Religious Persecutions and Its Tragedies

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 16, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

“No one should be in fear in a house of worship,” tweeted Vice-President Pence after the tragic shooting in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This terrible attack involving a Jewish house of worship came on the heels of tragic bombings of Christian churches in the Philippines in 2019 and a fatal attack on a mosque in New Zealand.

            Just a few days ago, six people were killed in an attack on a Catholic church in Burkino Faso, in West Africa. Christian churches have been under attack for some time now all over the world. In 2019, worldwide, 1,266 Christian churches were attacked, and 4,136 Christians killed for their faith. Most of you probably remember that 26 Christians were killed in a Baptist church in Texas in 2017, so these fatal attacks have not just been on Catholics, but on different denominations of Christianity, as well as on synagogues and mosques. This is a alarming commentary on the 21st Century, isn’t it?

            One of the most horrible acts of violence against Christians in 2018 did not take place in a church but on a beach, when 20 Coptic Christians were beheaded in Libya for their faith. For the beheading, they were handcuffed and dressed in prison uniforms. Such things are as horrifying as the persecution against Christians by the Romans in New Testament times.

            The Coptic Christian (Orthodox) church is considered one of the oldest Christian churches, if not THE oldest, in the history of Christianity. It began in Egypt, and it is believed, based on non-Biblical historical sources, that the Apostle Mark was the evangelist who brought Christianity to Egypt, and it spread to other parts of Africa, including Ethiopia (where the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church now has many members and is very active). The first Christian converts no doubt where Jews living in Egypt. In fact, it was in Alexandria, where the Septuagint, the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible was made. There were waves of anti-Jewish violence for many years in the region, and Greeks and pagans of all kinds made no distinction between Jews and Christians (they considered Christianity a sect of Judaism).

            Based on non-Scriptural sources, it is believed by some historians that Saint Mark was martyred, that is, killed defending the faith, during these outbreaks of Jewish persecution. When you try to connect the dots in the history of Christianity in Egypt and the rest of Africa, you cannot help but remember that Joseph and Mary fled with the Christ Child to Egypt. And you cannot help but wonder if this bringing the Savior of the world to Egypt did not in some way plant the first seed of Christianity in a non-Christian area.

            Today, it is a fact that there are more Christians in Africa than in any other continent in the world (Africa is a continent, not a country). Religious scholars report that while there is a huge rise in the Christian population in Africa, there is a steady decline of Christianity in Europe, the United Kingdom showing the largest decline. Why is this so? No doubt the fact that one of the oldest Christian groups in the world has been there for a long time, but also because of the many Christian missionaries who served in Africa over many years. Christian scholars predict that by 2060, the number of Christians in Africa will double, while declining on other continents. The old concept that Christianity grows and thrives where it encounters the most persecution may be a valid idea.

            Back in the old days when I was a youngster attending Sunday School, I remember being shocked and horrified when my Sunday School teacher told us about how the Roman emperors would imprison, torture and kill Christians (who would hide in the catacombs), and how emperors like Nero would feed some innocent believers to the lions and pour oil on others and light them as human torches. It was hard to believe, but we were happy we were not living in such an era. I pray that the many tragic events today do not presage a return to those times.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.

Why Do We Name Babies The Names We Name Them?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 9, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Shortly before I began writing this column, the news came across the electronic media that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced the birth of a son, weighing in at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Prince Henry Charles Albert David, affectionately known as “Prince Harry” (“Harry” being a nickname for “Henry”), announced the birth from Windsor Castle. When asked by reporters about a name, he replied they were still thinking about names.

            Like many of us, Royals are usually named after family members. For example, we named one of our daughters after my wife, and the other one after me. Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, there were eight “Henry’s” who ruled as king, from Henry I to Henry VIII; not only were there kings named Charles, but Harry’s father is Prince Charles. There was only one British king whose name was “Albert,” – Albert Edward, — but he ruled as “Edward VII.” And there was a king of Scotland, David I, who was a protégé of King Henry I, keeping in mind that one of Prince Charles’ titles is “Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.” From this information, I would conclude that all four of Prince Harry’s names are family names.

