Tuesday was a sad day. They laid Yogi Berra to rest.

Yogi — multiple award-winning baseball player, philosopher, coach, Jersey boy and Yankee through and through.

The noble Yankee -- Yogi Berra.

The noble Yankee — Yogi Berra.

He was buried in a private ceremony near his home in Montclair, N.J. He was 90 and, seemingly, loved by everyone he met. Many current and former Yankees attended the ceremony. Fans who stood outside the ceremony talked mostly how he was such a great Jersey boy and neighbor.

When I was a child I lived in some really obscure places: Bowlegs, Oklahoma; Tatum, New Mexico; Lovington, New Mexico. TV was pretty much in its infancy, but we still got a chance to watch baseball in black and white, while living in these out-of-the-way places. It seemed like it was always a Yankee game with Dizzy Dean and PeeWee Reese as the sportscasters. I loved these broadcasts and it’s how I learned some of the basics of baseball. This was the late 50s and I loved Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Joe Pepitone, Bobby Richardson and, of course, Yogi.

I watched any game I could watch and my Dad and I would play catch whenever he was free. My first Little League team, playing on fields of sand, tumbleweeds and dust devils in the New Mexico desert was the Yanks.

I was hooked on baseball for the rest of my life. Sooner or later, B&W became color and places where we moved would allow us to watch lots of other baseball teams. But there was always the Yankees.

Fast forward to adulthood — college, working, earning a living, providing for a family, raising kids …

I was very fortunate that my son, JD, picked up on my love of baseball and it became dear to him. He loved other sports, too, but, like his dad, baseball was king. We would go to Cleveland Indians games while he learned to play. And, even as a young boy, he played a lot. He played a lot of positions, but he liked playing catcher more than any other position.

When he was 11, Patti and I decided it was about time for me to have “the talk” about sex and girls and relationships with JD.

He was in the middle of doing a research paper for school on Yogi, so I suggested we take a weekend and drive to Montclair to see Yogi’s museum, which meant driving across east Ohio, all of Pennsylvania and some part of New Jersey to get to the museum, but we set out any way. JD, red hair flowing, wore his baseball team’s cap and he was excited. Across eastern Ohio and a good portion of Pennsylvania, Dad and son shot the breeze about any and everything, but “the talk”  — even if there was just the two of us in the car.

JD at Wrigley Field

JD at Wrigley Field

Shortly before we approached New Jersey, we stopped at McDonald’s and ordered breakfast. I purposefully picked a booth in the restaurant where nobody was seated — and I mean nobody.

We laid down our trays, took a seat and began eating. At one point, I said, “JD, Mom and I have talked and you and I need to have a little talk.”

At first, his eyes showed a curious look, but it was just a moment of two when it dawned on him I was trying to start “the talk” with him. He pulled his cap down on his head, looked around, tried to chew his scrambled eggs and biscuit, while bursting out with “Dad, NOT HERE. There are too many people and I don’t wanna talk about this right now.”

I looked around and there were only two other people in the entire restaurant — no one near us anywhere. He buried his head deeper into his tray and with the next bite took double the amount of breakfast and put it in his mouth to chew. He stared across the booth at me, ready to cut me off if I continued trying to have that talk.

I didn’t.

We finished eating and when he settled into the car for the rest of the drive, I could see him rest his shoulders, relieved.

Soon, we got lost on some of the spaghetti-like unmarked New Jersey roads, but we finally made it to Montclair and to Yogi’s museum.

We thoroughly enjoyed the museum, especially looking at all of Yogi’s World Series rings and all the other memorabilia. JD loved every minute we spent there. As we walked through the museum, and I looked at all Yogi’s achievements and memories, I thought a lot had changed over the years for the little boy who started out with the Yanks as well as the man who was a Yankee mainstay for most of his life and I admired from afar. I looked at my son and saw complete wonder in his eyes as he looked at Yogi’s uniforms, and, particularly, his rings. They were very impressive. A talk about sex can wait.

We thoroughly enjoyed the museum, and as we were leaving, I could see the skyline of Manhattan not too far in the distance. We were both smiling as we got into the car and started our way back home to Ohio.

Along the way back, we stopped in Williamsport, Pennsylvania for JD to see the field and the museum for the Little League. We both enjoyed that little side trip.

Somewhere as we were on the road, I said, “I won’t force you to have that talk, but if you ever have any questions, you can always come ask me and I will make sure we are alone and answer quietly for you.” He nodded.

I am now 65 and JD is 25. He has never asked me a question about sex.

I love you son, now and forever. You make me so proud of you.

Why? You ask.

Well, it’s 5 and 1 day.

