My Book Is Out, So Now What?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 20, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            For many years, my wife and I enjoyed reading Leon Hale’s newspaper columns, first in the Houston Post, and later years, in the Houston Chronicle. When, after many years of column writing, Mr. Hale collected some of his columns together and wrote a book based on them, I got the idea of doing something similar with my newspaper columns. Mr. Hale’s book, Easy Going, was based on his columns in The Houston Post, with illustrations by Ancel Nunn. So he was no doubt the first inspiration for my book.                                                                               

            It took me quite a few years to get the courage to plan and write such a book, but the results of my efforts are now on sale on in the form of a book entitled It Must Be the Noodles. My book turned out to be much more than just a collection of old newspaper columns. Having been inspired by Ancel Nunn’s illustrations for Leon Hale’s book, I did pen and ink drawings for mine, though my style is quite different from Nunn’s; and I included some of Mama’s recipes from her old recipe box, especially the ones my family liked.

            There were other reasons besides lack of courage for taking so long to do what turned out to be a rather short book. Probably the first and foremost reason is my belletristic passion for writing poetry, and a book based on newspaper columns requires prose, and certainly not the prose of belles-lettres.

            Another reason involved the difficult process of sorting through way more than a thousand columns written by me over the years. Considering how short the book is, you can imagine how much time and effort were expended in organizing and culling the columns.

            Because of the column choices I finally made from the many, it’s obvious that the main reason for the book was to celebrate, and even honor, my mother and her Wendish heritage. Yet Mama was a salt-of-the-earth kind of person, certainly no saint, and, like most of us, many-sided and full of contradictions. It is tempting to write about one’s mother with a lot of sugar-coated and exaggerated plaudits of praise, but the portrait coming from such writing is not authentic. Underneath the whimsical, yet realistic, approach I took to describing her is obviously a son who loved and admired her very much.

            In spite of my great love of reading and writing poetry, thus far in my life, I have almost never written poems about her. Prose seemed to be the best art form I could use to authentically present her. I did, however, in my book, include a long, narrative poem I wrote about my great grandfather’s emigration trip from Germany to Texas. But then, Great Grandfather himself was a writer with a flair for poetic expression.

            During the selection process for the book, I was frequently sidetracked by my writing for and submitting poems to literary magazines. I can’t say I’m sorry for the delay that caused, because it produced some good poems accepted and published by a number of literary magazines. My success in publishing poems almost prompted me to give up on the book.

            It Must Be the Noodles has been written, published, and is on sale; so now what? My book would never have happened without the help (more appropriate, the leadership) of my youngest daughter Rae Ann who designs books in New York. Without her offer to design my book and her expertise, I would never have attempted such an undertaking! The writing in the book may or may not be good, but the book’s design is flawless! How proud her grandmother would be of that girl!

            It has always been my intention when this book was finished to start another one (after all, there are still about a thousand untouched newspaper columns left), and not everybody in the world has one of the best book designers in New York on tap to create more books; but at this point in time, I really and truly don’t want to do any more books! I just want to write my poems.


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


Regarding Rev Eldor Mickan and Other Things


Announcement: Rev. Eldor Mickan (Emeritus, Bulverde), grandfather of Rev. Paul Goeke (CrossPoint, Katy), Rev. Aaron Goeke (Messiah, Boerne) and Rev. Tab Ottmers (Immanuel, Fairview), was called home to Jesus, September 17, 2018 at the age of 101.

Visitation was held Friday, September 21, 5-8:00 pm at Mission Park Stone Oak Funeral Home, 23645 US Highway 281N, San Antonio, TX 78258. His memorial service was Saturday, September 22, 11 am, at Cross Lutheran Church, 2171 E Common, New Braunfels, 78130. A reception followed the service at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 29797 US Highway 281, Bulverde, TX 78163

We remember Maria and their extended family in prayer, and celebrate the victory we all have in Jesus.

