American Wigeon Duck

Here’s Ray Spitzenberger’s latest piece of wood art, American Wigeon Duck, — he created it out of four pieces of Hawaiian driftwood and pieces of scrap wood.   A wigeon duck is also called a bald pate.

It will be sold at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas, on September 9 and all proceeds from the Silent Auction will go to such missions as Lutheran World Relief, Deaf Ministry, Disaster Relief, etc.

View from above.

View from below.


Tonsorial Trends from Tufts to Tonsures

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 23, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            School has started up again in our town, and the last minute rush to get ready for the Big Day is over, so now, among other things, the barber shops won’t be crowded any more with kids’ last minute back-to-school grooming. Fortunately, haircuts in East Bernard are not as expensive as they are in the rest of the United States. I pay $12 for mine, and my tonsorial artist (barber) does excellent hair cutting.

            According to online Infographic, the cheapest men’s haircut (on average) today is found in Alaska, at $15. The average cost in Texas is $17 and in California, it’s $24. However, in the large cities, the cost is even higher; The average per cut in Dallas is $33, in Los Angeles, $35, and in New York City, $37. For women’s haircuts, it’s at least double these amounts. Tonsorial artistry can be expensive.

            Experts tell us that not only is hair the most easily changed physical feature of the human body, but also is the one human feature which can most drastically alter the way we look. I suppose that means if you’re bald-headed, then you’re destined to look like yourself.

            Currently, short hair is trendy for men, though some men think it’s stylish to wear hair long enough for a “man’s bun.” Whereas in the 1950’s, we traded in the BrylCream we used in the 1940’s for a jar of hair wax, so that our crew cut could stand up in a porcupine look. The “in” look today is the slightly longer crew cut with clustered-together, uneven tufts. Where the 2018 look differs from the 1950’s porcupine effect is seen in today’s trendiness exchanging the plastered-back ducktails on the sides of the 50’s to today’s shaved sides.

            Back in the 1920’s, the hair product of choice was a sweet-smelling hair oil that sold for about ten cents a bottle, because men wore their hair slicked down with oil in imitation of silent screen movie star, Rudolph Valentino. This slicked-down look was known as “patent leather hair.” I noticed in family photos that my father had that slicked-down look when he wasn’t wearing a hat. I don’t know what his hair was like underneath the hat he wore as a young man.

            Men don’t usually worry about having a “bad hair day,” as their wives often do, perhaps because so many male Texans wear hats or caps all the time, — even to bed, I suspect in some cases. Every day is a bad hair day for some of us. If you’ve ever looked at the ground just below your bird feeder and watched bird seed sprout and grow, you get some idea how my hair grows and looks (what there is left of it, though I have more than some men have). Only difference is my hair is usually not green.

            There is control for those of us with pates full of uncontrollable bird seed sprouts. It’s a gel. One powerful one I’ve tried is called Gorilla Glue, though a Dep type is the one I usually use. The use of this type hair product is highly recommended to avoid shocking your wife into a heart attack when you come into the kitchen in the morning for your first cup of coffee with your sprouted bird seed standing up in a peak.

            Women have a simple solution to hair problems, — hair spray (which has been around since the 1950’s). However, like a number of other older men, I have never wanted to use hair spray, no doubt because it just didn’t seem very manly to those of us who grew up in the male chauvinist era.

            We human beings are very strange creatures, aren’t we? The history of hair styles and tonsorial artists would prove that statement. If you think we do funny things with our hair in the 21st Century, take a look at what men did in the 18th Century. Wealthy men in the 1700’s didn’t get haircuts. They shaved their heads instead and wore wigs over their bald pates. Not only was wearing an elegantly curled wig a sign of trendiness, it was also a sign of wealth. Today’s trendiness includes the tonsure (shaved head) without the wig. Men’s hairstyle trends will come and go, and so will our hair.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor


Auctions: Silent or Cattle Rattle?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 16, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            When my wife and I married, I was teaching at Wharton County Junior College in Wharton, Texas, and one of the first things she wanted to do was to attend a cattle auction at the Wharton Livestock Auction on Richmond Road. Her friend from New York had come down for a visit and neither the friend nor the wife had ever been to a cattle auction before.