            In past years, it was not uncommon in the United Kingdom and even in the United States to name a child after a European king or queen. Once Prince Harry and Meghan choose a name for the new baby, I’m sure there will be many new parents, perhaps all over the world, who will give that name or names to their infant. Naming your child after a royal person to some folks no doubt seems to foretell greatness for the child.

            When I was told many years ago that one of my aunts was named “Isabella” after Queen Isabella II of Spain (born in 1830 and died in 1904), I asked “why,” and my mother replied, “I guess because our mother liked Queen Isabella.” My Aunt Isabella was born in 1918, and Queen Isabella died in 1904, a long time after she had abdicated. Since my grandmother gave her other daughters German names, — Adele, Elda, and Malinda, — I was extremely curious about giving the youngest one a Spanish name.

            Why would Grandma like Queen Isabella II of Spain? It seems that Queen Isabella became Queen of Spain when she was still a baby, — no doubt at the death of her father. From the very beginning there was much opposition to her being Queen, not because she was a baby (a Regent would rule for her until she grew up), but because she was a female. The opposition to having a female monarch continued throughout her reign, so that she finally abdicated in 1870, and her son Alfonse VI became king. She lived for 34 more years. My grandmother never gave any indication of being a feminist, so upholder of women’s rights was not her reason. I guess, as my mother said, Grandma just liked Queen Isabella.

            Because they were avid followers of Elvis Presley, some fans in the 1950’s named their newborn sons “Elvis,” after the King of Rock and Roll. Less understandable are folks who give their babies the name of a hurricane after a major storm plows through their community. After Hurricane Carla in 1961, I recall that quite a few parents chose to name their daughters “Carla.” Likewise when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Did anybody name their son “Harvey” in 2017?

            Sometimes parents give their newborn a particular name for no real reason other than the fact they like the name. I suspect my parents gave me the very British name “Raymond” because they just liked the name; they certainly could not have foreknown that someday I would become an avid Anglophile (lover of all things English or British).

            During each era in history, certain boys’ names and girls’ names are trendy, so folks who like to be trendy often choose those names.

            In the 1930’s when my parents named me “Raymond,” the most commonly chosen names for boys were James, John, William, and Robert; hmmm, although not trendy, I think mine is more distinctive! The most frequently chosen girls’ names for babies in 1918 when my aunt was named “Isabella,” were Mildred, Florence, Irene, Mary, and Margaret. “Mary” shows up as a popular name in just about every era except the 21st Century.

            The ten most popular girls’ names in the United States in 2018 included “Isabella,” ranked as number 5, — can you believe it, after all these years, my aunt’s name is now trendy. The most frequently chosen boys’ names in the United Kingdom in 2018 were Liam, Noah, Aiden, Caden, Grayson, Lucas, and Mason. I’ve come to the end of my column and Prince Harry still has not announced a name for Baby Sussex; I doubt he’ll choose any of the preceding seven.

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

Having Two Remarkable “Fathers”

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 25, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

My father-in-law, A. B. Davis, was a remarkable man. Many of you knew him, because he visited us quite frequently here in East Bernard and spent the last years of his life living in Wharton, attending St. John Lutheran Church regularly. He loved kumquats, and members of our church is Wallis would bring him bags of kumquats. After my father, Max Spitzenberger, died, “B,” as he was called by his friends, and I grew very close, and he became my “adopted” father. Both B and my father Max were the kindest, gentlest, most generous human beings you could ever know, and I feel very blessed to have had both of them as fathers, mentors and friends.