David Goeke: I knew Eldor Mickan very, very well. You see, he was my former father-in-law. In point of fact, however, I still consider him my father-in-law to this day…and always will. I owe him a GREAT debt of gratitude not only for being an exemplary Christian father-in-law, but also for having been a remarkable colleague, having served in the same congregation with him for some 14 years. I shall miss him greatly, but am rejoicing that he now stands in the presence of Jesus, his Savior. Eldor was proud of being Wendish. His grandfather, Johann Mickan, came to Texas in the 1860’s as I recall. His mother, Theresa Zoch, was descended from Johann Zoch, one of the original immigrants in 1854. Eldor was a man used by God to impact the lives of many. After graduating from Concordia Seminary, Springfield, he was called to serve as a missionary to Argentina. He learned to speak fluent Spanish. This is remarkable because he already spoke fluent German (having been raised with that language in Copperas Cove, Texas), and, naturally, he spoke fluent English. He married in Argentina to a German girl who had moved from Germany to there with her parents. After a few years, he was called to serve a Lutheran congregation in Alice, Texas. Finally, he was called to serve Mt. Olive Lutheran in San Antonio, where he served for 29 years. He then served at Trinity Lutheran in Corpus Christi. After retiring in Kingsland, Eldor and his wife, Maria, began a Bible study in their home. From that small Bible study was born Genesis Lutheran in Kingsland. Eldor could preach just as easily in Spanish and German as he could in English. He was a humble man….and a giant servant of God.

Charles Wukasch: I recall that Mrs. Koepsell, the wife of one of my teachers, and the principal of, at Trinity Lutheran School in Austin (the school burned down several decades ago and the church didn’t reinstitute it) was a Mickan.

David Goeke: Charles, you made mention of Arnold Koepsell. It may be of interest to you to know that his wife, Lorine, was a first cousin to Eldor Mickan. And like you, Mr. Koepsell was also my teacher. What is really an odd twist, however, is the fact that Mr. Koepsell was also Eldor Mickan’s elementary school teacher in Copperas Cove, Texas. So, when Eldor and I worked with each other in San Antonio, we could truthfully tell folks that we both had the same teacher in elementary school. That wouldn’t be altogether odd except for the fact that Eldor was 31 years older than I.

Speaking of Mr. Koepsell, I had the great honor of serving as one of the pallbearers at his funeral. What a blessing. And, Eldor Mickan preached his funeral sermon. I did an audio interview with Mr. Koepsell prior to his death. Just a remarkable man! His very first call was to Copperas Cove, Texas, as THE teacher and principal, grades 1-8, and the church organist….not to mention having to start the fire in the wood stove in both the school and the church in the winter. His starting salary was $400.00 a year, but when the District President learned of this, he appealed to the congregation on behalf of Mr. Koepsell and the congregation raised the salary to $700.00 per year. Oh, and lest we forget, Koepsell got some “perks.” His final call (handwritten in German), after offering the $700.00 per year reads as follows: “Wasser, nebst Feuerung und Futter für das nötige Vieh,” which being translated means “water, heat (meaning wood for the stove), and feed for the necessary cattle.

Charles Wukasch: Yes, I was at the service and remember Rev. Mickan’s sermon. I also sadly remember that I had dropped by University Lutheran Church over in the UT campus area. I mentioned to Mrs. Born (Rev. Born’s wife – she served as his administrative assistant) that someday I’d look up Mr. Koepsell and say hello. She said, “You’d better make it quick – he’s in the hospital with cancer.” That same day, or maybe the next – I can’t recall all the details, I did go over to visit him. We just had a short talk since he was in his final days. He passed away a couple of days later.

Moral of story – Never put off visiting with loved ones, friends, colleagues, etc. As Grandma Wukasch (née Hannusch) used to say, “Tomorrow never comes.”

Dave Goeke: Back to Eldor, I’ve known few men like him. I remember him telling me once, “David, you have the gift of preaching. I have to work at it.” Well, this was one time when he was clearly wrong. His messages always properly distinguished between Law and Gospel…and believe me, he so stressed the Gospel. He led many people to Jesus. He was a man whose private life and public life were the same. I spent hours and hours with him and can say that without question.

Charles Wukasch: On my maternal (non-Wendish) side, my grandmother told me about an interesting tradition some churches had to help out the pastor. It was called “pounding the preacher.” I don’t know if it was once a year, or how often, but the largely rural congregation would bring the pastor and his family a pound of something: sausage, vegetables, etc. A pound of eggs? LOL

I’m sure many people brought more than a pound.

