Doesn’t he look good for his age

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

—C.S. Lewis, British writer and lay theologian.

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I’ve been told I’m getting old, but I refuse to accept that somewhat opinionated viewpoint. It’s my personal observation I’ve simply accumulated a lot of experience.

Lately however it’s becoming apparent just how much “experience” I really do have. That revelation came last week while performing the traditional “old year-out and new year-in” reflections routine one more time.

Reading a collection of clippings and the bounty of bound volumes in the newspaper library still trying to assemble something into a book gave me cause to smile. To borrow from perhaps the most well-known advertising slogan in history, “We’ve come a long way baby.”

Along with noticing how far my column writing style has come, the experiences I’ve written about offer their own perspective. For instance, reading one recently that I wrote in 1981 clearly noted the changes in both. Ironically, that piece also began as a reflection on being told that I was getting old. 

“Imagine if you will,” it began, “a day in the life of modern man living in the United States.”

“It starts with his subtle awakening to soft music, noting the time in a liquid crystal display, and comes with a feature that allows him the privilege of intermittent lapses back into the sleep state by simply pushing a button.

“As that awakening process begins in the bedroom, an automatic coffee pot in the kitchen with its own timer brews fresh java that is ready before he ever sets foot on the floor.

“After our modern man eats breakfast cooked in seconds in a non-heat-producing oven called a microwave, he heads off to work in a diesel-powered automobile equipped with a “cruise control” that maintains a constant speed without effort. That same vehicle has an onboard computer informing him of his average speed, fuel consumption, and trip duration.

“Once in the office, he makes calls on his desk phone that automatically stores numbers in memory for future use. That same modern telephone takes messages when he cannot answer it and has a button that allows him to speak into the phone without a long cord for holding the handset to be heard from anywhere in the room.

“During the course of a day, he has at his disposal a calculator that will not only add and subtract but also divide and multiply as well. And it fits into a shirt pocket along with a tiny tape recorder for documenting conversations.

“He travels by flying in jet-powered aircraft capable of navigating through any type of weather with the aid of computerized guidance systems using nothing more than needles on the instrument panel.

“While flying, he can read a newspaper produced and printed via photographic processes while the recording device on his television at home will automatically record any of his favorite shows he might be missing.

“Most remarkable is that all the technology described above has been invented in the last 15 years, most of it in 10. We can’t help but wonder what impact the next ten years and beyond will have on our lives.”

If 1981 could only see how far we have come in 2021. Computers that were new in 1981 control every aspect of our lives today, whether we want them to or not. Virtually every necessity and convenience in life is reduced to a single device smaller than the pack of trendy cigarettes the advertising slogan mentioned earlier promoted decades ago.

With those personal reflections, I wish all a happy and prosperous New Year as we await the unveiling of what 2022 has in store. Let’s resolve to set new goals. Accumulate new experiences. Start the new year with optimism. I’ll go first and say that 40 years from now, I’m hoping those comments about my getting old have changed to, “Wow, doesn’t he look good for his age.”

—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 2021. 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.

We can make it better for a few of them

“Christmas is sights, especially the sights of Christmas reflected in the eyes of a child.” 

– William Saroyan (1908 – 1981) Armenian American novelist, playwright, and short-story writer.

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With every washed-out hole in the dirt road, my truck rebelled at the impact, tossing the front end toward one ditch or the other.

The weather outside was cold and rainy. Inside the vehicle, where it was warmer, I gripped the steering wheel in hopes the battle between my truck and the holes in the road wouldn’t jerk it out of my hands. A slower speed might have made the trip less violent, but it wasn’t worth risking getting stuck on the backside of nowhere in the far reaches of the county. In 1986, cell phones were still a part of Christmas future.  

“What are we looking for, daddy,” asked son, Lee, then six, who is 41 as this Christmas approaches.

“A house down here a ways on the right,” I explained. “At least it’s supposed to be around here somewhere.”

“If we can’t find it, maybe Santa Claus can,” he replied with youthful optimism.

“Lee, if Santa Claus could find it,” offered his philosophical sister Robin, then eight, who is now 43, “We probably wouldn’t be hunting for it.”

At last, we found our first destination, a muddy driveway near three small, old, and unpainted houses. Each one had smoke curling from a stovepipe chimney jutting from some random spot. Small sticks of wood were stacked nearby, but the aroma in the air smelled more like burning garbage.

