Ajii-no-ie Orphanage

Submitted by Susanne Lenz

Vacation Essay Contest: Trips with Eleanor

by Janet Wertz

Many of  the vacations my friend Eleanor and I took were in conjunction with the September Med Tech meeting in Jackson’s Hole, Wyoming.

The first year she took me out West on a driving trip, she told me about all the places we were to visit. In a way, it was horrifying, as she said we would fly to Grand Junction, Colorado, rent a car, stay there for the night, then drive to the first place for one night, and on to the second, and stay a night there… I said, no, we weren’t. That startled Eleanor; she wasn’t used to having her plans vetoed. “OK, Hot Shot. What are we going to do?” 

I said we would drive to a central location, even if there was nothing much there, and do day trips out while staying at one motel. Otherwise, we would mostly be packing and unpacking suitcases. Oh. That made sense to her. And, I didn’t want to stick us with a driving marathon for a vacation. The day trip idea turned out well, and was used on many other vacations.

One time I remember us coming into a town Eleanor wasn’t familiar with, Worland, Wyoming. She looked at me and said, she’d never been here before, didn’t know the restaurants, and it was up to me to pick one. OK. We drove down the main street in the little Western town until we saw a restaurant. 

Eleanor offered to pull off there, but I told her to keep on going. Why? The place looked fairly new and clean, and there were plenty of cars parked out front. I said it only had three pickup trucks, and they had out of county plates. Oh. OK. We drove on down the road and into town. There I spotted a store front restaurant. It looked older, and not that promising, BUT- it had no fewer than eight pickups parked outside, all were dust covered and had local plates. Eleanor gave me a sharp look, but parked in with the pickups. We went in, and found a nice, spotlessly clean restaurant filled with local ranch families. The steak we enjoyed that night was fabulous! Tasting of sage brush, it was obviously from local beef. After that, whenever we were in an unfamiliar town, we would just check out which place had the most local pickups out front. Never failed!


Eleanor and I were about to leave for Jackson’s Hole to attend our annual InterMountain Wyoming Med Tech conference. We had our tickets and motel reservations ready, and had paid our conference fees. In just two days, we would fly to one of the best places on earth! And then, 9/11. 

All aircraft were grounded indefinitely; we weren’t going to be able to fly anywhere. After cancelling all of our reservations, I phoned Eleanor. She was resigned, but Not Happy! Her bags were packed, she was all ready, and had no place to go. So was I. When she asked me how I would like to go to East Tennessee instead, I jumped at it! By the end of the evening, new plans and reservations had been made! We would stay in Townsend, and go to Gatlinberg. Enjoy the sights of Cade’s Cove!. And so, we did!

In Cade’s Cove, we watched deer, and, from a distance with binoculars, a black bear and her cub. Bluebirds sang. In the morning, the spider webs in the bushes were white with dew; Eleanor told me those were ‘angel’s handkerchiefs’. 

In Gatlinberg, we ate lunch at the Old Mill, and bought pancake mix to take home. On the side of a hill in Townsend was an old house which was now a quilt shop. At night, the Sawmill Restaurant served up fantastic bourbon marinated steaks.

We shopped in the bargain malls, but didn’t buy very much. We stopped at the roadside stands. Eleanor loved the boiled peanuts, but warned me they were an acquired taste. She was right. We found a pottery with fantastical items. We went to see waterfalls; there is a very nice one near Cookeville.

 All in all, we had a grand time. It definitely wasn’t Jackson, Wyoming, but the Smoky Mountains made for a very good trip.


One night at work when Eleanor and I were worn out, and in need of a change of scenery. Eleanor gave me a tired annoyed look and said, “I need to get out of here for a while. Where are we going?” Where? 

Then I remembered something she had said the last time we had been out West, something about visiting a place near Monument Valley. My reply was, “Arches!”

Her face lit up, and she began to plan… “Arches. That’s near Canyon de Chelly. If we fly to Grand Junction, Colorado… By the time the night was over, we had put in our vacation request forms, her travel agent and good friend had been called, reservations had been made, and we were all set to go! Lots of our travel plans were made just that way! As for Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, it’s one of my favorite places to go.

Eleanor’s knees bothered her, so she would often just stay in the car while I hiked and took photos. While I was off on my jaunts, she would read- she loved historical romance novels- or just people watch. 

I remember one time when I returned to the car to find her in conversation with a large raven… Eleanor was having a little granola travel mix with her novel, and the bird obviously was trying to persuade her to share a bit with him. Eleanor knew all about that long sharp beak of his, and would have none of it. Besides, raisins and chocolate aren’t good for non- humans as they are hard on kidneys, and the chocolate can cause hemolysis problems with their blood (they don’t digest them the way we do). The bird was perched on a side view mirror of the car where a side vent window was partly open, and was making it best persuading noises; ravens are very intelligent, and this one sounded like he was holding a conversation. I tried to take a photo, but he saw me and left.

