One social change from which we may never recover

“Don’t sit in my pew; It belongs to me; I been a sittin’ right here at least forty years; and that’s the way it’s gonna be.”

— Don’t Sit in My Pew song lyrics by Tim Lovelace

Unforeseen fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is everywhere. Circumstances we never dreamed of facing in our lifetime are imposing hardships if not downright intolerable alterations to our lifestyle. Many are just good sense and others will likely go away when the pandemic subsides. Some, however, are creating serious social problems from which we may never recover.

As Americans begin to resume life seeking some semblance of normal, there is one form of forced change testing the very foundation of religious services: the revered practice of claiming territorial rights to “my pew.”

With congregations now easing back into pre-coronavirus schedules incorporating social distancing practices such as assigned seating, that time-honored custom is being challenged all across the country. And I’m here to tell you, reports of reactions are disturbing, to say the least.

“You just won’t believe it,” a friend shared with me last week. “My wife complained all the way to services Sunday morning. Declared that no one was going to tell her where to sit. Said she’d been sitting in that same pew for more than 30 years and that’s where she was going to sit, she didn’t care what the ushers told her.”

“Well,” he continued, “I listened to that all the way to the church house trying to reason with her, and finally just told her to hush.”

“Hush,” was not on one little lady’s mind at that small East Texas congregation where I worshiped some years ago the Sunday morning visitors came in, introduced themselves, and took “that” seat. Everyone gasped when they sat down at the end of the fifth pew on the left side where many years prior, Miss Edna claimed that spot as hers. Miss Edna was the sweetest, kindest little lady you could ever meet. She had been present for every service for longer than anyone alive could remember with her “right on time” arrival customarily coinciding with the minister stepping to the pulpit for the welcome and announcements. Not one to break with tradition, just as the preacher stood up that particular Sunday morning, in walked Miss Edna.

Everyone, including the preacher poised in the pulpit and silently praying under his breath, watched Miss Edna as she walked slowly and quietly to the end of the fifth pew on the left side. Seeing it was not empty, she sweetly said to the visiting couple with a smile, “Well, good morning. I do believe we have visitors this morning. Welcome, we are so glad to have you. And what is your name?”

“Thank you,” the man said warmly. “We’re the Browns.”

“We are thrilled that you are visiting with us and hope you will come back,” Miss Edna replied, then paused and added, “However, Mr. Brown, you and your lovely wife are sitting in my pew and if you will be so kind as to move, we can start our service.”

The startled visitors politely relocated to the empty pew ahead allowing Miss Edna to sit in “her pew” thereby ending any further discussion on the 11th Commandment of “thou shalt not sit in someone else’s pew.”

With the pandemic pounding the economy, perhaps our return to congregational worship now might be an opportune time for churches to fall back on a common practice in Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian churches up until the early to mid-twentieth century: renting pews to families or individuals as an additional means of income. At the very least it would clear up any potential showdowns on which pew belongs to whom.

All of this change will no doubt work itself out and life will go on. But you know, I’ve always wondered about one thing the morning Miss Edna claimed her pew. Was that really just a coincidence when the song leader took the podium and announced with a straight face, “Please turn in your hymnals to number 819 … I Shalt Not Be Moved.”

—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.

Whatever happened to that movie I wasn’t in?

“If you have to have a job in this world, a high-priced movie star is a pretty good gig.”

—Tom Hanks

A bevy of old cars has brought its share of fun over the years. Advertising props, event decorations, magazine photo shoots, transporting local celebrities in small-town parades to chauffeuring the sheriff of Bexar County in San Antonio’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, or just weekend cruising: making antique auto memories has been fun.

However, it’s a near-miss at the movies in the late 80s when a movie made in San Augustine, Texas, vanished into thin air that’s kept me wondering: Whatever happened to that movie I wasn’t in?

Hollywood came to East Texas in 1987. The cast of stars was impressive: Brian Keith, Ned Beatty, Barbara Barrie, Alexandra Paul, and others. Dates were set for local talent auditions plus a call for 1930s autos. Answering that last call, I spent a day cleaning and polishing my green 1935 Ford “Betsy” before heading down to San Augustine early the next morning.

Arriving at the location near a small church in the woods of Deep East Texas, I parked Betsy to glisten in the sunlight awaiting her opportunity at stardom on the silver screen. She made the cut and I was offered $100 for the day, the opportunity to stay and watch the filming, meet the cast and have a catered box lunch with them. Oh, and another $100 if I wanted to be an extra in a group of mourners at the graveside service scene.

