Thanksgiving Isn’t Just About Turkey

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 22, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            According to Bloomberg News, Millennials are buying smaller turkeys for Thanksgiving than their parents or grandparents did, — like turkeys that weigh five or six pounds.  The majority of folks are still buying turkeys that weigh 12 or 13 pounds, much smaller than the 30-pound turkeys we used to think we needed for a Thanksgiving feast.  Butterball apparently has everybody covered this year in that they offer turkeys from six pounds to thirty. 

            No doubt all of us have gone through the enormous left-over syndrome each Turkey Day to wanting something smaller than an ostrich, or even to the extent of serving ham, steak, shrimp, etc.  In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest at America’s First Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims and the Indians cooked and served venison rather than wild turkey, or possibly both, but not just turkey. 

            As long as my maternal grandmother was still living, we always had an enormous turkey for dinner after the Thanksgiving Service at our church.  With all the aunts and uncles, and sometimes even the pastor, at the table, there were never too many leftovers.  However, after my grandparents died, and my mother, the oldest sibling, hosted the Thanksgiving meal, Mama switched from a large turkey to a large hen (smaller than a turkey).  By then, there weren’t as many mouths to feed, and you could always double up on the dressing.  The leftovers were manageable.

            My wife and I gave up the tradition of a Thanksgiving turkey from the beginning of our life together.  We remember only too well how many days of leftover turkey we were served by her mother during our Thanksgiving break from teaching.  Turkey sandwiches, even with pepper jelly, got monotonous, and, as the wife always said, “Mother’s turkey soup left much to be desired.”  On alternate years, when we went to my parents for the special day, there were no leftovers from the roasted hen, and my mother would make a huge batch of Wendish-style creamed herring, which, to this day, cause me to drool just thinking about this scrumptious comestible.   (Fortunately, my wife had learned to love creamed herring from her Jewish friends in New York where she lived.)

            Well, in spite of our emphasis on food and more food, Thanksgiving Day is certainly not just about eating so much you fall off your chair.  Nor is it about football.  Back in the days of my childhood in Dime Box, when my grandmother roasted an enormous turkey every year, folks called it “Turkey Day,” and it meant to many Longhorn fans and Aggie fans the big A&M versus Texas game. 

            Trying not to make it a Day about football, my parents, my maternal grandparents, and most of my maternal aunts and uncles went to our little Lutheran church on the hill in Old Dime Box for the special service.  Highway 21 sliced right in front of the church parking lot.  When church turned out near noon, bumper to bumper traffic was going right when the game was in Austin, and, to the left, when the game was in College Station.  We could get to Grandma’s house turning either left or right onto the highway.  There were years when the turkey got really cold waiting for us to get on 21, a feat which required making another turn.  One year, my grandfather had as much as he could take, so he stood on the highway, stopped the traffic, and motioned the three cars loaded with my family members to get on the busy thoroughfare.

            To say we didn’t pig out when we got to Grandma’s table in the dining room would be a lie, because there was pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and koch Kase for dessert, as well as turkey and dressing.  Yet my parents and grandparents had a keen awareness of what this day celebrated by all Americans was really about.  My grandfather made sure we all understood what that was, the church service being just the beginning.  World War II was raging and it meant thanking God for those who served (including family members), and asking God to protect them and all others.  It also meant thanking Him for the abundance we enjoyed every day of our lives.     

              No, it’s not just about turkey, that’s for sure.

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

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Let It Snow, Let’s Count The Flakes!

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 15, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            “Let it snow, let it snow!” Dean Martin, on the Dean Martin Christmas Album in1966, described a snow that kept falling – “Man it doesn’t show signs of stoppin’.” Obviously, the lyrics weren’t talking about the Houston Gulf Coast area, where it rarely snows without stopping. In fact, it rarely snows here.

            Well, according to Eye Witness News, in 1895, Houston did have 20 inches of the magic white stuff! Since 1895, the report said, it has snowed 38 times in the Houston area: 2 ½ inches in 1929, 3 inches in 1940, 2.6 inches in 1949, 4.4 inches in 1960, three times in 1973, each time over an inch, small amount in 1989, 1.7 inches in 2008, 1 inch in 2009, and a trace in 2010. A trace in a couple more years, but not enough to record.