Mother and Dad had been stationed in Arizona, for a while during WWII. They enjoyed looking at the photos I took, and my tales of traveling there and with their memories, they wanted to go too!

Once, my Mother was looking at the photos I had taken in Arches National park, and wished she could go there too. But, she wouldn’t be able to hike, etc. When I told her the photos had been taken from the parking lot, she perked up! The same happened when I showed her photos of Jackson’s Hole and Yellowstone. I had been just three years old the last time she had been to Yellowstone. 

So, I took time off from work so I could take care of our dogs and the house, and let my folks travel too. I gave them lists of motels, hotels, and places and sights they had to go see, etc. 

Just before the folks were to go one of their trips, Eleanor and I left Jackson Hole to arrive home just before Mother and Dad were to leave home to go there themselves!! So, I left our Styrofoam cooler and our unopened bottles of orange juice at the motel desk for them to pick up when they checked in. Dad was delighted to be there, know where to stay, the best places to eat (and the ones that overcharged…) and lists of places to go on day trips, and things to see. He and Mother LOVED it! 

So today I have the photos of them that were taken during those trips, and I know I had made sure they would have a great time. That, for me, is as good as my own memories made on my own trips with my good friend Eleanor.

Thanks, DODDs teachers!

by Circe Olson Woessner

Homework hurts my head

My teachers don’t seem to care

If my head explodes

–Erik Woessner, 4th grade, Roosevelt Roads Elementary School

I was not a “good” student. In fact, 45 years later, after finding a big box of school “stuff,” I cringe when I read some of the teacher comments on my report card. “Circe seems to think school is only for socializing” or “Circe seems to do her homework just minutes before it’s due, and the results are predictable.”  My favorite is: “Circe has too much self-confidence.” This comment written by my third-grade teacher is puzzling—how can a third grader be too confident? 

I am a product of DODDS schools. I attended kindergarten through twelfth grade in Karlsruhe, Germany. Despite my not being interested in my studies, I believe I received an excellent education. I think while most of my teachers were sympathetic to my creative, dreamy, social side, they set high standards I needed to reach. 

Miss Hill, my first-grade teacher, and I started off on the wrong foot. My dad worked in public affairs for the Directorate (Headquarters). On the first day of school I raised my hand and introduced myself, by stating, “My name is Circe and my daddy IS YOUR BOSS!” Never mind that my father wasn’t her boss; I have no idea why I thought he was. Miss Hill took it in stride. She must have consulted with my mother at lunch, because I was in Big Trouble when I got home. A lesson in truth-telling and manners ensued. 

I seem to have been a handful in elementary school. My mother was also a first- grade teacher, and her classroom was a couple doors down from mine. I’ve been told that during the first weeks of school, I frequently slipped out of class to “visit” with my mom; but that stopped after Miss Hill locked the classroom door and also kept me in during recess. 

I already mentioned that I was creative, which sometimes caused problems. Miss Hill had certain expectations: she wanted us to write our names on our worksheets. My name was already on every worksheet she gave us—it just needed a little spelling modification: Circle—as in “circle the right answer.” So, for the first week, I circled circle and crossed out the “l.” And, for the first week, Miss Hill took my completed paper, glanced at it, and then ripped it in half and threw it away. Why? I’d cry. Because your name isn’t on it, she’d say. But it is, I insisted. 

That was another battle I lost.

Soon, I was printing my name on the line on the worksheet, staying in my seat during class and not roaming the hall like a free spirit. I was being tamed. 

Miss Hill has stayed friends with my family and me for over 50 years. When Bill and I got married in 1981, she sent us a recipe book, in which she’d painstakingly written out several dozen of her favorite recipes longhand. Miss Hill’s been out to visit the museum several times, and one time she went with my parents when they took Operation Footlocker to be on display at Intel in Rio Rancho. I think that connection is a testimony to the bonds that DODDS teachers develop with their students and colleagues. DODDs teachers, like Brats and Veterans, develop life-long relationships—even if they live half-way around the world. 

Over the years I’ve stay in touch or reconnected with dozens of teachers or professors from my years overseas. Many attended our wedding; others have visited the museum. A lot of them are on Facebook. Some I’ve come across by chance. It has not always been comfortable.

A decade after graduating high school, I started substitute teaching at Heidelberg Elementary School. My first day there, I got lost. As I walked through the halls, trying to figure out where I was going, I ran into my former high school math teacher. Astonished, he exclaimed, “Circe, what are you doing here?” I felt a little thrill of satisfaction when I replied, “I teach here.” I can only imagine what ran through his head as he saw me, one of the world’s (and his) worst math students suddenly appearing without warning. DODDS is a small, small world. 

I would have to say, however, my best teachers have been my parents. 

Of course, because they were educators by profession, they were used to molding young minds. My education was not limited to book learning—it was immersive. 

The world was my classroom. Wherever we traveled—which we did a lot—my mom and dad made sure that we visited all the historic and cultural sites. They explained to me what was so significant about where we were, putting it into context for me. Religion was taught as history; saints and their miraculous accomplishments and martyrdom were described in stories which interwove spirituality and reality. 