“Deal,” I declared, “but I’ll pass on the part, I just want to watch.” And watch I did as crews carefully splashed mud and dirt all over my shiny old Ford. Amidst my stuttering, they explained how the cars needed to look the part of daily transportation used on 1930s red-dirt muddy roads.

The cool badge I received identifying me as “crew” took my mind off my once sparking car transformed into a muddy mess as did the mesmerizing movie magic of transforming the summer’s greenery to look like the dead of winter. Hay scattered on the ground and low-hanging leafy green tree branches replaced with leafless limbs from a brush pile changed the seasonal look of the old cemetery but did nothing for the beads of summer sweat on brows that hot morning.

The cool and glamorous image of being an actor also melted at “scene 1, take 1, action” when the cast was called to “places.” One by one, they assembled around the grave completing the wintery illusion wearing heavy black wool overcoats, scarves, hats, and gloves. At that point, $100 for a summer day in winter garb would not have been anywhere near high-priced or glamorous enough for me, especially at around “take 17” several hours later.

As the sun was sinking behind the pines, Betsy had not moved from where she was parked and “prepared” earlier. Turns out, directors got all the film footage they needed for that scene without cars. I collected $100, pointed my dirty old Ford north toward Center, and smiled at thoughts of someday seeing the only movie in which Betsy had the missed opportunity to be a tiny part.

And, 30-plus years later I’m still waiting. Time passed and I heard nothing about the movie. Supposedly, a few Center residents had small extra parts in it, but I never found anyone who saw it. Every glimpse of a Ned Beatty movie over the years reminded me of it, so finally, I decided a couple of weeks ago to research it one last time.

This press release photo featuring the movie’s cast, Brian Keith, Ned Beatty, Barbara Barrie, and Alexandra Paul is the only tangible evidence I have that the movie which was apparently never released in the U.S. was ever made.

Ned Beatty’s filmography yielded nothing recognizable although I’m not sure what I was expecting because I didn’t know the name of the movie to begin with. Searches yielded only inquiries of others like me trying to find the film until one source reported a 1988 Tyler, Texas, premier titled, “After the Rain.” For reasons unknown  however, it apparently was never released in U.S. theaters, although a 1990 VHS version was supposedly found in Japan titled, “The Passage.” The only tangible evidence of either title found online was press release photos for, “After the Rain.”

As for a high-priced movie star being a pretty good gig, I’m sure it has its cool and glamorous moments at the right price. But $100 for a day of woolly winter wear in the Texas summer sultry sun? Nah, I still think not being in the movie I’m still waiting to see was, let’s just say, still the cooler decision.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo top of the page—”Betsy” the green 1935 Ford I owned in the late 1980s that almost got to be a movie star.)

. . . . . . . . . . .

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.

People like Salty made the moments memorable

“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.”

— Cesare Pavese, Italian Poet 1908-1950

The best part of life is the people we meet living it. We mark years by moments, but time often marks moments by the people we meet.

Memories of meeting stars, celebrities, and famous people are special. But sitting and watching the sun go down some evenings, it’s people like Lee “Salty” Aycock from Avinger, Texas, I often think of. During the 1967 spring semester at Kilgore College, we were neighbors at the Leigh apartments just north of the campus on a hill behind the highway 259 Enco station at North Street. 

A convenience store has since replaced the service station, the apartments and a huge oak on the parking lot that furnished afternoon shade for a gallery of lawn chair observers: college guys swapping embellished stories about fast cars and pretty girls while scanning the busy street’s traffic for both. 

Lawn chair regulars included three ’66 MPHS classmates, Ronnie Lilly and I who shared #9 at the Leigh, and frequent visitor Mike Williams. Doors were often open welcoming all in search of socialization that was most often found a few doors down from #9 where Salty lived.

Lee “Salty Aycock

Salty was a big, soft-spoken, easy-going kind of guy; tall and broad-shouldered, looking more like a refugee from the athletic dorm. Few bothered him mostly because of his size, but few had issues with him anyway because he was a friend to everyone.