It’s the fifth anniversary of my diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer. And, according to some statisticians, that means I am now a member of the 1 percent club — those who are still ticking five years after their diagnosis. I’ve never been a member of a one percent of anything.

God has blessed me, for whatever reason.

It's 5 and 1 day

It’s 5 and 1 day

When I was diagnosed in 2010, I saw five oncologists. One said three months. One said nine months. I even went for a second opinion to MDAnderson, a cancer center of excellence in Houston. The doctor there was very smug and suggested nine months.

I have been blessed to have some wonderful doctors. Dr Alan in Dallas and Dr. Jerry here in Austin have been a real blessing to me. Their nurses (Jean, Colleen, Anna, Thomas and Hannah)  have made me feel like family, and who can turn down a warm blanket?

So, over five years, I have been blessed to walk my daughter down the aisle to marry Rick. Along with Patti, I’ve been there to welcome Grayson, Rick and Casey’s baby girl. I got to see my son return to college. I celebrated my 65th birthday, even though no male member of the Aldridge family over three generations celebrated their 57th birthday. Patti and I celebrated our 30th anniversary. I got to enjoy time with Patti’s father and my mother before they passed. I get to enjoy life with friends and family.

Most importantly, I got reacquainted with my spiritual beliefs. I have no doubt been blessed by God, and I celebrate His presence every day. Our God is a loving god and I have been fortunate to be surrounded by his protective feathers (Psalm 91). He is the reason I am still here, I am convinced. I try to thank Him every day with praise and prayers of thanks/gratitude. He helps me smile every day. Thank you, Lord.


The picture you see here is a celebratory one. For the 5 and 1 anniversary, Casey and Rick arranged for the state flag to be flown over the Texas Capitol in my honor. Brought me to tears. What an overwhelming gift.

To all my friends and family, I thank you for your prayers and wishes of well being. I hope you enjoy God’s love as I have and it brings joy to your hearts. God bless you all.

Grayson gets me to smile every time I see her.

Grayson gets me to smile every time I see her.

Just a few of the cards sent by friends and relatives. God bless you all.

Just a few of the cards sent by friends and relatives. God bless you all.

Today is my birthday.

I am now 65. I know reaching 65 is very meaningful to many people and to others it is just another birthday. No big deal.

Well, it is very meaningful to me for a couple reasons:

  • No male member of three generations of the Aldridge/Dolan family ever managed to reach their 57th birthday
  • I have pancreatic cancer and for some time now, I have celebrated every day as a birthday.

When I turned 57 Patti threw me a birthday party to end all parties. To this day I remember fully the hangover I had the next day. But even with a headache, just waking up the day after I reached 57 was such a blessing.

The men in my family were mostly smokers. Most of them died of heart-related reasons. Certainly, the smoking didn’t help.

But, for me, reaching age 65, is a special event. I get to think about the wonderful things that have happened since I turned age 57, even to this day:

  • Patti and I got to celebrate our 30-year marriage this July
  • I spent some time working for a wonderful company in Chicago, The Segal Company
  • Patti and I, at first, were kicking and screaming about moving to Chicago for me to take the job with Segal. We just didn’t want to go to Chicago
  • Once we got to Chicago, we absolutely loved it. In six months, we used our car twice
  • We got to tour architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and work area in Oak Park
  • My diagnosis came when we were in Chicago, and soon everything changed
  • We moved to Dallas and lived on a horse ranch and I began holistic treatments for the cancer
  • One day the ranch manager abruptly left the ranch and Patti and I spent three weeks feeding and watering 80 horses three times a day
  • We managed a couple of tourist trips through the West, enjoying Colorado, the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho and Utah. As a gift from our friend, Joe, Patti and I got to go to the Master’s Golf Tournament, and we toured several Southern attractions, including writer William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak home, Selma, Savannah, Charleston and the PGA museum in Jacksonville
  • There is something about seeing Mt. Rushmore that will lift the spirits of even the most downcast person — in my opinion it is a very emotional experience
  • Got to see Devil’s Tower for the second time. The first time was when I worked one summer for my dad in Wyoming. We went to the tower one weekend, and it was great being a tourist with my dad
  • On one of the trips, Patti and I got to see Custer’s last stand and the battleground. It helped me remember some of the games my young friends and I would play in the wide open, flat spaces of New Mexico, building forts out of tumbleweeds and getting dirty in cowboy/Indian games
  • We discovered that even a guy tethered to a walker can enjoy the Grand Canyon — majestic
  • While in Dallas, I managed to rediscover my spirituality and faith in Jesus and God. That was so fulfilling to me and I celebrate the ability to grow my faith and devotion to our Savior
  • To be closer to family, Patti and I moved from the Dallas ranch to a house in south Austin
  • It has been pure joy watching my son, JD, grow as a young man, gain maturity and return to college
  • We got to spend more time with our daughter, Casey, and her boyfriend, Rick
  • I was just overwhelmed and ecstatic when I got to walk Casey down the aisle to marry Rick. That was truly one of the best days of my life, especially getting to dance with her and Patti, and many others
  • Patti and I got the chance to renew friendships, acquaintances and even meet and enjoy complete strangers
  • We explored more of Austin’s restaurants, including a few that serve my favorite — oysters on the half shell
  • While we lost Patti’s brother, Bill, and dad and my mother, we continue to reflect on their lives and great memories
  • In March this year, Rick and Casey welcomed their first child, a little girl named Grayson Mae Reed. She is such a beautiful young child with a great smile, and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to spend time with her
  • I probably have shared with you just a few of the wonderful events; there likely are a lot more
  • For me, every day that I get to wake up and spend time with Patti is the most spectacular day of my life and I thank God and His son for their blessings.

