Horton Foote’s Dramas Understood What Really Matters To Us

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 23, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            The movie, Baby, the Rain Must Fall, screenplay by Horton Foote, based on his three-act stage play, The Traveling Lady, was mostly filmed in Texas, with scenes filmed in Columbus, Bay City, Lockhart, and Wharton, the finished movie premiering in Wharton in 1965. It was in Wharton while the movie was being filmed that I first met the American writer I admired the most and who probably influenced me the most.

            At the time of the filming in Wharton, I was teaching at Columbia High School in nearby West Columbia, and I was able to bring my journalism and my drama students to Wharton to meet the already famous Horton Foote, who lived part of each year in the family home in Wharton. I don’t remember how we managed to do it, but my students and I were able to meet my much admired “hero,” Mr. Foote. Folks in Wharton where he grew up called him “Horton,” but I could never call him anything but “Mr. Foote,” because my awe of him never diminished.

            Naturally I was a little disappointed when my students found Steve McQueen, the star of the movie, more exciting than Mr. Foote. When our bus drove by the filming site in Wharton, my students stuck their heads out the bus windows and screamed, “Steve, Steve, Steve!” I was looking only at Mr. Foote who was also on the set. Having focused on playwriting in college, I wanted to be a great author like him. I never became a great writer, but Mr. Foote certainly had a strong influence on me.

            However, the influence was more than just the stylistic aspects of writing, though there was no doubt some of that; he influenced me as a kind and caring human being who had an amazing ability to deeply understand the human condition, with its hurts and sorrows and tragedies and joys, and to even love the provincial folks who were so provincial they were funny. I’m glad of that, because I am still very “provincial” (more so “rural”) in many ways. He did not have that ugly cynicism about salt-of-the-earth people I saw in so many writers, as I came to know him better when years later he graciously led seminars for my creative writing class and the drama students at Wharton College Junior College where I was teaching.

            Although I was in Galveston for the Horton Foote Film Festival as we celebrated his Academy Award winning adapted screenplay, To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as for his Academy Award winning screenplay, Tender Mercies (he also won the Pulitzer Prize for his stage play, The Young Man from Atlanta), no work of his moved me so deeply as his The Trip to Bountiful, which he wrote as a drama for television, for Broadway, and for the cinema. It was nominated for Best Screenplay in 1986.

            The Trip to Bountiful touched my heart so greatly, not just because it was so beautifully written, but also because Carrie Watts, the elderly lady heroine (yes, heroine) of the play, seemed so remarkably like my mother. Carrie wanted more than anything else in her life to return to home out in the country in Bountiful. In spite of her son and daughter-in-law, she slips away and actually goes back to Bountiful, — only to find it wasn’t what it was before. In her later years of life, my mother wanted to move back to Dime Box when my father retired from his Section Foreman job in Giddings. Eventually she found herself the owner of my grandparents’ old home in Dime Box, and she was able to move back to her much-desired Eden. Only, it wasn’t what it was before. Perhaps in her subconscious mind, returning to her meant returning to the old way of life, — plowing a big garden, milking her cow, churning butter, and quilting. At least she was able to quilt, but her Eden was not the same, because her friends had passed away, and her children had moved away. No, it wasn’t what it was before. Sophisticated people rather than provincial folks might chuckle over what was important in life to my mother, and only truly insightful human beings can really understand what really matters to us. Horton Foote understood.

-o-

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

The Resplendent Magic Of Language

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 16, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Words! Words! Words! I have just recently finished my second book, Open Prairies, though it won’t come out until later in 2020, as my daughter, the book designer, has it in her hands now. All but one chapter of my first book, It Must Be the Noodles, is written in prose, while this second one, Open Prairies is a collection of my poems. The most exciting activity under the sun for me is working with words to generate paragraphs of prose or stanzas of poetry, an excitement that probably began in my childhood, when I read one of the only three books my parents owned, a dictionary, from cover to cover many times. To even want to do that, you’d have to see words as at least somewhat magical.

            In fact, they were considered magical in ancient Greece, when each army had not only spear-throwers and arrow-shooters, but also word-shouters at the enemy. The word-shouters would shout invectives at the other army, believing that invective (insulting or abusive language) had the magical power to kill. They believed you could literally kill with words, so the first order of business in any battle was invective, hoping huge numbers of enemies would be killed by it.

            Invective evolved into satire over the years, and lost its power to kill physically, though some satire today can zap you pretty hard emotionally, but unfortunately, it’s one of the easiest ways to create humor. I tend to use self-deprecatory humor, satirizing myself rather than others, because I do not like to hurt other people, and, while they cannot kill, words always have the power to help or hurt.