Another regular was Dugan, as everyone called him. Lost to time is whether he was a resident at the Leigh or a frequent visitor, but I remember he was Salty’s friend. Also foggy is Dugan’s first name, but I want to think it was Robert. I do remember that he was smaller, quiet, and by nature a little more excitable, but also good-natured, never causing any problems … which is more than can be said for some of the rest of us. Like the night when someone who shall remain nameless out of concern for legal statutes of limitation thought it a swell idea to have a laugh on Dugan. Hiding a “track starter’s gun” loaded with blanks, that unnamed someone walked into a spade game at Salty’s apartment alleging Dugan had been seen with his girlfriend.

Leaned against the wall in his chair, Dugan surveyed his cards without looking up and leisurely responded, “You’re crazy, man, I haven’t seen your girlfriend.”

The “shooter” swung the pistol around and said, “I don’t believe you!” Dugan looked up just in time to see the flash and hear the shot ring loud enough for three blocks in all directions. Cards, glasses, feet, chairs—they were all flying as people hit the floor. Dugan, certain he was mortally wounded, tumbled out of the inclined chair in a lasting image of cowboy boots going up in the air. 

It was over as quickly as it had started, but amid a cacophony of cursing, crying, and screaming, Salty just sat silently smiling, surveying the situation. After convincing Dugan it would be a good thing for him to resume breathing soon, he calmly suggested to the jokesters that they had done a really stupid thing—“funny, yes,” he added with a chuckle, “but not very smart.” 

Remarkably, no one called the police, and the card game resumed after Salty declared, “Don’t worry about it, everybody’s OK, just get this place cleaned up so we can play cards.”

Another testament to Salty’s easy going nature was the time I aided him in completing a term paper for one of his classes with which he was struggling. I felt horrible when he told me the paper earned him a C. “Don’t worry about it,” he consoled me with his same trademark smile. “The teacher told me the paper deserved an A, but she gave me a C ‘cause she could tell I didn’t write it—which is better than the F that I would’ve gotten without your help.”

Fast forward some 35 years to Center’s performing arts series featuring a bluegrass band from Avinger. During intermission, the purchase of a CD and an inquiry about my old schoolmate and Avinger friend, Lee Aycock elicited a smiling response from one of the musicians. “You went to school with Salty? He’s still in Avinger … everybody knows Salty!”

I was reminded that it was about this time last year when Salty passed away when I ran across his obit in a desk drawer last week. I didn’t know it at the time until Mike Williams’ email informed me of his attending the memorial service. I also didn’t know things about Salty I learned from his obit, things like his running the family business in Avinger, A&P Home and Auto, before working for the school district as a custodian where he retired after 25 years. “Salty made many lifelong friendships and memories …” the obit with his picture wearing a cowboy hat read. 

I don’t recall him wearing a hat back then, but the face in the photo was the same soft-spoken, “don’t worry about it,” face I remembered from Kilgore College more than 50 years ago. It was a time and place where the people I met, like Salty, marked the “somewhat less than scholastic, but a lot more fun” moments at Kilgore College. 

. . . . . . . . . . .

Wishing all mothers a safe and happy Mother’s Day this weekend. I’m remembering my mom, Indianola “Inky” Aldridge, who we’ve missed every day since we lost her in December of 2010. Mom knew about most of my friends, including Salty, although she never met him. She knew them because I shared a lot with her. For the record, I did not share the above story about the “shooting” with her. I never told her because there are some things I am convinced a mother would just as soon not know.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo credits – top of the page: the “Ranger” 1967, Kilgore College yearbook, Kilgore, Texas. Lee “Salty” Aycock – Haggard Funeral Home obituary, Jefferson, Texas)

. . . . . . . . . . .

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.

Tracking the weather is not hard given accurate information

“Weather tonight: dark. Turning partly light by morning.”

—Comedian George Carlin as Al Sleet, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman, 1966

Keeping track of the changing weather in East Texas this spring has kept senior weather watchers like me busy. It’s been a full-time job with this year’s inclementness mimicking last year’s rainy, stormy start, but it’s not hard given accurate information.

And when it comes to information, I’ve got that covered. A quick glance at the digital weather station indoor outdoor thermometer in the kitchen provides a glimpse of what’s already happening on the other side of the breakfast room windows. For the upcoming forecast on any bad stuff sneaking in, there’s not just one app on my phone, but two. That way, if I don’t like the first one, I have choices. Need in-depth details plus prognostications provided with live radar and more? That’s when weather.gov on the laptop is my go-to guru.