The picture that goes with this posting is quite remarkable. They are birthday cards from friends and relatives who, unbeknownst to me, were notified by a little birdie (Casey) about my pending birthday. I want to thank all of you who sent cards. One of my former roommates, Richard, sent copies of old photos when I had hair and we spent time together. Also, Mike, a good friend from Maryland, sent a spiral-bound copy of his favorite jokes that he has accumulated over the years.

Again, thank you for the cards, well wishes and prayers. I hope you get to celebrate every day as a birthday. God bless you all!

Whenever I watch TV throughout the day, there are an incessant amount of weight-loss advertisements. Whether Nutrisystems and Marie Osmond, Jenny Craig, or whatever, all trying to get the average viewer to sign up for their weight-loss system. I’m sure some are successful, or they all are. No one seems happy with they way they look on a daily basis.

For about the past 3-4 months I have been developing my own weight-loss system. Not that I need to lose any weight at all. In fact, I need to find a way to add some pounds.

Getting ready for the paracentesis with my fashionable blue cap.

Getting ready for the paracentesis with my fashionable blue cap.

Anyway, from a health perspective, I am back on chemo every other week. I get my gemcitabine and abraxane. Very little side effects.

But several months ago, I noticed that I was experiencing a very, very extended stomach/abdomen. From the breastbone up, I looked like a victim from Auschwitz. From the breastbone down, I looked like an 8-months pregnant woman.

Well, my oncologist, Dr. Jerry, told me that what I was experiencing was an accumulation of fluids that normally the liver processes and disperses throughout the body for release into the atmosphere. It doesn’t pass through urination. But, as the body accumulates the fluid, there is a weight associated with that buildup of fluids.

Hey, I'm losing weight just lying here. Good ole paracentesis

Hey, I’m losing weight just lying here. Good ole paracentesis

Dr. Jerry told me there is a process called paracentesis that helps to remove these fluids. The individual goes to the hospital. Nurses and a doc or two there will hook you up to an ultrasound and on the screen they can see about how much fluid has accumulated and where it is resting. They will then decide whether to access the fluids from the left side of a patient’s lower abdomen or the right.

I have been to 2 hospitals to have paracentesis. I have had 5 so far. At each hospital, the nurses and doc will tell me the worst case of someone carrying fluid. The common number for the 2 hospitals was 32 liters. Could not freakin’ believe it. The individual would have to be carrying around the weight of 32 liters of fluid before they withdraw it.

I was amazed. During my 5 times, I have roughly given off 3.5 liters of fluid on more than one occasion. That’s roughly 5 pounds of weight. I also dispersed 4.5 liters once and we figured it was worth 6.5 pounds.

So the day after I have a paracentesis, I feel like I can climb Everest — or at least watch someone on TV do it.. There really aren’t any side effects, except the pain of the puncture for the needle they use to withdraw the fluid. That can be a bit painful.

Some people go in weekly to have these fluids removed. My schedule tends to run either every two weeks or every three weeks. Still, I can always tell when I need to get a paracentesis. I feel heavy, my stomach looks more and more like a beer belly and I don’t eat.

So maybe this isn’t like those weight-loss programs. With them. the individual hopes the weight goes away and never returns. My weight comes and goes every time I have this procedure done.

So, maybe the paracentesis is a lot more like these weight-loss programs than I thought.

Some years ago, I heard the term “bucket list” for the first time. I understood immediately what it meant. Since then, several friends and family have shared with the Cancer-Boy what the bucket list means to them. And, to be honest, as a stage-four pancreatic cancer patient, I get asked quite often what is on my bucket list.

When Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson made the movie “The Bucket List,” I had to see it. I’m worn out with Jack Nicholson, but will go see anything with Morgan Freeman.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the two men are sitting atop an Egyptian pyramid and looking out over the desert.

