Hurley Shoemauker was a carpenter. When he started building a new house across the road from Miss Bernice, she had to go over and see about it. Now Miss Bernice was kind of homely – so to speak – but Hurley just had to flirt with her and tease her anyway every time she came snooping around. Miss Bernice figured that maybe he was a little bashful, so one day she asked, “Hurley, do you think maybe you and I could….”

“Now hold it right there, Missy,” he interrupted, “I don’t care for the name of Hurley – no one calls me Hurley!”

“OK,” she blurted out, “I’ll just call you Shoe.”

Now, to make a long story short, that was the beginning of a lifetime love affair, and he was known simply as Shoe to everyone until the day he died.

Miss Bernice was my grandfather’s older sister, so they became my Aunt Bernice and Uncle Shoe. He continued to build houses, and Bernice became a school teacher.

One cold winter’s day I walked into my third grade class, and there sat my Aunt Bernice as a substitute teacher for the day. The moment she set eyes on me she promptly pointed her finger in my face and said, “Don’t you think for one minute young man that just because I am your

Aunt Bernice that you can get away with murder in this class, so just go sit down and keep your mouth shut.”

Bernice and Uncle Shoe never had any children of their own, so they just borrowed me every now and then to play with for the weekend. I got to go places and do things with them that I probably would have never experienced at home. Uncle Shoe loved to play catch, so we went to Gateway Sporting Goods and he bought me a baseball glove small enough to fit my little hand. We spent quality time together as he taught me everything he knew about playing baseball.

One weekend when I was staying out there, Shoe said, “Come on, Teddy, climb in the car. I think I know where the biggest baseball in the world is.”

We drove for what seemed like hours across Missouri to a town called Licking, about 25 miles south of Rolla.

“Heads up,” said Shoe, “We’re looking for a giant pitch, a hard fast ball.”

Sure enough, right in front of our face was a huge baseball painted on the town’s big round water tower. It looked just like a giant baseball sitting on a pedestal.

It seems as though a gentleman from Licking named Leroy Steinbarger invented a machine used for making baseballs, and back in those days, all of the baseballs in America apparently

were manufactured there in Licking. However, time marches on and Rawlings has since moved its operations to its plant in St. Louis.

Incidentally, I also learned that the name Licking has nothing to do with a spit ball. Before the town was even thought of there was a buffalo lick, where animals used to come to lick salt. The area still boasts some of the best deer hunting anywhere, because of the salt lick.

Come that next spring, Uncle Shoe and I headed out U.S. 24 for the high plains of Kansas in search of the world’s largest ball of twine at Cawker City in Mitchell County, about 230 miles west of here. Frank Stoeber started the ball of bailing twine on his farm back in 1953 and it has never stopped growing. We even added some twine ourselves.

Cawker City is about twice as high as we are here on the Missouri-Kansas border. The town sits 1,485 feet above sea level.

Reach Ted W. Stillwell at or 816-896-3592.