Our quote for the day:
“I think I am Princess Leia and Princess Leia is me. It’s like a Möbius striptease.”
— Carrie Fisher
When the little steel ball got shot round into this day, I had three things on the agenda: (1) Shower and wash my hair, (2) stop off at the grocery store on the way to knitting group to get some snack type food and beverage for our (3) Valentine’s Day party (which we had to make up for not having had an Xmas party which we didn’t have because reasons). Attendees at the party ranged from a 9-year-old, there with her mother learning to crochet (we do not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, creed, sex, age, or number of loops on the needle), to our “instructor” who is older than I am. (I think.) My supper consisted of gumi hearts, both chocolate and yellow-cake iced and sprinkled cupcakes (I do not discriminate on the basis of color, flavor, or number of sprinkles), bean dip with blue corn tortilla chips, and Gold Peak Peach Tea (180 calories, 45 g of sugar in 18.5 oz of more or less tea — it may be 4 o’clock in the morning before I stop ricocheting around the room like a 4-year-old amped to the max on a loading dose of high fructose corn syrup).
One of our number showed up late in a stunning faux mink coat. (it was 91 F/32 C Saturday. Today it wasn’t.) The cupcakes were her fault. I brought the bean dip, blue corn tortilla chips and Coke ponies (7.5 oz “mini cans” — I’ve always heard the small cans referred to as “ponies” and so I referred to them earlier in the evening, and got looked at askance by some of the assemblage.)
We have a southpaw in the group who was trying to learn how to do a Norwegian cast-on (also known as the German Twisted Cast-On) because she wants to knit a pair of socks from the top down. I invite you to watch the video, and then imagine trying to teach this technique to someone who insists on doing this left-handed. (She actually did figure it out . . .) But while I’m listening to her mentor instructing her to put her needle over, through, around, etc., my sugar-charged brain pinged off the song “Over Under Sideways Down” — I thought it might have been by the Kinks (it wasn’t). I said something about it to the lady (Class of 72) next to the instructor, who thought she remembered it, then proceeded to look it up on her smart phone and play it for us.
Then she, and I, and the lady sitting next to her segued into a nice little discussion on gussets and sock heels. When you knit a sock from the top down, you end up having to Kitchner stitch or otherwise close the toe. My toes do not like this kind of sock toe. I prefer the toe-up style of knitting socks, which you start using the seamless Turkish Cast-on. Oddly enough, which direction you happen to be knitting in (top down or bottom up) affects the technique you use to turn the heel. These are deep waters.
By the time I got home, I was thoroughly wired (definition #4) thanks to all the sugar, and my question as to whether or not that song was by the Kinks remained unanswered. Googled it. Found out the song was by the Yardbirds. While perusing the Wikipedia entry on the Yardbirds, I discovered that group members included at one time or another, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, two massive Guitar Heros*. Page went on to become one of the founding members of Led Zeppelin. Supposedly Page got the idea of playing his electric guitar with a cello bow from David McCallum, Sr., a professional violinist and also father of the actor of the same name, Jr. During his career, McCallum, Sr., was also first violin in the Mantovani orchestra, and was part of the 40-piece orchestra that recorded “A Day In The Life” on the Beatles seminal album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
As I was catching up on my blog reading, I came across this series of drawings from Mattias Adolfsson, a Swedish artist whose blog I follow. He has a very convoluted, detailed and droll style. This selection was entitled The Roconauts, (Rococo In Spaaaaace!). I LOL’ed.
So, having added to my fund of trivia, giggled over some tongue-in-cheek artwork and finally fizzed out on my sugar high, I think I’ll seek out my beddy boo and crash for the evening. Busy day tomorrow. I have five, and perhaps six items on the agenda. Busy, busy.
*legendary expert rock guitarist.
You could call it superstition, but I’m watchful of my mindset when I’m knitting things that are to go to other people. If I’m listening to music, I choose peaceful, restful music. If I’m watching TV, I choose the knitting project that will fit with the subject matter of the program or choose the program that is compatible with the piece. I try to think how a piece might best meet the need it’s intended to for as well as what color(s) and design(s) might be appropriate to that person. (A braided cable for a dear friend trying to deal with moving on after the unexpected and sudden death of his partner of 30 years, a twisted cable for strengthening and anchoring for a lady doing what is traditionally a man’s job. . .) It’s why I stringently resist knitting for hire. It puts my head in a not-good place and bad vibes get knitted into the thing. Before you scoff at me for getting all hippy-dippy, consider this. The idea of intention and how it affects the end product is such a pervasive one across so many human cultures, there must be something to it. What goes around comes around.
Putting the markers at either end of the right side on the shawls I’m working on has done the trick. I can’t put them on the needles between stitches, though because of the increases (two stitches every other row), so I have to hook them into the knitting itself. And I have to keep moving them up, which makes them progress markers in a way. I’ll be just knitting along and then realize the markers are about 5 or 6 rows below the row I’m working on and I have to stop and move them up. The yarn I’m using is the so-called “self striping” kind — the yarn color is variegated according to a specific color palette — and the length of yarn between color changes is fairly constant as near as I can tell, so the width of the stripe changes as the number of stitches on the needle increases, and that changes the pattern of color in subtle ways. It’s about 30 inches across now, but it has quite a way to go yet. I’ll work on this one til the end of the ball, and then I’ll work on the other one for a while. I bought a set of ChiaoGoo US10 (6.0 mm) needles in the 60-inch length especially for this project.
