A Tale of Wind and Sausage, War and Beauty

Curtis Shelburne

The wind showed up early last Sunday. The country around here doesn’t need even close to that much of a head-start to be flying by in dingy brown grit-clouds and switching counties by noon. The afternoon would be a brown mess, best ridden out inside with doors and windows sealed, a comforter pulled over your head, and your eyes inspecting the inside of your own eyelids. To top it off, I was already half gone, punch-drunk by the “one-two” combo of a cold and cold medicine.

But we’d already made plans with friends for a Sunday noon trip to Umbarger, Texas, for lunch, an opportunity to do our part in bettering Protestant/Catholic relations.

For scads of years, the good folks in Umbarger have been preparing at St. Mary’s Catholic Church parish hall 3,000 pounds or so of sausage and a corresponding amount of homemade sauerkraut to the annual gastronomic delight of thousands of faithful diners. You may now count me among the faithful. Having braved Sunday’s weather to successfully marinate my taste buds, I’m hooked, and I’ll be back.

Following the meal in the parish hall came for me an unexpected delight. Invited to walk through the church, we were treated to a feast of beauty. World-class stained glass. Beautiful and obviously professionally-painted murals. Amazing! As is their story.

The church was built in the 1920’s. In the mid-1940’s the folks there had commissioned those stained glass windows to be constructed in Wisconsin. One of the dear ladies giving us the tour remembered the priest driving her father almost crazy every day asking him to check at the train station yet again to see if the windows had arrived. Finally, they did. But, now what? Ah, the story gets more amazing.

Interned in a POW camp outside nearby Hereford, Texas, were 7,000 Italian soldiers. The priest made arrangements with the authorities, and nine of those prisoners made the trip to Umbarger every day. With great skill, they installed the windows. Three were professionally-trained artists, and they lovingly painted the murals and hand-carved “the Last Supper” into the altar. The war was ending, and neither the priest nor the artisans were sure they’d finish, but they did, beautifully.

Heading home, we detoured three miles south of Hereford. Out in the middle of a field are the only remains of the old POW camp—a large concrete water tower and, lovingly built, a small chapel crafted by the Italian prisoners in memory of five of their comrades who died as captives.

When the war ended, all of the prisoners were shipped home to Italy, but some chose to bring their families back here to live in the U.S., pointing up a massive difference between the experience of American POWs in Germany and Japan, and Axis POWs here. Draw your own very important conclusions.

A remarkable story. War and all kinds of strife separate people. But those who honor Christ can share his love and beauty even in very difficult times.

Sharing some good sausage and sauerkraut doesn’t hurt, either.