leon_hale

Let’s pay tribute to the late Leon Hale, who would have turned 100 today, May 30, 2021. Several generations of Texans looked up to the late, great newspaper columnist for The Houston Post and 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, we faithful readers 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.

fayette county board of directors
In August 1968, Leon Hale (far right) visited with Fayette County Fair directors (left to right) Lloyd Kolbe, Gus Spacek and Melvin Menking at the old Nordhausen homestead on the Bluff above La Grange, Texas.

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.

Not long after Hale wrote a column about a memorable meal he’d prepared, his recipe appeared in a Houston service club’s cookbook. If Leon Hale said the contents of all those cans mixed together was tasty, then it must be good!

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.

A number of Hale’s books feature some of his most treasured stories from the thousands of newspaper columns he compiled.

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 insight into what made this Texas writer tick.

The old house in the rural Texas community of Winedale played a prominent role in Hale’s later life.

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.   

Rest in Peace
Leon Hale, May 30,1921- March 27, 2021

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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.”

A happy child, Hale grew up doing what country boys of his era did..

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.”

Roads around the Hale’s country place were less traveled by Monday mornings.

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.

Hale wanted the world to know that his wife, Babette,
was the best thing that ever happened to him.

“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.”

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Hale’s style has enduring appeal    

Click on the link below to read a post I wrote after hearing him and Babette speak at the University of Texas Briscoe Center for American History at Winedale, Texas, in early 2020.

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.

Information about the two new releases and other Hale titles published by Winedale Books is 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.

You should order a copy for your bookshelf. Then when you find yourself hankering for Leon Hale’s perspective of the world, you can reach for his retirement journal.

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