Each shawl uses 8 skeins of yarn. The yarn comes in those stupid pull-skeins, which I always promptly wind into a ball. Some people just love the pull skeins, but they drive me crazy. They’re too light and tend to get dragged toward you when you pull on them, and when you get down towards the end of the skein they have a nasty habit of imploding into a big tangle, and then you have to stop and untangle the mess. A ball in a bowl works for me. The ball unrolls smoothly out of the bowl and helps me keep an even tension I have these two bowls just alike that I bought at Pier 1. They’re just the right size and I like the pretty design. I have one on my computer desk and one on the reader’s table in the living room.
Lunch was a sandwich made on “English toasting” bread which was, oddly enough, lightly toasted. It had morselized bits of chicken in between two slices of Muenster cheese, melted in the microwave. (Yesterday I had some Muenster cheese melted over a slice of bacon on a piece of toasted ciabatta bread!) I had a can of Mandarin orange slices on the side, which I ate juice and all. I’m allergic to “regular” oranges, but I can eat the “Mandarin” (satsuma) orange just fine. One of my mother’s brothers, HJ, used to grow them. I have happy childhood memories of going to the bus station to get a large cardboard box full of satsumas that uncle H had shipped up to his baby sister, and of there being satsuma seeds, veins and peels in every ash tray in the house for at least a week afterward (my dad smoked at that time, a bad habit he brought home from WWII). Those oranges were such a treat. (One time he came to visit with a suitcase full of purple-hulled pea pods from his garden. Mom passed out bowls and paper sacks and we shelled peas and visited.)
Frankly, I wish the orange grove was still there, but he got too old to work it any more, and sold the land. It was right in the middle of prime real estate by then as Pearland grew out around his property. They bulldozed all his orange trees. That old road paved with crushed shell is all gone now, as are all the little wood frame houses up and down it where my relatives lived. It’s Yost Boulevard now, and there’s million-dollar homes (above) where his orange grove used to be. Sigh.
On silent feet, the furry folk arrive,
Leave paw prints all across my days,
Scatter catnaps in my sunshine places.
Oh, how their presence graces me.
Quicker than a winking eye, as agile as a smile,
they stalk the pathways of my heart
And what great emptiness they leave behind
When it is time for them to go.
This poem was written in 2011 in memoriam for she whom Bear always referred to as The Complaint Department, (Maeve 1994-2011) but I’m reposting it here as the first post of the new year as a toast to all those absent friends, mine and yours, who are waiting for us to join them on the far side of the Rainbow Bridge.
As much as I loath Walt Disney for the way he trivialized and sillified some of the great classics of children’s literature, his unrepentant commercialism and for his blatant and pervasive sexism, he had some amazingly talented people working for him over the years (not the least of them Walt Kelly*, whose amazing talent for drawing and caricature has brought me so much joy over the years). I call your attention to the challenge of animating ballet-dancing ostriches as they did here in Fantasia. Ostriches legs don’t bend the same way ours do, and yet the animators carefully and logically worked out all the moves — the classical ballet moves are all there, and recognizable to anybody who has even a passing knowledge of the art form. (The animators studied ballets on film and did life drawings from ballerinas who were brought into the studio for that purpose.) And the cherry on top is the inspired idea of tying those delicate little velvet ribbons around those very long ostrich necks. Putting hippos in tutus seems like an obvious absurdity, yet there’s a hidden message here — grace is every bit as much in the mind of the dancer as as it is in the eye of the beholder.** At the time (1940), these huge animals had yet to be filmed underwater, where their natural buoyancy supports their great bulk, and where they move every bit as gracefully as Disney’s animators imagined them to.
I might also point out to a younger generation that all the animation in Fantasia was done at a time (late 1930’s) when there was not only no computer animation, there were no computers. This was a very labor-intensive process and was all done by hand, by artists who used their own talents and knowledge of anatomy to make the drawings work, and by the cel painters who put that art onto celluloid to be filmed.
I was fortunate to be at the right age at the right time to be exposed to a “perfect storm” of animation art. My childhood and the childhood of television coincided. When our local television stations were starved for after-school content, they ran all those wonderful movie cartoons from the 1930’s and 1940’s — Popeye, Betty Boop, Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, Silly Symphonies — in the days before television, a night out at the movies included not just a feature film, but a news reel and a cartoon. Those movie cartoons were witty, sly, subversive and satirical — and targeted for adults — which is why I loved them. Like the best of children’s literature and art, they were not dumbed down for children. I had the great pleasure and delight of growing into them over the years. Jokes and allusions sailed over my head, until I became tall enough (and old enough) for them to finally hit me. Not only were they topical, but they had music — classical music as well as popular music of the day. Disney’s Silly Symphonies (most of them were quite silly) had all the clichés — Strauss, Bethoven, Mussorgsky, Saint-Saëns, Grieg, Wagner. But my favorites were the great Warner Brothers classics: Their complete overhaul of List and send up of the classical pianist in “Rhapsody Rabbit” and the utter skewering of Wagner in “What’s Opera, Doc?” Not even Mozart was safe. So many wonderfully creative talents were involved – Mel Blanc’s wonderful voices, Carl Stalling‘s mastery of the timely musical quote, Michael Maltese and the inimitable Chuck Jones for sheer storytelling moxie.
