Big Cakes, Cupcakes, and . . . Finally, Mug Cakes

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 10, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            One thing I never learned how to make was a cake. No doubt because I learned to cook in the 1940’s during World War II, when sugar and flour and many other goods and commodities were rationed by the government. Each household was allowed a certain number of coupons per month for each of the rationed items, and when you used up your ration stamps, you did without the rest of the month. The rationing began with a few items, but more were added as the War progressed. At various times, such things as sugar, coffee, meat, flour cheese, milk, canned goods, shortening, cooking oil, eggs, dried fruit, syrup, jellies, etc., required stamps.

            My family had the advantage of living in a rural area where we had chickens and cows and could produce our own eggs and milk, though not sugar and flour.

            While my mother could allow my brother and me to attempt to cook such easy dishes as goulash, which could be thrown together with leftovers, she couldn’t dare waste sugar, flour and shortening on our cooking and baking attempts. Like other women during the War, she learned to create cakes and pastries without using up scarce commodities. For those who lived in cities, “War Cake” recipes were especially necessary, and many ladies made milk-less, egg-less cakes, — such as the “World War II Ration Cake,” which could be made with brown sugar, water, raisins, and cinnamon. These “Ration Cakes” could be very tasty, and people came to love them and continued to bake them even after the War.

            The “Victory Cake,” the “Crazy Chocolate Cake,” and the “Weary Willie Cake” were very popular, though the Victory Cake did require one egg. The Crazy Chocolate Cake called for no milk, no eggs, and no butter. Believe me, nobody used cake mixes in those days!

            Having a sweet tooth, I have always loved cakes, all kinds, — fruit cakes, lemon cakes, white cakes, carrot cakes, angel food, etc., etc. So naturally during my bachelor years, I did try to learn to bake cakes long after the War but produced enough flops to give up on the idea. And I’m talking about baking cakes using cake mixes. In my early attempts, the cakes always broke into a dozen pieces when I tried to dump them out of the pan, or the dough didn’t rise, or it rose too much. Gave up for good . . . until recently when I discovered “Mug Cakes.”

            First of all, let me make it quite clear that there is a big difference between a “Mug Cake” and a “Cupcake.” A cupcake is as complicated to make as a big cake, only you use a muffin tin rather than a cake pan.

            The cupcake was invented in the United States in 1796, probably by Amelia Simmons. It became very popular in the 1800’s, because it took less time and was not so easily burned in hearth ovens as were big cakes. But by my standards, cupcakes were still difficult to do, and I wouldn’t have to make them in a brick oven in a stone-lined fireplace. Cupcakes were just a smaller version of big regular cakes.

            The first inkling I got about a “Mug Cake,” as they are now called, to be differentiated from a “Cupcake,” came as a gift to us from a friend, called “A Cup of Cake.” It consisted of a package of cake ingredients the person had mixed together herself. You spooned some of the mix into a cup, added water or milk, and microwaved it for a minute.

            Well, I couldn’t figure out how to replicate the mixture after we used it all up, so life went on without such easy little cakes. A month ago, I saw on Amazon.com something advertized as a “Mug Cake.” What an awesome discovery! You could buy a box of four packages of mix, choosing from several options, — a chocolate, a lemon, and a carrot cake. Pour the package in a mug. Add three teaspoons of water or milk. Microwave for one minute, ten seconds, and you’ve got one of the best little cakes in America! I now make cakes, finally!

-o-

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

Small Town Festivals: Prescription For Joy

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 26, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Most “city folks” I know wouldn’t live in a small town no matter where it’s located, or what the incentives are. For them, It’s “Boredomville.” However, they’re not adverse to attending the many small-town festivals held all over the great State of Texas.

            That’s because small-town festivals are a prescription for joy! And I say prescription for “joy” rather than prescription for “fun.” Fun can be fun, but not necessarily bring joy. When you go to a country festival, there’s a feeling of abandonment to enjoy the splendid music, food, dancing, and unique ethnic displays and activities. Country people put their hearts and souls into these festivals. And what visitors take away from them is good medicine for all.

