Tektites? Rocks Or Glass?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in  IMAGES for August 22, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Today’s column was triggered by someone asking me if I had ever found any tektites during my many years of living in Lee County, Texas.  Well, as I thought about the question, I remembered I used to collect rocks as a kid growing up in Dime Box, but I wasn’t sure what a tektite was, though I suspected it was a rock of some kind.  Before I get to the tektite saga which will follow, let me say a few things about rocks.

            All of us, I’m sure, grew up thinking of rocks as symbols of strength, that’s why “hard as a rock” is such a common expression.  We Christians think of God as a rock, we sing “Rock of Ages” with great fervor, and we remember Jesus saying to Peter, “On this rock I will. build my church.”  What could be harder and stronger than a rock?  Hmmm.  But what is a rock anyway?

            In common parlance, diamonds, which are enormously hard, are referred to as “rocks,” but they are actually “minerals” rather than rocks.  Talc is very soft, and it, too, is considered a mineral rather than a rock.  Understanding what a “rock” is may be more difficult than we think, a challenge that those of us whose careers have been “words” readily take on.  While a mineral is not a rock, rocks are often made up of different kinds of minerals.  Even scientists seem to be confused about what is and what isn’t a rock.

            As far as I can discern, “stones” and “rocks” and “boulders” and “pebbles” are all pretty much the same thing.  “Rock” is a generic term, “stones” are usually found in large amounts, such as granite, and “boulders” are huge pieces of rock.  A major difference, though, is that while “rocks” can be hard or soft, “stones” can only be hard.

            Metamorphic rocks are the hardest of the three kinds of rocks and form the roots of most mountain chains.  Sedimentary rocks are the weakest or softest, and igneous rocks are somewhere in between.

            Sorry for the pedantic talk, but I had to explain all of that to get to the tektites I never found in Dime Box or anywhere else in Lee County, Texas.  In fact, it never occurred to me to look for them as a child since I had never heard of them.     

            To get to the point, “tektites” are not rocks, even though when you find them they may look like rocks.  Actually they are glass, scientists tell us.

            Isn’t that really a technicality since glass is formed from sand or rocks (usually high in silica) by heating them to a very high temperature, followed by a rapid cooling.  OK, so rocks and sand CAN become glass, but glass is NOT a rock. 

            THE MYSTERY:  If tektites, strewn about Lee County, and other places in Texas and elsewhere, are indeed glass, who made the glass and randomly tossed it here and there (in Texas) in Walker, Brazos, Burleson, Lee, Fayette, Lavaca, Gonzales, and DeWitt Counties?

            It wasn’t the Bedias Indians of Texas, even though in Texas, “tektites” are known as “bediasites,” having been named after that tribe.  Apparently, over the years, the greatest number of tektites in Texas were found in the area where the Bedias Indians lived.  If tektites were strewn about by them, how did we acquire such unusual glass?

            THE ANSWER TO THE MYSTERY:  Tektites were formed during meteorite impacts with the earth!  Since glass needs heat for its formation, that meant an incredible amount of heat!  Some commentators even go so far as to say it happened when a giant meteorite or asteroid hit the earth and killed off the dinosaurs.  It is believed to have hit Chicxulub, Yucatan, Mexico, and the results were widespread, including the formation of tektites.

            Next time you’re in Dime Box, go on a little geological search.  Who knows, you might find a tektite!  I never did.

-o-

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

It’s Backpack Time Again

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 15, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

It’s that time again, — when summertime-dormant public school students heave on their heavy backpacks and head back to their institutions of learning. Some, this past Sunday, prepared themselves by attending a “blessing of the backpacks” service at their church. These blessing services are very popular today just about everywhere.

            Ah, yes, backpacks! Today’s backpacks come in sizes reflecting today’s technology, — sizes to fit 11” laptops, 13” laptops, 15.6” laptops, and even 17” laptops. One advertisement just announced 21 different types of backpacks, saying that “not all backpacks are created equal.” Teen Vogue printed an article entitled, “19 Trendy Backpacks for the 2019 School Year,” most of the illustrations showing very bright colors and bold designs.

            You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you? Back in the good old days when I attended Dime Box Rural School in the 1940’s, we just carried our books under our arms, though a few girls had “school satchels” (“Oh My Gosh!” gasps today’s generation). A “book satchel” is a briefcase made out of canvas rather than leather. Before my time, when my parents were in school, boys anyway, carried their books strapped together with a leather strap.

            Can you believe it!? It wasn’t until the 1980’s that kids started using backpacks for school. Prior to that time, backpacks were used for hiking, camping, skiing, and war, and were called “rucksacks.” Today, the distinction is made between the two, opining that the rucksack is larger than the backpack, and while there are other names for this bag on your back, “backpack” is the trendy name.

