The Portugal Adventure – Willkommen in Deutschland

Welcome to my new followers and readers. This blog is about our life in Portugal. During the month of December, I am going to re-post some of the earlier stories. The one took place the summer before we got married when I was visiting and enjoyed a road trip from Lisbon to Bavaria.
The Bible Institute in Barcelona, Spain

It was late when we arrived at the Bible Institute in Barcelona, and it was a short visit. The next morning we piled into the vans and cars and headed for France. From Barcelona, Spain to Lyon, France it is about 500 Kilometers. With the differences in culture between those two countries, it might have been more like 5000 miles – with no shared border. It takes time, crossing the borders in Europe. I got a taste of what the United States may have been like if some of our Founding Fathers had gotten their way. Those would be the ones that wanted each state to be an independent country the way the European countries

The street in front of our hotel in Lyon.
Portuguese at sunrise by the river in Lyon.
We stayed in Lyon overnight, and enjoyed our continental breakfast in the morning. If you are used to the “continental breakfasts” that are served in American motels, you cannot compare them with the European style breakfasts. There was none of that bland, made in a factory white fluff. Not even any of that square stuff allegedly made with whole wheat flour. The freshly baked bread and pastries served with café au lait was a “feast of fat things.”

Our next stop was at the border of Switzerland. The Swiss are punctilious about any official duty, and there was a long wait while they made sure everything was in order. After all, it isn’t every day that an army of Portuguese, Americans, and Canadians travel all together. Aside from that, Switzerland looked exactly as I expected.

I think that the Swiss must get up before breakfast each morning to sweep their front steps, they were so clean. There was no trash on the ground, and every neatly appointed home boasted colorful flowers in the windows. The Alps. I have lived in Colorado, and Wyoming, and have hiked up in the Rocky Mountains. Out there we customarily dismissed the Appalachian Range as “not real mountains.” But the majesty and beauty of those snow capped giants looming in the distance left me bereft of words. I nearly expected to see Heidi and the Grandfather walk into town at any moment.

The Alps.

Once through Switzerland, we took a quick “hop” across Austria, then into Bavaria, the largest, and most southern of the German states. The population is made up of mostly original settlers rather than people who have emigrated to Germany.  According to one source, Bavaria “is basically a free state.” The cleanliness of Switzerland and Austria carried through into Germany. I was convinced that it would have been safe to eat off of the ground.

The folks who started the German branch of the mission organization we were part of had a beautiful place for camp. Located near Munich on a lake, they had a 99-year lease on two castles that they used as dormitories for the campers. If the trip across Europe had not been enough of a dream fulfilled, I slept in a castle during our time in Bavaria. In a room otherwise filled with Portuguese women. Most of whom spoke very little, if any English. But, we got along fine by pooling our English, Portuguese, and Spanish. I can’t remember ever enjoying camp more. There was only one thing I wanted to know, and the only person who could tell me wasn’t talking.

One of the dormitories in Bavaria
What strikes you about this story? Have you ever visited abroad?

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – The Jitters – 10


Around 2 a.m. on June 27, 1979 I woke up from a sound sleep and sat straight up in my bed. My eyes were wide open and my heart was pounding. In approximately 84 hours I would be standing in church in front of God and everybody to plight my troth. How well did I really know this man with whom I was  promising to spend the rest of my days? I was planning to move just HOW many miles across the Atlantic Ocean away from my family and friends? What was I thinking? WAS IT TOO  LATE TO CANCEL?????!!!

I sat there for about half an hour or so mulling over  my predicament. I remembered my friend who had asked me if I was SURE I wanted to marry Harry. Did she know something I didn’t know? I dismissed her concern since I knew she was not happy in her marriage. My mom always called me Miss Independent. Could Miss Independent become Mrs. Interdependent and handle the marriage yoke made for two? My grandfather told me he never expected me to get married; he thought I was cold and distant. I dismissed that because I had good reason to so be around him.

Then I thought about Harry, and how our friendship had evolved over decades. We’d already gone toe to toe on issues,  worked  through them, and moved forward. Eventually.  He was thoughtful, steady, dependable and kind. Harry liked me as well as loved me. He was a can do kind of guy, and he had a sense of humor. I realized then that if all else failed, our God-given gift of  humor would eventually pull us back to sanity. I decided it was a go.

I was, however, still wide awake, and it was heading for 3:30 a.m. So, I gathered up the clothes I would be taking on our honeymoon and  went downstairs quietly. I got out the ironing board and iron and pressed everything, then packed my suitcases. I made a to do list, and around 4:30 a.m. I crawled back under the covers and quickly fell asleep.