However, if I by some circumstance I happen to miss all of those, or I’m sleeping soundly in the middle of the night, I’m still covered. The home security system sends audible alerts often arriving before warnings on the other devices.

Oh, and let’s not forget Center’s text alert system called Code Red. If there is any danger of severe thunderstorms, flooding conditions, tornadoes—they are on it. I was in line to check-in at the Midtown Hilton in New York City not long after Center adopted the system when my phone rang. Now I’ll admit that big cities and large crowds make me nervous to begin with, but seeing “Code Red” flashing in one hand and still clutching bags in the other just minutes after a “code red” cab ride from the airport in the largest city in the U.S. got my attention. Relief came quickly however, when I learned all was well in the Big Apple. But it was interesting to know about the “severe thunderstorms and potential flooding” half a continent away in Center.

All that said, the best two weather warning systems in my home are not on the above list. They’re far more accurate than any of the others, not dependent on electricity or batteries, always ready and always active.

You can take it to the bank that storms are imminent when my “bless her heart,” goofy little schnauzer-yorki mix, “Sassy the weather dog” hunkers down under my chair and commences her shrill serenade of whimpers and whines not unlike a tornado warning siren. And should the weather dog need back up, check to see if I’m rubbing the pains in my hip and shoulder.

I used to think it funny that the only thing “the old people” talked about was the weather and their latest physical ailment, surgical procedure or trip to the doctor. Both my sisters and I garnered great delight in our younger years by laughing at our elders for such conversations at family reunions. However, by the time we were all three looking at 40 in the rear-view mirror, I was already wondering what used to be so funny about it.

Then there was that night many years ago that I had that motorcycle wreck. I also thought it funny that the orthopedic surgeon repairing my shoulder joked about the “bright side” and how I would become proficient at forecasting the weather as I grew older. I’m also trying to remember what was so dadgum funny about that.

The sun has been shining the last few days after storms in East Texas last week that wreaked havoc including a huge tornado ripping along Lake Sam Rayburn. However, odds on favorite for the next few weeks on all household devices is still more stormy days before summer heat arrives.

Never fear though, Sassy and I are currently conferring on the next wave of weather headed this way. So, if all you have are the fancy new digital devices to determine the weather, just send me your text number. We’ll keep you updated.

—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.

Back door friends will always be the best

“Back door friends are the best, I would rather have back door friends any time.”

—my long time Center friend, Vance Payne

The back door at my house has been eerily silent lately, used for little more than weekly trips securing supplies or strolls in the yard.

The remainder of house arrest while held hostage by COVID-19, I’ve spent on things dismissed for decades by saying, “I’ll do that someday when I have time.” That includes reviewing half a century’s worth of haphazardly filed creative work: columns, short stories, news clippings, poetry, photography. It’s an enlightening exercise akin to opening doors into one’s past releasing floods of fond memories one moment and reminders the next of forgotten friends and thoughts hidden in the hurry of life. One of the latter was back door friends.

Although my domicile for the last 15 years has been landlocked on a street corner within walking distance of the courthouse, my preferred choice for living is anywhere on a lake. Watching the sun rise and set over water for many years, it once occurred to me that identifying the back door when living on the water can be a matter of one’s point of view. On the lake, you have an entrance door on the lakeside as well as one on the street side because visitors arrive by water almost as much as they do by land giving rise to the question: how do you define the back door?

And that’s important because more often than not, the choice of doors through which a visitor enters denotes what kind of friend has come calling.

Damon McNair was a back-door friend in Boerne. Dalmon was editor of The Boerne Star when we bought the Texas Hill Country newspaper in the early 90s. He retired when we took over, but he continued to come by the office. He said it was to check on the mail or share a story idea. I’ve always maintained it was just to smell the ink and newsprint, a professional affliction better appreciated when you’ve spent your life in a newspaper office.

Long before going to Boerne, I knew back door friends were the best. My long-time Center back door friend, Vance Payne, taught me that. He was adamant that back door friends are the best, and that he would rather have back door friends anytime.

Dalmon always came in the back door at The Star, probably because there was a spacious city parking lot behind the office and only a couple of spaces on Main Street near the front door. It also likely had something to do with the fact that he came in the back door reporting to work every day for many years.

