The Portugal Years: Year Six – Things That Grow

Jade Plants courtesy of blogs.vancouversun.com-
Jade Plants courtesy of blogs.vancouversun.com-

Until  we moved to Florida, I’ve never had trouble taking care of my house plants. We had geraniums on the veranda along with jade plants. They loved the climate and grew to magnificent sizes. I discoverer something on the jade plants that I had never seen in the states: they had tiny flowers blooming in the winter. I had an African violet in the house.

Plants were not the only thing that thrived in our home. Our cat, Fofinha, had been to the vet for an operation. After that she made herself at home, and grew. She made peace with Susie after she got into Susie’s food that I was warming on the stove once; she regretted it afterward.

Eventually, we had a pair of canaries courtesy of my friend who opened her own flower and bird shop. They were Caruso and Kate (short for Kate Smith). Caruso’s song was complex and always lifted my heart. When Kate laid eggs, we loved watching how he fed her so she could feed the chicks.

 

I'm being a good kitty now.
Do I really look like someone who would eat the baby’s food?                                                                                                                                                                                              

Bethy had grown up a lot that year she turned four years old and began to lose her baby looks. Being the big sister sobered her to a degree as well. She worried about Susie’s unpredictable moments. A lot. (And I think she still worries at times.)  Christmas was a familiar friend by then.

Susie didn’t know what Christmas was, but she was ready to party. She clung to her habit of waking me several times a night, and I decided that our family size had reached its limit. Never again. Harry and I had also been growing along side of the girls; it is difficult not to when you have two young children whose needs often required to be dealt with before our own.

Right after Christmas, it was Susie’s first birthday. Of course she had a chocolate cake. She was a proper girl!

Both girls were growing rapidly.
Both girls were growing rapidly.

 

Susie's First Birthday
Susie’s First Birthday

 

 

The Portugal Years – Year 6 Tudo o que é pequeno tem graça.

The Portuguese have a saying:”Tudo o que é pequeno tem graça.” Loosely translated, it means that all things that are small are cute. Along with all the fun that we had with the campers, the bakery that made our Mafra bread had a six-week old litter of kittens. Our Samantha cat when we were first married did not survive our first furlough. The bakers offered us one of the kittens. I argued that it was too young, but they said something like, “Now or never.”

We named her Fofinha (Fluffy) and she came to live with us. We soon discovered that she was ill named. Oh, her fur was soft and fluffy, but she was a wild child. Or kitten if you prefer. I had to feed her with canned milk from a medicine dropper. I had to learn to keep her clean as her mother did (I didn’t wash her with my tongue, though, I used a wash cloth.) Eventually, I gave her the pureed soup that I fed to Susie. While Fofinha was still small, I made a sling for her so I could hold her and keep her warm.

Fofinha grew and thrived. Eventually, she decided that squatting over the bathtub drain was more sanitary than the litter box. She employed the litter box for the solid waste.

Susie was also thriving. I had patterned my feeding “schedule” from the information I had received from La Leche. They encouraged mothers to “feed on demand.” So, when Susie whimpered at night, I picked her up and nursed her. I figured that she would get over it eventually.

One night, Susie cried in the night and was inconsolable. I got up and checked her over, and I found a lump on the side of her neck. The only sleep I got that night was when I held her close to me. In the morning we called the pediatrician. The doctor said to bring her right in to the hospital.

Susie had an abscess. The doctor said she was going to lance it. I immediately took Bethy with me into an examining room some distance away from where I closed the door and started to tell her stories. It wasn’t enough to keep the outraged screams. We went home with an antibiotic, and Susie recovered soon (except for the scar that she still has). Except mine. No one had told me that mothers feel the pain that their children suffer.

Susie and Fofinha post surgery.
Susie and Fofinha post surgery.

The Portugal Years: Year Three – The Journey, the Wedding and the Housing

The Journey

We faced a seven month absence from our home and friends. This trip felt like an unending challenge. It was not a solo flight, nor a flight for two; it was a transatlantic voyage with an infant. Wearing cloth diapers. And she would have no seat. For at least seven hours. (This was not including getting through customs on both end and the long road to Philadelphia). Another couple would be staying in our house while we were gone, and I was uncomfortable about that. Then, before we could leave, we had to find a place to board our Samantha cat. It would not have been my first choice, or any choice at all. She loved me and trusted me, and I was leaving for what would be, for her, an eternity.

The flight was better than I expected. Bethy was eating food, but was still nursing, so she had food and comfort for the trip. In fact, some of the adults on the plane were more trouble than she was. Harry and I took turns holding her. We watched the inflight movie – Back to the Future.

