The Portugal Adventure – Into the Wild Blue Yonder

I looked at the thin envelope. Good news or bad? Was he going to dump me? Then I tore it open.

That undersized missive felt ominous as I opened the letter. Then I saw the rest of the story. The Portugal team was taking a group of teens to Germany for camp. Adult would driving the teens in vans and all of us would do some sightseeing along the way. Then he asked me the life changing question: would I come along on the road trip? Harry  would pay for my food and lodging.  If I could buy my airline tickets. It was my turn to have no words. I had a feeling, though, that we might be getting closer to the answers to my questions.

But now I had another question. Could I pay for the flight? Christian schools do not, on the whole, have money to throw about and I was certain that the airline would not take my word that I would pay when I had the money.  Reluctantly, I prepared to write a letter to tell Harry the sad news.

Then, my dad with puppy eyes in place, offered to buy my ticket. I was to pay him back when school started back up in the fall. So, I was left without excuse.

A travel agency in town took care of my passport photo and my travel arrangements. I had never flown anywhere on my own, and was all in a dither getting things together. No one wanted to drive me  to New York City, so I reserved an airport limo. Suitcases were procured and a good friend helped me shop for the gaps in my wardrobe.

Somehow I managed to keep both feet on the ground. At least until the day of departure. When the airport limo arrived it looked suspiciously like a van. But, we arrived at Kennedy Airport with time to spare. The direct flight to Portugal left in the early evening and I had adequate time to ponder Harry’s last letter.

The detailed information he had painstakingly written was astonishing. Customs had been carefully detailed. He could not come in to the airport and help me get through, but his directions lacked nothing. He added that I should try to sleep on the plane, because it would be a long day after I landed. Right. He signed the note simply, “I love you.” Given our history, I wasn’t sure what that meant.

The flight was about seven hours, and we were circling over Lisbon by 7 a.m. I peered out the window. The sun slipped over the horizon and bathed the city in red-gold beams.

Harry’s instructions were perfect. I passed through customs like a seasoned traveler. Before I could panic, he walked in the door. He beamed as he walked over to me, reached out his arm, and shook my hand.

Lisbon sunrise

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The Portugal Adventure: My Laddie Lies Over the Ocean

This is where I stopped some time ago on The Portugal Adventure, so I will repeat it and will begin with the next installment next time. I had just received flowers. Red roses.

Those beautiful red roses perfumed the house. Mom fidgeted and kept the roses watered. My dad took to sulking in the lounger in the corner and got out his whipped puppy expression. I wrote a brief “bread and butter note.” And I added that they have come on April Fool’s Day and waited.

Monday I took a rose or two and put them in a vase on my desk. The students noticed and asked questions, of course. But there was little to say at the time. And teaching requires one’s full attention.

Harry’s reply came in short order. With an explanation. He explained that he had asked that they be delivered for Easter. On March twenty-fifth. It was an explanation that didn’t answer my real question. But, then, I hadn’t asked my real question. He had signed the letter, “Love, Harry” And now I had another unanswered question.

Then, Harry began writing with all of the words that he had never used when we dated seven years before. Letters came often, always signed “Love, Harry.” They were filled with anecdotes of life in Portugal. Stories about no electricity and no water for weeks on end abounded. Even a few tales of his co-workers found their way to Pennsylvania.

I started thinking of what to do over the summer. The year before I had driven across the United States with my sister and a friend. That was going to be tough to top!

In early June, Harry’s missive was extraordinarily thin.

The Portugal Adventure – Prologue

 

(I am in the process of editing the first of my Portugal stories. I needed to get up to speed and hope it will help. Feel free to offer positive suggestions.)

 

In 1978, April First fell on a Saturday. The balmy day was thrice welcomed after a winter of serial snowstorms, blizzards, and multiple school closing days. The sun was singing our song. My sister Mary and I shared but one thought: beach!

Mary and I had packed what we needed for the trip, and were ready for some fun in the sun. Then the doorbell rang. My dad attended to the door, came back to me and handed me a florist box. I was stunned. I wasn’t seeing anyone, and anyway who sends flowers on April Fool’s day?

I opened the box to find a dozen long-stemmed red roses. I dug through the paper looking for a card. They were from Harry (an old flame whom I had not seen for seven years following a bitter disagreement). He had wired them from Portugal where he was the business manager for an organization that worked with teens. I was stunned.

