The Relativity Of Time And Back To The Past

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 20, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

When my cousin (related through my mother’s side of the family) came to see me recently, we talked non-stop for two days about the past, i.e., the “good old days” of our childhood. Several years ago, when six or seven of my cousins (related through my father’s side of the family) came to see me, we shared old family photographs and genealogies, and had long, exciting discussions about our forebears. Each of us saw old photos we hadn’t seen before and heard family stories previously not known. We all had this strong instinct to preserve our past.

            It seems that attitude is true of most people, — except, of course, for remembering the crazy things we did in the past we’d rather not remember. Most of our remembering is of the good and beautiful things of long ago, as we look at the era of our great grandparents (during which we did not live) through rose-colored glasses (I mean, what is so lovely about plowing a field with a mule). One of my cousins said that smelling the aroma of certain foods cooking on the stove triggers delightful memories of our grandmother’s kitchen. Not only do I have a similar response, but the aroma also fosters an urgent desire within in me to want to eat such food once again, like Grandma’s cooked homemade cheese on warm homemade bread.

            Like me, you may know people who do not care about the past at all and think it’s just a bucket of ashes. One of my friends once said he could care less about the past, he is only interested in the “now” and the future. He used to make me feel guilty about my penchant for reminiscing, until I decided I didn’t want friends who made me feel guilty about returning to the past, and now I have many friends who share my love of looking back and joyfully remembering. However, mooning over the past, avoiding the present, and dreading the future are not healthy attitudes either, — but that’s not what I’m talking about. We have to live in the present and realistically prepare for the future, but, at the same time, fully enjoy memories of the past.

            We can’t literally return to the past, can we? Well, there is the “relativity of time” versus “time” as most of us see it. In the “relativity of time,” a person can theorize that it’s possible to travel back in time to the past, but no one has ever found a way to make it physically possible, — though science fiction stories like The Time Machine by H. G. Wells in 1895 and the 1985 movie, Back to the Future, have presented fictitious ways. 

            Einstein once wrote, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Einstein did believe that time exists, he just did not believe in a distinction between present, past, and future. Most of us believe time is flowing, and it continues flowing constantly, ever going forward. I think it was Einstein’s theory that provided the fodder for the movie, Back to the Future, wherein Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, travels to the past in a DeLorean, using plutonium (he doesn’t have any when he wants to return) as the means. The idea of traveling back in time and forward to the future is such a popular notion that the movie did so well at the box office, the producer made Back to the Future II and Back to the Future III.

            Of course, science fiction and reality are not the same thing, so we really have only one way to view the past and that is through memories, conversations with older people, and history books. That takes me back to the pleasure that many folks receive in looking back fondly at old memories. My brother used to chuckle and say after reading my newspaper columns about episodes in our childhood that I had “creative memory.” When my cousin and I reminisced recently about our maternal grandmother whom we loved so much, we pictured her as a saint, perfectly sweet and good and saintly in every way. So I reminded my cousin how Grandma would yell at the farm dogs when they didn’t behave, spouting off some really bad words in German. I knew enough German to know how bad those words were!

            Even remembering some of the naughty and ridiculous incidents and activities of the past is a joy, and if it produces laughter as well as tears and smiles, that’s a bonus! All you need is your memory (and maybe a photo album or two), — you don’t need a DeLorean!

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

How A Pastor Became A Columnist

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for Thursday, June 13, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

In twenty-seven years, I have written over 1,350 “Images,” my newspaper column, this one adding to the count. Not too long ago, someone asked me how I got started writing my newspaper column, and I replied that it was a long story. My first “Images” column was published in The East Bernard Tribune in 1992, and it continued appearing in The Tribune until The East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, and shortly thereafter, began appearing in The Express. But how/why did the pastor of a church ever begin writing a newspaper column in the first place, the person wanted to know, — I even ask myself that question.

            Back in the good old days when I was growing up in Dime Box, The Giddings News published regular columns written by persons in many of the small towns in Lee County, including “News from Dime Box,” written by my Aunt Fritzie. These columns mostly consisted of such news items as “So and so visited his parents during the Christmas holidays” and “The So and So’s are proud grandparents of a baby girl named So and So.” My aunt’s column always struck me as superfluous, because everybody in Dime Box already knew everything reported in the column, — I guess they just liked seeing their name in the paper. My thoughts in those years was that column-writing must be rather boring.