But this is Christmas Eve, and the Nutcracker season, and despite the fact that Tchaikovsky’s incomparable music is practically inescapable at this time of the year and is practically a seasonal cliché, I still love it. Tchaikovsky lived at a time when being gay was a criminal, and in some places a capital offense. Trapped in a rigidly conformist and stultifying society, and with his personal life slowly but surely coming apart at the seams. he poured his soul into his music, producing arguably some of the most lyrical and moving — and accessible — classical music ever written.
In Fantasia, Disney’s animators had a go at selected bits of Nutcracker. Here is my all time favorite bit — who would listen to Tchaikovsky’s Arabian Dance and think “fish”? And yet, somehow, it’s just right. Remember, as you watch it, that the animators not only had to keep up with all those diaphanous fins, this was all animated by hand:
And here’s the Moscow Ballet’s amazing interpretation of the same music:
Aw, nuts. It’s Christmas Eve. I might as well give you the whole schmear. Here’s Michail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, both at the height of their powers, doing the deed. It’s an hour and 18 minutes of magic. Find a comfy chair, beverage of choice, snuggle back, put it on full screen and indulge yourself.
Oh, did I have a dream earlier this morning. It was a rather long and involved dream that happened at night and there were burglars and some man whose house I lived in, and a bunch more stuff that I don’t remember, but then …
I was in a room that was like the bedroom in the duplex where I had my office, only it wasn’t. This room was cluttered and piled with things and all disorganized like I was either cleaning it or rearranging it. This young man (not the one whose house I lived in, but he had been in the earlier part of the dream) and I were doing something that involved computer printers. He was trying to convince me that we should get married because we liked so many of the same things and I was like, “whatever…” and not really paying any attention to him. Then this cat walked out onto the floor and it was a black and grey stripped mackerel tabby. I suddenly recognized it, and I said, “That’s Jett!” (who has been gone since 2009). He heard his name and came up to me. I reached down to pet him, and he was as real as real. I said, “I’ve got to find my camera and get a picture of him.” But it was so good to see poor Jett again. He was like he was when he was young and healthy and not all skinny and dull-coated from diabetes any more. I picked him up and held him in my arms and loved on him. I was holding him and loving on him and looking for my camera but couldn’t find it. And then Gobi (who has been gone since April of 2015) walked out from under some furniture. He was right at the age when his beautiful long coat had just finished growing out, and he was all white and splendid with that great brush of a tail. I put Jett down and started petting Gobi. And then there was Stormie (who has been gone since May of 2015). I wanted so bad to get my camera to take a photograph of them to prove they had come back, but I just couldn’t find it. I picked up my baby girl and was loving on her. I was carrying her around loving her the way she liked best, looking for my camera, but then I looked down and she was a different cat, a little male with longer fur that was black with white under its chin and down its belly, but still small and delicate like Stormie always was, but that was OK. I was loving him and went into the room in the duplex that I used for a bedroom, and into that bathroom, both of which were dark and the bathroom was knee deep in water because part of the the floor was missing. Still couldn’t find my camera. I wanted so desperately to photograph them and prove they had returned. It was so miraculous to hold them again and be able to pet them. I was still holding this one black cat, who periodically kept changing back to Stormie, and now I was in this building that was like the entry foyer of a school, and over in the hallway, there were two all-white half-grown kittens scampering and chasing each other off up the hall. I thought, “Those are the next ones.”
Then the dream morphed as dreams do, and I was driving over this really narrow road under this gothic tracery design of black and peach-orange that swirled and twisted, which was what I had to navigate by to keep the car on the road, but it kept twisting and turning in a very psychedlic way, and then the alarm went off.
It was such a magical dream. All my babies came back to me (except, oddly, Sister, who was the first one I lost and who has been gone since 2004). I’m sobbing as I type this. And, of course, it’s Father’s day, and he has been gone since September of 2014.
But the fat(cat)boy has discovered that his bowl is empty and he is convinced that he will starve to death any second now, and life goes on.
The Round Top Inn is not “a” place. It’s a collection of places, six separate buildings, three of which are original to the property: the Schiege farmhouse, the cigar factory building, and the cigar factory manager’s cottage. One assumes the other buildings were moved onto the site. All of the buildings have been restored, but with a light and intelligent hand. Apart from fresh paint, electric lighting and indoor plumbing (i.e., toilets, sinks and bathtubs), the buildings remain much as they were when they were built in 1885.
Schiege Sr was born Carl Johann Rudolph Schiege in Prussia in 1815 and was trained as a cabinet maker, chair maker, locksmith and machinist. He had already been to Texas in 1847 and 1851, but had returned to Prussia. His decision return to Texas a third time to live there with his bride Carolina Schubert Schiege in 1855 caused his Prussian family to disinherit him. When he became a US citizen upon his arrival, he changed his name to Charles Henry Schiege. He and his wife’s first child, Gustav died at age 7 days; their second son Charles Henry Jr., was born in 1858 and was the only one of their four children to survive to adulthood. In 1861, Charles senior bought the Round Top property and he and his wife and 4-year-old Charlesl Jr. lived there. That same year, his wife gave birth to twins, Selma, who died at age 14 months, and Otto, who died at age 6 years. Charles Sr. later purchased an additional acre of land from his neighbor, Conrad Schueddemagen (remember him?).