There were no yards. The houses were separated only by broken household items: washing machines, couch frames, bicycles, and a junked automobile or two. Surveying the “neighborhood,” I suddenly feared that the seemingly large baskets of Christmas toys and food we had with us were small, compared to the need.

Sunday afternoons like this were a regular Christmas season practice back then as a Center Noon Lions Club member distributing the civic club’s food and toy baskets. More often than not, I took my kids with me.

For just a moment, it was quiet. Robin and Lee looked, but neither said a word. Exiting my truck, I stepped from the warmth of my vehicle and into a sizable puddle of mud. Recovering from that, I looked for the door of the nearest house to verify our location.

A dim light shone through the window, and the muffled bark of dogs came from under the porch as I raised my hand to knock. Beside that dilapidated door was the rusted frame of a bicycle. It had no chain or tires, and lying beside it, was a worn-out doll.

In a window was a child’s drawing of Santa Claus with, “It’s Christmas time Oh, Oh, Oh,” in a youngster’s handwriting that I presumed to be the same child. At first, I wondered if it was a youngster’s misspelling of St. Nick’s Ho-Ho-Ho or a sad message of desperation.

Inside, family members huddled close to the wood-burning heater because more than three feet away from it, the temperature wasn’t much different than it was outside.

We shared the Lion’s Club basket with Christmas dinner fixings and children’s toys while visiting and learning everyone’s name. Then, wishing the family a blessed Christmas, we were off to find another location on our list.

As we were quietly traveling more muddy roads, Robin asked, “Why isn’t Christmas the same for all kids?”

“Well sweetheart,” I told her, “If we don’t get lost in the next hour or so, I will try tell you. But maybe during that time, we can make it better for a few of them.”

Prayers for a Merry Christmas to all through the eyes of a child.  

And a wish for special blessings for those many individuals and organizations who spend their Christmas time and money trying to make it a better memory for others.

—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 2021. 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.

The newest real-life action board game idea

“Any car’s weakest part is the nut holding the steering wheel.”

– Unknown

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Board games are always high on my Christmas gift-giving list. In addition to the old favorites like Chance, Clue, and Sorry, every gift-giving season debuts new additions that stimulate thinking skills and require no batteries or computers.

For me, board games filled hours of afternoons with neighborhood friends growing up and even as an adult at holiday family gatherings playing with the kids. Those memories were perhaps the muse for my latest holiday gift idea.

Consider the favorite for generations and all ages: Monopoly. The wealth-building game enjoyed a revival with the craze that swept the game nation when cities, schools, and organizations of every kind cashed in on morphing themselves with Monopoly. I remember the first one in Nashville, Tennessee, when “Music City” introduced its version featuring a playing board depicting all the city’s well-known landmarks.

Soon, every burg and business had its own version. I still have a “Boerne-opoly” game sold in that Texas Hill Country city where I published the paper in the 1990s. It’s like wheeling and dealing in your hometown to be the next big play money winner.

So, if you’re reading this Milton Bradley, I have the following “opoly” winner board game for you. Unfortunately, it’s too late to make Santa’s sleigh run this season, but it can be ready by next year if we work on it. While it can be adapted to individual hometown traffic entanglements incurred by many small towns, I propose we call ours “Driving Downtown Center-opoly.”

I can see it now: a playing board depicting the newly renovated downtown Center square, which I think looks fabulous. The city’s new small-town charm will make a great-looking game board for those drivers and pedestrians who haven’t yet grasped the correct (legal and safe) methods to maneuver it.

To win the game, players would have to drive (advance their game piece) around the square by entering at one of its four corners. Then roll the dice, just was as real-life drivers do, to go all the way around and exit at the same comer. But the catch is doing it without breaking one single traffic law.

Each player would start with the same number of points and get docked by cutting in front of others, failing to heed every stop sign, turning without signals, making left turns from the right lane, improper turns from one lane to another, and failing to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks. Coincidentally, all real-life illegal actions as seen on the square.

The object for pedestrian players would be walking the game board on foot around the square (by advancing their game piece), crossing at crosswalks only, and returning to exit the square where they started.

Points would be lost by illegally jaywalking between the plethora of crosswalks available, creating havoc for the aforementioned “driver” players. Remember … those who do not stop for people in the crosswalks, cut in front of others, fail to stop at the stop signs, don’t use turn signals, and turn out of and into the wrong lanes?

Hidden penalties would be assessed for players parking a game piece on Austin Street near its intersection with San Augustine Street where anything short of stopping in the middle of the street is mistaken for parking. “Driver” players would lose points for illegal parking practices, including but not limited to failing to parallel park where designated, and parking on the wrong side of the street going the wrong way. Again, amazingly like real life.

Bonus points should be awarded to the first player offering a solution for big-rig truck drivers who seemingly cannot read the many “no trucks allowed” signs they pass ultimately creating traffic confusion on the square.

The game would be a best seller. Where else could one find thrill, excitement, and danger all rolled up in blatant disregard for traffic laws accurately depicting every day, real-life driving experiences?

—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 2021. 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 betting my four bits on Mattie’s advice

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

—George Bernard Shaw, (1856 –1950) Irish playwright, critic, polemicist, and political activist.

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Writers love finding new words. Even rediscovering forgotten words can be fun. My personal delight is checking the dictionary to ensure that a word I haven’t used in a while still means what it once did, and finding the definition tagged as “archaic.” Archaic wordsmiths love old words.

Last week, reading Mattie Dellinger’s column reminded me of the beauty and power in simple words. The long-time Center, Texas columnist and historian wrote, “In all my half a century of writing for newspapers, I’ve never used a word which would send the reader to the dictionary to see what I meant. The fact is I couldn’t spell it anyway. Maybe you notice that I use nickel words instead of four-bits words in my weekly writing.”

Mattie covered news stories and wrote columns for the local newspapers for decades before she passed away in 2013 at the age of 101. Her timeless columns are reprinted in the Light and Champion every week.

Working with Mattie for many years and calling her my friend was a privilege. I remember her often saying in our weekly editorial meetings. “Never use four-bit words when nickel words will do.”

At that time, we used to call those collections of four-bit words “gobbledygook.” That’s the fun word I remembered last week, and a word that my mother often used. It’s even fun to say. The dictionary defines gobbledygook as, “Unclear, wordy jargon.” Unclear messages to the point of absurdity have been compounded in many ways since I first heard the word.

Some blame it on attorneys and the courts. Some blame it on the government. Some even blame the media. But, regardless of who takes the rap, attempted oversimplification of communication has reached the point of gobbledygook.

Everything we read today: handbooks, procedures, directives, even washroom instructions are too often worded so “simply” that even a Harvard graduate has no idea what the Sam Hill some things are supposed to mean. I’m betting even Sam himself doesn’t know.

For example, “Effectively communicate to personnel the required procedural data to enable effective implementation for the methodologies delineated.” Today, a more easily understood version might be, “Shout it a little louder or post it next to the coffee pot in the break room.”

Try this one, “Make an attempt to perceive expectations concerning the applicability of these programs to the functions and capacities of their intended utilization.” See how much easier it gets once we understand? This one surely means, “Figure out what the customer wants.”

I read one a while back that stated, “Integrated logistical programming capability for incremental transitional time-phase projections.” I think you or I would have just said, “One thing at a time.”

These and similar gems were found in an old clipping that someone, perhaps Mattie, found during those years we worked together. That faded copy of “The Editorial Eye,” which included no individual attribution to offer, also proclaimed to “Effectively terminate all processes for project development.” It was determined by someone smarter than me that it means, “Stop working on this and find a new job.”

We no doubt figured out at one of our meetings with Mattie that, “Our preliminary projections of capitalization benefits have essentially proven to be severely underrated.” That one is easy. “Hello … we tried to tell you we needed more money.”

The classic use of two-bit words may have been, “A substantial increase in expenditures for fiscal resources to implement the optimum enhancement of conference room facilities.” Yep, just say, “The new executive washroom is going to cost more than we thought.”

Gobbledygook need not be limited to business communication, insurance policies, or legal language. It can easily be adapted to everyday or casual conversation with very little imagination. For example, when your wife says, “He metamorphosed into a laid-back mode with potential for a deeper transitional state,” all she is really trying to say is, “Don’t disturb the baby, he’s almost asleep.”