            My father Max was very perceptive, insightful, and intelligent, but, having had to quit school in the third grade to work the farm when his father died, he never learned to read very well, and never read books. But he could design and build barns better than anyone else in the county and was greatly recognized for his work as a railroad section foreman. My father-in-law B, was also very perceptive, insightful, and intelligent, but, unlike my father Max, he was a graduate of Tulane, devoured huge numbers of books and magazines, and had a beautiful Victorian writing style. He had a poetic way of expressing things in writing, such as describing the leaves falling in the Fall as “autumnal witherings.” So, you can understand why, as a poet, I felt such a strong affinity to him. My father Max was a poet, too, though not one who writes poetry, but one who loved to roam the woods and appreciate all of God’s creation and creatures, — once he tenderly showed me, with tears in his eyes, a nest of baby rabbits. And, once when there was a rare snowfall in Dime Box, he got late to work so that he could share its beauty with my brother and me. Yes, he, too was a poet.

            My father-in-law B was an engineer, a superb mathematician, and an avid student of science and technology. No doubt that is the reason he served as the Assistant Director of the Army Corps of Engineers in Galveston for many years, not only planning, designing, and executing the blueprints in field work, but also writing up some of the most well written technical reports you will ever read anywhere. No doubt that is why he was chosen to write up reports for the ongoing plans to extend the incredible Galveston Seawall. He also wrote the much read “History of the Galveston Seawall,” which was published by the Southwest Research Institute and Texas A & M Research Foundation in 1951.

            The city of Galveston was certainly mindful of the need for storm protection, especially after the incredible destruction of the 1900 hurricane. But even before that tragic event, they were deeply concerned when the 1886 storm totally obliterated Indianola, knowing it could happen to Galveston. With an elevation of 8.7 feet above the level of the Gulf, Broadway was then the highest point on the island. Determined to prevent future disasters, the Corps of Engineers designed and built a seawall, and after surveying damage of each new hurricane, the wall was improved; after some years, and much study, it was extended. So this was not a quick, easy project, but a very difficult one, and one that took years of planning and work.

            At what point during the years of improving and extending the seawall my father-in-law brought his brilliant expertise into the story, I don’t know, but I have seen pictures of the giant steel frames built in 1920, into which concrete was poured, for one of the wall extensions, so I have a good idea of what an enormous undertaking the wall and its improvements and extensions was. Reading about the history of the wall and seeing the photographs of its construction over the years makes me proud to be the son-in-law of A. B. Davis, just as remembering the joy of being raised by such a loving, caring, and gentle father like Daddy Max makes me feel doubly blessed.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.

Chocolate Bunnies, Boiled Eggs, And Other Easter Customs

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 18, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Just as European-American children will find chocolate Easter bunnies in their Easter nests this coming Sunday morning, Australian youngsters will find chocolate Easter “bilbies.” The bilby, now on the endangered species list, is not actually a rabbit or bunny, though it looks a little similar; but like the kangaroo, it’s a marsupial (baby is in a pouch on mother’s belly). In Mexico, children will enjoy chocolate bunnies, because of the European (Spanish) influence there, though some of their traditions were influenced by the Native American Mayas, Aztecs, Olmecs, etc.

            No doubt because of the commercialization of Easter and other Christian holidays in the world today, there is a tendency to focus on the pagan side of Easter. The term “Easter” itself comes from “Oester,” the pagan Germanic goddess of Spring and Fertility, to whom the hare or rabbit and the snake egg are sacred. Most folks are not aware of that fact as they color and hide Easter eggs, or eat candy rabbits. Our Wendish tradition, similar to the Czech tradition, is to draw elaborate designs on boiled eggs with beeswax before dropping them in the dye. The Wends, in America, as well as in Europe, dye all the eggs red or orange-red to symbolize the blood of Christ; most Christian families in Greece do this, also, no doubt to Christianize a tradition with pagan origins.

            My maternal grandparents, who followed the Wendish tradition of dying eggs a reddish-orange, symbolizing the blood of Christ, would, before dyeing, draw crosses and print “He is risen” (in German) on the eggs. I suppose they weren’t artistic enough to draw the elaborately complicated Wendish designs on each egg.