Charles Jr. attended Neuthard’s day school, which was just down the street.
In 1881, (the year Neuthard’s wife Emma Rummel Neuthard and youngest daughter Laura died) Charles Jr., aged 23, started his cigar factory. One of his employees was a 16-year-old boy named Paul Herman Helmecke, whose father Fritz A. and oldest brother Otto Heinrich were blacksmiths in Round Top. (Fritz and his wife Matilda Melchoir Helmecke and two of her brothers emigrated to Texas from Prussia in 1853.)
Schiege’s “seegars” sold for 6 cents (regular) and 7 cents (premium) apiece, and were made by hand. Schiege used locally grown tobacco whenever possible, but also shipped in tobacco from Missouri and Ohio.
“Segars” must have sold well in the 1880s if, after only four years in business, Charles Jr. could afford not only to build a large, two-story house for himself, but a second large building with finished attic to house his factory (the young men he employed slept in the attic which they reached by ladder), and a 386 square foot manager’s house with a finished attic.
Unfortunately, Charles Jr. and Emma had no children, and she died in 1892 at the age of 28. In 1893, Charles Jr. married Marie Becker, and they had 10 children, nine of whom survived to adulthood. Tragically, their first child, a son, only lived 10 months.
Charles Jr. served as town marshal and alderman of the Round Top Town Council. He was mayor of Round Top from 1903 to 1908 and served as the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 in Fayette County. He was also a member of the Round Top Volunteer Fire Company for 30 years.
In 1885, Paul Helmecke was promoted by Schiege to factory manager. That same year, Helmecke married Martha Mary Neuthard, the third of Pastor Neuthard’s five daughters. Neuthard was not in favor of his daughter marrying the Catholic Helmecke, but married them anyway on May 24, 1885. The groom’s parents were strongly opposed to his marrying the Lutheran pastor’s daughter and disowned him. The groom was 20; his bride was 15. Helmecke’s boss, Charles Jr., himself Catholic, apparently had no objection to the marriage for Helmecke continued as his foreman for the next nine years.
Paul and Martha Mary had five children: Martha Natalie (1886-1970), Hulda Holina (1887-1902), Flora Lena (1888-1967), Gertrude Dolores (1890-1979) and Albert H. (1892-1970), all born in this house.
The manager’s house (“The Gate House”) is 385 square feet with a finished attic of 195 square feet.
The house is 130 years old, and the live oak tree out front which was large when the house was built in 1885 is now huge, and the galling on its trunk has become massive.
The house from the side showing the deep front porch. The grounds are very nicely landscaped now with many areas where one can sit outdoors in the shade when the weather is fine. Descriptions of the property in Schiege’s day mention vegetable gardens.
The rear of the house showing the back door and precipitous steps, which explains why the back door is not used. The house is furnished sparingly but comfortably.
This is the trundle bed where mother and I slept, she on top, and I on the trundle. The wall on which the picture of cows hangs separates the ground floor into a large front room and smaller back room (kitchen). While the loft above the front room extends the full width of the house, it does not extend the full depth and the floor joists of the loft are supported by this interior wall, which makes me suspect it is original to the house.
The loft was roomy and had a large king-size bed, but the stairs were steep with quite shallow treads, and neither I nor my 91 year old mother wanted to have to deal with them. The family would have climbed a ladder to sleep in the loft.
This area would have been part of the kitchen. There was no indoor plumbing when the house was built. They would have had a wood-burning stove, probably where the lavatory sink is now. They would have had to haul water from a well. The family would have bathed in a tin tub with water heated on the stove, and would have used an outdoor privy. Now the house has been fitted with a modern bath tub/shower and toilet, and has both hot and cold running water. The old back door of the house, which is no longer used.
It was rainy and overcast when we arrived. The Inn’s cat braved the rain to welcome us, and followed me around the grounds as I made a brief photographic foray. Maybe she knew I had a black cat at home . . .
In 1893, Helmecke and some of his friends got into a friendly contest to see who was strongest. In attempting to lift a large barrel, Helmecke injured himself, sustaining a strangulated abdominal hernia which was not treatable. In unrelenting and excruciating pain and unable to work, Helmecke took his own life on 14 October, 1893, aged only 30. He left a wife and five children, all under the age of 8.
Because suicides were not permitted to be buried in consecrated ground, he was not allowed to be buried within the Bethlehem Lutheran Church cemetery, but was buried just outside the fence.
Helmecke’s grave was unmarked until one of his eldest daughter Martha Natalie’s children had a headstone made for it some 70 years after his death. The date of death shown on the headstone is incorrect. It should be 14 October, 1893, and his name is misspelled as “Helmecker“.
Just past Helmecke’s grave is a retaining wall made of field stone shoring up the steep escarpment at the edge of the hill atop which the church and cemetery sit.