I also remember someone telling me that in Concordia’s early days, farmers in the Austin area would donate food items, like a big sack of potatoes, a number of links of sausage, etc. to help out the school. I imagine those hungry teenage boys appreciated that! Teenage boys are always hungry. Believe it or not, I was once a teenage boy.

Dave Goeke: Ich wünsche euch alles Gute…und seid Ihr alle Gott befohlen. (I wish you all the best…and for  you to be commended to God.)

Growing Old From Two Perspectives

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 13, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            During a recent rain, I rushed into the garage after a rare, brief excursion to the Post Office when my walking cane hydroplaned, and I found myself lying on my belly on the garage floor. Fortunately, I was not hurt, but unfortunately, I had to call my son-in-law to help me up.

            You can’t imagine how humiliated I felt, — especially since this has happened before. Not only does growing old have its pitfalls (as well as actual falls), but also those side effects cause you to feel helpless, foolish, shamed, worthless, clumsy, a few other choice things.

            These feelings inspired me to write a poem, into which I poured all my frustrations of growing old. The poem was good therapy, but it was not a good poem, because it sounded like an Ode to Self-Pity, written by a cry baby.

            So, instead of sharing a depressing, self-pitying ode to aging, I want to switch perspectives and look at this phase of life with a bit of humor. I was born 34 years after one turn-of-the-century (from the 19th to the 20th), and I have managed to live well beyond the next turn-of-the-century (from the 20th to the 21st), and in 82 years, I will see the next one; that will put me at 166 years old. Makes me feel like Methuselah just thinking about it! Perhaps the best antidote for growing old is a sense of humor.

            One way to think about aging from a humorous perspective is to paraphrase a popular American comedian who made everybody laugh by tossing out a whole string of “You know you’re a redneck when . . . ” statements. So let me toss out a series of “You know you’re old when . . . “ statements. Most of these were actually said to or about me.

            You know you’re getting old when your wife meets someone you knew long ago, and he says to her about you, “You mean that old codger is still living?”

            You know you’re getting old when one of your grown daughters tells you you’re older than her friend’s grandmother.

            I taught at Bellville High School in the late 1950’s; my wife taught at Faith Academy in Bellville about 20 years ago. As a teacher there, she met someone who had known me in 1957 and thought my wife was my daughter. You already knew you were getting old when that happened in the 1990’s!

            You know you’re getting old when you think the clothes you bought in 1975 are still in fashion.

            You know you’re getting old when the child of someone you taught in high school is now a grandmother with teenage grandchildren!

            You know you’re getting old when you still regard bubble lights for the Christmas tree as the newest fad.

            You know you’re getting old when you still call the cat you acquired during the time of Hurricane Rita, “Baby Cat,” and wonder why he no longer chases squirrels and follows them up to the top of the tree.

            You know you’re getting old when grown women hold the door open for you at the Post Office and offer to help you carry a package to your car.

            You know you’re getting old when your wife regularly lifts the garbage into the large trash can, because she’s afraid you’ll hurt yourself doing it.

            You know you’re getting old when taking an afternoon nap is one of the great delights of your day, and, at night, instead of having a martini or Manhattan, you drink your buttermilk and V8 cocktail.

            Even though every now and then I get down in the dumps about the negative aspects of aging, my theory is that if you can laugh a little about growing old and encounter life with a sense of humor, not taking yourself too seriously, laughter will cause you to stay young and live longer. At least it’ll make life more enjoyable!


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


Marja Grólmusec: The Rosa Luxemburg of the Sorbs

“Marja Grólmusec: The Rosa Luxemburg of the Sorbs”  is a paper by Dr Charles Wukasch that was presented to the Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures Section of the South Central Modern Language Association Convention that was held in New Orleans, Louisiana on 29 October 2004.

Marja Grólmusec – The Rosa Luxemburg of the Sorbs

At SCMLA 2000 in San Antonio, I gave a paper titled “Edith Durham: The Rebecca West of Albania.” I decided to use that title as a template and to title the present paper ” Marja Grólmusec – The Rosa Luxembourg of the Sorbs.” Of course, personal analogies, like historical analogies, are probably inexact at best. Still, I like to think that Marja Grólmusec continued the tradition of leftist women like Rosa Luxembourg, Nexhmije Hoxha (the wife and comrade of Enver Hoxha, the leader of Albania between 1944 and his death in 1985 – under Hoxha, Albania was the only truly Marxist society in the world), Frida Kahlo, and Emma Goldman. (If I may digress for just a moment, my wife and I visited the Frida Kahlo home/museum during a trip to Mexico City this past August. It is interesting that the painting which is still on the easel in her workroom is that of Joseph Stalin.)

