Tag Archives: Prague

LSS: Keep up the good work, Sassy Pants.

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.

LSS: Locating a fellow traveler

Sometimes, complicated things come together with little doing of our own and present a surprising moment of magic.

There are several separate pieces to this story.

No. 1: My great-uncle was a foreign missionary. His family traveled to and lived in places the rest of us read about or saw in books and magazines. When I was a little girl, every four years or so, my uncle Guy and his family would come home to Mississippi on furlough, and our whole extended mega-family would stop everything and go to my great-grandmother’s house for days.

By that time, my uncle’s many brothers and sisters had families of their own — so, we’re talking about a significant crowd of folks getting together, telling stories, listening to stories and just hanging out. I will always be grateful to have been a part of a family that valued coming together, with no real plans other than to be there for each other.

Without any doubt, his family’s travels and tales of foreign places planted the seeds of travel in my own future.

No. 2: Shortly after I met the man who would eventually become my husband, I started trying to figure out his family’s story, which was a tale with a lot more twists and turns than anyone else’s I knew.

Back in the mid-1800s, my husband’s father’s family came to Mexico from different places in Europe. His great-grandfather’s family was from France. His great-grandmother’s family was from Prague. Through the years, his cousins have filled in many of other details. Along the way, I’ve gathered that one of his ancient relatives was a botanist of some renown. In fact, in Prague, there was a statue of this man, whose name was Benedikt Roezl.

No. 3: Two weeks ago I found out I would be traveling to Prague for work. I hadn’t been to Prague since 1993, the year I lived in Slovakia teaching English. Back then, friends and I made several trips to the city. It was, then, so full of unfolding beauty. Even back in 1993, though my husband and I weren’t married yet, I knew about Benedikt Roezl and his supposed statue. I spent some time looking for it — with what turned out to be the wrong spelling of his last name, I got nowhere. Still, when friends and I were in small parks around the city, I always kept my eyes peeled.

This week, armed with more information, including the right spelling of my husband’s great uncle’s name and a general idea of where the statue should be.

Shortly after I got here, my uncle Guy’s oldest daughter — also a foreign missionary whom I hadn’t seen in more than two decades — sent me a message saying that she and her husband live in Prague and I should come visit with them. My work colleagues and I had a busy week planned. I wasn’t sure a visit would work out, but on Thursday night, I was pleased to find myself at her dinner table in great conversation with her and her husband.

I told them the story of my husband’s long lost uncle and where I believed the statue to be. My cousin, Melinda Kyzar, said, “That park isn’t far from here at all. We should go after dinner.”

Even though I had seen pictures of it, there was a real possibility that this statue, which had been erected more than a hundred years ago, would not be there. After dinner, the three of us took a tram toward the park. Once there, we had to make a decision to go left or right. It was a sizable park. Melinda’s husband said, “I have a feeling that it’s this way.”

I agreed, and we started walking along a large path that twisted and turned, much like this story.

As we made our way around a curve, we saw a huge statue at the end of the park. I was amazed. This was a monumental (literally) monument.

And sure enough, it was Benedikt Roezl. Under his statue, along with his name and the dates of his birth and death was an inscription, along with two words to describe him. The first one, I could make out. It was the Czech word for “botanist.” But I couldn’t figure out the second one. It was, “Cestovateli.”

My cousin’s husband, Russell, said, “That word means traveler.”

And with that, I smiled, and felt a certain kinship with old fellow.

Email Jan at jan@janrisher.com