Back door friends may or may not knock and because they are friends, it really doesn’t matter. Some enter quietly while others roar in like the lion in spring. Dalmon always entered quietly. There was never a rhyme or reason as to what time of day he would come through. It might have been two times one week and three or four the next, but his first stop was the mail basket we kept for him.

If it was a press day, he simply nodded to those who saw him because Dalmon lived most of his life meeting the deadlines of a press day and knew there wasn’t time for idle chit-chat. Other days, he would wave and speak, inquiring about the weather, the local news, or simply asking, “How’s business?”

Dalmon was not only a back-door friend in the Hill Country, we also shared roots in the Texas Pineywoods. Dalmon was a native of Gilmer not far from my hometown of Mount Pleasant. Unfortunately, my friendship with Dalmon was brief. He died not long after I settled into the publisher’s chair in Boerne. However, it doesn’t take long to befriend good quality people, especially those who come in through the back door.

To this day, the front door at my house is fine for delivering packages, running for public office, or distributing religious tracts. But if you show up at the back door, I’ll know you’re the best kind of friend.

In the coming weeks as we start returning to some degree of normalcy, it may be a new normalcy for us in the U.S. But one thing will not change—back door friends will always be the best.

—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.

A temporary escape from the fifth dimension

“There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

—Rod Serling’s intro to the 1960s TV show, The Twilight Zone

“Since today is Wednesday,” said my friend on the phone last week, “I think I’m going to … (insert long pause) … it is Wednesday, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s Wednesday,” I laughed. But even as those words were leaving my lips, I glanced toward the curb noting that trash placed there earlier was gone. “Wait,” I retracted. “Trash day mean It’s Tuesday.”

Our mutual senior moment when neither of us knew with any certainty what day it was prompted laughter and my confession that a cooped-up lifestyle coexisting with the coronavirus felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone. I had that same feeling a couple of days later when the morning dawned to awaken my senses from slumber, a daily ritual typically occuring around 6:00 a.m. The clock, however, revealed a harsh reality: it was already past 8:00. “Five after eight,” my coffee craving mind cried out. “You’ve overslept. Move it, get out of bed.”

Feet on the floor and stumbling toward the coffee pot prompted that inner voice, you know the one that asks all the hard questions. “What’s the rush? What do you plan to do today that would be different from yesterday?” Seriously? How was I supposed to know that when I didn’t even know what day it is?

These days of social distancing, sheltering in place, or as I like to call it: self-incarceration, have eliminated any need for names noting what day it is. Forget labels like Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. All we need in isolation is “today, yesterday, and tomorrow.” Next, I suppose we will do the same when talking about time. Every hour is just like the last one which will be like the next one, so the only time terminology needed is “now, while ago, and later” … a perfect plot for an episode of The Twilight Zone.

That’s when an answer to “what are you doing today” came to me. After searching shelves in the closet, I found them: that collection of the best from the Golden Age of television. A carefully assembled library of the best shows to ever grace the glow of a black-and-white picture tube, despite doubters who once scoffed, “When are you ever going to watch all of those old shows.” Ha! Where are those naysayers, now that I can finally answer that question?

So, if you need me today or tomorrow, now or later, I’ll be with Broderick Crawford playing Chief Dan Matthews on Highway Patrol guarding the highways in his black and white ’55 Buick barking “ten four” and “2150 to headquarters” over his car radio.

Other days, you’ll find me with Jack Webb as Sargent Joe Friday on Dragnet solving crime on the streets of 1950s Los Angeles “working the day watch out of homicide,” gathering “the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” Or maybe cruising Route 66 with Martin Milner and George Maharis as Tod and Buzz looking for adventure in their Corvette.

Other days and different times it will be 77 Sunset Strip, Zorro, Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriett, I Love Lucy, Sea Hunt, Whirly Bird, My Friend Flicka, or You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx.

Every episode a temporary escape from The Twilight Zone of 2020 amid shows from a time when life was much easier than we realized then with our TV heroes who we knew would save the day.

Waiting out this virus in isolation, thankful and praying for the real-life heroes of today who are risking their health and life battling COVID-19 on the front lines to write the final episode of this current twilight zone and enter those better days we all know are just around the corner.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Evert F. Baumgardner / Public domain)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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.

Sunshine always follows even the worst of storms

“Don’t worry. You’ll be all right. Something good is going to come out of this.”

—Andy Andrews, best-selling novelist, motivational speaker, and consultant quoting his father’s advice to him as a child during a thunderstorm. From the first edition of Andrews’ Storms of Perfection book series.