            My friends love festivals; in fact one of them recently sent out a list of all the many festivals held throughout Texas, and the list is mind-boggling long! My Wendish friends are still posting pictures on Facebook of the 31st Annual Wendish Fest, just held Sunday, September 22, in Serbin, Texas. Seeing the photos was like being there, — there were Wendish noodle-making demonstrations, coffee-cake bake-offs, quilting demonstrations, spinning, weaving, and tatting presentations, cross-cut saw competitions, and stuffing sausage and making mustang wine exhibitions. And, of course, there was Slavic polka music, explosively played by the Moravian Polka Band of Ennis (not Wendish, but akin).

            East Bernard folks held their version of the Wendish Fest this summer, drawing large crowds to the Kolache-Klobase Festival at Riverside Hall on June 8. Like the Wends in Serbin, many Czechs in East Bernard wore their magnificent Slavic folk costumes. And, not one, but four polka bands provided wonderful ethnic music, — the Ennis Czech Boys, Czech and Then Some, the Dujka Brothers, and the Red Raven Band. Dancing, kolache-eating contests, arts and crafts booths, and lots of very special food and drink brought joy to the hearts of those in attendance.

            Some of my friends enjoyed the Watermelon Festival, Parade, Car Show, and Street Dance at McDade, Texas, not far from where I grew up. Other friends described the joy of attending St. Michael Catholic Church’s Festival in Weimar on August 11, being especially delighted by the lively music of the Shiner Hobo Band. And there was also the St. Andrew Catholic Church Picnic in Hillje, Texas, on August 18, with great food, a live auction, country store, raffle drawing, cake walk, ring toss and much more. Combined with the great country air in Hillje, this festival was an uplifting experience for visitors, especially for the city folks who could experience the joy of country fun at the end of a hard week at the office.

            These were just the festivals I knew about; as my friend showed us, there are many, many more throughout the State.

            And, of course, there is the Festival still to come on October 4 and 5 that is so close to my heart, — The Dime Box Black Bridge Festival with Mini Marathon, Barbecue Cook-off, Parade, Crafts Booths, Street Dance, Domino Tournament, Quilt Display, and live music. The Traditional Mosqueda Mariachi Band will provide a great ethnic touch to the festivities. Only if you grew up in Dime Box, as I did, can you understand the profound love for, and attachment to, the Old Black Bridge, aka, the Moses Bridge, that used to hang dramatically suspended over the railroad tracks. Though smaller, it was our “Brooklyn Bridge.” If you want to find out more about the historic old Black Bridge of Dime Box, head off to Dime Box on October 4 or 5, and the friendly folks of Dime Box will be glad to give you a special history lesson.

            In this crazy old world we live in today, with all of its problems, violence, crime, vulgarity, and cold-heartedness, these small-town, country festivals are a rest and joy for body and soul. That’s why people spill out of the big cities to participate in them.

-o-

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

An Old Picture Is Worth More Than A Thousand Words

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 19, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Several years ago, a half dozen of my paternal cousins and I met at my home to discuss family genealogy, share family stories, and exchange old family photographs. The meeting was also a precursor for a Spitzenberger family reunion, something we have never had before.

            Ever since that meeting, I have been going through old photo albums, various collections of photographs, and stored boxes from my parents’ home, sorting pictures into family groupings. The oldest pictures were absolutely fascinating and I couldn’t resist posting some of them on Facebook and my Facebook Page, both those from Mama’s side and those from Daddy’s side of the family. Also, I have been reading many snippets of family history written by different relatives from different eras. The snippets of history were interesting, but the morsels of photos were more captivating.

            This discovery reminded me of the old aphorism, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” If “any” picture is worth a thousand words, then an “old” picture is worth more than a thousand words. The much-quoted saying, according to a quick google, was originated by Fred R. Barnard in 1921, and he said it as advice for advertising a product. Not everybody agrees with the idea, but it certainly held true for me. At least when it came to trying to understand my forebears and selling my book, It Must Be the Noodles.

            During that “Council of Cousins,” the cousins gave me copies of photos of my father as a boy that I had never seen before, and these photos gave me a new understanding of the man this boy became. In all the pictures of him, he was smiling, and the smile looked real, not posed for the photo-shoot. It also struck me that many of my other forebears were not smiling in pictures of them, — such as Great Grandmother Karoline Zschech, who looked so fierce and grim in the original, large, framed photo of her hanging on the wall of my maternal grandparents’ bedroom where grandkids slept, that she kept my cousin and me awake. And probably my brother, too, though he wouldn’t admit it.