            My interest in Grólmusec derives from several areas of interest: the Sorbs, multiculturalism (in this context, writers, political activists, etc. who are or were members of traditionally disadvantaged groups), and politics in general. I learned of and became interested in Grólmusec while researching my book A Rock against Alien Waves: A History of the Wends, which has just appeared.

            This being a Slavic section, I assume that all of us know at least something about the smallest of the Slavic peoples: the Sorbs (not to be confused with the Serbs) or Wends. (The preferred scholarly term is Sorbs, although some Sorbs have “reclaimed” the pejorative term Wends. The most common name for the Sorbs in Texas has always been Wends.) Still, let me comment on them briefly just in case some of you are not familiar with them. The Sorbs are members of the West Slavic subgroup, thus being related to the Czechs, Poles, and Slovaks. The Sorbs live in the southeastern corner of Germany. There are actually two Sorbian languages: Upper and Lower, Upper being the more widely spoken of the two. Whether the Sorbs comprise two ethnic groups can be debated.

The tragedy of Dr. Marja Grólmusec (1896-1944 (G Maria Grollmuß)) is a moving and interesting one. Grólmusec (her middle names were Karolina Elisabeth) was born on April 24, 1896, in Leipzig, but spent her childhood vacations in Radwor (G Radibor), her father’s native village. (Radwor is a few miles northwest of Bautzen, the cultural center of the Upper Sorbs.) It was in Radwor that she got in touch with her Sorbian roots. Radwor was Grólmusec’s father’s native village; her mother, Carolina (neé Koelitz) was, however, an ethnic German from Karlsruhe. Two years later, on November 22, Grólmusec’s sister Cäcilia was born, also in Leipzig.

Grólmusec received a Catholic education in Leipzig in the school where her father was principal. After eight years at this school, she attended a Mädchenschule (girls’ school) for one year. In 1911, her mother died of tuberculosis and heart disease, and an aunt took over the role of mother in the family. In 1912 Grólmusec was confirmed. Her choice of patroness was interesting: Joan of Arc. (Allow me to include a bit of trivia which relates to the title of this paper. Bernadette Devlin, the Northern Irish Catholic activist in the late 60’s, became annoyed when she acquired the sobriquet “The Irish Joan of Arc.” Devlin said that she wanted to be thought of as the Irish Rosa Luxembourg; in other words, she considered Joan of Arc a religious fanatic, not a revolutionary.)

If one is into psychobiography, one may read something into Grólmusec’s choice of Joan of Arc as her patroness. By psychobiography, I am referring, of course, to the interplay of psychology and history. For example, some scholars have wondered whether Karl Marx’s poverty and bad health might have contributed to his economic beliefs, whether Hitler acquired his anti-Semitism at least partially because of the death of his mother from breast cancer and Hitler’s possible feeling that her Jewish doctor had not treated her cancer the right way. Anyway, although it might be tempting to look for parallels in the lives of Joan of Arc and Marja Grólmusec, Grólmusec may have chosen Joan of Arc as her patroness merely because she was an icon of the Catholic church. One mustn’t always look for deeper meanings to an act. As Freud famously said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a good smoke.”

She later taught school for one year in 1918 in Leipzig. In this same year, she joined the Sorbian Academy of Sciences Maćica Serbska, and a year later she helped found the Sorbian student group Wita. Between 1920 and 1925, she studied at the Universities of Leipzig and Berlin, with a major in history and minors in German and French. Grólmusec’s political activity began at this time. She joined the Verband Sozialistischer Studentengruppen (Union of Socialist Student Groups), serving as a delegate to their international conference (Fédération Internationale pour la Société des Nations) in Geneva in 1924. She also visited France and Czechoslovakia. In this same year, her father died; Eugenie Koelitz’s death occurred soon thereafter.

