Whether snow, rain, humor or tragedy, the mail makes it

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” —Often attributed to the Postal Service although the USPS has no official slogan.

Amidst delivery frustration a few weeks ago at The Monitor up in Naples, Editor and Publisher Morris Craig and I chuckled recalling one piece of mail delivered to the newspaper when I worked my first journalism gig there some 45 years ago.

The U.S. Postal Service, like many government agencies struggling with the sheer impossibility of a bureaucracy its size, is often criticized or made light of when something does not go as planned. But the truth is that below the staggering layers of bureaucracy, many dedicated people are working diligently at your local post office to make sure that the mail arrives on time.

Newspaper publishers understand, perhaps better than some, about the complexities of the post office. Publications depend on the post office and discounted rates for affordable delivery. Even with an understanding that running the postal service is like the old Gene Pitney tune, “True Love Never Runs Smooth,” we all love the humor in life when something goes awry.

And humorous it was that morning years ago when the day’s mail included an anticipated package from the photo lab. Reaching to open it, I noticed the box flaps were pushed up by the contents forming a ridge along the taped seam. Perhaps a larger box was nixed in a rush to get the shipment out, but it was the post office stamp that really caught my attention. 

The box had been rubber-stamped in red to declare the package “First Class.” Also, apparently in a rush, the stamp’s ink hit one box flap but missed the other on the uneven surface just right failing to print a couple of letters and inadvertently misclassifying the shipment.

The word “First” was legible enough, but where the letters spelling “Class” hit the uneven flaps, the “C” and “L” failed to imprint. With one misapplied rubber stamp, the package had been reclassified from First Class to a service assumed to have been, even back then, not used in decades.

“Craig,” I called out, “Look at this. The post office is reverting to pony express again. But, by golly it made it.” 

An extra delivery effort was apparent again last week when a piece of mail arrived at my house repackaged with an apology from the postmaster that the “document was inadvertently damaged in handling.” It was torn, bent and smudged. Goodness knows what happened to the mail between California and Center. I’m just sorry it wasn’t my Publisher’s Clearing House prize check. But, by golly it made it.

The first time I received a damaged piece of mail repackaged like that was also in August—34 years ago. It arrived in Center at the Light and Champion office tattered, torn and badly burned. I carefully opened what was left of it and read the letter. While I don’t remember who it was from, I remember only that it was mailed from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Trying to imagine what could have happened to it between the Sunshine State and Center, Texas, I left it lying on the corner of my desk. When I picked it up later that day still puzzled, suddenly the answer occurred to me.

Just a few days before, on August 2, 1985, Delta Air Lines Flight 191 service from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Los Angeles with a stop at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport encountered a weather microburst on approach to landing. The aircraft struck the ground more than a mile short of the runway, hit a car, and then collided with two water tanks in a fireball killing 137 people and injuring 28.

Comprehending the tragedy that piece of mail went through reaching Center was sobering. But it made 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 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In 1969 I still needed a paycheck to stay in school

“Remember, this was an era where you were defined by the music you listened to and the clothes you wore.” ― Karl Wiggins, humorist, satirist and Indie author writing about Woodstock

“Know what today is,” I asked a co-worker last Thursday? Watching “the wheels turn” while she searched for an answer told me that I had done it again. I keep forgetting that “younger than me” is a legitimate polling population including just about everyone these days.

My question was in reference to Woodstock. For those of you in that polling group defined above, Woodstock was the 1969 music festival that brought half a million people together at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York to celebrate the 60s “peace, music and love” movement. It got underway August 15, 1969, concluded four days later and has since been regarded by history as a pivotal moment in pop music history legitimizing the counterculture generation. So much so that in 2017 the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Intrigued by the epiphany created by asking Jennie if she knew what today was before stopping to think that the trees used to make the paper for her birth certificate were still saplings in ‘69, I henceforth decided to conduct an informal poll around the office noting the variety of answers. The answers differed all right, and as might be expected, were along the lines of birth dates and musical interests. However, not one soul responded, “What’s Woodstock?”