            And that was true of Tuesday morning of this week, — a few flakes in East Bernard, someone posted on Facebook, not enough to count. However, in Amarillo, where it snows more frequently than down here, had a blizzard on Monday. Yet, the odd thing is that even for Amarillo, it normally doesn’t snow in November, and certainly not in early November. No, probably not.

            When my wife and I were living in Ann Arbor, Michigan for graduate studies, we experienced the worst snow storm in the history of Michigan and Ontario! And it occurred on Thanksgiving Day. As we were driving back to Michigan from our brief jaunt in Canada, a few snowflakes began to fall. The closer we got to Detroit, the higher the flake count. We asked several old time Canadians if we should be worried driving home to Ann Arbor, and they laughed and said, “Oh, no, don’t worry, we never have snowstorms as early as November.” We took their word for it and blithely drove on the last long lap to the Border. That’s when the blizzard came in all of its November fury! Almost a whiteout, and the car radio kept telling us to stay off the highway we were on. It was an ordeal which turned me against the idea that the “weather outside is delightful.”

            That Michigan blizzard happened in 1974 or 1975, and was the first snowfall I had experienced since 1973, the year we were married. On January 11, 1973, when I was still living in Wharton, we had 2 inches of the delightful stuff (as I thought of it then), six months before my wife and I were married. Little did I know as I wrote poems about the exquisite white pellicles falling from the sky that a year or so later we’d risk our lives in a vicious flake storm!

            If we could see individual snowflakes, I think we’d agree that each one is beautiful. Snowflakes are tiny ice crystals formed in the clouds from water vapor, and when they stick together they become heavy enough to fall to the ground. These crystals form a multitude of different shapes, to the extent folks say there are no two snowflakes alike. It wasn’t until the late 19th Century that Wilson Bentley photographed individual flakes for the first time, coming up with over 5,000 images of them. Each one was different. However, until somebody photographs trillions of them, I don’t know that we can say absolutely no two are alike.

            When I was a child, the one or two times it snowed, what we liked about the snowflakes was not their beauty, but making snow cones out of them, pouring on a little strawberry extract and eating them. Since the water vapor forms ice crystals around tiny pieces of dirt in the atmosphere, when you eat snow, you might being eating a little dirt, too.

            I am writing this the morning it snowed in San Antonio, after it snowed in Amarillo, and a few people saw a few flakes in East Bernard. What will happen between now and when you read the Express will be interesting to observe. One thing we can be sure of is we’re not going to have a blizzard. People in places like Michigan think we Texans are funny, because when we experience temperatures below 40, and we see a few snowflakes fall, we cancel field trips, shopping excursions, and sometimes, even school. So, let it snow, and let’s count the flakes!

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

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Let It Snow, Let’s count

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 15, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            “Let it snow, let it snow!” Dean Martin, on the Dean Martin Christmas Album in1966, described a snow that kept falling – “Man it doesn’t show signs of stoppin’.” Obviously, the lyrics weren’t talking about the Houston Gulf Coast area, where it rarely snows without stopping. In fact, it rarely snows here.

            Well, according to Eye Witness News, in 1895, Houston did have 20 inches of the magic white stuff! Since 1895, the report said, it has snowed 38 times in the Houston area: 2 ½ inches in 1929, 3 inches in 1940, 2.6 inches in 1949, 4.4 inches in 1960, three times in 1973, each time over an inch, small amount in 1989, 1.7 inches in 2008, 1 inch in 2009, and a trace in 2010. A trace in a couple more years, but not enough to record.

            And that was true of Tuesday morning of this week, — a few flakes in East Bernard, someone posted on Facebook, not enough to count. However, in Amarillo, where it snows more frequently than down here, had a blizzard on Monday. Yet, the odd thing is that even for Amarillo, it normally doesn’t snow in November, and certainly not in early November. No, probably not.