Martha Mary Neuthard Helmecke Noak Wolfe Pfardrescher died on 16 October, 1936 at the age of 66. She died 42 years and 2 days after her first husband, and is buried at the foot of her father Adam Neuthard’s grave, beside the grave of her youngest sister Laura Neuthard (11 Nov 1879 – 23 Jun 1881) She married John E. S. Noak in 1897, by whom she had three children. Noak died of typhoid fever on 6 November, 1902 aged 31. (Her daughter Hulda Holina Helmecke, aged 15, died 6 days later from typhoid fever which she contracted while nursing her stepfather.) She married William Wolfe about 1903, by whom she had three more children. After Wolfe’s death she married Paul Pfardrescher, who died in 1932.
Charles H. Schiege, Jr. died in 1935, aged 77, survived by his wife and all but one of his ten children.
Mom and I spent a wet, grey afternoon and evening in the home where her mother was born. We could not travel in space owing to the rainy weather, but I, at least, did a goodly little bit of time traveling, trying imagine what life would have been like for the Helmeckes in that little house. There were seven people, five of them children under the age of 8, living in about 580 square feet. The noisy, tumultuous life of Round Top would have been going on all around them, but here’s the hardest thing for me to get my head around. One of the subjects Adam Neuthard taught to the children in his day school and to their parents in his night school classes was English. The elder Schieges, Helmeckes, Neuthards, Rummels and a good many other citizens of Round Top were all native German speakers, and their Texas-born children and grandchildren (my grandmother for one) all spoke High German as their first language, only learning English once they got to school. My second-generation-Texan grandmother spoke English (after a fashion!) with a noticeable German accent. The largest ethnic group in Texas may be Hispanic, but the second largest is German.
This is the stage on which important bits of my mother’s family’s history played out in the late 1800’s. It’s not a lot of land. On the left was the property belonging to the Schieges where a large farm house, a smaller farm house, a cigar factory and its attendant buildings stand.
In the distance on the right is the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. It and the manse (pictured at left) were both built in 1866. The manse would have been on the right in the foreground if it were still standing. It was a 2-1/2 story house that not only housed Pastor Neuthard and his wife and (eventually) 6 children, but also some 20 children boarding at Neuthard’s school.
Neuthard’s wife, Emma Rummel Neuthard was the granddaughter of Carl Siegismund Bauer, a stonemason by trade. (He supervised the building of the manse and the church) In 1848, Bauer, four of his nine children including his daughter Carolina and son-in-law Carl William Rummel and their (then) four children (including 6 year old Emma and her baby sister Minna), emigrated from their native Saxony to Texas and settled near Spring Branch, joining his second son August, who had emigrated the year before. Ten months after their arrival, Bauer’s wife of 37 years, Christiana Malzer Bauer succumbed to malaria and died. Emma’s baby sister Mina also died that year, aged two.
Bauer’s son Carl Ehrgott and his daughter Wilhemina both married and moved inland to Round Top. In 1851, Bauer turned his Spring Branch property over to his son August and joined them. In 1852, Bauer built this house (at left) in Round Top for his daughter Wilhelmina and son-in-law Conrad Schueddemagen where he lived with them until his death. Emma’s father, Carl William Rummel later sold his property in Spring Branch and also settled in Round Top, opening a gin. Unhappily, August Bauer and his wife, who remained in Spring Branch, both died leaving orphaned children, two of whom, Ottilie and John, lived at the manse with their first cousin, Emma Rummel Neuthard (in addition to the Neuthards, their children and the 20 boarding school boys!). The Schueddemagen house is only about a 5 minutes’ walk from the church.
On the corner of the block which contains Schiege’s property (grey building in the picture below), sits the stone building Johann Traugott Wandke built in 1863 for himself and his wife, and to use as his workshop. Wandke, his wife Christiane and two daughters immigrated from Prussia in 1855, and came to Round Top in 1860. He was a machinist and cabinet maker, as well as an organ builder. Wandke’s daughter Karoline married Zoellistin Pochmann, in 1857, who bought this corner lot in 1860. Pochmann died in 1862 of snake bite at the age of 26, leaving a 16-month-old son.
Some of the historic houses in Round Top sit where they were built. Others have been moved in from elsewhere and resited around the town square. As I have mentioned, the weather was not cooperative, and it rained off and on all day, and what pictures I have of the rest of the town were taken from the car window. I can’t identify them or tell you who built them and when, but I offer a selection of them below to give you a feel for this picturesque little farming community. The roads are paved, and the houses now have lights and telephones, but other than that, it’s still a lot like it was 150 years ago when my family’s history was playing out across it.
Round Top is built at the edge of a valley, nestled in the Texas Hill Country about 40 miles southwest of Brenham. It’s beautiful land, rich and fertile. Many of the huge live oak trees that dot the area are at least 150 years old and many are older. They have shaded five generations of my mother’s family, including, albeit only briefly, me.
I took this little video the morning we left to return home. Genuine Texas accent included at no extra charge.
We left my cousin EJ’s house at 6:30 on the morning of October 26, 2015, armed with a new route, and a fist full of dollar bills and quarters for the Beltway (Sam Houston Parkway), a toll road which was not as far north nor as close in to Houston as 610. This route would skirt us further west before it swooped us around back to the north where we would pick up 290 West to Brenham, tootle just past Burton, and catch Texas 237 which would take us to south to our destination, Round Top, which we hoped to reach before 9:30, as that’s when the services began at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church there, which my mom wanted to attend.