We left Portugal around 10 a.m. and arrived in Kennedy Airport in the early afternoon (about 5 p.m. Portugal time). Our journey ended up at my grandmother’s house where my parents had installed themselves to care for her after my grandfather’s death in May. All of our luggage was shlepped up the narrow attic stairway into the makeshift bedroom that my grandfather put together for my parents many years before. It had no plumbing, but it had a crib. Fortunately, we would be there only a couple of weeks. After the wedding, we moved.

Elisabeth meets three of her cousins: left, James and Mary, right Amber and Bethy
Elisabeth meets three of her cousins: left, James and Mary, left and Amber and Bethy on right, June 1982.

The Wedding

We arrived during the mad dash to the Big Day of Harry’s Sister’s Wedding. They whisked me to the bridal shop for a fitting  for the bridesmaid gown. After a few adjustments for width and length, we dashed off to whatever was next. The Wedding on June 17 was the same day that Harry’s parents married . Bethy’s Aunt Sally made matching dresses for Bethy and her own daughter, Katy. Suddenly, it was the night before the day, and we found ourselves at the rehearsal dinner. Then we went to the rehearsal, where there was the requisite amount of carrying on. followed the next day by the wedding.

The Housing

After the wedding, with the bride being gone, we shlepped our luggage downstairs and then up into second floor of Harry’s parent’s home into what had been his sister’s bedroom. Living with one’s in-laws might be intimidating. Happily for us, mine have always treated me as one of their own. In fact, I preferred staying with them. Which was a good thing; we had another six months in the states.

The big aggravation was that crazy jet lag. Elisabeth was waking up at 8 a.m. – Portugal time. That was, in American time, about 2 a.m. Eventually, she changed her sleep pattern, but had begun teething in earnest. Everyone who knew us wanted to hold the baby, (even when she was drooling). Sometimes she just wanted Mommy.

We had culture shock in reverse. During the few years we had been in Portugal, I had forgotten how Americans rushed around in such a hurry. We were homesick for Portugal. On the bright side, we had time to visit friends and families that  the cost of phone calls prohibited. And everyone was encouraging Bethy to walk.

And the summer and the winter were the third year.

The Portugal Years – On the Collecting of Cats

You know how a few small things can create a landslide? That’s how my cat collection began. I had no idea of collecting cats. It never ever crossed my mind. My dad had given me a Garfield pencil eraser. Later it was a pewter kitty playing with yarn. But let’s face it: two decorative cats do not a collection make. Oh, and if I had ever collected cats, I gave it up at least a decade ago.

The little fellows should be displayed with dignity, and in order for that to happen, I’d have to take up dusting. So, no more cats unless they actually use a litter box. I enjoyed and appreciated every little knick-knack from each loving person who gave them to me, but enough is enough. And just as a warning to my children, I’m putting your names on every one of them and you will have to deal with them after I am gone. 😆 Anyway, here they are: the cats of the world.

garfield
Garfield – feeling his age, I’m afraid, but still here.
This is the pewter yarn kitty. She stole my heart from the start because I liked to hold her in my hand. I still do.
This is the pewter yarn kitty. She stole my heart from the start because I liked to hold her in my hand. I still do.
One of my fourth graders gave this to me back in probably 1977-78 school year.
One of my fourth graders gave this to me back in probably 1977-78 school year.
My friend, Cindi, gave this to me after we got our Samantha cat. I think it was a birthday present. She gave me a whole family of cats.
My friend, Cindi, gave this to me after we got our Samantha cat. I think it was a birthday present. She gave me a whole family of cats.
Having a set of siamese, they seemed to attract more.
Having a set of siamese, they seemed to attract more.
And more...
And more…
Portuguese cats...
Portuguese cats…
...Spanish cats...
…Spanish cats…
...German cats
…German cats
Novelty cats
Novelty cats
Useful cats
Useful cats
Cats
Cats
A gift from my daughter's godmother when we left Porttugal
A gift from my daughter’s godmother when we left Portugal
Cats from friends.
Cats from friends.
So many cats, so many happy memories that came with them...
So many cats, so many happy memories that came with them…
Cats of all kinds.
Cats of all kinds.

I love cats

Do you have any collections (intentional or otherwise)?

 

The Portugal Years – Year Three: Smiles and Giggles

Bethy 5 mo
Five months – helping with the laundry

By the time that Elisabeth opened her eyes on her second month of living in the sun, things had settled down. A book I read said that my life would be forever changed. What had been normal up until then would cease to exist. Eventually, I would have a new “normal.” And it was so.

By the second month, we got more positive feedback from this small human who had in a cataclysmic way changed our lives. By then she smiled when she saw our faces. Of course that encouraged us to make complete fools of ourselves  to encourage this interaction. When she was five months old, she began to laugh; it was the most beautiful music we’d ever heard.

