The story of a large Texas City family doesn’t start on the Gulf Coast but near the Texas-Mexico border.
Cecilio Olivares was born in Matamoros Mexico in 1881. Mercedes Cantu was born in San Diego Texas in 1890. The pair met in Kingsville in the early 1900s when Cecilio was working on a ranch there. Within a few years the family moved to Texas City so Cecilio could work as a carpenter at the Texas City Railroad Terminal.
It was on the Gulf Coast that the Olivares family began to grow and prosper. Cecilio and Mercedes had 22 children in all and 15 survived infancy. There were nine boys — Ralph Oscar Cecilio Jr. Edward Paul Roque Fernando Humberto and Victor. They were joined by a passel of girls — Esther Gregoria Blanca Lenora Angelita and Moraima.
”She started young. She was a teenager when she had her first baby” granddaughter Delores Valdez said.
Valdez had an up-close look at the Olivares clan as Cecilio and Mercedes raised her.
”It was a big happy family” Valdez said. ”The older ones took care of the younger ones.”
The memories are especially good.
”We always had livestock and chickens and gardens” Valdez said. ”We were a big family and we always had plenty to eat. We all lived together. There was always love and everything centered around food.”
They did live together too — at least until marriage. The first Olivares house was on First Avenue South. Later another home was purchased on First Avenue North and the original house was moved next to the new one.
”It was kind of odd” Valdez said. ”You would wake up in one house and go down to another.”
The location of the house also was quite memorable.
”It was right across the street from the old football field so I had to hurry back home because they knew when the game was over” Valdez said. ”There was no going out for a milkshake after the game with your boyfriend.”
One of the people Valdez got to see on that field was Humberto who played for Texas City High School. Uncles Edward and Cecilio Jr. were on a local baseball nine the Merchants.
When duty called the Olivares boys were quick to answer.
Every one of the brothers went on to serve his country. Five of them were in uniform during World War II and each of them made it back.
Two of them saw extensive action. Edward Olivares was in the U.S. Army and was at Utah Beach during D-Day then helped liberate Paris. From there he slogged deep into Europe fighting in the Hurtgen Forest the Battle of the Bulge and finally entering Germany.
”He has a whole pedigree” Valdez said. ”He lives in La Palma (California) now and when they have Memorial Day celebrations he is sometimes the grand marshal of the parade.”
Paul Olivares was in the U.S. Army Air Corps and also was at the Battle of the Bulge. Oscar was in the Pacific Theater with the Army. Roque made it to Japan with the Army and Ralph also was in the Army but he remained stateside.
Like most families the Olivares’ were touched by the Texas City Disaster. On April 16 1947 Cecilio the patriarch was killed in one of the explosions. No other members of the Olivares family were injured.
”But it’s very hard to lose the father” Valdez said.
Mercedes lived for another five years with Victor Angelita and Moraima none of whom married. Valdez lived with them until she married in 1962.
Today Edward and Humberto are the last of the Olivares boys. Humberto still calls Texas City his home.