We had been concerned Saturday night that the rain Hurricane Patricia had been pushing north and east across the Gulf of Mexico into Texas and Louisiana would be problematic, but luckily, the heaviest rainfall was on Saturday and by Sunday morning we had only a light rain to contend with. We had also been concerned about traffic, which was why taking the Beltway was a good move. There was very little traffic to speak of. The road was clearly marked, and we only had to stop to pay tolls three times ($1.75/£1.16 a pop). (There is a special sticker you can buy that is good for all toll roads in Texas, where you go through a special booth that scans your sticker and license plate and automatically charges your account. It is a good value if you live in a large metropolitan area like Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston or Austin where traffic is often brutal and where toll roads offer you a better, less crowded route to work.) We made excellent time.
I had previously researched the route from Brenham to Round Top on Google maps, where the street view showed me what the intersections looked like, and I had no trouble finding Texas 237, or where North White Street turned off it. I was able to take us right to the church with half an hour to spare before church. The weather was overcast and it was raining hard enough that an umbrella was needed.
The Round Top Inn where we were to stay Sunday night is about 100 yards from the church. We picked a good time to attend the church as 25 October was Reformation Sunday, which commemorates Martin Luther‘s “95 Theses” which he is (apocryphally) said to have nailed to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. This was one of the sparks that ignited the Protestant Reformation, and the brouhaha and subsequent events eventually led him to form the Lutheran denomination.
Based on the service, which I found unexpectedly moving, Lutherans are similar to Episcopalians and Anglican in their rites and rituals. My mom really liked their pastor, John Nedbalek and thought he preached a good sermon. He wore an alb with a rope cincture and a red stole. Mom had talked with him by phone before our trip to find out what time services were held, and he had mentioned that they have communion every Sunday, so we were not surprised by its inclusion in the worship service.
In the Presbyterian Church (the denomination I grew up in) and in other more “protestant” denominations such as Methodists, Baptists and Church of Christ, communion is “self service,” i.e., plates of bread wafers and trays of individual cups are taken up from the altar by appointed members of the congregation and passed along the pews, and members take for themselves a wafer and a little cup (typically of grape juice rather than wine since (a) it is being served to minors, some as young as 9 or 10, (b) some denominations are “agin” the drinking of alcohol for any reason, (c) there may be abstinent alcoholics in the congregation, or (d) there may be people who cannot consume alcohol because of adverse medication reaction or adverse effect on a medical condition). Lutherans are similar to Anglicans and Episcopalians in that the members of the congregation approach the altar in groups (usually a pew at a time) and the rector/pastor serves each person individually with a wafer dipped in liquid, grape juice, in this case.
The Wandke organ was not used during the service; rather a woman played piano for the congregational singing. They did not have a choir, but a lady performed a praise song to guitar accompaniment. There were only about 35-40 in the congregation. (For the purposes of population, the town of Round Top only counts those who live within a square mile area centered on the town, which yields a population of around 90, so this was a good turnout. Also, the church is quite small — I doubt it would seat more than 200 people if you packed them into the pews like sardines and put extra seating in the choir loft. )
The Bethlehem Lutheran Church was organized by J. Adam Neuthard in 1861 (he is my mother’s maternal great grandfather). The stone church building was designed and built by Carl Siegismund Bauer, who was Neuthard’s grandfather-in-law, and Bauer was also the head mason. Construction of the church was begun in May, 1867, and it was dedicated in October of the same year. The church building cost $2,400.00 (£1595), then a considerable sum, and despite the fact that this was just after the end of the Civil War and money was scarce, “they gave liberally” and it was not necessary to borrow more than $500.00 for the completion of the building. The first church service was held in January 13, 1867. Next October they will be celebrating the 150-year anniversary of the church’s founding. I think we are planning to return to Round Top for that.
Mom had let it be known that she wanted to see the organ, and hear it if possible, and after the service, someone introduced her to Jolene Wickel. who had played piano for the congregational singing. She promptly got the key, took us up the precipitously steep stairs to the organ loft and opened it for us. She then proceeded to play a couple of hymns on it for us.
The organ was built by Johann Traugott Wandke, who was born in Nikol Schmiede, Silesia, Prussia (now Kowalice, Poland) in 1808. It was constructed from local aromatic cedar wood, including all the pipes. Wandke was trained as a cabinetmaker and organ builder in Silesia, and emigrated to Texas in 1855 at the age of 47. Only this organ and two others of the seven organs he built in Texas are still extant. It is a tracker organ. As you will note, the organ only has one manual (keyboard) containing 51 keys. It only has 10 stops, and all of its 408 pipes are made from cedar. Wandke died in 1870, three years after its construction. The organ was completely restored by Friedmann Buschbeck in 2007.
(I have a video I made of her playing it which I still haven’t edited yet, which will go here. Stay tuned.)
Mrs. Wickel ‘s husband was a “local,” a descendant of German settlers in Round Top, and he helped us locate graves in the little cemetery behind the church, including those of Neuthard, his wife and three of his five daughters (one of whom was my mother’s maternal grandmother).
