over my shoulder for a second look. She was looking back at me. Beckoning to me. Calling my name. Better judgment told me not to go back, but my heart pleaded for a closer look—maybe just one touch.

Having admired others like her before, I began the flirting process. You know—asking questions, acting interested, lingering. She had seen better days but one could say the same for me. Besides, I knew some old-fashioned TLC and devoted attention would give her a new lease on life.

In her heyday of the mid to late 50s, she was the center of attention where fun flourished in places like late-night greasy spoon cafes when Hank Williams was, “So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Burger joints where the bobby-sock crowds swayed to “Sixteen Candles.” Or lakeside concession stand pavilions where teens rocked to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.”

Alone and forlorn when I found her, most would have said she was over the hill. Retired many years ago and relegated to linger in silence as a reward for her part in the history of music just didn’t seem fair. Without help, the old girl was down to her last dime.

She still had her pride though, she wasn’t cheap. And this wouldn’t be the first time a wild impulse would come between me and my money. I knew better. I really needed to get past these kinds of things at some point in my life, but that day was not to be the one. I wanted her. My heart won, and she went home with me to Center where she entertained family and friends for several years before we moved to the Texas Hill Country. Even there, she was often still the center of attention for gatherings at my house.

But then came our return to Center some years ago where something went wrong. Looking back, I have no explanation. Maybe it was the small house we started out in, maybe it was too many moves in too few years. For whatever reason, she sat ignored, waiting for me to come to my senses and throw more money at the aged dance hall queen. I thought of her often, recalling the good times we had together. Those memories lingered until last week when the words of a Willie Nelson song, “… forgetting seems to take the longest time,” stayed on my heart, and I finally brought her out of retirement again.

It took all afternoon to uncover her, move her out of storage, and haul her home on a trailer. She’s no lightweight at 355 pounds. After a couple of days spent cleaning, polishing, and inspecting, I flipped the power switch. She flickered for a moment then in all her radiant beauty, lit up the room for the first time in many years.

Dropping a dime down the coin chute and selecting K-1 sent a record spinning that produced booming “High Fidelity” notes of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” to compliment her glowing lights. The sentimental sensory overload of the long overdue reunion filled my heart with the same joy she had given me when I first brought her home some 35 years ago.  

I’ve promised her this time that she and I will never be apart again. After all, there just aren’t that many 1955 model 100-J Seeburg jukeboxes still around.

—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 2020. 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.

Inspiration for learning comes from many sources

The more you read, the more you will know, the more you learn, the more places you’ll go.

— Dr. Seuss

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A desire for learning can be inspired by many factors unique and personal to each individual. Learning can come from classrooms, trade schools, military service, experience, on-the-job training, or one of the best teachers around, the “school of hard knocks.”

Center friend Tim Perkins expressed his inspiration for learning a couple of weeks ago explaining how a particularly hard summer job instilled in him the drive to get a college education to avoid jobs like that one in the future. Tim’s story was reminiscent of a summer job in 1968 that was no doubt the reason I persevered to get a four-year degree as well, something I proudly accomplished in just five years.

I had walked the stage at Mount Pleasant High School a couple of Texas summers earlier, and inspired by Mr. Murray’s mechanical drawing classes, knew I was going to college to be an architect. However, first-semester math classes with names I couldn’t pronounce didn’t calculate well for me and sent me searching for new inspiration.

Psychology lured me down the road to a degree and work in special education before forks in my career path led me to an offer that paved the highway for my future. Based solely on hobby-level photography skills, Morris Craig offered me a job at his newspaper, The Naples Monitor “ as he put it, “until you find what you’re looking for.” As it turned out, something for which I was not looking and for which I had no experience or education, turned out to be my path to a rewarding career in communication doing something I loved.

First lesson learned: selecting a profession for the rest of your life at 18 can be a toss of the dice. Second lesson learned: Even if you miss the mark to begin with, that drive to acquire knowledge will take you many more places than you would have gone without it.

If I possessed a drive for learning before that summer of ’68, it got a dose of steroids when classmate and friend since the seventh grade David Neeley and I worked for Hinton Production Company in the Talco oil fields of northern Titus County. Those were the days when derricks dotting the skyline readily identified an oil field, and Talco was well defined by hundreds of the tall structures as well as a plethora of pump jacks steadily extracting black gold from the depths of Northeast Texas.

David’s job was helping repair and overhaul the massive oilfield pump motors. I worked on the maintenance crew responsible for every hot, dirty, sweaty, oil-covered, heavy-lifting, back breaking, knuckle-busting, repair job in the oil field. The “exciting and character-building job,” as my father liked to call it, usually involved a derrick or a pump jack and included things like replacing a broken sucker rod, one of the series of rods connecting the pump jack above ground to the pump itself hundreds of feet in the ground. That meant capturing and extracting the broken piece from somewhere way down in the hole, a process requiring a team of healthy and able bodies, a large “gin-pole” truck and an assortment of large and heavy specialty tools.

The goal, of course, was to keep that “Texas Tea” flowing which other days could mean replacing a broken “bridle” on a pump jack: the big “horse head” looking things going up and down like a see-saw. The heavy cable bridle apparatus attached to the horse head out on the end of the arm called the “walking beam.”

The “exciting and character building” part of that job was enjoyed by the person privileged to climb the ladder up to the walking beam, throw one leg over and shinny out toward the end while lugging an assortment of large and heavy tools. Once at the end of the walking beam, the objective was to remove the broken bridle and replace it with the new one being hoisted up.

It wasn’t enough that this duty was challenging to begin with, but a second and often overlooked objective was watching for wasp nests of gargantuan proportions hidden in nooks and crannies along the walking beam. Encountering one unexpectedly required a rapid reverse shinny and daring descent on the ladder utilizing no more than every other rung until jumping appeared as the better alternative to dealing with the agitated and angry insects.

For reasons I don’t recall, I always assumed I would go to college and always knew my ticket would be whatever jobs I could work. There was plenty of love and encouragement from my parents, but very little money for college.

As for Dr. Seuss’s “… the more you learn, the more places you’ll go” admonition, all I can say is the Talco oil field was one place I didn’t ever want to go again if I didn’t have to. If the notion of quitting school before earning a diploma ever crossed my mind, that summer in Talco—as Tim succinctly said of his experience—“made a college boy out of me.”

—Leon Aldridge

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 2020. 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.