            The Native American pagan gods of Mexico also have influenced Easter customs there, though very few folks have any idea of pre-Christian origins. For example, in Mexico City, an annual Xochimilco Festival is celebrated (originally in pagan times to honor Xochipilli, the goddess of flowers). Some towns used to choose a “goddess” of flowers as part of the celebration, similar to choosing a May Fest Queen in German towns. Out of the ancient festival of Xochimilco has grown the tradition of decorating with flowers at Easter.

            Easter, which should be called “The Resurrection of Jesus,” is considered by Christians today as the most important Festival in the Church Year; however, in actual practice, I don’t think it has come close to matching the celebratory extent of Christmas in the United States. In Mexico, it comes closer to matching, or exceeding, the significance of Christmas. My point is not to argue the significance of Easter versus Christmas, but to oppose the trend of commercialization in both cases.

            In the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, whip-cracking is an Easter custom, as strange as it may seem. In following this tradition, men and boys go around town with willow switches, decorated with colorful ribbons, trying to find women and girls to gently switch. The supposed purpose of the custom is to ensure the good health and beauty of women and girls, though, I would suspect the ladies might want to stay inside. This is obviously the remnants of a pagan festival. In Hungary, the ladies get splashed with water rather than switched. The Wends, who were the last of the Slavic tribes to be converted to Christianity, probably have more of these unusual vestiges of pre-Christian life than any of the other Slavs.

            There’s no doubt in my mind that Christians today see the rabbits and bunnies and eggs of Easter fun for our youngsters as just that, — fun, — disassociating them from the meaning they had in ancient times of paganism, and I’ve certainly enjoyed sharing the Wendish fun of celebrating Easter with my children and grandchildren. But I try, as I know other Christians do, to focus on the real reason for the season: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor.

The Nebraska Flooding, Like Other Natural Disasters, Is A time To Help Others

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 11, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

           The historic devastation of Hurricane Harvey began for Houston on August 17, 2017, and more or less ended on September 3, 2017, though there are still homes and businesses not rebuilt. The total cost was 125 billion dollars. The historic devastation of the flooding in Nebraska got underway on March 14, 2019, continued for many days, and the state has still not recovered from the disaster. The cost of the Nebraska flooding is estimated at 1.3 billion dollars. Because our Houston disaster was more costly, we tend to underestimate the horrific experience the folks in the “Cornhuskers State” have just undergone.

            One of the tragedies of Nebraska is that many farmers and ranchers there say they are wiped out, and though their family has been farming for generations, they fear they will have to give up the way of life they know and love. This is a chilling thought when you consider the fact that Nebraska, a state since 1867, has some of our nation’s best ranchland and farmland, and we rely on their crops to supply our needs. Normally, Nebraska has warm summers, dry winters, moderate humidity, and lots of sunshine, so this great flood is rare and bizarre, with dams and levees having been breached and bridges and thoroughfares literally washed away!

            Nebraska cities were turned into islands, towns were inundated, as rivers like the Platte and the Elkhorn, went on rampages, not only from the rain, but also from the massive snow melts that flowed into the rivers and streams. While Alaska has the most bodies of water, Nebraska has more miles of rivers than any other State in the United States. It’s kind of ironic that the Oto Indian word, “Nebrathka,” means “flat water,” and most of the time its waterways and rivers are “flat” water. Just this one bizarre exception. And although Nebraska has many lighthouses, it has no oceans or gulfs. Whenever a person thinks of Nebraska, they never think of raging flood waters . . . this is a new view of the peacefully rural state, where lovers of rural life always dreamed of having a homestead.