"What was I thinking?"
“What was I thinking?”

The other day I told Harry about writing this post. Then, almost 34 years later, he ‘fessed up, too. He said that when he woke up on our wedding day he stood in his bedroom and asked himself, “What was I thinking?” But, he showed up anyway. Because he’s like that.

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – MIT

Word of Life
Word of Life Inn

Along about the first week in June I was on the road with Harry again. We were heading up to the Adirondacks where the missions organization was holding the Missionaries in Training classes. I was familiar with the founder of Word of Life. Jack Wyrtzen, who began ministering in New York city as an evangelist. Word of Life was also famous back in the day for Word of Life Island – a camp for teens.

I also  knew that he had been blackballed by a well-known Christian university for going to talk to a group of Roman Catholic priests somewhere  along the way. The first time that I saw him in person, he was speaking in chapel at the Bible college I attended. His first words were, “How does a girl get pregnant in Bible college?” Yes, he did get everyone’s attention!  He was one of a kind.

In fact, I was about to meet a large group of characters. I think that being a character was required to be part of the organization. One of the first things that happened was that Harry was caught with his mustache. One of the Bible club teachers walked up to him and told him to lose the ‘stache, thus dashing my dreams of being married to the mustached man.

Frankly, I remember only three things about that week with any kind of clarity. One was my interview with Jack’s wife, Marge. And, yes, she too was a card carrying character. She told me that when she and Jack got married, her doctor advised her to not have children due to her poor health. Marge and Jack went on and had five children, and she lived to a ripe old age. She was the detail person of the Jack and Marge duo. When she looked at a prospective missionary woman, she always knew if the woman had what it takes. If she said, “No”, it was no go.

The second thing was fielding the question of why my home church would not support us financially. Multiple times. I was embarrassed. The WOL leadership found it incomprehensible. Some of it probably had to do with the nature of Harry’s position as a business manager instead of being a preacher (even though he was deeply involved in the evangelistic part of the mission); some was Word of Life being a non-denominational entity (even though WOL was and continues to be a conservative Christian organization). The bottom line was my church practiced second degree separation.

The last thing that left an impression was that nasty black fly that bit me on my ring finger and left a scar.


On the way back to Pennsylvania I asked Harry what he would have done if Marge had looked at me and said I wasn’t fit to be a missionary’s wife. He said that he would have resigned. Since we were only three weeks out from the wedding, that was probably the right answer. I was relieved.

The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – And The Countdown Begins – part 9

jet lagDuring the first week of April, 1979, Harry arrived stateside. His parents picked him up at the airport (I was teaching) and he had to listen to them tell him just how sneaky he had been by keeping his interest in me a secret.

Everything was pollinating, adding to the aggravation of jet lag.  It was the second round of pollination that year for him; Portugal’s pollen had already come and settled down.

Nevertheless, as soon as he possibly could, he borrowed his mother’s car and made a beeline to my house. How glad I was to see him after what seemed an unending year.  We had a lot of planning to do with our wedding coming up in approximately three months, but that visit was reserved for sweeter things.

Though Harry had quite easily kept the secret of my Portugal visit the previous year, he let the cat out of the bag when my attendants held a surprise shower at my church. Apparently, he has compartmentalized his secret keeping skills. It was a lovely evening just the same.

The list of things that had to be decided on and dealt with felt like an imposition on our time when all we wanted to do was to make goo-goo eyes at each other! Invitations had to be addressed and mailed out. I had set a number limit before Harry came back, but his family’s list alone  had around 250 people on it. Eloping was beginning to look even more attractive.

Marital counseling was another piece of  the time pie –  my pastor was in charge of that. I asked my dad to officiate at the ceremony. He kind of looked at me the way Abraham might have looked as he got ready to sacrifice Isaac. But he said he would. We asked my pastor to officiate until my dad and mom “gave” me away. To keep Harry’s pastor in the loop, we invited him to pray the benediction at the end of the ceremony. And we began to memorize our vows.

We ordered flowers from the father of one of my students, who was a wholesaler, and enlisted the support of different church folks for decorating the gym. Some families baked quick breads for the reception. Wedding gifts began to arrive. Tuxedos were reserved. Then Harry told me something that I did not want to hear; I was required to attend Missionaries in Training at the mission organization’s headquarters in northern New York state. They had scheduled it for the first week in June. Before school was out. One more thing on the list.