Spectacular. Beautiful.

While Patti and I don’t talk about bucket lists often, or ever, she pulled one over on me a few weeks ago.

She made the following arrangements and surprised me with them. She managed for us to go to the Grand Canyon. Knowing how often I fall, even with my cane or walker … on a flat surface, for a fleeting moment, I thought this may be a life insurance ploy.

We flew to Flagstaff and took a cab to nearby Williams, Arizona. At Williams, people can take an old-fashioned train from Williams to the South Rim of the canyon. While on the train, people keep you entertained with skits and comedy, while you look at the spectacular scenery passing by you. Pine trees, wind farms, desert areas and mountainous areas. It was beautiful.

Once at the South Rim, as soon as we disembarked from the train, there were motor coaches within a few steps. Their purpose is to take people along the South Rim and make periodic stops at beautiful locations, for visitors to leave the bus, walk for a little and take marvelous pictures. All the while focusing on the safety of the customers.

On our day at the canyon, the weather was beautiful — loads of sunshine and periodic clouds. The rails along the paths are perilously close to the canyon cliffs. If someone were so inclined to step over the rail, to the cliff side, it would be a painful death. The trails were occasionally smooth and others were craggy and more of a challenge to someone like me who used either a cane of a walker.

Soaking up the beauty of the Grand Canyon

Soaking up the beauty of the Grand Canyon

At the first stop, Patti and I stepped out and walked to the rail. I lost it at the first stop. Teary-eyed like a new-born. Right in front of my eyes was a true miracle of nature that God had worked on since the beginning of time and, judging by the speed of the Colorado flowing rapidly beneath us, He was still at work.

The geographic layers of the exposed mesas and craggy rock formations were truly impressive. Did I want to hike to the bottom? No. Did I have a respect for those who did, or those riding the Colorado in boats? Yes, definitely. Did I enjoy the views from every stop?  Absolutely. They were beautiful and incomparable.

As we were enjoying the spectacular beauty, Patti and I soaked up just about every site that came our way. Funny thing, though. I never thought of this as a “bucket list” event. Not once.

Later that afternoon, we rode the train back to Williams, satisfied that we had been witnesses to such wonder and been affected by it.

While we were riding back to Williams, I silently began thinking while I was watching the landscape pass before us. I have had a full     life. I have seen loads of national parks, like Yellowstone, the Badlands, Carlsbad Caverns, Devils’s Tower, the Everglades, Pike’s Peak, Rockie Mountain National Park, Mt. Rushmore among others.

And, I am thankful for the opportunity to travel when I was younger. I climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower; saw Napolean’s Tomb; climbed very partially up the Eiger in Switzerland; got high as a kite off grass in a park in Amsterdam; saw Jersey cows on Jersey island off the English coast; was overwhelmed visiting Le Mont St. Michel, an abbey in the ocean just off the French coast; loved viewing the Kon-Tiki in Oslo and taking the fjord-riddled train ride from Oslo to Bergen.

But when I think of “bucket lists now”, those images usually don’t appear much any more. But, every day that God gives me, I can wake up and see Patti smile, my “bucket list” is full … even overflowing.



Grayson Mae Reed

Grayson Mae Reed with an Alfred Hitchcock profile

Back in J-school, the first thing we learned was that the lead paragraph should have the who, what, when, where, why and how — or at least as much of those as you can know.

Yesterday, my youngest daughter, Casey, and her husband, Rick, had a gender-reveal party at their home to announce that the child they are expecting in March will be a girl, and her name will be Grayson Mae Reed. The two of them really pulled this off well. Ever since they announced they were expecting, friends and family have been asking about the gender and suggesting names — but they never budged.

It has been quite exciting. For weeks now, we have been guessing on the gender and supplying suggested names to consider ad infinitum. At the gender-reveal party, guests were asked to wear either blue or pink, depending on whether you thought she was going to have a boy or girl. I wore a white shirt and pink tie. I have thought ever since Casey and Rick announced they were expecting that it was a girl. There was a lot of blue at the party.

So, when it was time for the reveal, they brought out a box with balloons in it. After some teasing from the guests, they opened the box to reveal a set of pink balloons. Very cool. Then, the cajoling for the name began. They told us the name and said she would be called Gracie Mae. She will be named after a few members of both sides of the family. Very well done and, for me, truly a beautiful name.

I know this appears to be rather matter-of-fact, but it was truly an emotional event. And, sometimes, these events, like a gender-reveal party, are part of something much bigger. I like that. I celebrate that. I revere that.