            You see, normally, Nebraska gets about 27 inches of rain per year, which is under the national average of 30 inches, and it gets around 28 inches of snow per year, which is only slightly above the national average. Thus is it quite shocking to find that three-fourths of Nebraska’s 93 counties have had to declare an emergency, with 440 million dollars in crop losses and another 400 million in cattle losses (according to the Associated Press). It was the worst flooding Vice-President Pence had ever seen in his life. The view of the flooded areas of Nebraska from outer space was startling.

            The “good” in people came out during this catastrophe. Neighbors helped neighbors everywhere, people risking their lives to save others and help livestock survive. Farmers from other states drove truckloads of hay to places where cattle where starving. Banks and other organizations donated money to flood relief, and many restaurants and stores donated a percent of their proceeds to help victims. The Nebraska Farm Bureau launched a disaster Relief Fund. Churches took in homeless victims, providing them shelter and food. And many disaster relief agencies went into action.

            Some of those agencies were LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Response, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Catholic Social Services, Lutheran Family Services, and many others. Much aid is still needed. If any of you feel moved to contribute money to help the flood victims of Nebraska, you may give to LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Response, the American Red Cross, and the Salvation Army, or any of the other relief groups. During any time of a great emergency, Americans should consider helping others.

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

Go Forth With Warmth and Compassion

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 4, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            It is my belief that, because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (God in us), we are capable of Christ-like behavior, and God uses us in our relationships with others. That is, if we cooperate. This fact can make a big difference in our world of suffering and struggling people. Every little Christian act makes a difference in this dark old world.

            For example, how do we react to someone who is cold and officious when we need someone who is warm and compassionate? For those suffering and struggling, it could be, as the ancient proverb says, “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

            Imagine for just a moment, someone coming to the church office in Wallis when I was still pastor and asking our church secretary to see the pastor, and she officiously responds, “Your name? Reason for visit? Please take a seat. I’ll notify you if/when the pastor can see you!”

            Well, I can assure you that never happened, and it won’t, because our kind and caring church secretary is warm and compassionate. Back when all of Houston was evacuated for an approaching hurricane, and the highway through Wallis was totally clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic at a standstill, she took containers of ice water and handed them out to the stranded motorists.

            And I don’t think I have ever encountered a church secretary anywhere who wasn’t at least a little bit like that.

            But I’ve seen more cold-officious, rather than warm-compassionate, people in other public areas of life, — sometimes in state and county offices, federal agencies, business offices, institutions, and medical facilities.

            While I don’t like to encounter cold-officious attitudes, I can and do understand them, because when you work in an office all day, with people constantly requiring your attention, even demanding more of you than you have to give, it’s very hard not to be curt and abrupt, cold and officious. When I was serving as a college Division Chairman, and had a hundred kids lined up outside my office door seeking my approval of their schedule changes, and the phone rang, I must confess I was often cold and officious and even curt and rude in speaking to the caller on the phone.

            Exhaustion and frustration can make you cold and officious, rude and contentious. So how can we flawed and imperfect human beings improve in that category? The answer is to “go the extra mile.” That is, do more than is required even when you’re tired and feel crummy. No doubt that expression came from Matthew 5:41, when Jesus said, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”

            Karin Hurt, founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, opines that giving the extra mile is good for business, any business, and not only that, but people feel good when they do it. So why doesn’t everybody everywhere do it? Hurt doesn’t answer the question, she merely poses it.

            The famous quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, Roger Staubach, once said, “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” So even though going the extra mile makes you feel good, a lot of times, a lot of us just don’t do it!

            My guess is our egos are bigger than our superegos, and our daily automatic pilots are set on “coast” rather than “drive.”

            I’m convinced that regular reading of God’s Word is the answer, because it gives us the answer. For example, the Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians that Jesus once said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Being warm and compassionate is giving something extra to someone. Being cold and officious is actually taking away rather than giving. You take away the warmth and kindness and love that every one of God’s creatures needs.

            We can’t go back and redo the times we were cold and officious, but we can go forth from now on with warmth and compassion.

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

Warda by John Schmidt. Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, 21 Oct 1909.