Some time had passed. We both had graduated from college, and I moved to Denver to work as an assistant editor. I dated a couple of men on and off and was engaged to one for a short time. I had heard that Harry had gone to Portugal and we picked up an intermittent correspondence as old friends sometimes do. I moved back to Pennsylvania in 1976 to teach at a church school.

Harry was still in Portugal, and I was in my second year of teaching when the roses arrived. As I arranged the roses in a vase, I tried to make sense of the whole thing. But, the day was fine, and I had no patience for puzzles. I shrugged, and my sister and I climbed into the car and spent a glorious day enjoying the sun and surf.

 Atlantic City

The Portugal Years: Throwback Thursday

Four Generations
Four Generations-June 1982

I had my dad snap this photo of the four of us because, well it is just the done thing in my family, and I wanted this memory preserved. All of us were the oldest child in our families (Mom had some half brothers but she was her mother’s only child). We are sitting on a box that my grandfather built in which to store the trash cans between pick ups.  If you look closely, you can see my grandmother’s clothes line with the prop and the clothes pins.

The building you see in the background was where the caretakers of the Jewish cemetery back there where I spent many peaceful hours riding my bicycle. With permission. And never on Sunday – that was when the families came to visit the family graves. I loved looking at the Hebrew words engraved in the headstones. The caretakers were friends with my little granny and once in a time of need they took care of me for a couple of days and I slept in their home. I’m sure Stephen King could have made something out of that overnight! It wasn’t a problem for me, though, until my school friends found out. Yes, I told them, but it had never occurred to me that it was something out of the ordinary.

The Portugal Years: Before, During and After

George MacDonald, a Scottish preacher and author, had a gentle character who had a mental disability. He went around saying over and over again saying, “I didna ken whaur I come  from.” This week you will see some moments in my life before, during and after Portugal.

last vacation
Fenwick Island, Delaware

My dad’s boss had a house on Fenwick Island, DE. He let my dad rent it at a reduced amount and we spent some lovely summer days walking the beach. We were near Ocean City, Maryland, which had a boardwalk. The last summer before my older brother joined the Army we spent two weeks. We all kind of knew that it was the last family vacation.

Fifties Party, Denver, CO
Fifties Party, Denver, CO

In November of 1975, I got a job at a small Christian publishing house (now defunct) in Denver. I boarded in a woman’s home with another young woman who also worked at the publishing house. Judy invited me to go to her the young adult Fifties Party at her church. It sounded like fun, so I dug into my wardrobe. I got engaged to a man I met in a college class – Modern Fantasy Literature – but he was ready to get married, and I knew I wasn’t.

wccs wedding
June 30, 1979  Aren’t they the sweetest kids you ever saw?

At the end of a year, being thoroughly fed up with working in a cubical, I accepted a position at West Chester Christian School as the fourth grade teacher. How I loved doing that and loved my students. Most of the time, at any rate. Harry and I had dated when I was in high school, and broke up over some silly thing. He came back for another round, invited me to visit him in Portugal and before I returned to the states, he had put an engagement ring on my finger.

Harry at work
Look at him! Who could resist a face like that?

We the following summer, and I went back to Portugal with Harry and the idea that we were going to stay there until we died. With a few visits to family and friends in the states, of course.

Me with Elisabeth at 4 days old.
Me with Elisabeth at 4 days old.
Bethy's bath time.
Grandmom taking charge of bath time.

We were so excited about having our little girl followed by another little girl and finishing up with a little boy. We were content. Our children were thriving in Portugal. We never imagined our Paradise would end. But it did. In the spring of 1999, we left part of our hearts in Portugal and ended up in Lancaster County, PA. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t home. Not for us.

Valentines Day Homeschool Craft
Valentines Day Homeschool Craft
cousins
Cousins
Forever friends
Forever friends
Sarah-Sarah at Christian Character Club on Wednesday night
Sarah-Sarah at Christian Character Club on Wednesday night
Valentine's Day Sweetheart Banquet; Harry acting out Casey at the Bat while I narrated it.
Valentine’s Day Sweetheart Banquet; Harry acting out Casey at the Bat while I narrated it.

 

 

My daughters participating in the Greek Tragedy, Electra.
My daughters participating in a Greek Tragedy, Electra with our homeschool group.