I was 21 years old the summer of Woodstock. Honestly, I was not a huge fan of popular music at the time but have come to appreciate it in its “oldies” status. While performers like The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Grateful Dead were getting all the radio airplay, I was still clinging to “my music;” Elvis, Ricky Nelson, and Buddy Holly before “Golden Oldie” was ever a historical reference.

Church on Sunday, Boy Scouts during the week, and knowing that half the teachers at MPHS had a paddle in his or her bottom desk drawer every day instilled an allegiance in me toward God, country, and respect for authority. Despite that upbringing still shaping my life today, I’ll admit the 60s hippie culture appealed to some rebel tendencies I may have been relating to.

My definitive moment with that relationship occurred in 1969 when I was an art and psychology major at then East Texas State University in Commerce (Texas A&M at Commerce today). Cruising the circular drive in front of the Education Building with a group of guys hoping we could provide transportation for girls needing a lift across the highway to the dorms just because we were nice like that, we found a confrontation near the flagpole. A group of jeans and cowboy boot wearing ag majors were challenging bell-bottom and tie-dye wearing hippies attempting to take down the American flag.

Despite my art major inspired “chukka” boot footwear and hair over my ears and shirt collar, I felt compelled to side with the ag majors. Campus police soon broke up the gathering and returned the flag to its spot atop the flagpole. Hippies went one direction flashing peace signs and singing John Lennon’s, “Give Peace a Chance” while the ag majors went the other most likely humming a few bars of Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee.”

After classes that afternoon, I drove to Mount Pleasant listening to Patsy Cline’s “Faded Love” on WBAP in Fort Worth stopping by Chris Durant’s “Artistic Barber Shop” for a haircut before reporting to my part-time job at Sandlin Chevrolet and Olds.

Regardless of what anyone wore, the music we listened to, or who would remember what when polled about Woodstock in 50 years, in 1969 I still needed a paycheck to stay in school.

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

Memory can be funny or frustrating

“Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.” — Irish poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde

Long-time friend and colleague from our newspaper days, Albert Thompson, paid me a fine compliment after reading a column recently when he said, “Your memory recall is the best ever, or you keep a mean diary, or both.”

Albert’s kind words were sincerely appreciated. Fact is, he was closer to the truth than he probably realized. I’ve always said my goal in writing is to tell a good story sharing something that is memorable to me and why, and hopefully in a manner with which the greatest number of readers can relate and smile.

The memory diary we all have can be funny or frustrating, however, depending on our point of view. And that point of view I’m talking about is too often age. Memories from the age of three, four and five years old come frequently for me, many as vivid as yesterday. On the other end of life’s spectrum, however, memories of this morning better have been written on a note somewhere in plain sight if I’m expected to remember them.

Stories for a column can come from any source that jogs a memory. Just ask me, “Do you remember when …” and chances are the light bulb will come on, and I’ll respond with, “Oh yes, I remember that but haven’t thought about it in years!” Sadly, there may also be times, however, when you ask the same question, and I do not have a clue. Nothing. Not so much as a flicker in the light bulb, not even a faint glimmer. Those moments are usually defined by glazed eyes caused by the energy drain on my brain grasping for any trace of memory activity.

Many of the columns appearing in this space are created utilizing that same cranial logarithm. As the glazed stare between weekly offerings sets in, someone or something will trigger a long-lost memory and once it begins, the rest of it follows…most of the time.

Memory also typically fares better where personal interest is more intense. The best illustration for this phenomenon is best understood by those who are married when your spouse refers to “selective memory.” Like the husband who went to the police station to report his wife as missing.

“What does she look like,” asked the detective. “How tall is she, how much does she weigh, hair color, what was she wearing, things like that.”

After a moment’s thought, the distraught husband responded, “She’s about 5-6, no wait more like 5-8, I think. Weight? Oh, 160 to 170. Well, she lost some weight back in the spring, so maybe 145 now. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Dark, brown hair, maybe. But I think she said something about dying it a couple of months ago, so I’m not sure. What was she wearing,” the husband hesitated as he repeated the question? “ Jeans…maybe. I didn’t take notice, but she usually wears jeans.”

“What was she driving,” was the next question. “Can you describe the car?”