Warda

Werten Leser!

                Ich muß doch wieder ein paar Zeilen einsenden, somit ich nicht ganz in Vergessenheit gerathe.

                Gegenwärtig ist e shier sehr trocken, und infolge dessen macht sich der Wassermangel recht fühlber. Möchte es doch bald regen. – Sie Baumwollernte ist wohl nun bald drendet, und ist dieselbige stellenweise etwas besser und stellenweise wieder schlechter als letztes Jahr.

                Unser Kitchinim der im Sommer von Blitz beschädigt wurde und reparirt werden mutzit, ist nun wieder fertig. Die Kosten für denselben sind $225.00.

               Diese Motze schien die Wardaer Mädchen das Wanderfieber ergriffen zu haben, den sie verstogen wie die wilden Hause. Die Frls. Maria u. Lena Domaschk sowie Frl. Emma Bittner gingen nach Austin, Frl. Martha Kubitz u. Theresa Domaschk gingen nach Brenham, um dort Dienstellen anzunehmen, während Frl. Emma Rothmann nach Port Arthur ging um gleichfalls dort in Dienst zu treten, ihr Vater Herr Ernst Rothmann de geschäftshalper dort zu tun hatte, begleitete sie hin. Hoffentlich gefällt es nun allen recht gut, sonst — — —

                Doch so, genug für dismal.

                Mit Gruß an all Leser.

                                John Schmidt

Transliterated by Weldon Mersiovsky

Texas In The Spring: “Flowers Blooming And Birds On The Wing”

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

            Spring officially began six days ago, on March 20; and we have had, at least in our part of Texas, some truly beautiful cool, clear, sunny Spring-like days. Here anyway. We didn’t get the large hail that battered McKinney, nor the fumes and black smoke pouring out of a Deer Park industrial facility. Hopefully, today, those places, too, are enjoying the beauty of Texas in the Spring. Today is an absolutely breathtakingly resplendent Spring day!

            While tiny wildflowers were poking their heads up between blades of grass in our very green lawn, various friends posted on Facebook breathtaking pictures of bluebonnets and red blankets already covering the hillsides in some places in Texas. One of the most spectacular posts was the one showing huge fields of lavender blooming on the hillsides in Fredericksburg.

To our delight, several patches of bluebonnets are blooming their beautiful heads off, encircling Grandpa’s old plow, on the west side of our house!

            A resident wren-couple began their annual task of nest-building on the beams of our patio roof. I am told by bird-lovers that our Texas wrens mate for life, stay on the same property for life, and each Spring build four or five nests so that the female will have a choice as to which one she will hatch her babies in. The male helps the female build the nests. These two wrens continued their nest-making even while my wife and I sat on the patio only two feet from them.

            As we were enjoying these indications of Spring, I could not refrain from wanting to sing that old song we learned in Dime Box Rural School, “Have you ever been to Texas in the Spring, where the flowers bloom and birds are on the wing.” I sang it in my heart, because I didn’t wish to annoy my wife by singing it out loud (if you’ve ever heard me sing, you understand why).

            Over the years, I have seen and heard slightly different versions of this song, but the basic content of the lyrics is always the same. The song continues with, “Where bluebonnets wave in air, and there’s friendship everywhere, While busy bees are humming and the banjos are a-strumming?” We do have bluebonnets waving in the cool breeze this morning, but there are no bees buzzing around our patio, and I haven’t heard a banjo in years. My wife did play the piano a while yesterday (which delights me more than a banjo). You’d think that whoever wrote the song would know you’re more likely to hear a guitar in Texas than a banjo.

            The wildflowers garnishing our backyard lawn look a lot like those in our yard at Easter when I was a child. Our Wendish custom was to build Easter egg nests out of the grass and wild plants from the yard, and then decorate the nests. My mother, aunts, and grandmother told my brother and me that if we adorned our nests with wild flowers, the Easter Bunny would leave chocolate rabbits and candy eggs. You can just know how vigorously and enthusiastically we lined those nests with flowers! Happy childhood, Springtime memories!       