We had friends, and Harry had a job, but those were painful years trying to re-enter the American culture when we felt mostly Portuguese.

Other Grandma and us on our front step in West Willow, PA
Other Grandma, a friend and us on our front step in West Willow, PA – my favorite house ever.

Eventually, we moved to Florida. But it’s not Portugal.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you like to live?

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – The Long Day

The rehearsal was Thursday night. On Friday, Harry and I had our suitcases packed (he almost made it out of the house without his sister throwing rice into his suitcase). We dropped the car and suitcases off at the apartment of one of my teaching colleagues for safety’s sake.With a LOT of help, we were ready for the big day. I had read that there is always something that goes awry, and I determined to stay calm no matter what.

The Mirror Photo
The Mirror Photo

Saturday morning, I got up early to get my nails and hair done. I picked at some food and in an eternally short moment it was time for my dad to take me to the church. The gown in the car? Check.  Engagement ring on my right hand? Check. Harry’s wedding band? Check. Then we took the longest five-minute ride to the church that I can remember.                                                                                                                                                                                  Harry

My bridesmaids helped me dress, and the photographer took the before pictures. Harry was down the hall and when he left the men’s dressing room, his sisters filled his clothes with rice.

The wedding was set for 1 p.m. and it was about half past noon when one of my attendants announced that the flowers had not yet come. Music played. The soloist sang. Still no flowers. My friend made phone calls. Repeatedly. I was breathing and in my happy place. Finally, at five minutes till one, men dressed in T-shirts and cutoffs carried potted plants lumbered down the aisle.

The groom and groomsmen entered the church, and the organist began playing Jesu, Joy of  Man’s Desiring. The bridesmaids began to sway down the aisle. My sister, my maid of honor went next. Our sweet flower girl and ring bearer followed her. My dad hugged me with tears shimmering in his eyes, and offered me his arm while he pulled some nitroglycerin out of his pocket. I don’t know exactly how he managed to give me away and perform the ceremony afterward. I do know it was a labor of great love.

From the photos, I can see that there were many people there that day. Students from three years had dragged their parents to the wedding. My nephew, who was then five months old, had something to say during the ceremony. One of my students asked his mom out loud if I was married yet.  But Harry. How shall I say this? Harry looked like he was about to bust out laughing.

I had opted to have the attendants wearing crowns of baby’s breath. Unfortunately, the baby’s breath was of the unruly and wild sort. When Harry

Wedding Party
Wedding Party

saw the bridesmaids walking down the aisle, he thought (as would any good Scot)  that Birnam Wood was approaching the castle.

My mom with my nephew, James
My mom with my nephew, James
Cutting the cake
Cutting the cake
The cake
The cake
Some of my students
Some of my students
Nearly over
Nearly over
My Family
My Family
Harry's Family
Harry’s Family

The Portugal Adventure – Prologue: April Fools

(I am in the process of editing the first of my Portugal stories. I needed to get up to speed and hope it will help.)

 

In 1978, April First fell on a Saturday. The balmy day was thrice welcomed after a winter of serial snowstorms, blizzards, and multiple school closing days. The sun was singing our song. My sister Mary and I shared but one thought: beach!

Mary and I had packed what we needed for the trip, and were ready for some fun in the sun. Then the doorbell rang. My dad attended to the door, came back to me and handed me a florist box. I was surprised. I wasn’t seeing anyone, and anyway who sends flowers on April Fool’s day?

I opened the box to find a dozen long stemmed red roses. I dug through the paper looking for a card. They were from Harry (an old flame whom I had not seen for seven years following a bitter disagreement). He had wired them from Portugal where he was the business manager for an organization that worked with teens. I was stunned.

Some time had passed. We both had graduated from college, and I moved to Denver to work as an assistant editor. I dated a couple of men on and off and was engaged to one for a short time. I had heard that Harry had gone to Portugal and we picked up an intermittent correspondence as old friends sometimes do. I moved back to Pennsylvania in 1976 to teach at a church school.

Harry was still in Portugal, and I was in my second year of teaching when the roses arrived. As I arranged the roses in a vase, I tried to make sense of the whole thing. But, the day was fine, and I had no patience for puzzles. I shrugged, and my sister and I climbed into the car and spent a glorious day enjoying the sun and surf.

 Atlantic City