Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wending My Way

Today was DAR meeting day and instead of our usual speaker appearing to us in the community room of the First National Bank, we took a field trip. I was looking forward to this event, even though I was not entirely sure what the subject of our excursion was all about.

We met in Serbin, once a thriving little town and now a small community, to visit the Texas Wendish Heritage Museum. The first question everyone had on their mind was, "What is a Wend?" It turns out that there is not an easy answer to that question. The Wends were a group with Slavic origins who came to Texas from Lusatia, an area that is now part of Germany and that borders Poland on the northern part and Czechslovakia on the southern part. They were not German, nor Polish, nor Czechslovakian, but their own unique group with their own unique language. In the 1850s, a group emmigrated to Texas, seeking to escape pressure that was being applied by the Prussians to speak German rather than their own unique Wendish language and to give up their "pure" Lutheran religious practices in favor of the Evangelical Reform Lutheran church.

Arriving in Texas in 1854, they purchased a league of land in Lee County, subdivided it into farms, setting aside a portion where the town of Serbin was established. They joined the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and built the St. Paul's Lutheran Church which is currently being restored and is one of the "painted churches" in Texas. Most painted churches are Catholic, so this church is another unique aspect to Wendish history.

The heritage museum complex consists of several buildings. We met in a building that had once been a school run by the church. When it was decided to build a new school, the building was moved down the street and joined the heritage center complex. The building is also the place where a group of women meet weekly and make noodles, which are extremely popular with local folks in the know. There were ribbons and trophys and other awards on display to give evidence to their skill in noodle making. My attention was caught by a picture on the wall entitled "Oodles of Noodles". The walls were lined with plastic bins holding bags of noodles, so "Oodles of Noodles" was a very appropriate sentiment.

The buildings of the complex are connected by covered walkways or by stone paths and as we headed to the museum after our meeting, we were treated with the sight of bushes of antique roses, lush iris beds and an assortment of Texas wildflowers.

Arriving at the museum proper, we were greeted by a friendly docent who gave us an overview of the Wends' history before we toured the exhibits. The displays were fascinating. I especially enjoyed the photos and stories relating to the Wendish wedding traditions.

Across another walkway was a building that houses items that have been donated by Wendish families to document the way of life of those early emigrants. I love early Texas antiques and was fascinated by the tools and everyday items on display. I was particularly taken with a gorgeous golden oak pump organ. If there had been any way to tuck it under my jacket and hightail it, I would have been tempted.

Down a stone path were two log cabins and I was reminded of the log cabin that stands in the background of a photo taken in Red Rock where my great-grandparents Frankum and great-great-grandfather Lentz are standing in its front yard about 1900. As I looked inside, I tried to imagine how one managed to raise a family in such stark conditions.

After we toured the heritage complex, we returned to the old school room to eat our picnic lunches and we chatted about ancestors and hobbies and enjoyed an hour of getting to know each other.

On the way back to the highway, I drove down to St. Paul's Lutheran Church to take a look at the restoration project. The docent had told us the church had suffered foundation problems as a result of an ill-conceived drainage system and will eventually take more than $1 million to return to its former glory.

Even in its current state of construction disarray, you can see the fine bones of its foundation. It is going to be a beautiful building again someday. (Notice the painted designs on the ceiling.)

It was a thoroughly enjoyable morning and I expressed my opinion to our regent, who seemed almost surprised at my enthusiasm. It was her idea that we make this field trip and she has taken some grief and criticism since she took the position of regent. I'm not at all sure about all the political undertones to the unsettled waters and I plan to stay out of it. However, today she made one of her members happy by introducing her to a museum that I wish I had discovered a long time ago. Judging by the friendly chatter during our lunch, I think there were other folks in attendance today who enjoyed themselves as much as I did.

Last, but not least, I discovered in the museum gift shop a set of Lee County cemetery books that I have long wished I had in my own library. And now I do. This gal departed for home completely satisfied with the time spent in little Serbin.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cindy! I am a Wend! :) My ancestors came over on the Ben Nevis....I was so pleased and entertained reading your story. Thanks for reminding me of my roots and giving me a taste of home, in my home away from home. xojen