Considered the founding pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, J. Adam Neuthard was born 11 September, 1828, in Lauterbach, Baden, Germany. His family were Roman Catholic and educated him for the priesthood. He attended the academies of Baden and Frelsberg, where he graduated with highest honors. He studied Hebrew, Latin, French and Greek, He attended the University of Heidelberg and obtained a doctorate of divinity. While there, a Lutheran professor influenced him to convert to Lutheranism. As a result, his family disowned him. He then attended the Theologische Seminar St. Chrischona in Bettingen–St. Chrischona, Switzerland. Following his graduation, he was sent to Texas as a missionary to serve the burgeoning population of German settlers there. He set sail from Bremen, Germany, landing at Galveston, Texas on 28 December, 1860, one of four missionaries being sent to Texas from St. Chrischona at that time. He first traveled to Spring Branch, Texas, where he met and married Emma Rummel, granddaughter of Carl Siegismund Bauer by his daughter Carolina.
There was already a Lutheran congregation under the pastorship of Otto Hahn in Round Top when Neuthard arrived in 1861. That congregation was combined with the congregation of St. John Lutheran church which was was located 3 miles south of Round Top under the pastorship of J. G. Lieb, to form a new congregation that was to be called “Bethlehem Lutheran Church.” He took over the church and school at St. John Lutheran, and started a boarding school in Round Top. In addition to pastoring the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Neuthard also preached to other small groups in the surrounding area. In 1867, Neuthard withdrew from the Lutheran Synod because he was criticized for preaching the word of God to other religious groups. He did not believe he should restrict his preaching to Lutherans only, but felt he should preach to any who were willing to listen. Bethlehem Lutheran Church then became an unaffiliated and independent congregation.
In 1865, Neuthard bought the two acres adjoining the church and built a parsonage and parochial boarding school. The Neuthards had eight children: Five girls and three boys. Emma Rummel Neuthard died on 30 January, 1881, at age 39, followed only six months later by their youngest child, Laura, aged 1 year 7 months. Neuthard continue to serve the Bethlehem Lutheran Church as pastor, and as schoolmaster until he passed away in 1902 at the age of 74.
J. Adam Neuthard 11 October 1828- 26 February 1902 aged 74
Following church, it was still intermittently raining. However, we found a delicious lunch at Lost Patrones Mexican Restaurant (one of only two places to eat in town and the only one open). We had a combination platter with beans, rice, a cheese enchilada and a beef crispy taco.
Because of the rain, we were unable to explore on foot as we had wanted, but we did drive around and take pictures out car windows and see what could be seen. Supposedly, we could not check in at the Round Top Inn until after 3 o’clock, but they had only had one family guesting the night before and we were able to check into the Gatehouse early and get out of the rain. Because of the length of this post and the number of pictures I’ve uploaded already, I am going to break up the Round Top portion of the trip into several posts.
We’ve been there and now we’re back, and it was not as good a trip as it could have been if the weather had cooperated Sunday, but not as bad as it could have been, either, if hurricane Patricia, which plowed into the west coast of Mexico Friday night, had not dissipated as quickly as it did. I drove a total of 1139.5 miles from the time I backed out of my parking space in the parking lot at 6:50 a.m. 21 October, 2015, to the time I pulled back into my parking space at 6:45 p.m. on 26 October, 2015.
We left for Pearland, Texas, on Wednesday, 21 October, and the weather was cool and overcast for the drive down. I got the fat boy (Jaks, my cat) to the pet hotel right at 7 a.m., got mom loaded up and we were on the road by 7:30. We were going to stay with my cousin EJ (mom’s sister VJY’s oldest girl) and she had promised us Cornish hens stuffed with wild rice, so rather than stop somewhere for lunch, we just snacked on protein bars and peanut butter crackers. In fact, we only stopped the once to fill the car’s tank (and empty ours!). The traffic was fairly light considering that most of the drive is on S(tate) H(ighway) 36, which is only a two lane road, albeit with wide shoulders and strategically placed passing lanes; but when we got to US 290, which is three to four lanes each way, the traffic picked way up, and by US 610, it was bumper to bumper and snarled. Even Co(unty) R(oa)d 518 was crowded, even though it was only sneaking up on 4 p.m. when we hit Pearland. We arrived in my cousin’s driveway at shortly after 4 p.m.
My cousin had invited my dad’s youngest brother’s youngest girl EGG and her husband P, to join us for dinner, which was abundant and scrumptious. She is into genealogy, too, and her husband has done the DNA test that I want to do, as soon as I can allocate the funds . . .
We were glad of the chance to visit with them, as we hadn’t seen them since my dad’s funeral in September of 2014. Her dad KG was my dad’s youngest brother, and our two families were closer than those of his other siblings. When KG passed, my dad kind of adopted them, and when EGG married, she asked my dad to walk her down the aisle.
Thursday morning, we got to visit with Miss Raelyn Rose, my cousin’s grand daughter, mom’s great grand niece, and my first cousin twice removed (– yeah, I know. You need a score card to keep track.) She’s the one I’ve been doing all the knitting for, and I had finally finished her other baby afghan and had brought it with. At 9 weeks, she’s not all that active yet, but she soon will be, and this afghan was designed to be spread out on the floor to put the baby on. Miss RR is as cute as a bug, and very good. She fell asleep in my mom’s arms, and slept there a good half hour. My cousin EJ has one of the pair of rocking chairs that were her mother’s (her sister has the other one), and Miss RR got rocked in it. (see below)
Later, my cousin’s daughter RDC came over and took mom and me, EJ and her husband to lunch at the Monument Inn, which is located right next to the Houston Ship Channel, and we noshed on seafood and watched the barges come and go. I had fried shrimp and scallops, and they were wonderful. My cousin EJ had them bring my mom a celebratory slice of cheesecake with cherries to celebrate her 91st birthday last month.