            It is exciting to know that the English language contains over one million words, but somewhat sad to note that the average person uses only about a thousand of those million words in speaking or writing. Everyone usually understands more than a thousand words, knowing the meaning of up to maybe 10,000 words. In contrast, William Shakespeare, according to scholars who study such things, used between 16,000 and 25,000 different words in his works. Shakespeare’s usage is even more remarkable when you consider that there were fewer than a million words in the English vocabulary at that point in history. Probably the biggest difference between professional writers and the average person is size of vocabulary, along with the ability to put words together in smooth-flowing sentences.

            Believe it or not, there were no English dictionaries before 1604, so even in Shakespeare’s lifetime (he died in 1616), the language was still in a state of flux. I would guess that some of Shakespeare’s “functional shifts” were reflecting that state of flux. Shakespeare wrote, “That monsters it,” using “monster” as a verb rather than a noun (which is what a functional shift is); however, grammar and usage were still in a stage of flux. The first English grammar book came out in 1596, when the Bard was 32 years old. Since usage determines grammar, not the other way around, great writers like Milton and Shakespeare helped determine the rules of grammar.

            “Anglo-Saxon” is a synonym for “Old English,” a term which acknowledges only the “English” (“Anglisc”) part of the language, ignoring the “Saxon” part, which cues us that it’s a Germanic language. Today, Icelandic is the modern language which most closely resembles Old English/ Anglo-Saxon. While we are able to read Middle English (Chaucer) somewhat, it is almost impossible for us to read Old English. Unless you’re from Iceland.

            A large percentage of modern English words are derived from Greek, Latin, and French, and are usually multi-syllabic. I find in my writing that the most powerful words in English are the Anglo-Saxon/Old English words, — simple, one-syllable words. For example, “audacious” came into our language from Latin, whereas “bold” is originally Anglo-Saxon/Old English. In writing poetry, “bold” usually packs a greater punch than “audacious,” though if the poem is about genteel ladies in flowing silk, “audacious” might go and flow with the other word choices. The writer must be tuned in to the music of his poem.

            There is so much to know and to learn and to do in this splendid creative art known as writing. I write English prose and poetry every day of my life, and I cannot imagine being deprived of that joy even one day of my life.

-o-

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

Handkerchiefs And Facial Tissues: A Short History Of Blowing Your Nose

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 9, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Although my allergies call for a year-round supply of Kleenex (only brand we like), as a family, which includes by granddaughters who visit regularly, we tend to use more tissues during the winter months than in the summer. When one of us has a cold, or other respiratory problems, I think how blessed we are that someone invented the “facial tissue,” as it was originally called.

            It was invented by Kimberly Clark and first marketed as “Kleenex” in 1924, — now get this – for the purpose of removing cold cream from your face, not that I ever put cold cream on my face. But of course it came to be widely used for blowing the nose. In the 1940’s, however, many folks, including my parents and most others, were still using handkerchiefs, which could be very unsanitary. Back in those days, people who couldn’t afford handkerchiefs used “snot rags,” as they were called in the 1940’s, which were simply pieces of old rags you used for nose-blowing.

            No doubt we re-infected ourselves by using handkerchiefs, but we thought we were quite sanitary by not using snot rags. My mother and grandmother made our handkerchiefs by hemming pieces of soft cloth and embroidering designs on them. In those days, cloth handkerchiefs for us were strictly utilitarian, — we never used them as a fashion statement even though the embroidery was nice. You could buy simple, white handkerchiefs at the Five and Dime Store with your initial or some other design sewn on it, but my frugal Wendish German family never bought anything they were capable of making. Since they were not expensive in the Dime Store, handkerchiefs were often given by school children as Christmas presents.

            While facial tissues were invented in the 20th Century, it is believed that the cloth handkerchief was invented by King Richard II of England in the 14th Century, mainly for the purpose of wiping your nose. But its uses broadened out over the years.

            In the 16th and 17th Centuries, which included the Elizabethan Era in England, it was widely believed you could catch a cold or the flu by taking a bath, so body odor became a major problem in a room of unbathed people. Both ladies and gentlemen poured perfume on their dainty handkerchief, which they then kept inside the wrist ruffles of their shirt or blouse sleeve. Thus they would regularly dab their fancy hanky under their nose to get a whiff of the perfume, which helped to block out the body odor in a crowded ballroom.