            Historians of trivia say that Dick Kelty invented the backpack in 1952 (but not for carrying books and laptops to school), and, at that time, it was also called a packsack, a sack, a knapsack, as well as a rucksack.

            Having just read an article somewhere, saying that this year, even bullet-proof backpacks are available for parents worried about school safety in light of the many campus shootings, I searched online to see if I could verify that. I did find one retailer offering for sale a backpack called, “Military Tactical Assault Backpack for men,” but the item description did not actually say it was “bullet-proof.” It is a sad commentary on today’s world that even the idea of a bullet-proof backpack for children would be thought necessary precaution. For me, the thought brings a great feeling of sadness on the day school opens, always having been a very happy day for me as a child who loved school and learning.

            The church service I listened to Sunday on KULP had a beautiful backpack blessing service, wherein the kids brought their backpacks, either new or old, came to the front of the chancel area, and received the blessing. As a retired teacher and a retired pastor, I found it a very touching ceremony. My freshman-in-high-school granddaughter was excited about her newly purchased backpack; and I must admit, it is very attractive. However, I just hope it’s large enough to carry all of the school necessities high school students need to take. One good thing about it, our children will develop strong backs, lol!

  So, how do teachers carry all their stuff (textbooks, timers, Kleenex, grading pens, cell phone, laptop, DVD’s, gradebook, lesson plan book, TEA rule book, Tylenol, band aids, bottles of water, energy snacks, and Advil (if the Tylenol doesn’t work) to school nowadays? No doubt they take a wheelbarrow! Just kidding. Having been there and done that in my lifetime, I know the mixed feelings of joy and anxiety teachers feel on the first day of school. Teaching school is the most splendid job that God calls very special people to do. My blessings on the backpacks and the wheelbarrows!

-o-

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

An Enormous Contribution From A Minority Lutheran Church Community In Europe That Deserves Appreciation.

This article by Dr David Zersen was delivered as a conference paper in various formats as a draft for the Foreword to Five Centuries: The Wends and the Reformation. David Zersen, Managing Editor of Concordia University Press.

In recent years, I’ve had several occasions to reflect on the significant impact that minority cultures have had on majority ones. One occasion involved a conference in Werben, Germany at which I was invited to lecture on the impact of the American environment on the Lower Wendish poet, Mato Kosyk. In learning about the work of a fellow lecturer, Dr. Christian Prunitsch, now a professor at the Technical University in Dresden, I came to be fascinated with a website he maintained on minority cultures in Europe. Unknown to most of us are the linguistic and cultural islands that exist, some only marginally, within the borders of larger countries. Representatives of such cultures as the Frisians in Germany, the Sami in northern Scandinavian countries, the Kashubs in Poland and the Basques in Spain struggle to maintain the significant strengths in their heritage.            

Another occasion resulted from a friendship with Dr. Hans Boas, Professor at the University of Texas and Director of the German Dialect Project there. What fascinates me about the latter project is that Dr. Boas is trying to record as many people as possible from those who still speak Texas German, a mixed dialect that results from German immigrants from various parts of Germany settling in Texas and making Central Texas for over fifty years a tri-lingual (Spanish, German, and English) region. The contributions made to food, music, language, architecture and place names by this minority culture are significant, hence the goal to have current speakers of the language tell their stories before the opportunity disappears.

These two experiences influenced my desire to have the tri-lingual (German, Upper and Lower Wendish) text on the relationship between the Wends and the Reformation translated and published for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On the one hand, Concordia University Texas has a long-standing relationship with the Wendish community of Texas, having been founded in 1926 by thirteen Lutheran congregations in central Texas, the majority membership of which had Wendish ancestry. Concordia still has many students, faculty and staff, who are of Wendish ancestry. With them, Concordia has treasured their love for their ethnic story, their church and their Texas ranches.

Additionally, however, the Wends of Texas came in 1854 to do just what minority groups always seek to do. The words of their spiritual leader, the Rev. Jan Kilian, make that clear: “Preserve good Wends, your father’s ways, the tongue and faith of ancient days.”  To cherish and enforce this hope, the Texas Wendish Heritage Society was founded in 1970 and has provided broad support for educational events, communal gatherings, scholarships for students of Wendish ancestry and financial support for numerous publishing ventures on Wendish subjects, often together with Concordia University Press. This translation and book are significant in that both Concordia University Press and the Texas Wendish Heritage Society are jointly publishing it.

