Hi, my name is Ray Spitzenberger, and I am a Sorb, aka, Wend! Well, at least part Wendish. Obviously “Spitzenberger” is not the Wendish part of me; it’s from my maternal ancestry, which includes the surnames Zschech, Proske, Noack, Patschke, and (some say) Bluemel. In the Old Country, we came from villages in Saxony, like Wawitz and Drehsa, and villages in Prussia, like Langoelsa. In the New World, we settled in Serbin, Fedor, Lexington, Dime Box, and Giddings.
It was my cousin, Chuck Dube (his grandfather Gus Zschech was my Grandfather John’s favorite brother), who suggested I write a column for the TWHS Newsletter on why our roots are of such compelling interest to us. That’s a nice way to put it. My non-Sorbian friends tell me that I am “obsessed” with my Wendish heritage and history. And I have to admit they’re right! No book about the Wends escapes my fierce on-going search, and my salacious acquisitiveness. Over the years, I have xeroxed every document on the Sorbs/Wends in the University of Michigan library and the Galveston public library.
My friends send me every little tidbit about the Wends they find, and it’s amazing where some of these articles are found. Three friends sent me the same magazine article about Serbin and its Slavic population. My famous Texas artist friend, Frank Gerrietts, sent me a second copy of Texas Wends: Their First Half-Century by Lillie Moerbe Caldwell. Even the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly in St. Louis published an article about one of our famous Wendish poets. Concordia University in Austin advertises itself as the only university in America (or do they say “in the world”) founded by Wends.
And now here’s my piece de resistance: one of my great-great grandfathers is the grandfather of the first, and no doubt only, Wend to publish a newspaper in the Wendish language in America – J. A. Proske. Or was it my great-great uncle and J. A.’s great-grandfather? Or was it great-uncle – great uncle? Now you see why I’m a humorist rather than a historian! I’m more often hysterical rather than historical! Actually I think it was a Wendish section of the German language newspaper, The Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, which in later years became the Giddings Star and was printed in English. Dear to my heart as a Proske and a Lutheran is the fact that J. A. published the first newsletter for the LCMS Texas District.
So why are our roots so compelling to us, especially those of us who have great difficulty reading and understanding genealogy charts and diagrams? Working through a family tree is much more difficult than diagramming page-long compound/complex sentences in an English class. Yet those of us who are obsessive about it won’t give it up, not even for Lent. After many years of entering so much data in your computer, your hard drive is in danger of freezing up!
Why do we care if at least one of our ancestors was on the Ben Nevis? Isn’t part of the passenger list missing? Couldn’t Great, Great Whoever have been on that missing list? Did Great, Great Whoever stay at St. Paul’s when the split occurred? Or did he go to St. Peter’s? Back to St. Paul’s? To St. Peter’s the second time? Makes you dizzy just thinking about it. But we are compelled to search on! That is, those of us who are obsessed with our genealogy.
And yet what I remember the best about being Wendish is my Grandma Selma Zschech’s wonderfully yellow noodles. I can still see her with that gigantic butcher knife shredding those icons of Wendish ethnicity.
Zap, zap, zap, zap, zap zap, and then there’s a bag of noodles fit to make your mouth water – though I found out as a child they don’t taste all that good uncooked! But, oh my, boil ’em with some chicken gizzards and chicken necks, and you’ve got a mess of noodles fit for a Saxon prince!
Well, maybe therein lies the answer to Chuck’s question! Why are our roots of such compelling interest to us? Yep! It must be the noodles!