            In the 18th Century, larger, patterned handkerchiefs were worn around the neck by men and women, strictly as a fashion statement. At various times in English history, handkerchiefs were used to sneeze into by those who dipped snuff, snuff-dipping having become fashionable among the British aristocracy. Generally speaking, Germans did not dip snuff, and they referred to the English as “dirty snuff-dippers.” “Snuff-dippers” was the derogatory term my mother used for British-Americans, and my brother and I each married one.

            Today, handkerchiefs are used mostly by men as an adornment for their suit coat. Some suits today come with pseudo-handkerchiefs sewn into the pocket near the lapel. Some women still carry handkerchiefs in their purse, but facial tissues have generally replaced them.

            We used to play a game in Dime Box Rural School in the 1940’s called “Drop the Handkerchief.” We children would stand in a circle, and one player would run around the outside of the circle, dropping a cloth handkerchief behind a person in the circle. That person would then chase the one who dropped the hanky, and so on. If you played that game with kids today, you’d probably have to explain to the kids what a “handkerchief” is. Might be better to just drop a box of Kleenex.

            It’s interesting that no one in recent times has come up with a new game using facial tissues, — like “Wipe the Cold Cream Off Your Face.” When I have a cold nowadays, I really appreciate being able to blow my nose with a soft, gentle tissue, — believe it or not, my mother used to starch my handkerchiefs!

-o-

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

Seeing The Old Year Out, The New Year In, With A Jigsaw Puzzle

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for January 2, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Some time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, my family follows an old family tradition of building a jigsaw puzzle together. On December 29, 2019, we poured out 1,000 pieces of “’T’was the Twilight before Christmas,” a Buffalo Games puzzle, on the end of the dining room table, and the fun began. We probably won’t finish the puzzle until next year.

            We began doing this puzzle tradition long before jigsaw puzzles became the self-care trend, replacing adult coloring books. Even book publishers, like Workman Publishing in New York, are getting in on the act, creating puzzles to be available in 2020. The idea behind encouraging people to put together puzzles is for stress relief, causing you to put down your electronic devices and build a puzzle to unwind and relax. It can at least temporarily wean you from your iPhone or your iPad.

            My daughter, who is an Art Director at Workman Publishing, shared with me recently how Workman has partnered with FLOW Magazine in the Netherlands to make their debut into the world of puzzle-makers. This trend has been followed also by other New York publishers. The puzzle can be good therapy for the individual person, or a relaxing way to spend time with your family.

            It is believed that John Spilsbury, an English engraver and map-maker, created the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767. It consisted of a map pasted on a wooden board, which was then cut into interlocking pieces. Map puzzles were the first puzzles, and were very educational, because you could learn a lot of geography building a map puzzle. Puzzles have gone a long way since then, encompassing all sorts of deigns, the best puzzles now being made by Buffalo Games, Ravensburger, White Mountain Puzzles, and Ingooood. As new puzzle-makers join the market, the competition gets keener. Through all of this, maps are still very popular puzzle choices.

            As we began working on this year’s family puzzle tonight, we began, as we usually do, by spreading out and turning up all the pieces and building the border first. However, every puzzle-maker has his or her own method of construction, — do edges first, sort pieces by colors, or by individual sections, or, — some even do it the hard way by taking one piece of the puzzle out of the box at a time.

            My family has always enjoyed cat puzzles, or Winter/Christmas Scene puzzles the most. My wife and the New York daughter like the challenge of more abstract designs, but the rest of us insist on beautiful scenes with discernible people, animals, and objects, especially romanticized versions of these. Ever since my wife gave me a Jackson Pollock puzzle, which took a whole year to put together, abstract art as puzzle designs has been a family “No-No.”

            I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t like building puzzles, and I always approached them as fun and enjoyment, never as a stress-reliever, though stress relief may have been a side effect. Psychologists say that puzzle-making helps keep our minds sharp, and, in old age, that’s a very good by-product. No doubt that’s the reason I observed jigsaw puzzles to be worked on by any and all at the various nursing homes I visited as a pastor. I could never resist stopping by the puzzle table and placing a few pieces with the residents. During my childhood, I loved jigsaw puzzles, and Santa Claus made sure I got one every Christmas, or at least one to share with my brother, who preferred baseballs and basketballs which were also given to us jointly.

            Perhaps we will finish this puzzle before the New Year arrives, or perhaps we will put the last piece in place on New Year’s Day. In either case, it’s a good way to see the old year out and the New Year in.

-o-

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

Circus Peanuts For Christmas, Anyone?

