The Portugal Years: Year Three – Bethy’s First Christmas and Other Stories

Bethy's First Christmas (4 months old)
Bethy’s First Christmas (4 months old)

Our Portugal Christmases were always fairly simple and small present-wise. We never felt hard done-by though. ”Things” come and go. Bethy’s giggles at that age made us smile. We had enough.

We lived off of the economy in Portugal (meaning that with few exceptions and as much as possible we lived as the Portuguese lived). Occasionally someone sent some things from the states. I was yearning to have a red velveteen dress for Bethy for Christmas. Right before Christmas one arrived from a dear friend in the states.

She is bundled up almost to the point of being unable to move in the photo. It was cold. Homes did not have central heating, and there were always a few months when it would have come in handy. The houses also had no insulation. We layered clothes on and off as needed. It was the Portuguese way!
Somewhere in the crazy year after Bethy was born, our landlady demanded a raise in rent. We tried to negotiate with her for less than she asked. She was one of the Portuguese who saw dollar signs when dealing with Americans. We probably did have more than most of them. Extortion, however, was not the way to our hearts.

We left Queijas and set up housekeeping in the Municipality of Loures. The grocery and bakery were handy to our new home. Our apartment was on the first floor up just one flight of stairs and we were permitted to use the ground floor garage for storage purposes. Our landlords were kind and lived in the second floor apartment. They had a six-year-old daughter who liked to talk to us. Next door a small family cared for the wife’s aunt. An ancient cathedral brooded at the other end of the street, and across the street was the best perk of the move: a beautiful park within walking distance.

Around that same time we learned that Harry’s youngest sister was getting married in June. And that meant an early furlough in the states. I was not enthusiastic. For me, it wasn’t “home” anymore. I loved where we lived and loved the people among whom we lived.

Early in May, I got a phone call from my mom. My grandfather had suffered a heart attack, and passed away. This is the grandfather who gave us a home during many of my growing up years. He bought me bicycles and built a sandbox for me. He could cook up a heavenly mess of fresh green beans and bacon, and his ‘mater sandwiches fashioned with mayonnaise and freshly picked tomatoes from the garden were summer’s delight. Unfortunately, he also had a bad habit of being very inappropriate with ladies old and young. The older ladies could duck and blow off the attention which he felt entitled to dole out. My sister and I, however, were unable to defend ourselves.

All of the conflicting emotions drove me to pick up my daughter and a blanket and go sit in the park with the other nursing mothers. At least, I thought at the end of the day, my daughter was safe from his unwanted attention. In two weeks, we would be on a jet heading west.

13 thoughts on “The Portugal Years: Year Three – Bethy’s First Christmas and Other Stories

  1. It seems to me like a Christmas in Portugal would be just right.

    The landlady was cruel, but I would have been thrilled about the park, for sure!

    The bit about your grandfather is an interest. I like how you wrote that. Which part of the states were you returning to?


    1. And so the Christmases were just right.

      Thank you. I thought long and deep to find the right way to write that part about my grandfather. I have compassion on him. He was his mother’s first-born and she hated boys. My grandmother told me that he still had scars from the horsewhip his mother used to “correct” him.

      Ah. A good question, Professor. I had lived in a number of places. We went to Philadelphia – actually just outside of the city.


      1. Aww! Thank you! I think babies are quite effective at getting what they want. That is something I seem to have passed down to my daughter.


  2. Mixed memories for you. I have a few of them also…but like you thank God my daughter was not subject to those kind of things. If she and I are watching a movie and there is a hint of any abuse she will tell me how sorry she is that it brought back memories. I tell her they do not hurt anymore, they are healed and all I have left are scars to remind me of how the wounds of Jesus bought me my salvation. Blessing my sister.


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