The “Monument” the restaurant’s name refers to is the San Jacinto Monument (at left), which marks the site of the Battle of San Jacinto, which was the decisive battle in which Texas gained its independence from Mexico and became a Republic. Sam Houston and his army of “Texians” defeated the Mexican army and captured General Lopez de Santa Anna. The restaurant is located near the battlefield monument.
Also near the monument is the battleship USS Texas (BB-35), (below) which was decomissioned from the US Navy and turned over to the State of Texas on 21 April, 1948, the 112 anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, and now sits in permanent dock. A marine color guard was present at the ceremony in 1948 (and got their picture in the Houston Chronicle!), and one of the marines in the color guard was my dad! The Texas is now the flagship of the Texas Navy.
(As a side note, on 31 July, 2004, the USS Texas (SSN-775), a Virginia-class submarine, was christened by then First Lady Laura Bush, and was commissioned on 9 September 2006. At left is their insignia: The star and circle is the badge of the officers of the Texas Department of Public Safety Texas Rangers division. The “Don’t Mess With Texas” motto originally started out as an anti-littering slogan, but it works on so many levels. . . )
Friday, the weather was a little iffy, with scattered showers, but my cousin and her husband drove us to visit my mother’s brother AJ and his daughter and son-in-law, who live in Clute, Texas . My mom is the 12th of 12 children, and all but her brother AJ (below left) have passed. He is her only remaining sibling. He’s 97. Although still physically active, he is suffering noticeably from dementia and requires a live-in care giver.
His daughter GM and her husband live across the street. That’s my mom, her brother and her niece GM at left.
On the way back, we drove through Pearland down Yost Boulevard. The Boulevard was named for EJ’s paternal grandparents, who owned a large parcel of land in that particular area. When I was a child, this area was all out in the country, and Yost Road, as it was then, was just an unpaved road covered with crushed oyster shells that jutted off the Friendswood highway. EJ’s parents lived on the corner, and down the road lived various aunts and uncles, some cousins, my grandma and step-grandfather, and my uncle HJ lived at the very end of it. Of all those little wood frame houses set up on concrete blocks, only one house remains, that of my aunt EJW, the youngest of my mom’s three sisters (there were 4 boys, 3 girls, 4 more boys and my mom). The only reason it is still there is because the people who live in the $2.5 million house next door bought it for their teenaged son. He got to know my aunt, who was still living there at the time. He became quite attached to my aunt and to the house, and after she had to go to the nursing home, his parents bought my aunt’s house for him. He has autism spectrum disorder and he now uses it as his “retreat.”
Further down is the property that used to belong to my grandmother, and where her house was. It has since been torn down, although the property remains vacant (at right). However, it was on this property where my mother was born, on the banks of Clear Creek, which runs behind the property. Further down, is the house my uncle HJ built in the early 1990’s. His grandson R is living there now.
I can remember going to family reunions at my uncle HJ’s old house, which sat back from the road — a little three-bedroom shotgun house up on cinder blocks. In front of his property, along the road, was his satsuma orange grove. He always had a large vegetable garden, and ran a few head of cattle on his partially wooded acreage. Whenever he hosted the reunions, he would always have several “oil drum” barbecues going with steaks, chicken and deer sausage, and all the relatives would bring covered dishes. My cousin EJ’s mother, VYJ, was famous (especially with my mom) for her chocolate meringue pies. Eventually, my uncle HJ sold off most of his acreage, and now what used to be his orange grove is this exclusive, gated community filled with $2-3 million dollar homes.
Friday evening, mom, EJ and her husband B, EJ’s daughter R and her husband C went to a Pearland High School football game. Pearland won, of course! (Recently, the Pearland Little League All Stars went to the semi-finals in the Little League World Series.) I am not much of a sports fan and chose not to go. I watched TV, particularly the Weather Channel, as Hurricane Patricia was barreling into the west coast of Mexico, and we were concerned about the weather Sunday when we planned to go to Round Top, Texas.
Saturday, we attended the luncheon meeting of the Pearland Historical Society. As part of the program, they held a candle-lighting memorial and various people lit candles for their member relatives who had passed during the year.
Unfortunately, the outage blew the fuse for the lights in the meeting room where we were. A repairman was called, but in the meantime, we had to eat our luncheon of barbecued beef and chicken, baked beans and potato salad by the light of safety lamps. In addition to several other cousins, my aunt EJW’s daughters, M and W, were at the meeting. They grew up in the little house on Yost Road (see above). W, who lives in Rosharon, was concerned about whether she was going to be able to get home as we were under a flash flood warning. However, the flooding was not very bad and she had no problems getting through.
On the way home, we stopped by the Pearland Cemetery to see graves of various family members buried there, including mom’s mother, and her father’s brother.
We went to bed early Saturday night as we planned to set out to Round Top, Texas, at 6:30 Sunday morning, so that we could attend church services at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church there, which was founded by mom’s great grandfather, J. Adam Neuthard.