And the next time someone at a neighborhood party shouts, “Let’s have a little better integration of our individual efforts in our harmonious group interactions,”… don’t stress over it. Just sing on key.

After many years of writing, my money is still on Mattie’s advice.

So, do you know what it means to be categorized as a “polemicist” as was George Bernard Shaw in the above introduction? If you didn’t, I didn’t either, So I looked it up. “A person who engages in controversial debate.”

Now we both have a new word to use.

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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 2021. 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’s a good feeling at any age if you’re a ‘car guy’

“Did I tell you the best part of watching your children grow up is seeing them learn how to improve on the advice you gave them.”

— Something someone told me years ago

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 “I would never want to be a mechanic,” Lee said after “hello.”

“Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving, Dad.”

“Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving to you,” I responded. “So … you don’t want to be a mechanic?”

My son is 42 years old, and did I tell you he is very good at what he does? Obviously, he doesn’t turn wrenches to support his family. His skills are in computers; a profession foreshadowed around his first-grade year when he latched on to a cast aside Apple IIE, my first computer. It quit and I replaced it with one of the “new” first-generation Apple Macintosh models. “Can I have the old one,” he asked? “Sure,” I said, thinking it would wind up disassembled and tossed in his toy box.

To my surprise, he revived the defunct device and was playing games on it in no time.

Computers were still sci-fi when I was that age, but my leaning was already toward the very thing about which he was protesting loudly last week. Long before I earned a driver’s license at 14 and started drag racing the family car at Stracener’s Drag Strip in Bettie, Texas (unbeknownst to my father), I was overhauling carburetors, replacing clutches and transmissions, and learning how to make cars go faster.

Although family and kids had cut into the budget, when Lee came along, tinkering with cars and racing was still part of my lifestyle. And as would be the dream of most fathers, mine was that my son would acquire similar automotive interests. Turns out he was interested in cars all right, just not my style. He liked the “tuner cars” gaining popularity then: to me, wimpy imports with tiny motors that sounded like a swarm of angry bees with gastrointestinal problems.

My heart raced to the deafening sound of American-made, high-powered V-8 motors with aggressive camshafts burning high octane gas and rattling windows with deep-rumbling exhaust tones. Did I tell you it still does?

But hey, he was a car guy.

Continuing his saga of automotive anguish last week, Lee related how one of his children approached him last summer with, “The air conditioner in my car doesn’t work.” He said he responded, “You’re old enough to drive a car, you’re old enough to take care of one.”

Thinking I had heard those words once before, I remembered, “Oh yeah, that’s sorta like what I told him 25 years ago.” Yep, I gave Lee a ten-year-old Chevy pickup in lieu of the brand-new Nissan “ZX whatever” he requested, telling him to show me how he could take of a vehicle, and we would talk about something somewhere between the two. Did I tell you how that worked for either of us? Drop me a line; I’ll share that story.

“So, when she called a couple of weeks ago and said the car wouldn’t go,” Lee continued, “We took it to the local dealership. Their estimate to repair everything that didn’t work, plus some things that were still working … good enough, was $8,000. That’s for a used car that cost $5,600.”

Making a long and funny story short (did I tell you my son can be a comedian), he and his father-in-law replaced the air conditioner fan motor which required removing much of the car’s interior. Next, they removed the car’s transmission and part of the suspension to replace the clutch. All of this, accomplished solely with a YouTube video knowledge and some head scratching.

“We worked on it for a couple of weeks,” Lee reported. “The hardest part was getting the transmission back in. But, just this afternoon, we figured it out. It went back together, I started it and it works. I wanted to tell you, Dad,” Lee concluded his story. “Because I know you’re a car guy. I could tell my friends but some of them are not really car guys. They wouldn’t understand.”

And I did understand the pride and sense of accomplishment detected in his voice as I remembered the first time I pulled the transmission in my ’55 Chevy as a kid to replace the clutch and repair the transmission. Yep, it’s a good feeling at any age if you’re a “car guy.”

Oh, did I tell you that these days, Lee’s ride is the Dodge Challenger R/T above, with a high-powered motor and deep-rumbling exhaust tones?

—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 2021. 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.

Offering advice to younger generations on Thanksgiving

“There are no seven wonders of the world in the eye of a child, there seven million.” — saying commonly attributed to Walt Streightiff, author and newspaper editor.

