Old Kodak Pictures And Theories About Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halycon Moments Amid World War II

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

Last week as I was going through some old family photographs, I came across several taken at the Pacific Front during World War II. My attention was especially drawn to a shot of a group of American soldiers in battle helmets, taking a break in an area which looked totally shelled out by enemy artillery, stripped of all vegetation, bare tree trunks, some standing, some lying on the ground. The GI taking a drink of water from his canteen was my Uncle Joe (well, he became my Uncle Joe, after the War, when he came home and married my aunt). The photo, which I posted on my Facebook Page, “Ray Spitzenberger, Author and Artist @WendWriterWhittler,” brought back childhood memories of that War. I invite my readers to “like” my Page if you want to see the photo and other pictures and ponderings.

            World War II was traumatic for everybody, especially for a child; I was 5 years old when it began in 1939, and 11 when it ended in 1945. The thoughts and feelings about this terrible conflict in my memory-bank continue to motivate me to write about the War. Perhaps experiencing that difficult era as a child and seeing it through a child’s mind make it impossible to capture what’s inside you and to share with readers. Other people my age have expressed somewhat the same feelings about this second major world war, which began not too long after World War I (ironically called “the War to End All Wars”) ended.

            Of course, we weren’t bombed, we didn’t have to run to air raid shelters as folks in England had to, and our beautiful land was not shelled into deforestation as the Pacific islands were. Our trauma was more subtle, — we missed our fathers and uncles at the Christmas dinner table, cherishing their letters which brought tears; we listened to the radio every day with great anxiety, hoping the War news would be better than the day before; we grieved with those who received “killed-in-action” telegraphs or letters; and, willingly sacrificing, we bought food, gas, tires, and shoes with limited war ration stamps and raised “Victory Gardens.” We were proud of our soldiers fighting for us, and our greatest solace was God and our church.

            It’s almost impossible to express the importance of our church to those of us living in our rather isolated little rural town of Dime Box. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were active members of this “Center” of our lives, my mother serving as church organist and playing an old pump organ, pumping air with her feet to activate the sounds. My poem about the War and our little rural church, “This Easeful Hour Made Halcyon,” was published recently in the Bellville Poets Society’s Chapbook. I want to include it here, because it comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible:

THIS EASEFUL HOUR MADE HALCYON

the time, childhood

the church, rural

the moon, large,

lighting up the outside

the gasoline lanterns, pumped,

lighting up the inside

the wheezing sounds

of the old pump organ

commence vespers with plainsong

mama, the organist,

pumping and playing,

her fingers and feet

temporarily

freed of rheumatism

by the music

sifting through her mind and heart

the kindly old pastor,

in cassock and surplice,

slow-moving and serene,

lights the candles himself

this easeful hour

made halcyon

by homily, hymns and prayers

in the midst of bellicose news

from the blood-stained trenches

of a world at war

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

The Benefits And Joys Of Doing Puzzles

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

There’s something about a human being that likes to solve a mystery or a puzzle. Mystery novels and spy thrillers are probably the most widely read books in the country. As kids, my brother and I used to love to read the Hardy Boys series, as these teenage detectives solved mystery after mystery, so even as children we were turned on to mysteries. Coupled with that is the insatiable human demand for puzzles, — puzzles of all kinds, from crosswords to Sudoku, jig saw puzzles to electronic iPhone puzzles.

            Most historians of trivia agree that the most popular of all the many different puzzles, worldwide, is the jig saw puzzle, which was invented in 1760, — I don’t know which was the most popular before the 18th Century. The largest jig saw puzzle available today was made by Ravenburger, with 40,320 pieces. The smallest jig saw puzzle, according to trivia experts, was created at Laser Zentrum Hannover, and is the size of a grain of sand (now I’d have to see that to believe it). My wife and I, being avid jig saw puzzle doers, prefer puzzles made by Ravenburger, though there are three or four other companies which make well-fitting puzzle pieces. Nothing is more annoying than trying to build a thousand-piece puzzle with the pieces constantly coming apart!

            The good brands of jig saw puzzles, like Ravenburger, are quite expensive, but puzzle addicts solve that problem by buying used puzzles or exchanging them with friends who share the same passion for doing puzzles.

