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. 

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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)

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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)

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Familiar peeps prompt pause for cheep memories

“A duck was about to cross the road when a chicken told him, ‘Don’t do it, man, you’ll never hear the end of it.’”

— Anonymous old joke

The unmistakable sound of baby chicks filled the farm supply store I walked through last week, prompting my pause to take a peep. While they were cute huddled under a heat lamp for their choir practice, newly hatched hens were not on my shopping list.

Capturing the cacophony of cheeps in a short video, I shot it across the state through cyberspace to a friend on whom I was wagering would know my thoughts. Being located smack dab in the middle of poultry producing country, the cheeping of baby chicks to folks around Center, Texas, means hard work and a paycheck. To me, it’s also a reminder of the long-gone type of business in which my father invested most of his life and the only pet chicken I ever encountered.

Without disappointment, my friend’s anticipated response was quick, and our text conversation on pastel-colored baby chicks sold at variety stores was underway. But just as that chicken was halfway across the road, the conversation took a turn when she asked, “Do you remember the turtles with painted backs at Perry’s?

My response was “none” to chicks purchased, but it was “yes” to remembering painted turtles amid the variety of five-and-dime store merchandise at cheap prices that included many things. Even baby chickens and turtles as novelty pets.

Before there was an internet for ordering from Amazon, and before there was a Walmart in nearly every town with at least one traffic light, there were variety stores. Names in East Texas included Duke & Ayres, Ben Franklin, and Perry Brothers. Mount Pleasant had all three located within a block of each other including the Perry Brother’s store where my father was the manager. It was located on North Jefferson street where the southern end of Glynn’s Western Wear store is situated today.

Another iteration of the variety store late arriving in Mount Pleasant about the time Perry’s, Duke & Ayres, and Ben Franklin were fading away was TG&Y. Although I don’t recall ever entering a TG&Y store at Mount Pleasant or anywhere else, their somewhat irreverent nickname back then utilizing letters in the store’s name, “turtles, girdles, and yo-yos,” assumes they carried at least some of the same merchandise as Perry Brothers did: namely turtles. True to my friend’s recollections, those I remember at Perry’s featured shells colorfully hand-painted with flowers or with “Mt. Pleasant” lettered on them. Equally colorful were the aforementioned baby chicks in pastel colors mimicking fluffy Easter eggs whose familiar peeping was a sign that Easter and springtime were just around the corner.

By Labor Day, cute, colorful, variety store Easter chicks looked like … well, any other hen house chicken. But I knew of only one that become someone’s pet.

As closing time arrived one Saturday night before an Easter Sunday many years ago, the Easter chick bin still held one lone baby chicken peeping a solo song. The logical thing to do, Dad decided, was to take the lonely leftover to his father in nearby Pittsburg.

My retired grandfather spent most of his time outside tending a variety of fruit trees and gathering eggs courtesy of a dozen or so chickens he always had roaming his big backyard. The unsold Easter chick easily blended into his brood while standing out with its coat of many colors. By Labor Day, the little one had shed its colorful baby feathers and blossomed into a white laying hen, and the Easter leftover had become my grandfather’s pet.

You might never guess the name my grandfather attached to the chicken, but if you guessed “Easter” then you would be right. For whatever the lifespan of a chicken might have been, Easter followed him everywhere he went around the back yard. That included most afternoons when he sat in his lawn chair in the shade of a massive pecan tree near the house to sort through the afternoon mail where the chicken also know as Easter could usually be found perched comfortably on his leg.

As far as I know, that was one chicken that never crossed the road. But she didn’t have to. Hatched into the world as a variety store novelty item, she lived her life in East Texas as the pet of an old retired railroad worker.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My first freeway to larger horizons was a bicycle

On my bicycle, rolling along
On my bicycle, singing my song
On my bicycle ride, hoping you’ll come along

—“Old Bike” song lyrics performed by Rob Cantor

Facebook pictures of the old Borden’s milk plant building just off the courthouse square in Mount Pleasant got me thinking last week about the bicycle journeys of my youth.

Borden’s milk processing plant, Mount Pleasant, Texas. Mike Holmes’ photo Facebook Mt. Pleasant, Texas — Memory Lane

I had one bicycle throughout my pedaling days: red with a frame tank and a basket on the handlebars. Lack of memory prohibits me from reporting the brand with certainty, but a safe wager is that it may have come from Perry’s 5-and-10-cent store where Dad was the manager.

A driver’s license is often heralded as the first taste of freedom for a kid, but my first freeway to broader horizons was my trusty red bicycle. Between riding off on my first adventure down Redbud Street on Christmas Day of 1959 and the first day of Lee Gray’s driver education classes at MPHS, a bicycle was my ticket to ride.

And ride I did. To school at South Ward elementary, Raney’s Grocery on South Jefferson, Artistic Barber Shop on Third Street where Chris Durant trimmed my flat top, and more.

“Bicycle hikes” in Coach Sam Parker’s Boy Scout troop were Saturday morning rides along miles of Titus County rural roads on the way to a bicycling merit  badge. All-day excursions were five-mile treks out the Pittsburg highway to Cypress Creek, cooking lunch over a campfire, loading up our gear and riding back to town.

That same stretch of highway also provided many miles of bicycling adventures for neighbor friend Eddie Dial and me in search of Coke bottles (that’s any glass soft drink bottle in Texas) tossed on the roadside. Those fund-raising missions ended back in town at Hutchison’s Grocery cashing in the day’s catch at 2-cents per bottle: a nice supplement to my 25¢ weekly allowance earned for taking out the trash and mowing the yard.

Frequent diversions out the Pittsburg highway were spins through the Pleasant Drive-In theater for high-speed thrills ramping the repeated rows of inclined parking drive-ins utilized to improve movie screen viewing. Also fun was gathering up small clips of film around the trash can outside the projection room and concession stand area presumably tossed after splicing film reels the night before. The recycled remnants of celluloid cinema provided hours of entertainment for a kid with a flashlight and magnifying glass attempting to successfully screen the images onto a bedroom wall. 

Then there was that Pittsburg thing where Eddie and I pedaled out on our trusty steeds one Saturday morning searching for bottles when the allure of the open road took us beyond the Cypress Creek bridge: the halfway point to Pittsburg. Stopping to reassess our ride, we determined that since we were closer to Pittsburg than to Mount Pleasant, it made perfect sense to continue south ending our journey on Cypress Street in Pittsburg at my grandparent’s house.

Granny’s surprised look to see us riding up fell somewhere short of Mom’s disbelief at hearing me on the other end of a long-distance phone call asking if she could make the ten-mile jaunt in the family’s ’58 Ford station wagon and provide transportation back to Mount Pleasant. “Oh,” I added in the silence that followed that plea, “Can you call Eddie’s mother and tell her he’s in Pittsburg and will be home as soon as you can come get us.”

So, about the connection between these memories and the old Borden’s Milk plant building? That was often my resting spot riding back to Redbud Street after a Saturday afternoon in downtown Mount Pleasant. If the morning bottle business was good, I could enjoy a movie with popcorn and also be headed home with a comic book or model car kit—and always with a Three Musketeers candy bar.

It was at that old quiet abandoned building that Saturday afternoons often found me sitting on the railroad siding dock enjoying a candy bar and reading a comic book. 

And not far away, my trusty red bicycle with the center tank and the basket could be found resting on its kickstand waiting for me to throw a leg over for the next great adventure.

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo credit: Bicycle ad—1966 Sears Winter Sale Catalog.)

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.