Here’s what I mean. Years ago, when I was a twenty-something living in Houston, I was shaving at the sink in front of the mirror in the bathroom and the radio was playing. I will listening to KILT-FM, a long-time pop/rock station there. Well, they were playing Steely Dan’s hit “Hey 19” just one too many times. At the time, it seemed like every song I heard on the radio was “Hey 19.” So I flipped the station to a country western station and the first song I heard was a Lefty Frizzell and Dottie West hit called, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma.” I loved it. It made me smile. I was smitten.

Well, yesterday in the morning of the gender-reveal party, I ran an errand, and on the way back, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma” came on the radio. I smiled, I chuckled and then I did something I have never done ever. I turned the radio up AS LOUD AS IT WOULD GO and let it play. I sang out loud to every syllable. When the song was over, I laughed out loud.

For someone born in Oklahoma, it was a truly wonderful moment. While I don’t think my parents had a gender-reveal party when they were expecting me, I have to believe there was just as much enthusiasm among friends and family of my parents as there was later in the evening for Rick and Casey. And, as it turned out, Grayson Mae Reed, has some of my relatives in there, and they were all born in Oklahoma.

And, there was an additional occurrence yesterday that had me stopping and thinking. Patti and I have been in our house here in Buda for two years this month. There is a small flower bed in the front of the house that is sustainable. For the first time in two years yesterday, I went out and pulled some weeds, trimmed the bushes and raked up the debris.

While I was raking, I stopped a moment to rest. As I stood there, a blue balloon came from out of nowhere and floated across our front yard. It then flew down the street and just kept on going. Knowing we were going to a gender-reveal part in just a couple hours, I stood there and went, “Huh?” As you might imagine, I wondered if this had anything to do with the gender-reveal party, or nothing to do with it. I had been pretty settled in my belief they were having a girl, but the blue balloon could have been a sign, or it could have been nothing.

After the party was over later in the evening, I told Patti about the chain of events for that day. We both smiled. I know there is a God that watches over us all the time, and God has a great sense of humor.

And I know He will reveal himself in His entirety to Grayson Mae Reed at the right time, and she will be all the better for knowing Him.

God bless you all and your family and friends.

Starry, starry night Flaming flowers that brightly blaze Swirling clouds in violet haze Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue (From the Aldridge back yard)

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue
(From the Aldridge back yard)

I just wanted to share with you this picture from our back yard … and the fact that I took it the same day that Lust for Life appeared on TV. So Patti and I had a Vincent Van Gogh day.


When I was in high school in a suburb of Houston, Texas, my parents seemed to be on me constantly to focus on doing what it takes to go to college. Neither of my parents went to college, yet they had successful lives. But they felt they could have done better if they had gone to college, and they were going to make damn sure their kids did!

And, to top it off, they wanted me to be a dentist. When I was 17-18, I resisted this idea pretty strongly. I couldn’t see spending my career with my fingers in someone else’s mouth.

My buddy, Bryan, here in Austin, is the best dentist I have ever known. He is very thorough, very specific, very up front about what is coming next and treats his patients with a great deal of respect … even me. He has been a successful dentist in Switzerland and here in Austin. He is very accomplished, very happy and very good at what he does. I admire Bryan and his life. We all should be this happy in whatever we choose to do.

When my parents were strongly encouraging me to go to college and be a dentist, a very new kind of store opened near us. It was called Wilderness Equipment; it was a store selling hiking equipment, such as shoes, tents, camping stoves, etc. I had seen no store like this ever. While my folks wanted me to be a dentist, all I could think about at the time was being a forest ranger. Yup, just wanted to get a job in the Rockies somewhere, climbing the tall tower to look for any signs of fire. Or work in a national park and give tours of natural beauty.

I never became a forest ranger.

I discovered writing in college and studied journalism and German. I had hoped that after I graduated, I would find a reporting job in a decent-sized town in West Germany, perhaps, Frankfurt, Hamburg or Munich.

That didn’t happen either. I got a job as a reporter/photographer in a small-town newspaper, and I got to put what I learned in college into action. I was a happy man. Throughout my career, I was a reporter, editor, PR man (for a nuclear power plant of all things) and HR communications consultant. I was a consultant for 29+ years and enjoyed working with large and small clients, but enjoyed the challenges they posed even more, regardless of size.

Now with my cancer diagnosis, I no longer work. But I think of work quite a bit. Working occupies a lot of my routine dreams. Some so strong I feel I can reach out and touch the work. In one dream, I worked in a huge skyscraper in Washington, D.C. and everyone who came to the building had to climb a three-story rock wall to get to the elevator to get to their work station. Yes, I bet Freud is having a field day somewhere.

