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 – To Sleep, Perhap to Dream

Harry drank his accidental beverage that morning! And I learned two things: He was fully as stubborn and I am, and  I should be cautious about challenging him to take a dare!

To sleep, perhaps to dream – Shakespeare
The field director’s wife saw me fading quickly and led me to the flat beneath hers. The family who lived there were in the states, and had graciously offered me their home while I was in Portugal.  It all seemed surreal. I was 3,511 plus miles away from home with only one person I knew in sight. And the last time I had seen him, he had just broken a date with me because he wanted to go to a picnic instead.

I was tired but wired. My internal clock was ticking when I was tocking. The events of the past few days skipped and jumped like a kaleidoscope in my brain. Eventually, I drifted off into a light sleep.

When I woke up, I decided that a shower was in order. Though I’d given the bathroom a glance before I crashed, I didn’t remember seeing that peculiar bit of furnishing earlier. I examined it. Then, I turned the faucet on and off. I looked around in the vicinity. It was less than an arm’s length from the fixture with which I was more familiar. I wasn’t going to ask. Resolutely, I turned my energy toward getting ready to go out to dinner in Lisbon.   The Portugal Adventure - The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly

Putting on the Ritz

Harry arrived a little early, of course, and to his surprise, I was ready. The man who sent me roses was armed with the loaned car, and gentlemanly attentions. He held the doors, and made sure I was comfortable. I totally admired the way he held his own with the other drivers; I was certain were in training for the Daytona 500.
Harry drove by  more landmarks like the statue of “Cristo Rei” (Christ the King) near the 25th of April Bridge (identical to the monument found near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

The bridge was originally called Salazar Bridge, named for Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar, who served  from 1932 to 1968. Though Life Magazine called him the greatest Portuguese since Prince Henry the Navigator, many of the Portuguese had seen him quite differently. Dictator might have been a better title.

On the 25th of April, 1974 the military initiated a coup, which eventually returned democracy to Portugal, and the bridge was given change of name.
Soon, Harry pulled up at the the Lisbon Four Seasons Ritz. where he treated me to a bitoque. A bitoque (bee-tok) consists of a grilled or fried tenderized steak topped with a fried egg. It came with both a helping of rice, and French fries.

The next day, we would be pointing our noses toward Spain.

Have you ever mixed tea and coffee in the same cup?

The Portugal Adventure - The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly

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 Portuguese Years: Year Six – Visiting the Grandparents (1985)

The girls were growing up so quickly. Their grandparents had never even seen Susie in person. And I don’t know any grandparents who would find photos of their grandchildren an adequate substitute. Not even close. There may or may not

Harry and I pow-wowed about ways and means, and laid plans. Harry would not be able to go because he could not be spared for two months during camp season. He would miss us less while we were gone. Or so we believed.

And so one sunny June day Harry took us to the airport and helped with luggage. We kissed him good-by at the gate, and the girls and I boarded a jet plane bound for New York City.

Looking back, I think I had temporarily lost my good sense taking two such young children on my own. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. Susie had to sit on my lap the whole trip, and Susie was still nursing,  Bethy had a seat of her own was a great help keeping her sister entertained. Both girls were reasonably well-behaved (as opposed to the infant behind us who cried. A lot.)

We arrived in New York about seven hours after we left but having gained some time as we flew. Two sleepy small girls and I were overcome by the size of the airport. Family members were there to pick us up and take us to Pennsylvania. Our summer adventure had begun.

Jet plane

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