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

            As we began to prepare for Christmas last week, my wife and I discussed stocking stuffers, including what kind of candy to put in the family stockings we recently hung. Of the various kinds of candy St. Nicholas and our parents provided for us at Christmas, we both had the same favorites. While my brother liked solid chocolate Santa Clauses best, Peggy and I both preferred chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas. At Easter, the wife and I both preferred Peeps to any other Easter candy. Our conclusion from the discussion is that we both love marshmallows!

            We know what kind of candy our granddaughters like, so it’s a given their kind will always find a home in their stockings. But why not get the kind we like, too?

            Chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas are found just about everywhere, Walmart, Dollar General, etc. But pure marshmallows in Christmas shapes are hard to find. The orange-colored, peanut-shaped marshmallow candies are readily available, but orange peanuts for Christmas?

            Well, these orange, peanut-shaped pieces of marshmallow candy are as American as apple pie. They’ve been around since the 1800’s and were originally sold as unwrapped “penny candy” in Five and Dime stores all over America. Those of you older folks like me remember they were called “Circus Peanuts” and had an artificial banana flavor. No one knows for sure why they were called “Circus Peanuts,” but we think the fact they were first sold at circuses as penny candy was the reason.

            The marshmallow itself was first created by the ancient Egyptians in 2000 B.C., and considered a delicacy fit only for the royal family and the gods. It was made from the sap of the mallow plant (Athaea Officinatia), which grew in marshes and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries as a cure for sore throat and coughs, and for healing wounds. In the 1800’s, French confectioners discovered they could create marshmallows from gelatin just as easily as from the mallow root.

            Today’s marshmallows and marshmallow candy are made with gelatin, sugar, water, corn starch, and a whipping agent like egg whites. Vegans could eat the treat made from the mallow plant, but gelatin, coming from animal sources, is a vegan no-no.

            In the 1800’s, Circus Peanuts were a seasonal candy, sold only in the spring, but in recent years, it has been available year-round. I discovered that the Circus Peanuts makers do create the banana-flavored goodies at Easter in pastel colors and in the shape of bunnies and Easter eggs, but no Santas at Christmas, and no green and red peanuts. Just orange.

            When you are planning for Christmas stockings, this is a very momentous issue! Do you buy regular white marshmallows and make snowmen out of them, or do you decide you can tolerate orange-colored peanuts at Christmas. You can see that such a profound issue required a lot of time spent in discussion.

            Finally, I made the decision! I ordered two bags of Circus Peanuts on Amazon, made of marshmallows and tasting like artificial bananas, and they will go in our stockings! Case closed.

            Of course, Christmas is not about stockings full of candy and other goodies, yet it should be a time of fun and joy, and I believe we should never let the child with joyful wonderment in us die! Such fun and delight as Christmas stockings filled with candy and fruit bring us joy, as we celebrate the greater reason for joy, the birth of Christ, the Savior of the world. We can even imagine Mary and Joseph experiencing some of this worldly fun and joy, as they might have sung to Baby Jesus and made him homemade toys to play with. There is an old tradition that the shepherds brought Baby Jesus a ball as a birthday gift. So I’m inclined to encourage earthly fun and gladness during the Christmas season, but always remembering and emphasizing that we are celebrating the birth of God’s Son, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!”

-o-

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

So What’s For Christmas Dinner?

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

            Gluttony was a rather unpleasant character in Medieval Morality Plays, and I’m afraid he becomes our split personality persona during Christmas dinner. All year long we follow our Weight-Watcher’s Diet, but the allurement of a sumptuous Christmas dinner causes us to abandon our diet at least for the Day.

            One day of gluttony can’t really hurt us, can it, and actually might be good for the mind and soul (forget the body for one day), especially when you consider all the mouth-watering Christmas cuisines the world has to offer.

            The typical American Christmas dinner, with regional variations, consists of turkey with stuffing (dressing or filling), mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and green vegetables. In Texas, it might be deep-fried turkey, smoked turkey, or barbecued brisket, but served with dressing. Upon googling “dressing,” I found that, while technically the only difference between “dressing” and “stuffing” is “baked separate in a pan” or “stuffed inside the bird,” this Christmas delight is called “dressing” (no matter what) in the South and “stuffing” in the Northeast and in the rest of the country (no matter what). Except for the Pennsylvania Dutch, who call it “filling.”

            In spite of our regional and ethnic differences, it is still safe to say that turkey-and- dressing is the essence of the typical American Christmas dinner. It’s interesting to note that the Christmas dinner menu often served to the British Royal family at Sandringham (where Queen Elizabeth and her family spend every Christmas) is also turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mashed or roasted potatoes.

