She was a gangly 11-year-old out in the West Texas town of El Paso when we met.
A few years later, she babysat for us when we had our first child. By the time she was a high school junior, she worked part-time in my home-based public relations business and radio cooking show.
Occasionally, she was astounded at my requests and expectations. For example, as I was running out to a meeting once, I gave her a grocery list for an upcoming show. I asked her, after shopping to come back to the house and put the items up. She looked at me dumbfounded. She explained she had no idea where anything belonged.
“Just think about where you got them in the store,” I said. “If the item was on the shelf, put it in the pantry on the shelf. If it was refrigerated, put it in the refrigerator, etc.”
When I got home, my kitchen counter looked like a produce display case. All the fruits and vegetables were displayed exactly as they had been in the store.
Amidst many other Susanisms, our relationship has worked through the years. Our whole family came to love that girl.
Much to our joy, a few years later, after we moved to Lafayette, she decided to come to the University of Louisiana. Her family — who did a great job of giving her a beautiful foundation in travel opportunities and fostering compassion — surely missed her. For our family, having her nearby for so long was a thing of beauty.
In college, she got involved and became a Ragin’ Cajun through and through. When she graduated, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began traveling leading groups of students in national/global learning opportunities. In the last two weeks, she has helped lead a group of high school students from around the world across Central Europe.
She sent a note to her parents, some friends and me this week. The note is a beautiful demonstration of just how much a kid can grow, learn and flourish.
She started her note off with highlights of their visit to Vienna, Budapest and Prague.
Then, she wrote the following. With her permission, I’ll share it with you:
“On Sunday, we visited Terezin, a former Nazi concentration camp an hour north of Prague. We had a thirty-minute group meeting prior to bus boarding where we read about the history of the camp. Many of my students looked confused, and I asked who needed a quick Holocaust and WWII refresher.
“Every hand belonging to a student from Latin America, Asia or the Middle East went up. The Holocaust is not an event that is often included in their history books, and if it is, it is apparently a brief summary. Even though I was initially surprised that so many of them were hearing this for what seemed like the first time, I also realize that there are recent genocides not covered in our school books either.
“I visited Terezin when I was in Prague in high school. It was interesting to visit as the ‘teacher,’ instead of the student. Terezin was not a large-scale termination camp. The Czech Jews were held there until they were deported to Auschwitz. Out of every 1,000 people who left Terezin for an extermination camp, about 4 or 5 survived. Our visit was somber. That afternoon, we debriefed to try and help the students make sense of many things they heard, saw and learned. One of my students from Kuwait was deeply moved by the experience. He said that he took pictures of the camp because at home, people deny the Holocaust happened, and he can no longer deny it. He had proof.
“We returned to Vienna yesterday for our last ‘real’ day of programming. We had our final meeting and said our good-byes. My students gave me a handmade card with their favorite ‘Susan quotes.’ Apparently the phrase, ‘sassy pants’ was used frequently. I was blessed with a wonderful, sweet and engaged group of students. I will truly miss (most) of them.
“We are currently driving through the foothills of the Austrian Alps and watching the Sound of Music on the bus. Most of the kids seem to love the movie as much as me. We are looking forward to our Sound of Music tour tomorrow.”
I wrote her back and did my best to explain how her letter filled me with a ridiculous and sappy amount of joy. I’ve told her lately just how proud we are of her, but that note was such a confirmation that she has grown up — from a girl who couldn’t find a place for the groceries, she has become a girl who’s helping others find their place in the world.
Keep up the good work, Sassy Pants.