            Nobody seems to know which puzzle is the second most popular puzzle in the world, and there are many, many different ones, including these: Rubik’s Cube and Soma Cube, Sudoku, Slitherlink, Kakuro, Number Link, Masyu, Shikaku, Scrabble, connect-the-dots, cryptic crosswords, get-through-the-maze, and many more. Educators tell us that they favor using puzzles with kids, because there are great benefits, — they help improve cognitive skills, promote problem-solving, foster fine motor development, and improve hand and eye coordination. Some people even believe that doing puzzles helps to prevent the onslaught of dementia.

            Of those puzzles mentioned, the one I have always enjoyed as much as jig saw’s is the crossword puzzle. No doubt as a former English teacher, wordsmith, and dictionary nut, I would be attracted to a puzzle which calls for synonyms, though I may have caught the crossword bug from one of my aunts, who worked through an entire book of crossword puzzles each day. She had stacks and stacks of crossword puzzle books by her living room couch, and since she did them in pencil, would allow me to erase them and do them myself (this was subject to cheating because the answers were not always thoroughly erased).

            Most of my life I was too busy working at some job or other to finish a whole book of puzzles a day, so my habit was to do the daily crossword in The Houston Post or (later) The Houston Chronicle after supper. As a school teacher, I never had time to do it before breakfast. My puzzle-doer aunt was a stay-at-home homemaker, who, I’m afraid did more crosswords than homemaking. Back in those days, people believed “a woman’s place was in the home,” – apparently, I guess, whether you baked, sewed, canned, cleaned house, or worked crossword puzzles, it mattered not as long as you stayed home. She did have a sharp mind and wrote a column for the local newspaper.

            My mother, on the other hand, had no use for crossword puzzles, but enjoyed putting jig saw pieces together, thus kindling my interest in jig saw puzzle building.

            Mama loved maps, globes, and geography, which is a bit odd since she was terrified of traveling anywhere outside of Lee County, Texas. No doubt her love of geography was her motivation for buying “geography puzzles” for my brother and me. My favorite puzzle as a child was a map of the United States, so, even before I went to school, I knew the names and locations of all the states (at that time) in the Union. We also had a World Map puzzle which was more difficult for us. When you haven’t gone anywhere outside of Lee County, it is difficult to envision the world and match the pieces.

            My wife loves Sudoku and iPhone puzzles, but some of the most enjoyable days in the winter of our life are those days when we do a huge jig saw puzzle together.

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

For The Love Of Cedar, The Godly Wood

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

   A few days ago, I received a belated birthday present, — a T-shirt depicting a couple of wood-carving knives with the caption: “THE BEST WAY TO CARVE WOOD IS WHITTLE BY WHITTLE.” It’s a perfect gift for me, as I have argued many times, “I am not a wood sculptor, I am a whittler.” When folks ask me about my wood art, I tell them, “I don’t sculpt, I whittle.” In fact, when I began doing wood art some years ago, because of my love of the beauty of wood, I bought an expensive set of blades, chisels, scoops, etc., but after a few months, tossed them aside and started using my 19th Century pocket knife (from my father-in-law’s father). They don’t make knives like that anymore!

            Just as many women I know love fine China, dainty porcelain, and arty ceramics, a lot of men I’m acquainted with have a passion for working with wood, making everything from chicken roosts to step ladders out of planks of white pine or whatever their favorite wood happens to be. And the old-timers like my father and grandfather just loved to whittle with their pocket knife, making useful items like wooden spoons and paddles. Some even liked to do arty things, but each one had his favorite wood. My daddy’s favorite wood was cedar.

            Maybe that’s why my favorite wood to work with is also cedar. When you slice off a piece of cedar and sand it, the grain is splendid-looking, almost an object of art in itself. But then I grew up with cedar, there being many cedar brakes in the woods around Dime Box. My grandfather used cedar trunks as fence posts, convinced they didn’t rot as easily as other woods and sure of their insect repellent properties. In those days, every young woman had a cedar chest made by their father or an uncle, an excellent moth-free “hope chest.” At our church in Dime Box, a parishioner hand-made the baptismal font out of some beautiful cedar wood. Someone (probably my father) made a jewelry box for my mother, with hand-cut metal decorations on it. In Lee County in the good old days, cedar wood was highly regarded even though it was plentiful.

            There is a centuries-old Sumerian myth that speaks of the “wood of the gods,” which, of course, was cedar, the legend telling about how the demigods fought a great battle with humans over the cedar groves in Mesopotamia. I’m not sure who won, but I’m guessing it was the demigods.