I remember when the news of a virus infecting hundreds of thousands and killing multiple thousands struck fear in the hearts of American families. The anxiety over a highly contagious virus stressed distancing and caused closings of businesses, schools, city swimming pools, meetings and movie theaters. Even forced churches to close moving ministers to use radio stations for delivering sermons of hope about better days ahead.

Evidence was little to none as to how it was spread. The best guess was via human contact or hand-to-mouth contact. Lacking medical knowledge of the disease, it was proposed that proper and thorough hand washing was the best way to help control its spread.

In the beginning, some including doctors, discounted fear claiming the hype hurt efforts for medical treatments of “more serious” health threats. History’s lesson has always been that epidemic diseases loom more alarming than chronic diseases killing thousands over several years. The known is usually less frightening than the unknown, especially with diseases.

Fortunately, that virus I’m remembering was ultimately conquered. My memories of the fight to overcome polio include the school year of 1954-55 where my public schooling started in Crockett, Texas. Adjacent to the old two-story structure where first-grade classes began in the basement during the fall, a row of about a half dozen new classrooms opened following the Christmas holidays. One of those classrooms was where I completed the remainder of my first-grade year. 

Photo credit Jim Hodges, Fort Worth, Texas

That classroom is also the background for two memories from the Spring of 1955. One was a mid-day tornado turning noonday skies to midnight darkness as violent winds whipped large trees around like saplings. Parents came to pick up children who were huddled sitting near a row of lockers behind the modernistic, free-standing, new-fangled green “blackboards.” Strong winds rocked the car as Dad drove toward home, and in no time at all, skies were again sunny.

The other memory is lining up single file to march from that same classroom across campus to the gymnasium where multiple lines of students snaking around the shiny basketball court floor were administered doses of what I would later learn was the polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, American scientist and physician credited with helping end polio in the U.S.

History records that in 1954, 1.3 million children participated in a randomized, double-blind test of the Salk vaccine. Early in 1955, results were announced as 80-90-percent effective, and that same day, Salk’s vaccine was licensed by the government for immediate use. Something good followed that stormy period in time when the country was all but eradicated of a disease people lived in constant fear of contracting, or worse yet, one of their children falling victim.

While sitting at home last week as our country is again filled with fear from another virus infecting hundreds of thousands and killing multiple thousands, I recalled those childhood memories. Like then, we now face another highly contagious virus about which we know very little and for which we have no treatment or vaccine. Also like then, we are forced into distancing and enduring the closing of businesses, schools, movie theaters, meetings and churches.

However, I am confident that just like the sunshine following the tornado that had first graders hunkered behind a green blackboard decades ago amid the threat of an uncontrolled disease, sunshine and better days are just ahead. The advice Andrews’ father gave him decades ago, “Don’t worry. You’ll be all right,” is timeless.

If anything has changed since the 50s, it’s the preacher’s messages. Oh, they’re fortunately still diligently delivering reminders of keeping the faith that good things and better days that are just around the corner. But during today’s distancing, we’re enjoying those messages in full-color live streaming video via the internet.

—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.

Views of modern tech may differ with age

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”

American writer, Stewart Brand

Enjoying some quality time sheltering in place last week, an article about using tech to “flatten the curve” on COVID-19 caught my attention. Although I don’t recall ever hearing my father use the work ‘tech,’ the story reminded me of him—in a roundabout way. 

I’m pretty sure tech wasn’t around in 1963 when Mount Pleasant Texas Department of Public Safety driver’s license officer Gene Campbell stamped my first driver’s license “Restrictions Removed.” Although legally released to roam the roads alone, it would still be a while before I would round up $250 needed to buy my first ride—a 1951 Chevrolet. That meant my newfound freedom depended on gaining my father’s favor to borrow the family’s one and only car.

While my newly minted license was unrestricted, dad allowing me to use “the car”—in its most literal sense—came with several restrictions. They included what time it had to be back in the driveway and how far it was allowed to travel. His methods for monitoring my movement required zero technology. He simply stayed awake until I arrived home at the designated curfew hour to hand him the keys, and he made notes of the mileage before and after my evening’s exploits.