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When thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, my top-of-mind moments tend to focus on family, food, and fall weather. That and kids.

Thanksgiving was a favorite holiday for me as a child and grew to become even more so when I watched my own children enjoying the warmth of family gatherings with lots of good food. And now that I am in the older generation, being qualified to offer helpful advice to the younger ones makes the holidays even more enjoyable.

It started at that turkey day dinner gathering a few years ago when a young new father in our large family approached me seeking pointers on child-rearing from the family “old timers.”

“You’ve raised children, and you have grandchildren,” the proud parent asked, seeking wisdom as we sat down to eat. “So, at your age, what do you consider the most important part of child rearing.”

My knee-jerk desire was to tell him at all costs to avoid those words. It’s bad enough, “at this age,” that “at your age” always precedes medical conversations without it invading friendly family talks.

Instead, I replied, “Thanks for the vote of confidence in my child rearing skills, but my mom always said that a parent is never through raising their children. Could be, however,” I added with a shrug, “she was just talking about me.”

Searching for something more informative, I reflected on my parenting skills as compared to those of my parents in the 50s and 60s. Then I shared how watching my own children as parents gave me four generational differences when adding the advice my grandmother left with me.

“Training,” I blurted out to conclude. “Raising a child requires infinite skills, but your training makes the difference.” Then, feeling I had fulfilled what was expected of me, I reached for another helping of turkey and dressing.

“What sort of training do you consider most important,” was the younger generation’s comeback question.

Pausing before taking that next bite, I said, “Maintaining that elusive balance of nurturing valuable life skills without being counterproductive. For instance, we devote the first two years of their life teaching children to walk and talk, followed by the next four, five, or sixteen, teaching them to sit still and be quiet.

“There is no way to describe the feeling,” I continued, “of spending hours coaxing your offspring into uttering infantile noises that only a parent would recognize like ‘momma’ or ‘da-da.’ Then reeling in shock, a couple of years later when one of them blurts, ‘goody-goody, let’s go’ immediately after the ‘amen’ on the closing prayer at church.”

“But,” I added, changing my tone of voice, “Beware of the day when they ask the hardest question of all. “Hopefully,” I added, “You will be better prepared for some of the trickier questions like ‘where does the fire go when it burns the log away?’ Even then, you will never be ready for the dreaded word that should never be taught to children under the age of 37— the infamous ‘Why?’”

“Once the little one feels the power of what can be accomplished with a simple ‘why,’ life is never the same for the parents,” I warned. “It’s a 15-minute delay for going to bed, taking a bath, or eating peas, I added. “And the weary parent is slow to learn that answering one simple question only leads to a barrage of follow-ups.”

“Consider, if you will,” I said, leaning across the table for emphasis, “Trying to tell a four-year old that why he needs let go of the cat’s tail is so that it doesn’t shred the curtains. And, so there is something left to cover the windows to keep the neighbors from watching frustrated parents trying to explain their way out of endless ‘why’ questions posed by preschoolers.”

“And, what usually follows,” I said, turning my attention from the turkey the last time, “is the little tyke will ask ‘what happened to Kitty?’ And you will simply smile and say with a sinister smile, ‘It ran away.’”

“That’s good to know …,” my young listener said slowly.

“In fact,” I concluded, “It will make you wonder what answer your wife will have when your child asks, ‘Mommy, why did daddy run out into the back yard screaming, ‘I don’t know why.’”

As of last Thanksgiving, the young couple still has just one child.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy the holiday gatherings with young people as much as I do.

—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 2021. 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’s more than over-priced gas at service-less stations

“The economy has turned my old car into an expensive, high-performance vehicle. It now goes from 0 to $60 in less than 60 seconds.”

Internet humor

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Keeping cars fueled has changed the way many of us live. Just last week, I had to apply for an increase in my credit limit at the bank, and that was just to buy enough gas to get to the service station. Or, more accurately stated, the inconvenience stores that sell gasoline without service. I heard last week that someone called the police claiming they were robbed at the corner gas station. When the dispatcher asked if they knew the thief’s identity, the caller responded, “Yes, it was pump number 6.”