            It also became apparent to me that in all the childhood photos of my father, he was wearing knickerbockers with long stockings, a dressy jacket, and a “flat cap” (“paddy” cap). For those of you not familiar with it, the flat cap looks like a beret with a narrow brim. In contrast, all of the pictures of my mother’s only brother showed him in overalls and sometimes wearing a straw hat. I couldn’t help but wonder why this contrast in the boys’ attire. Did it represent a difference in family finances, or lack of, or was it a Wendish/German cultural difference? Both families lived on farms in Dime Box, Texas.

            Daddy’s father spent his boyhood in the Black Forest of Germany, where boys wore knickerbockers, long stockings, and what most people call “Greek fisherman’s caps,” also known as “mariner’s caps.” The “flat cap,” so popular in America in the early 1900’s, bore a great deal of similarity to the Greek fisherman’s cap. Thus I concluded, whether right or wrong, that Grandpa Spitzenberger wanted my father and his other sons to dress like he did as a boy in Germany. My mother’s brother dressed like farmer’s kid from Dime Box, Texas, with no reflection of Wendish customs.

            One of the most delightful photos I came across was a shot of my mother’s sister, Malinda Zschech, as a teenager, standing under the hot Texas sun, holding a parasol, and wearing a sun dress and long black stockings. In those days, a lady used an “umbrella” to protect you from rain, and a “parasol” to ward off the rays of the sun, though I was never able to discern any difference between the two. Malinda’s grandfather (my great grandfather, Johann Gottlieb Zschech), narrating his emigration story, described the Wendish women and girls coming on deck on a sunny day on the German Steamer, the Frankfurt, holding their parasols above their heads while promenading. No doubt Malinda reflected a tradition of her culture.

            It’s been a few years now since the “Council of Cousins” met, but the Spitzenberger cousins are planning that first ever family reunion, to be held in March or April of 2020, in the Fellowship Hall of the church in Wallis, where I used to preach. Photographs will be taken!

-o-

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

When You’re Almost Sorry The Cat Came Back

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 12, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Don’t ever name a cat “Pixie”!

            We named the stray kitten who showed up on our patio over nine months ago “Pixie” before she left for nine months and came back and before I fully understood what a “Pixie” is. Pop psychology tells us that children become what their name implies, so be very careful what you name your kids. Well, this kitten, now a teenage cat, has an uncanny humanlike intelligence, and I’m convinced she’s trying to live up to what we named her.

            The Slavic and Nordic understanding of the mythical creatures of folklore is somewhat different from the British, and the American view generally reflects what the English and the Irish believe. According to the Irish or Celtic view, a “Pixie” is a fairy, but smaller than other fairies, and more mischievous, though all fairies are thought to be full of pranks. Based on folklore, Pixies and fairies are “good” supernatural beings, even though full of impishness, and “bad” or “evil” fairies are called “urchins,” “ouphes,” or “goblins,” and they do very mean and vicious things.

            One version of pixie folklore is a belief that they steal horses and children and lead travelers astray. That tradition about pixies would put them in the evil category, along with urchins, ouphes, and goblins. However, most British beliefs about pixies consider them mischievous but lovable and never malicious.

            Our teenage Pixie doesn’t quite ever reach the level of “bad” like stealing horses and children and leading travelers astray, but at times, she comes awfully close. But then she is so very, very lovable. After you spray water in her face and fuss at her for her misdeeds, she looks at you with adorable kitten eyes and squeaks in a way that touches your heart.

            Since she has been back (she left a kitten, came back a teenager), she repeatedly tries to shred the arms of our cloth recliners in the Patio Room, where we keep her most of the time; and when we let her have the run of the whole house, she sharpens her claws on top of our real leather living room couches. We bought her a cheap cardboard scratching board, and after ignoring it for a long time, she shoved it under the table (apparently cardboard won’t do; it’s got to be elegant cloth or leather). OK, so yesterday, we ordered her a high class scratching post from Amazon.