What never dawned on dad was that my habits of reading more hot rod magazines than school books and hanging out with older guys graciously allowing this kid to accompany them to the drag races down the road at Bettie had its advantages. Before I was old enough to get a driver’s license, I could already overhaul a carburetor, pull a transmission to change a clutch, and assorted other automotive-related tasks with ease. Not the least of those pre-tech car tasks was knowing that it took no tools and no more than 30 seconds to reach up under the dash and disconnect the speedometer cable after leaving the house, then reversing that procedure shortly before “mileage check” later that night.

Those memories connected to last week’s social distancing read in the daily email newsletter, “Morning Brew,” via a story entitled, “United States of Distancing.” It seems Unacast, a “human mobility insights” company tracking smartphone location data, yours and mine, is performing a “public service” comparing distances people travel on certain days and issuing grades to states by county on their social distancing. 

Counties contributing at least a 40-percent drop earned an A. Honor students, according to “Morning Brew,” included D.C., Alaska, Nevada, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Overall, the U.S. scored a B with movement down 32-percent. They noted Wyoming as the lone F with a less than 10-percent reduction, while Montana and Idaho earned Ds. The author added, “there’s a joke in there somewhere.”

No joking matter was a spinoff report about Chinese governmental use of smartphones tracking movement and health status, Hong Kong’s tagging travelers with wristbands to enforce quarantine, and South Korea’s compiling GPS data, credit card swipes, and more to create public logs of infected patients’ movements before they were diagnosed. “Moring Brew” also cited the Washington Post’s reporting that the U.S. may follow suit as Washington is “actively exploring options” with Facebook, Google, and other techs to access smartphone location data. Confirming that hunch was other media outlet coverage the same week of government health official’s concerns about “hot spots” of coronavirus detected by tracking cell phone data of spring break revelers who defied distancing by flocking to public beaches.

Granted, beating this virus is a serious matter warranting extreme measures to gain control. But it’s also no joke to consider government tracking mapping our every move…for any reason.

That said, growing up in the 50s and 60s before the age of tech had its advantages. I seriously doubt dad would have treated my mileage manipulating maneuver as a joke back then. So, whether for my father or for anyone else, I’m thankful that no recorded evidence remains of anything I may or may not have done in my youth…or the distance I traveled to do it.

—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.

Distancing among the memories, praying for a new one

“Things may end, but memories make them last forever.”

– Unknown

Good memories help us appreciate our past and often lead to a fondness for tangible reminders of those days. Maybe it’s a piece of furniture we grew up with, kitchen utensils mom cooked with, or tools that dad used in his shop. Those living links to the past tend to generate comforting recollections of times we thought would never end.

When those memories are rooted in the finest generations of automobiles to ever roam the highways, that obsession can be excessive … or so I’ve heard. Can I help it if my garage reminds me of a time when the cars in it were much younger, and I was too?

Since the plan to kick this coronavirus crud to the curb is to stay at home, I’ve mandated my own personal plan for social distancing. That will be hunkering down in the garage and soaking up the atmosphere while completing some much-needed tinkering on the cars.

Don’t ask me how that’s different from any other day in my garage. Hey, if a plan works, it’s a good plan.

The decor in my garage is signs, shelves of old soft drink bottles, rows of oil cans, hubcaps hanging on the wall, and license plates that have survived recycling to put one more generation of joy in an old car lover’s heart. It’s a reminder of a kinder, gentler time when kids feared licks from Coach Gilbreath’s paddle at MPHS more than a rogue virus from China.

Prime procurement places for those prizes are typically car swap meets—flea markets for cars, car parts, and old car stuff. Center friend Dickie Gilchrist and I have a long-standing road trip tradition of attending one of the season’s first and one of the largest swap meets in this part of the country, The Pate Swap Meet near Fort Worth. Sad to say, it’s looking like that pilgrimage this year will be another virus victim.

Garage goodies gathered during our last trip included a superb set of 1956 Texas license plates, automotive magazines from 1959, and a couple of bottles: “Triple XXX Root Beer” and RC Cola. A bonus gift from brother-in-law Tom while bunking at my sister Leslie’s house for the trip was a two-page magazine ad heralding the fine qualities of the “New 1957 Fords.” 

Antique shops can also add archival acquisitions. Bottles for long-gone drinks such as “Dad’s” Root Beer, Nehi, and Sun Crest, and a Borden’s glass milk bottle embossed with “Elsie” from the days of home delivery in time for breakfast are personal examples. On the automotive side, recent discoveries include, a tire patch can from the days before tubeless tires. My father and grandfather both kept tire patches handy. Experiencing a flat tire meant stopping on the side of the road to swap the flat tire for the spare, throwing the flat in the trunk and patching the tube in it upon arriving at home.

