I anxiously awaited orders to fly to Germany in August 1955. The time came and went for my departure. Finally, orders arrived with the explanation that my passport had been misplaced. But all was in order, and I was to leave Portland, Oregon, on August 21,1955 for New York. I was on my own until I reported in on August 22. Then I was sent to the THE ADAMS residential hall at Fort Hamilton, New York, for three days. Thus, August 25, my 25th birthday, I flew across the Atlantic on military transport. After an over-night in Frankfurt, I was sent by taxi to Wiesbaden. Since it was after business hours at the Air Force Base, my taxi driver suggested the Goldener Brunnan Hotel. My two nights there gave me an opportunity to enjoy Wiesbaden. It was enchanting to a farm girl from Oregon.
Reporting in on Monday morning was a surprise. Every time I gave my name the response was, Where have you been?” Each time I explained my orders were delayed due to a misplaced passport. As I ran into fellow teachers, I learned that had I arrived with my group I would have been sent to a hotel outside of town and told to check in daily about my assignment. It seems the Air Force had hired their own teachers for the first time, and the Army had also hired the Air Force faculty. A sizable group of nervous teachers had been bored, irritated and expecting to be sent back home. They had been in this state for two weeks. My name and mysterious whereabouts were discussed at roll call each day. Then when I arrived, and was immediately sent to my assignment at the Rhein-Main Air Force Base, they all wondered why the special treatment. Perhaps waiting in Oregon was easier than living in anxiety in Germany with the others.
I was billeted at Arnold Hall on the air base. A pleasant room with a large armoire (shrunk) and small closet. A bath was between two rooms. It was a great relief to unpack the heavy suitcases. My first order of business was to borrow an iron. This was before permanent press! I started knocking on doors. Finally, some one said, “Come in.” I inquired about borrowing an iron. The response was, “Who are you?” I had gone from “Where have you been?” to “Who are you?” I said who I was. The response to that was, “You are not on my list” I responded to that by saying, “Could be, but do you have an iron to lend?” She said, “I am the principal and you should have reported directly to the school.” Well, farm girls from Oregon are not easily intimidated, but I backed out and went elsewhere to find the needed iron.
The elementary school was a fun place to work. My second graders were much like students at home, except the officer’s children often went home to German maids. Of course, soon after school started, we were to select a Room Mother. Her duties were to appear with cookies, cupcakes, etc. at each holiday and birthday. The job was time-consuming, and if done well can be a real help to the teacher. We were told in a faculty meeting to make our selection by a certain date, and that it would be advisable to select an officer’s wife. My feeling was that I should be grateful to anyone who would take the job. I had had no previous experience with the military. My custom was to address all fathers who came to the classroom on parental business as “Mr.” The day that I selected my room mother, I looked out over the sea of seven-year-old faces, and spotted a boy with sparkling eyes. I asked him how many children in his family. He replied, “Just me.” I knew that a family who gave a child sparkling eyes would be a delight to work with. Sgt. & Mrs. Tomporowski lived up to my expectations. I learned a great deal from them about the positive impact on a child’s self esteem from a parent’s attitude. They treated Phil as their best friend… So, with a great room mother, a nice class, and fun fellow teachers, my year on the air base was great.
Weekends were spent traveling until the coldest winter in 100 years set in. Only the Volkswagens would start at minus 10 degrees. On cold winter Saturdays, I simply took the bus into Frankfurt. Frankfurt was a great place for exploring, and was only seven miles away. Holidays were spent going further, and often into near-by countries. Lucerne, Switzerland was possible to get to by midnight on a Friday night. Frankfurt is a hub of transportation. The exchange rate has not been so good since. It was four Deutsch Mark (DM) to $1. Thus, ten DM could get us a room. I collected Hummel figurines for less than $5.00.
The Officer’s Club was our weekday social scene. They served free beer on Wednesdays, and free champagne on Thursdays. Hard to resist that kind of perk. When the weather turned bitter, a group of us pooled our culinary skills and cooked at the BOQ.
I was indeed fortunate to have been able to take advantage of teaching overseas. It opened my eyes to so many things. Europe was fascinating to me. I visited sixteen countries. My U.S. dollars and passport took me everywhere I wished to go. After the school year was ended, a friend and I went to the Scandinavian countries, the British Isles, and the French Riviera. My first day in Scotland was spent talking to everyone I could. It was such a joy to speak a common language after 11 months. We flew home from Liverpool on military transport. With an overnight in New Jersey, I reached Portland, Oregon, the second day. I always meant to go back to teach in another country, but somehow I have gotten detoured. What a great year 1955-56 was!
Copyright 2004 American Overseas Schools Historical Society