            Like most auctions, the Wharton Livestock Auction employed an auctioneer whose chatter would lead the bidding war with a special kind of chant, known in the cattle business as “Cattle Rattle.” Other types of auctions, such as Antique Auctions, called this chant, “Bid Calling,” “Auction Chant,” or “the Auction Cry.” Whatever it’s called, it seems a little strange to a person unfamiliar with this kind of selling method.

            The auctioneer chants two numbers, repeating them over and over, the first number being the amount bid at the moment and the second number, the amount needed to become the highest bidder. The auctioneer throws in his own filler words, partly to intensify the rhythm of the chant and partly to rev up interest in the item. Each auctioneer develops his own style, and, of course, the “Cattle Rattle” style differs from the more refined bidding style of an auctioneer selling art works by famous artists, for example.

            We were told by our Wharton friends not to sit on the front row and not to move or wave our hands in any way, — otherwise we might end up buying a Brahma bull for $2,000. I think we did choose to sit on the front row, but we sat on our hands throughout the auction sale. However, we were told later that cattle buyers often made a bid with a nod or an eye blink. – no doubt an exaggeration.

            The second auction my wife and I attended in Wharton County was a church auction held in the East Bernard American Legion Hall. Although the volunteer auctioneer for the church sounded very similar to the “Cattle Rattle” of the auction barn, I could at least understand what he was saying. He had a remarkable gift for getting folks to bid higher and higher, reminding them they were contributing to the work of the Lord. I think the church auction was more unpredictable than the cattle auction, because I got the idea that at the Wharton Livestock sale, everybody had a preconceived idea how much each person was willing to bid. Over the years, we went to quite a few more church auctions in East Bernard.

            Growing up in Dime Box, I knew what a Cattle Rattle auction was like, but had never heard of a “Silent Auction” before the ladies at my church in Wallis began to hold one at our annual fund-raisers. In fact, I remember when we held the first Silent Auction nearly 30 years ago, I had to ask how this type of auction worked. The ladies worked it by putting out bidding sheets and pencils next to the auction items on long tables and setting a time limit of three hours. When the three hours was up, the last person to have written down an amount on the bidding sheet got the item. During the three hours, you could either eat the barbecue and desserts we sold and sit around and visit, or you could leave, and if you made the winning bid, we would call you by phone.

            While planning and doing the work of the church fund-raiser was a lot of work, the Silent Auction became the enjoyable part of the venue. Weeks and months prior to the Silent Auction, members would make cloth crafts, woodwork items, flower arrangements, canned pickles, homemade noodles, etc. The fun was in making the items to be auctioned, knowing that most folks were eager to bid on handmade stuff. Every year we looked forward to preparing our arts and crafts and food for the auction, and it was always exciting to see someone bid a nice amount of money on your creation. Not only that, but we had the satisfaction of knowing the money raised was going to mission projects like world hunger, disaster aid, etc.

            This year, our Fund Raiser and Silent Auction will be held September 9, 2018, at the KC Hall in Wallis, Texas. Hope you’ll stop by!


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor.


The Magic of Wood and Wood Art

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 9, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            My playmates in the late 1930’s were crazy about “playing cars,” as we called it, whereby we pushed our toy vehicles over and under the tunnels we had dug in the sand pile. Before World War II began in 1939, toy cars, tractors, trucks, etc., were made of metal with real rubber wheels. Once the War was under way and many materials became scarce, about 1942, most toys were made of wood, or of celluloid (precursor to plastic) including sand pile vehicles.