In 1925 she submitted her doctoral dissertation, her topic being “Josef Görres und die Demokratie.” (Görres was a progressive activist of the Napoleonic era. On a humorous note, the full title – in true German form – was ” Josef Görres und die Demokratie. Aufstieg und Höhepunkt. Von den Anfängen biz zum Jahre 1819.”) She chose a historian and a Germanicist for her committee; unfortunately, they turned it down on the first reading and asked her to revise it. (I know the feeling!)

In 1925, Grólmusec published a pamphlet titled “Die Frau und die junge Demokratie. Ein Versuch über Frau, Politik und Demokratie” (“Woman and the New Democracy: An Examination of Women, Politics, and Democracy”) This was followed in the following year by an article titled “Über die weibliche Form in der Politik” (“On the Feminine Form in Politics”; this article appeared in the journal Die Schildgenossen (The Comrade’s Shield ). She also got hired as a journalist for Die Deutsche Republik (The German Republic) in Frankfurt (am Main).

In 1927 probably, Grólmusec joined the Sozialistische Partei Deutschlands (SPD). The years 1929 to 1933 were rough ones. She got another teaching job, this one in Berlin, but it was just for one semester. She experienced some unemployment; at other times, she was underemployed. During this troublesome period of time, there was at least some good news: In 1929, her dissertation was accepted; in the same year, she took her orals in history, German, and sociology and passed them. She was now Dr. Maria Grólmusec.

In 1929, she took the more radical step of joining the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (KPD). However, after just nine months in the party, she was expelled because of her disagreement with the party on the subject of labor unions. She then joined the Kommunistische Partei Opposition (KPO). This party was a break-off from the regular Communist Party of Germany; it split off over opposition to Stalinism in the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands. (Disunity has been one of the weaknesses of the Left ever since the time following Lenin’s death: Stalinism vs. Trotskyism, i.e., socialism in one country vs. the permanent revolution; disunity in the American left during the war in Vietnam; etc.)

It seemed that Grólmusec had difficult in finding a permanent home in any one faction of the Left. In 1932, she was expelled from the KPO and joined the newly founded Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei (SAP), a party which broke off from the SPD. (It would be an understatement to say that the Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei is not to be confused with the Nazionalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (in other words, the Nazi Party). In 1932, she unsuccessfully twice tried her hand at electoral politics, running for the Reichstag as the candidate for Dresden-Bautzen. In 1933, she was expelled from the Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei and rejoined the Sozialistische Partei Deutschlands

            In 1933, she moved to Radibor. One of Grólmusec’s areas of activity was attempting to forge an alliance between the Catholic left and the secular left. In other words, she anticipated what is today called liberation theology. She did not feel that there was any necessary conflict between the teachings of Marx and those of Christ. It was now that her political activity became – from the viewpoint of the authorities – of a criminal nature. She served as a courier, traveling between Germany and Czechoslavakia.

Not surprisingly, she came to the attention of the Nazi regime. Grólmusec was arrested in 1934 by the Gestapo for her activities both as a secret courier to Czechoslovakia and as a campaigner for political prisoners in Nazi Germany. She was first incarcerated in the Dresden jail, but then received a six-year sentence and was transferred to the prison at Waldheim. In December 1936, the University of Leipzig revoked her doctorate.

In the closing days of 1940, the German government tried to “turn” Grólmusec. They offered her both her freedom and medical care if she would aid the Nazi cause. She refused and in January 1941 was sent to the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp., she worked with another Sorb, Marja Grofowa, to lessen the plight of Soviet and French prisoners-of-war. A fellow inmate referred to Grólmusec touchingly as “eine wahre Gabe des Himmels” (“a true gift from Heaven”). She suffered martyrdom in Ravensbrück in 1944.

One remembrance which Grólmusec, this courageous fighter for human rights, left behind is her correspondence from behind bars, although most of it, sadly, was destroyed. The letters which I am aware of consist of a letter from the jail in Dresden to her friend and former colleague from her teacher days, Marlis Ebner; 14 letters from the prison in Waldheim to her sister Cäcilia, and 11 letters to Cäcilia from the concentration camp in Ravensbrück. The letters to her sister begin affectionately with “Mein Klienerchen” (“my little one”) and end with Grólmusec’s nickname Ali. They are all written in German; this may reflect Grólmusec’s lack of fluency in written Sorbian and/or restrictions of censorship. (The authorities may have insisted that all letters be written in German.)

