The Love Of Soap, Mama’s Old Fashioned Lye Or Modern Goat Milk

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 23, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Some years ago I went with my son-in-law to a goat farm near Kendleton to buy some goat milk, which I had read was the healthiest milk to drink; upon bringing a couple bottles home, I discovered after one big swallow of the stuff, I couldn’t stand the taste of it. However, the owners of the farm did also sell goat milk soap, so I was able to buy some really good goat milk soap, which is the only kind of soap my wife and I have been using for decades.

            By the way, over the centuries, there have been arguments among those who have a fixation on proper grammar, about the proper form for writing “goat milk.” Do you write “goat milk” (using “goat” as a noun adjunct), or “goats milk” (without an apostrophe), “goat’s milk” (singular possessive), or “goats’ milk” (plural possessive)? Singular possessive would say the milk is from one goat; plural possessive would say the milk is from more than one goat; thus many grocers advertized it without an apostrophe. Because the argument about to apostrophe or not to apostrophe or where to apostrophe, I choose to use the noun adjunct form, “goat milk.”

            My wife and I use goat milk soap mainly because health professionals have said it is good for the skin, because it doesn’t dry out the skin like other types of soap. Some even believe it is good for folks, like me, who suffer from eczema, keeping your skin soft and smooth. Freshly made goat milk soap does not lather as well as other soaps, but after it has aged for a while, it lathers quite well. Health professionals are also saying that it cleans your hands and body of germs just as well as anti-bacterial soaps do.

            However, I like goat milk soap, not because of all those highly praised health benefits, but simply because it reminds me of the homemade lye soap my mother and grandmother used to make and swear by. Now, Mama’s old-fashioned lye soap did not promise to make your hands soft and smooth, like goat milk; in fact, after using it to scrub clothes on a rub board, it left your hands pretty doggone raw! The good thing about Mama’s old-fashioned lye soap was that it got your clothes cleaner than anything else and it would get rid of bad stains. Because of the lye and animal fat, it could be used for soothing poison ivy, skin rashes, and bug bites.

            Mama, like Grandma, made her soap with hog lard, water, and lye; she wouldn’t let us help her make it because lye was “too dangerous” to use. Her homemade lye soap came out of the process a light tan color and had little dark-brown specks in it. I was told that the little brown specks were pieces of sizzled pigskin in her homemade lard. Except for the brown specks, the natural color of goat milk soap reminds me of her old-fashioned lye concoction, and that’s the main reason I like it, soft hands or no soft hands.

            Unfortunately, goat milk soap is usually more expensive than other types of soap, but you can get it cheaper at a goat milk farm than in a fancy lady’s gift shop. Of course, goat milk farms don’t smell as nice as fancy lady’s gift shops, and that’s all right with me. Because of the expense, I once thought of trying to make my own goat milk soap, but discovered that made from scratch, goat milk soap required the use of lye, just as Mama’s soap did, and I still have this fear of using lye. Because of the power of the lye, one of the goat milk making instructions said to freeze the goat milk first. The whole process sounded much to problematic for me to attempt. I have discovered, however, in recent years, that you can buy a ready-made goat milk soap base, which means someone else has already done the lye work for you. Oh well, I’m too old to make my own now, and try to order it directly from a goat farm, where you can get bigger ounce bars for less.

            My wife likes the way goat milk soap leaves your skin soft and smooth, and I like the way it seems to keep my eczema under control (and smells a lot better than Noxema, the old eczema remedy), but, for me, it’s got to have that Mama’s soap look to it! I even found some once with dark-brown specks, but don’t think they were pigskin bits.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of It Must Be the Noodles.

Religious Persecutions and Its Tragedies

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 16, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

“No one should be in fear in a house of worship,” tweeted Vice-President Pence after the tragic shooting in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This terrible attack involving a Jewish house of worship came on the heels of tragic bombings of Christian churches in the Philippines in 2019 and a fatal attack on a mosque in New Zealand.

            Just a few days ago, six people were killed in an attack on a Catholic church in Burkino Faso, in West Africa. Christian churches have been under attack for some time now all over the world. In 2019, worldwide, 1,266 Christian churches were attacked, and 4,136 Christians killed for their faith. Most of you probably remember that 26 Christians were killed in a Baptist church in Texas in 2017, so these fatal attacks have not just been on Catholics, but on different denominations of Christianity, as well as on synagogues and mosques. This is a alarming commentary on the 21st Century, isn’t it?

            One of the most horrible acts of violence against Christians in 2018 did not take place in a church but on a beach, when 20 Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya for their faith. For the beheading, they were handcuffed and dressed in prison uniforms. Such things are as horrifying as the persecution against Christians by the Romans in New Testament times.