“Yes sir,” the husband promptly replied, his voice cracking. “She was driving my classic 1955 Ford Crown Victoria, solid white with black and white interior. 46,321 miles, 312 cubic inch Thunderbird motor with automatic transmission, power steering, aftermarket carburetor, valve covers and air cleaner, 6.70×15 white-wall tires, factory wheel covers and fender skirts. It has a small scratch on the passenger door from the last time she drove it.”

“There, there,” the officer consoled the husband. “Don’t worry, we’ll find your car for you.”

If you related to that story and it brought a smile to your face, you understand how memory works. Whether it’s funny or frustrating might depend on age or other personal factors.   

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

It didn’t take long to learn that was her gift

“Life is partly what we make it and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.”— American playwright Tennessee Williams

I’m not sure whether Edna chose me as a friend, if I chose her, or if it was simply destiny that caused our paths to cross. In any case, it didn’t take me long to realize that her professional association and her friendship made a difference in my life.

Edna Keasling

Edna was employed by the competing newspaper when the company known today as Granite Publications bought The Madisonville Meteor. Prior to that day almost 30  years ago, the Dobbin, Texas, native had several years of newspaper experience covering many titles on her resume except for one: publisher.

When the opportunity arose to purchase the competitor, we quickly closed on a deal that included Edna joining our team. Shortly after that, we found ourselves needing a new publisher for the Meteor. Planning a trip to Madisonville to arrange a change in leadership for the newspaper, I called Edna about meeting with me on the details.

“I’ll be here,” she told me before quickly adding, “but I don’t want the publisher’s job.” Her reply caught me off totally off guard. Not even a hint of my plan to offer her the job had I leaked. It didn’t take long to learn that Edna was perceptive like that, however. So,, I just laughed and simply said, “OK.”

Once details for the change were finalized, Edna asked, “Are you going to be the new publisher?” I told her “no” without tipping my hand that I would wait for her to decide she wanted the job. “Can you keep things running until I can get someone in place?”

She allowed as how she thought she could do that much but reiterated her stance that she did not want the publisher’s job. It didn’t take long to learn that Edna was sometimes stubborn like that, so I just told her that was fine.

After reviewing some basics on what we needed to do “until I could hire someone,” I left Madisonville with Edna “temporarily” in charge. For the next several weeks, we talked frequently ensuring that she had the support she needed. Every conversation was concluded with her asking, “You found anybody for the job yet?” I always answered with something like, “Still looking, just haven’t found the right person yet.”

A few weeks of “have you found anybody” followed by “still looking” had gone by when one day she paused after my answer and said, “If that publisher’s job is still open, I’d like to apply.” I laughed and told her, “What took you so long, we thought you were never going to give in.”

To no one’s surprise, Edna was a superb publisher not just at Madisonville, but also at Boerne where she followed me in that position. In the years between Madisonville and Boerne that we worked together and developed a great friendship, I came to appreciate Edna for many reasons.

It didn’t take long to learn that Edna’s insistence on doing it her way was her drive for excellence, and that her expectation for those around her to excel was her hope for them to become not just the employee the paper needed, but also the individual they were destined to be. And it didn’t take long to learn that her desire to help people accomplish all of these things was her gift.

I know because in more ways than one, she did those things for me both professionally and personally.  

If you are a Saturday morning reader, chances are you are reading this as I make my way south from Center, Texas to Sam Houston Memorial Funeral Home in Montgomery for 10-12 a.m. visitation and 12 noon services for my friend, Edna Keasling.

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

Exploring forest roads looking for the roots of Aldridge, Texas

“It doesn’t get any lonelier than this, Cause I’m on this road alone.” — “Lonelier Than This” song lyrics by Steve Earle

There was no mistake that I was on this road alone. I really don’t think anyone had been on it in a long time plus I was at the end of this road. I chuckled thinking any farther travel on this road would require an off-road vehicle. Making it this far had already required navigating washouts rivaling small canyons and pine saplings between dirt ruts large enough for professional forest management.

Surveying the spot where the app proclaimed, “you have arrived,” (the exact location documented by the photo above) I realized that my intended destination was nowhere in sight. Humor again compensated for uneasiness when I realized if anything happened to me this deep in the forest, my grandchildren could be retired before I was ever found.