A study of Grólmusec’s correspondence would go beyond the limits of this brief overview of her life. However, I would like to quote several very moving lines from one of them. (I will give an English translation. Let me also make a comment on Sorbian culture. The Christchild is a teenage girl who brings gifts to the children.) This is from a letter written from Waldheim on New Year’s Day 1939:

When you come home at five and ring our evening bells, you then sit down with your new sweets at the tea table, turn on the Christmas lights, and listen to a bit of music on the radio, which cheers up and comforts your heart. But will you find any? Yes, my little one – I know it – you think back to other Christmas Eves. It hasn’t been so long since you look so happily and with such amazement at the Christmas lights as that young girl, the Christchild, brought you a beautiful doll. It’s been a few years! But everything is now so dark and grave, and the doll is no longer sitting under the tree. And we know that the broken doll will never be fixed, and we’ll never be little girls again, and so, we’ll never laugh again the way we once did: easily and light-heartedly. Too much darkness has entered our lives, too much for us to be able to forget. But we don’t want to lose hope and courage.

(Two Grólmusec scholars, Prégardier and Mohr, wonder if the phrase “the broken doll” might not be an allusion to the early death of Marja’s and Cäcilia’s mother and thus refer to their broken childhood. However, Marja and Cäcilia were 15 and 13, respectively, when their mother died. While still tragic, it is not as if they had been, say, eight and six.)

In another letter to her sister (May 19, 1940 from Waldheim) Grólmusec says that “In dark times, one must light a new fire. In dark times one can’t have too much light.” After attending a lecture on the letters of Rosa Luxemburg, Grólmusec wrote “the quiet things, which strengthen the soul for struggle.”


Cats and Cat Napping Learned From Them

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 6, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            One of the perks of retirement is being able to take “cat naps” whenever you want to. During the 66 years of employment at one kind of job or the other, I used to think how nice it would be to take a nap in the midst of “wilt-down” time after lunch but was never able to do so.

            After almost a year of my retiring from any and all jobs, my wife and I purchased two recliners for our sun room, the built-on room with all the windows. At last, after so many years, I can take a “cat nap” during afternoon wilt-down time and any other time I want during the day. A “cat nap,” defined as a short nap during the day, is a term first used in the early 19th Century and was suggested by the way cats nap all day long. Much of the time, cats doze off for short periods of time, then move somewhere else and take another short snooze. In addition, at least once a day, a cat will sleep soundly for longer periods of time.

            The old saying that you can’t watch a cat curl up and sleep, and stay uptight yourself is very true, so when our cat Gatsby joins us for our wilt-down naps by climbing onto one of our laps, my sleep can be long and deep. We would like to have a cat for each of our laps, but Gatsby will no longer tolerate another feline in the house, so we have to share him. Since cats take “cat naps,” he curls up on my wife’s lap and dozes for a short time, then takes a five or six-foot leap from her lap to mine and snoozes in my lap until he decides to find a rug to nap on. No doubt he is ADHD!

            All the cats we have had over the years have been nappers, except for one, — Isis (named after an Egyptian goddess, not the jihadist group). I named her “Isis” back then, because I incorrectly thought the Egyptian goddess Isis was the Egyptian “cat goddess.” Statues of the Egyptian cat goddess show her as half cat and half woman, and she was called “Bastet,” not “Isis.” In ancient Egypt, there were many pagan temples devoted to cat worship, so much so that dead cats were usually mummified, and it was against the law to injure or hurt a domestic cat. Cats were considered so sacred that even the Pharaohs imitated their behavior (which may have motivated the first human “cat nap”).

            Confusing Isis with Bastet, I thought the name fit that rather haughty, regal cat. Isis never liked me and would walk under a chair to keep me from picking her up. The other cats we owned were much more loving and loyal cats and were prone to nap-taking, — Patches, Ginger, Genie, Fluff, KC, Pip, and Prissy. In some ways, Prissy reminded me of Isis in that she lived up to her name, “Prissy,” but she, unlike Isis, was a very affectionate cat, whom we all loved dearly. One of my daughters rescued her from a dumpster at the junior high school when she was a tiny kitten not totally weaned yet, and she lived to a ripe old age with us.