Yesterday, I was thinking about what I would have liked to have done for work if money had been no object. I now know that I missed my life’s calling. I decided I wanted to be the guy who fit all the actors and actresses with their cowboy hats for the gazillion western movies and TV shows that passed through American theaters, drive-ins and television sets..

Yup, I wanted to fit John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Sam Elliott, Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Charles Bronson, James Garner, Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.

And I would have wanted an exclusive on them, too. As for the women actresses, well, how about starting with Racquel Welch, Claudia Cardinale, Angie Dickinson, Hope Lange, Jane Russell, Barbara Stanwyck and any of the co-stars appearing in the western movies and TV shows?

I just think it would have been so flippin’ cool to spend a few minutes of time with each of these people, fitting them into the hats that would come to help define them as icons.

Yeah, that would have been very cool and very much fun.

YI-PI-KI-A, y’all.

Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch

Claudia Cardinale

Claudia Cardinale

Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall

Robert Redford & Paul Newman

Robert Redford & Paul Newman

The Duke

The Duke

Last week, I used to share with readers a posting that I read every Friday from the New York Times that focuses on books. While the book update from NYT gives the latest on books, it also hosts a mini-interview with a known writer, and asks the following questions:

1) What books are on your nightstand?

2) Who is your favorite novelist of all time? And your favorite novelist writing today?

3) If you could require the president to read one book what would it be?

4) You are hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers do you invite?

5) What is the last book you put down without finishing?

At the conclusion of the posting, I asked readers to share with me their responses to these questions. My friend, Marion, was very quick with her responses to these questions.  Here are Marion’s responses, which I really enjoyed.

1) What books are on your nightstand?

My IPad is now the “books on my nightstand” and currently I have “Nothing to Lose”  by Lee Child, “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman, and since I only read books I check out from the library, I would add “China Dolls” by Lisa See that I have on hold and arriving soon, I hope. 

2) Who is your favorite novelist of all time? And your favorite novelist writing today? 

Answer the same for both, Pat Conroy.

3) If you could require the president to read one book what would it be?

“Night” by Elie Wiesel.


4) You are hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers do you invite?

Pat Conroy (he is the BEST oral storyteller ever! when he portrays his Bible-thumping relatives, it is hysterical) William Goldman (had such a crush on him long before “Princess Bride”), John Irving.

5) What is the last book you put down without finishing?

“To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf. I tried, I really tried.


Marion and I go back to college days, 1968 to be precise, when we met and worked at Astroworld, a popular amusement park in Houston, Texas. We both worked the first summer of the first year it opened, and we both worked at the entrance to the park. I was a groundskeeper, which meant with a long-handled brush and trash container, I swept up every cigarette butt and piece of trash that hit the grounds of Astroworld, from the Astrodomain parking lot, which was nestled next to the Astrodome, across the walkway that rose over Loop 610 to the entrance to the park. Plus, I also covered “Main Street,” which is what Astroworld visitors first saw after they paid and made their entrance to the park. I had a blue and white-checked Sherlock Holmes hat and short-sleeved, button shirt, just like every other groundskeeper who worked throughout the park.

Astroworld when it opened in 1968

Astroworld when it opened in 1968

Marion was ‘the’ Map Lady. Just inside the park entrance, Marion had a very highly decorated cart. With her extroverted style and outgoing manner, she was perfect for this job. She sat at, or walked around, the cart throughout her shift and sold maps of the park layout to those visitors who wanted some information that would help them decide where to do what and where to go to get there.

We became friends that summer and stayed friends as we entered college after the summer was over. Marion went on to Texas Christian University and I went to Southwest Texas State University.

And, for years after we both moved on to other things, Astroworld grew and became more popular. In years after Marion and I left, Astroworld built an old-fashioned white wooden roller coaster, just like you might expect at Coney Island. And, it continued to grow in size.

In 1975, the original owner of Astroworld, Judge Roy Hofheinz, former mayor of Houston, sold the amusement park to Six Flags. Six Flags then ran it as one its popular and profitable theme parks. They were successful until October 2005, when they closed the park down. From late October through early 2006, the park was bulldozed and demolished.

Astroworld today

Astroworld today

Today, there is nothing but scrubland where the park used to be. The only thing that continues to exist that might remind people where the huge amusement park used to exist is the walkway that took visitors from the Astrodomain parking lot across Loop 610 to the entrance of the park.

Plus, the millions of memories people of all ages created when they visited the amusement/theme park during its heyday.

Marion, thank you for your answers to the questions, and for being part of the memories of a bygone era that I really enjoyed.

 As a reader, your action will be required below after the …

My Mom, Clephane Aldridge, died in mid-February at age 87. For someone who smoked about 65 of those 87 years, she had a full life. When my Dad was alive, he would tease her with the name “Cellophane,” after the kitchen wax paper.