Both entities feel strongly that Five Centuries: The Wends and the Reformation is a significant publishing venture. On the one hand, it is clear that the Wendish community in Lusatia (the historic region of the Wends now within the borders of Germany) wants both to help its constituency value its heritage and to help Germans in general to treasure the gifts that this cultural minority has shared and is capable of sharing with the majority Germany community. On the other hand, this book shares information that has never before been available in English both with people of Wendish descent and also with scholars who have Slavic, historical or theological interests.

The Lutheran communities in the United States, as well as in Australia, know too little of the struggles that a significant Lutheran minority group like the Wends endured as they were suppressed or even persecuted in medieval times or under National Socialism or communism.

The stories told in these chapters about their heroic decisions to demand self-respect as Wends or to cherish their heritage as Lutherans can be appreciated by all readers of these words. The details shared about a lost style of public dress, the way in which education was gradually introduced in a society made literate through the translation of the Bible, and the desire to erect monuments to remember a language and heritage are worth hearing. To those responsible for coordinating this publishing effort bilingually, to the European scholars often unknown to us who shared their research in these chapters, and to the Domowina Verlag, the publishing house that made this book available to us, we owe much gratitude.

The challenges involved in presenting this tri-lingual work to English-speaking audiences were significant. A translator had to be found who understood the contexts and definitions for terms in use over 500 years. Careful attention had to be paid to American orthography and especially the Slavic and German diacritical marks employed in quotations. Additionally, definitions of terms and meanings of organizations had to be requested from knowledgeable people in Europe. Finally, owners of illustrations and those doing reproductions in Europe had to be contacted and paid. This is not a large book, but its importance justifies the challenges that were accepted in order to publish it

Many people deserve thanks for helping to bring this book to English-speaking audiences. The partnership in this project of Weldon Mersiovsky and the Wendish Research Exchange is gratefully acknowledged. The Wendish Research Exchange of The Texas Wendish Heritage Society provided the financial guarantees. Mr. Mersiovsky developed the Index, processed the ordering and acquisition of illustrations used in the book and contacted generous donors whose wholehearted support is gratefully acknowledged. We thank Maria Matschie of the Domowina Verlag for the permission to publish the book and the Wendish Lutheran Superintendent Jan Mahlink for the editorial work that made this research available. Enormous thanks are offered to Trudla Mahling for reviewing much of the translated subject matter that was unfamiliar to us. The excellent proofreading assistance provided by Dr. David Chroust of Texas A&M University was very helpful. The translation work of Dr. Wolf Dietrich Knappe is without peer. Our excellent typographic designer, Eric Mellenbruch, did yeoman’s work as well with orthography, linguistic analysis and proofreading.  Although many people were involved in the entire process, I accept responsibility for the overall design, translation and proofing involved in the publication and will be happy to discuss the project with you now.

Old Kodak Pictures And Theories About Time

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 8, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

While researching my family history in preparation for writing my first book, It Must Be the Noodles, I spent a huge amount of time gathering together a collection of family photographs, some of which I used in the book, and some that were the basis of the whimsical sketches I drew for each chapter. The inconsistency of the quality of the old pictures made it difficult to illustrate with photos only.

            My iPad and other electronic devices allowed me to enhance the quality of some of the pics, but they still didn’t come close to looking like the high-resolution photographs my granddaughter takes with her state-of-the-art Canon digital camera. Photography has come a long way since it was first discovered!

            George Eastman created and sold the first Kodak camera in 1888. In 1900, Eastman produced the first Kodak Brownie, which was essentially a cardboard box and sold for one dollar. Then Brownie Two was introduced in 1902 and sold for $2. Most of the pictures taken by my mother and her sisters in the 1920’s were snapped on a 2Brownie no doubt.

            Even though Eastman added a 6-20 flash in 1940 and a built-in flash in 1957 (the year I graduated from college), I never owned a Kodak with a flash of any kind. When my brother and I took pictures in the 1940’s and 1950’s, we made sure we were outside with the sun behind us. Yet even those photographs were not so great! Thanks to Eastman, however, those of us who were poor could afford a cardboard box camera! Without the invention of the “snapshot,” only professional photographers would have been able to record history-in-the-making with cameras! But this butter-mold size cardboard box made it possible for any and all of us to just point and shoot instantly. Thank you, Eastman Kodak!

            Posting old family photos on my Facebook Page, “Ray Spitzenberger, Author and Artist @WendWriterWhittler,” has generated an enormous number of responses from Page Visitors. Folks seem eager to see old-timey photos showing the way it was in the good old days. The unexpected response made me wonder why so many of us are eager to return to the past the only ways we can, via old photographs, old phonograph records, and everything else antique.

            Especially old photographs! There seems to be an almost magical element here. We bring Great Grandma back to life by devouring those images of her, and meeting and seeing her though she died before we were born, or before we were old enough to remember what she looked like. Or we revisit those we knew and loved so much!

