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.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.