            I have never seen a cat before or since that was such a coat-shedding cat. Because much of her hair was white, and she loved to cat nap often and on dark clothing, beds, rugs, and everywhere else, our home developed a cat-hair hazard. Before they would eat any desserts covered with coconut, our kids would want to know if it was coconut or Prissy hair.

            After our daughters left the nest, Prissy became my cat by default. She had to live with me in the studio, because during Hurricane Rita, we reluctantly acquired Gatsby. Prissy, as the resident cat, was the intolerant one, and there was no way she would co-exist in the house with the Great Gatsby. Gatsby wanted to be with her, but she fiercely rejected him with hissing and clawing (actions that entertained and delighted him to no end). Locked in the studio, she would look out and glare at Gatsby as he came to taunt her through the large studio window. One day my wife looked out from the house, and she saw Gatsby, inside the studio, looking out at her. He had swatted out a glass window panel to join Prissy inside. Prissy never fully recovered from the trauma of that, but she continued her lengthy cat naps in the studio loft, and I sneezed my way through our continued co-occupancy of the studio.

            And so now we are retired, with just Gatsby, who has grown old together with us and continues to teach us the true art of cat-napping.


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


Duck Art and Duck Decoys

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 30, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Yesterday, I told my wife, “Well, I didn’t have to shoot that d— duck!” She understood what I meant because of an art class incident I have alluded to many times, and of course she knows I’m not a hunter.

            Years ago, when I took a summer art class, a fellow art student struggled to paint a duck on a pond for her oil painting assignment. After weeks of not being able to paint the duck to look like a duck, she loudly announced to the class, “I shot that d— duck,” meaning she painted over him, eliminating him from her landscape painting. What a great metaphor!

            This week I felt a lot like that fellow art student as I struggled to create a piece of wood art, which was supposed to look like a wigeon (also spelled ‘widgeon”) duck. With three pieces of Hawaiian driftwood and some additional wood scraps and a bit of wood glue, I struggled and struggled unsuccessfully until I almost gave up. Then, after adding a fourth piece of driftwood, I thought my clumps of wood were beginning to look like a duck. I didn’t have to shoot it!

            Wood art can be anything from whittling to gluing pieces of wood together to very carving intricate wood sculpture. The artists who are talented enough to carve the wood into beautiful forms sell their works for a fairly good amount. Intricately carved wooden waterfowl, especially ducks, generally sell for between $125 to $300 each.

            The Javanese artist, Supriyanto, carves ducks and other waterfowl out of bamboo wood, and his works sell for $40 to $99 each, depending on size and intricacy. They are really beautiful works of art and worth every penny.

            Prior to creating a wigeon duck, I have done a great white heron and an egret. I suppose the greatest insult a wood artist could get would be for someone to think his duck art was merely a duck decoy. Believe it or not, many duck hunters buy both duck decoys and duck art and are very discerning about the art part.

            Duck decoys were originally carved from white cedar wood, but today, many are made of plastic and canvas, as well as cork. Modern floating decoys are often made from thermoplastic resin and are hollow inside. The only problem with these is that hollow thermos will sink if the hunter accidentally shoots his decoy. Of course, the real purpose of duck decoys is to attract real ducks, and if they are too realistic-looking, you might shoot the wrong one.

            In most instances, the duck decoys are not very artistic and broadly resemble the shape of a duck, which a flock of ducks flying overhead might or might not recognize. Usually they don’t cost as much as wood art.

            It should be pointed out that there is another device known as “duck decoys,” which is totally different from a carved duck. Today, just about the only “hunters” who use them are ornithologists. It’s a device that traps the ducks (which can later be released); it consists of a series of hoops with netting. In the past, it was used by hunters who didn’t like eating the meat of their waterfowl filled with the lead shots of a shotgun. I’m not sure how they killed them after they trapped them. The ornithologists just want to study and release the creatures.

            Indeed, duck art and duck decoys are not the same thing, and hopefully the one called “art” sells for a little more. My American Wigeon Duck wood art will be included in the Silent Auction at our church fund-raiser on September 9, in what used to be called the Knights of Columbus Hall in Wallis. Keeping in mind that all money made at the auction will go to such missions as world hunger, deaf ministry, disaster aid, etc., perhaps some of you duck hunters will want to bid on my duck. If nothing else, maybe you could use it as a decoy.


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