            Perhaps that’s a little of what the producers of the movie, “Back to the Future,” had in mind regarding the rather startling scene in the movie involving a photograph. In the movie, Marty kept a photo of the three children of George McFly and Lorraine Barnes McFly in his wallet, and referred to it when he was stuck in 1955. First, the top of Dave’s head disappeared from the picture. Then Marty’s own image began to fade, and soon after that, Marty’s hand. When a movie-goer watches this scene, he cannot but help to think of Einstein’s Theory of the Relativity of Time. Certainly that was my thought watching it, and it really spooked me.

            Einstein theorized that space and time are essentially the same thing, which can be called “spacetime.” Einstein also believed that gravity can bend time, so time can speed up or slow down depending on how fast you are traveling in relation to something else. Time dilation seems to be an accepted fact by those who work with space travel; and what even spooks me more, is the belief of some physicists that time is not real, — I suppose they are saying it’s an illusion. Unfortunately, when I look at old photographs, I cannot help but think about “Back to the Future” and these extraordinary theories of time.

            Well, our fascination with old photographs has nothing to do with the Relativity of Time, I would hope, but it does bring us the kind of joy that only great memories can bring!

-o-

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

Whether An Ending Or A Beginning, In All Things God Works For The Good Of Those Who Love Him

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 1, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time to begin and there is a time to end something. Recognizing that fact is necessary, because you have to develop a feel for knowing when a good thing needs to end, and when another good thing needs to begin. And in God’s logarithm, often those in-between times can be difficult, discouraging, and even painful.

            All of us have experienced the ending of our childhood and the beginning of adulthood (well, maybe not all of us, as I have known a few men in my lifetime who were fifty years old and still childish boys), the end of bachelorhood and the beginning of marriage, the end of college and the start of a career, etc. We’ve all experienced the difficulty and the joy of those transformations. And, of course, we can experience such shifting gears as a group, too. A much loved teacher retires and the faculty and the student body feel the personality of the school has suddenly changed. For better or worse, the definition of “life” is “change.”

            In the early days of my residence in East Bernard, we seemed to lose a town essence or personality when several of our wonderful mom-and-pop stores closed down, especially our uniquely wonderful mom-and-pop grocery store, when the whole town gathered there for drawings and fried gizzards each Saturday. Suddenly, our little feed store was no longer open, and you couldn’t buy your garden seeds by the scoops full any more. And two splendid mom-and-pop dry goods stores closed. These changes didn’t all happen at once, but since they were part of the unique “personality” of our town, with each change we lost something unique.

            New beginnings of new businesses came about, and each became part of our town’s unique identity. Through it all, our town continues and thrives in the ebb and flow of life.

            This last Sunday in July 2019 marked the second anniversary of my retirement from the pastoral ministry in 2017. But it also coincided with the acceptance of a new pastor’s call to St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis. The officers of our church announced Sunday that Rev. Rod Houppert of New Orleans, Louisiana, just accepted St. Paul’s call for him to serve them as their pastor. I’m guessing that the overall reaction was relief and joy. Two years is a long time for a church to operate without a shepherd; even though they always have the Good Shepherd, they also need the under-shepherd to carry on the work of the parish. It was a relief and joy to me, too, as my heart was still in the church, still caring about the members, and wishing I could serve. The ending that made us all sad and worried in 2017 will now be transformed into a new beginning filled with hope and joyful anticipation for all of us. My wife and I are still members of the church, and she is still the church organist. This is a time of celebration for all.

            The lesson we learn from such experiences as this is: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28). Naturally when a small, traditional, rural church loses its pastor, and it knows it can’t compete financially with the larger, more affluent, churches, to call a new shepherd, there is great anxiety about the future of the congregation, established in 1900 with a splendid history. To its great credit, and the Good Shepherd at the helm, the congregation held together, worked together solidly for two years, and maintained a strong faith in a gracious God. And He provided.

            For me, as for anyone who retires after a long, blessed relationship with a parish, the first year away was difficult, even painful at times, but gradually my 85 year old body began to appreciate resting in my recliner on the sun porch, spending more time with my precious granddaughters, not to mention my wife, reading all those books I never had time to read, and, joyfully writing all those poems and essays, and even a book, I had always wanted time to write. By the time the second year of retirement began, my sadness had turned to joy, — except for one thing, — the great difficulty of the church getting another pastor. Now, there will be a new beginning with a new pastor, a new hope, and new plans.

-o-

Ray Spitzenberger invites the reader to view and “like” his Facebook Page, “@WendWriterWhittler, Ray Spitzenberger, Author and Artist.”