This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 10, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas. After teaching school for thirty years, I noticed an interesting pattern among the students I taught, — the sons of medical doctors quite often also became medical doctors, often pursuing the same kind of specializing …
This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in the April 2010 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society. In this blog you will find Ray’s contributions to the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Newsletter as well as his contributions to a column he writes for the East Bernard Express, of East Bernard, Texas.
Hi, my name is Ray Spitzenberger, and I am a Sorb, aka, Wend! Well, at least part Wendish. Obviously “Spitzenberger” is not the Wendish part of me; it’s from my maternal ancestry, which includes the surnames Zschech, Proske, Noack, Patschke, and (some say) Bluemel. In the Old Country, we came from villages in Saxony, like Wawitz and Drehsa, and villages in Prussia, like Langoelsa. In the New World, we settled in Serbin, Fedor, Lexington, Dime Box, and Giddings.
It was my cousin, Chuck Dube (his grandfather Gus Zschech was my Grandfather John’s favorite brother), who suggested I write a column for the TWHS Newsletter on why our roots are of such compelling interest to us. That’s a nice way to put it. My non-Sorbian friends tell me that I am “obsessed” with my Wendish heritage and history. And I have to admit they’re right! No book about the Wends escapes my fierce on-going search, and my salacious acquisitiveness. Over the years, I have xeroxed every document on the Sorbs/Wends in the University of Michigan library and the Galveston public library.
My friends send me every little tidbit about the Wends they find, and it’s amazing where some of these articles are found. Three friends sent me the same magazine article about Serbin and its Slavic population. My famous Texas artist friend, Frank Gerrietts, sent me a second copy of Texas Wends: Their First Half-Century by Lillie Moerbe Caldwell. Even the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly in St. Louis published an article about one of our famous Wendish poets. Concordia University in Austin advertises itself as the only university in America (or do they say “in the world”) founded by Wends.
And now here’s my piece de resistance: one of my great-great grandfathers is the grandfather of the first, and no doubt only, Wend to publish a newspaper in the Wendish language in America – J. A. Proske. Or was it my great-great uncle and J. A.’s great-grandfather? Or was it great-uncle – great uncle? Now you see why I’m a humorist rather than a historian! I’m more often hysterical rather than historical! Actually I think it was a Wendish section of the German language newspaper, The Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, which in later years became the Giddings Star and was printed in English. Dear to my heart as a Proske and a Lutheran is the fact that J. A. published the first newsletter for the LCMS Texas District.
So why are our roots so compelling to us, especially those of us who have great difficulty reading and understanding genealogy charts and diagrams? Working through a family tree is much more difficult than diagramming page-long compound/complex sentences in an English class. Yet those of us who are obsessive about it won’t give it up, not even for Lent. After many years of entering so much data in your computer, your hard drive is in danger of freezing up!
Why do we care if at least one of our ancestors was on the Ben Nevis? Isn’t part of the passenger list missing? Couldn’t Great, Great Whoever have been on that missing list? Did Great, Great Whoever stay at St. Paul’s when the split occurred? Or did he go to St. Peter’s? Back to St. Paul’s? To St. Peter’s the second time? Makes you dizzy just thinking about it. But we are compelled to search on! That is, those of us who are obsessed with our genealogy.
And yet what I remember the best about being Wendish is my Grandma Selma Zschech’s wonderfully yellow noodles. I can still see her with that gigantic butcher knife shredding those icons of Wendish ethnicity.
Zap, zap, zap, zap, zap zap, and then there’s a bag of noodles fit to make your mouth water – though I found out as a child they don’t taste all that good uncooked! But, oh my, boil ’em with some chicken gizzards and chicken necks, and you’ve got a mess of noodles fit for a Saxon prince!
Well, maybe therein lies the answer to Chuck’s question! Why are our roots of such compelling interest to us? Yep! It must be the noodles!
Ray Spitzenberger, poet, humorist, and Lutheran pastor, is 49.9% Wendish. Also an accomplished artist, Ray’s drawings may be viewed in his Spitzen-Doodle blog.
This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 3, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas. Although I have written the majority of the many articles, poems, columns, and even a book, about Lee County, Texas, where I grew up, I have actually lived in Wharton County much longer than in …
This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 27, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas. Festivals have been celebrated throughout the world as far back as history records. Festivals, Fests, Fiestas, Fairs, Picnics! Whatever you call them, there seems to be a strong need for them within the hearts of …
Wharton County, like much of the Houston area, experienced a “Cool Front” on Monday, and while it was definitely not a “Cold Front,” it did cool things down a bit (90 high instead of 97). The night before, when the weatherman was forecasting a “Cool Front,” he made it very clear that we did not need to get out our blankets or sweaters.
Not too long ago during the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic, when there was a severe shortage of toilet paper, some folks were having panic attacks. It was like, ‘How can life go on without toilet paper?’ My initial response was to chuckle, because I thought of the good old days, growing up in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s in the wonderful rural community of Dime Box, Texas, where everybody had an outhouse or privy equipped with a Sears Roebuck Catalogue and a stack of old newspapers. We didn’t have an indoor toilet with tissue paper luxury until my family moved to Giddings when I was 14.
There is a “falls” in Marble Falls, Texas, but no “marble”; the rock quarried near there is “granite,” which was used to build the present State Capitol in Austin, begun in 1882 and completed in 1888. I remember my high school Texas History teacher telling our class the fascinating story about building that grand old edifice in Austin. I’m not sure the history books included some of the things she told. Her accounts triggered my interest in granite.
Helping to make molasses out of sugarcane the old-timey way in the 1940’s was my first experience with the tall grass known as “sugarcane.” Since there are three types of sugar cane, — chewing cane, crystal cane, and syrup cane, — I’m guessing my father’s cousins in Carmine, Texas, were using “syrup” canes for making their strong, thick molasses. I was a pre-teen at the time, and my job was to carry bundles of sugarcane to the area where a poor old horse, attached to a pole, went around and around on a device that crushed and squeezed the sugarcane stalks. My job was easier than the horse’s.
Recently, while going through my closet, I came across a small, “Indian” arrowhead that I had found as a child growing up in Dime Box, Texas. We called such artifacts, “Indian” arrowheads back then. Today, however, “Native Americans” is the preferred term, although anthropologists and archeologists use the word, “Amerindians.” I remember how many, many Amerindian artifacts people would find in the 1940’s. Most of my young friends had a collection, though I never got past my one arrowhead.
Although he was born in Carmine, Texas, my father grew up in Dime Box, married, and raised his family there (which included me). Daddy was an avid fisherman! Fresh water! I don’t think he had ever been to the Gulf of Mexico until much later in life. But the creeks in Dime Box in those days were clear and unpolluted, and fish were abundant, and the Colorado River was only about 38 miles away, whether in the direction of Bastrop or LaGrange. My father and my uncle would take the women and the kids to the small creeks to fish, but only the men would risk fishing on the big Colorado River, and even they were afraid of it.