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Columns | They Shoe Horses, Don't They?

Onion Season and the Triplets

by Dennis Parrish
Mathis, 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 Mathis 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 or flub-ups).

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 from Corpus 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 less three.

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 to dark.

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

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 we left.

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.

© Dennis Parrish
They Shoe Horses, Don't They? 1-4-20 column

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