Then there’s the skates I scored not long ago, identical to those on which I amassed many miles at the Mount Pleasant skating rink on highway 67. They were even equipped with white laces like mine, a really trick touch in the early 60s when I was a regular at the rink. 

All these things are not just garage memorabilia, however. Some are perfect props for car shows. The skates, my high school band jacket (yes, I have that, too) and maybe an old drive-in movie schedule from the 60s thrown in the back seat of my ’55 Ford, just as they would have been in my car during high school years, add to that living link to times we thought would never end.

Good memories make the garage a really good place to be confined during a time of social distancing while praying that covid-19 will soon be just a really bad memory.

—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.

Surviving adversity with the best of weapons

“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

—Humorist Mark Twain

I’m convinced that times of adversity call for three weapons. They are faith, a positive attitude, and the weapon that Mark Twain pegged when he penned the words above: humor.

Certainly, times of adversity abound as news of a worldwide virus about which little is known and for which there is no vaccine has the human race in a panic. Admittedly, it’s confusing and scary with conflicting messages about the illness and how bad it could be. It also doesn’t help when the mainstream media, like it does with many facets of life today, politicizes what information is available. But, I digress.

Going straight to the best yardstick available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported as of Friday March, 20, 2020COVID-19 (the official name for “coronavirus) cases in the U.S. to be 15,219 and total deaths at 201 with the number of jurisdictions reporting cases at 54 (50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and US Virgin Islands). Updates are posted every weekday at noon at cdc.gov.

For updates on adversity, one need look no farther than the daily expansion of social distancing and the increasing numbers of businesses closing or restricting hours. In the stores that remain open, you will find the masses buying according to perceived concepts on where this pandemic will take us.

Make no mistake, the potential for serious adversity imposed by this virus is very real. But the best weapon for easing the current tension is being created by the hoarding hysteria prompting crazy consumer habits. It’s truly a classic dose of Mark Twain’s touted humor.

Making the weekly pantry restocking trip last week, I found the more highly trafficked aisles in town stripped of many items, especially my targeted item of anything resembling bottled water. A trip down the street to the aisles less traveled found four one-gallon containers labeled as “Nursery Purified” water sitting all alone on a long stretch of floor-to-ceiling empty shelving. Deciding that water for babies was as healthy as any, I complied with the store’s posted limits of two per customer thereby depleting half their remaining inventory.

A couple of minutes later found me in the checkout line behind a customer carting boxes of beef jerky, cases of canned soup, and a bushel of bananas. I smiled wondering whether this motivated consumer had considered what she was going to do when every one of her half-a-buggy of bananas all reached the ripened state at the exact same time.

I was still smiling when a neighbor fell in line behind me and a conversation on comparisons of observed shopping hysteria ensued. Mid-stream in one sentence, her eyes focused toward my items as she asked, “Do you have news that you want to share?”

Scanning my scant collection of one bleach spray, some sparkling water and two gallons of bottled water, my mind struggled for clues. Nodding, she added with a smile on her face and a question in her tone, “Nursery water?”

“Oh that,” I laughed. “No, no news and no danger … the only news is that’s the only bottled water of any kind left on the shelf.” My smile grew wider at the thought of the old timer’s saying, “that’s caused by something in the water,” having been why this was the only water left behind.

Social media has left nothing behind in fulfilling its role of heightening tension and diversity levels in just about everything while occasionally interjecting some humor . The best example of the latter was the lady attending a luncheon hosted by a friend who had expressed concern prior to the event about running low on toilet tissue. So, what did this kindhearted and creative soul with a sense of humor do? She took an appreciation gift to the luncheon hostess: a roll of tissue discretely wrapped and tucked into a gift bag.

Were he here today, Mark Twain would have no doubt loved the luncheon lady and also favored my friend who offered the following thoughts after marveling at the shopping mayhem.

“The Bible says in Mark chapter 13,” she offered regarding the end of time, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

“In His wisdom,” she continued, “God knew that if He were to announce the date and the hour, we’d be overrun by panicky people in line trying to gas up cars overloaded with bottled water and toilet paper.”

—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.