            The Coptic Christian (Orthodox) church is considered one of the oldest Christian churches, if not THE oldest, in the history of Christianity. It began in Egypt, and it is believed, based on non-Biblical historical sources, that the Apostle Mark was the evangelist who brought Christianity to Egypt, and it spread to other parts of Africa, including Ethiopia (where the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church now has many members and is very active). The first Christian converts no doubt where Jews living in Egypt. In fact, it was in Alexandria, where the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible was made. There were waves of anti-Jewish violence for many years in the region, and Greeks and pagans of all kinds made no distinction between Jews and Christians (they considered Christianity a sect of Judaism).

            Based on non-Scriptural sources, it is believed by some historians that Saint Mark was martyred, that is, killed defending the faith, during these outbreaks of Jewish persecution. When you try to connect the dots in the history of Christianity in Egypt and the rest of Africa, you cannot help but remember that Joseph and Mary fled with the Christ Child to Egypt. And you cannot help but wonder if this bringing the Savior of the world to Egypt did not in some way plant the first seed of Christianity in a non-Christian area.

            Today, it is a fact that there are more Christians in Africa than in any other continent in the world (Africa is a continent, not a country). Religious scholars report that while there is a huge rise in the Christian population in Africa, there is a steady decline of Christianity in Europe, the United Kingdom showing the largest decline. Why is this so? No doubt the fact that one of the oldest Christian groups in the world has been there for a long time, but also because of the many Christian missionaries who served in Africa over many years. Christian scholars predict that by 2060, the number of Christians in Africa will double, while declining on other continents. The old concept that Christianity grows and thrives where it encounters the most persecution may be a valid idea.

            Back in the old days when I was a youngster attending Sunday School, I remember being shocked and horrified when my Sunday School teacher told us about how the Roman emperors would imprison, torture and kill Christians (who would hide in the catacombs), and how emperors like Nero would feed some innocent believers to the lions and pour oil on others and light them as human torches. It was hard to believe, but we were happy we were not living in such an era. I pray that the many tragic events today do not presage a return to those times.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.

Why Do We Name Babies The Names We Name Them?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 9, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Shortly before I began writing this column, the news came across the electronic media that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced the birth of a son, weighing in at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Prince Henry Charles Albert David, affectionately known as “Prince Harry” (“Harry” being a nickname for “Henry”), announced the birth from Windsor Castle. When asked by reporters about a name, he replied they were still thinking about names.

            Like many of us, Royals are usually named after family members. For example, we named one of our daughters after my wife, and the other one after me. Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, there were eight “Henry’s” who ruled as king, from Henry I to Henry VIII; not only were there kings named Charles, but Harry’s father is Prince Charles. There was only one British king whose name was “Albert,” – Albert Edward, — but he ruled as “Edward VII.” And there was a king of Scotland, David I, who was a protégé of King Henry I, keeping in mind that one of Prince Charles’ titles is “Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.” From this information, I would conclude that all four of Prince Harry’s names are family names.

            In past years, it was not uncommon in the United Kingdom and even in the United States to name a child after a European king or queen. Once Prince Harry and Meghan choose a name for the new baby, I’m sure there will be many new parents, perhaps all over the world, who will give that name or names to their infant. Naming your child after a royal person to some folks no doubt seems to foretell greatness for the child.

            When I was told many years ago that one of my aunts was named “Isabella” after Queen Isabella II of Spain (born in 1830 and died in 1904), I asked “why,” and my mother replied, “I guess because our mother liked Queen Isabella.” My Aunt Isabella was born in 1918, and Queen Isabella died in 1904, a long time after she had abdicated. Since my grandmother gave her other daughters German names, — Adele, Elda, and Malinda, — I was extremely curious about giving the youngest one a Spanish name.

            Why would Grandma like Queen Isabella II of Spain? It seems that Queen Isabella became Queen of Spain when she was still a baby, — no doubt at the death of her father. From the very beginning there was much opposition to her being Queen, not because she was a baby (a Regent would rule for her until she grew up), but because she was a female. The opposition to having a female monarch continued throughout her reign, so that she finally abdicated in 1870, and her son Alfonse VI became king. She lived for 34 more years. My grandmother never gave any indication of being a feminist, so upholder of women’s rights was not her reason. I guess, as my mother said, Grandma just liked Queen Isabella.