Clephane Aldridge

Clephane Aldridge

She followed my Dad wherever he went for his job, an engineer for Sinclair Oil. Consequently, we lived in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas while my sister, Dana, and I grew up. She idolized and loved my Dad dearly, except if the following story ever came up. She didn’t like it.

One of the stories that my Dad loved to tell was one that occurred when Dana and I were very little. We lived in Bowlegs, Oklahoma. Dad did his work, Mom raised us and Dana and I found fun and excitement wherever we could. Bowlegs was pretty much a company town full of Sinclair employees and families and the nearest regular town with shops and stores was Maud. Dad used to joke with his engineer buddies and to family members, since we had lots of family in Oklahoma then, that “the only way to Maud is through Bowlegs.”

When I was very young I never understood his story, but as I got older, yes, I did understand and for a few years would share with my friends occasionally for a good, shared laugh.

My Mom, on the other hand, helped me to develop a real love of reading. As long as I can remember, my Mom was always reading. Magazines, which were very popular in the 50s, 60s and 70s, were OK for her, but she really liked books.

Her fun teaching me to read was a bit lopsided. When other kids were reading Superman, Batman, Archie and Veronica comic books and Boy’s Life scouting magazines, she was encouraging me to read Swiss Family Robinson and anything by H.G. Wells. She gave me a copy of Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl and, for years, all I wanted to do was catch a ride on a small raft across the south Pacific. Years later, as a college student, I spent three months in Europe. One of the things I was so thankful to see was the original Kon-Tiki in a Thor Heyerdahl museum in Oslo, Norway. I wrote her a letter from Norway describing that experience.

On the other hand, Mom rarely disclosed what she was reading. After many years, I finally figured it out.

She liked romance novels. Oh my gosh, if it had a picture or a drawing of Fabio on the cover, she had to have it. She was voracious. Many times, I thought she was the solitary reason that romance novel genre was still alive.

Even though she never gave up her love of romance novels, she stayed current on the hot authors, the really good stuff to read across all the writing genres. When I was still a teen, she encouraged me to read James Dickey and I would. For example, even as I was reading the very real brutality of Deliverance, I was also reading his poetry. And, I still don’t understand why Dickey wrote poetry. It seemed to me that if you are going to really write to make a living, write what sells. To me, novels sell and poetry impresses. I’m sure if I spent any time with a poet, I could change my mind.

And, to try to be more versatile, I would occasionally read James Baldwin, Eldridge Cleaver, Irving Wallace and others. I loved the Irving Wallace books and he really shaped my commitment toward novels. I also loved just about anything that was the Old West. Once, when I was a kid and we lived in eastern New Mexico, tumbleweeds, desert and constant winds, she took Dana and me to Lincoln County, New Mexico. There you can see vividly and in person the story of Billy the Kid’s escape from the Lincoln County Jail. There are national monuments all around the very small town. I loved it because the story was very real and included gunslingers and sheriffs, good guys and bad guys. She made sure we saw the whole thing. Years later, she and Dad took me to the small town north of Lincoln where Billy the Kid was buried.

I will always be thankful that Mom fostered my interest in reading. Just a few years ago, the movie Toy Story was a real hit. The Tim Allen character, Buzz Lightyear, would say throughout the movie, “To infinity and b-e-y-o-n-d.” Whenever I watched that movie, I would think about my mother because my love of reading, that she helped grow and prosper, has taken me to infinity and beyond. I am forever indebted to you. Thank you, Mom.

Now, here’s where you, dear reader, get involved. Every Friday, I get a NYTimes book update. This electronic update lets me know the books that are coming out, what they are about and whether they are worth our time or not.The part of the update that I enjoy the most is a somewhat brief interview with an author. It’s called (NAME: By the Book).Last week, it was Larry McMurtry. But the questions tend to be the same week to week.

I won’t ask you to fill out all the questions, but I am going to add four-five questions that are in the By the Book section for YOU TO FILL OUT AND SHARE. So, once you read this posting, take the questions, fill them out and return to me. I will share your results with other readers next Sunday.

Here are the questions, and I have included my answers for fun:

1) What books are on your nightstand?

The Closers by Michael Connelly, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, These Days by Jack Cheng, Apron Strings by Mary Morony.

2) Who is your favorite novelist of all time? And your favorite novelist writing today?

My favorite novelist of all time is Irving Wallace because I loved all the topics he would turn into novels, like sex, Christianity, black presidents. My favorite novelist writing today is Pat Conroy, no ifs, ands or buts.

3) If you could require the president to read one book what would it be?

The key is in the word “require.” I suppose you mean he would, indeed, read it. I’d suggest he read The Liberty Amendment: Restoring the American Republic by Mark Levin.