Along with affordable fuel, I miss the days of real service stations. Places where drivers bought a tank of gas for less than five dollars without getting out of the car, and received an under-the-hood checkup, tire pressure check, a windshield cleaning, and an interior sweeping at no extra charge. That’s a far cry from last week when I paid $3.29 for “regular” gas in Center that I pumped myself, and after selecting ‘yes’ for a receipt at the pump, the message read “clerk has the receipt.”

That’s tantamount to being robbed, then being invited inside to thank them for robbing you.

It’s also a far cry from memories of buying a dollar’s worth of gas at the local station, knowing that would get me to school, to work after school, and home again for several days.

Those after school jobs for me were often at service stations where the life of a high school kid working a part-time job was not only educational but came with perks.

Recounting a few of those experiences to a friend last week reminded me of just how far we’ve come in automobile technology and how much we’ve lost in customer service since then.

Perks included washing your car on slow nights or changing your oil using the station’s service rack and tools just for the cost of the oil and filter. That sure beat doing it across the front yard ditch at home, lying on my back using the few worn-out tools dad owned. While I don’t remember how much a quart of oil cost in the 1960s, I do recall the advertised price for an oil and filter change at Rex Kidwells’ Fina station on South Jefferson was $5.

It wasn’t a bad job either when the cute blonde in algebra class you were too shy to ask out on a date happened to drive in to fill up her car. Just enough time to get better acquainted and find the nerve to ask if she might be interested in going to the midnight show after Friday night’s football game. It was, after all, a sci-fi flick, “Terror From Outer Space.”

The job even had its humorous moments. Like the night the ’57 Chevrolet squealed in the driveway with strains of Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” recognizable through rolled-down windows. The driver barked, “Two bucks of regular, check the tires, and make it snappy, kid. I’m in a hurry.” He then returned to swaying with the music of “Maybelline, coming over the hill in her Coupe Deville.”

Gas pumped and tires checked, I leaned across the fender for the obligatory free windshield cleaning when the radio’s volume suddenly dropped drastically. The startled driver turned the knob up and began pounding on the dash. Finished cleaning one side, I stepped back to walk to the other side, and the volume blasted back.

I was halfway around the car when it dawned on me. With the driver’s side clean and sparkling; I smiled and walked back to the other side for a “touch up.” Sure enough, when I leaned across the fender, reaching for the windshield, my arm touched the radio antenna. And just like before, the volume vanished. The driver sprang into action again, attempting to “fix” the radio’s volume. I let him go through his antics one more time before moving my arm enough for the sound to boom back.

Apparently, the antenna had a short or a loose connection, and my touching it was enough to ground the signal. Realizing I was in control, I bumped it a couple more times just to have some fun with “Mr. Make it Snappy” before collecting his two dollars.

America has lost more than just money out of working people’s pockets for over-priced and over-taxed gasoline at service-less stations. It has lost one of the best places for a high school kid to work: the full-service station where gas was 29¢ a gallon, wash jobs were $1.25, and every day was fun.

—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 2021. 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.

Some of those roads lead to good fortune

“The road goes on forever, and the party never ends.”

—Song Lyrics by Robert Earl Keen

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Tickets. Pesky pieces of paper that typically bear bad news about fines and things like that.

Center removed their parking meters sometime in the 1980s, hence no parking tickets. However, with the crazy parking and driving practices on the downtown square, plus the number of semi-rigs coming through openly defying the “no trucks,” signs, some tickets would be in order.

But we’ll ticket the “crazy drivers” on another day.

While I don’t remember when parking meters came down in Center, I do remember them still collecting coins when I came here more than 40 years ago. That same memory wants to convince me that the last meter reader for the city was Tincy Griffith. But don’t hold me to that; it’s not been confirmed by researching Mattie’s columns where I’m confident that topic is talked about somewhere in her legacy of history.

I also remember the day that city manager at the time Ron Cox asked if I would like to have a decommissioned meter to compliment my eclectic collection of motoring memorabilia. Of course I did, and yes, I do … still have it.

Last week’s piece about scoring parking tickets during a recent return to his alma mater Stephen F. Austin State University campus by fellow Light and Champion columnist Chris Watlington reminded me of a similar experience.

A return visit of my own to the campus in the pines in the 1980s was a similar account. One of where searching for a legal parking spot gone wrong posed the likelihood of, well, getting caught—and getting a ticket.

