Texas wasn't really big in the mid 50's. And it still isn't, nor
was it ever. In those pre-air conditioning days, a highlight of early
summer was "onion season". The railroad that ran through town became
a hub of busy-ness for a brief two-week period each year for the annual
harvest of the onion crop. Tinned-roofed open-aired buildings lined
one side of the track for several city blocks (most of Mathis)
where the farmers would haul their crop to be bagged, weighed, sold
and eventually hauled off (northbound, as the only thing south of
was, well nothing…..Mexico
if you cared to go).
The activity around the "onion shed" was fast and furious. But the
best part was the strong, lingering, sweet, eye-tearing aroma of onions.
It permeated the entire town and stayed until the Missouri-Pacific
would haul the last pallets of bagged onions off. Northward.
Those were good times. WWII
and Korea were recent history, but history non-the-less. Men worked
jobs at day and women kept homes. Children went to school each morning
with the growing anticipation of summer vacation.
But during onion season, summer vacation was well upon the kids. Each
morning was met with a schedule that was formed only minutes before
an activity. The only thing that had to be done or place that had
to be attended was little league practice. Baseball, as it was called
everywhere else, was known as little league in Mathis.
The afternoon practice was found marked on calendars as "little league".
"What are you doin' today son?" my dad would ask at breakfast. "Little
league practice", I would quickly respond, anticipating day-dreamingly
so. The only thing better than practice were the games themselves.
But that was only twice a week (unless you had the dreaded "off-night"
bye-week and were relegated to going to the part to watch other boys,
all of whom you knew by first name, having the time-of-their-lives
while you paced from first base side to third base side behind the
fence and dugouts to talk to your pals about last inning's heroics
We didn't get to practice on the game field. No one did. It was hard
enough keeping the grass and weeds in south Texas growing without
seven teams of pre-teems giving it a daily pounding. We practiced
behind Mathis Elementary on a field of dirt and a backstop left over
from when Mathis Elementary was Mathis High. Being 30 miles inland
Christi mean that the hurricanes that seemed to be drawn to Corpus
Christi annually were pretty much
fizzed out by the time the winds hit Mathis.
But I always thought, and still do today, that the old Mathis High
backstop could have withstood a category-five storm. I know for sure
your everyday bulldozer would be taxed to take her down.
Behind ole' faithful (the backstop) is where Coach Bob Wehmeyer told
us that day that we should just relax awhile because he had arranged
for a team from Orange Grove (a town about half the size of Mathis….no
onion sheds) was coming over to play a practice game. Wide-eyed we
looked at each other. My God, a team from another town with players
we had never been before.
They showed up right on time. I've often wondered how Coach Wehmeyer
gave the Orange Grove coach directions to the field. There were no
landmarks in Mathis
that stood out from the rest. And the practice field was no where
near either red light or blocks from the onion sheds. And when they
piled out of the two pick-ups and two station wagons the Orange Grove
secret weapon appeared. Our jaws dropped. We were whooped and didn't
even know it.
Orange Grove had triplets! Three boys exactly alike. I mean Mathis
has two sets of twins (I was half of one set) but almost everyone
(Mr. Gleckner, the blind custodian at Mathis First Baptist being an
exception) could tell me from my sister, as well as Gerald Braunstein
from Julie Braunstein. But we had never seen two identical boys, much
And boy could they play. They had the unfair advantage of playing
ball 12-14 hours per day, I'm sure. My twin sister Debbie gave me
help in improving my skills, yet these three played ball from daylight
The rest of the Orange Grove team was there also, I'm sure, although
they didn't need to be. With triplet #1 pitching, we never got a hit.
Never even fouled the ball. All three of them hit the ball over our
outfielder's every time batted, seemingly impervious to the notion
that we had backed up way beyond the normal outfielder's positions.
When Coach Wehmeyer finally said that was enough, the Orange Grove
team, kicking dirt in disgust at the prospect of having to end such
delightful fun, eased over to the pickups and station wagon, whispering
to each other about the butt-kickin' they had laid on ole Mathis.
After they finally, pulled out of sight (I still don't know how they
got back to Highway 359 with no landmarks). Coach Wehmeyer told us
not to worry about that afternoon's massacre; we had an entire season
to go. He told us what time to be at the ballpark Friday and directed
us to throw the equipment into the back of his '56 Apache pickup as
No one said a word about how embarrassing it had been. Come to think
of it, that one-sided defeat and all its hurt must have left our psyche
quickly. All I remember about the walk home was thinking how good
the onions smelled.
Shoe Horses, Don't They? 1-4-20 column
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