            What was/is so great about cedar? In much of ancient history it was the most valued of all woods, — the Cedars of Lebanon are famous and are mentioned in the Bible. Egyptians used cedar for ship-building, and the Ottoman Empire did major construction projects with it, desiring it above all others. Solomon used the cedars of Lebanon to build his Temple, the only wood suitable for God’s House. If it were the only wood good enough for the Temple, then it was surely a Godly wood. Maybe the parishioner who built our baptismal font with cedar in Dime Box had that in mind.

            As far as whittling is concerned, I don’t find cedar difficult to whittle on, and can shape it easily. I actually prefer it to driftwood, though driftwood rivals its beauty, because most driftwood is very hard to carve, and requires a really sharp knife. I tend to use cedar for flat art and driftwood for 3-dimensional designs. The two woods don’t look good together. But driftwood created by the ocean and the sun from different kinds of wood has many different colorations and textures, often quite spectacular when sanded and shellacked. These different colored and textured woods look good together.

            You can buy slices from a cedar log, with beautiful grain variations showing, and these slices can be used very effectively in creating one-dimensional art, — it’s kind of like painting a picture with cedar wood, and is by far my favorite method of creating wood art. Some cedar slices have much more beautiful wood grains than others, and part of the artist’s job is to find the most exquisitely beautiful ones, which are certainly fitting for religious art. As September and our church auction grow closer, I hope to create some wood art out of this “Godly wood.”

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

Freelancer’s Saga About Creating A “Page”

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 27, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

When I served as pastor of a church, we had a “Website,” overseen by a Webmaster who knew how to perform all of the complicate maneuvers necessary to post items on the Site. We, who try to preserve our Wendish history, have a “Website,” wendishresearch.org, and a very gifted Webmaster. The one time I attempted to post something on our Website at the church (our Webmaster said it was “easy’ to do), I deleted everything else on the Site. Ever since that point in time, I have stayed away from trying to post on a Website, someone has to do it for me!

            Because of the mess I can create with a computer, I have, at times, vowed to stay away from computers entirely. But, being the incredibly stubborn German Wend that I am, again and again, I kept attempting new maneuvers on the computer, my first victory years ago being to discover how to post photos on Facebook! Learning by trial and error is obviously the hard way to learn, but, again, being an incredibly stubborn German Wend, I refused to take computer lessons or even read the instructions! After all, I keep telling myself, my mother taught herself how to read notes and play the piano, so why not be able to conquer a computer!

            So I have created a new “Page” for myself via Facebook! Several years ago, I was attracted to the much touted simplicity of creating a “Page” with Facebook, and convinced that Websites were beyond my aged brain, I tried to create a Page, which turned out to be such a disaster, I got hacked four or five times. Deleted the Page! But, being the stubborn you-know-what, it wasn’t long before I tried another Page, which I deleted soon after I started it. Wanting to promote the sales of my book, It Must Be the Noodles, I attempted a third Page. By then, I seemed to have made all the mistakes you can possibly make in doing a Page, so my Page sailed along rather smoothly. Until I started “boosting” certain posts and letting Facebook promote my Page, not realizing that was costing me money. Frugal as well as stubborn, I killed that Page, too.

            That brings me to my current Facebook Page, which is going well, which I am enjoying, and which hasn’t cost me anything. Just when I had come to the conclusion that I would permanently avoid doing Pages, as well as Websites, I viewed and “Liked” a Page, entitled “Lone Star Back Roads, Photographer.” I enjoyed reading and seeing (the photographs) so much that it became my favorite thing to visit regularly. Over a period of time, I became acquainted with the Page “photographer,” Jeremy Clifton, who to my great surprise was also the Webmaster of our wendishresearch.org website! To make a long story short, through his inspiration and suggestions, I was able to go forward with my Page, maintain it in a semi-professional manner, and really come to enjoy posting to it every day.

            Hoping to write and publish another book, doing other free-lance writing every day, planning wood art projects for our church auction, and continuing my pen and ink sketching, I wanted a name for the Page which would reflect all of those things. The word “author” and/or “writer” would cover both my prose writing and my poems, the word “artist” would cover both pen and ink drawings and watercolor, but what about the wood art? It would be an exaggeration to say I am a “Sculptor.” Aha! What do I do? I whittle! That did it! I entitled my Page, “Ray Spitzenberger, Author and Artist @WendWriterWhittler.” I couldn’t resist the alliteration, and the Page title seems to work, because many people seem to be attracted to it. I certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Jeremy.

            I enjoy posting to my new Page, because it’s not just for the purpose of enticing folks to buy my book or the magazines in which my poems are published, or purchase my art (I donate most of my art projects to the church auction and I get no money from the poetry magazines), but it’s about reminiscing and sharing history and old photographs and Wendish stuff and about joy and kindness — the sorts of things I enjoy writing and posting and (hopefully) the kinds of things those who “Like” my Page want to read. After all, if my ambition were to make a lot of money, I would never have become a school teacher, preacher, and writer/artist!

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

The Relativity Of Time And Back To The Past

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 20, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

When my cousin (related through my mother’s side of the family) came to see me recently, we talked non-stop for two days about the past, i.e., the “good old days” of our childhood. Several years ago, when six or seven of my cousins (related through my father’s side of the family) came to see me, we shared old family photographs and genealogies, and had long, exciting discussions about our forebears. Each of us saw old photos we hadn’t seen before and heard family stories previously not known. We all had this strong instinct to preserve our past.

            It seems that attitude is true of most people, — except, of course, for remembering the crazy things we did in the past we’d rather not remember. Most of our remembering is of the good and beautiful things of long ago, as we look at the era of our great grandparents (during which we did not live) through rose-colored glasses (I mean, what is so lovely about plowing a field with a mule). One of my cousins said that smelling the aroma of certain foods cooking on the stove triggers delightful memories of our grandmother’s kitchen. Not only do I have a similar response, but the aroma also fosters an urgent desire within in me to want to eat such food once again, like Grandma’s cooked homemade cheese on warm homemade bread.

            Like me, you may know people who do not care about the past at all and think it’s just a bucket of ashes. One of my friends once said he could care less about the past, he is only interested in the “now” and the future. He used to make me feel guilty about my penchant for reminiscing, until I decided I didn’t want friends who made me feel guilty about returning to the past, and now I have many friends who share my love of looking back and joyfully remembering. However, mooning over the past, avoiding the present, and dreading the future are not healthy attitudes either, — but that’s not what I’m talking about. We have to live in the present and realistically prepare for the future, but, at the same time, fully enjoy memories of the past.

            We can’t literally return to the past, can we? Well, there is the “relativity of time” versus “time” as most of us see it. In the “relativity of time,” a person can theorize that it’s possible to travel back in time to the past, but no one has ever found a way to make it physically possible, — though science fiction stories like The Time Machine by H. G. Wells in 1895 and the 1985 movie, Back to the Future, have presented fictitious ways. 

            Einstein once wrote, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Einstein did believe that time exists, he just did not believe in a distinction between present, past, and future. Most of us believe time is flowing, and it continues flowing constantly, ever going forward. I think it was Einstein’s theory that provided the fodder for the movie, Back to the Future, wherein Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, travels to the past in a DeLorean, using plutonium (he doesn’t have any when he wants to return) as the means. The idea of traveling back in time and forward to the future is such a popular notion that the movie did so well at the box office, the producer made Back to the Future II and Back to the Future III.

            Of course, science fiction and reality are not the same thing, so we really have only one way to view the past and that is through memories, conversations with older people, and history books. That takes me back to the pleasure that many folks receive in looking back fondly at old memories. My brother used to chuckle and say after reading my newspaper columns about episodes in our childhood that I had “creative memory.” When my cousin and I reminisced recently about our maternal grandmother whom we loved so much, we pictured her as a saint, perfectly sweet and good and saintly in every way. So I reminded my cousin how Grandma would yell at the farm dogs when they didn’t behave, spouting off some really bad words in German. I knew enough German to know how bad those words were!

            Even remembering some of the naughty and ridiculous incidents and activities of the past is a joy, and if it produces laughter as well as tears and smiles, that’s a bonus! All you need is your memory (and maybe a photo album or two), — you don’t need a DeLorean!

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

How A Pastor Became A Columnist

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for Thursday, June 13, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

In twenty-seven years, I have written over 1,350 “Images,” my newspaper column, this one adding to the count. Not too long ago, someone asked me how I got started writing my newspaper column, and I replied that it was a long story. My first “Images” column was published in The East Bernard Tribune in 1992, and it continued appearing in The Tribune until The East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, and shortly thereafter, began appearing in The Express. But how/why did the pastor of a church ever begin writing a newspaper column in the first place, the person wanted to know, — I even ask myself that question.

            Back in the good old days when I was growing up in Dime Box, The Giddings News published regular columns written by persons in many of the small towns in Lee County, including “News from Dime Box,” written by my Aunt Fritzie. These columns mostly consisted of such news items as “So and so visited his parents during the Christmas holidays” and “The So and So’s are proud grandparents of a baby girl named So and So.” My aunt’s column always struck me as superfluous, because everybody in Dime Box already knew everything reported in the column, — I guess they just liked seeing their name in the paper. My thoughts in those years was that column-writing must be rather boring.

            Then we moved to Giddings when I was a sophomore, and my Giddings High School English teacher, who apparently liked the essays I wrote in class, asked me to write “a column” for the high school newspaper, The Traveler. After I discovered that such a column was more like a feature article than merely chit chat, I began my “career” as a column-writer, continuing it at Blinn Junior College by writing “Impromptu Campusology” for the Jolly Roger’s Log. To make a long story shorter, after that, I didn’t write any more newspaper columns during the many, many years I worked as a school teacher, although I did sponsor a literary magazine.

            It wasn’t until after I retired as a teacher and began my second career as a Lutheran pastor that I took up column writing again, — or, I should say, stumbled onto column-writing. As an active member of both the East Bernard and Wallis communities, I often wrote news stories and took them to the office of The East Bernard Tribune to be published. One day when I took a story to the Tribune office, the Managing Editor of three or four newspapers, including The Tribune, happened to be there and asked me if I wanted to work a few hours a week for the newspaper. Like most pastors, I was in need of supplementing my income and agreed to at least try it for a while.

            The newspaper “work” wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned, as my jobs included distributing newspapers to business places where they were sold, meeting the Managing Editor at Altair, and sometimes at Halletsville, to take him news copy and ads, as well as editing news stories turned in by townspeople. To make my “job” more interesting, I began writing my column, “Images,” and while the Managing Editor printed it, he told me I wouldn’t be paid extra for it. My memory fails me, but I know I didn’t work longer than a year for the Tribune when I resigned from “the job,” but asked if I could continue to write my “Images” column and be paid for it. By then I had a fair number of “followers” who liked my column and said it was the main reason they bought the paper, — So the Managing Editor agreed to pay me for each column. And that’s really how I got started as a newspaper columnist.

            When the East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, the Express editor was kind enough to allow me to continue publishing my column, — and paying me for it. During these 27 years, I sought to identify what a newspaper “column” was really supposed to be, and the nature of my column changed over that time. One of my inspirations was Leon Hale, who first wrote a column for The Houston Post, and later, for The Houston Chronicle. However, my columns differed from Leon Hale’s, in that

In twenty-seven years, I have written over 1,350 “Images,” my newspaper column, this one adding to the count. Not too long ago, someone asked me how I got started writing my newspaper column, and I replied that it was a long story. My first “Images” column was published in The East Bernard Tribune in 1992, and it continued appearing in The Tribune until The East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, and shortly thereafter, began appearing in The Express. But how/why did the pastor of a church ever begin writing a newspaper column in the first place, the person wanted to know, — I even ask myself that question.

            Back in the good old days when I was growing up in Dime Box, The Giddings News published regular columns written by persons in many of the small towns in Lee County, including “News from Dime Box,” written by my Aunt Fritzie. These columns mostly consisted of such news items as “So and so visited his parents during the Christmas holidays” and “The So and So’s are proud grandparents of a baby girl named So and So.” My aunt’s column always struck me as superfluous, because everybody in Dime Box already knew everything reported in the column, — I guess they just liked seeing their name in the paper. My thoughts in those years were that column-writing must be rather boring.

            Then we moved to Giddings when I was a sophomore, and my Giddings High School English teacher, who apparently liked the essays I wrote in class, asked me to write “a column” for the high school newspaper, The Traveler. After I discovered that such a column was more like a feature article than merely chit chat, I began my “career” as a column-writer, continuing it at Blinn Junior College by writing “Impromptu Campusology” for the Jolly Roger’s Log. To make a long story shorter, after that, I didn’t write any more newspaper columns during the many, many years I worked as a school teacher, although I did sponsor a literary magazine.

            It wasn’t until after I retired as a teacher and began my second career as a Lutheran pastor that I took up column writing again, — or, I should say, stumbled onto column-writing. As an active member of both the East Bernard and Wallis communities, I often wrote news stories and took them to the office of The East Bernard Tribune to be published. One day when I took a story to the Tribune office, the Managing Editor of three or four newspapers, including The Tribune, happened to be there and asked me if I wanted to work a few hours a week for the newspaper. Like most pastors, I was in need of supplementing my income and agreed to at least try it for a while.

            The newspaper “work” wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned, as my jobs included distributing newspapers to business places where they were sold, meeting the Managing Editor at Altair, and sometimes at Halletsville, to take him news copy and ads, as well as editing news stories turned in by townspeople. To make my “job” more interesting, I began writing my column, “Images,” and while the Managing Editor printed it, he told me I wouldn’t be paid extra for it. My memory fails me, but I know I didn’t work longer than a year for the Tribune when I resigned from “the job,” but asked if I could continue to write my “Images” column and be paid for it. By then I had a fair number of “followers” who liked my column and said it was the main reason they bought the paper, — So the Managing Editor agreed to pay me for each column. And that’s really how I got started as a newspaper columnist.

            When the East Bernard Express bought out the Tribune, the Express editor was kind enough to allow me to continue publishing my column, — and paying me for it. During these 27 years, I sought to identify what a newspaper “column” was really supposed to be, and the nature of my column changed over that time. One of my inspirations was Leon Hale, who first wrote a column for The Houston Post, and later, for The Houston Chronicle. However, my columns differed from Leon Hale’s, in that mine became more and more like feature articles or essays, and they still are.            

Mine being a weekly column, I could never understand how on earth Leon Hale could come up with new ideas regularly for a daily column. I am in awe of him for that, as, after writing well over a thousand columns, I feel my idea bucket is almost empty. One of these days it may be.           

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

The Palaces, The Queen, And Our President

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for June 6, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

One of the things I have learned from teaching a college course in British literature for many years is an understanding and appreciation of the United Kingdom. You have to know the people, places, and traditions of England, Scotland, Ireland, etc., to understand their poetry and prose. When you immerse yourself in British culture and history, you cannot help but become somewhat of an Anglophile. On the day I am writing this, President Donald Trump is making an official State visit to the United Kingdom, his helicopter having landed on the lawn of Buckingham Palace in London about six or seven hours ago.

            President Trump’s official visit with the Queen of England and the Prime Minister today re-emphasizes the powerful and long bond between the United States and the United Kingdom. American roots are deep into British roots. President Donald Trump’s ancestors came to the United States from Scotland. President George W. Bush is the 17th cousin of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. My wife’s ancestors came from Ireland, as did President Ronald Reagan’s and President John F. Kennedy’s. My ancestors came from Germany, but like most Americans, I feel a strong bond with England.

            President and Mrs. Trump have by now had lunch with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and the Duchess of Cornwell in Buckingham Palace. Considering the time difference, they are probably at this moment, along with Trump family members, and the Queen’s son and grandsons, participating in an official State Banquet in the Palace. Our President was earlier greeted with an 82-gun salute.

            Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip (who has retired from public life) have two official residences: one is Buckingham Palace in London; the other in Windsor Castle in Windsor, Berkshire, England. Both residences are often the location for official State dinners and other special occasions. The Queen privately owns Balmoral Castle in Aberdeanshire, Scotland, and Sandringham House in Sandringham, Norfolk, England, as well as several other estates. Americans often wonder who pays for these State functions at the official palaces, involving heads of State from other countries.

            The Queen of England receives “a Sovereign Grant” from the British government, — basically an expense account which covers the cost of the royal family’s official travels, security for them, and staff and upkeep of official royal palaces. I don’t think this is coming out of the English tax-payer’s pocket, because the Sovereign Grant is made up of money generated from income from the Royal Estates (most of which goes into the Sovereign Grant and only a small portion to the Monarch). If I understand all of this correctly (which I probably don’t), President Trump is probably wealthier than Her Majesty the Queen.

            The surname for the British royal family is “Windsor.” Queen Elizabeth’s husband is called “Prince” Philip, because, as a descendant of a Greek monarch, he cannot be designated as “King” of England, so his official title is Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich. Prince Philip’s surname is “Mountbatten,” which explains why the surname for Prince Harry and Meghan’s baby is “Windsor-Mountbatten.” It was not until 1957 that Philip was officially designated a British prince. Some ancient rule decrees that British royal children cannot be named “Mountbatten,” unless their parents decline royal titles. Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan were able to name their child “Windsor-Mountbatten” because they chose that their children not have royal titles.