            Like an elf or a pixie, she is always hiding, and when you walk by, she leaps out and bites your ankles, — then zooms away through the house like a high-speed locomotive. You go after her to put her in “time-out,” and she thinks you are playing hide and seek. You’re really, really mad and she peeks out from behind a box or a broom where she is hiding, and then races to her next hiding spot. This is one way she is so human-like, — she is obviously playing hide and seek with you. Finally, you give up, plop down on the couch, tired, and she leaps up in your lap and, ever so sweetly, snuggles your face. What do you do with a cat like Pixie?

            We should have anticipated her latest act of rascality, but didn’t. The patio room was added on to the back of our house about 25 years ago, and the carpenter built a very attractive mantel above the brick all across the room, like a huge fireplace mantel. This became Pixie’s favorite place to sit on, to lie on, and to explore. There is only one problem, — my wife, because the mantel is so high up and supposedly a safe place, put many of her heirloom vases and bowls and figurines. At first, Pixie seemed not to notice these beautiful objets d’art, until one night she pushed three of them off the mantel, breaking a vase and an exquisite bowl which Peg thinks was a wedding present to her parents. For a few hours, anyway, we almost wished the cat had not come back.

            So my wife moved the objets d’art to safer locations, and Pixie continued to stake out the entire mantel as her territory. We couldn’t stay angry very long. There’s a glass sliding door between the dining area and the patio room. Pixie greeted my wife one morning by hanging upside down (like a squirrel hanging with its feet from the top of the bird feeder to steal bird food) and looking at her through the glass. Now, an animal can’t get any more adorable than that. Yeah, we’re glad she came back!

-o-

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

Hurricanes Plague September

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 5, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Dorian! Much talk on radio and television about this destructive monster that came slamming in with September. To the few folks who are older than I, it brings back memories of what is known in hurricane history as the “1935 Labor Day Hurricane,” hitting the Florida Keys with 185 mph winds on September 2, 1935. Like Dorian roaring through the Bahamas, when the 1935 storm slammed into Florida, it was a Category 5. There have been very few Category 5’s in recorded history, though most of us can remember Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph winds.

            Hurricane Patricia in the Eastern Pacific Ocean has, I believe, the record for highest sustained hurricane winds, at 215 mph, not exactly a record anyone wants to boast about. However, most folks who study these things believe that the worst hurricane was the 1900 Galveston storm which caused 8,000 to 12,000 deaths. Our local area histories contain references to the 1900 Monster, — St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wallis postponing the construction of a church building when they organized in 1900 because of the impending tropical cyclone, and the Big Storm moving the German Methodist church building in East Bernard off its blocks. In these outlying areas, the destruction was minor compared to the horrific devastation on Galveston Island. This Category 4 storm hit Galveston on September 8, 1900.

            When you look at the recorded history of hurricanes for the United States, it seems that September is the month most plague with hurricanes. My hasty scan of historical data showed about a dozen hurricanes hitting the U.S. in September.

            It’s uncanny that Christopher Columbus, who didn’t even know the Americas existed, and had no records of their hurricane season, arrived in the West Indies in late October of 1492, having left Portugal in August, 1492, and having had very few difficulties regarding stormy weather. As he continued his exploration in 1493, he encountered very few tropical systems. Luckily, he missed the hurricane season. But during his second voyage in 1494, he experienced what is probably the first tropical cyclone (hurricane) in recorded history, having to secure his ships in a protected cove where they still took a battering.

            Having lived in or near Lee County, Texas, until 1961, and thus having lived a sheltered existence, I did not actually know what a hurricane was until that year. Accepting a new teaching job on the Gulf Coast, I moved into an apartment about fifteen miles from Surfside Beach, when Hurricane Carla slammed into Port O’Connor at 174 mph on September 11. Prior to Carla’s landfall decision, I was told to evacuate immediately, and, believe me I was in my car heading toward Lee County as fast as that old Pontiac would fly! One problem. Carla followed me. It roared right through Giddings, still at 90 miles per hour. Not feeling totally secure inside my parents’ home, I looked out the window and saw the trees in the yard bending in the wind, almost at 90 degree angles. Since it had made landfall, Carla had spawned 26 tornados.

            I may have felt insecure and uneasy in Giddings during Carla, but no trees fell down, no limbs broke off, and no damage occurred to our home. Had I not evacuated, the scenario would have been devastatingly worse, as I found out when I returned to the Coast. Pundits were pointing out that there were only 34 deaths during Carla, a low number which they said was due to pre-storm evacuation.