            So far, no pink primroses or wine cups have sprung up in our yard, but we never have as many of those as we used to have in Dime Box. In the old days, our back pasture was literally covered with primroses (we called them “buttercups”). Their appearance was a sure sign of Spring in Texas, — “Where the flowers bloom.” Some years we had a profusion of bluebonnets in Lee County, and some years we didn’t. I guess it depended on the way nature distributed the seeds, because in those days, nobody PLANTED wildflower seeds; they just came up on their own. This week, bluebonnets are coming up on their own along country roads in East Bernard, — as the song says, “Where bluebonnets wave in air, and there’s friendship everywhere.”

            It seems that most folks are friendlier, happier, and livelier in the Spring than any other time of year. Here in our town, East Bernarders are ALWAYS friendly, cordially saying, “Yak se mas!” to everyone with a smile on their face, — but even more so when it’s Spring and the flowers bloom and birds are on the wing!

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of a book, IT MUST BE THE NOODLES.

The Practical Importance Of Chemistry

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

Many of us grew up believing that the essence of education is “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” and, in many ways, it still is. But as we understand the phenomena of the world better and better, and as our sciences have become more and more advanced as the years roll by, we realize the need for other major components in education, such as chemistry. Did you shudder? Many folks shudder at even hearing the word, “chemistry.” In most of my undergraduate college classes, I made an “A’ or “B,” but in the case of my chemistry class, I thanked God for the “C” I received.

            However, chemistry has been around for a long time. In Dime Box Rural School, either my 4th or 5th grade year, my one teacher teaching all our subjects introduced us to something amazing which she called “chemistry,” and she galvanized our attention by performing some really clever chemistry tricks. When you add this to that, why does it change into something else? We had the same teacher for both the 4th and the 5th grades, and she opened such education doors for us as geography and chemistry. Geography was easier for us to understand than chemistry, even on its most basic, elementary level.

            Only one of us in our class, as far as I can remember, became a chemical engineer, but many of my classmates would eventually take over the family farm; and, in many ways, they needed as much knowledge of chemistry as a chemical engineer, — think fertilizer, weed control, plow blades, salt blocks for the cows, etc.

            This week, the understanding of chemistry was made real for me. My wife was taken to the emergency room for what the EMS thought was a stroke. After tests, it was discovered she was suffering from severely low levels of sodium. When your sodium level drops below 135, medical experts want you in the hospital immediately, as the consequences of a further plunge are dire. When sodium was slowly dripped into her body, she recovered little by little, eventually acting like her old self. Her potassium and magnesium levels were also low, and the medical personnel began putting those into her system.

            Now just think about how awful it would be if chemistry had not produced this knowledge. How many folks know our bodies need sodium, potassium, magnesium, and a lot of other chemicals?

            Chemistry, whether it’s biochemistry or the chemistry of metals, is endlessly fascinating. For example, there are certain organisms that emit light, such as an organism like bacteria, whereby you see the organism’s glow on dead fish. There is a chemical reaction in the organism which produces radiant energy without giving off much heat! I think an enzyme is involved in this process, but don’t quote me, because I made a “C” in chemistry. Most of these light-emitters are marine organisms. Amazing, isn’t it?! Not that any of us will remember this word by tomorrow, but the chemical process involved here is called “bioluminescence,” according to the dictionary.

            If a chemical reaction can cause a one-celled organism to emit light, think of how many chemicals and what all they do in the multi-celled human body! Like sodium, potassium, and magnesium!