            Then we moved to Giddings when I was a sophomore, and my Giddings High School English teacher, who apparently liked the essays I wrote in class, asked me to write “a column” for the high school newspaper, The Traveler. After I discovered that such a column was more like a feature article than merely chit chat, I began my “career” as a column-writer, continuing it at Blinn Junior College by writing “Impromptu Campusology” for the Jolly Roger’s Log. To make a long story shorter, after that, I didn’t write any more newspaper columns during the many, many years I worked as a school teacher, although I did sponsor a literary magazine.

            It wasn’t until after I retired as a teacher and began my second career as a Lutheran pastor that I took up column writing again, — or, I should say, stumbled onto column-writing. As an active member of both the East Bernard and Wallis communities, I often wrote news stories and took them to the office of The East Bernard Tribune to be published. One day when I took a story to the Tribune office, the Managing Editor of three or four newspapers, including The Tribune, happened to be there and asked me if I wanted to work a few hours a week for the newspaper. Like most pastors, I was in need of supplementing my income and agreed to at least try it for a while.

            The newspaper “work” wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned, as my jobs included distributing newspapers to business places where they were sold, meeting the Managing Editor at Altair, and sometimes at Halletsville, to take him news copy and ads, as well as editing news stories turned in by townspeople. To make my “job” more interesting, I began writing my column, “Images,” and while the Managing Editor printed it, he told me I wouldn’t be paid extra for it. My memory fails me, but I know I didn’t work longer than a year for the Tribune when I resigned from “the job,” but asked if I could continue to write my “Images” column and be paid for it. By then I had a fair number of “followers” who liked my column and said it was the main reason they bought the paper, — So the Managing Editor agreed to pay me for each column. And that’s really how I got started as a newspaper columnist.

            When the East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, the Express editor was kind enough to allow me to continue publishing my column, — and paying me for it. During these 27 years, I sought to identify what a newspaper “column” was really supposed to be, and the nature of my column changed over that time. One of my inspirations was Leon Hale, who first wrote a column for The Houston Post, and later, for The Houston Chronicle. However, my columns differed from Leon Hale’s, in that

In twenty-seven years, I have written over 1,350 “Images,” my newspaper column, this one adding to the count. Not too long ago, someone asked me how I got started writing my newspaper column, and I replied that it was a long story. My first “Images” column was published in The East Bernard Tribune in 1992, and it continued appearing in The Tribune until The East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, and shortly thereafter, began appearing in The Express. But how/why did the pastor of a church ever begin writing a newspaper column in the first place, the person wanted to know, — I even ask myself that question.

            Back in the good old days when I was growing up in Dime Box, The Giddings News published regular columns written by persons in many of the small towns in Lee County, including “News from Dime Box,” written by my Aunt Fritzie. These columns mostly consisted of such news items as “So and so visited his parents during the Christmas holidays” and “The So and So’s are proud grandparents of a baby girl named So and So.” My aunt’s column always struck me as superfluous, because everybody in Dime Box already knew everything reported in the column, — I guess they just liked seeing their name in the paper. My thoughts in those years were that column-writing must be rather boring.

            Then we moved to Giddings when I was a sophomore, and my Giddings High School English teacher, who apparently liked the essays I wrote in class, asked me to write “a column” for the high school newspaper, The Traveler. After I discovered that such a column was more like a feature article than merely chit chat, I began my “career” as a column-writer, continuing it at Blinn Junior College by writing “Impromptu Campusology” for the Jolly Roger’s Log. To make a long story shorter, after that, I didn’t write any more newspaper columns during the many, many years I worked as a school teacher, although I did sponsor a literary magazine.

            It wasn’t until after I retired as a teacher and began my second career as a Lutheran pastor that I took up column writing again, — or, I should say, stumbled onto column-writing. As an active member of both the East Bernard and Wallis communities, I often wrote news stories and took them to the office of The East Bernard Tribune to be published. One day when I took a story to the Tribune office, the Managing Editor of three or four newspapers, including The Tribune, happened to be there and asked me if I wanted to work a few hours a week for the newspaper. Like most pastors, I was in need of supplementing my income and agreed to at least try it for a while.