She was sleeping six hours at a stretch at  night by then, which gave me something to smile about, too. Sammy Cat took on the responsibility of watching over the small human. Our new normal was well on the way.

We started taking Bethy to church. There was no nursery, and young children generally wandered around the room at will (unless they got noisy at which time parental discipline came into play, usually by the pulling of an ear).

The first time we took Bethy, she was welcomed like daffodils on the first sunny day of spring.  Without fail, everyone commented on the full head of hair she was sporting and how fair her complexion was. Toward the end of the service, Bethy required sustenance. I had brought a shawl for such emergencies. It had been her daddy’s when he was a baby.  I found a quiet, empty corner to feed her.

After the benediction, everyone crowded around me again. My attempt to nurse discreetly was  disregarded as the ladies pulled the shawl away from Bethy’s face. No one was disrespectful. It was just a matter of fact: this is how babies obtain nourishment. That was my last bit of culture shock, and  my heart fell head-over-heels-no-reservations in love with the country and the people.

The Portugal Years – Year Three: The Baby and Her Grands

On the third day after birth, the pediatrician, Dr. Maria Helena Freitas checked Elisabeth and sent us home. I felt  apprehensive. After babysitting for many years, I faced the one child who would be living with me for years on end…sobering thought.

My parents arrived the next day and stayed for a week. Until that point, the only time they had been out of the country were on day trips  to Canada. After a five-hour time difference, and a 7 hour flight, they arrived sleepy and with their heads spinning. But Mom wasted no time honing in on Elisabeth and holding her. Until it was time for the baby to eat.

After reading every bit of information on feeding babies that I could find, I chose to feed Elisabeth the way mothers (or wet nurses) have fed  babies for centuries. The manuals described what  to expect from the baby, and Bethy fell into the category of babies who take so long  to eat that by the time she finished it was time to start over again. My mother was worried that she wasn’t getting enough to eat, and added that she thought that I would get tired of it pretty fast like she did. (I didn’t get tired of it, and Dr. Maria Helena said Bethy was thriving.) But, Mom had plenty of other opportunities to play with Beth.

The next morning my mom offered to make breakfast for Harry. He thanked her and told her what time he needed to leave to catch a bus to get to work on time. Imagine being affected by jet lag while trying to cook oatmeal in a country where you cannot read what is on the label. Furthermore, it’s a strange kitchen and you don’t know where to find the cookware and utensils. On top of all that, you had to figure out the stove. Yeah, Harry did end up having breakfast at a pastelaria in Lisbon. Mom cried.

On Saturday of the week they were there, I took Mom on an outing. After I bathed and fed Elisabeth we left her with the men and set off for the outdoor market. I gave Mom the 50 escudo tour, and we shopped for veggies and other necessities. Mom was boggled by the open market. We carried the groceries home, and two worried men met us at the door. During the 45 minutes we were shopping, they had had to change a dirty diaper, and apparently barely made it through. My dad had changed diapers, but not almost square ones. Harry had never changed one. Between the two of them, though, they got the diaper on her. Not well, but, as they say, good enough for government work.

Beth and Granddad
Bethy and my dad.

The Portugal Years – Second Year: The Cat’s Meow

When we brought our little Samantha Cat home, we had not considered all the attending possibilities. Harry’s mother was a farm girl who believed animals belonged out-of-doors; he had no experience with pets. In fact, for a while, even Sammy was a little frightening to him.

Kittens, as you may know, grow into cats. Sammy took her time maturing, but when she hit puberty, all the tom cats within a square kilometer showed up around our home. My last cat was spayed. She was a cat who knew the meaning of decorum. For several weeks, Sammy “sang” and howled to the toms, and they filled in with the descant and watered the door. I didn’t need a translator to know what it meant. But, hey, how hard can it possibly be to keep one small cat in a house with closed windows and doors?

We had wanted to spay her, but we had no money for it. We did our best to keep her indoors. We thought we succeeded, but Sammy was a sly creature. One day I heard her calling me – from the outside of the house. The damage was done.

As Sammy’s girth passed mine, I considered the stories I had heard about cats wanting to make their own “nest” when they were ready to birth their offspring. It was a cold spring, and there was no central heating, I worried about the soon coming kittens surviving the cold, and ended up making a nest next to the stove in the kitchen. Just in case.

One Saturday morning I was cleaning when I realized I had a stalker. Sammy was right behind me on every step . When I stopped and looked at her, she mewed. It took me a few minutes to realize that she wanted me to follow her. Right into the kitchen and into her box she went. I petted her, and went back to my tasks. She followed me and mewed and purred. This went on for about half an hour when something clicked. I was her midwife of choice.