            Contrary to the disappointment of my friends, at Christmas I was delighted to receive wooden cars, army tanks, jeeps, etc., from Santa, because I loved wood, — anything made of wood delighted me (celluloid, of course, was cheap and ugly). My friends longed for the authenticity of little metal cars with rubber wheels, but once the War was underway, you were lucky to get real rubber tires for your real automobile, so they had to make do with wood.

            Not only did I love those little wooden Wartime vehicles with wooden wheels, I held all wood in high esteem. Although my father wouldn’t let me chop wood which we used for our heaters, he provided me with plenty pieces of scrap from the split logs. I would make things out of these scraps; once I even carved a statue of Jesus from the wood. My grandfather carved wooden spoons out of cedar for my grandmother to use in her kitchen, and I even tried to make a few of those. My grandfather once made a wooden hymn board for our little country church, carving a cross out of wood and attaching it to the top. By the time I was six or seven, I wanted to be a wood artist like him, though he considered himself merely a whittler and taught me how to use and sharpen a pocket knife properly.

            Over the years, I have known many other men like my father and grandfather who were superb “whittlers,” as the magic of carved wood continued to fascinate me. In rural towns like Dime Box, folks didn’t consider men capable of being creative; no, it was the women who were the artists as they pieced together their resplendent quilts and their elegantly entrancing crochet work, not to mention embroidery, etc. My grandmother even drew her own embroidery designs. But while the women were threading their needles and artfully weaving their magic in the house, the men folks were sitting on the steps of the barn whittling pieces of wood into chimerical artistry.

            Well, the old-timers wouldn’t have considered their work “wood sculpture,” — they wouldn’t have even thought of it as “wood art.” Just plain “whittlin’,” that’s all!

            Now that I’m one of those “old-timers,” I continue to follow in a lot of footsteps (or maybe I should say, knife cuts), as I spend a lot of time in my studio doing “wood art.” At first I called what I did “wood sculpture,” but, no, what those mentors taught me was just “whittlin’.” Oh, I even bought a set of professional wood sculpturing tools some years ago, — used them once, put them back in their fancy box and never looked at them again. It’s just me and my pocket knives, one that my son-in-law gave me and the other, a vintage knife from my father-in-law’s father. What one won’t do, the other will. They work their wood magic very well!

            It’s been my tradition for a number of years now to whittle some wood art for our Annual Silent Auction Fund-Raiser given by St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis. Over the years, I have created and auctioned pieces of wood art entitled Cow Skull and Rattlesnake, The Great White Heron, Portrait of a Longhorn (as in cow, not football team), The Egret, Harvey Rescue Cowboy Boot, and a few others.

            This year, I have just finished two pieces of wood art for the auction. One is The Eternal Flame, a creation which was inspired by the sculptured glass Eternal Flame created by David Ascalon, the Eternal Flame at JFK’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery, and the Eternal Flame in our church and in many other churches, symbolizing God’s eternal presence in our lives. The other one is entitled The Way and is based on John 14:6. “I am the way. . . No one comes to the Father except through me.” These two pieces were made of driftwood from the beaches of Hawaii, and from wood scraps. Nothing more magical than driftwood!

            Our Fund-Raiser is being held on September 9, 2018, at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Wallis. Come bid on some wood art, or just come look at it, and while you’re there, buy a luscious chicken-fried chicken dinner.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor.


Eugene Wukasch, Texas Architect

It has been many years since I visited the church, but curiously just this past Friday [28 April 2017] my wife and I were driving from Houston to Austin on Highway 290 and I saw the sign to Serbin. It was the first time that I had been on 290 in I don’t know how long. Naturally I thought of my poem, and now here you are asking for permission to reprint it. You are certainly welcome to do so. You may know that it was reprinted once before in Texas Co-op Power in 2002. Thank you for contacting my publisher. I might mention that I saw the church because my late friend Gene Wukasch of Austin invited me to drive out to Serbin with him. It was a wonderful experience. All the best, Dave Oliphant

Eugene Wukasch, Texas Architect

by Dave Oliphant


Seton Hospital coming down:

photos he took tell the story

of steel girders & cement walls

crumbled. doubled, pounded to dust-

collapsed windows, where twilight rays

floated motes over janitored floors,

his mother rolled from delivery

to a maternity ward & the further relief of sleep.