            When my wife and I were living in Ann Arbor, Michigan for graduate studies, we experienced the worst snow storm in the history of Michigan and Ontario! And it occurred on Thanksgiving Day. As we were driving back to Michigan from our brief jaunt in Canada, a few snowflakes began to fall. The closer we got to Detroit, the higher the flake count. We asked several old time Canadians if we should be worried driving home to Ann Arbor, and they laughed and said, “Oh, no, don’t worry, we never have snowstorms as early as November.” We took their word for it and blithely drove on the last long lap to the Border. That’s when the blizzard came in all of its November fury! Almost a whiteout, and the car radio kept telling us to stay off the highway we were on. It was an ordeal which turned me against the idea that the “weather outside is delightful.”

            That Michigan blizzard happened in 1974 or 1975, and was the first snowfall I had experienced since 1973, the year we were married. On January 11, 1973, when I was still living in Wharton, we had 2 inches of the delightful stuff (as I thought of it then), six months before my wife and I were married. Little did I know as I wrote poems about the exquisite white pellicles falling from the sky that a year or so later we’d risk our lives in a vicious flake storm!

            If we could see individual snowflakes, I think we’d agree that each one is beautiful. Snowflakes are tiny ice crystals formed in the clouds from water vapor, and when they stick together they become heavy enough to fall to the ground. These crystals form a multitude of different shapes, to the extent folks say there are no two snowflakes alike. It wasn’t until the late 19th Century that Wilson Bentley photographed individual flakes for the first time, coming up with over 5,000 images of them. Each one was different. However, until somebody photographs trillions of them, I don’t know that we can say absolutely no two are alike.

            When I was a child, the one or two times it snowed, what we liked about the snowflakes was not their beauty, but making snow cones out of them, pouring on a little strawberry extract and eating them. Since the water vapor forms ice crystals around tiny pieces of dirt in the atmosphere, when you eat snow, you might being eating a little dirt, too.

            I am writing this the morning it snowed in San Antonio, after it snowed in Amarillo, and a few people saw a few flakes in East Bernard. What will happen between now and when you read the Express will be interesting to observe. One thing we can be sure of is we’re not going to have a blizzard. People in places like Michigan think we Texans are funny, because when we experience temperatures below 40, and we see a few snowflakes fall, we cancel field trips, shopping excursions, and sometimes, even school. So, let it snow, and let’s count the flakes!

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

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Writing Less and Saying More

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 8, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            As an English teacher, it has been, over the years, both my pleasure and my agony to help young people writer better. One of the remarkable things about having lived as long as God has allowed me to live is that I have been able to observe the many changes in the rules and styles of writing. One example of that would be the changes in documenting research papers, from footnotes to endnotes to parenthetical notations. These changes in documenting scholarly papers have been a movement from wordiness to less wordy.

            And that tendency to express more with less was a change which could be seen in most other areas of writing. It’s obvious from reading Victorian novels like those by Charles Dickens that the Victorian writing style was wordier and more elaborate than the writing styles of the 21st Century. Perceptive readers could see the terseness in the novels of the mid and late 20th Century, — those wonderfully terse novels of Ernest Hemingway, a case in point. The one exception might be the novels of William Faulkner, in which the sentences were quite long and at times almost seemed run-on. Yet Faulkner’s style was certainly not Victorian; the words didn’t roll along leisurely, he just tried to put an incredible amount of thought into one sentence.

            What I was taught by my writing teachers was terseness, in other words, — free your writing of superfluous words. Don’t say in twenty words what you can say in ten, and don’t say in ten words what you can say in five. After all, the purpose of writing in communication, and superfluity interferes with communication. On the other hand you don’t want to let the desire for terseness become an excuse for inane writing that has nothing to say.

            This movement from verbosity to terseness was not the only change I’ve seen in these many years of a life of reading and writing. The rules of grammar and structure have changed, too, with a tendency toward fewer rules, and this change has made writing in English easier.

            France is one of the few, if not the only country, which had official government regulations of language, forbidding the French language from borrowing words from other languages. The problem with any kind of regulation is that usage gives laws to language, language ultimately can’t give laws to usage. People change, ideas change, attitudes change, language changes. That’s a fact.

            As a free-lance writer, something I’ve noticed in recent years is a growing tendency of literary magazines to promote ancient Japanese forms of poetry writing, which is known for its minimalism. In the Haiku (three-line poem) and the Tanka (five-line poem), forms borrowed from the Japanese, the poet has to say a great deal in a few words, doing so by implying and suggesting. When I first began writing poems and sending them off to literary magazines some 68 years ago, there were very few journals accepting Haiku or Tanka. Those who wrote Haiku in the 1950’s were the Beat (Beatnik) poets, and they were considered on the fringes of society, thus they were not taken very seriously. However, it was the short “Beat” poems that triggered the movement leading to the popularity of the Haiku, Tanka, and other short forms of Japanese poetry.