            As I am writing this column, Dorian is stalled over the Bahamas, down from a Category 5 to a Category 4 Hurricane, but still devastating the islands with 150 mph winds and intense rainfall (residents have had to endure this constantly for about 24 hours now). The reports coming from there are heart-breaking. At this point, no one is sure where Dorian will continue to go, most likely up the East Coast, clobbering Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. Folks still remember how Hurricane Florence battered the Carolinas in 2018. We continue to pray for God’s protection and deliverance.

-o-

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

And The Cat Came Back

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 29, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

About nine months ago, a grey tabby kitten appeared, rustling through the leaves in our backyard. Now this is rather unusual since our large, resident, King-of-the-Manor cat, Gatsby, usually perched on the porch-swing cushions, will leap into action, ferociously chasing away any stray cat or kitten (though if it’s a dog he will hide). How she made it all the way to the patio without being savagely attacked by Gatsby, I don’t know.

            In any case, here’s this skinny, stray kitten, itching because of fleas, sneezing, wheezing, and flinging out cat snot, and hungry enough to eat anything. Needless to say, we took her in, kept Gatsby outside, fed her, and were captivated by her impishness. Prior to her coming, my wife and I had decided that if we ever got another cat, we would get a grey tabby, because I had researched cats and discovered that the grey tabby made the best pets and each one had a very different, likable personality. And now one shows up. And with a playful, impish personality, — so much so that we immediately named her “Pixie,” a name she has certainly lived up, too. But that gets ahead of the story.

            We fell in love with our new kitten. Our granddaughters fell in love with our new kitten. We and they fed it, played with it, pampered it, and took it to the Vet. Gatsby was the only one who hated her, and he made it known with his growls and snarls, so we had to keep them apart, at least for a while. Believing that tensions had eased between the two felines, we let her out in the backyard to romp and play in the winter leaves and withered grass. That was a big mistake! Suddenly, there were no cats in the backyard. Pixie disappeared, and Gatsby was nowhere in sight. My wife called the neighbors to ask if they’d seen Pixie, and one neighbor had noticed her running across the street. We couldn’t find her anywhere.

            What alarmed me about this development was not Gatsby, as he had seemed to grow somewhat indifferent to the kitten, but the predators I had been noticing in our neighborhood. There was a giant, nightly owl who was bent on reducing our squirrel population, and a huge daytime hawk who sat on top the same light pole every day in our neighbor’s yard, periodically swooping down on some creature in the leaves below. After several days and no Pixie returning home, we were all convinced one of those giant predators had snatched her up. I don’t know who was sadder, the grandparents or the granddaughters!

            Fast forward nine months. A skinny, grey tabby, teenage-girl cat appears in the alleyway. I think it’s a neighbor’s cat which Gatsby will keep away, but the granddaughters rush out to the alley, pick her up, and bring her in the house. Incredible! The tabby markings and the nose coloration are the same, — and the wheezing, sneezing and flinging out cat snot made it very clear that after nine months, Pixie had come back.

            I couldn’t help but think of that old, old children’s song written in the 1890’s by Harry Miller, “The Cat Came Back.” The lyrics of the song are really too bizarre to be a kids’ song, but I guess attitudes were different back in the 19th Century when it was popular. And those lyrics certainly don’t fit Pixie’s situation. In one version of the old song, the cat kept coming back again and again, and the last time it came home, the lyrics say, “The cat was a possessor of a family of its own, with seven little kittens, and then came a cyclone.” Well, Pixie left as a kitten and came back old enough to have a family of her own, but thankfully she didn’t. And in one of the most bizarre of all the versions of the song, the cat dies, and comes back as a ghost of itself. I like what happened in our real life version much better than that.

            Obviously, neither the owl nor the hawk had been able to snag our precious little Pixie. So, no doubt what happened must have involved Gatsby. He must have chased her out of our yard into the neighborhood, and I’m sure, because of the loving care she had received from us, Pixie tried to come back again and again, and the jealous Gatsby chased her away again and again. Until that one providential day recently, when she, now a cat, came back and was retrieved by her happy family!

-o-

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

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.

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.”