The Portugal Adventure – The Long Year – Surprise !

If all mothers-in-law were like my husband’s mother, there would be no mother-in-law jokes. She is kind, thoughtful, a hard worker and honest. I have never heard her say anything bad about another person. But she has skills.

My sister-in-law had a veil for me to look at.
My sister-in-law had a veil for me to look at.

One day, she called me and asked me if I had found a veil yet. I hadn’t. She told me that my sister-in-law to be had offered to let me use hers. After describing it to me, she asked me if I could come down on Friday after dinner and try it on to see if I liked it. Friday afternoons are not exactly prime time for teachers, but I felt I owed her given that her son never let her know he was inviting me to visit him in Portugal until after the fact. I wanted to stay on her good side.

Friday afternoon, therefore, I headed to the outskirts of Philadelphia. I had changed out of my work clothes into my most comfortable, well-worn jeans, an old t-shirt and my sneakers. My hair was a little oily. Did I mentions it was the end of a long school week? No makeup – I didn’t want to risk getting it on the veil.

It was a pleasant spring evening. The sun was setting  when I arrived at the home where Harry had grown up. It was what we called a “twin house,”  two homes with a common wall between. Mom Price said that she would drive me over to Sally’s apartment, so I got into her car with her.

As she drove, Mom said that she needed to pick up a document at the church on the way to Sally’s house. (She was the treasurer for the Ladies’ Missionary Society.) She stopped in front of the education building and invited me to come with her. I waited while she unlocked the door  and followed her in.

This is what I felt like. Only without makeup.
This is what I felt like. Only without makeup.

The lights came on, and a loud chorus of  SURPRISE!!!!!!!! resounded through the building. The place was filled with women. Women who had taught me in Sunday school and women who were future relatives. I was stunned. I never saw it coming. Apparently one of Mom’s skills is keeping a secret.

The Portugal Adventure – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Lisbon

 (The first post of this story is here)

 The Plain in Spain

We began our last leg of the journey back to Lisbon, Portugal. The sky was blue, the temperature was warm (as behooves the plain in Spain in summer), and I was thoughtful. The van was humming along in a south-westerly direction. I had a ticket to that would take me to Kennedy Airport in New York, and I was scheduled to fly due west in two days. Would he, or wouldn’t he? I wasn’t sure that Harry himself knew at that point.

Don’t Wake Sleepy Teens

 The Portuguese teens, who occupied the back of the van, were talking and joking as we rode. At some point along the way, they became quieter. When silence reigned, I turned around to look at them, and they were all sound asleep. 

Harry and I began a conversation about “back in the day.” The memories made us smile as the miles flew by. We talked about the long silence (seven years) in our friendship, and the time we passed on the street in Philadelphia where we both attended college after a long pause in our friendship. I came to the conclusion (for about the fiftieth time) that I would be content no matter what.

And. Then. It. Happened.

There was a pleasant lull in the conversation. Then, Harry suddenly gripped the steering wheel, sat up straight, and said, “Oh, Susan, if I could marry you tomorrow, I would.” I sat there, thunderstruck. I wondered if I had heard him correctly. Then I began to wonder exactly what that meant? Was it a proposal? Was it a goodbye-sorry-it-didn’t-work-out? Was it meant as a question? And if it was, what was the appropriate response? Finally, I managed to squeak, “I would like that.”

I looked over at Harry, and he was grinning from ear to ear (still with eyes on the road – you durst not take your eyes off the road in Europe). Then, until we stopped for lunch, we talked and talked of “shoes, and ships, and sealing wax; of cabbages and kings.”

At the lunch stop, Harry announced that we were engaged to be married. Almost no one was surprised, but his roommate was worried that we didn’t know one another well enough. Really? We had known each other from when we were wee tads. (The roommate, one year later, went back to the states and married a woman he’d known for only two months.)

Before we reached Lisbon, we had settled on a wedding date, and discussed having me stay another week so we could begin making plans. One of Harry’s plans was to put a ring on my finger before I left Portugal.

The Transatlantic Phone Call

 In due course, we arrived in Lisbon. It was too late to call the states when we got home, but the next day, Harry manned up and called my dad. Transatlantic phone calls were pricey back in the day – and no cell phones. Harry successfully connected to my home phone in Pennsylvania. It was a tense conversation. Harry navigated the greetings, then got down to business. I heard him say he had called to ask my dad if he could marry me. Dead silence on the other end for at least a minute. Wait for it. Dad:  “How soon do you want an answer.”