Thoughts soon drifted back 100 years to imagining the hustle and bustle of a community of 2,000 supporting one of the largest sawmill operations in Texas near the spot where I was surrounded by serenity deep in a national forest,

History records that East Texas logging boomed between the late 1880s and the late 1920s when southern lumber and timber products were in huge demand. The untapped potential of East Texas attracted increased logging which led to large industrialized mills replacing small owner-operated sawmills.

Railroads grew into the forest connecting remote sawmills and the company towns that sprang up around them. The mill I was searching for one day last week was built in 1905. At its peak, it produced 125,000 board feet of lumber a day making it one of the largest producers in the state. The community that grew up around it included 200 company houses, a hotel, post office, blacksmith shop, train depot,  schools, shops and saloons. Continued success eluded it after two fires and diminishing pine forests eventually lead to its demise by 1923.

My presence deep in the woods was not driven by sawmill research or by seeking history about the East Texas timber business. I was looking for the ruins of the Aldridge sawmill and the community around it—Aldridge, Texas.

Both are gone now and have been for almost a century, but remnants of concrete structures that housed the mill equipment still slumber deep in the Pine Thicket of the Angelina National Forest. The vine-covered and graffiti-adorned ruins are accessible by a 2.5-mile hike from the Boykin Springs Recreation Area, and reportedly also via a wilderness trail from somewhere near where I was standing that morning at the end of the road. Access via the road less taken looked on maps to be a short distance from where I stood in the photo above, but I won’t know until I return with better info and suitable hiking gear.

Curiosity leads me to see firsthand the ruins of prosperity from an earlier time with a possible family connection and to stand on the same ground. Hal Aldridge was a Mississippi native from the same area as my father’s family who worked in sawmills before building the mill and town in Texas that bore his name.

Significant time has been invested recently researching dad’s heritage, something he never had any interest in doing. In fact, he associated with only two of his siblings in my lifetime, and I knew little about his family when I started down the path of learning more about my Aldridge roots.

On that morning last week in the woods, paths crossed at the roots of some majestic pines near the spot where mills once produced lumber from ancestors of the trees surrounding me.

Whether or not research ties my family tree’s roots to the ghost town of a mill and community with which I share a name, going down that road is fascinating. But if you don’t hear from me soon, please send my grandchildren down that road before they retire.

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

Love the weather, but not the pesky guests

“An optimist is a fellow who believes a housefly is looking for a way to get out.” —George Jean Nathan, American drama critic and magazine editor

I call myself optimistic, but most of the flies I’ve seen around my house this summer appear content staying inside. A friend swears, however, that he arrived home one day last week to hear his wife greet him with, “Leave the door open dear, these flies haven’t been out all day.”

Whether it’s flies, mosquitoes, gnats or other forms of pesky guests, as Mom used to say, “If it’s not one thing, it’s six of something else.” She was saying that long before Gilda Radner’s “Roseanne Roseannadanna” popularized a variation of it on Saturday Night Live.

The saying in any form applies to the bugaboo flies and other pests are perpetrating this summer. According to the entomologists, (can we just call them lord of the flies) the rain and unseasonably low temps we’ve been enjoying are creating the insect infestation that we are not enjoying. Who hasn’t enjoyed the unusually nice weather, but with an estimated 1,000,000 species of house flies, many of which I’m pretty sure have been hanging around my house, who wants them?

If you don’t like flies, however, the cooler, wetter, weather has created critter problems outside the flying variety. The Texas Hill Country has seen a marked increase of Scorpions reportedly for the same reasons we’re “enjoying” more flies in East Texas.

As I was busy swatting flies here last week, my son Lee, checked in on Facebook to share his dealings with the rash of predatory arachnids down his way. “Just a random scorpion,” he posted with a picture of one roaming around in a ceiling light fixture at his house. “The joys of living in the Texas Hill Country. That’s the light fixture in our bathroom…it was running around in circles trying to get out,” he wrote. “I’m more concerned about how it got in there.”

Recalling some 25 years ago when my kids and I lived just a stone’s throw from where Lee lives today, I responded, “I’m sure you remember them when we lived near Pipe Creek and you and Robin were in school. You used to go around the yard turning over rocks looking for them. Sometimes we would be sitting on the couch watching TV at night and see one run across the floor. They would get in the light fixtures in the kitchen there too. And, then there was the night I was standing barefoot in the kitchen, felt something on my foot and kicked in time to see one go flying across the floor. Yep, just part of living in the Texas Hill Country.”

