The late, great Leon Hale would have turned 100 on May 30, 2021. Several generations of Texans looked up to the legendary newspaper columnist who worked for The Houston Post and later The Houston Chronicle. From downtown Houston boardrooms to domino games in the back of country general stores, and from kitchen tables to metro bus commuters, faithful readers like me followed his commentary.
Hale, as he preferred to be called, poked around the state for 60 years, penning memorable columns about everyday people and places, past and present. While some might consider Hale’s experiences mundane, most of us could relate to his adventures and conversations. We envied his roving journeys.
What Hale exemplified
Through the thousands of columns he wrote, Hale grounded us, speaking casually, in an easy-going tone as if we were valued friends. A true gentleman, he treated men, women and children with the courtesy and respect that he’d learned growing up during the Great Depression. Preferring the role as an observer of life, Hale personally dodged the spotlight.
He’d rather ask questions instead of answer them.
We wistfully admired the columnist’s independent, roving lifestyle. We longed to tag along as he searched for stories. Since we couldn’t, we did the next best thing. We smiled at Hale’s wry sense of humor and insights. We kept reading Hale’s columns.
In short, we never got enough of Hale. He not only fascinated us, but he brought out the best in us in a funny sort of way.
Hale cast a long shadow in life
Leon Hale died on March 27, 2021, two months short of his 100th birthday. We are going to miss him. However, his voice still echoes through the Lone Star State and beyond.
Several weeks before his death, Hale’s 12th book, See You on Down the Road, A Retirement Journal, was published.
Hale wrote his latest collection about 90 miles from Houston at the old house at Winedale, a rural get-away where he and his wife, writer Babette Fraser Hale, spent many pleasant days. Although written in a journal format, the book is vintage Hale in many respects. It gives us some additional insight into what made this Texas writer tick.
Hale writes about the pain of some old memories and in tender, gentle words expresses his deep love for Babette and gratitude for their life together. He talks about the frustrations of aging and for the first time, Hale shares his political views.
* * *
Dated excerpts from See You On Down the Road
Whether you are a devoted Leon Hale fan or are unfamiliar with the newspaper columnist’s down-home style, see what you think of some excerpts from his 12th book, used with permission.
June 20, 2014
“The reason I feed birds, when I was young I killed a lot of them. Songbirds. Any kind of bird. Country boys did that back in my growing-up time, getting themselves ready to be hunters, which I never became. I’m trying to be good to birds now.
“If anybody is keeping records in the Great Book, maybe I’ll get credit for this black oil sunflower seed I’m feeding here at Winedale. It costs about 20 bucks for a 25-pound sack.”
July 28, 2014
“A Monday, my favorite day of the week here at Winedale. Because on Monday all the weekend farmers have already gone back to Houston and Austin, to make more money so they can afford to come back next Friday.
“I’ve convinced myself that I can feel the countryside heave a relaxing sigh on Monday mornings.
“The weekends here can get what you’d almost call hectic, especially in the spring when the tourists are running up and down the road looking for bluebonnets.
“And weekend farmers have invited their neighbors and kinfolks to give them a taste of country living. Then we have our special weekends, like the big antique shows, and sometimes even on our little road, the dust doesn’t settle from Friday until dark on Sunday.
“But Monday morning, it’s all gone. It’s like a mantle of near-silence has settled on the land.”
May 13, 2015
“When I write or even mention rural mail carriers, I travel all the way back to Grandma Hale’s place and the bizarre time we spent there during the Depression.
“All of us, adults and kids both, often spoke the name of Claude Boles, who carried the mail out of the Gordon Post Office.
“To us he was a high-ranking government official, the highest anyway, that we knew personally. I remember being sent to the mailbox to wait for him and buy a 2¢ stamp. When he gave me three pennies change out of a nickel, our fingers brushed and I told about that at the house, about touching the hand of Mr. Boles.”
Oct. 2, 2016
“Most of the important dates of my life are recorded on this small square of cardboard with a mule shoe attached. My favorite date written there is when I met Babette in 1981. That’s when everything began looking up for me. Sometimes I wonder how my life would have gone if I’d never met her. Probably I’d have died in my 70s because I wasn’t behaving too well. Instead, I was given a monstrous party on my 90th birthday (courtesy of guess who) and five years later I’m still here to tell about it.
“I used to have trouble staying put but I kept on the go so long that I finally got over it. I don’t much care where I am now, as long as my girl is with me and there’s plenty to eat and a way to keep out of the weather.
“My girl is the main thing.”
March 22 & May 10, 2020
“We have locked ourselves in against COVID-19. It is spreading, spreading, spreading over the planet. Italy is covered with it. In the U.S., New York is the hot region.
“We expect to be holed up in this old house for weeks, maybe months. We don’t let anybody in, not even friends or delivery people. When they come, we talk to them outdoors and keep our distance. Our goal is to keep from getting sick, to love one another and be patient and understanding because we may be facing a difficult test.”
* * *
Hale’s style has enduring appeal
After hearing Leon and Babette speak at the University of Texas Briscoe Center for American History at Winedale, Texas, in early 2020, I wrote the post below.
Hale’s See You On Down the Road debuted with Babette Fraser Hale’s celebrated collection of short stories, A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers.
Find information about the two books and other Hale titles published by Winedale Books at https://www.winedalebooks.com. Both new books are available from Brazos Books in Houston, https://www.brazosbookstore.com, The Fayette County Record in La Grange, Texas, and Amazon.
* * *
- Every Day is Memorial Day for Wayne Givens - May 26, 2023
- A Woman Ahead of Her Time - May 5, 2023
- Spring in an Old Texas Cemetery - April 21, 2023
From the time I was old enough to read, my dad and I ate our breakfast reading Leon Hale’s column in the Houston Post. I have fond memories of this time with my dad laughing and pondering what Mr. Hale had written. Thanks for this.
Isn’t it interesting that Hale (as he preferred to be called) could connect with different generations? That was part of his art!
How fitting it is to read about a great storyteller written by another wonderful storyteller! Thank you, Elaine!
Thanks, Carolyn. I can’t believe there’s a Texas non-fiction writer who has not been influenced by Leon Hale. I’m sure his wit and wisdom has also inspired a lot of fiction writers as well. Hale’s work will live on. What a legacy!
Being an avid reader of Leon’s column from my teens to my late 70s I would like to know if the post or chronicle maybe have a way of a catalog of his stories a customer could buy I identified with all of his adventures, travels and homey observations.
Jerry, that’s a great question. You can check out https://www.winedalebooks.com/ to buy the majority of Leon Hale’s books. Let’s see if Babette Hale has other suggestions. Thanks for writing.
Thank you, Elaine, for this tribute to Leon Hale and his wife Babette! I immediately went to the link to order the books. You know I will enjoy reading these books. He will be missed, but one who writes and continues to be read lives on!
You’re so right, Deb. Leon Hale’s work is so important that it will be read and studied for many, many years to come. I’m sure you will enjoy both “See You on Down the Road” and Babette’s new title, “A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers,” too!
Elaine, you did it! What all of us faithfful admirers of Leon Hale’s work WISHED we could do! Outstanding!
Thanks, Brenda. I am so glad that Babette Hale allowed me to dip into Hale’s newest book and share a few gems. As one reader said, “I felt like I was on the porch swing just listening to him talk.”