            However, if you take a trip across the Texas border to Mexico, you will find something quite different, though also delectable and sumptuous, on the Christmas Day dinner table: pavo navideno, ensalada de Nocha Buena, menudo, tamales, volteado de pina, ponche navideno, Russian potato salad, bacalso with romeritos and atole. Those of us who love Mexican cuisine could be lured into gluttony by such eats!

            While most Texans are familiar with Mexican cuisine, what may be surprising to many of us is the fact most European countries do not serve turkey and dressing at Christmas. In Germany, it’s roasted goose; in Italy, fried eel; in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, fried carp; in Russia, roasted pig or stuffed pig’s head; in Iceland, roasted reindeer; in France, foie gras, chapon, or Buche de Noel; and in Denmark, it’s pork roast or roast duck. The Coptic Christians in Ethiopia serve wat, a meat and vegetable stew, on flatbread at Christmas. Since Christmas comes in mid-summer in Australia, salads, cold meats, and seafood are often served on Christmas Day, though many Australians still observe the food traditions of England, such as that served by the Queen at Sandringham.

            During my childhood, my family always ate Christmas dinner at my maternal grandparents’ house, with my Wendish grandmother, the main chef. We usually had baked hen with dressing, noodles served with chicken giblets, creamed herring, and homemade koch kase (cooked cheese), just to mention the main courses (well, koch kase was actually a “nach Tisch”). No doubt the Christmas food items that contributed the most to my gluttony were the cakes, cookies and other desserts. My brother and I especially enjoyed the gingerbread men which Grandma seemed to enjoy making. Instead of the traditional American fruitcake, my grandmother made a date and spice cake. We did not have Stollen, which is considered a fruitcake and loved by Germans, and is more like a cinnamon roll/coffee cake than a cake, because Grandma was Wendish, not German. She did make “baby coffee cakes,” which were very similar to kolaches, but we never used the word, “kolache.” And she always made pecan pie and minced meat pie. My gastro system still yearns for such delectables, except I prefer American fruit cake to date/spice cake. And my mouth waters at the mere thought of creamed herring!

            Christmas is definitely not about eating sumptuous food, but maybe a little gluttony once a year won’t hurt us.

-o-

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

The Feast Of St. Nicholas, The Saint Who Gives

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

You should be getting and reading this week’s East Bernard Express on December 5, 2019, the Eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas (according to Lutheran and Catholic liturgical calendars, and according to Catholic tradition in East Bernard). That fact suggested to me to write my column about one of my favorite Saints, whose name obviously gave us the sobriquet, “Santa Claus.”

            Not all folks from all religions or ethnicities celebrate St. Nicholas Day, but those who have Slavic and/or Teutonic ancestors generally do. It is widely celebrated in Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, parts of Germany, and in a different way, in Mexico. Kids from the Slavic countries are doubly blessed with gifts on St. Nicholas Day and on Christmas Day. In East Bernard, and elsewhere in America where traditions were brought from the Old Country, children also receive gifts on St. Nicholas Day and on Christmas Day.

            As the Patron Saint of Russia, special traditions and celebrations of the Festival are enthusiastically observed by Russian Orthodox Christians. St. Nicholas is called “Svyatoy Nikolay” by Russians, “Mikulas” by Czechs, “Mikolajki” by Poles, “Swjaty Miklaws” by Wends, “der Heilige Nikolaus” by Germans, and “St. Nicolas de Bari” by Mexicans.

            Yes, St. Nicholas was a real Saint, not merely a legend. He was a Bishop who lived in Myra, in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and was considered Protector of Children and Sailors, and later, Patron Saint of Russia. He died on December 6, 343 A.D., in Myra, though his remains were eventually buried in Bari, Italy. He inherited a huge fortune when his wealthy parents died; and when he became a clergyman, he gave all his money to the poor so he could humbly serve God. He was very benevolent to all needy people, and especially to children. Serving as a Bishop in the Church, he would have worn red vestments and on special occasions carried a crosier (Bishop’s staff), which is why he is often depicted clad in red and holding a crosier. There are many more details about the life of St. Nicholas, but they tend to be legend rather than fact.

            Because of his love and compassion for children, traditions of gift-receiving on his Day developed among Catholics. In Poland, children receive gifts from St. Nicholas in their slippers on his Feast Day, and in Germany, children put out their shoes on the Eve of St. Nicholas to receive gifts in them. In the Czech Republic, three adults dress up like the devil, an angel, and St. Nicholas, and they go about the town, asking about each child, whether they have been good or bad, — only the “good” ones receiving gifts.