            Because they were avid followers of Elvis Presley, some fans in the 1950’s named their newborn sons “Elvis,” after the King of Rock and Roll. Less understandable are folks who give their babies the name of a hurricane after a major storm plows through their community. After Hurricane Carla in 1961, I recall that quite a few parents chose to name their daughters “Carla.” Likewise when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Did anybody name their son “Harvey” in 2017?

            Sometimes parents give their newborn a particular name for no real reason other than the fact they like the name. I suspect my parents gave me the very British name “Raymond” because they just liked the name; they certainly could not have foreknown that someday I would become an avid Anglophile (lover of all things English or British).

            During each era in history, certain boys’ names and girls’ names are trendy, so folks who like to be trendy often choose those names.

            In the 1930’s when my parents named me “Raymond,” the most commonly chosen names for boys were James, John, William, and Robert; hmmm, although not trendy, I think mine is more distinctive! The most frequently chosen girls’ names for babies in 1918 when my aunt was named “Isabella,” were Mildred, Florence, Irene, Mary, and Margaret. “Mary” shows up as a popular name in just about every era except the 21st Century.

            The ten most popular girls’ names in the United States in 2018 included “Isabella,” ranked as number 5, — can you believe it, after all these years, my aunt’s name is now trendy. The most frequently chosen boys’ names in the United Kingdom in 2018 were Liam, Noah, Aiden, Caden, Grayson, Lucas, and Mason. I’ve come to the end of my column and Prince Harry still has not announced a name for Baby Sussex; I doubt he’ll choose any of the preceding seven.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor and author of It Must Be the Noodles.

Having Two Remarkable “Fathers”

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 25, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

My father-in-law, A. B. Davis, was a remarkable man. Many of you knew him, because he visited us quite frequently here in East Bernard and spent the last years of his life living in Wharton, attending St. John Lutheran Church regularly. He loved kumquats, and members of our church is Wallis would bring him bags of kumquats. After my father, Max Spitzenberger, died, “B,” as he was called by his friends, and I grew very close, and he became my “adopted” father. Both B and my father Max were the kindest, gentlest, most generous human beings you could ever know, and I feel very blessed to have had both of them as fathers, mentors and friends.

            My father Max was very perceptive, insightful, and intelligent, but, having had to quit school in the third grade to work the farm when his father died, he never learned to read very well, and never read books. But he could design and build barns better than anyone else in the county and was greatly recognized for his work as a railroad section foreman. My father-in-law B, was also very perceptive, insightful, and intelligent, but, unlike my father Max, he was a graduate of Tulane, devoured huge numbers of books and magazines, and had a beautiful Victorian writing style. He had a poetic way of expressing things in writing, such as describing the leaves falling in the Fall as “autumnal witherings.” So, you can understand why, as a poet, I felt such a strong affinity to him. My father Max was a poet, too, though not one who writes poetry, but one who loved to roam the woods and appreciate all of God’s creation and creatures, — once he tenderly showed me, with tears in his eyes, a nest of baby rabbits. And, once when there was a rare snowfall in Dime Box, he got late to work so that he could share its beauty with my brother and me. Yes, he, too was a poet.

            My father-in-law B was an engineer, a superb mathematician, and an avid student of science and technology. No doubt that is the reason he served as the Assistant Director of the Army Corps of Engineers in Galveston for many years, not only planning, designing, and executing the blueprints in field work, but also writing up some of the most well written technical reports you will ever read anywhere. No doubt that is why he was chosen to write up reports for the ongoing plans to extend the incredible Galveston Seawall. He also wrote the much read “History of the Galveston Seawall,” which was published by the Southwest Research Institute and Texas A & M Research Foundation in 1951.

            The city of Galveston was certainly mindful of the need for storm protection, especially after the incredible destruction of the 1900 hurricane. But even before that tragic event, they were deeply concerned when the 1886 storm totally obliterated Indianola, knowing it could happen to Galveston. With an elevation of 8.7 feet above the level of the Gulf, Broadway was then the highest point on the island. Determined to prevent future disasters, the Corps of Engineers designed and built a seawall, and after surveying damage of each new hurricane, the wall was improved; after some years, and much study, it was extended. So this was not a quick, easy project, but a very difficult one, and one that took years of planning and work.

            At what point during the years of improving and extending the seawall my father-in-law brought his brilliant expertise into the story, I don’t know, but I have seen pictures of the giant steel frames built in 1920, into which concrete was poured, for one of the wall extensions, so I have a good idea of what an enormous undertaking the wall and its improvements and extensions was. Reading about the history of the wall and seeing the photographs of its construction over the years makes me proud to be the son-in-law of A. B. Davis, just as remembering the joy of being raised by such a loving, caring, and gentle father like Daddy Max makes me feel doubly blessed.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.