            The challenge to say something significant in a poem 12 to 17 syllables in length is an exciting challenge for poets. The English language being so different from the Japanese language has led to writing the English Haiku in less than 17 syllables. For me, 12 syllables in a three-line poem flows from my brain the easiest, even though I started out writing 5-7-5 syllables, because that’s what we think of as a haiku. Editors and poets today realize 5-7-5 is not a comfortable syllable count for writers of English.

            The English language is an absolutely wonderful language to write with. Even though I grew up in a German-speaking household and studied the German language in college, I have never been able to write a good poem in German. German grammar is extremely difficult and complicated, and the way German words are generated and structured lends itself to clumsy wordiness. New German words are created by combining old German words together in what often becomes a very long new word. Not so in English.       

            Once you’ve experienced the exhilaration of writing a good Haiku or Tanka, you don’t want to write anything else! I’ll end with my latest Haiku:

                                                            cat paws door

                                                            cat meows . . . cat yowls

                                                            old man writes

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

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Celebrating Allhallowtide

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 1, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Although I have to write my column a few days ahead of time, you should be reading this on November 1, which is known by some of us as All Saints’ Day, aka, All Hallows’ Day, aka, Hallowmas. As a child growing up Lutheran, I really didn’t understand the meaning of this church festival, and was further confused by the observances of my Roman Catholic friends, who were either Czech-American or Mexican-American.

            The Roman Catholic Church in those days observed a three-day celebration called “Allhallowtide,” which included All Saints’ Eve or “All Hallowed Eve” (from whence comes the word “Halloween) on October 31, All Saints’ Day on November 1, and All Souls’ Day on November 2.

            All Saints’ Day, November 1, is an observance of all saints both known saints and unknown saints, but the Roman Catholic Church focuses on the known Saints of the Church. Since Lutherans believe that all true Christians, living and dead, are “saints,” our worship service would remember those saints who went before us, especially our loved ones, such as parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, etc. There was also some recognition of the famous Saints of the Church who gave their lives in Christ’s service, and who taught us through their letters and gospels how to serve and glorify God.

            We Lutherans also observed Reformation Day on October 31, which sort of sidelined All Saints’ Eve (which we did recognize) and we celebrated All Saints’ Day on November 1, but we did not observe All Souls’ Day on November 2. The differences between us and them were never explained to me, so I remained confused until I was much older.

            Over the years, I tried to sort this out in my mind, having some of it explained to me in Confirmation class. My understanding of All Souls’ Day in the Roman Catholic Church is that it’s a time to commemorate those who died baptized, but, because of unconfessed sin, were believed to be in purgatory. Observance of the Day would include prayer intercession for them to free them of their sins. Since Lutheran theology does not include the concept of purgatory, we did not observe All Souls’ Day.

            Some of my Mexican-American Catholic friends observed the three days of Allhallowtide with a slight variation from the way Czech-American Catholics celebrated it. Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), observed on All Souls’ Day and celebrated throughout Mexico, was celebrated here in Texas in a similar way. It is an official holiday in Mexico.

            Family and friends would gather together to remember and to pray for loved ones who had died. Families would set up altars at home with the favorite food and drink of the deceased loved one, and/or take these gifts to the grave of the dearly departed. Lighting candles for them was also done by both ethnic groups.

            These special holy days are very meaningful for many Christians, coming as they do less than two months before Christmas when the birth of the Savior of the world is celebrated to assure us we will one day join the other saints in our eternal home, and coming less than a month before we Americans observe Thanksgiving Day. The daily news reminds us again and again what stressful times we are living in, and some of it causes us anger, depression, and anxiety, and even a tendency to lose faith in the goodness of God. These are times to let ourselves be pulled toward God rather than away from Him, times for prayers of supplication seeking God’s help and prayers of thanksgiving for the great blessings we do have, including thankfulness for those wonderful, cherished loved ones who have passed away.

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

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