            In many parts of Mexico, The Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated on three Mondays in December, with numerous Masses being held on those three Mondays. I don’t think Mexican children, however, have the tradition of the Saint bringing them gifts on December 6; instead, on Christmas Eve, “Papa Noel,” or the Baby Jesus, bring gifts to their homes.

            Because of his generosity to all, his compassionate caring, and his love for children, many, many legends grew out of the true stories told about this extraordinary Bishop who gave so much in so many ways to so many people. Nicholas served during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, a time of severe persecution against Christians, and it was also a time of widespread poverty, as well as sickness and death caused by the Plague. As a Servant of the Word, his compassion and benevolence during such difficult times brought hope and joy to many, as he exemplified the Spirit of Christ, and thus the Spirit of Christmas.

-o-

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

“Turkey Day” Is A Misnomer

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 28, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            When someone calls a person a “turkey,” he usually means the person is a flop, a failure, a stupid person. In show business, a show that flops is called a “turkey.” Considering the negative connotation the word has taken on, it seems strange to me that many Americans call Thanksgiving Day “Turkey Day.” Rather sad, considering the fact that the holiday was and is supposed to be a day of thanksgiving and praise to God. “Turkey Day” is a misnomer.

            What’s so odd about calling this very meaningful American celebration “Turkey Day” is that there’s no clear evidence turkey was served at that First Thanksgiving feast in 1621 between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony. Records from that time show a menu of “waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, and pumpkin.” It is very likely they did serve turkey, because wild turkeys were so plentiful in the area, — but it wouldn’t have been the main course.

            While we’re trying to clear up misrepresentations, I would point out, contrary to the popular belief that turkeys are the dumbest animals in the world, they are not. Facts about turkeys certainly disprove that idea. According to the National Wild Turkey Confederation, turkeys have a vocabulary of 28 distinct calls (or yelps), and each call has a general meaning to the creatures, and can be used in different situations to mean different things which the flock understands. The “gobble” sound is made only by male turkeys, the “clucking” sound is made by both male and female turkeys as a socializing sound, and a “purring” sound communicates “all is well.”

            Turkeys are also smart enough to roost high in trees to keep themselves safe at night from predators. Turkeys also engage in preening and sunning themselves, followed by a dust bath, — this keeps their feathers in good condition and helps remove parasites.

            My grandparents raised turkeys, and I can tell you from personal experience that they are strong and courageous animals and will attack you if provoked. They will also work together as a group to fend off predators like snakes. In fact, because of their courage, Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be our national emblem rather than the eagle.

            So, to me, it’s rather annoying that people call a person they think is stupid, a “turkey.” Not only that, but over the years, Americans have come up with many different “turkey” awards, and they’re all uncomplimentary. Film critics, Michael Medved and Harry Medved, created the Golden Turkey Awards, which they announced in their 1980 book, The Golden Turkey Awards. The concept of the Golden Turkey was a sarcastic spin-off on the golden statue awards like Oscars and the Emmy Awards, and “honored” the worst acting, the worst directing, etc., in current movies. Michael Medved even hosted a TV series, The Worst of Hollywood, showing who deserved these awards.

            The giving of some kind of “turkey” award extended beyond Hollywood and included doing so in business, sports, journalism, etc. For example, bowling enthusiasts began to give the “Wild Turkey Award” for six consecutive strikes and the “Golden Turkey Award” for nine consecutive strikes. Over the years, sports writers for newspapers like the Tampa Bay Times have given the “Turkey Award” to the worst athlete or team for doing something stupid.

            So why do we demean Thanksgiving Day by calling it “Turkey Day,” and why do we demean turkeys by considering them “stupid”? And why do we emphasize the “feasting” part rather than the praying and praising G

            When someone calls a person a “turkey,” he usually means the person is a flop, a failure, a stupid person.  In show business, a show that flops is called a “turkey.”  Considering the negative connotation the word has taken on, it seems strange to me that many Americans call Thanksgiving Day “Turkey Day.”  Rather sad, considering the fact that the holiday was and is supposed to be a day of thanksgiving and praise to God.  “Turkey Day” is a misnomer.

            What’s so odd about calling this very meaningful American celebration “Turkey Day” is that there’s no clear evidence turkey was served at that First Thanksgiving feast in 1621 between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony.  Records from that time show a menu of “waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, and pumpkin.”  It is very likely they did serve turkey, because wild turkeys were so plentiful in the area, — but it wouldn’t have been the main course.