4) You are hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers do you invite?

I’d invite Gore Vidal and Normal Mailer and watch the fireworks. I’d also make sure Philip Roth is there as referee.

5) What is the last book you put down without finishing?

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.  I know it is nonfiction, but I felt like I really wanted to read it. Then, as I read it, I suspected that there was a Candid Camera hooked up somewhere to watch me read this bugger, and every page of the book said, seemingly, the same thing; “Well, we got up, made camp, went a few miles up the river, made camp and went to sleep. After some mountains, we made it to the ocean.” I thought Allen Funt was somewhere ready to come in and surprise me as I threw the book against the wall.

1) What books are on your nightstand?

2) Who is your favorite novelist of all time? And your favorite novelist writing today?

3) If you could require the president to read one book what would it be?

4) You are hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers do you invite?

5) What is the last book you put down without finishing?

So, now, dear reader, it is your turn. Take these five questions, complete them and send them to me at I will post your answers next Sunday. THANK YOU.




Please bear with me for this one.

Pop and I talk at Casey's wedding as Stacy watches the interaction

Pop and I talk at Casey’s wedding as good friend, Stacy, watches the interaction

This past March 7th, Patti’s birthday, her father, Andy, died after a three plus-year battle with esophageal cancer. He was 88. We were both diagnosed with our respective cancers on the same day in September 2010. He went through painful radiation and chemotherapy.

At his funeral ceremony in Florida, I mentioned that I had known my father for 30 years. He died of a heart attack at 56, when I was 30. I remember just after my father’s funeral, I was tucking my oldest daughter, Carrie, who was 3, into bed that night. I tried to explain that my Dad had died and he would not be with us, except in our memories. The concept of death was lost on her. She said, “Daddy, don’t worry. Grandpa is just driving around town in his Datsun.” Well, my Dad didn’t have a Datsun, but I smiled at Carrie’s statement and never forgot it.

Patti and I have been married 29 years, so I knew Andy about the same amount of time that I knew my own father. At the ceremony, I mentioned that my dad taught me the things that I needed to know to prepare for a successful life … and that, for the last 30 years, Andy was there to gently help me execute those principles, or provide an opinion of some sort. I became his third son, after Bill and Jim, when I married his daughter in 1985.

I was not what he and Virginia expected. They were strong Seventh-Day Adventists and believed hopefully that their daughter would stay within the flock. At the time, I was not much of a churchgoer. But Patti’s brother, Jim, introduced us and, for me, it was love at first sight. Patti, on the other hand, needed convincing. It became my mission in life and Pop watched patiently as our romance blossomed.

After we married, Pop and Virginia (Mom) were very accepting and always there for the small and large events we experienced, birthdays, anniversaries, births, etc., regardless of where we lived at the time. We played a lot of golf together and that was pure joy. I would ask him what he shot for each hole. In turn, he would ask me what I had scored on the hole and often replied that he had the same score.  One time I told him that I had shot a nine on a hole and that ended that practice.

I don’t ever remember losing my temper with him. His presence commanded respect no matter what. And, I also never remember Pop ever telling me “I had to do this or that.”

I loved him dearly and was so thankful to have him in my life to celebrate those things that a man wants to share with another man, and I would not have been able to enjoy with my dad’s early passing. He always answered any questions I asked with tenderness and respect.

Paul Newman as the stage manager in Our Town

Paul Newman as the stage manager in Our Town

For the last several years I carried a copy of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town wherever we moved. Since my mother had introduced me to this book many years before I ever met Patti, it had become a favorite of mine. The simple story of everyday small-town life with simple characters experiencing uniform joys and immediate dilemmas that affect us all resonated with me every time I picked up the book. And over the years, I had regarded Pop easily and regularly as the stage manager, a main character in the book. Within the family Pop had that simple talent of bringing things together, many times without you realizing it. He was the quintessential stage manager. His observations were keen and his pronouncements were true.

I had kept the book for many years because I thought that when he passed, I would be able to provide a quote from the book that summed up the tremendous impact he had on my life. And, it didn’t hurt that my favorite actor, Paul Newman, played the stage manager in one of the last productions of Our Town on Broadway.

But when the time came, I passed on Our Town and focused on the impact of his loss on his family and friends.

But for me, Pop will always be the stage manager every time I pick up Our Town. One of the messages the stage manager says to the audience I can very easily hear Pop sharing with anyone who would listen:

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars … everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

What Pop knew was that a life in the Lord is eternal. Pop, we will meet again and there will be no tears, only love, joy and eternal happiness, and then we can read Our Town together as we drive around in a Datsun!

Next Page »