            The newspaper “work” wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned, as my jobs included distributing newspapers to business places where they were sold, meeting the Managing Editor at Altair, and sometimes at Halletsville, to take him news copy and ads, as well as editing news stories turned in by townspeople. To make my “job” more interesting, I began writing my column, “Images,” and while the Managing Editor printed it, he told me I wouldn’t be paid extra for it. My memory fails me, but I know I didn’t work longer than a year for the Tribune when I resigned from “the job,” but asked if I could continue to write my “Images” column and be paid for it. By then I had a fair number of “followers” who liked my column and said it was the main reason they bought the paper, — So the Managing Editor agreed to pay me for each column. And that’s really how I got started as a newspaper columnist.

            When the East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, the Express editor was kind enough to allow me to continue publishing my column, — and paying me for it. During these 27 years, I sought to identify what a newspaper “column” was really supposed to be, and the nature of my column changed over that time. One of my inspirations was Leon Hale, who first wrote a column for The Houston Post, and later, for The Houston Chronicle. However, my columns differed from Leon Hale’s, in that mine became more and more like feature articles or essays, and they still are.            

Mine being a weekly column, I could never understand how on earth Leon Hale could come up with new ideas regularly for a daily column. I am in awe of him for that, as, after writing well over a thousand columns, I feel my idea bucket is almost empty. One of these days it may be.           

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

The Palaces, The Queen, And Our President

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 6, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

One of the things I have learned from teaching a college course in British literature for many years is an understanding and appreciation of the United Kingdom. You have to know the people, places, and traditions of England, Scotland, Ireland, etc., to understand their poetry and prose. When you immerse yourself in British culture and history, you cannot help but become somewhat of an Anglophile. On the day I am writing this, President Donald Trump is making an official State visit to the United Kingdom, his helicopter having landed on the lawn of Buckingham Palace in London about six or seven hours ago.

            President Trump’s official visit with the Queen of England and the Prime Minister today re-emphasizes the powerful and long bond between the United States and the United Kingdom. American roots are deep into British roots. President Donald Trump’s ancestors came to the United States from Scotland. President George W. Bush is the 17th cousin of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. My wife’s ancestors came from Ireland, as did President Ronald Reagan’s and President John F. Kennedy’s. My ancestors came from Germany, but like most Americans, I feel a strong bond with England.

            President and Mrs. Trump have by now had lunch with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and the Duchess of Cornwell in Buckingham Palace. Considering the time difference, they are probably at this moment, along with Trump family members, and the Queen’s son and grandsons, participating in an official State Banquet in the Palace. Our President was earlier greeted with an 82-gun salute.

            Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip (who has retired from public life) have two official residences: one is Buckingham Palace in London; the other in Windsor Castle in Windsor, Berkshire, England. Both residences are often the location for official State dinners and other special occasions. The Queen privately owns Balmoral Castle in Aberdeanshire, Scotland, and Sandringham House in Sandringham, Norfolk, England, as well as several other estates. Americans often wonder who pays for these State functions at the official palaces, involving heads of State from other countries.

            The Queen of England receives “a Sovereign Grant” from the British government, — basically an expense account which covers the cost of the royal family’s official travels, security for them, and staff and upkeep of official royal palaces. I don’t think this is coming out of the English tax-payer’s pocket, because the Sovereign Grant is made up of money generated from income from the Royal Estates (most of which goes into the Sovereign Grant and only a small portion to the Monarch). If I understand all of this correctly (which I probably don’t), President Trump is probably wealthier than Her Majesty the Queen.

            The surname for the British royal family is “Windsor.” Queen Elizabeth’s husband is called “Prince” Philip, because, as a descendant of a Greek monarch, he cannot be designated as “King” of England, so his official title is Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich. Prince Philip’s surname is “Mountbatten,” which explains why the surname for Prince Harry and Meghan’s baby is “Windsor-Mountbatten.” It was not until 1957 that Philip was officially designated a British prince. Some ancient rule decrees that British royal children cannot be named “Mountbatten,” unless their parents decline royal titles. Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan were able to name their child “Windsor-Mountbatten” because they chose that their children not have royal titles.