I felt like Prissy in Gone With the Wind. The closest I had come to a “birthin'” of any kind was a graphic movie called Emergency Childbirth that they showed us in tenth grade health class. (Three boys passed out.) But Sammy didn’t need any emergency help.  Unless I looked like leaving the room. That was verboten!

It was an extraordinary experience. Sammy purred through the ordeal. A kitten emerged about every 45 minutes until there were four of them. Sammy licked them and bit the miniscule umbilical cords like a boss. The loud purring  guided the newborns to Sammy’s teats. They were tiny, and looked more like rats than kittens.

About two weeks afterward, my doctor became concerned about something that might become a problem, and put me on bed rest for a week or so. Sammy found this unacceptable. Sammy spent about half an hour going back and forth between my bed and the box with the kittens. Then she disappeared.

I had dozed off when I felt her land rather clumsily on the foot of the bed. I opened my eyes and saw her depositing one of her kittens near me. The other three followed, and she was finally content.

Newborn siamese kitten.
Newborn siamese kitten. Their markings come as they mature.

Have you ever had an extraordinary experience with an animal?

The Portugal Years – Year One: Samantha Cat

Siamese CatAfter the holidays, life settled into a routine. I thought I would take another semester at the University, but when they tested me they wanted to put me in the advanced class. I was worried that it would be too much too quickly. When I tried to get into the intermediate class, it was already full. So, we decided that I would continue with my private tutoring once a week.

About that time a lot of friends were looking at me speculatively and others were coming right out and asking if I was pregnant yet. I wasn’t, though. Not yet. I did have my baby Seal Point Siamese kitty, Samantha, though. Sammi was fun. She followed me around the house and played with me. I had wanted a Siamese cat since I had visited a college friend’s home where her family had a stable full of cats and at least three of them were Siamese.

If you’ve had little contact with Siamese cats, please put away your copy of Lady and the Tramp and cut Siamese cats a break. They are mischievous and intelligent creatures, and most of them are quite vocal. Harry did not grow up with four-legged family members, and he wasn’t entirely on board with the whole thing, but he humored me. It was still our first year of marriage.

One evening, another couple from our organization (also newlyweds) came over to visit. The husband was not a fan of cats (a condition that frankly, I do not understand). When they came into the house, he did a visual sweep of the perimeter of the living room and looked for Sammi. Then, he settled down in a comfortable chair. Thirty minutes later, after he had let down his guard, Sammi casually walked around from the back of the chair, gave a sudden leap and landed on the arm of the chair next to the husband’s arm. I am positive that Sammi tipped me a wink with a twinkle in her bright, blue eyes.

The Portugal Chronicles – Year 1- Living and Learning

Portugal Team
The Portugal Team, 1979 – Harry and I are on the far right. Can you tell which are the Americans and which are Portuguese?

One Sunday afternoon we met up with the rest of the Portugal Team for a group picture. It was early fall, and the weather was cool. Harry wanted me to fit in as well as possible, and had counseled me to leave my bright American clothes in the states. Reluctantly, but with the newlywed desire to please, I did the best I could. Harry fit in except for one incurable problem: he was much too tall.

Another day I met him in town to shop for furniture. While I waited on the designated corner, I noticed that the shop I was standing by was a pet store. A litter of Siamese kittens were overflowing with cute in the window. Harry was not moved by their beautiful blue eyes.

We picked out a sofa, some chairs and a bed frame. We already had a mattress and had been sleeping on it on the floor. Then, he took me to the appliance shop to choose a stove. The first serious culture shock hit. Those stoves were too small for my baking pans. My second shock came when I looked at the front of the stove. There were buttons for the burners, but the oven had only two heat settings: low and high, indicated by a small flame and a large flame. I asked Harry about that. He said that all of the stoves were like that. *mild panic attack* I persevered, though, and eventually found a stove with temperature settings. In Celsius.

The things that we sent by ship (including our 220 washer and dryer) arrived around two months after we did. After about two weeks and some greasing of palms we had our things. It was like Christmas as we opened boxes and set up housekeeping for reals.

One night around ten p.m., Harry and I were cuddling in one of the new chairs in the living room as is the manner of newlyweds. Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the door. Harry pulled himself together to answer the door and I took myself off to another room in the house. It was one of the missionaries from another organization. He had seen a light on in our apartment and thought he’d stop by and say hello.

One fine day we went back to the pet store. Harry, in the way of newlyweds, wanted to please me. We  bought a Siamese kitten and named her Samantha. Animals were not allowed on buses, so we had to smuggle her home in a cardboard carrying box.

Parque Eduardo
The park in Lisbon where the photo was taken. In the distance is the monument to the Marques de Pombal and the Tagus river.