THE IDLE AMERICAN: Behold, the onion

Published 12:47 am Saturday, June 6, 2020

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Don Newbury

Describing the onion as a “lowly vegetable” didn’t set well with the late Othal Brand, for 20 years the McAllen, TX, mayor who cleared many hurdles during his 90-year earthly pilgrimage.

His beloved Rio Grande Valley is now a world center for vegetables in general and for onions in particular.

Ever restless and ever persuasive, Brand often lacked patience, his shirt sleeves already rolled halfway up to take on whoever or whatever stood in the way.

Lesser figures might have “let onions be,” but Brand always believed these veggies–pointed to regularly as reasons for bad breath and weeping–could be larger, sweeter and longer lasting if scientific minds were challenged.

He made frequent visits to Texas A&M University, where he provided cash for serious research.  Even though he prodded, it took a decade for the development of an onion whose sweetness trumped “bad breath” issues, and longstanding weeping at the chopping block morphed to tears of joy.

Industry leaders say that Brand’s efforts unquestionably led to introduction of the Texas Super Sweet 1015 Onion. That’s a mouthful, with the numbers indicative of the preferable date for planting, October 15.

Dying at age 90 almost a decade ago, Brand might have had a “say” about use of onions at today’s fast food places. Never turning down a challenge, Brand left his mark on “things good” in the Rio Grande Valley and throughout Texas. (Ever optimistic, he made a final “run” to become McAllen’s mayor again at age 85, losing in a close race.)

I intend to get personal about most hamburgers made today. They are, as my friend David Gumfory maintains, “typically assembly line productions.”

When Burger King introduced its promise to “make it your way” in 1974, I hoped it would restore a “yesterday tradition.” It didn’t.

My wife wouldn’t think of eating onions on a burger if she planned to be in the company of others within the next 72 hours. I feel generally the same way, but for 72 minutes.

We’ve compromised–a recommended recourse for marriages reaching 54 years and more.

Her approval is granted if I order GRILLED ONIONS on my burger; sometimes she even “dittoes” the order.

So what’s my beef? No matter which drive-through I’m in, there’s no evidence of onions–in any form–inside my burger.

David, 40-year veteran owner of fast food places, recommends hamburger consumption during daytime hours for best results. “Yell into the speaker, hoping the manager is standing nearby and overhears.”

Back in the day, he emphasized to his employees: “Our answer is ‘yes.’ Now, what was the question?”

Not until our later elementary years did Dairy Queen come along. They were initially “walk-ins,” with orders placed “eyeball to eyeball.” With voice, facial expressions and sometimes friendly threats, we typically got EXACTLY what we ordered.

Not so much now. HOWEVER, I intend to make some outlandish requests–even in “drive-throughs”–explaining in detail that I want a heap of grilled onions–or maybe a half-dozen onion rings–inside my burger.

Never mind that I may upset the assembly line, or that cars are honking behind me. I want it MY WAY.

Groner Pitts–my late friend who was a “sunny side up” prankster and undertaker in our town–had a “thing” about toast. He liked it burnt.

“Young lady, I want you to tell the cook to burn the toast.  I want it black, resembling caked soot on a chimney. I’ll send it back if it doesn’t come out that way.”

When he didn’t like the first offerings, the “half-baked” toast was sent back for his chosen charring.  And that’s what Mayor Brand would have done, too, maybe with even stronger words, just in case they were needed for emphasis. Both were members of the greatest generation, defending us on foreign shores. They are missed; may their kind increase.


Dr. Newbury is a former educator who writes weekly and is a longtime public speaker. Comments/speaking inquiries to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury