Why People Become Nurses And Pastors

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES November 7, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

In retrospect, I can’t say for sure why I wanted to be a pastor and serve a congregation, — obviously it wasn’t for the money. I think it may have been for the same reason someone wants to become a nurse or a counselor or a special education teacher, or any teacher for that matter. Women I have known who wanted to be a nurse or became a nurse expressed some of the same feelings I felt in seeking the route to the ministry. These want-to-be nurses were all very sensitive human beings who saw so much hurt, so many needs, so much sorrow all around them, and they felt “called” to help do something beyond themselves to help vulnerable, hurting human beings. The inner love they felt for others (and, in most cases, for God) pulled them toward a career that would fulfill this inner, indefinable something.

            My mother was one of those women, a fact that I did not learn about until pretty late in life. She was the ideal mother and the rock of our family, so I never thought of her as having any feelings outside of wanting to be a loving mother and splendid homemaker. But one day, when I was talking to her about my retiring from teaching and possibly going into the pastoral ministry and trying to express hard-to-express feelings (while I loved by father dearly, it was always my mother whom I could and would talk to), she said she understood, because she had once felt that way, too. She went on to explain that she had wanted very much to enroll in a nursing program and become a Registered Nurse, but there were way too many obstacles keeping her from doing it.

            To begin with, Dime Box Rural School in those days had only eleven grades, and you had to go to Giddings to complete the Twelfth Grade and graduate. One of her classmates in Dime Box was able to do that; he graduated from Giddings High School so that he could go to college and Med School and become a Medical Doctor. But my grandparents could not afford to pay room and board for her in Giddings, nor could they afford transportation back and forth to Giddings. From there, of course, were the even greater costs of college and nursing school. Instead she went to work as a clerk in Noah Alber’s Drug Store. But she confessed to me how very, very much she felt drawn to a career serving hurting people as a nurse.

            Others in my family had similar feelings of wanting to help suffering humanity. Two of my cousins became RN’s and one wanted to but did not finish the road to certification. She did, however, go on to work with small children, helping them to learn and grow in a Christian environment.

            My mother did go on to reach out to and help others in many ways, some through her church work and some through the bounty of her success with her garden, her canning, her cows, and her chickens. She would give free milk and butter to needy families, and many, many folks enjoyed the incredible abundance of her garden and her canning. She was never a person to feel sad or bitter about what could not and did not happen; she believed God directed our lives.

            During my 29 years serving in the pastoral ministry, I not only encountered many, seeking, hurting, lonely, depressed, defeated people who looked to the church, and especially to the pastor for help, but I also met many pastors who served those folks well and gave much of themselves to them. And I encountered a few pastors who probably should not have chosen the ministry as a career. The good pastors were helpers and healers and teachers and gave much of their time and energy to others. These were men who felt somewhat the same feelings the want-to-be nurses felt, — they felt drawn to love and serve others in many ways, and also had the component of faith in God and compulsion to serve God fully through the love of Christ Jesus. Meeting so many of these inspired Men of the Cloth, and getting to know them and learn from them, was one of the true “perks” of my ministry in the Circuit. I would not conclude that I myself ever completely achieved the fulfillment of those strong desires to serve God in that particular way, but, in retirement, and in retrospect, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to attempt to fulfill my dream.

-o-

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

From Beer Barrel Polka To The Altuve Polka, The Polka Is Still Very Much Alive And Well Today

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 24, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            During my growing-up years, German and Slavic polka music was so much a joyful part of my life that I suspect the love for polkas must be in my DNA! Although the polka was “invented” in Bohemia, it became extremely popular among Germans, Czechs, Moravians, Wends, and Poles, throughout Europe, and immigrants brought the popularity to America. Just like in Czech-American families, in Texas Wendish families, you could always find an accordion, and several kids who could play it by ear.

            Unfortunately, I was not one of those kids, but I did learn to play the trombone in high school and was a member of the Giddings High School Band in 1949 or 1950 when we were invited to play polka music at the Serbin Church and School Picnic. I do remember our playing for about an hour in a gazebo on the Picnic grounds, and I remember playing the immensely popular (in the 1940’s) “Beer Barrel Polka.” There were three or four people standing around the gazebo watching and listening to us, and two of them were my parents. Obviously we were not the best polka-playing group that ever played for the Serbin Picnic.

            Nevertheless my brief polka-playing experience began a life-long passion for polka music, which I hid during my early college years, because loving ethnic polka music was not very “groovy” among my drama, art, and music major friends who were totally into progressive jazz and classical music. Not too many years later, freed from the “ashamed-to-be-from” and “ashamed-to-really-like” phase of my pseudo-sophisticated years, I began to enjoy, flaunt, and glory in my ethnicity, especially the love for old-time polka music.

            So, naturally, as an Astros fan who loved the polka, I was taken by Polish Pete’s smash hit (in Texas anyway), “The Altuve Polka,” honoring the Astros second baseman, Jose Altuve, in 2017 when Altuve first became a baseball hero in Houston. Polish Pete wrote another piece, I think in 2018, entitled “I Love Those Houston Astros,” completing a full-length recording in 2018. Played by “The Polka? I Hardly Know Her Band,” polka music and baseball played well together. So, Saturday night, when Altuve stunned the crowds by hitting that homerun which takes the ‘Stros into the World Series, “The Altuve Polka” was played and posted on Facebook

with even more oomp-pa-pa than in 2017.

            Naturally I have added “The Altuve Polka” to my collection of fun polkas to listen to and brighten up my day. There have been so many, many joyful-sounding polkas over the years. There were lots of great polka bands in the 1940’s when I was growing up in Lee County, Texas, and, as a teenager, I danced to their music at the SPJST Hall in Dime Box, though I was kind of a wall flower who didn’t dance very well. I loved music, I loved polkas, and I loved to dance in spite of my hindrances to having fun.

            The most famous polka band in the 1940’s was the Joe Patek Orchestra, originally called the Patek Band of Shiner. They were famous for “The Shiner Song” and “Beautiful America” (“Krasna Amerika”). Joe Patek’s recording of the “Beer Barrel Polka” sold more than a million copies. So polka music was alive and well in America in those days!

            And still is. Today, there is the Shiner Hobo Band, following in the footsteps of the Patek Band of Shiner. And there is the Moravian Polka Band of Ennis, Texas, founded in 2009 by seven high school students. They played for the recent Wendish Fest in Serbin, Texas, in September, and were much admired by the huge crowds attending the Fest. And there are many, many more that I have read about in the Texas Polka News.

            I have to end this with my favorite polka musicians, The Dujka Brothers, who were recently inducted into the South Texas Polka Hall of Fame, and whose latest recordings are “Twenty Five Years Making Tracks” and “On St. John Road.” Next month, the Dujka Brothers will be playing for a Royal Caribbean Cruise, which sales from Galveston on November 17. I am proud to say that I knew them when, lol.

            It gives me great joy to report that polka music is still alive and well and played and loved by the younger generation!

-o-

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

Cotton-Picking Joy In the Good Old Days

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 17, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Several weeks ago when I took an infrequent drive-around-our-farming-area, I noticed that the fields were white with cotton, and I’m sure that the Farmers Co-Op Gin in East Bernard and the Tavener Gin were open for business.  I always get a little nostalgic around cotton-picking time, because both sets of my grandparents were small cotton farmers in Dime Box, and I have, believe it or not, some very happy memories about picking cotton.  By hand.

            Whenever I have reminisced about the good old days in the 1930’s and 1940’s, I have observed the contrast between picking cotton then and now, often wondering why we would pick all of my Grandpa Zschech’s cotton by hand.  Eventually I learned that it wasn’t just that my grandfather wasn’t affluent enough to buy a mechanical cotton picker, but also the fact mechanical cotton pickers were not manufactured until 1949, and were few in number until 1950.  By then, my maternal grandfather was getting ready to retire from farming. 

            My cotton picking days came in the early 1940’s, peaking in 1944 and 1945, a few years before John Daniel Rust invented the first mechanical cotton picker.  The local John Deere place sold tractors but not cotton pickers, a good thing, otherwise I might not have known the pleasure of picking by hand.

            In the 1940’s, the older farmers, like both my maternal and paternal grandparents, were full-time cotton growers, the younger families were often part-time cotton farmers, with the men making extra money working for the railroad.  While my parents raised everything from pigs and chickens to corn and maize, my grandparents grew cotton for their main income.  One of my uncles ran a gin in Old Dime Box.

            In those days, and in those small farming operations, just about everybody worked for everybody else, as the farms were rather small, the soil was relatively poor, and nobody expected to make more than a living.  My parents, brother, and I would pick cotton for my maternal grandparents, my father joining us after getting off work with the railroad.  When you picked by hand, you were paid by the number of pounds you picked, and since there were no mechanical pickers, you could always earn extra money during cotton harvest.

            Men, women and children picked alongside one another, sometimes the men and women competing to see who could pick the most, but they didn’t know until they got to the weigh-station.  Sometimes, we kids would sit on the adults’ long, long sacks, and cackle with laughter when they would pull and pull on their sack and wonder why it was stuck.  We also took what I considered a picnic lunch, to eat under the trees along the perimeter of the cotton patches, and, of course, water jugs.  The common fare, which we kids absolutely loved, was chopped-up smoke-dried sausage and smoke-dried beef mixed with onions, mustard and vinegar, — about the only lunch you could take in the Texas heat and it not spoil.  As rural Texans, we were all used to the relentless sun, but at night, our backs and knees and hands would ache.

            In the cool of the evening, spending the night with my maternal grandparents, I always enjoyed “carding” cotton, a really delightful change of pace from picking.  You see, for those of you who don’t know because you let the machines pick your cotton, un-ginned cotton has seeds in it and it’s rather clumpy; thus in order to get the bags of un-ginned cotton ready for Grandma’s quilts, my brother and I were enlisted to “comb” or “card” the stuff in the rough, and pull the seeds out.  The carders consisted of two rectangular paddles, each with wire teeth on one side.  You pulled the cotton between the two carders and refined it until it looked a little bit like cotton candy.  It had to be refined and seedless in order for it to be used as a batting between the pieced top of the quilt and the solid sheet of cloth serving as the bottom.  With the small needle my grandmother used for quilting, un-carded cotton would have been very difficult to quilt through.

            By the time I was twelve, I knew everything there was to know about cotton, or so I thought.  With one cotton gin in Old Dime Box and another in New Dime Box, the very air we breathed during ginning time in Dime Box was laced with cotton fiber.  It was so much a part of my life that when I used to tell my brother on-going, to-be-continued, bed-time stories which I made up, they were about cotton.  I even gave the series a name, “The Cotton Kids.”  My brother loved my stories about the cotton fields.  I’ve always been a story-teller.

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

Small Town Festivals: Prescription For Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

An Old Picture Is Worth More Than A Thousand Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

Hurricanes Plague September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

And The Cat Came Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

Tektites? Rocks Or Glass?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in  IMAGES for August 22, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Today’s column was triggered by someone asking me if I had ever found any tektites during my many years of living in Lee County, Texas.  Well, as I thought about the question, I remembered I used to collect rocks as a kid growing up in Dime Box, but I wasn’t sure what a tektite was, though I suspected it was a rock of some kind.  Before I get to the tektite saga which will follow, let me say a few things about rocks.

            All of us, I’m sure, grew up thinking of rocks as symbols of strength, that’s why “hard as a rock” is such a common expression.  We Christians think of God as a rock, we sing “Rock of Ages” with great fervor, and we remember Jesus saying to Peter, “On this rock I will. build my church.”  What could be harder and stronger than a rock?  Hmmm.  But what is a rock anyway?

            In common parlance, diamonds, which are enormously hard, are referred to as “rocks,” but they are actually “minerals” rather than rocks.  Talc is very soft, and it, too, is considered a mineral rather than a rock.  Understanding what a “rock” is may be more difficult than we think, a challenge that those of us whose careers have been “words” readily take on.  While a mineral is not a rock, rocks are often made up of different kinds of minerals.  Even scientists seem to be confused about what is and what isn’t a rock.

            As far as I can discern, “stones” and “rocks” and “boulders” and “pebbles” are all pretty much the same thing.  “Rock” is a generic term, “stones” are usually found in large amounts, such as granite, and “boulders” are huge pieces of rock.  A major difference, though, is that while “rocks” can be hard or soft, “stones” can only be hard.

            Metamorphic rocks are the hardest of the three kinds of rocks and form the roots of most mountain chains.  Sedimentary rocks are the weakest or softest, and igneous rocks are somewhere in between.

            Sorry for the pedantic talk, but I had to explain all of that to get to the tektites I never found in Dime Box or anywhere else in Lee County, Texas.  In fact, it never occurred to me to look for them as a child since I had never heard of them.     

            To get to the point, “tektites” are not rocks, even though when you find them they may look like rocks.  Actually they are glass, scientists tell us.

            Isn’t that really a technicality since glass is formed from sand or rocks (usually high in silica) by heating them to a very high temperature, followed by a rapid cooling.  OK, so rocks and sand CAN become glass, but glass is NOT a rock. 

            THE MYSTERY:  If tektites, strewn about Lee County, and other places in Texas and elsewhere, are indeed glass, who made the glass and randomly tossed it here and there (in Texas) in Walker, Brazos, Burleson, Lee, Fayette, Lavaca, Gonzales, and DeWitt Counties?

            It wasn’t the Bedias Indians of Texas, even though in Texas, “tektites” are known as “bediasites,” having been named after that tribe.  Apparently, over the years, the greatest number of tektites in Texas were found in the area where the Bedias Indians lived.  If tektites were strewn about by them, how did we acquire such unusual glass?

            THE ANSWER TO THE MYSTERY:  Tektites were formed during meteorite impacts with the earth!  Since glass needs heat for its formation, that meant an incredible amount of heat!  Some commentators even go so far as to say it happened when a giant meteorite or asteroid hit the earth and killed off the dinosaurs.  It is believed to have hit Chicxulub, Yucatan, Mexico, and the results were widespread, including the formation of tektites.

            Next time you’re in Dime Box, go on a little geological search.  Who knows, you might find a tektite!  I never did.

-o-

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

It’s Backpack Time Again

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 15, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

It’s that time again, — when summertime-dormant public school students heave on their heavy backpacks and head back to their institutions of learning. Some, this past Sunday, prepared themselves by attending a “blessing of the backpacks” service at their church. These blessing services are very popular today just about everywhere.

            Ah, yes, backpacks! Today’s backpacks come in sizes reflecting today’s technology, — sizes to fit 11” laptops, 13” laptops, 15.6” laptops, and even 17” laptops. One advertisement just announced 21 different types of backpacks, saying that “not all backpacks are created equal.” Teen Vogue printed an article entitled, “19 Trendy Backpacks for the 2019 School Year,” most of the illustrations showing very bright colors and bold designs.

            You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you? Back in the good old days when I attended Dime Box Rural School in the 1940’s, we just carried our books under our arms, though a few girls had “school satchels” (“Oh My Gosh!” gasps today’s generation). A “book satchel” is a briefcase made out of canvas rather than leather. Before my time, when my parents were in school, boys anyway, carried their books strapped together with a leather strap.

            Can you believe it!? It wasn’t until the 1980’s that kids started using backpacks for school. Prior to that time, backpacks were used for hiking, camping, skiing, and war, and were called “rucksacks.” Today, the distinction is made between the two, opining that the rucksack is larger than the backpack, and while there are other names for this bag on your back, “backpack” is the trendy name.

            Historians of trivia say that Dick Kelty invented the backpack in 1952 (but not for carrying books and laptops to school), and, at that time, it was also called a packsack, a sack, a knapsack, as well as a rucksack.

            Having just read an article somewhere, saying that this year, even bullet-proof backpacks are available for parents worried about school safety in light of the many campus shootings, I searched online to see if I could verify that. I did find one retailer offering for sale a backpack called, “Military Tactical Assault Backpack for men,” but the item description did not actually say it was “bullet-proof.” It is a sad commentary on today’s world that even the idea of a bullet-proof backpack for children would be thought necessary precaution. For me, the thought brings a great feeling of sadness on the day school opens, always having been a very happy day for me as a child who loved school and learning.

            The church service I listened to Sunday on KULP had a beautiful backpack blessing service, wherein the kids brought their backpacks, either new or old, came to the front of the chancel area, and received the blessing. As a retired teacher and a retired pastor, I found it a very touching ceremony. My freshman-in-high-school granddaughter was excited about her newly purchased backpack; and I must admit, it is very attractive. However, I just hope it’s large enough to carry all of the school necessities high school students need to take. One good thing about it, our children will develop strong backs, lol!

  So, how do teachers carry all their stuff (textbooks, timers, Kleenex, grading pens, cell phone, laptop, DVD’s, gradebook, lesson plan book, TEA rule book, Tylenol, band aids, bottles of water, energy snacks, and Advil (if the Tylenol doesn’t work) to school nowadays? No doubt they take a wheelbarrow! Just kidding. Having been there and done that in my lifetime, I know the mixed feelings of joy and anxiety teachers feel on the first day of school. Teaching school is the most splendid job that God calls very special people to do. My blessings on the backpacks and the wheelbarrows!

-o-

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