            Tomorrow, President Trump will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May at her office on Downing Street, with a business breakfast at St. James Palace, in spite of the face that Prime Minister May has resigned and her last day as PM is June 6. St. James Palace is no longer the official residence of the Queen, but is used more for the affairs of the United Kingdom, housing a number of official offices, and, I think a few members of the royal family live there, such as the daughters of the Duke of York.

            On his final day, the President will participate in a celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Portsmouth, led by the Queen and more than 300 D-Day veterans. This final ceremony underscores the powerful and deep relationship the United States has with the United Kingdom, and this is an official visit that reaffirms the relationship.

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

The Artistry Of Lone Star Back Roads

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 30, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

In order to make my experience with Facebook more interesting, I will frequently “like” and “follow” a Page, or a Community, or a Group, an action which often brings me enlightenment, entertainment, or inspiration. If the “Page” turns out to be uninteresting, I will “unlike” and “unfollow” it.

            Not long ago, I discovered and “liked” and “followed” a Page which I have enjoyed so much I wanted to talk about it in this column. When I “liked” the Page, entitled “Lone Star Back Roads/Photographer,” I had no idea that the person behind the Page was the Webmaster for Wendish Research where my Blogs are posted. The Page is not to be confused with “Texas Back Roads,” “BackRoads of Texas,” and a couple similarly named sites. The photographer and the Page-Master is Jeremy Clifton, who lives in Hutto, Texas, but roams all over the State.

            I tend to “like” all of the sites such as this one that contain Texas history, Texas lore, Texas ethnicity, and Texas photographs. “Lone Star Back Roads/Photographer” was different, however, from the others, and the photographs were done with such artistry, they seemed to reach out and grab you. I felt that the photos of small Texas towns on the “back roads” of the Lone Star State captured the very “soul” of the town, the community, or the church. Jeremy also posts pictures of County Courthouses, Texas eateries, and historical sites like the Alamo. He displays commendable photographs of many of the old churches, other old buildings, and festivities of the Wendish people of Texas. He grew up in North Carolina (parts of which remind him of rural Texas), and while he doesn’t have a drop of Wendish blood in him, he has two children who have a Wendish mother and grandmother, and who very likely are descendants of Rev. Jan Killian. Along with that, he has a passion for Texas, our history, and our ethnicities.

            As an artist (at least I think I am), I view his photographs as works of art, not only as they capture the light and shadows, the forms and colors, or the black and white starkness, but also as they capture the spirit, the mood, the essence of the churches, the towns, or the landscapes photographed. The photos tell a story.

One example that touches me is a black and white shot of Loebau, Texas, photographed as it looks today, now that only about 20 people still live there. The empty look of its one and only country store haunts me as I remember the town like it was during my childhood, when it was a thriving, bustling place where we Wendish Lutherans gathered for church and school picnics, oompa-pa music echoing through groves of pin oak trees.

Another of Jeremy’s photographs is a picture of Salty, Texas, consisting of a photo of the Salty Community Church (originally a Methodist church in the 1800’s), the strange, horizontal shape of the tree limbs, the diagonal cloud formations, and a cemetery barely visible in the background, all of it suggesting a long forgotten history. Jeremy comments that it once had three schools, three doctors, and a post office.

Jeremy’s night time photos make an incredible use of light in the darkness, such as the black and white photograph of the Lutheran church in The Grove, and the nighttime color photo of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fedor, Texas, the church of my forebears. This is a dramatic capturing of an old white church building, with lighted emerald green windows, the inviting structure surrounded by a splendid semi-darkness of purple, lavender, and indigo. He also captured the insides of old churches with elaborate altar work dramatically lighted in the darkness. In another shot, he caught the organist and his wife pulling on the multiple ropes ringing the delightful sounding bells in the stone bell tower. Often Jeremy gives descriptions and explanations with the photographs, and sometimes he lets the picture tell its own story.

Even though I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, I recommend if you enjoy Facebooking that you pull up “Lone Star Back Roads/Photographer,” and that you “like” the Page and you “follow” it. You’ll enjoy its artistry.

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