Home > Columns & News Articles > Cousins, Kindness and Enos Slaughter

Cousins, Kindness and Enos Slaughter

"Stan, this one is for you."


For some reason, when I think of my cousins, I think of Enos Slaughter.

Enos was a right fielder. He played for four major league teams, but he is best known for his stint with the St. Louis Cardinals. A ten-time All Star, he played 19 seasons, and is still remembered in St. Louis for beating a throw to the plate and scoring the winning run in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series.

He began playing ball in 1938, took time away from the outfield in 1942 to fight the big war as a sergeant in the Army Air Corps, then returned to the Cardinals in '46 to help win the championship. That was two years before I was born, so I didn't see it.

When I discovered Enos, he was playing a brief stint (1954-55) for the New York Yankees. I was six, maybe seven, when I collected his Yankee card. Today, a card like mine in mint condition goes for $24.99. Mine isn't mint, and I wouldn't sell it anyway. Some of his St. Louis cards go for hundreds of dollars.

In those worry-free days, Stu, Galen and I would team up with our cousin Doug, and the four of us would head down the alley from Grandma Berry's house to the tiny grocery store on the west side of Hoisington, Kansas.

There, in a rotating rack just to the left as you came in the screen door, were dozens of wax packets of Topps Baseball Picture Cards. Each held six cards and a quarter-ounce slab of pink bubble gum.

They were a nickel apiece, and at that age you worked hard for a nickel. So, one pack per trip was usually our limit, a rule enforced by either parents or allowance.

Sometimes, Dad let us scour the ditches along the Pioneer Road looking for cast-off pop bottles. We returned those to the store for a few cents each, and the proceeds bought additional baseball cards.

Usually, we ripped into our card packs before heading back down the alley. After all, we reasoned, it would take several minutes of hard chawing and slow walking to get those thick slabs of gum under control... and slobbering on grandma's carpet just wouldn't do.

Back in Grandma's living room, we belly-flopped in a circle to explore our treasures and add the six pristine cards to the well-handled collections we kept in shoeboxes.

If we had duplicate cards or ones we didn't want, we traded. I was a Yankees collector. Stu loved the Dodgers. I don't remember what Doug liked. He and Galen were still young enough to enjoy the adventure and bubble gum as much as team building.


The baseball field in Susank is long gone, but if you know where to look on a Google Map, you might make out a vague outline of the field on the northern edge of town, which itself has pretty much shriveled away to nothing. Whitey's Barber Shop is gone, as is the old IGA store with its screen doors that kept out bluebottle flies that buzzed around the Pepsi cases. Elmer Trapp's Mobil station is empty, as is Dad's TV repair shop.

The old baseball diamond was a scene of momentary glory and long-lasting memories. It's easy to recall the sweet smell of buffalo grass in the outfield, the new leather scent of the fielder's mitt and the pungent odor of nearby oil wells.

A dim ring of lights kept the darkness at bay as the sun set and amplified the sounds of the game... the crack of the bat, the slap of the ball against the catcher's mitt and the chants of the players in the dugouts urging or egging on the kid at the plate.

I had a good arm for a kid my age, and I can bask in the memory of one great throw. I fielded a ball in center field and threw it in a perfect strike to home plate cutting off a runner at third. Maybe I was playing shallow, and maybe it wasn't as grand a throw as I remember, but it's my memory and I'm sticking with it.

It was after one of those ballgames I lost my Enos Slaughter card.

I don't remember why it was in my pocket or why I pulled it out in the back seat of that early-day carpool. But I carry the scars left by the backseat bully, who snatched it away, ripped it into quarters and tossed it out the window onto Susank Road.


I have great cousins. There's no meanness in any of them.

We looked forward to our infrequent visits, even though seeing them usually meant long travels on narrow blacktop highways. But those long road trips made getting together that much more special.

We lived close to my Dad's only sister and her kids, and we saw Doug, Debbie, Kim and Jan a lot... until they moved to Phoenix. But Mom's family was much larger, seven families scattered from Oklahoma to Oregon, Ohio to Arizona, but most still lived near the red dirt Oklahoma homestead along the Cimarron River. When that band gathered, expanded by out-of-state cousins, our reunions were major events.

While mothers and aunts gathered in grandma's tiny kitchen or caught up on family doings in the parlor, and while fathers and uncles challenged grandpa's prowess in the horseshoe pits, we cousins were left to create our own fun.

With older cousins leading the way, we played "Dare Base," "Annie Over" and "Mother May I?" at Aunt Thora's. We chased butterflies in grandma's garden and captured fireflies under the mulberry trees. We dammed up granddad's creek to make a swimming hole, roasted wieners under the forest canopy beside it and thumped watermelons in Uncle Earl's field. At Uncle Ben's, we climbed into the tree house, ran from the bull and fought with corncobs and rotten eggs in the barn.

Our ages spanned more than a decade, but the older cousins looked out for the younger ones and tried to include everyone... except for those mock battles in the barn and ascents into Garry's tree house.

I can't remember which older cousins - Lester and Stanley, Dennis and Leslie, or Garry Ben - were into baseball cards, but I remember at least one occasion where we shared that common fascination with the older boys.

In that circle of cousins I learned lessons in kindness, caring and sharing... the strong bonds of a close-knit family. As we talked baseball, traded players and built teams, our generous older cousins quietly slipped us their extras and added dozens of cards to our tiny collections.

Heading north toward Kansas, studying our newly expanded rosters in the back seat, we found sluggers from earlier seasons, players who rounded the bases before we were born, forgotten legends and soon-to-be-stars. And there in the mix was Enos Slaughter, the celebrated Cardinal turned fading Yankee, the outfielder who had been ripped and tossed and broke my heart. Enos was back.

Today, six decades later, many of the cousins will gather at Oak Grove Cemetery, just a short walk down the sandy road from the old homestead, to say goodbye to Stan, one of those cousins who helped create so many childhood memories. Then later, we'll meet at the old Progress School, where our parents - all gone now - spent their formative years. We'll swap stories about Stan and long-ago summers, laugh and cry, catch up on our lives and families, say our goodbyes and scatter once more.

We store our memories in different ways. Some of mine are tucked in neatly alongside my Enos Slaughter card in that old baseball card collection. There's little of value in it except for the richness of the memories it brings to mind... of cousins and kindness. And it still smells faintly of bubble gum.


Dave Berry is the retired editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His Focal Point column ran for three years. This a new one, published online on Nov. 6, 2017 is a salute to all those cousins who make life so rich.

Photos: At top, my Enos Slaughter card. Middle, my old fielder's mitt that hasn't caught a baseball in decades. Bottom, packets of Topps Baseball Cards.

< Back to Columns & News Articles