            Back to the classmates studying chemistry with me in elementary school; some are still farming successfully today. For the 21st Century farmer, it’s certainly necessary to know about cutting equipment, such as plow blades and various kinds of shredders. Before a famous chemist by the name of Henry Bessemer came along, cutting tools were made of cast iron and wrought iron until chemists learned to create slag-free steel. Bessemer discovered how to remove excess oxygen from the metal. I’m guessing that it was the oxygen which caused cast iron to rust. My own experience with pocket knives over the years taught me that some steel blades can be sharpened keener than others, and some won’t hold a sharp edge at all. This is chemistry worth knowing by a farmer!

            Reading, writing, arithmetic, and the list goes on. Recent experiences cause me to want to put chemistry right up there at the top.

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Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, is a published poet and author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.

Texas Proud To Have Smart Pecan Trees

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

            My friend from Simonton told me this week his pecan tree was budding out, but, after a quick look in our backyard, I must report that neither our native Texas pecan nor our hybrid is showing any sign of leafing out. Of course our fig tree is already covered with leaves in a reckless early Spring abandonment of its senses. As I told my friend, my mother always said that we could still have a freeze before Easter until the pecan trees bud out, that the pecan was the smartest of the trees and bushes, having a lot more sense than fig trees and peach trees. So what’s the problem here? Do I have smarter pecan trees than he does?

            The pecan tree is not only our State tree, but also it is impossible to grow in many parts of the world. Native to North America, pecan trees grow naturally in northern Mexico and the southern United States. There are no pecan trees in the United Kingdom nor in many other countries. You can plant them there, but they won’t grow well, and often not at all; they grow best in warm zones.

            “Pecan” is an Algonquin native American word, a term like “squash” that we borrowed from the Amerindians. Only hazelnuts, chestnuts, and walnuts grow in the United Kingdom, and I have never eaten a chestnut in my lifetime; likewise, there are folks in England who have never eaten a pecan. That’s not a big deal, except if a Brit would ever eat a luscious piece of Texas pecan pie, he would immediately move to the country that grows pecans!

            We Texans, however, can’t go so far as to claim the pecan as our own, because of all the native pecan States, Georgia produces the most, with Texas coming in second. But we produce about 60 million pounds of pecans a year, worthy of some bragging. There are only 13 other States that grow pecans, — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.

            There is no German word for “pecan,” so when many of our German ancestors came to Texas from Germany in the 1800’s, they called this strange fruit of the tree, a “Nuss,” German word for “nut.” I don’t think the word “Nuss” lasted very long, because it is pronounced just like the Texas word “noose,” and it makes a big difference as to which one is hanging from a tree. I might also add a strange fact I just discovered: the pecan is not truly a nut, but a drupe, and a member of the hickory genus. You’ll have to get a horticulturist to explain what a “drupe” is, because I don’t have a clue!

            My maternal grandmother inherited a pecan grove somewhere between Lincoln and Lexington, Texas, from her mother; and back in the good old days, we would spend one or two days harvesting pecans in the late Fall. I have written about our annual pecan harvest about four or five times during the 25-plus years I’ve written this column for the Tribune (and later, the Express), so I don’t think any of my readers would care to hear yet another pecan-harvest story. Not only did Grandma’s land produce an abundance of pecan trees and pecans, but also copperheads, so some of my stories were a little scary.

            My parents had two native pecan trees when they lived in Giddings, and a half dozen in Dime Box, not to mention the trees the rest of my family had, more than enough for pies, pralines, and all the snacks you could want; consequently, my grandparents would sell all the “Nusse” harvested from the pecan grove. By the time my wife and I moved to East Bernard, my grandparents had sold the land with the pecan grove, so I had no access to it to transplant any of those natives in East Bernard. I did bring a small 24” native pecan tree in a bucket here from Giddings, before my parents sold that place, and today that Texas native stands proud and way taller than the house, and keeps our squirrel population so fat they can hardly walk, much less run!

            My native pecan has never budded out before a freeze since 1975 when we planted it, so I think it’s safe to say the squirrels will have plenty to eat again this year. They’re lucky I have such smart trees!

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Ray Spitzenberger, a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor, is a published poet and author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.