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It was always more than just a game
Apple Pie and SalsaMarch 19, 2014 | 4,548 views | Post a comment
My son, Leonard, likes to recall his boyhood days, so recently I asked him to write about some of those most memorable events. I knew he could do a better job if he tried telling it to me. From time to time I will include some of my own comments, but for the most part this is his story.
It has been between 42 and 45 years since I was able to participate in and witness a football game “for the ages.” This most memorable event wasn’t a professional, college, or even high school football game. It was held on a field in the middle of nowhere. There were no referees and no fans to tell you about it. No pictures or film to look at either. Only the boys who played in it and not even a handful of adults.
I guess a little bit of background on how this game came to be is needed. I come from a large family. My parents had 10 kids -- five boys and five girls. My dad also came from a large family. So with four uncles, there were plenty of boys with the Castro name that grew up as brothers. My dad grew up in the country. He used to tell us often that as a young boy he would ride his horse, Billy, to school. After graduating from high school he married and served in the U.S. Army as an MP.
Years later he leased a piece of property of 100 acres of pasture where he raised some cattle about 4 miles from our home in Floresville. This pasture was part of the estate of Dr. John V. Blake Sr. across the road from the homestead where Henry grew up.
One year in the mid-’60s with us four older boys, Frank was not yet born, Dad decided to take us on an overnight camping trip on this property to teach us a few basics about the outdoor life. We had a good time, just Dad and his sons bonding with nature. And we were only in grade school.
Two years had passed since our one and only camping trip. My brothers and I were itching to go again. With my oldest brother being only in the sixth grade, we told Dad that it was about time we went camping again. He told us he would take us when he had time. Saturdays were pretty busy for him because he was the Falstaff beer distributor for Wilson County and he stayed busy delivering beer. That’s when we told him that we could go by ourselves -- that he could just drop us off on Friday afternoon and go for us on Sunday afternoon. Here I disagree with Leonard because we always went to Mass as a family on Sunday mornings.
In a time without cell phones, a weekend away as young as we were meant that there had to be a lot of mutual trust. It didn’t happen right away. It took a lot of coaxing, but then to our surprise, our parents agreed to let us go. I wasn’t totally in agreement, but I was outvoted 5 to 1. And Henry didn’t just turn them loose out there. He would go check on them. Sometimes he would take one of the other fathers to check on them at night. They never knew when Dad was going to show up. Whereas in the beginning Henry would go drop them off and pick them up, as they got older they would hike those 4 miles. I remember standing at the kitchen door and watching them as they trudged off until they rounded the corner on Plum Street. They bought their own camping equipment with money they earned during the summer by picking cotton or black-eyed peas. Later in high school they would work at different jobs through a work program.
And so it began. Brothers, cousins, and friends camping out on their own. Dad had built a really large target range and he taught us all how to handle firearms -- kneeling, standing, lying down, short distances, and long distances. We learned to hunt, skin, and cook wildlife off the land. That included rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, doves, quail, armadillos, and even rattlesnakes. We were very good at it, camping out any weekend we could, year after year. We liked to go especially in the fall and winter months. The colder, the better.
One year an acquaintance of Dad’s that now lives in San Antonio set the stage for “the” game. He had a son who was in the Boy Scouts and he was the Scoutmaster. He was looking for a place to take his troop on a weekend camping trip. Dad had offered his place. Another Scout leader with the group was also Henry’s friend, Ralph Esquivel. I might mention that Larry, Leonard, and Marshall had been Cub Scouts. Louie had made it to the Boy Scouts. But they had lost interest. They were having more fun learning on their own.
So on the Friday night of this particular weekend, here we were, all us Castro cousins camping unsupervised, and about 100 yards away were these Boy Scouts and their leaders and all their rules and regulations. Needless to say there was plenty of tension and friction between the boys on both sides. That’s when good ol’ Dad showed up with refreshments. All the tension was gone after some of the rules were relaxed for the Scouts. We all started to enjoy the evening with our new friends.
As young boys often do, the subject of football came up. At one point we were all in a heated debate as to who had better football teams, the big cities or the small towns. And there it was, “Let’s settle this ourselves.” So on a beautiful Saturday afternoon a football game, tackle no less, billed as The City Slickers vs. the Country Hicks took place. The target range became the football field. To everyone’s surprise, Dad showed up with a trophy to give to the winners. The trophy was one of many that The Falcons, the team that Henry sponsored, had won. On this day a complete team of Castro boys took only minutes to destroy the City Slickers. With that being settled, we decided to mix up the players and we played another hour or so. At the end of the game, Dad presented this awesome 2-foot trophy to the Boy Scouts and their Scoutmasters for excellent sportsmanship. It was a great weekend! I can’t remember the exact date we played the game anymore or any of the scores, but in my mind and heart I will always know that this truly was a game “for the ages.” To the Boy Scout, Eddie Gonzales, who with his dad and the rest of the group, made this memory possible, “thank you.”
I can’t imagine my life without my brothers and primos that I grew up with over the years: Louie, Larry, Marshall, Frank, Tony, Roland, Randy, Ricky, James “Checo,” Ruben, Ross, Kenneth, Eligio, Steve, and Tommy Castro. I’m not forgetting all the friends that ever went camping with us.
From my first outing with Dad in second grade and all through my high school years, no fewer than 100 boys, from brothers, cousins, friends, friends of friends, and classmates, got to participate in our weekend retreats at one time or another. Many a time proud fathers witnessed their little boys become men from our weekend camping trips. And any weekend that we went was an adventure in itself. Marshall recalls that the year he graduated from high school in 1977 was the last summer that he went camping there and by then it was only with some of the cousins. After that Henry gave up the lease on the property. Marshall and Leonard both say that those years in high school they, the brothers, were taking turns going camping because they all had their own friends and special cousins that they would invite.
It wasn’t easy growing up in those days. In fact, sometimes it was very difficult, for various reasons. Today kids are smarter and more knowledgeable and advanced in technology. Maybe someday someone will figure out a way to package and put on store shelves what you can’t find much of anymore -- respect and togetherness.
To my sisters, just to let you know, “it’s a boy thing.” And “boys will be boys.” I know that the girls were not into hunting, especially rattlesnakes! Together our parents taught us more than they will ever realize, the never-ending value of trust, friendship, and most importantly, family.
It was always more than just a game. He forgot to mention what to me is the most important -- our faith. I’m still working on that.
Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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