Standing on the cobblestone streets in Paris’s district of Montmartre, I could visualize St. Denis carrying his decapitated head up the steep hill, collapsing in a heap on the spot, where followers later erected a church bearing his name. In Rome, we visited the Catacombs and my father described how the dead were carried underground and laid in niches along a vast network of tunnels. I imagined myself entering these caves carrying a torch so I could see in the pitch black. It made me shiver then and it still does, claustrophobe that I am. 

Anywhere we went –it did not matter which country–if I wanted ice cream or a souvenir, I would have to go and buy it for myself. My dad would hand me some money, and off I’d go into a local shop or café to negotiate on my own. Usually I succeeded. I also learned a few useful phrases in a half-dozen languages. 

At dinner, we’d eat in a local restaurant using food lists my mother had made by laboriously copying descriptions from one of her many cookbooks. The little guides were very helpful as we traveled through Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece. I’d pick out words on the menu and match them to the words she’d written down, then I’d attempt to order in the language. We were a source of both amusement and admiration from local diners as they watched the three Americans ordering dinner.

My confidence and curiosity made it easy for me to play with local kids on the playground or beach. In Turkey I met some kids on the beach and somehow convinced them to invite my parents and me over to their house for dinner. We couldn’t speak Turkish, and our hosts didn’t speak much English, but we had a really wonderful time—so much so—that dinner went on into the wee hours. At some point, the grandfather left the table and reappeared in his pajamas indicating that the evening was over. We got the hint and immediately left.

I believe that my rich childhood experiences made me perpetually curious and open-minded. My parents never censored what I read. They always encouraged me to question and explore things on my own and to draw my own conclusions as long as I was polite. (That took some working on as I frequently got impatient with people who couldn’t keep up with me.) I was very social and championed my classmate’s causes. I was confident and secure in my place in the world. 

While it was okay to question things or read certain books at home, it sometimes created headaches for my teachers. My third-grade teacher questioned my overconfidence (I was probably giving her polite advice); my 6th grade teacher questioned my choice of  Tess of the d’Urbervilles as appropriate reading for my age; and one of my high school teachers recommended that I not graduate two years early — but through all of that, my parents encouraged me to be true to myself. 

The teachers who channeled my enthusiasm, held me accountable without crushing my spirit, and they got me through the high school curriculum two years early, doing me a great service. I rushed through college in three years, and later added teacher certification, project management certification, a masters and a doctorate to my resume. All my great teachers made me a life-long learner.

Thanks, DODDs teachers!

Würzburg SY 65-66-Classroom Catastrophe

Classrooms in chapel basements? That was my situation in Würzburg in SY 65-66. The principal had a slot for me but no classroom because school was overcrowded. He looked all over the post & came up with the chapel basement, but chaplain absolutely refused.

Maybe you can persuade him, principal said, otherwise no job.

I tried to make appointment with chaplain about the space, but he refused to see me, so I dropped in unannounced. He was irritated & then suddenly asked, “Are you Catholic?” I answered yes. OK, he said, smiling. I’m short a Sunday School teacher. If you take Sunday CCD classes, you can use the basement.

What? That’s unfair bribery & religious discrimination. I explained that I’d never gone to Sunday School in my entire life & felt completely unqualified. Plus, I wanted to ski & travel on weekends, not teach religion classes. Take it or leave it, he replied.

Of course, I took it & then cast around for a substitute. I knew no one in Würzburg except for a young Jesuit priest studying there whom I’d met in war & peace discussion sessions at the uni. I contacted him immediately & after some negotiations, he agreed … in exchange for a few simple items from PX, Class 6, & commissary (incl peanut butter, impossible to find on economy at the time).

The chaplain was delighted, the principal was relieved, the Jesuit was happy, & I was thrilled. We were all good to go!

Würzburg Week 1 got off to a great start. The chaplain had 3 wonderful young assistants assigned to him, musicians in the army band, with very little to do, so he assigned them to me. They arrived early the first morning, unloaded a big truck full of desks, tables, books, & supplies, & set up my chapel basement classroom. Meanwhile, I was at school getting my class list, meeting my students, & walking with them to the chapel with a few moms tagging along to check things out. My “assistants”  brought me coffee every morning, took playground duty in chapel parking lot, made wonderful music with the kids, read stories to them, & did individual tutoring. It was all coming together beautifully, but then …

When I arrived at school on Friday morning of that first week, the guys were loading everything back on the truck again.

What’s going on? I asked.

Friday morning Communion breakfast, they answered. Gotta vacate.Taking it all back to school.  Sorry, didn’t the chaplain tell you?

No, never mentioned it, I said. What about the principal? Has anyone told him?

Whoops! Don’t think so. Better call him right now so he can decide where to put all this stuff? We’ll drive ahead with the truck, & you can stay here to meet the kids & walk with them to school. See you there!

Joan Maas

Put Pen to Paper and Write!