While my kids have in recent years felt confident in confessing to numerous things about which I was uninformed back then, I must admit Lee’s next story was one I had not heard.

“Oh yeah,” he wrote. “I remember them and those stories. I used to go looking for them when I was younger. I remember catching about four or five and having them in a butter bowl in my room playing with them. I sat them on the window sill and went to bed only to wake up and the bowl was upside down on the floor. I picked it up and there was nothing under it…I never did find out where they all went.”

Mystery solved—it was all clear to me now. “One or two went to the kitchen light fixture,” I told Lee. “All but one more went to the living room floor and the last one crawled across my foot.”

I’m glad Lee waited until now to tell me about his pets. Otherwise, I’m optimistic that if the scorpions were not looking for a way to get out, I would have been.

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

Change challenges the comfort of every generation

 “The only thing constant is change.” —Greek philosopher Heraclitus

If Ol’ Heraclitus was moved enough to wax philosophical about change while hanging around Ephesus 500 years before Christ, one wonders just what words of wisdom he might communicate today?

In my youth, I marveled at thinking about the changes my grandmother must have seen in her lifetime. When Hattie Lois (Farmer) Aldridge was born in 1905, riding in automobiles and flying in airplanes were still rare experiences for most. Yet, she lived long enough to ride in luxury cars with undreamed-of automotive options, fly in an airplane piloted by her grandson, and watch men walk on the moon via yet another unheard of concept in 1905—television.

Similar feelings surfaced years later while reading Lewis Grizzard’s 1984 book “Elvis Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.” The late columnist and author humorously elaborated in his best-seller about the many generational changes that left him feeling lost and confused trying to keep up in a society considerably different from the one in which he grew up. His witty and nostalgic observations detail how growing up in the 50s good times “… hanging out at the local store, eating Zagnut candy bars and drinking Big Orange belly washers” left him ill-prepared to cope as an adult in the 80s where  “… assassinations, war, civil rights, free love, and drugs had rocked the old order.”

Like it or not, coping in today’s world with values and traditions differing from those we grew up with is a common transition in life. The difficulty of giving up pieces of our past and learning new ones that we may not always understand is a concept that requires a significant number of birthdays to fully appreciate.

Those familiar feelings flourished one more time last week when Mount Pleasant High School classmate and long-time friend now residing in Colorado, Richard Shaw, commented on a Facebook post dealing with a topic near and dear to my heart: the art of communication.

It was news to me when Richard noted the method of addressing the Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie of communication I recognized as aviation communication was known as the ITU phonetic alphabet and was also shared with short wave and ham radio operators. All I knew was that learning the Delta, Echo and Foxtrot language was something required of me to earn a pilot’s license in the 70s and one of those things I never forgot.

The social media exchange brought to mind another form of communication, one that has not fared as well in my memory moments. Morse Code earned me a merit badge in Coach Sam Parker’s early 60s Mount Pleasant, Texas, Boy Scout troop where we memorized the  “dots” and “dashes” patterns using flashlights to transmit messages the length of the old MPHS building ground-floor hallway from opposite ends of the structure.

While I remember the X-ray, Yankee, and Zulu of the aviation chatter I was once part of, I retained very little of Morse Code that was used widely to send and receive messages in World War II and by my grandfather at the Pittsburg, Texas, depot for communicating up and down the Cotton Belt Route in the years following “WW II, the big one.”

With eons of communication education and practice behind me, I’ve seen more change with every decade than I could have possibly conceived might occur in a lifetime when first entering the world of wordsmiths almost 50 years ago.

Just as my grandmother likely never envisioned travel as she experienced it in her lifetime, I never envisioned a world experiencing old words changing definitions and connotations—let alone changes to instant worldwide communication via electrically charged digital knowledge.

When I started writing, ‘digital’ was defined simply as an activity having to do with fingers and toes. And that’s comforting to know. That way, if someone pulls the plug on my modern electrically charged digital, I can still count ‘digitally’ to ten…like Heraclitus might have.

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