            While we’re trying to clear up misrepresentations, I would point out, contrary to the popular belief that turkeys are the dumbest animals in the world, they are not.  Facts about turkeys certainly disprove that idea.  According to the National Wild Turkey Confederation, turkeys have a vocabulary of 28 distinct calls (or yelps), and each call has a general meaning to the creatures, and can be used in different situations to mean different things which the flock understands.  The “gobble” sound is made only by male turkeys, the “clucking” sound is made by both male and female turkeys as a socializing sound, and a “purring” sound communicates “all is well.”

            Turkeys are also smart enough to roost high in trees to keep themselves safe at night from predators.  Turkeys also engage in preening and sunning themselves, followed by a dust bath, — this keeps their feathers in good condition and helps remove parasites.

            My grandparents raised turkeys, and I can tell you from personal experience that they are strong and courageous animals and will attack you if provoked.  They will also work together as a group to fend off predators like snakes.  In fact, because of their courage, Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be our national emblem rather than the eagle.

            So, to me, it’s rather annoying that people call a person they think is stupid, a “turkey.”  Not only that, but over the years, Americans have come up with many different “turkey” awards, and they’re all uncomplimentary.  Film critics, Michael Medved and Harry Medved, created the Golden Turkey Awards, which they announced in their 1980 book, The Golden Turkey Awards.  The concept of the Golden Turkey was a sarcastic spin-off on the golden statue awards like Oscars and the Emmy Awards, and “honored” the worst acting, the worst directing, etc., in current movies.  Michael Medved even hosted a TV series, The Worst of Hollywood, showing who deserved these awards.

            The giving of some kind of “turkey” award extended beyond Hollywood and included doing so in business, sports, journalism, etc.  Over the years, sports writers for newspapers like the Tampa Bay Times have given the “Turkey Award” to the worst athlete or team for doing something really stupid.            

So why do we demean Thanksgiving Day by calling it “Turkey Day,” and why do we demean turkeys by considering them “stupid”?  And why do we emphasize the “feasting” part rather than the praying and praising God part of Thanksgiving?  Fasting would actually be more appropriate than feasting.  So let’s face it, in the great abundance God provides us, we need to be on our knees in thanksgiving.

od part of Thanksgiving? Fasting would actually be more appropriate than feasting. So let’s face it, in the great abundance God provides us, we need to be on our knees in thanksgiving

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

Purple And Our Color-Coded Lives

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 21, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            More and more, it seems our lives are color-coded, both in the secular world and in the Church. You can see this right after Halloween, when the retail stores begin replacing orange and black items and décor with green and red. And in our personal lives, we wear red, white, and blue to express the patriotic feelings we have for our country, and maroon and white as symbols of loyalty to our home teams, — and, even of our town itself. It seems to me that’s a good thing.

            In the liturgical churches, we color-code our liturgical seasons, a very ancient practice that goes back to the beginning of the Church. In the Church, the color for Christmas is not red and green, as in the secular world, but white or gold, the colors used for paraments and stoles, until Epiphany.

            Having grown up in a liturgical church, and, in later years, preaching in one, I find the color symbolism of the Church very meaningful. This year, the Church Season of Advent begins on December 1 and ends on December 24. Advent always starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and always ends on Christmas Eve; this means the beginning is always going to be between November 27 and December 3. During the Early Church, the color for Advent was purple, which was both a penitential color and the color of royalty, symbolizing the Coming of Christ. Since the Early Church celebrated the Second Coming of Christ during Advent, a penitential color was called for, emphasizing repentance in preparation for the End of Times and proclaiming Christ as King of Kings. From the earliest of times, purple was a symbol of royalty, the color worn by kings.

            In more recent times, many liturgical churches have changed the Advent color from purple to blue, blue also being a color of Kingship, but not a symbol for penitence. The reason for this seems to me to be switching the worship emphasis from the Second Coming of Christ at the End of Times to the First Coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem. We don’t like to think about the End of Times, but we love to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child to Bethlehem. Not only are the paraments and stoles blue in contemporary churches, but also three of the candles on the Advent Wreath are blue (the fourth one, of course, being pink) rather than purple.

            The color purple for Advent has such meaningful symbolism for me that I was never tempted to change from purple to blue, either at my church, or on our Advent Wreath at home. Those weeks before Christmas should be a time of repentance and preparation. You see, the Latin word for “Advent” is “Adventus,” which means “coming.” Yes, Christ is coming first as a child to the little town of Bethlehem but understood in that Coming is His death and resurrection, which was necessary for our salvation, and which is followed by His Second Coming. The Early Church considered both happenings to be joyful events.