As Editorial Excellence contest chair for the North and East Texas Press Association back then, I solicited assistance from the communication department at SFA, where I met instructor Ben Hobbs, and he graciously volunteered the faculty’s aide for critiquing the entries.

With boxes of publications from the Iowa Park Leader to the Center Light and Champion and from the Bowie County Citizen in New Boston to The Hood County News in Granbury, I was soon seeking a parking spot on campus near the communication department.

Lacking a proper permit for the myriad of parking spaces, I parked in a short driveway beside the Boynton Building long enough to find Mr. Hobbs.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It just serves as a side entrance to the Boynton Building, it’s not a street.” Sure enough, I was pleasantly surprised that all was well when we returned to the car with a dolly for transporting the boxes back upstairs.

Before I left, I had a short discussion on judging criteria. Then with a wave of thanks, I boarded the elevator back down. Arriving at my car the second time, I was again surprised. My car was adorned with a “greeting” from the campus police department for parking in a no parking zone.

A quick letter penned from my office the next day apologizing for my parking manners was combined with an explanation of my mission. It even mentioned that Mr. Hobbs in the communication department said parking there was necessary to complete our mission. I closed offering in good faith to pay the fine if my excuse was not acceptable.

A reply was quick in coming. The fine was graciously waived, and an invitation was extended to visit the campus any time. That invitation included a hand-written note from the SFA Chief of Police urging me to stop by the campus PD office to see him. Turns out that the chief was Tony Hill, a 1967 graduate of my high school alma mater in Mount Pleasant. “I remember him,” I smiled. Coincidentally, Tony also dated my younger sister in high school.

I’m guessing the road to parking problems will go on forever. And while it’s hardly a party, the tickets will never end.

I’m also guessing that Chris didn’t happen to have the good fortune of traveling the road of discovering that the campus police chief was an old friend from high school.

—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 2021. 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.

Veteran’s Day and the Braves, my unique opportunity

“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.”

— Yogi Berra

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Next Thursday is Veterans Day. And the Braves won the World Series for the first time since 1995, clinching the Championship title Tuesday night in Houston. For some, connecting those two would be a stretch. But I can do it easily in this allotted column space.

I’m a Texan by birth, but I cheer for the Braves when it comes to baseball. That allegiance goes back to 1944, four years before I was born. It began with a wartime Braves pitcher named Warren Spahn who spent 21 years in the National League. He retired in 1965 with 363 wins—more than any other left-handed pitcher in major league baseball history, a record that still stands today. He also won 20 games an unheard of 13 times, was a Cy Young Award winner once and runner-up three times, and he ranks sixth in history for MLB wins. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.

Spahn started in 1942 with the Boston Braves remaining all but his last year with the franchise that moved to Milwaukee in 1953, then to Atlanta the year after he retired.

In 1944, Spahn pitched for a different team, the U.S. Army 276th Engineer Combat Battalion at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. Baseball was recreation for the young inductees training for duty overseas, and the 276th defeated the 232nd Infantry for the camp championship that year.

That same year, a young batter from East Texas stepped to the plate during a practice session and waited for Spahn’s pitch. In his trademark windup, the lefty from Oklahoma threw his right leg skyward and sent the ball scorching across the plate.

Warren Spahn 1944

Later, that batter would say, “Heard it hit the catcher’s mitt, but never saw the ball.” That batter was my father, Leon Aldridge, Sr., from Pittsburg. He never played professional baseball but loved to tell the story of feeling first-hand, the heat of a Warren Spahn pitch.

“Few of us got any hits off him,” said dad. “But neither did the batters on the other teams. Hard to hit something you can’t see.”

Spahn volunteered for service at the end of the 1942 baseball season. Dad was drafted while a student at Texas A&M University. Before WW II ended, they saw combat duty together in the Battle of the Bulge and at the Battle of Remagen (Ludendorff Bridge), becoming friends along the way.

As a kid, I enjoyed schoolyard baseball and Little League summers in the late 1950s. But my father was not a big sports fan unless the Braves were on television and Spahn was pitching. Those games, he never missed.

However, it was pretty cool to me that my father got a Christmas card every year from a major league pitching star I watched on television and whose baseball cards I had in my collection.

In Spahn’s final season playing for the Mets, Yogi Berra came out of retirement to catch a few games, one in which Spahn was pitching. Spahn was 42 and still playing. Berra was 40 and had retired the previous year. Berra was quoted as saying, “I don’t think we’re the oldest battery, but we’re certainly the ugliest.”