            Tomorrow, President Trump will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May at her office on Downing Street, with a business breakfast at St. James Palace, in spite of the face that Prime Minister May has resigned and her last day as PM is June 6. St. James Palace is no longer the official residence of the Queen, but is used more for the affairs of the United Kingdom, housing a number of official offices, and, I think a few members of the royal family live there, such as the daughters of the Duke of York.

            On his final day, the President will participate in a celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Portsmouth, led by the Queen and more than 300 D-Day veterans. This final ceremony underscores the powerful and deep relationship the United States has with the United Kingdom, and this is an official visit that reaffirms the relationship.

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

The Artistry Of Lone Star Back Roads

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 30, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

In order to make my experience with Facebook more interesting, I will frequently “like” and “follow” a Page, or a Community, or a Group, an action which often brings me enlightenment, entertainment, or inspiration. If the “Page” turns out to be uninteresting, I will “unlike” and “unfollow” it.

            Not long ago, I discovered and “liked” and “followed” a Page which I have enjoyed so much I wanted to talk about it in this column. When I “liked” the Page, entitled “Lone Star Back Roads/Photographer,” I had no idea that the person behind the Page was the Webmaster for Wendish Research where my Blogs are posted. The Page is not to be confused with “Texas Back Roads,” “BackRoads of Texas,” and a couple similarly named sites. The photographer and the Page-Master is Jeremy Clifton, who lives in Hutto, Texas, but roams all over the State.

            I tend to “like” all of the sites such as this one that contain Texas history, Texas lore, Texas ethnicity, and Texas photographs. “Lone Star Back Roads/Photographer” was different, however, from the others, and the photographs were done with such artistry, they seemed to reach out and grab you. I felt that the photos of small Texas towns on the “back roads” of the Lone Star State captured the very “soul” of the town, the community, or the church. Jeremy also posts pictures of County Courthouses, Texas eateries, and historical sites like the Alamo. He displays commendable photographs of many of the old churches, other old buildings, and festivities of the Wendish people of Texas. He grew up in North Carolina (parts of which remind him of rural Texas), and while he doesn’t have a drop of Wendish blood in him, he has two children who have a Wendish mother and grandmother, and who very likely are descendants of Rev. Jan Killian. Along with that, he has a passion for Texas, our history, and our ethnicities.

            As an artist (at least I think I am), I view his photographs as works of art, not only as they capture the light and shadows, the forms and colors, or the black and white starkness, but also as they capture the spirit, the mood, the essence of the churches, the towns, or the landscapes photographed. The photos tell a story.

One example that touches me is a black and white shot of Loebau, Texas, photographed as it looks today, now that only about 20 people still live there. The empty look of its one and only country store haunts me as I remember the town like it was during my childhood, when it was a thriving, bustling place where we Wendish Lutherans gathered for church and school picnics, oompa-pa music echoing through groves of pin oak trees.

Another of Jeremy’s photographs is a picture of Salty, Texas, consisting of a photo of the Salty Community Church (originally a Methodist church in the 1800’s), the strange, horizontal shape of the tree limbs, the diagonal cloud formations, and a cemetery barely visible in the background, all of it suggesting a long forgotten history. Jeremy comments that it once had three schools, three doctors, and a post office.

Jeremy’s night time photos make an incredible use of light in the darkness, such as the black and white photograph of the Lutheran church in The Grove, and the nighttime color photo of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fedor, Texas, the church of my forebears. This is a dramatic capturing of an old white church building, with lighted emerald green windows, the inviting structure surrounded by a splendid semi-darkness of purple, lavender, and indigo. He also captured the insides of old churches with elaborate altar work dramatically lighted in the darkness. In another shot, he caught the organist and his wife pulling on the multiple ropes ringing the delightful sounding bells in the stone bell tower. Often Jeremy gives descriptions and explanations with the photographs, and sometimes he lets the picture tell its own story.

Even though I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, I recommend if you enjoy Facebooking that you pull up “Lone Star Back Roads/Photographer,” and that you “like” the Page and you “follow” it. You’ll enjoy its artistry.

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