Knows the blueprints, the materials,

how substantial they were,

in their way strong as the memory.

Why were they not reused, remembered?

Speaking with quiet rage

of the waste, of energy expended,

of the halls held those hours

where & when he entered the State,

a tear forms in his foreign eye,

streams down his Austin cheek:

Damn it, I was born there!”

Texan, yes, as any,

though by name & blood a Wend,

his Spreewald, his Slavic race

poling their boats like gondoliers,

laden with cabbage & engravings

of the very scene he paints.

His tale, mortar to our luncheon talk,

glides us through those shadowy waters,

disappears us down basement plumbing,

into her screams at his coming

on a table splintered to smithereens,

the vacant block for sale,

its sidewalks still intact

outlining the emptiness of weeds,

the trees, spreading elms, rooted yet,

though reaching about as exiles

missing landmarks on childhood maps,

the pale smear down to his mouth

seeking a forgotten Sorbian word

would house the lumber of loss.




Dave Oliphant’s poem, “Serbin,” is included in a book of his poems, titled Memories of Texas Towns and Cities. ISBN: 978-0-924047. It was copyrighted and published in 2000 by HOST Publications, Inc, 3507 North Lamar Blvd, P. O. Box 302920, Austin, TX 78703. Oliphant began Memories of Texas Towns and Cities in the autumn of 1974 and finished it 25 years later in the fall of 1999. This is one of over 25 books of poetry Dave has published. James B. Hall in New Letters says, “Dave Oliphant is probably the most broadly gifted poet in Texas.” – Ray Spitzenberger


by Dave Oliphant


the doors to its church

remain unlocked

whose ceiling is

a celestial blue

electric its chandelier

since lamps emptied of

the kerosene

they used to use

suspended from

a twelve-foot cord

halfway up or down

a white golden-winged dove

its tail feathers all agleam

flies to yet never arrives

at the pulpit level with a

second floor looks down upon

the heads all bowed in prayer

or lifted in song but above &

behind them can never see the ringed

eight-foot pipes blue gold & white

of their sanctuary’s organ built

by those like the one last Wend

leads the singing still

who came to find

a place to worship & found it here

who brought with them

their 1574 hymnal with

its notes all diamond-stemmed

for their services beneath

their trim bell tower

with its white tin siding

& its weather vane yet soaring

children learning fifty hymns

to retain the Wendish tongue

to restore antiphonal song

the ties between Christ & soul

on square white pillars stenciled leaves

impressed in orange patterns

with their painted black designs

of circles & featherings

the marble-like swirls echoing

the organist’s schwissenspiels

weavings around the held whole notes

Bach fussed at for writing those

inherited by these from Gerhard Kilian

he the great practitioner

of that Leipzig-born tradition

of slurs & passing tones

a version of the almighty ground

right out of Mendelssohn’s Fifth

a sound as if of morning’s light

shining through the winter fog

on their trip from Liverpool

had survived the cholera

as through their Singing Society

had too their “Spinning Wheel”

& though it spun for a while

it turns no more

here or elsewhere

as it did before


The Way

“The Way,” Wood Art, 6 August 2018 by Ray Spitzenberger.

The cross, the hand with the finger pointing up, and Golgotha (the base) are pieces of driftwood from beaches in Hawaii; two other small pieces of wood are cedar.

Here is what I have put on the bottom of “The Way,” a cloth fish.


Eternal Flame

“I am the Light of the World,” Wood Art, 17 July 2018 by Ray Spitzenberger.


I used a small piece of driftwood from a beach in Hawaii for the flame itself, and the base is a block of wood (probably white pine).