If you asked dad about his Army service, you heard little about combat, but you would likely have heard about the time he might have gotten a hit off Warren Spahn … if he could have just seen the ball coming.

Spahn died in 2004, three years before dad in 2007.

When I saw Veteran’s Day coming close to the Braves in the Series, I knew it was a unique opportunity. I could extend my Veteran’s Day salute to the country I love and work in how baseball is pretty good, too, when the Braves are playing.

God bless America and God bless veterans. Men and women like my father, Warren Spahn, and countless others who have proudly served to keep peace and freedom … because freedom isn’t free.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of page: “276 Engineer Combat Battalion” yearbook published 1946 by Clayton Rust. My father, Leon D. Aldridge, front row, far right.)

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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 2021. 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.

So what does it mean if it thunders on Easter

“If a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”

― Groucho Marx

Last Saturday’s brief episode of rainfall and sunshine at the same time prompted a friend whose company I was enjoying to say, “The devil is chasing his wife.”

“That’s what my grandmother used to say,” I countered with a laugh. “And sometimes that it means it’s going to rain at the same time tomorrow.”

My father’s mother had plenty of sage sayings about the weather and most every other aspect of daily life. “If it thunders in February, it’s going to thunder on the same date in May,” was one. “Thunder on Tuesday in early summer foretells a good harvest,” was another. Then there was that one about Thunder on Easter Sunday, but I’ve forgotten what she said about that one.

I thought most of Granny’s offerings were witty, but they were serious business to her.

Hattie Lois Farmer was born in 1905 and reared near the West Texas community of Aledo. She met and married Sylvester Aldridge in 1920 when she was 15. He was 31. Such age differences in marriages were common then but evidently worked. Theirs lasted until his death in 1967.

Some hold the belief that superstition is contrary to faith in God, but I cannot make a case for that with my grandmother’s sayings. Granny missed very few services at the First Methodist Church in Pittsburg, Texas, in 60-something years of membership. She professed and practiced as much faith in God as anyone I’ve known.

Perhaps there’s a fine line between superstition and folklore. Perhaps it’s also the attitude one holds in the heart. I teased my grandmother a lot about hers.

“Don’t walk under that ladder. You’ll have bad luck,” she would say. “Only if someone on the ladder drops something on my head,” I would reply with a smile.

“It’s bad luck to wash clothes on Monday,” was another standard saying. “Any day I have to deal with laundry is bad luck for me,” I would let her know.

“A black cat crossing your path is bad luck,” was perhaps her most adamant admonition. As a result, I’ve seen her take a detour to avoid those chance occurrences.

“So, if you cross the cat’s path instead of it crossing yours,” I asked on one occasion, “Would that not undo the bad luck?” She didn’t have an answer, just a smile and a reminder that she wasn’t going to test my theory to find out.

My dad was also one to dispense a little superstition now and then. I guess he came by it honestly. “Palm of my right hand itches,” he would declare. “Money is coming my way.”

Another favorite wish for wealth to him was “stamping” the sighting of a white horse. That tricky little maneuver required licking a finger, tapping that finger to a palm, then “stamping” the palm with a fist as if to seal the deal.

“Does it work?” I asked him once. “Have you ever received unexpected money after trying those tricks?”

“Not that I remember,” he replied thoughtfully, “But it doesn’t hurt to wish.”

Quicker than a wish, the brief weather phenomenon last weekend ended. But fun comparisons of old sayings remembered with my friend continued.

“Drop a fork—a woman is coming to visit,” was one we both recalled hearing in our youth. “Drop a knife, a man’s coming to visit. Drop a spoon,” I shared having heard Granny say, “Meant a child was coming to visit.”

“So, what does it mean if I drop all the silverware at once?” I tried her with one time, apparently catching her off guard. She paused briefly and said, “I don’t know.”

“It means really bad luck,” I teased her, “Because it means I have to wash all the forks, spoons, and knives again.”

If Granny had been with us Saturday, I’m sure she would have offered whimsical expectations for crossing paths with the weather, felines, kitchenware, or most anything else.

I know she could have reminded me about what it means when it thunders on Easter Sunday.

—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 2021. 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.