            Even long before Christ’s birth in a stable in Bethlehem, purple was the color of royalty and nobility, as, for example only the Roman nobility wore the color purple. And that was partly due to the fact purple dye could only be made from a hard-to-find sea creature, thus it was the most expensive dye of all. Such an expensive dye made the cloth expensive, thus purple cloth was the most expensive cloth you could buy. This fact was still true during the time of Jesus, and makes us realize how wealthy Lydia, a seller of purple cloth, was. She gave financial support to the followers of Jesus and provided them with room and board, thus using her wealth to help spread the Gospel. Being a Christian did not necessarily mean being poverty-stricken.

            Today, manufacturers of art supplies can create the color purple without using the scarce sea creature once necessary, so the significance of purple is sort of lost on us. However, the powerful symbolism of purple continues to be important in our lives in many ways. For example, the Purple Heart awarded by the President of the United States for bravery (wounded or killed) in battle is purple. Purple was chosen as the color of the heart, because it symbolizes courage and bravery, duty, honor, compassionate love, royalty, and good judgment, making it a powerful symbol.

            To be sure red, white, and blue, maroon and white, purple, white and gold, and even red and green, are meaningful symbols in our lives.

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

Although It’s Cold In Texas This Week, Ice Fishing Is Probably Not An Option

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for November 14, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Some years ago, my son-in-law and I had a bay boat and we went fishing quite often in Matagorda Bay. Having grown up in Dime Box and having fished only in Lee County creeks and ponds, I had to learn totally new fishing techniques. Bay fishing was both fun and hard work, and we did catch a fair amount of fish in those years, mainly when the weather was warm, which is most of the year in Texas. I developed a special fondness for flounder fishing, because I loved to eat them so much, and because they were easier to catch than red snapper, etc. Nothing my daddy had taught me about fishing for perch and catfish in Dime Box creeks and ponds helped me in floundering.

            The recent cold front, which blew in yesterday and has kept the temperatures no higher than 45 degrees today, plus the news accounts of snow and ice farther north of us made me think of winter in Michigan in the 1970’s when my wife and I were there for graduate school studies. It occurred to me that, though I would walk down to a creek (that’s what I called it) near the campus in midwinter and walk on the frozen-hard water, I never went ice fishing. Neither did my fellow students in the graduate program in which we were all enrolled; we were too busy having seminars, writing papers, taking field trips, and spending time in the University of Michigan library. I learned a lot about slipping on icy sidewalks, spinning your tires in the snow, and scraping your windshield, but never about ice fishing.

            Most of my fellow graduate students, like me, were married, and we were pinched for money, so catching our own fish to eat would have been a great thing. Most of the students living in “married housing” like we did grew their own zucchini and other vegetables in little makeshift gardens in front of the apartment units. Just didn’t have time for the ice fishing.

            Even great fishermen in Texas haven’t got a clue as to how you go about ice fishing, but it’s common knowledge in places like Ann Arbor, and really, quite easy. The first thing to know, of course, is whether the ice is solid enough to walk on. I was told that ice six inches deep was safe, and when ten inches, you can drive a car on it. But, if it’s only two inches, you can’t even walk on it. Also I learned that you don’t need power tools to cut through the ice, that a sharp ice chisel will work quite well if you know to use it right, — in fact, you can cut through six inches in a minute. It’s also better to ice-fish in smaller bodies of water.

            In winter, the fish apparently live at the bottom of the creek or lake, a few species even burying themselves in the mud, — kind of like flounder in warm water? So once you’ve got your hole chiseled out in the ice, what do you use to temp the semi-dormant fish to swallow your hook? Ice fishermen seem to prefer mealworms as bait (the mealworm is actually a beetle rather than a worm, as the worm-stage morphs into a “darkling beetle”). We have mealworms in Texas, but Texas fishermen prefer grubs. Obviously, you don’t use it after it’s a beetle.

            With its over 11.000 lakes, Michigan is an ideal place to go ice fishing, winter fishermen catching bluegill, perch, walleye, northern pike, trout, and sunfish, some of the same fish you can catch in the summer. On the plus side for ice fishing is the fact these fish are easier to catch in the icy water because the cold slows down their movements. Bluegill seems to be the most sought after fish, as it is probably the tastiest of the panfish and delicious fried.

            Even though more cold weather to come is forecast for us, and even if we do get a hard freeze at some point, I would not advise ice fishing in our area. Even in Dime Box (a little farther north) in frigid winters in the 1940’s, the ice on the stock pond near our house was rather thin. Although new ice is stronger than old ice, my brother and I found that even a small pebble would break through the thin sheet. And by midday, it will be melted anyway.

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