During this morning’s walk I found myself thinking of relatives who are no longer with us. It probably has something to do with Christmas and our ever-shrinking Christmas Day guest list. Of course, most of my thoughts were about my parents, about whom I have written a bit in the past and about whom I suspect I will write more in the future.
About halfway through the walk, I thought of Buggy’s Onions, and it made me smile broadly enough that passers-by may have thought me to be some kind of nut.
Anyway, “Buggsy” was my uncle (my mother’s brother and Cousin Jack’s dad). Back in the Stone Age when I was college puke, Uncle Buggsy goaded me into a softball challenge. I was to assemble a team of my cronies, several of whom were also college pukes, and he would form a team comprised of other uncles, some guys from his American Legion Post (Buggsy was a WWII Navy Vet), and the “kids” in the family (i.e. the younger cousins, including Cousin Jack).
Uncle Buggsy had a distinct knack for keeping a straight face, while riding one’s ass. At the time he said stuff like, “Look, I don’t care that you guys are all in college. My guys will clean the floor with your guys.”
Of course, being a dumbass college puke, I absolutely could not permit a bunch of “old guys” and “kids” whip our asses, so I even went so far as to recruit a couple ringers. Hell, one guy I recruited, a brother of a friend, could hit a softball about a mile.
Game day came, and the better part of our family showed up, as did a dozen or so of my friends. The plan was that the game would be followed by a cookout.
I know … I know … What about the onions? I’m getting there. It was a long walk today.
So, the teams assembled. My team was ready to rock, having been subjected to some pre-game trash talk (all G-rated) by Uncle Buggsy.
Once we determined which team would bat first, Uncle Buggsy gave the cue, and everyone on his team produced a white T-Shirt on which were stenciled stars surrounding the words “Buggsy’s All Stars”. It was quite a sight to see Buggsy’s Legion Post buddies and the “kids” all don their homemade team shirts and take the field. An effective psychological ploy, I must say.
The game itself was a riot, with Uncle Buggy’s team bending, stretching and sometimes outright breaking, the rules, much to the delight of the spectators and the exasperation of the “umpire,” who was another friend’s dad, who thought that his job was to be a real umpire.
OK, Jimbo, so what about the farookin’ onions?
Relax. I’m getting there. I’m on a roll here.
At one point in the game, I hit a ground ball to Uncle Buggsy’s friend Huey, who was playing second base. Huey was also a WWII Navy Vet. Huey must have figured, “There is no way that this college puke is going to beat me to first base. I’m a gottdamned veteran.” At the same time, I figured, “There is no way that this old guy is going to beat me to first base.” So each of us put our heads down and ran for the base as fast as we could. Unfortunately for both of us, we arrived at the base, full-speed at exactly the same time. CRASH! Huey and I collided full speed and knocked each other ass over teakettle. When we finally dragged ourselves off the ground and inspected for broken bones, the spectators were still howling.
It was a crazy game, but in the end, we beat Buggsy’s All Stars, as I suspect he knew we would. We may have scored more runs, but in terms of making sure the game was a hilarious bit of fun, he and his team were the winners.
After the game, Buggsy had another surprise. He presented me (as the Captain of the College Puke Team) with a homemade trophy. It was a softball that was spray-painted gold and affixed to the top of some kind of fancy black cylindrical perfume bottle, all of which was mounted on a black spray-painted piece of wood. I proudly displayed that thing in my parents’ house for years.
Yo, Jimbo! Heartwarming story, but when are we going to hear about the onions?
Sheesh! OK, here’s the part about the onions.
After the game, Buggsy manned the grill. The fare was the usual hot dots and burgers. However, he also had a pot on the grill in which were thinly sliced onions that were for use on the hot dogs. They were in a reddish-orange sauce, and they were delicious.
One of my friends and band mates, Tatsy, who was fully nine years older than I and already had graduated from Cornell and completed a four-year stint as a Naval officer, absolutely LOVED the onions.
He approached Buggsy and said, “Buggsy, these are absolutely the best onions I have ever tasted. Would you tell me how to make them?”
Buggsy, with his trademarked straight face, said, “I’m very sorry, but I can’t tell you that, because the recipe is a well-kept secret.”
Tatsy, being older than all of my cronies and more of a gentleman, thanked Buggsy and stated that he understood why Buggsy would not want to reveal a secret recipe.
On several occasions after that, Tatsy raved about “Buggsy’s Onions” and tried to duplicate Buggsy’s secret recipe, with very little success.
Several months after the game, I had occasion to be sitting around with Uncle Buggsy, and I asked him what the story was on his “secret recipe” for onions. He laughed and said, “I don’t have a secret recipe. Those were a jar of Sabrett’s onions that I bought at the supermarket.” Sabrett’s was a brand of hot dogs that were widely available back then and were often sold by pushcart vendors. They were often served with a reddish-orange onion sauce. The hot dogs and onion sauce were so popular that the company marketed them to supermarkets.
Fast-forward more than thirty years.
A couple years ago, I saw Tatsy for the first time in more than thirty years when we all assembled in Colorado for the Band Reunion. We were grilling hot dogs and burgers, and Tatsy was inside working feverously over a small pot. He brought the pot outside and proudly displayed its contents to me saying, “Taste these; they’re ‘Buggsy’s Onions.’ I think I finally figured out how to make them.”
I tasted the onions. They were quite good, and I said, “Congratulations. I think you’ve finally gotten it.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.
Uncle Buggsy, who passed away about three and half years ago, would have pissed his pants laughing at it all.
Epilog: Apparently Sabrett’s has sold out to a larger company or has gone out of business. However, it is obvious that Tatsy was not and is not the only one trying to figure out how to make “Buggsy’s Onions.”
**Photo of Buggsy lifted from Cousin Jack’s Blog. I figure that neither he nor Uncle Buggsy would mind.